Running 100 miles is more a test of mental toughness than physical fitness. Unless you've run a 100 it's hard to understand that but you can take my word for it. In case you're not sure what I mean, I have a pretty literal definition of mental toughness, which pretty much boils down to being hard headed and stubborn. My wife will tell you that my stubborness is one of my worst qualities, but as a runners it's my best. The ability to block out the negative and focus on finishing is absolutely crucial in a 100 mile run.
If I were any kind of story-teller I would start off at the most trying time in my race - when I wasn't sure if I could go another step further, when life and death were in the balance. I would then flash back to the begining of the race, or maybe even childhood, when the journey all started - leaving you on the edge of your seat the whole time whether I persevered or not. I might as well let you down now and tell you that I'm not a great story teller and my race wasn't nearly that dramatic. I will share my story though and I'll be as honest as possible because like I said, running 100 miles is more mental than physical.
The mental challenge started four weeks prior to race day. I was full of confidence after a few weeks of really strong training. My training peaked that week with a great 40 mile run at Massanutten (pacing my good friend Kevin Martin), a 23 mile trail run at Highbanks, and a 25 mile night trail run at Mohican with Jay Smithberger. My final planned run for the week was ambitious, the goal was to run the road section of the Mohican 100 course then tack on some additional miles on trail for a total of 40 on the day. On that run I developed some pain in my right shin coming into Buckhaven and cut the run short - logging 25 miles for the day. I didn't think much of it, just thinking it was a little bit a shin splint that would heal up during a taper.
A couple days later, after some business meetings in Cleveland I met my dad for a run. We did 8 miles that night and I was in pain the whole way. I was really worried with Mohican only 3 and 1/2 weeks away and I scheduled a visit to see a good friend and sports medicine physician Dr. Darrin Bright. X-rays were inconclusive but Darrin said it could very well be a stress fracture. He said I should get an MRI to be sure but if I didn't want to spend the $ a few weeks of rest would be the way to go. If it still hurt than he said I really should get the MRI. With 3 weeks until Mohican I was hesitant to take a few weeks off running but I didn't want to spend $1000 if I didn't need to. I decided to shut it down completely for 2 weeks and test the leg a week and 1/2 out from race day. If I could run pain free than I would give it a go. If the leg still hurt than I would withdrawl from Mohican.
After 14 days off from running, and all exercise for that matter, I tested the leg out on a 6 mile run (2 miles at 6:10 pace). I felt a bit out of shape but the leg felt fine. I got in two more runs in the week leading up to the race, both pain free. With a bit of doubt about the leg I decided to give Mohican a go, with a modified goal. The primary goal in a 100, for all but a select few, is just to finish. The secondary goal I set for myself was a sub-24 hour finish. I felt that if I could keep up with my hydration and nutrition (something that plagued me last year) that this was a goal that was well within reach.
The weather forcast leading up the race called for tempatures in the 90's and a chance on thunderstorms. With all the rain the past two weeks water levels at Mohican were said to be higher than they had been in several years. There seemed to a lot of concern amongst the runners but I wasn't as worried as most. Running 100 miles isn't supposed to be easy and if people can run 135 miles through Death Valley surley we could run 100 miles in 92 degree heat. It might affect our times a bit but I was confident I could finish.
The race started out at 5am with runners following the North Rim Trail and Hemlock Trail 5 miles to the Coverd Bridge. It was a comfortable temperature and it even sprinkled a bit which cooled things down a bit. From Covered Bridge we headed onto the Purple Loop and I was surprised that the water wasn't nearly as high as I expected it to be. We finished the loop on pace, feeling good, and we headed up the red loop up to Bridle Staging. At this point Steve, Dave, Terri, and myself were all running together. I also had the pleasure of running with Kyle Fahrenkamp for a bit. Things were still going well and we were on pace heading into Bridle Staging at mile 11.5.
The section leading from Bridle Staging is not only the longest, at 7.5 miles, but also one of the more challenging sections of the course. It includes 3 stream crossings where your feet do get wet. On the last crossing the water is knee deep. Two troubling things started to occur on this stretch of trail: #1 I became a bit nauseas and #2 my shin started to ache. Needless to say I was very concerned and decided to take the next sections very slow to try and get my stomach turned around. I had no idea what to do about the leg pain, but figured the slower pace might help that to.
We were lucky early on the road section to have a nice breeze and some cloud cover. I was stuggling but the weather was at least cooperating for the time being. I felt ok when I was walking but when I would jog my stomach and leg would protest. I was happy to be maintaining 15-16 minute miles while recovering - still below time cut-off pace. As I approached Mohican Wilderness my stomach was improving but my leg was getting worse. The decent down Big Hill Rd really had me wincing in pain - on top of that I had developed a blister on the back of my left heel. As I came into Mohican Wilderness I took advantage of my stomach being ok and ate as much as I could. The leg called for more desperate measures. I popped a few Advil, not a great thing to do when dehydrated, and wrapped the leg with an ACE bandage and duct tape. I figured the duct tape would hold up better through the water crossings and I needed something to add some consistent presure on the leg. I left the aid station wondering if the leg would be ok or if my day would be over soon.
I walked a bit to let the food digest and to see how the leg tape job felt, not to mention that one of the biggest hills on the course is on this section of the course. After a couple miles I started to feel really good and ran consistently all the way to Buckhaven and from there all the way to Rock Point. I was definitely in the middle of one of those high points and I've always been told that when your body wants to run, run. I came into Rock Point at mile 40 enthusiastic and optimistic that this WOULD be my day. That my lost time early on the roads might actually be a good thing, because while others were cooking in the heat I was recovering. I was a bit lightheaded and woozy, clearly in need of some sugar (I avoided it all day because this is what made me sick last year) but this was something I knew I could correct and was confident heading back out on the trails. I had caught up with Michelle Bischell at Rock Point and the two of us headed back out on the trails. I was on my way.
To be continued...