We have had a heck of a winter here in NY this year! Maybe it’s because the last two winters here have been pretty mild, but this year’s polar vortex weather was rough for many runners. As I’m writing this, it is already spring, and I am so glad to be looking forward to the spring and summer (ultra) running season! I’m proud to say that this winter has been productive training-wise. I was inspired to sign up for the notoriously cold and snowy Beast of Burden Winter 50 in January, in no small part due to Shane and his crazy ultramarathons in the snow, but also due to my friends Otto, Violet, and Joe who were running the Winter 100.
First, some background about the race–the Beast of Burden has both a Summer and Winter version, and the Summer 100 was where I completed my first 100 miler back in August 2012. I had only great memories (it’s amazing how I can’t recall the pain) of the awesome people I met in Lockport, dedicated volunteers, and my friends Jim and Beth who hosted us for the weekend. If you do both the Winter 100 and the Summer 100 in the same calendar year, you get a Double Beast Buckle. See? I told you this race was crazy.
Our adventure began on 1/17, when Ken drove me and Violet up to Lockport, stopping at Rolando’s Diner in Binghamton for lunch.
The place had prices from the 1970’s–seriously, eggs for like $3.50 or something ridiculous. The city itself was a bit gray and depressing–we enjoyed our omelets and were on our way.
We arrive at Lockport after a 7 hour drive from the city–thanks so much to Ken and Kino who were our crew/pacers for the weekend! We met up with some folks at DeFlippo’s, an awesome Italian restaurant/bar where most runners carbo-load before the race. I reunited with Jim and Beth, and also Andy Thomson, who was my compatriot during our first Summer 100 together. We had a large contingent from NYC: Kat and I were running the 50, and Otto (from NJ), Joe and Violet were running the 100. I was feeling nervous–I hate being cold and I was starting to question how I was going to stay warm through 12+ hours of running. I had a very reasonable starting goal of sub-15 hours, since I usually am not in the best shape in January (I blame the holidays), and I was going through all sorts of stress that didn’t enable me to train well in December. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to make my goal even better, and I aimed for sub-13 hours. I made sure to eat lots of pasta, mozzarella sticks and garlic bread so I would have appropriate fuel!
Several of my friends and I stayed at the Pease’s place, where I settled in comfortably for the night, packed my drop bags, and got a good nights’ sleep. I was ready for my adventure!
Some of the special gear I ended up using for this race included:
1) A Cold Avenger classic fleece face protector. It it sort of like a balaclava for the lower half of your face, with a plastic cup that had vents for breathing. I don’t look nice with it on. In fact, I look like Bane or Darth Vader. This thing saved me though–I highly recommend using a Cold Avenger on your runs of 25F or colder! It’s really important to protect your face from windburn.
2) I used an Ultimate Direction hydration belt that I got from outdoor gear discount retailer TheClymb.com. I had heard good things about their water bottles, and I was not disappointed. It was ergonomic and had a special nozzle that prevented leakage, plus the belt itself didn’t bounce much during my run.
3) The usual GU energy gels, Vi Fuel (vegan gel), SaltStick salt tablets, and granola bars for sustenance
4) I also packed 3 different jackets/windbreakers, including a ski jacket for waiting around at the finish line. Layers were key, since the weather was expected to be 17F!
5) I brought Yaktrax snow spikes for traction, just in case there was snow on the ground.
6) Grabber Hand warmers–I put them in my gloves so my hands would stay warmer longer
7) I wore my trusty Skechers Nite Owl running shoes–I had broken them in the few weeks before, plus they were quite comfortable. They also glowed in the dark! (at least for a few hours)
Race day, 1/18
Ken drove us to the race, but before we did all that, we took a pre-race photo in front of Jim and Beth’s home:
We were ready to get this show on the road! The start line at Wide Water’s Marina was only a 10-minute drive away, with plenty of parking. It was abuzz with activity as people picked up their race bibs and goodie bags. I must say, the goodie bag for this race was awesome–all runners got a white hooded sweatshirt with the badass race logo on it, plus a fuzzy Buffalo horn hat and fuzzy brown mittens. I can attest to the fact that the hat and mittens were super warm and made me feel awesome at the start.
The runners gathered at 9:50am for a brief pre-race meeting, where the mayor of Lockport made a few remarks and wished us luck, and we learned that the conditions on the course were snowy (1-2 inches) but not too bad. The race directors, Bob and Ken, introduced everyone to Sam Pasceri, who was the founder of this race and had come to see us off. Sam is an awesome athlete and his wife, Ginny, is an all-star volunteer and supporter!
Start: 1 to 12.5 miles
At 10am, we were off! It was pretty cold, but not windy yet so it wasn’t bad. I was looking forward to seeing Kino and Ken at Mile 7 (Gasport aid station), where they would be volunteering for a bit before crewing and then pacing Violet. I ran with my Yaktrax and immediately regretted my decision, as they were useless on very light snow (1 inch, no ice). I ran a little bit slower due to the friction of the spikes on the ground, but I was relieved that I could hand them off to Ken since he was volunteering. The towpath was beautiful. The snow served a purpose–it made everything look prettier. I felt great when I hit the first aid station. There was Heed, pretzels, M&Ms and some other snacks. I made it quick, said hi to Kino and Ken, and headed out.
The next 5 miles before the turnaround at mile 12.5 (Middleport Aid station) always felt long. I started seeing some of the faster runners (like Joe!) turning back, and the early miles are nice because people are still happy and smiling. My body felt good, although it felt a bit weird to run with so many layers on (3 layers, with merino wool IceBreaker baselayer), a hydration belt, PLUS a Nathan hydration vest. I kept my hat and gloves on at all times.
Miles 12.6 to 25
I started incorporating walking breaks early. I still felt fresh, but I didn’t want to crash and burn, so I walked for 2-3 minutes for every 30 minutes I ran. I made sure to eat real food (PB&J, fruit, chips, granola bars and more), drink soup at aid stations, and drink lots of water. However, once it got to mile 16 or so, I started encountering a problem. The hydration pack in my Nathan hydration vest had a frozen tube and nozzle! Uh-oh. That meant I couldn’t properly access my water, unless I tried to drink from opening of the pack as if I was pouring a Ziploc bag of H2O into my mouth. That wasn’t good!
I was really glad I brought a back-up water bottle! It was around 20F most of the time, but at night it dropped to around 17F. It doesn’t take a genius to know that water will freeze. Luckily, the aid stations had heaters (the Middleport one was indoors, but the Gasport one was tented and had heaters) and great volunteers that would use hot water to try and defrost bottles. I drank from my Ultimate Direction water bottle normally at first, but then, I couldn’t suck the water out from the nozzle because a frozen ring had formed UNDER the cap. Crazy! I had to use my frozen hands to unscrew the bottle to drink from it. It didn’t seem like a big deal now, but the later it got in the race, the more difficult this became.
Another thing that drove me crazy was that my nose started running almost non-stop from mile 10 onward. It was super annoying, and it was just due to the cold.
I think my first 25 mile split was around 5:30, which was perfect.
There were a lot of talented runners in this race–I felt cold, my face started burning from the wind, but some of the lead runners appeared to be unfazed by the elements. On the out-and-back portion, people were still smiling and yelling words of encouragement. I made sure to cheer especially loudly for the 100-mile runners and of course, my friends. I saw everybody–Otto, Joe, Violet, Kat….it was great.
The wind really picked up both times I came from Middleport (mile 12.5 and 37.5) back towards the start, just the way it was blowing. I had to close my eyes or throw on my sunglasses certain times because the wind was so horrible. I later learned that it was 20-30 mph winds for the 50 mile runners, and the 100-miler sustained 40-50 mph winds!! Imagine running a 50 mile race and an invisible hand is trying to push you back. That’s exactly what the wind felt like. Just brutal!!
The things that really lifted my spirits were:
1) Seeing Beth, Ken, and Kino at the aid stations
2) Hot lentil soup or chicken broth. There are no words for how heavenly this is in 17F.
3) Seeing the wooden pirate ship/slide that was next to the towpath.
I was passing all the familiar landmarks, and I remember passing the bridges and a paper mill. It was dark and I had a headlamp at this point–I knew I was going to reach my goal of sub-13! My legs were getting tired, my nose was still running, and frankly I was ready to be done. It was one of the toughest races I have done in recent memory just due to being in the elements for a long time. I had a ton of respect for the 100-mile winter runners.
I approached the finish line and it was pretty quiet. The finish line was moved inside the tent because the awesome volunteers needed to stay warm. That was just fine by me! Who wouldn’t want to finish an ultra in a warm tent??
I crossed the finish in 12:40:05, and the race directors hung the medal around my neck. I was so so cold, and my first priority was warming up, then pictures next. There were chairs set up, a torpedo heater, and a table full of food to help the runners recover. The medal was pretty sweet!
Ken was in the tent–he was helping Kat, who had finished earlier, and he handed me a bowl of mac and cheese.
It was the best post-race mac and cheese I have ever tasted. My life was complete.
I wanted to give a huge thank you to Ken and Kino for staying up pretty much all night to crew and volunteer for us. Also, big thanks to Beth and Jim for volunteering and hosting us. Thank you to Skechers Performance for sponsoring my footwear, and Team Refuel/Got Chocolate Milk? for my race gear and support! Finally, thanks to the race directors and ALL the volunteers for putting on a fantastic event.
After my race
Pretty soon after I finished, ate a bit of food, and defrosted, I got a ride back to the Pease’s place and took at 5-hour nap. I was determined to see my friends Otto, Ellen, and Violet finish their 100-milers (amazingly fast Joe finished around 4am for 2nd place overall). I saw Otto come through, and I saw Ellen, but I missed Violet heading out for her last loop.
I took a brief lunch break to see my cousin Heidi, who lived in the area with her husband. We got lunch at Panera and some coffee, and I finally ate real food. Yummy!
After all of that, I got to see Otto finish, and I got to see Violet finish her first 100-miler ever. It was pretty emotional seeing Violet at mile 98; I had a vantage point from the marina across the canal and I could see Ken and Kino coaxing her along and trying to block the wind. The wind had picked up to 40-50mph, and they even had to take the finish line tent down and move everything inside the public restroom building. It was insane!
It was amazing getting to see a bunch of 100-miler runners finish. I will never forget seeing everyone huddled outside the finish line, eyes squinting in the horizontal snow blowing across the canal, just to holler and cheer as Violet crossed the finish line with Kino and Ken behind her. The camaraderie and warmth amongst ultrarunners is a huge part of why I choose to do these things. When I think of the Beast of Burden Winter 50, I will not think so much about the cold, and the wind…what I will think about is how I spent an unforgettable weekend with a team of runners who will do anything for each other.