March 23–24, 2018
I prefer to post chronologically, but at this point I’m over a year behind with writing race reports, and I wanted to do this while it was still fresh in my mind.
Ten miles into the Buffalo Run 100 I was running behind a group of three people who knew each other (everyone at the race besides me seemed to know each other) and I overheard them talking about a strategy that sounded vaguely familiar to me, though I had never heard it stated quite so succinctly.
Sacrifice minutes now in order to save hours later.
The gist of this statement is that things which start as small problems early in the race can turn into big problems later in the race. If you take a little bit of time to deal with them while they’re still small problems they hopefully won’t ever turn into big problems. If they don’t ever turn into big problems you won’t lose massive time dealing with them later.
In my three previous 100 mile runs I feel like I’ve underperformed. Running 100 miles has been a tough nut for me to crack. I have routinely ignored small problems early in these races because I was so concerned about keeping a respectable pace for as long as possible. Inevitably there came a time when these problems compounded so much that I was simply not able to run. I would end up walking miles and miles at a stretch before recovering a bit and resuming running. My stubbornness early in the race had always cost me massive time later in the race.
The weather forecast for the Buffalo Run was cold and rainy/snowy, but this mostly didn’t materialize. It did rain prior to the race, which left the course a tad muddy in places, but we stayed dry while running.
This was the first 100 mile race I’ve done with a midday start rather than an early morning start. This meant everyone would be running through the night. The eventual overnight low wasn’t as cold as I had feared, and I ended up a bit overdressed during the night. The other difficulty with a midday start is meal planning. I have my pre-race food dialed in for an early morning start, but a noon start presented some challenges (what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, etc.).
I wore my GPS watch to record my data for later analysis, but I was very adamant that I wasn’t going to look at my pace/time/distance during the race (at least not during the first half of the race). I would keep an eye on my heart rate just as a sanity check, but I planned to pace myself by how I felt. I’ve gotten into trouble in the past by arbitrarily deciding what pace I was going to run and then continuing to run that pace even when it should have been obvious I was going too fast (or too slow).
Running by feel worked so well for me at the 2017 Never Summer 100K last July, I wanted to do anything I could to try to replicate that kind of performance. Not looking at my pace/time/distance the entire race meant that I was free to focus all of my attention on the process of running rather than the outcome of the race. Focusing on the process made all the difference, and the best possible outcome was the result.
The course is a 50 mile circuit, run twice. Each circuit consists of a 19 mile loop followed by a 31 mile out-and-back. The race starts with two miles of gradual climbing. Once over the top I formed a small pack with a handful of other runners. We would run near each other and occasionally leapfrog each other for the next 10–20 miles. At the first out-and-back section of the course it was impossible for me not to notice I was in 7th place. I didn’t want or need to know that information. Let go of the outcome, focus on the process.
Another gradual two mile climb came about 11 miles into the race. I ran the whole way up. I knew I wouldn’t be running up that hill on the second 50 mile circuit of the race, but at this point my heart rate confirmed I wasn’t working too hard, so I just continued to do what felt right.
Midway through the 19 mile loop I started having some mild gastrointestinal discomfort. I didn’t feel the need to vomit, and I didn’t need to rush to the bathroom, but the food I had been eating no longer seemed appetizing and I had to improvise a bit with food from the aid stations. It was early to throw my Nutrition Plan A out the window, but you have to take what the day gives you. Sacrifice minutes now to save hours later.
I pulled a bit ahead of my pack-mates at an aid station and enjoyed a pleasant jaunt back down to the start/finish area at mile 19. I did have to take a short detour around some bison who were blocking the trail, but before long I saw Melissa and Will at the aid station. I ate some food, filled up on water, and headed back out on course for the very long out-and-back. Around mile 22 or so I noticed I was having more soreness in my quads than I would have liked. I still felt comfortable at my current pace, but I’d have to adjust if things got any worse. This whole time the temperature was rising and I was shedding clothes as necessary. Sacrifice minutes now to save hours later.
Before long I saw the leader, Jeff Browning, coming towards me. He had a sizable lead on the 2nd place runner, who frankly looked to be having a rough time. Then I saw the 3rd place runner and immediately afterwords I hit the turn around. So I was in 4th place, not far behind 3rd, not that much farther behind 2nd, who frankly looked to be having a rough time. Dammit, focus on the process, not the outcome. At mile 33 there’s still a lot of race left to go.
I still had GI discomfort and quad pain, but neither had gotten any worse. I guess this was the new normal. After 6–7 miles I caught up to and passed the 3rd place runner, and I could now see the 2nd place runner in the distance. I closed that gap too and caught up to him and passed him around mile 46. After about a half mile in 2nd place a different runner (someone from my early pack) passed me and I was back in 3rd. It doens’t matter, focus on the process.
The sun set just before I finished the first 50 mile circuit. At the halfway point I took an extra long stop at the start/finish aid station. After the sunset the temperature had dropped rapidly and I was wearing sweaty clothes. I completely changed into dry clothes, including pants, long sleeves, a jacket, gloves, and warm hat. The 3rd place runner passed me in the aid station. There’s still a lot of race left to go, and while I don’t feel spectacular, I do feel about as good as I’ve ever felt at mile 50 of 100.
I took a gamble by eating some ramen before I left. I didn’t know whether this would help my stomach or make things worse, but I was ready to try anything. I also took a little carton of chocolate soymilk with me just in case that sounded good at some point. The next two miles were uphill, and while I ran them easily on the first lap, I was pretty sure I was going to walk the entire climb on the second lap. Now in warm clothes, my only real problem was my gut. If I could get that under control I might be able to finish this race reasonably strong. The lead woman passed my on the climb and I was now in 5th place. But I don’t care because I’m focused on the process, not the outcome.
Over the top of the hill I started shuffling a bit. Then I picked it up to a jog. Before long I was running. My stomach was not great, but it was better. My legs felt good. For the first time I took inventory of my elapsed time and distance, and the situation looked fabulous. If things got really bad (which frankly was probable), I only had to maintain 14 minute miles to finish in 20 hours, which would be a new personal best. I can do this.
I had a minor scare when some chaffing on my thighs began to heat up. But I was carrying skin lubricant with me. I stopped, slathered it all over my undercarriage, and the problem was solved as soon as it had cropped up. Sacrifice minutes now to save hours later.
This part of the course wasn’t fast. It was dark and there were lots of rocks. Still, it wasn’t a problem to stay below 14 minute miles. As I began the second two mile long climb I took another big gamble and drank the chocolate soymilk. I planned to sip it over the nearly half hour it would take me to get up this climb, but it tasted so good to me I had finished it in less than a minute. And just like that I knew things were going to be okay. The biggest unknown at that point was whether I was going to get enough calories into my stomach without getting sick, and I had just found a magic potion of sorts.
I ran all the way to the next aid station, then all the way to the aid station after that. At mile 69 Melissa was waiting with more chocolate soymilk for me to take on the final 31 mile out-and-back section. This part of the course was flatter and smoother (though not flat and smooth) than the previous 19 mile loop. I sped up, then sped up again. I took stock of my elapsed time and distance again and realized I could finish in 19 hours if I maintained 12 minute miles (including stops). I was running 10:30 miles.
I caught up to and passed the lead woman to move back into 4th place. The three remaining people in front of me had seemingly insurmountable leads at this point. I was still moving quickly, but stops at aid stations were making things tight. I kept moving with a purpose, though, to try to finish in 19 hours. With 6 miles to go I was still on pace, but I remembered there were a couple of really rocky miles near the end of the course and I would have to bank some time before then.
My stomach was empty and I was barely ingesting enough calories to keep moving. During the last 50K I really only consumed two cartons of chocolate soymilk and maybe five orange slices, but I was able to keep moving.
I hit the rocky section of the course. The sun was starting to rise. After 97 miles of running, lifting my legs up over some of these boulders was agony, but I kept moving with a purpose. Before I knew it I was running through the campground toward the finish line. As I turned the final corner my watch beeped. It had measured 100 miles. My elapsed time was 18:59:46. It took me another two minutes to reach the finish line, which I crossed with nobody but Melissa watching. I wandered into the heated tent and found a race official who recorded my finish in a time of 19:03:23, 4th place.
This time was over 90 minutes faster than I’ve ever run 100 miles (and nearly five hours faster than my run at Across the Years 12 weeks ago). For the first time ever I was able to run throughout the entire 100 mile race. Aside from a handful of forced (i.e. uphill) walk breaks, I didn’t really have any unforced walk breaks. Unforced walk breaks are where the time really adds up. Fewer things went wrong during this race than similar past races. I attribute this mostly to focusing on the process rather than the outcome, and as a part of that, sacrificing minutes to save hours.