Blog Subtitle

Reverse-engineering the Ultramarathon

Saturday, May 31, 2014

2014 3 Days at the Fair - Afterthoughts

This is Part 4 of a 'three-part' report. :)

Here are Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.

In this final post I want to do three things:

  1. Fill in some 'color' I feel is lacking in my personal narrative to the point of painting an inaccurate picture of the true character of the race.
  2. Talk about what recovery from a 72-hour was like for me - something a multi-day noob reading this report might be interested in reading about.
  3. Summarize the important things I think I learned doing this race.
If none of these topics appeals to you, you should probably not read on!

What's Wrong with this Report?

Reading back through what is - by far - the longest race report I have yet written, I remain unsatisfied that I have done the race itself justice. In trying to succinctly tell a story of my race it was necessary to focus on the narrative of what happened to me, how my race progressed, and how I handled things. The result seems necessarily to portray a 72-hour as much more of a solitary endeavor than it really is.

Each runner's race is his or her own, of course. Each runner's struggle with his or her own demons is, necessarily, solitary at some level - and certainly many hours of the time is in fact spent in solitude, whether it is while resting, or while moving late at night on a mostly-deserted part of the course, or even while moving through a crowd of others while lost in one's own thoughts.

While it is inescapably solitary, it is also inescapably and uniquely social! What sounds so isolated as I've described it is really just the inward conversation or experience I was having - stripped of the shared experience with others that is just as integral a part of the whole. When I think back on the race, in my mind's eye I see not just miles and times, eating and sleeping, and movement through pain. I see people and faces, and I remember little encounters that brought smiles to my face and the to faces of others.

I see Gene Bruckert, moving forward with determination wearing his large knee brace. I remember the pleasure I had sharing a walked lap with him, talking of radars and hearing of some of his experiences with the old technology that was ten or twenty years before my time. I remember talking of his children and mine.

I see Cliff Lange executing the 'Cliffy Shuffle' - wearing a different shirt almost every time I saw him. He brought thirty of them. "Dry shirt, Cliffy is a happy man!" he said. I think of the numbers that had their source in Cliff - the actuary and number lover - numbers that seemingly permeated the race (I overheard someone talking of a particular mileage being "exactly five marathons" - and then mentioning they had gotten that number from Cliff).

I think of the 'gang' of Gary, Bob, Fred, Steve, Bill Gentry and some others which would form and reform, in part or in whole, throughout the race and that I would sometimes be a part of. There was always a lot of fun and kidding around going on in that group.

I think of John Sands putting on an impressive push for a sub-24:00 first 100 miles and getting it done, then struggling for a while, having to relocate his camp to avoid potential flooding, still having time to talk from time to time while getting his race back on track and pulling off a very impressive 8th-place, 206-mile debut.

I see Larry - another relentless walker and pleasant conversationalist. I remember walking with he and Cliff for a time and, again, how very enjoyable that was in helping to pass the time and another mile.

I remember chatting with Jim Lampman from Cato (other side of Syracuse from where I live).

I remember chatting with Keith Straw - a serious runner with a serious competitive spirit and a sharp sense of humor.

I remember Jim Pease, sitting at his site enjoying one of his mid-race beers (think he said he allowed himself one every five hours or something like that). I remember stopping to explain "Wilson" to him and to another runner who was at his camp.

I remember Chris and Joe Reynolds - how encouraging they always were as I passed their camp, always wanting to know what mile I was on, how I was doing. I remember Joe's pride in his Team RWB shirt signed by dozens of veterans, and how pleased he was when I had mine on. I picture him carrying on, bent over sideways - pushing himself to 80 miles.

I think of Mike Dobies hanging out at timing, keeping an eye out for runners he wanted to meet - calling out to me and introducing himself. I remember later when I stopped and chatted with him about the ball too.

I can picture Tim Loudermilk sitting at that picnic table when I figured out who he was. I remember him looking pretty dejected then, and I remember him transformed when I saw him at the end of the race.

I remember inadvertently introducing myself to Mike Sapporito, mistaking him for his running and DFL Ultrarunning podcast partner Eric Sherman - a friend I'd met at my first ultra, who I would also spend part of a lap with later.

I remember walking a lap with Fred Murolo, his wife, Karen, and his son Teddy, 11 - working on his own 27-mile ultra in the 24-hour.

I must have talked with almost everybody about my ball! After a while quite a few people would comment as I came up behind them - Tom Butler, Tracy Zagata, Fred, Gene - "That must be Pat. I hear that ball."

I remember the guy who would jump in front of me on the out part of the out-and-back as I came dribbling along - as if to defend me like in a basketball game. One time I bounce-passed Wilson to him and he bounced him back.

I remember sitting on a park bench near timing once, eating a small cup of very good chili, and noticing Tracy go by. I remember catching up to her walking with someone on the far side of the course that same lap after I'd finished the chili and ran out there with Wilson.

"Tracy! What are you doing?" I said. "I can eat a bowl of spicy chili, bounce a ball and still catch you!"

"Is that a challenge?" she asked.

"No, I'm smarter than that." (Tracy won the Waramaug 50M a few weeks back.)

I remember taking an opportunity to introduce myself to Joe Fejes as he paused briefly where Mike was set up to support him, and I remember how for a long time after that, lap after lap, every time Joe blew by me it was with a "Hey, Pat" until things started to get a little harder for him in his attempt at the 48-hour record.

I really remember lap 126 - when I actually passed Joe while running along bouncing my ball (I could hear he was struggling at that point as I passed him). All of a sudden I realized I had a problem - I had put a lap on Joe and now I had to keep it all the way around to timing! I remember Fred laughing at me as I flew past him like a lunatic, hollering back over my shoulder to explain why I wasn't stopping to walk with him just then. "I just put a lap on Joe and now I've got to keep it!" I think Joe actually stopped at his support tent shortly after I'd passed him - but I still had a great lap!

I remember the other speedy folks going by me over and over again. Petite Marylou Corino, who seemed to never stop, never walk, and never even look tired or like it was even hard! She won the race with 271 miles - seventeen more than her nearest (male) competitor, setting a new Canadian record - and when she went up to claim the award she just sauntered up there like her legs were ready to go another couple hundred miles.

I remember Darren Worts going by lap after lap for two days - then I remember finally seeing him walk, getting a chance to meet him (with Gary at the time, I think?) and to talk with him. The 'running machine' turned out to be a regular, good guy - go figure!

I think of meeting Brad Compton - Vol State veteran and soon-to-be fellow Vol Stater - and frequently sharing encouragement with one another on the course (our paces never matched, unfortunately - man can that man walk!).

I remember meeting Kevin Flood and chatting with him from time to time.

I could go on and on - there were so many others. Kay Scott, the always-smiling Kim Van Delst, Mary Vish, Joe Laskey, John Fegys - no doubt I am neglecting to mention others and for that I beg forgiveness! Once you met someone there was almost always a shared word or a smile at future encounters - and you couldn't help running into one or more of your ever-widening acquaintance circle nearly every lap.

By the time three days had passed it had begun to really feel like family. When we gathered to cheer in those last runners, it wasn't feigned or forced at all - but deeply heart-felt.

I remember other people besides fellow runners too.

I remember the people working the timing station throughout the three days - day and night! I remember Rick huddled under a blanket in the wee hours of the morning, catching a few Z's in between 'beep-beep! beep-beeps!' There were only a very few times in three days when I came through and someone didn't call out, "Patrick - 134" - or whatever the new mileage was - so I would never be in doubt as to whether the system had registered me. I tried to always say 'thank you.'

I remember the friendly, obliging folks working the aid station throughout the race - the way they were always willing to do anything they could to accommodate me. I remember walking in there one morning with a sudden craving and saying to the woman behind the counter, "I want to eat ALL the bacon!" Turned out there were just four slices in the bin at the time and I did eat it all - but there would always be more if I really wanted it. I knew I could count on it.

I remember the young volunteers, walking the course with trays of treats, offering them to passing runners, and Steve Tursi's son Joey with a spray bottle, offering to wet runners down during the heat one afternoon. I remember meeting Steve's wife, Alex, and having a few pleasant chats.

I remember the locals who just showed up the first night, parked out on the course, on the helmet, blasting out some tunes (even doing requests) and cheering everyone through for several hours - just 'cause it was a fun thing to do. I remember how good it felt to alter pace and stride to match the beat of whatever was playing, and sort of dance/run through that section.

Later on in the race, there was the crew set up on the other side of the helmet. They had an unusual but interesting ensemble put together including a trumpet, drums and of all things an Australian aboriginal digeridoo. They had some great tunes going and, again, I danced past them as much as ran. I remember smiling wide in the morning's first light when the trumpet player blasted out a flawless "Reveille."

So what's wrong with this report (until maybe now) is the lack of all these things - and more - each of which contributed in some small way to carrying me forward and through everything else I described. As the memories of those three days soften and blur a little, now two weeks later, it's these things that remain the clearest as defining moments of what the experience really was.

Now I feel I can do no better. If you want to know more you will need to find a better writer than me - or just do the race yourself. Really, you will need to do the race yourself.


Once the awards were handed out there were a few goodbyes and 'thank-yous' and then Karen and I had to buckle down, tear down my tent and get everything packed into her car. Checkout time at the hotel was 11:00 AM and I really wanted to go there and take a shower before we hit the road for Syracuse (we both really wanted me to do that, truth be told).

Once that was done, it was time for a meal. For some reason (the serious nutrition geeks will cringe) I usually crave a disgusting fast-food cheeseburger right after a race! This suits Karen just fine, so it was straight to McDonald's when we left the hotel.

Once I crawled back into the car, clean, with a full stomach, and reclined the seat just a little, I was gone.

I had been a little worried about Karen successfully navigating back up to the interstate. At one point I woke briefly and mumbled out a reminder that she should expect a toll bridge (over the Delaware river). She replied with a chuckle that we'd already crossed it a while ago. I ate the leftover french fries I'd brought with me, then I was out again.

Except for one bathroom stop I was never awake for more than five minutes here and there the whole way home - and when we got there I crawled into bed for some serious sleeping! I got up for a couple of hours in the early evening and spent some time interacting with people on the race's Facebook page, then went back to bed again. From shortly after noon on Sunday until about 5:00 AM on Monday I was awake for maybe a total of three hours.

I was able to walk around surprisingly well on Monday. It was as though my legs had been trained that pain didn't matter and debilitating stiffness was not allowed. I had a massage scheduled for noon, so I took a half-day and stayed home that morning.

I went to Chipotle for lunch right before that, since I figured I'd be staving to death if I waited lunch until after. My Lord is food good after a 72-hour race! I like Chipotle, but it had never tasted like that! On my way up to work after the massage I had a craving for some ice cream. I stopped and bought a pint of Haagen Dazs strawberry - not usually my first flavor choice, but the fruit sounded good - and I ate the whole thing when I got to my office.

For the first full week after the race, I lived meal to meal and nap to nap. On Wednesday afternoon I had a regular 2:00 PM meeting with my boss. Usually we are done by 3:00 or 3:30 - about the time I always eat an afternoon snack. This time we talked until 5:00 - and when I left his office I was a starving animal! I drove back to my office building, marched straight into Karen's office (we work at the same company) and said, "I hope you're ready to leave, because I'm going to Chipotle - NOW."

When I really thought about it these things all made sense. Wednesday at 9:00 AM was the time at which I'd finally been recovering longer than I had been racing.

It was Wednesday evening before I tried a little three-mile, easy, easy run - and Thursday was a really bad day and I ended up taking the afternoon off and going home for a nap. The weekend was tough! My daughter was graduating from college at Cornell, and since she had a double major there were ceremonies to attend on both Saturday and Sunday. I did a lot of driving back and forth to Ithaca - and a lot of sitting in uncomfortable positions on hard bleachers. There wasn't much visiting with my mother and father and our son Dan at home each evening after that. I was in bed shortly after we got home each evening.

Another short run on Saturday made for a rough day on Sunday - but better than last time.

Finally, on Monday - a week after the race ended - I felt like a normal me again. I ran Monday night and Tuesday wasn't bad. In fact I ran 10 miles Tuesday night, and I ran again Wednesday. If I run some decent mileage today (It's now Saturday morning) I'll have maybe a 40-mile week in. I'm basically back.

There have been no lingering pains other than a few nagging little things I had before the race. Well, the perennial mild pain in my right heel is back a little, but I expect that will go away again soon. So then - full recovery in about a week. Not bad. Other runners reported quicker recoveries on FB. They probably had bigger bases than me. I survived a 72-hour pretty well on a 40-50 miles per week training base.

Lessons Learned

Here, in no particular order, is a list of things I think I learned doing this race:

  • I learned that numbers on a spreadsheet are a lot easier than numbers on the course! When you actually see what people have to do - what they have to work through - to put up those numbers you realize how limited the predictive value of one year's worth of data really is. I suspect when we see lap splits for this year the weather on Day 2 will be seen to have affected everyone, and Day 3 will have a larger split.
  • I learned to be very afraid of doing Vol State without a crew. The added mental challenge of completely taking care of myself (and Kim) and finding food and fluids will be very, very hard.
  • I learned that stiff, sore 'ultra legs' really can be made to loosen up and go again the next day - even go far.
  • I learned they can do it the next day too. The day after that? We'll have to see.
  • I learned that the two most important things are to keep your feet happy and keep your butt happy.
  • I learned that Desitin is a miracle product for the latter of those two things.
  • I learned that 2Toms Butt Shield isn't enough for me in an all-day run/hike on a hot day, even if reapplied frequently.
  • I learned the value of taking regular breaks to get your feet up and aired out. (see four bullets up, about happy feet).
  • I learned that when you mess up your feet, they can recover.
  • In fact, there is time in a multi-day race to recover from seeming disaster and go on with your race. It ain't over 'til it's over.
  • I learned that my strategy of simply eating and drinking what sounds good to me when it sounds good to me still works in a race that lasts three days.
  • I learned that my strategy of only taking salt pills when it's oppressively hot and humid (and then only at about half the recommended rate) still works in a race that lasts three days.
  • I learned that all food tastes really, really good when you're running a multi-day. (Ever had salty mashed potatoes shot through with blobs of melted cheese after you've run for 36 hours or so? They're good.)
  • I learned that music sounds strangely arresting the second or third day into running. Every time I happened to hear some it seemed to just take over my mind and body and I was just moving to it. (May have to rethink running sans iPod).
  • I learned that I really can do much, much more than I thought I could, and that three days won't kill me. Time to try ten?
  • I learned that I love multi-days.
  • I learned that I never want to do one without Wilson. May have to for Vol State though. I'll miss him.
Thanks for reading. I hope it was at least interesting - hopefully helpful if you're planning your own first multi-day or going to 3 Days at the Fair.


  1. I'm so impressed and happy for you for doing so well! Great report and great job! I wish I had gone this year, but now that I've read this, I think the bug has bitten me for next year. Now to just convince Jason that I'm not THAT crazy and that I can do something like that. As if he'd doubt me. ;) Can't wait to catch up with you and Karen in August!

  2. Thanks, Tiff - and yay!! Come on and do it! Best time ever. And make sure you register soon because they're already talking about probably hitting a cap next year. Check the race web site for an application. See you in August!