Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Race Review: Iron Horse 100K

Friday February 5th, 2016: I finished work at noon in order to get home, pack, and drive the 3+ hours to Florahome, FL; the race briefing was at 1730 at the start line. I say I had to pack but I was already well prepared, having had everything set aside for the last week. It seemed like I was bringing enough food to feed an army. I was not going to go without exactly what I wanted to eat before or after the race but especially after the race; my plan was to drive home immediately after I finished and eat the whole way home; my wife was racing her third half marathon in as many weeks the next morning.
Like every runner leading up to a goal race, I had been religiously checking the weather every ten minutes or so for the past week. Earlier in the week the forecast had indicated it would be raining all day but by the night before, there was only a 15% chance of rain beginning around 1700. Perfect, I thought; if the rain held off for a bit longer I may avoid it altogether. No such luck. 

Chris Rodatz, the race director, conducted the race briefing and told us of a few changes. Mainly, aid station 2 (AS2) had been moved due to heavy rain in the days leading up to the race and the aid station volunteers were unable to get to the originally planned location. This turned out for the best; AS2 turned out to be in the perfect location that we (in the 100K) would pass 8 times, making it a great way to break up the race into manageable sections. Chris also mentioned there was water on the course and it was likely we’d be getting our feet wet. Ugh! 
Below is a selfie at the race briefing. What you can't see is an abundance of beards and trucker hats. It was great!

Course description (100K): The course amounted 25 miles. The 100K would run it 2 ½ times. We began running west on the paved Palatka-Lake Butler State Trail for 1.75 miles before turning around and coming back to the start line. We continued east on the paved trail for about two miles before joining a sandy access road along a power line easement, entering the Etoniah Creek State Forest. On the map below, AS2 was at the 7.5 mile mark. Once at AS2, runners headed in a northeast direction for a loop along East-V road before returning to AS2 and heading north for a loop along West-V road. After returning to AS2 again, we ran back to the Start/Finish to complete the course. After doing that twice, we then ran to a turnaround point a little past AS2 before returning to finish.
Saturday February 6th, 2016: A great part of this race was the parking. Runners were able to park their cars next to the start/finish area, parallel to the course. This allowed us to use our cars as an aid station and not waste any time, as may happen if you had to park further than 5 feet from the course! It was a cold start to the day and I wore 2 long-sleeve t-shirts, a fleece jacket, hat and gloves for the first 3.5 miles. 

After we ran back through the start area, I was able to pop the trunk as I ran up to the car and throw my excess clothing in. I probably lost 10-15 seconds with my costume change. 10 seconds means everything when you plan on running for 10-12 hours, right?! Ha ha! Ok, that is more of a 5k mentality but after only 3.5 miles, I was full of energy and wanted to go!

So, the race began and I took off. I knew I had to run easy and also knew I never run easy enough. My first mile was way too fast (8:05) but I soon settled in to a somewhat easy and controlled pace. I knew I would be slowing down as the race progressed and the hours ticked by but my heart rate was low and I felt I could maintain the pace for ages. At about mile 4 I began running with Shawn Greenhill. He was also running the 100K and, after talking to him, realized we had the same goal of <10 hours. Well, that was my ‘A’ goal. I had been having pre-race doubts and was thinking I’d be more like 11 hours. Oh well, if I had company, I may as well go for it. You never know, right! 

With company, the miles began to melt by easily. I was stopping at every aid station and eating potatoes (dipped in salt) and bananas. I was carrying a hand held bottle and Powerbar Double Latte gels. Before I knew it, we were running through the start/finish and completing the first lap. Shawn and I were talking quite a bit for the first 35 miles or so but as fatigue set in, the conversation became limited. 
The photo below shows my 50K split: 4:35:08.

The course was great for seeing other runners; it was basically three out and backs from AS2 repeated again and again. There were a lot of “good jobs” and “looking goods” going around and it was fun seeing the same people throughout the day. The aid stations were well stocked with water, Heed, bananas, oranges, M&Ms, cakes, muffins, and other miscellaneous ultra-type food. I heard there was going to be shrimp gumbo at some point but I didn’t see it. During the second lap, on the East-V road loop, I forgot to fill my water bottle at AS2 and, with a couple miles until I’d be back there, I was getting pretty thirsty. When I finally arrived I drank several cups of Coke and when I say nothing has ever tasted so good, I mean the Coke was soul-nourishingly good, no, more like trade your first born for a cup good. Ordinarily I don’t like Coke but today it was the nectar of the gods!
There were a few gradual inclines on West-V road and, during the first lap, we talked about how much steeper they would be when we saw them again. During the second lap (mile 40ish), Shawn and I decided to walk up two of them. Although we walked for about 5 minutes total, it was a well-needed break and stopped my heart rate from spiking. After completing the second lap (50 miles) we talked about how we only had 12 miles to go and broke up the 12 miles into sections: by the time we went out and back to the start line, there would only be 9 miles to go. Then it was another +/-2 miles before we met the trail, +/-2 miles before AS2, another short section and a then we would be heading home! During this final 9 miles, the weather turned. It had been overcast in the mid 50s for most of the day (perfect weather) but slowly it began to rain. It rained hard for the final 5 miles. Although there are a lot of negatives to running in the rain when it’s cold out, the rain today enhanced my sense of achievement. It also made me think about all the people still out on the course, especially those running the 100 mile race; some of them would be out all night! I was in awe of them but not envious!

About a mile from the finish, Shawn and I talked about running across the line together, effectively tying for second place. Oh, I haven’t mentioned we were in second place! We were! I was ecstatic about that!
We had passed several people throughout the day but the guy leading our race was WAY ahead. The winner was going to get a $100 Altra gift certificate that, had we been leading, we would have raced to the finish for. Shawn, I’m really glad it didn’t come down to that! According to my watch, we crossed the finish line in 9:50:50 and 62.76 miles after we started. Yes, I measured the course a bit long but if I consider the long distance and not taking the tangents, the course was extremely accurate.

This was a fan-bloody-tastic event. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to try their first ultra distance race. It was a runnable course with, seemingly, constant access to aid stations!
So, what did I learn running my first 100K. Well, when I ran my first 50 miler last year (Everglades), I went out way too fast. I paid dearly for that mistake during the last 10 miles. For this race I started easier and maintained a somewhat consistent pace. Also, my nutrition was dialed in. I ate all the time (which is half the fun)! I was constantly drinking too, which I know helped immensely! 
Thank you to race director, Chris Rodatz, and all who helped organize the day. Huge thanks to the many aid station volunteers who were always offering to fill bottles and get food for us as we approached them. Thank you to Shawn Greenhill for almost 10 hours of company and motivation to keep running at a good clip. I owe my sub 10 time to you, my friend! 

 Here is a very short video I made about the race. It's basically a very limited race report!

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