Blog Subtitle

Reverse-engineering the Ultramarathon

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

2016 CandleLight12 at EquiCenter

A brand new race in Honeoye Falls, NY (near Rochester), CandleLight12 at EquiCenter (CL12) was a 12-hour night race benefiting (and taking place on the grounds of) a horse farm operated by a non-profit organization providing therapeutic equestrian programs to people with disabilities, at-risk youth, veterans, and their families.

When Egils "Gil" Robs, RD of both Mind the Ducks 12-hour and the CanLake 50s, announced this new race he was putting on I thought it fit perfectly into my plan for this year. Totally focused on trails and mountains through first half of the year for my 'A-race' at Laurel Highlands in June, it would then immediately be time to switch focus onto 'A-race' number two: A Race for the Ages (ARFTA) - a fixed-time, short-loop ultra on Labor Day weekend in which I will have 55 hours to complete as many laps of a one-mile (paved) course as I can.

When Gil announced CL12 - boom! - I had a set-piece long training run for ARFTA! I believe I was the fifth runner to sign up on the day registration opened.

My Goals

There was a lot I liked about this race for my purposes. First, I've become very interested in multi-day, fixed-time races, and one of the key skills to develop in that format is the ability to move well through the nights. Those wee hours of the morning from about 2:00 to 4:00, when your circadian rhythms are at the low end of their cycles and the overpowering urge to sleep comes over you are one of the many challenges in multi-days. Sometimes you need to be making your best mileage during the night, perhaps because the weather during the day is too hot, or maybe because many of the other runners retire for the night, the course is less crowded, and you can gain many places while others sleep. A good first night, at least, is key to a good first 24 hours - which is the best day a mere mortal like me is going to have in a multi-day!

On a flat, fast course somewhere, that first 24 hours is also my best shot at ever accomplishing a sub-24 100M and, though I am hesitant to say it publicly, that is my remaining goal for this year. I will have a shot at it at ARFTA and, if I don't get it there, a second chance in cooler weather at the NJ One Day in November.

Finally, it has been a long time since I did 'just' 12 hours. My first fixed-time, short-loop race had been Mind the Ducks 12-hour, back in 2012 on the old, half-mile course under RD Shelly Viggiano - where I had gotten my first-ever fifty miles. I was excited to try 12 hours again and see what I could do now, four years later. On the theory that I'd like to put up what would be a good 12-hour split for a 24-hour 100M, I set myself the goal of running sixty miles at CL12 - with an obvious A-goal of 100K (62.1371 miles). I would be happy with "anything over 50 though," I said.

The People, the Course, and the Start

The course was officially a 1.07-mile loop advertised as "cross-country." Never having run cross-country in school, I had no reference for that. Gil (as he generally does) set up two pre-race dates for course 'preview runs' on the site, but I was unable to make it to either of those. I would have to learn the course during the first few laps of the race.

As race day approached a cadre of travel companions developed. I heard from fellow ultra-lister Alan Barnes early. He'd be in the area, visiting a son who is a student at Syracuse University, and had decided to do the race, so we made plans to ride over together. I always enjoy meeting online friends in person, and Alan and I go way back on the list. Much closer to race day, recent friend Amy Mower Van Kampen (who lives further east, in Cooperstown) asked if I'd like to share a ride, and then still later Todd Baum contacted me - also looking for a ride (as an interesting aside, Todd was hoping not to have to drive because he was recovering from a hernia operation; running for twelve hours apparently was less of a concern for him). Todd was the founding RD of the Green Lakes Endurance Runs (GLER), and co-captain of the Rock Pile aid station at the Virgil Crest Ultras, where I'd spent some significant time with him as a volunteer for past couple of years.

This turned out to be a great little group to travel with! The drive to Rochester passed quickly with all of the great conversation on the way, and we enjoyed a dinner together at a local Olive Garden (everyone being a bit cautious about just how much they loaded their stomachs just a couple of hours before the start of the race). Tim Hardy (the present RD of GLER) joined us at the restaurant as well.

From there it was just a short drive to EquiCenter, and we arrived with about forty minutes to check in and set up our relatively spartan personal 'aid stations.' It hadn't been a plan in advance, but we all decided to share a spot to park our stuff. Todd was the biggest contributor, having brought a folding table that proved to be very useful, and a small folding stool that I kind of verbally dismissed when he asked if he should throw it in the car ("I don't plan on sitting down," I said), but I ended up resting on it anyway several times during the night (which seemed like a good thing at the time, but I suppose that could still be arguable as race strategy).

Getting ready - and already using Todd's stool!
(Photo credit - Amy Mower Van Kampen)
As we set up I met a few other friends from past local races: Jim Miner - the ever-present, unstoppable supervet who races all distances week after week, taking lots of awards (at nearly 70 years old), Mary Skelton DaSilva, another older runner who continues to defy accepted limits - setting up camp with her close friend and mentor, Greg Farnham, who I had not seen since he moved to Arizona a couple of years ago. There was Allison Osipovitch, always bubbling (who refers to me as her ultrarunning 'godfather' - I've thought of working up a good Don Corleone greeting for her sometime, but it hasn't happened yet), Dave Farrands (always quick with a laugh line), and Michael Valone - a good friend with a running backstory similar to mine - setting up with a group from Trailsroc. Odds are good I've missed somebody, and I'll feel really bad about it when I figure out who.

A few minutes before 7:00 PM runners started gathering near the start. Gil gave a quick course description - from which my simple takeaway was, "There's a bunch of turns. Follow the flags." I figured that was good enough and would probably work out okay.

It was kind of strange as Gil indicated where we would start and began counting down the final minute or two. Jim commented on how nobody wanted to be right up on the 'line.' There was no actual line, but everyone was standing way off from where Gil positioned himself. It was like everyone was competing for starting positions near the back of the pack! Okay. I'd take the front. It was me, Jim, and Todd who led us out when Gil gave the word. It didn't take too long before at least a few other runners figured out that I wasn't going to set the most blistering of starting paces, passed me, and things started to feel a little more normal!

Still, I was well up in toward the front of the pack for that first, exploratory loop.

Course on the grounds of EquiCenter
From the start/finish we ran around the end of the South Barn, zig-zagged through some paddocks, and then back around the outside of the paddock area (at lower left in the image, above). At the corner where the course turned east again it went uphill past 'tent row' where the personal aid stations and support crew were located, back to the road and the barn area - completing the smaller loop of the figure-eight layout. Crossing the road at the top of tent row, you hit a gravel surface through the parking lot, past the aid station (located in the South Barn) and out to a left turn onto the long paved section leading north to begin the second, larger loop. Apart from those two sections, the course was grass on hard-packed dirt (very hard-packed, due to the drought conditions that are prevailing in the region this summer).

Gravel section leading out to the left turn onto the paved 'north road.'
(Photo credit - Karen Deruchia Marcus)
The north road.
(Photo credit - Karen Deruchia Marcus)
The right turn at the top of the map began the 'technical' section of the course - where you had to do one 'tree-root two-step' before bombing down the hill along the perimeter of the hay field. The ground was a little rutted at the bottom of the hill just before the course turned back south again, and you had to watch your footing there all night. The only other obstacles were a few piles of horse crap to avoid here and there (a few of them helpfully marked with orange flags).

That straight section leading back south (at far right on the map) was relatively flat with maybe just a slight downgrade. Then you made the turn to head uphill back toward the main area of the farm. This was the one hill on the course that I thought it wise to walk from the beginning. I picked a spot to run to (the last of a series of crap-flags) and then walked to the sharp turn at the small pond. A short run around the pond, another short walk uphill past the (huge and gorgeous) house, and then you were back on the pavement and gravel again until past the South Barn and the aid station, and through timing.

The 'big' hill. Until you've run for twelve hours I don't think
you can appreciate just how big a sixty-foot or so hill really is!
(Photo credit - Amy Mower Van Kampen)

The corner and runners on the big hill.
(Photo credit - Karen Deruchia Marcus)
The pond (a little reprieve in the middle of the hill).
(Photo credit - Karen Deruchia Marcus)

And a loop is done! South Barn, at left. Timing is just past it and to the left.
(Photo credit - Karen Deruchia Marcus)

My Race

Overall, this course was interesting and beautiful - but not fast! That was a big hill for a short-loop ultra, and the footing, though not technical by any stretch of the imagination, was tricky enough that it constantly engaged stabilizing muscles in the feet and ankles.

My early run/walk pattern was ambitious: run everything except the big hill. Because of all my hill training in the past year this worked out really well. I'm strong enough on hills right now that walking gave me a bit of legitimate recovery each lap. Most often in past ultras, hill walking was more about simple survival. Eventually I would throw in walking the hill past tent row, and a while after that some mixed running and walking on the gravel and paved sections.

That would all come quite a bit later though. For the time being I focused on maintaining as solid a pace as I could while keeping my effort level comfortable - which was a bit of a fine line in the early going because it had been a hot and humid day and though it was starting to cool off as the sun went lower it was still a very long way from actually cool. I could feel my heart rate getting 'spiky' at times and occasionally extended a few walk breaks to get a little extra recovery. I was also very sweat-drenched and had to focus on getting a steady stream of replacement fluids.

I've run in enough different conditions that I've gotten pretty good at finding and maintaining a good equilibrium for me though. I did that here, and made some very good time (again, for me) in the first few hours of the race. I went out as though I meant to try to run sixty miles, which may have meant that I went out a little too fast for what I could actually do. I really don't have much of a handle on judging that sort of thing!

I hit twenty miles sometime during lap 19 (loved the way that 'bonus' 0.07 added up over time) - well under four hours, which is an unheard-of time for twenty miles for me! Hit the marathon somewhere just under five hours during lap 25, and thirty miles (actually just short of 50K) on lap 29 at a little over six hours - technically speaking, a new 'trail' 50K PR for me by a small margin (on a very easy trail course).

It had pretty much been all fun and games to this point. Now, at 1:00 AM heading into the sleepy hours on 50K PR legs, the real work began. It was pretty clear based on my thirty-mile split (if it hadn't been upon seeing the course in the first place) that sixty miles was off the table. The best I was going to do was put my head down and get to fifty as quickly as possible, and see how much time I could leave myself for the "anything over" part of my 'C-goal' (I spend a lot of time chasing C-goals in ultras).

A fabulous time exposure looking down tent row!
(Photo credit - A.J. Gottschalk)
By now I recognized what was really great about the course. The flat section heading toward timing closing out each lap encouraged you to run. It was slightly downhill through timing, and definitely downhill through the paddocks. It was slightly uphill coming back around toward tent row, but the running momentum through the paddocks usually carried me running all the way around. By the time you reached your stuff (if you were going to stop) you already had a not-too-small part of another lap behind you. Stopping or not, it was hard not to think of tent row as the 'end of a lap' - even though timing already had been. Psychologically this sort of gave you the paddocks for 'free' (it did for me anyway) and the rest of the course felt 'short' as a result.

On the other side of the course, the section from the turn off the pavement downhill through the field and all the way along the flat straightaway coming around to the hill was a long, reliable run section every lap. Between this and the 'free' run through timing and the paddocks - and a mix of running and walking on the gravel and paved sections - I maintained a significant run/walk ratio throughout the night, and for the most part laps in which I didn't actually stop for something came in under fifteen minutes (and sometimes well under).

"Hey, wait, this really is a race."

I had another motivation going for me too. Fairly early on I noticed on the leader board that I was running in the top ten - and coming through consistently in either second or third place in my age group (AG). I have never finished in the top ten of a race, and I have never been in contention to win an AG award. For the first time in an ultra I found myself actually racing - and not just for bragging rights over some fellow middle-to-back-of-the-packer.

Heading into the night, I knew I had a very good chance of gaining ground on people. This was not an experienced multi-day crowd, not an experienced night-running crowd, and in many cases not an experienced ultrarunning or 12-hour crowd. Gil Robs has gotten a very good thing going in the Rochester area with his races - attracting an enthusiastic community of new ultrarunners crossing over from road running. Each time one of Gil's fixed-time races is coming up, its Facebook page lights up with discussion and encouragement for people who want to know if it's okay to walk the whole time, or for people wanting to try first half-marathons, marathons, or 50Ks and wanting to know if that would be okay - and the reaction is always, "Heck yeah! Come on out; you'll love it!" It's just great. It really is. Gil's races have people at all levels of ability setting out to do BIG things and nobody's goals are insignificant. They are wonderful introductions to the ultrarunning community.

That meant I had the advantage of experience though as we headed into the night. I've run a couple of races that took me until well after dark to finish, but more than that, I've run multi-days - 54 hours (once), 72 hours (twice) and a race that took my daughter and me over 236 hours to finish (trying to go as fast as we could that whole time). I love the nights in these kinds of races, and if I've counted rightly I've accumulated sixteen of them so far, not counting this one. The nights are my element. Others, I knew, would struggle with sleepiness, even go down for some actual sleep - and quite possibly one or two who had raced to a 50K faster than I had would be among them. There wasn't a lot of room in front of me, but I thought it was quite possible I could gain a place or two through the wee hours - and build a strong lead on anyone who might come back out onto the course later.

The crowd did thin noticeably in the middle of the night. Some runners had already reached their goals (or found the race wasn't for them) and simply left. Some also did go down to sleep and would be back out a few hours later. I just kept going around - though starting at the marathon point I did make some periodic stops. Two of those I'd really like to have back were 'necessary' trips to the porta-potty! I think I learned something important this race, which is that I should not wear a bib belt high above the waistband of my shorts because the pressure there irritated my bowel. My two longest laps included time spent getting in and out of there for a 'download' and I lost at least a mile to it. The second time, I threaded the bib belt through the belt loops of my shorts (glad I had them) and had no more problems afterward.

Other than that I made some short stops at our aid station to rest and fuel for a few minutes, sitting on Todd's stool with my legs propped up on Alan's cooler (thanks, guys!). I had my usual mix of liquids with me: Orgain nutrition shakes, Gatorade, and sweet iced tea. I also had one Starbucks Frapuccino for a little boost through the 2:00-4:00 hours. Several times I grabbed a shake, took it with me and downed it fast enough to toss the empty in the garbage at the main aid station. I tried to keep the stops short each time but, as always, I look back on the race wondering how much was really necessary. The short breaks seem to do me quite a bit of good, enabling me to move noticeably stronger for three to four miles afterward - but any time spent not moving has to be made up, and I'm not sure I really come out ahead versus just continuing to slog it out - especially over only twelve hours.

Altogether I consumed five Orgains, the Frapuccino, two sweet teas and the bottle of Gatorade over the twelve hours. Apart from that I picked at a little fruit at the main aid station - also had a popsicle and a pickle - but didn't really source any significant calories from there. In total I consumed a little over 2100 calories over the twelve hours - which is about 175 calories per hour and is higher than usual for me. I've been experimenting with slightly higher fueling levels based mostly on Orgain and I'd say the results have been positive. Orgain is quickly becoming my main fuel source, and I'm going to have to figure out how to take a case of it along with me to Tennessee for ARFTA 2.

I took one S-Cap after the hot, sweaty start but - as always - am not sure I really needed it. The only time I have really salty sweat is just after I take an electrolyte supplement on the theory that, 'I've been sweating a lot and think I must need one.' I can't get myself to completely break from the common wisdom that I need to replace 'lost' electrolytes - though I have ample evidence that the extra salt just immediately ends up on my skin as my body quickly dumps it. I had some nice big salt crystals stuck to my arms after the race, which I have never had happen through numerous hot, sweaty runs this summer - and apart from that I noticed no other effect of taking an S-Cap. Salt supplements are just not part of my 'equilibrium' approach of maintaining a steady, but modest rate of fluid replacement (some with incidental electrolytes) and supplementing with a few nibbles of salty foods when and if I have a taste for them.

Blah, blah, blah... back to the race!

Moon rise over the pond.
(Photo credit - A.J. Gottschalk)
I traded places at various times with several other runners I was aware of because they happened to be running near me. It didn't take too long to figure out that the reason I seemed to be hopelessly stuck in 2nd place AG was because Todd was in the same group (he'd mentioned that he's 58 years old sometime on the trip over from Syracuse). I had no idea exactly how far ahead of me he was. He'd lapped me quite a few times and I only ever got one lap back on him (and that only briefly). I did entertain myself from time to time with thoughts of tripping him as he went by. I made plans to give Gil a hard time at the awards too because Todd had also mentioned that Gil had allowed him into the race after the registration deadline.  "Foul! Foul!" :)

All night long I traded places on the overall standings with Frederick Crimmins. I believe this was only his second ultra and he made a very strong and impressive effort. Every time he flagged a little and I got back a lap or two he came roaring back and retook the lead over me. I had no idea how it was going to turn out between the two of us!

The other runner I noticed was Sarah Dean. I believe this was her first ultra - or at least by the time I talked to her she was at her longest distance ever. I'd noticed her from the very beginning of the race because she ran very strong - and I sensed that she really did not like getting passed (gotta respect that)! She was also in fantastic shape. At the pace she went out she was either going to finish at the front of the pack or she was going to struggle later and fall short. Not knowing what her story was there at the beginning, I took a wait-and-see attitude. Twelve hours is a long time.

Much later in the race, as I was counting my way down through the last four laps that I needed to reach fifty miles, I happened to pass through timing with Sarah and noticed she was a couple of laps behind me. She indicated she was struggling pretty badly at that point, and she had developed a bit of a limp on one side. She was determined to push herself through to a particular goal she'd had in mind though (which I surmised was 50M, but she did not confirm). I told her there was still plenty of time. A little while later she threw caution to the wind and started pounding out laps to get there and get it done. I stopped at the aid station at one point and she came flying by at an unbelievable pace! I overheard quite a bit of talk about it on the course.

If 50M had indeed been her goal, then she made it - but apparently she was spent at that point, and she left about an hour and ten minutes run out on the clock afterward. It was a very strong ultra debut, with a lot to be proud of. If she wants it, with some more experience I think Sarah can be a very strong competitor in these races.

I hit 50M only about five minutes before Sarah did. With nothing but my 'C-goal' of "anything over 50" accessible to me at that point - and no chance of catching Todd for the AG win - it was just a matter of squeezing enough out of the last hour and fifteen minutes or so to finish feeling like I hadn't left too much on the table myself. Plus there was still Mr. Crimmins to think of! The outcome between us was still very much in doubt as we traded places between sixth and seventh overall through many of these final hours.

(Photo credit - Kristen Joanne)
I looked at the time left as a minimum of four more laps if I wanted to finish feeling like I hadn't 'wussed out.' I didn't feel like I had to really push it and try to make it five though. Things were hurting pretty good at that point and I was content to let the chips fall where they might between Frederick and me.

He'd beaten me to every major milestone before fifty miles - but I beat him there (lap 47) by over six minutes.

I beat him to lap 48 by over five minutes. (Race time: 11:01:48)
I beat him to lap 49 by over four minutes. (Race time: 11:16:45)
Then he beat me to lap 50 by thirty-six seconds! (Race time: 11:33:28)

As I watched him and his running partner work their way around the outside of the paddocks I mentally gauged their condition. I was going on to lap 51, and clearly they had time for that as well. The way they were moving though, I wondered if they might not have one more in them after that. I found them stopped at their personal aid station when I came around and they were just getting ready to get going again. I explained my speculations about them as I acknowledged they were probably going to beat me to the conclusion of our final lap (#51) - which they did, by a minute and six seconds...

... and then Frederick pounded out one more lap on top of that in just 8:42!

I might have been able to push it and make it a real race between us getting to 51 - but I had nothing like that 8:42 in me at that stage of the game! Nice finish, Frederick Crimmins! I probably should have just kept my mouth shut and kicked it when I passed you that last time. :)

My final result then: 51 laps (54.57 miles) at 11:49:13. With almost eleven minutes left on the clock there is no doubt I could have pushed that last hour and fifteen minutes just a little harder and squeezed out one more lap without too much strain. Chances were good it wouldn't have moved me ahead of Frederick in the standings though.

As I came through timing the final time, Gil surprised me by letting me know that I had, in fact, won my age group! Since Todd would be the overall solo winner of the race, the veteran AG award would pass down to the second-place veteran - me. It comes with that caveat then, but it's still legit - and it's my first-ever individual award in a race. I'll take it (and I'm glad I hadn't actually tripped Todd at any point). The third-place veteran, by the way, was only a little over two minutes behind me at the end.

Veteran AG winner: "Me!" (Might never happen again.)
(Photo credit - Dave Cornell)
People I know cleaned up pretty well in this race:

Todd won overall, with 62.06 miles.
Jim Miner won  the male supervets AG with 54.57 miles.
Wanda Schubmehl took the female supervets AG with 40.66 miles.
Chris Hobart (an ultra lister who I met here) won the male masters AG with 57.78 miles.

Amy hit her goal of thirty-five miles as a last long training run for her first 100-mile attempt at Beast of Burden, volunteered for a while, then got back out on the course and walked about seven more laps to finish in second place among female masters. Alan hit 40M and called it a night early.

CandleLight12 was a really good time. It was a gorgeous summer night with the stars and, later, a nearly-full moon. It was a beautiful and unusual venue, and it had great people. The race was well-run, as Gil's races always are.  I would do it again and recommend it. Don't expect your best 12-hour here, but do expect a good time! Thanks, Gil; thanks, volunteers; and thanks fellow-runners and friends! Isn't this a great sport?

The race served it's purpose for me very well. Now, a little over a week later, I'm feeling very strong - and my appetite for loops and nighttime running has been very well whetted - as has my confidence in my ability to do well over twelve hours on a faster course. In just one month I will get to run through two nights in a row - 55 hours this year - in a field of friends from all over the country, including some of the most accomplished ultrarunners in the history of the sport.

I may blow myself out early trying for a 'fast' 100M and spend the rest of the race dragging myself painfully to an underwhelming total - and get beaten by an 85-year-old man in the process (you know who you are, D-Bag), but I can't wait to find out!

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