Saturday, September 21, 2013

Hallucination 100 Race Report

So my last 100-miler of the summer (14-week span) was the Hallucination 100, which is part of the hippy-wacky Run Woodstock weekend at the Hell Creek Ranch Campground near Ann Arbor, Michigan. By now I was 100% confident that I'd finish this race and complete the Midwest Grand Slam  of Ultrarunning. But I was hungry for more than just a finish. I wanted to train hard, taper smart, and apply the lessons I've been learning all summer for a real finale of a race.

With my wife, friend, crew, and pacer 

That said, this race was different from the other 100-milers I've been running in a few notable ways:
  • It's a six-loop course with identical 16.7 mile lap repeats
  • The race started at 4pm on Friday instead of the typical 5-6am start
  • My wife Cindy was going to pace me for one lap
  • The elevation was less than usual
I wasn't too thrilled by the first two, but quite excited about the last two variables. How different would this race feel? Would I be more sleepy with an afternoon start? Could I really apply the lessons I'd been learning or would I be thrown off?

I decided I wouldn't let myself be thrown off by these new variables. One of the lessons I've learned this summer is the power of a good attitude, even when faced with obstacles (cold rain, deep mud, sleep deprivation, torn shoes, etc.). By contrast I've seen runners get really bent out of shape over little things that they can't control or fix and it's like watching them drown right there on the trail.

So I wasn't thrilled about the idea of six repetitive loops, but realized I could turn it to my advantage by using it as a pacing tool. I've consistently gone out too fast and faded too much in these 100-milers, so I was aiming for a more evenly-paced race. 

Enjoying the first loop in the daylight

Despite my good intentions I still went out a bit fast, but more self-controlled than ever. The first loop was calm and easy and I was taking in every last detail of the course. This would be the only full loop that I'd complete before sundown (I managed 1.5 loops before I had to turn on my headlamp, more on that later) so I wanted to remember everything I could.

One loop down, five to go
I finished my first loop in about three hours, grabbed some food and fresh water for my CamelBak FlashFlo, and got right back on the trail. In addition to more even pacing, I was also committed to faster aid stations. This first loop was a good one and I didn't waste any time.

There's not much to say about the second loop except for one mistake that almost cost me dearly. A few miles into the second loop I saw my crew (wife Cindy and friend Ryan) and asked for a headlamp in case I didn't get to the next aid station before sundown. I didn't plan and communicate well, and when Ryan brought me a head lamp which wasn't the one I wanted I refused it and said I'd just get the one I wanted at the next aid station. The sun was still high and I was feeling fresh, but that was a foolish decision. A thick tree canopy can really keep out a setting sun, and as I was approaching the next aid station I felt a bit of panic as the single-track trails were getting darker and darker and I still didn't have a headlamp. At this point I realized that if I missed my crew at the next road crossing then I would have to run on the shoulder of another smarter runner with a headlamp. I am so grateful that I caught Ryan and Cindy as planned, grabbed my headlamps (one for the head, one for the waist, built in redundancy and better depth perception), and kept running with a huge sigh of relief. Lessons learned? Plan more carefully, communicate more clearly, and just take a stupid headlamp...any headlamp!

I changed shoes twice during the race
As I completed loop two (~3:15) I asked my crew for my "shoe kit" which consists of:
  • towel (for sitting, washing and drying)
  • gallon jug of water (for washing)
  • fresh socks
  • fresh shoes
  • Bodyglide
  • Blister kit (just in case, never used)
I took a few minutes to freshen up my feet which always feels great to me. I switched from my Brooks Glycerin road shoes to Brooks Cascadia trail shoes for a more confident footing at night and my first pacer, my sister Laura, and I hit the trails.

Loop three was my first full loop in the dark. I love running at night on the trails and the weather was really nice, so we churned through the miles and made it to the half-way mark (3 loops, 50 miles) in 10 hours and 5 minutes. This was one of the slowest time I've ever run for the first half of a 100-miler which was right on target for my pacing strategy.

A bit after midnight my good friend Ryan (he came all the way from Toronto) was waking up at a nearby hotel and preparing to run lap four with me. We met up on the trail around 1:30am and burned through another 16.7 miles loop. I don't remember much about the run, but I do remember good conversations about marriage, family, and friendships. The other thing I remember about this loop is two delicious pieces of vegetarian pizza. We're talking red onion, bell pepper, banana pepper, mushroom, and feta. Over the summer I've been eating fewer synthetics (gus, gels, blocks, etc.) and more real foods (rice balls, dates, pizza, etc.) to good effect. I felt strong and was hoping to finish the loop by 7am, but because of better pacing I completed the loop in just a little over four hours and made it back to my next pacer, my wife Cindy, shortly after 5am.

Cindy and I love to run together and I'm grateful we share a common passion for something so fun and healthy. We've run thousands of miles, several races, and even a couple of marathons together. But Cindy doesn't like running at night. She doesn't like running on trails. And she was hesitant about pacing me for almost 17 miles. But I assured her that we'd have a great time together and that all her pacing miles would be in the daytime. But I was having such a good race that I completed my fourth lap more than an hour before sunrise and wondered how brave my dear wife would be. While I was changing my socks and shoes Cindy was putting on her headlamp and she was ready to run without a single complaint.

Adam and Cindy ready to start loop 5 in the dark, oops!

We ran a solid hour in the dark before the sun started to rise. This section was a little funky for me, but not nearly as "dark"as previous races. I was getting really sleepy, but was so grateful to have Cindy with me. I don't remember too much about the rest of this loop but Cindy tells me that when the sun came up I came back to life, started talking loudly, and was greeting and encouraging (loudly) all the other runners we passed. Cindy like the running and we enjoyed being together, but she didn't like the trail experience. I diagnosed her with trailclaustrophobia as she really didn't like the sections of narrow, rutted, overgrown singletrack (my favorite).

As we finished lap 5 I was alert, excited, and still able to do mathematical calculations in my head. I was scheming for a PR and was determined to make it happen! And who better to help me than my crew-boss/pacing-queen sister, Laura? Laura has been such a huge help through this entire adventure so it was entirely fitting that she'd finish my last loop with me. Are you doing the math here? She paced for more more than 33 miles! Her pacing alone was an ultramarathon!

By now the day was getting warm and I was getting pumped. We charged out of the aid station and I felt like I had new legs. I was whooping, hollering, passing people and tearing up the miles. I knew I was going to PR and scheming to sneak under 22 hours. I was focused, held good form, and maintained a solid pace. The temps rose and I was draining my water reservoir quickly, but the aid stations took good care of us. By now we were sharing the trails with runners from other distances including 50 miles, 50km, marathon, and half marathon. When the aid station volunteers would see those of us with the 100 mile race bibs on they'd pull us aside to their secret stash of ice and solid foods that they didn't have out for the rest of the runners. I hope I'm not spoiling any secrets, but it was much appreciated.

With only four miles to go I was doing the math, picking up the pace, and eager to finish. Laura was pushing me hard and keeping me going with a focused intensity. At miles 97 Laura reminded me that for the Grand Slam I should be telling myself that I had 397 down and only three to go. I must say that perspective was very encouraging and I was pushing hard and running up every hill. About two miles from the finish I told my sister I was going to run the next hill, but she decided to walk. I felt bad leaving her, but I couldn't hold back and pushed on to the finish line.

I pounded out the next two miles, ran through the last couple of turns and hills (well-memorized by now on lap 6) and charged back into the campground, around the last turn, and toward the finish chute. I felt like I was finishing a 5k, not a 100-miler! I sprinted across the finish line with a scream, a jump, and a fist pump!

Finishing strong after 100 miles!

As I walked through the finish area I was surprised to learn I had finished eight overall and first in my age group with a time of 21:46:47. I was thrilled to take almost an hour and a half off my PR and felt strong the entire race. I couldn't have done any of it without the selfless support of my friends and family who crewed and paced me through so many miles. What a blessing!

After the race I did some math and calculated all six lap times:

  1. 2:50
  2. 3:24
  3. 3:51
  4. 3:54
  5. 4:14
  6. 3:33

Happy to accomplish my goal
Several new friends I met this summer finished shortly after me and I enjoyed comparing notes and swapping stories with them. It seemed like we were all able to apply what we'd been learning throughout the summer and put together strong races. Instead of finishing beat up and worn out, we were finishing stronger, faster, and better than ever!

The impact of the race caught up with me over the next hour as my legs were hurting, throbbing, and aching. I kept walking to keep my legs loose, got a refreshing shower and a short nap, and Cindy and I drove back to Chicago to reunite with our four young kids. We went to church Sunday morning and I was feeling good. On Monday morning I got an amazing one-hour massage and felt fantastic. I ran a few times that week and was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I recovered from such a long race.

Now what's the future hold? I have no idea. I do plan to run a marathon this week in Hamburg, Germany and then in early October I'm going to attempt a Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim crossing of the Grand Canyon. After that I'll settle into another Chicago winter, read some books, try some new recipes, share good meals with great friends, and dream about what's next...

But before we're done, would you consider making a one-time, tax-deductible donation to Show Hope? They are a great organization that cares for orphans and gives adoption grants to families who want to adopt children but need some financial help to make it happen. My four 100-mile ultramarathons have been dedicated to Show Hope and the good work they do. If you've been inspired by my adventures, please make a donation to help children find forever families!

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At 8:13 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Adam, congratulations! You've had an amazing summer. Way to finish strong. I've enjoyed following your journey through these races. Thanks for sharing these reports with the rest of us. As someone who is learning about self-discipline and enjoying the abundant life, I'm encouraged by your example. May you keep spurring people on and inspiring others along the way.


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