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Pacing the Beast



This weekend I was originally going to run the Fred Lebow ½ Marathon, but I ended up swapping 13 miles in Central Park for 13 miles of pacing my crazy brother, Charlie, during the Beast of Burden 100 Mile Ultra in Lockport, New York- upgrade!

Charlie ran his first 100 miler during Virgil Crest  in September, but this was his first ultra on a flat course so we were eager to see how it would go.

Lucky for everyone involved, the races (25, 50, or 100 miles) kicked off at 10:00 am. The joke was that the former race director liked to sleep in and now it was helpful for Canadian racers who liked to drive down the morning of. We left the Finger Lakes around 7 am, got into Lockport around 8:45, and were ready for the pre-race meeting at 9:45.

The parking lot was filled with cars doubling as race-resumes with stickers ranging from the JFK 50 to the Musselman Triathlon and everything in between.  It was a great atmosphere; the daunting distance didn’t deter runners from donning their finest costume garb which featured horned hats and pink fur.

Ultra pre-race meeting 100 miles

At the pre-race meeting the race director went over all the final details, which included to option to change distances before the race began. He reiterated runners change it before the start, because “if anyone tries to change it during race, we have a special acronym for that called ‘DNF’.” Laughs all around.

And they were off!

Beast of Burden Ultra Start Lockport

It was an out and back course: 12.5 out, 12.5 back in, four loops to complete the 100. It was completely and utterly flat, winding gently along the bends of the Erie Canal.

Beast of Burden Ultra course race

For runners the aid stations were at Mile 1 (Lockport), Mile 7 (Gasport), and Mile 12.5 (Middleport). For Crew and Spectators, the main checkpoints were Mile 1, Mile 6 (Orangeport), and Mile 12.5, so my aunt, my mom, and I spent most of the day shuttling back and forth.

Runner soup aid station ultra

Fifty Miles on the Erie Canal: The First 50

The first 50 miles were pretty smooth. Too smooth maybe, since his times matched up with a lot of his shorter races of the same distance.

Miles 1- 12.5 = 1:45 (11:45 am)

Miles 1- 25= approx 4 hrs (2:00 pm)

Charlie took fresh chicken noodle soup from us at the 25 mile marker, but after that ate mostly from the aid stations which were STOCKED with pretty much anything imaginable: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, grilled cheese, chicken broth, vegetable broth, salt potatoes, pizza, pretzels, chocolates, HEED, electrolyte tablets- the list goes on.

Runner aid station 50 miles 100 miles ultra

He finished the Miles 25-50 in about 5:17 (7:17 pm) and locked in a 50 Mile PR about 2 hours faster than his Bear Mountain finish last spring.

He had paired up with Ben from Cleveland some point after Mile 30, and the two had joined with Yak Hat sometime after Mile 37. Note: I tried to ask the third runner's name but Charlie was to tired to entertain me.

So, Charlie, Ben, and Yak Hat- the three came in together at the 50, and set out on their third loop together.

ultra runners at aid station lockport

Miles 50-100: The Tough Get Going

By the time we met them again at Mile 62.5, Charlie was hurting. Bad. The three rested for a bit at the Middleport aid station before finally Ben and Yak Hat set off. Charlie's legs had basically tightened so badly (most likely due to a combination of a mis-timed yoga class and the cold...maybe even the 62 miles he had just run?) that it was increasingly difficult to run at all.

But I supposed part of the point of a 100 Miler is that it is difficult, whether it is in the way you expect or in the unforeseen surprises that arise from even the simplest of things.

He set out again, and some time soon after my mom, my aunt, and I all swore we would never go to another 100 Miler. And some time soon after that we all recanted and set out again to follow around someone intent on torturing himself.

Charlie had decided I should jump in for miles 75- 87.5, so I was suited up and ready to go as we waited for him to come back in to the main aid station. When he did come in, he was hurting. Luckily, one of the volunteers, Dwight, happened to be a massage therapist and helped Charlie work out some of the knots in his legs. It looked excruciating, but Charlie said it was well worth the pain.

Beast of Burden Cold Ultra

photo_2[1]We set out just after 3:15 am. There were no lamp posts, so most of the course was dark, and we had head lamps, and blinking red LED lights on our backs. It was about 20 degrees and dropping, with 15-20 mph winds. With wind chill factored in, it felt like it was a frigid 5 degrees. Unfortunately,  Charlie’s legs were still too cramped to get running at this point. And so we walked. And walked. And walked.  You couldn't see that much ahead of you or around you in the dark, and what you could see looked the same as the mile before it. The miles and the darkness of the morning stretched on and on like some hellscape that I imagine would drop off the edge of the earth before it reached a finite conclusion.

We reached my mom and my aunt at the 6 mile mark around 5:30 am and scrambled into the car. The idea was to warm up, and hit the road again. Then Charlie dozed a little and said 6. Then 6:15. Then maybe 6:30. It was a tough call. I literally shivered in the car for an hour before I began to feel warm again. I put on more layers. When I finished, I had on 2 long sleeve base layers, 2 long sleeve tech shirts, a hoodie, and a waterproof outer shell.

Finally, at 7 o’clock, Charlie made the call to push on. He was adamant he was going to continue the whole 100 even if he had to walk until just under the cut off, so we set out. After a few feet, he realized the cramps were starting to fade, but not enough to pick up running again just yet.  So we walked some more. The sun was just coming up through the trees, and for a few minutes the landscape looked not-so-barren. Within an hour, clouds had settled over again, but for a little bit, it was quite nice.

Beast of Burden Erie Canal Ultra

We also began to see more runners. While we were car napping, I didn’t see many people. But as soon as it began to get light, one by one the course began to come alive with more runners; we were like bears coming out of hibernation.

Charlie and I made it into the Middleport Aid Station, and again, we were chilled to the bone.

By the time we met Charlie at Mile 94, he had been able to start running again and had made up a lot of time. Who knew after 94 Miles things would be drastically better than ten miles before?!

Beast of Burden Ultra Finisher

As we waiting at the staging aid station/ finish area, we could see runners on the other side of the canal as they wound their way back the final two miles to the finish. We say Charlie and several other runners across the water all within 30 minutes of each other.

The volunteers here were incredible, and popped out of the warmth of the tent to lookout for finishers. When they spotted someone, everyone would grab a cowbell and run out to welcome the runner in. It was incredible, especially since many were running with out spectators or crew.

Then it was Charlie's turn and at 1:07 pm, Sunday afternoon, he finished.

Beast of Burden Race Director Finisher Belt Buckle

It didn't go exactly as planned. We asked Charlie how many other runner's he saw, he said 'Well there's still a couple of people behind me'. And then we saw the results: 11th out of 30 finishers. He was one of the 2 youngest runners, possibly the youngest.

I've never run an ultra, yet. Charlie is working on changing that. But from the tiny sliver of this experience I shared with him, I can't say with certainty that I would have chosen to go on after 75 Miles. I don't know that even if I managed to make it 75 miles, I would head out again when every step was excruciating- and optional.

Charlie did. I'm not even sure if it was ever even a choice in his mind- whether to continue or not. And to me, physically finishing 100 miles pales in comparison to his certainty and determination that, one way or another, he would finish.

Bear Mountain North Face Endurance Challenge Series


Before I touch on the New York City Marathon, I should give a little lovin' to the Marathon-That-Was(n't?) After NYC, I had two people congratulate me on my first marathon. The only thing is that it wasn't my first marathon. That would be the 2014 Bear Mountain North Face Endurance Challenge 26.2.

Bear Mountain North Face Medal

Last year in 2013, my brother ran his first ultramarathon- the Bear Mountain North Face Endurance Challenge Series 50 Miler. I tagged along and ran the 10K, officially putting me back on the running map since my cross country days. It was a great weekend and essentially inspired me to look beyond 6 miles (I could write quite a bit on that actually, so much that I will save it for another post).

So last December, having qualified for the 2014 New York City Marathon, I put together a plan. I would run the Bear Mountain Marathon in May. This would serve two purposes:

1. It would motivate me to continue to keep my miles up in the winter months, so my fitness would not drop off and I would not have to start fall marathon training from scratch.

2. The Bear Mountain Race promised to be a monster, in terms of distance, elevation changes, and trail technicality. If I could bang out 26.2 miles there, not only would I not have "first marathon anxiety," but the New York City course might seem "easy" in comparison thereby increasing New York City Marathon enjoy-ability.

May 2014- Race Day

The 50 Mile race began at 5:00 am, so my family and I met at the start area to see my brother off. Head lamps are required for the first hour or so, but dawn always starts to peek above the hills by about 5:30 or so.

den camera 2014 172

We hurried down to the first aid station to catch him. It was only four miles or so for the runners, but since we were trying to maneuver around with several people plus a dog, we ended up missing him.

The rest of my family headed to the parking lot to nap in the car. I curled up in the front seat and managed to get 45 minutes, maybe an hour. Before I knew it, it was 7 o'clock and time to rise and shine (and by "shine"  I mean embark upon an absolute hellscape of a course).

The race started uneventfully enough and we were off.

bear mountain north face marathon

It had rained pretty heavily in the days leading up to the race and as a result the course was drastically different than in 2013. Steep, rocky trails were slick with water and tiny streams still making their way down. The flat stretches, which would usually offer a reprieve from the difficulties of the graded portions were filled with about six inches of thick slopping mud OR several inches of water standing on top that six inches of thick slopping mud.

The first couple miles, several runners and myself instinctively tried to preserve our dry shoes and dashed for a tiny island of dry dirt or bounced from stone to stone across endless mazes of muck.

Other (I'm assuming) wiser and more seasoned endurance runners plugged along straight through every wet, slick, and sloppy obstacle in their course. Later it would occur to me this was quite wise indeed.

I saw my family and the mister at the Anthony Wayne Aid Station #1, located at the 3.9 mile mark.

Anthony Wayne Aid Station

Sometime after leaving this aid station in the thick of the woods at the low point of between steep hills, we passed a runner from the 50 Mile race surrounded by medics. The verdict at that time was he had broken his leg, and according to the medic on a walkie talkie it was "going to take a few hours" to carry him out." Sure Bear Mountain is less than two hours from New York City, but these trails were legit. Any one of us at any time could have rolled and ankle over one of the loss rocks that littered the trail. Or taken an over eager stride on the down hill. It was the first injury I saw that day, but it wasn't the last.

From there I continued to the Silvermine Aid Station (8.6 mile mark), where things began to get a little more interesting. At this point, my heel had begun to chafe. (Since I had accidentally run my training shoes raw, I was forced to replace them a week before. I know the "no new things on race day" adage, but I figured it was worth the risk because 1. they were the exact same shoe and model, so hopefully that would offset most of the problems of my foot having to adapt, 2. the old ones were worn down so much they likely caused or contributed to my earlier injury).

den camera 2014 228

I knew if I could get it wrapped with a little extra something so that the shoe didn't rub on raw skin, it was earlier enough to not have any real problems going forward. There was a short wait at the medic tent as one woman my age was in the process of dealing with a twisted ankle and the heartbreak of DNF-ing. The medic sent two strips of tape my way, it wasn't ideal, but I was eager to get moving again so I made do.

I was lucky enough to get to see my family here, which was great, since I wouldn't see them until I looped back to Anthony Wayne near the 20 mile mark.

I spent the next five or so miles dreaming the of salty snacks I would find at the Arden Valley Aid Station (13.6). You can imagine my disappointment when I got there and they were basically cleared out. Sigh. Next!

Like running to the top of Mount Washington during a marathon.

At this point I am in the thick of the toughest part of the course. I know if I can make it to Mile 18 in a timely fashion, the toughest parts will be behind me and I will finish. But Mile 18 is still a ways off and I'm dealing with a whole new problem: nutrition.

During the race sometime after mile 13, I started getting terrible debilitating quad cramps. I was fueling with shot blocks and water. Looking back I now know that 1. gels work better for me than shot blacks and 2. if I was going to use shot blocks for this race I should have had about double what I did. Also, I hadn't quite figured out my salty-sweater sodium replacement. So.... not enough fuel and salt = plenty of cramps.

The tape on my ankle was wet and useless at this point (a kind runner offered me some moleskin from his pack, but I passed since we were very close to the aid station). I forget it it was near mile 13 or 18 station, but a wonderful volunteer named Terry sat me down and wrapped my mud-splattered, trail-battered ankle in a fresh ace bandage which held up perfectly for the remainder of the race.

I spent the next several miles looking forward to finally reaching the 18 mile threshold and (hopefully) finding some salt at the next aid station. I chatted with the runner next to me, Greg, whose son was running his first 50 Miler that day. I massaged my quads and committed to walking most all of the up hills and to ignoring any mud and/or water in front of me. Wet feet were obviously unavoidable and zig-zagging was obviously a waste of time and energy.

At the Owl Swamp Aid Station (17.9), we were hurting. Runners, including myself, took their time recouping and fueling and stretching out as much as possible. And then, we began the slog back towards Anthony Wayne.

Overall I was feeling pretty good, but I was absolutely exhausted. I kept thinking of how excited I was to make my way back to the Anthony Wayne station where I knew I would find my family and the mister.

den camera 2014 241

Finally, we emerged from the woods, and there it was. I remember coming down this hill and literally choking back tears because I was so happy to see my family and the mister. I can not describe how much it meant to not only see these people after hours of puttering around the woods, but to have them there supporting me. I'm very grateful to have such an incredible group of people in my life.

I  touched base with everyone quickly, and then started off.

For about 400 yards. And then I turned around.

I had almost forgotten to fill my empty water bottle. Opps.

The last few miles were pretty brutal. I was running on fumes (ha ha). Greg and I matched paces for the last stretch and we waxed on about the blessings of flat, dry, ground.

We passed under the tell-tale tunnel and rounded the final corner- at last! The Finish was in sight!

Bear mountain marathon finish

I finished in 7:20:04. A little slow in "road marathon" time, but in Bear Mountain time? I was thrilled! My brother, who joked that he was going to finish his 50 Miles before I finished the Marathon (a possibility,) finished about 20 minutes after me. He ran 50 miles in 11:32:25- over two hours faster than the same race in 2013.

bear 2

North Face endurance challenge swag

In the hours, days, and, honestly, months following this race, I hesitated to commit to running this course as a marathon next year. It was tough. I knew it would be tough based on my brother's reaction when he ran it the first time and I spent months visualizing myself battling the rugged uphills and preparing the expect the fatigue I knew would come.

But today, as I'm writing this, and have another marathon under my belt (an easy-breezy-by-comparison road race), I'm tempted to go beyond the marathon distance.

Tempted and planning.