I was just over ½ way through my 2nd 100 of the summer. This is one of those points in a race when a runner has to decide whether to man up and make a race out of it or reel it back and enter survival mode. My body was aching and telling me that maybe slowing it down was the way to go but with my friends Star, Darrin, and Steve now with me my mind was telling me to do whatever I could manage to do in order to keep up with them. I spent more time than I should have at the aid station making sure I had enough food in me for the next stretch. I popped a few Advil in the hopes that it would make my sore feet feel better. Darrin and Star were already on course so I asked my pacer, Mike Barga, if he was ready to give this a go. We were off…
I decided to allow myself a mile or two to catch up to the group. I wanted to give the Advil some time to take effect and needed to give the full stomach some time to digest. Over-doing it on a full stomach can have terrible consequences. Mike and I moved along at a decent pace as I gave him instructions about what to expect as a pacer. I asked him if he was good at math because we’d be crunching numbers through the night, making sure we were still on pace, or how fast we’d have to run a certain section to hit my goal time of 24-hours. I told him that we needed to be patient when my stomach was telling me to take it easy but when he could tell I was ready to run, that he should push me to keep a good pace. I told him that he could not carry anything for me and must stay beside or behind me, not out in front like a rabbit. It was a good distraction having Mike there, talking race strategy and race rules, instead of thinking about how I was feeling. And that’s when it happened…that’s when it always happens…when you’re mind’s distracted and you’re not thinking about how you feel. I bounced back and I bounced back in a big way.
The food had it’s effect and the Advil must have had it’s effect too. I was feeling energized and pain free. I was ready to rock ‘n roll. I knew it would be stupid to go overboard so I happily tucked in line on the Star 24 Hour Express. I knew Star would keep us on pace and get us home under our goal. She is the perfect pacer – always positive, always consistent. If she has personal lows during her runs she does a great job of masking it because I’ve never seen her struggle.
We were already ½ way through the Pine Lane section and I was already getting antsy. Ultra advice is often contradictory because there really is no right or wrong way to approach a race. Scratch that, there are plenty of wrong way’s to approach a race but there isn’t one clear cut RIGHT way. The debate brewing in my head was, be smart stick with the group and work together to achieve your goal vs. run your own race, when you feel good run your heart out and when you feel low take care of yourself and rely on Mike to keep you on pace. This day hadn’t turned out at all how I had planned it. I had run less than 5 miles with my friends when I had planned to stick with them all day. I decided to move to the front of the group but keep the pace steady and not push too hard. We came into Pine Lane about a minute ahead of the group. I took my time to cool off and fuel up before heading back out with the group.
We were headed to Happy Days. This section of the course has about 3 miles on hot road and rail-to-trail. I was dreading this stretch and was happy to be with my friends. We took our time in the heat as we ran along old Akron Peninsula Rd. Early on along the road Steve started to have trouble and empties about a gallon of Perptuem from his stomach. I can’t imagine how bad he was feeling prior to that with having all that liquid sloshing around in his stomach. I told Barga to walk with Steve and help him back up to the group. We weren’t moving fast and didn’t want Steve to get stranded on this stretch of road. Before I knew it Barga was back by my side. I looked back and Steve had rejoined the group, “that’s one tough dude” I thought.
We made the u-turn onto the bike-n-hike trail and immediately hit some shade and a nice breeze. What a relief! Mike and I started a steady jog and before I knew it we were running at a pretty good clip. I looked back to see where the group was and Star and Darrin were right there. We ran together for about a mile, all feeling good to be out of the heat. We exited the bike-n-hike and hit some trail towards Happy Days. I was still feeling great and Mike and I opened it up a bit. We pushed the pace towards the aid station and picked off a few runners along the way. As we came into Happy Days we were greeted by the good folks of the NEO Trail Runners, including Nick Billock, Bob Combs, and Jim Harris. You couldn’t ask for a more experienced group of volunteers to care for you and get your butt back on course. Before we knew it we were back on the trail.
At this point we still had 35 miles until the finish but I had held back about as long as I could. Mike and I really opened it up on this section of the course. I don’t know how fast we were running – as I haven’t poured over my Garmin data to date – but it felt like we were flying. I passed a number of runners along the Ledges Trail, some looking relaxed and in control, some looking defeated. I was really enjoying myself at this point and for the first time all day started doing math in my head. If I killed the last 1/3 of the race what sort of time could I run? We calculated that 21:30 was a possibility and that became the new goal. Forget 24 hours, I was feeling good and I knew I could do better on this day. We pushed the whole way to Pine Hollow, with only one low spot that I was able to quickly correct with a Hammer Gel. My confidence was at an all time high, I knew I was moving up in the race and I let that motivate me. Looking back at the results I moved up nearly 20 places on this 6.8 mile stretch. As we crested the Sound of Music hill I pumped my fists in the air like Rocky. We only had 50k to go and we were cruising.
I tried to move in and out of Pine Hollow quickly while still getting some food in me. I ate a grilled cheese, had some of the worlds best chicken noodle soup, and hit the Salt Run Trail. This was a 3 mile loop before returning to Pine Hollow. I told Mike to hold tight at the aid station. I needed him to rest up because I didn’t know how many miles I’d need him for late in the race. He had already run about 17 miles and knew I shouldn’t ask too much more from him since he was training for a ½ marathon, not an ultra. I completed the 3 mile loop at a pretty good pace.
I told Mike that I felt good but it was hard to push myself without him there with me. He agreed to join me for the next section which was 6.8 miles to the Everet Rd Covered Bridge. I took my time to get an adequate amount of food in me. My crew of Scott and Rob Hively took care of my every need. Scott had even crafted up a unique sort of encouragement for me, something that probably had a few folks scratching their head but it had me smiling and laughing. Scott had brought a life sized cardboard cut-out of Adrianne Lima, of Victoria Secrets fame. He pasted a text bubble on underwear model that read, “Mike Patton Has Strong Legs”. I told my crew as well as Tracy and Kathy Ross, who were there waiting for Ron, that I thought 21:30 was a possibility and that I was going for it. I left the aid station in good spirits, but maybe a little bloated. We strapped on our headlamps and hit the trail. Onto Covered Bridge with only a marathon to go…