I had signed up for the Long Haul 100 miler after my friend Betty picked the race. It lined up well with the MLK weekend so the we could travel down to Florida and enjoy a nice long weekend without the kids missing school. It quickly turned into a family vacation when my parents and Kelly’s mother decided to join the party.
Rounding out the team would be my friend Nati who I had met in September. Nati had visited Chicago and we had met up for a long run. Since then, we had also met up at Javelina and kept in touch over facebook. Nati is a really strong runner with a great attitude and I was looking forward to hitting the trails with her. Between Nati and my boys Jacob and Charlie, I had an abundance of pacers and Kelly and the grandparents organized a NASCAR like pit-crew.
We flew down to Tampa on Thursday and got settled into a pretty fabulous condo on the beach in Indian Rocks. We did the standard tourist stuff on Friday including a trip to the beach along with a visit to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium which was made famous by the movie Dolphin Tale. Grace loved it there and really didn’t want to leave.
After a good lunch by the beach, Kelly drove me to packet pickup and then to the host hotel where I had a room for the night. Our Condo was a good 90 minute drive from the race and I wanted to be able to sleep in as much as possible prior to the run. After organizing my gear, I got a solid 9 hours of sleep and woke up ready for a bit of running.
The race started at 7a which is far more civilized than the 4a or 5a starts I’ve experienced elsewhere. It meant that the runners got a good night of sleep and also that we could start without needing to worry about a headlamp as the sun was just coming up. At 7a sharp, we were off and moving.
The Long Haul 100mi run is a 20mile loop that is repeated five times. Within each 20mile loop, it had some even shorter loops meaning that the entire race could be supported via three aid stations and minimal drop bags.
The run starts with a shorter 2.5mile section including a bit of road that takes you from the Start (Aid Station #1) to Aid Station #2 which was the primary crew/spectator zone. From Aid Station #2, you did a 3.3mile loop to the south before returning to the same spot. From there, you would then do a 8.5mile loop to the north again returning back to Aid Station #2. It was back to the 3.3 mile loop to the south again followed by the same 2.5 mile section to return to the start/finish area to complete the loop. The beauty of this setup was that you would be crossing Aid Station #2 four times per loop…or 20 times during the race. It made for an ideal spot for your crew/drop bag.
The course was very flat and very pretty. While it had some shorter road sections, you could always run on the side of the road if you preferred a softer surface. None of the race was really all that technical though there were some sections that had been roughed up by local wildlife that offered lots of ankle twisting opportunities. The course was in great shape as we started though the weather to come would change that later in the race.
I started with a pretty minimal setup running with a handheld for the first 45 miles of the race. It was nice to be able to cruise some miles without the load of a pack. Since the longest distance between aid was only 3.3 miles, it was easy to make due without a pack.
Loop 1 – miles 0 – 20 – 3:30:27 (10:31 pace)
Loop 1 was about easing into the day and avoiding the temptation to go out to quick. The temperatures were still relatively cool so I was able to cruise the early miles. I ran the first 10 miles easy and then started a walk/run pattern of .9mile run / .1mile walk. There were absolutely no hills so it was the only thing to keep me from blowing up early.
Loop 2 – miles 21-40 – 3:49:26 (11:28 pace)
Loop 2 started to warm and the humidity got to me. I kept with the .9mi/.1mi run walk routine and kept moving making sure not to push too hard. I noticed that I was roughly in the middle of the pack but enjoyed constantly seeing the other runners as we went back and forth in the various loops. It wasn’t until I was coming into the start/finish area at mile 40 that I saw my family for the first time. It was perfect timing and Kelly immediately offered me an ice-cold popsicle which really helped to provide some calories and cool me off a bit. I gave her a hug and told her that I would see her in about 3 miles.
Loop 3 – miles 41-60 – 4:39:46 (13:59 pace)
At mile 45, I picked up my first pacer. Charlie was going to run the 9mile north loop with me. He was excited and ready to go enjoying the scenery and other runners. Lots of the other runners and aid station volunteers marveled at the 12 year old kid pacing in an ultra and got a huge kick out of it.
At this point, I was trying to run .3 miles / walk .2 miles. I really wanted to run late in the race and avoid the dreaded death march and found that shorter/faster spurts of running mixed with a fast walking pace were best.
We were making great progress when something unexpected happened…my hydration pack that I had just picked up broke! We were nearing the Aid Station #3 so we ran to the AS and I explained the situation. They offered to look at the pack while we did the northern most 3 mile out/back and sure enough…as soon as we had returned, they had worked up a MacGyver solution with zip ties and duck tape to get the pack back in working order. They rocked!
Charlie and I made our way back to AS2 where Jacob was going to jump in for a couple miles. Jacob and I threw on our headlamps as the sun was setting. Jacob kept me moving through the south loop and then back to the start finish.
Loop 4 – miles 61-80 – 4:27:10 (13:21 pace)
Jacob was still with me at the start of loop 4 getting me back to AS#2 at mile ~63. At this point, Nati was going to pick me up for the next 32 miles or so. Nati was ready to go…and had been having a blast with my family. My father had even offered to fill her hydration pack with Jack Daniels:
Nati was full of energy and we got moving quickly. At this point, I was alternating .25mi run/.25mi walk but Nati made sure I was always moving with pace. Between her pacing and the cooler temperatures, I ran the 4th 20 mile loop even faster than my 3rd loop.
Nati also warned me that some weather was brewing and that we needed to make progress as a storm was due around the 1a/2a timeframe. I was curious about how bad the weather was going to be so Nati started texting a couple friends who had been remotely monitoring both the race and weather for her. They gave us some interesting news…the weather was bad and that Tornados were possible in the area. We kept moving knowing that we would need to gear up soon.
Loop 5 – miles 81-100 – 5:09:54 (15:30 pace)
We continued to watch the clock and weather and made it back/forth to the start finish. Back at Aid Station 2 (mile 83), we agreed that we had plenty of time to do the south 3.3 mile loop before the weather hit and took off heading south. Within a couple minutes of leaving Kelly, the skies opened and we were soaked. We were both running in tech shirts and the temperatures were dropping. We used this to keep moving as quickly as possible and got back to Aid Station #2 where Kelly and my dad were ready and waiting with dry clothes and more importantly – rain gear.
After a brief stop, we were geared up and ready to tackle the last 15 miles. I was tired but still able to run which was awesome. Nati kept me going with the run/walk routine and other than walking some of the muddiest sections – we kept the pace up.
The further we went, the worse the weather got including thunder, lightning and tons of rain. The trails were starting to deteriorate making the running even more challenging. We eventually made our way back to AS#2 (mile 95) where Jacob was waiting to pace me in. At this point, the trails were pretty much a muddy slip-n-slide and there wasn’t a lot of running. Jacob kept me going as we joked that the only weather we hadn’t experienced during the day was snow. We were still moving and finally made it back to AS#2 meaning that I only had 2.5 miles to go.
Jacob was getting cold so I sent him with Kelly and told them that I would see them soon at the finish. Another runner was heading in the same direction so I started running/hiking with her. I told her how much I was looking forward to being done and getting off my feet and she told me that she was heading in to finish her 4th loop…and had another 20 miles to go. I felt terrible for her. The trails were turning to garbage but she had a great attitude and was going to finish the race. Pretty soon, we had finished the trail and were back on the road running into the finish.
I was shocked that my entire family had woken up and driven back to the race to see me finish in the rain. Even Betty who had just finished the 100k the night before had stuck around the finish decked-out in garbage bag to stay dry! I was even more shocked when they told me that I had taken 3rd place overall! My first and likely last podium of my running career.
This was a great race and I enjoyed it. Sure, there were no big mountains or climbs but the course was very pretty and everyone had a great time.
Further, this was a huge team effort. Between the pacing miles (Charlie: 9, Jacob: 12, Nati: 33) and the crewing – I had terrific support through the race. In fact, my crew had been so organized that I only had about 11 minutes of stoppage time during the entire race:
My 21:36 is a new 100mile trail PR and I’m pretty certain I would have run even faster than my 21:17 Graveyard time if it hadn’t been for the crappy weather in the last loop.
Most importantly, it was a great time and I’m incredibly grateful to the support from my friends and family!
Hoka Challenger ATR
Injinji Trail Socks
Saucony Throttle Shorts
North Face Shirt
Julbo Dirt Sunglasses (day)
Ultraspire Revolution Pack
Garmin Fenix 3
Petzl NAO Headlamp
North Face Fuseform Dot Matrix rain gear