Just a week ago, I was on my way up to Lockport, NY, nervous for my very first attempt at the 100-mile distance. Now, I can proudly say that I achieved my goal, finishing the Beast of Burden Summer 100 in 28:23:48. However, it was not as simple as getting from Point A to Point B. It required about eight months of training and running three ultramarathons in two months to give me the confidence to toe the starting line with a whole bunch of hardcore ultrarunners. I was so inspired in recent weeks by my friends’ finishes in the IronMan NYC US Championships (Warren, Steve and Leong) and sub-24 hour 100 mile runs (Otto and Michelle) that I wanted to bring my A-game on race day.
On Friday, I took a day off from work to take the 8-hour bus trip from NYC to Buffalo. Marco’s friends Jim and Beth hosted us in their beautiful home a short drive from the race’s start. Jim designed and built the home himself! I could feel the good vibes around this weekend already. Jim is an ultrarunner too, and both him and Beth volunteered for this year’s race. FYI—this race has the best volunteers and aid stations ever. You’ll see why in a moment. We had an informal carbo-loading meet up with other runners at DeFlippo’s, where I had their spaghetti and meatballs and garlic cheesy bread. Can’t go wrong with that!
Marathon Maniacs and me at the start line.
I had a good night’s sleep and at 7:00am I was up preparing for the 10:00am race start. Since I wasn’t planning to sleep during the race, I needed all the rest that I could get! There was a lot to prep—organizing my two drop bags with favorite foods, Nuun, Gatorade, sunscreen, Vaseline, etc. for availability at the start/finish and the 12.5 mile turnaround point. I picked up my goody bag and discovered it had awesome stuff–a sling backpack, a full-size jar of almond butter, a headlamp, lip balm, ankle light, and some samples. The lights will come in handy for future ultramarathons and Ragnar Relays! The course was 4 loops of a 25-mile out and back course along the Erie Canal towpath. The surface was crushed limestone and you had views of the water the whole time.
Here’s the beautiful Erie Canal towpath. Although the pic doesn’t show it, it was sunny and shade-free the whole way. We lucked out with the weather–76F the first day and about 80F the next day.
I said hi to Carol at the start, and was happy to see Benny was a pacer. Good to see a friendly face in these parts. I also got to say hello to Valmir Nunes, the Brazilian ultramarathon phenom who is a world-class runner. We conversed a bit–he understands some English and my Spanish and I understand some of his Portuguese, lol. He was very nice. Turns out my coworker knows his daughter too–what a small world! Since the race is so long, I figured it’s best told in bullet points and feelings by loop. Brace yourself.
Ahh, the first loop. Those were the happy times. (Photo credit: Ben Tam)
The first loop (Miles 1-25):
-My body was feeling good, since this was just a marathon, right?
-I was cheering on each runner I saw, including the 50-milers.
– Still noticing how beautiful the scenery was. There was NO shade on the course though. It was 76F but felt like 80F.
-Aid stations were stocked with sno-cones (from a legit Sno Cone Machine), grilled cheese sandwiches, Heed, Hammer gels, and watermelon slices. Aid Station 1 was at Gasport, mile 7, and the second Aid Station was at Middleport at the 12.5 mile turnaround. Station #2 was staffed by Beth (nice to see a familiar face!), and there were Little Debbie snacks like Pecan spins and zebra cakes. My favorites were the frozen watermelon and strawberry kebabs. Yummy!
-Indoor bathrooms at Mile 12.5. Amazing!
– Ran a bit with my friend Jackie O. and her friend Caroline.
– My 25-mile split was about 5:15. It was a little faster than 5:30, my planned split.
The second loop (Miles 26-50):
– I was starting to settle into a rhythm, running 25 minutes and taking 5-minute walking breaks, or running 15 minutes and taking 2-minute walking breaks when I was particularly tired. I ran around a 11:30-12:00 easy conversation pace.
– Halfway into this loop I started running with a Marathon Maniac named Andy and my friend Marco. We started playing word/mental games to pass the time, like “First World Problems.”
– about mile 40, bugs started coming out en masse (mayflies, moth-like things, gnats galore). Couldn’t talk much anymore because we needed to keep our mouths shut.
– It started to get dark. Good thing we had our headlamps (Marco and Andy) and flashlight (me).
– I ran a personal best for 50 miles, about 12:10! My previous personal best was 12:44 for a 50-miler on road.
– I had Jim (our host and volunteer extraordinaire) take this photo of me at mile 50 when I reached the aid station. He shook his head in disbelief at my energy. I was feeling GOOD.
Halfway done and feeling good! PR for 50 miles!
Third Loop, miles 51-75. Utter darkness.
– It was so dark that I couldn’t see anything beyond my headlamp, except stars.
– Marco patiently walked with me. We walked most of the loop, not gonna lie.
– Stomach issues at mile 55. Uh-oh. Time to lay off the GUs. They’re not made to sit in your stomach beyond a marathon. I was taking one an hour, no wonder I felt sick.
– We reach Gasport at mile 57 where I got warm pizza and food. And warm lentil soup. It was the best thing I ever tasted.
– At the turnaround point, I really needed a stretch-out massage because my hip was stiffening up. It was an awful feeling. I could barely run. The massage therapist stretched me out and it helped a little.
– I needed any kind of motivation at this point. This was the lowest I had been all day. We were in the aid station for almost 15 minutes due to our food break and stretching. Marco very kindly waited for me.
– At mile 63, Marco and I started feeling SUPER tired. It was about 2am at this point. We sang Disney songs loudly to keep ourselves awake. “Tale as old as time…true as it can be…la la la la la…” It was silly but it lifted my spirits so much. I remembered feeling triumphant that all the knowledge and lyrics of Disney songs I stored away came in handy in a life-or-death situation. (okay…it wasn’t life or death…but it was about survival!)
– After about 20minutes of Disney songs, we were silent, and then I started blanking out/sleepwalking. It was so scary. I would have no idea how long I blanked out for. This happened to Marco at the same time. Not good. We didn’t fall into the canal at least.
– Cold. Temperature at night was probably 55F, felt colder.
– We saw a couple of frogs. Marco didn’t like frogs. This was my chance to be the knight in shining armor instead of the damsel in distress.
– I started hallucinating, seeing things in the dirt like monster-shaped creatures. I wasn’t scared because I knew it wasn’t real. It was a bizarre feeling though.
– I was shivering ever since the sun set. I just had a thin SmartWool long-sleeve shirt on. At Gasport I borrowed a sweatshirt. It helped, even though it was bulky. I was grateful.
– Our goal was to not fall into the canal at this point. We walked real slow. The third loop took maybe 9 hours, or close to it. Major, major props to Marco for sticking by me to make sure bears didn’t come out of the woods.
– Sun finally started to come up around 5:00-5:15, when we almost reached the last two miles. Marco gave me a pep talk and told me that I needed to run with it, that we only had NINE hours left before the 4pm (30 hour cutoff). He knew I wouldn’t fail but I needed to pick up the pace. I ran the last mile into the aid station at the finish. I told Marco to take off and not worry about me, that I was a good “closer.” The middle miles suck but I can make up ground at the end.
Final lap, Miles 76-100, Run Lisa Run!!
– I reached the aid station about 6:45am, stuffed some food in my mouth, and got out of there as fast as my legs could possibly carry me (which wasn’t fast by normal standards).
– No time to take pictures or think of ANYTHING except the growing pain in my hip flexor. This could potentially end my race. I started to breathe deeply so I wouldn’t panic.
– I caught up to Andy around mile 76. We started chatting. I told him I had a bad hip and he told me he had awful blisters. We tried not to grimace too much.
– We tried different strategies, running for 30 steps, running to the next sign post, speed walking, anything to bring our legs closer to the finish.
– When we reached Gasport, I asked for ibuprofen. I was in a lot of pain. I never took ibuprofen during a race before and hoped that it wouldn’t upset my stomach. I downed a Little Debbie Snack cake and a banana and I was on my way.
-At mile 83 the ibuprofen starts working. Andy and I keep speedwalking together until about mile 86. I told him I had to take off or I might not finish if the pain got worse. He totally understood and told me to go.
– The sun is really hot at this point. It felt like 80F. I could feel my nose and shoulders start to burn. No shade anywhere.
-I’m starting to see runners heading for home. “Someday that will be me,” I think. It felt like FOREVER until we reached mile 88, the turnaround point. Longest few miles ever. I jam some headphones in my ears and it almost makes the pain go away.
– I reach the Middleport aid station the last time, thank the wonderful volunteers again, and then turn around for home. I am almost free!
-I reach the Gasport station again, mile 93. I mouth a silent prayer that I am so so close to being done. I eat a tiny bit of food but don’t want anything to upset my stomach.
– Several minutes after I leave the station, “Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon comes on my iPod, and I start crying. I KNOW I’m going to finish at this point. The enormity of it all hits me, with 3 hours left on the clock and less than 7 miles to go. No matter how much pain I am in, I can crawl to the finish line if needed.
– The last few miles are absolutely brutal. Every bridge and house looks the same, and the finish line doesn’t seem any closer!
– Finally, I spot the marina where we have almost 2 miles left until the finish. Marco waves and shouts at me from across the water. My spirits pick up a bit.
– Two boats pass and the bridge goes up, darn! Luckily, by the time I make it to the bridge it is down again for pedestrians. I am doing a brisk run at this point, with minimal walking. The last mile, I reflect on everything that happened in the last 28 hours. I almost start to cry again, but then I remember that I don’t want to be a babbling mess when I cross!
– The finish line is within sight. I see the numbers–I’m finishing under 28:30!! I hear cowbells and cheering.
Photo credit: Beth Pease
I see Rick, Jim, Beth, Shannon, Valmir (the champion), Marco and many friendly faces cheering for me. I am smiling from ear to ear, all pain forgotten. I take a photo with Sam Pasceri, the race director, and shake his hand as he gives me the silver buckle. Feeling the weight of the prize in my hand is amazing.
Me and Sam Pasceri with The Buckle.
Shannon, myself, and Valmir, the champion. He set a course record of 14:58 and cheered for all the runners afterwards! He stayed until the last person finished in 29:50. Major props.
Never have I ever worked so hard for a finisher award!
It was awesome seeing Rick before he had to head to the airport. Shannon made sure I elevated my feet on a box and got some ice for me. Everyone was asking me what I needed. I didn’t really need much–I had my pride and my buckle, what else could I possibly ask for?
Thanks SO much to the race volunteers, to Jim and Beth for hosting us, and to Sam P and his family for putting on a stellar event. Thanks to Valmir and everyone who cheered at the finish. Most of all, thanks to Marco for sticking by me for 30 plus miles, making sure I didn’t lose sight of the goal and keeping me safe. Thanks to Maniac Andy for keeping me company for 15 plus miles. Thanks to all my friends and teammates for believing in me!
Post-race, Jim and Beth took me to Duff’s Famous Wings in Buffalo. We got the medium spicy wings, gravy fries and root beer, and it was the perfect post race meal. I could barely walk the first few hours after the race, but then I took a bus and taxi home, stayed in bed and ate my meals, and then I was fine. Monday was especially tough (could barely use the stairs at home), but I was glad to take the day off. I took the 10pm bus that left Buffalo and got back to NYC at 6:15am. I didn’t care, I just took my time and tried to stay relaxed the whole day, after all I put my body through!
Would I do another 100 miler? Ask me in a few months!