Monday, April 1, 2013

Race Recap: New Jersey Ultra Festival - 100 miler

So, it's taken me a week to do a write up on my ultra, mostly because I needed some time to decompress and reflect on this run. To simply sum up my race, I did not achieve what I set out to do, finish. The irony is, I ran 70 miles, a personal best. But, along with my PB, I snatched up another acronym no runner likes to get, DNF. Normally, if you run a PB, you're floating on cloud nine. You're overjoyed. Elated. I felt none of that. I felt deflated and defeated. It was a very lonely feeling after running for almost 17 hours.

Flash forward back the beginning of the day and me and about 50 other runners set off for
Sunrise on race morning
our 100 mile journey. There was lots of smiling and laughing from everyone at the start. I overheard one runner say, "Only 99.9 miles to go!" In the back of my head I wondered how long it would take those smiles to fade? For the chatter to stop. Would it be 30 miles in? 50? When the sun went down?

The course - which started/finished at the New Jersey State Fairgrounds in northern Jersey - was open until 12pm the following day, so there was plenty of time to complete the race. I set off at a comfortable, relaxed pace and settled in for the long haul. The course was a 10 mile loop. About 2 miles was on paved roads and the rest was trails.

Instead of approaching this race as 100 miles, I viewed it as ten 10 mile races. Breaking the race down into 10 mile chunks made it seem less daunting. Even though it was on the cool side (high 30s), hydration was important. Also, taking in solid foods was equally important. Typically, I run with a hydration pack. But, there was ample water on course, so I opted to use my handheld instead. I went through about two bottles per lap. At the start of each lap, I would drop a Nuun tablet in my handheld and would refill it once with water on the course. I also had ate one Gu each lap in addition to my standard ultra fare: PB&Js, bananas, cookies, candy, chicken broth...

It took me awhile to find my rhythm, but I was finally able to get into my zone by the 3rd lap. The sun peaked out every now and again, but the temperature remained cool. There was a pretty good breeze that would always chill me at the end of each lap when I would take a short break to restock and change my clothing, if necessary.

After 30 miles

In conjunction with the 100 miler, there was a 100K, 50 miler, 50K, and a marathon. So, for a good portion of the day, many runners were on the course. The trail was in fairly good condition at the start. But, as the race wore on, all the foot traffic changed the already damp and partially snow covered trail into a fine, muddy purée. At first, I tried avoiding the puddles (for fear that it would make my feet cold). But, I soon realized that the cold water acted as a nice little in-race ice bath for my feet, so I started intentionally running through some of the wet areas.

At the end of my 4th lap, I was greeted by some friends that traveled to the race to cheer me on. Seeing some familiar faces was nice and I was beyond grateful for them coming out and standing in the cold.

50 miles in
As I set out for my 5th lap, I was greeted by some terrible pain in my right foot. I had opted to rest a bit longer and chat with my friends and I think my foot cramped up because of that. The pain was so bad that I needed to change the way I landed on my foot. I feared that if the pain didn't improve, I might not be able to continue. Fortunately, once I got to the softer grounds of the trail, the pain subsided and I was able to relax and refocus.

With my foot acting up and hitting one of my many walls, the 5th lap was a rough one. Yet, finishing it meant I was halfway home. The sun was beginning to hang low at the start of my 6th lap, so I donned my headlamp.  This was also the point in the race when I started to get very chilled. The temperature was beginning to drop and the winds weren't dying down much. I don't mind being a little cold while I run and in fact, I prefer it. But, I was beyond cold. I was shivering as I ran and was praying for the tree-lined trail section (trees = good windbreaker). By the time I reached the 3rd mile of this lap, I was feeling warmer. However, I noticed that I was hardly sweating, which concerned me. When I finished my 6th lap, my friend asked me how I felt about running the last 40. I replied that other than being cold, I was feeling confident and optimistic. I thought I was in a real good place going into my 7th, but that's when things took a turn for the worse.

I was absolutely frozen. My chattering teeth were so loud that I'm sure I spooked any wildlife nearby. It was well after 9pm, the wind was still blowing and the 'feels like' temperature was in the 20s. For the life of me, I couldn't get warm. I was also starting to hit another wall which was making me walk more than I would have liked to. Any body heat I was able to generate while running was quickly lost when I would take a walking break. I was starting to head down a path I didn't like.

Throughout this lap, I was trying to figure out how to warm up. Obviously, I knew I needed to add another layer. I also knew that before I set out for my 8th lap, I needed to warm up my body. I decided to sit in my car and blast the heat. In theory, I thought it would work. Unfortunately, it did not.

I sat in my car for a good 15 minutes trying to get warm. I knew I wasn't in good shape. I still had more than a marathon to go and I really questioned my ability to continue in my current state. The dreaded fear of having to drop out was starting to become a reality. If you know me, you know I don't quit. I love to challenge myself and prove my mind wrong. But this time, I needed to be realistic and listen to my body. As much as I wanted to continue, I knew it was time to pull the plug. My race was over...30 miles shy of my target. It was a tough pill to swallow.

Throughout my race, I live tweeted and posted updates on Facebook so my friends and family could track my progress. The amount of comments I received was overwhelming. It left me speechless.  Saying "thank you" doesn't even come close to showing the amount I appreciate it, but I don't know what else to say. Even articulating my emotions as I write this is hard, but just know that I'm so grateful to have you all in my life. Your support means so much to me.

To run a PB and DNF in the same race is a pretty brutal feeling. Part of me wants to be happy with what I have achieved, but the other part of me is severely disappointed. Even now, I'm still not sure how to feel about this race. What makes it even harder is when my friends and family talk to me about my run and congratulate me. I smile and thank then for their kind words, but inside I'm hurting because I don't feel like I deserve any of it. I came up short. Don't get me wrong, I'm proud that I ran as far as I did, but I wanted that 100 mile finish real bad. However, I have no regrets about dropping out. It was the right thing to do.

I'm not sure when I'll go for it again, but something tells me it won't be too long before I'm hitting the payment button on a 100 mile entry form. I will keep trying until I get it!

My run - Garmin Upload


  1. you ran a lot further than most people do! I congratulate you because I could never do that..and don't worry I'm sure you will be back to attack that 100 miler and get rid of that DNF

  2. Great report. I applaud your ableness to even run that far. I couldn't walk that far. That is pure strength and stamina. Get it next time.