|I'm laying a foundation here, work with me|
Math = easy. Get through 7 loops, and you've run 28.7 miles. As you finish your last realistic loop (basically, when you don't think you'll make it back before the 6 hours is up, OR if you decide you've had enough and stop), you take a little flag with you while running, and plant that thing in the ground when you hear the air horns sound at the 6-hour mark. They measure your extra distance, add it to your loop total, and you've got a time/distance!
|I am the one who knock-knocks.|
. . . I'd just bought new shoes. Not just "new" ones, but shoes I'd not-ever-seriously-barely-at-all tried before. And I was going to wear them for this race. I wasn't pleased with the model I'd switched to (nameless), and those had been the intended replacement for my Red Shoes of Doom, which I'd been wearing since early 2013. These shoes . . . these were:
I'd made the jump. I went to Potomac River Running (F Street as usual) and got fitted for Hokas. My knee really had never gotten THAT much better after the series of Spring races, and I just was feeling slower in general, tempering my runs for some pain protection. I was cutting summer mileage down by a significant amount (happily) due to personal life commitments and being a dad. So I figured, "let's go for max cushioning and see what that does?"
Understandably, some people were concerned about me trying out new shoes for a Saturday race, having just bought the shoes earlier that week. But I ran in them once for a training run, and generally didn't notice a huge difference. Hokas are nice, but they're not magic. I brought an emergency pair of running shoes with me for my drop bag, figuring if I was in THAT much pain, I'd never be far away with such a short looped course.
Off I went to the wilds of Maryland. I had a fair amount of Tailwind, some chocolate bars, and (a new favorite) these pre-unwrapped starburst minis. I stuffed them in my drop bag (a giant yellow bag from The LEGO store), and had just enough time to get in line for my race bib before the start (LEGO, by the way, is Swedish for "randomly capitalize this word in blog posts).
Keeping in mind that I was already breaking the "don't do anything new on race day" rule by wearing shoes with less than 6 miles on them, I also used "Racedots" on my race bib for the first time. Racedots are made from rare Earth elements (Neodymium, which is pretty rare to hear as a name, but as an element, it's as common as Copper). Regardless, the racedots stick together TIGHTLY, locking your bib onto your shirt. Each dot requires a five-and-a-half pound pull force to pry them apart. So, about 1/100th the strength of a LEGO that has affixed itself to the bottom of your foot after you step on it.
|Hmm, I seem to have stepped on something|
Loop 1: (don't worry, I won't go loop by loop)
I was immediately pleased by how springy the Hokas were, until I realized we were running on an almost track-like surface to begin the race. It was a good thing. The first mile whizzed by nicely. I remembered to hydrate early (the heat helped remind me), so I pulled off my tube and began to drink.
Except. Just a little came out.
I mean, I expected, with a freshly filled bladder in my hydration pack, I'd get a big gush and
|Holy fuck, really?|
|Feel better now? TWSS? SHIT|
Kara came along at that point, running with 2 or 3 friends. She was doing the relay of the 6 hour this year (you switch up each loop), so we chatted while we ran. I noticed I still wasn't getting any real significant flow of my water/Tailwind mix. I must have run a bit ahead of them, because I remember being alone (and already thirsty after 2 miles), and trying to noodle in my mind through what was wrong with the hydration vest.
The damn bladder/container/whatever inside the hydration vest was DEVOID of the water (and Tailwind) I'd mixed in just a couple of hours earlier.
I immediately started grabbing my ass (no, I wasn't trying to greet another ultra runner), trying to feel my back, even checking my calves. Where did the water go? It was TWO FUCKING LITERS. It was hot, but it didn't fucking evaporate.
|My Nathan Hydration pack, as a GIF|
Right now, you're thinking, "Oh, so the dumbass actually FORGOT to mix/fill his vest after all."
|She's so insightful!|
I just SCRAMBLED to my drop bag, which was just before the timing mat for each loop.
Side note: they were really big on timing mats this year, even a worker told me post-race that at least one ("some tall guy" she called him) was spotted cutting the course in 2014. This year they've added timing mats at the loop start/finish, PLUS an interim mat not far from what would be the marathon point along the course, if you're out there long enough for ultra distance, but otherwise it keeps you honest.
Side side note: People are pathetic. Cheating at a race. Cheating at an ULTRA? Loser.
Anyway. I grabbed a bag of tailwind, and kind of ranshuffled to the main aid station table.
Kara walked over, and said, "Here, I'll help."
I've never -- not once -- had an ultra "Crew." Not ever. Kara literally became my first-ever ultra crew. I told her that.
I . . . HAD . . . A . . . CREW!!! ME!
|I AM SOMEBODY!|
But, I digress.
Kara sent me on my way
Honestly, pretty uneventful. It was about as fast as the first loop, but just punctuated with me absolutely FREAKING the fuck out that I apparently was running with a leaking vest. I don't react well to things going off the rails in a race, and today was no exception.
Every little thing would just . . . affect me more. I was trying to drink, but this was ALSO not a scheduled "make sure you take a ton of hydration" loop, where I was going to go nuts, because I had actually thought this through in my quest/desire to get 30 miles. I wanted to refill my vest at 1, 3, and 5, then use extra aid station supplies for loop 7. Instead, I was already behind schedule for drinking. On the bright side, I was spotted by the way-too-modestly-named MidpackBiped, of the aptly named Midpack Gear blog. This was our first time meeting each other. Although MP had an interesting encounter previously . . .
The joys of the Curly W shirt.I was on Rock Creek trail and yelled @tai_fung at some lookalike. He wasn't @tai_fung . He was terrified.— Midpack Biped (@midpackbiped) June 13, 2015
I finished loop 2 and skipped the aid station because I had a ton of water left. Mind really gone already. Pissed off and confused.
So. The vest isn't leaking. Where did 2 liters of water go?
Kara was back out here, and this was, by far, my fastest loop. I was working out there now, in my mind back on a hydration/fueling schedule (I was drinking as needed, and WOULD have, but any runner will tell you that you also plan to take nutrition during a race at times -- it was as if an expected aid station wasn't there, and so I needed to play catch-up.).
Boom. Saw Kara, got into my drop bag a bit, and got back out onto the loop. She helped me top off my vest AGAIN (heart eyes emoji), and I was off.
I was seeing Midpack on even-numbered loops, and by my estimation he was a full mile ahead of me, perhaps more. That was ludicrous to me, because I happen to know he's quite a fast marathoner and racer. There was no way I'd pass him, but I was hoping to just be in his neighborhood for the duration of the race.
Anyway, along a stretch of loop 4, I stopped to pee at some porta-johns they had.
|You gotta agree this is a chart you can understand.|
I handled this development . . . well
|Even the ANGLE is right. The hair isn't.|
But, still smiling for the cameras, because we don't want to ruin the proverbial brunch by making a scene, so to speak ("Hi, I'm currently peeing dark brown urine, how's your day?")
|HAHA MY PEE IS ALMOST MY SHOE COLOR LULZ seriously not kidding halp|
I would break 20 miles with this loop, and was taking both water AND Coke. The Tailwind was used up by this point (again, just like my experience at the North Face 50K, I blow through it way faster than I expect in hot weather. I really suggest overestimating how much you'll need. I especially suggest this because the Midpoint Aid Station of the loop is kinda RIGHT OUT THERE IN THE SUN, no shade, making the water station bottles about as appetizing as . . . warm water on a hot day.
|M. Night Shamalayan wanted me for this role|
Totally ok though, this is my fault. My pee hasn't really lightened up much, but, alarmingly, I just haven't had to . . . go much.
Definitely dragging here. Still finishing all these loops in under an hour (hell, I had BETTER be, but whooooo-weee it was warm and I was still playing major hydration catch up. I was also taking Coke for some energy, because #HealthyLiving amirite? Saw Midpack again. We're both sweating still.
|If I smile, people won't know I'm hating my very existence!|
For nearly every loop after the Great, um, Brown Ale Event, I had a system as I'd finish a loop:
1. I'd stop before I hit the timing mat, and
2. I'd go to the aid station table (where Kara and/or a volunteer refilled my pack)
3. I'd at least LOOK at/in my drop bag, and
4. I'd then cross the timing mat, thereby stopping the loop and starting another.
But for THIS loop, I just completed loop 6, waved, grabbed the surveyor's flag with my bib number on it, and kept running.
I knew I had less than an hour, and it was really important to me to break marathon distance at least, disastrous race be damned. I knew it would be along this loop (7) because Crabbie told me.
|See, it's Dr. WHO, but he's saying "WHAT!" OMG I R SO CUTE COULD U JUST DIEEEEEE|
|A timing mat out on the course.|
|The sign: "Crabbie says, "Marathon Mark on Lap Seven!"|
|Just say no to Sea Meats!|
I found a porta john, and think it had definitely lightened, but not to a color I was happy with yet. Although Kara had to bail, Midpack and I rallied up and had a good, interesting chat post-race. I didn't even hyperventilate while being social! But I was spent. Just . . . spent.
Not too spent to take a finisher's selfie of course, and send THAT to Instagram. Wouldn't want to have my social media/blogger/attention whore card revoked. I tried my best to be positive.
3rd ultramarathon completed at @EndlessSummer6! Looks like it will work out to about 28+ miles when all counted. Slow, hot, but very fun!— Tai Fung (@tai_fung) July 25, 2015
He waved as he blew by me (over and over again!)! 🏃🏻💨 (but great chatting with you post-race!) https://t.co/O7Oum5cB4R— Tai Fung (@tai_fung) July 25, 2015
I brushed my feelings of disappointment to the side. But this hurt:
I manage to survive ultramarathon distance and then find this waiting in the mail. The irony is thick. pic.twitter.com/t6DkaTwDva— Tai Fung (@tai_fung) July 25, 2015
There was one last Scooby-Doo mystery to solve, though.
I opened my car door on the passenger side, and a distinctive sound. It was akin to . . . velcro being peeled apart. But I knew it was the sound of . . . textured water (does that make sense?) on plastic molding. My Nathan HAD leaked. All into my car, on the floorboards of the passenger side. But why didn't it leak in the race?
I realized that what I must have done was set down a FULL Nathan bladder/vest onto the floorboards, but that the valve must have been opened. I think the weight of the bladder basically . . . pressed down, and much of it (almost all of it) leaked into my car. I had no idea. [Edit from the future: Honestly, I'm still not sure how it happened, and I never was motivated enough to try and reproduce the effect under monitored conditions. I just make sure my valve is locked shut, and it's been fine since.]
Last takes from the race:
1. The RaceDots held up tremendously. I was unaware they were there, EXCEPT when I tried to wipe my face with my shirt. There's a trick to that. I'll do a video demonstration sometime.
2. They give a FANTASTIC race premium. Long sleeve HOODED t-shirts. They're modeled by Kara here. Did I mention I've never had an ultra crew? Ok, fine, I'll stop.
3. I really should have gone to my drop bag and done more than kinda look at it and, "Ehhh, I'll pass." The Tailwind was great, but I needed calories towards the end after it had run out, and I was stuck.
4. My pee did return back to normal by late afternoon. It was really unsettling to see that, and a sober reminder about hydration during any race, but in particular in the summer.
5. I will be back here. It's just too fun. Heat training is a blast, and even more so heat RACING. This year was one of their "cooler" years for the race, and it was still oppressively hot and humid.
6. 74 out of 114 people hit ultra distance for this race, which is a darn nice percentage. The terrain is hilly, but damn it's forgiving insofar as there aren't tree roots, rocks, or live crabs to fret over. If you've flirted with wanting to go beyond 26.2 miles, this race is a great choice.