KEYS100

May 19, 2015

“Why do we hold the race in May when it is so hot and humid? In order to make it challenging,” explained Keys 100 Race Director Bob Becker to the runners gathered in Key Largo, Florida for the pre-race briefing. While Becker’s comment elicited some nervous laughter, it was nevertheless precisely the challenge of finishing such a race which had drawn us all to South Florida. I, for one, had competed, and suffered in the 2014 event, and was nevertheless looking forward to another jog through the Keys.

In addition to the steamy climate, the course alternates between the slanted shoulder of a road and a hard, concrete path. “Hard concrete” may be grammatically redundant, but it is appropriate. The shredded soles of hundreds of brand new running shoes and bruised feet are evidence of this particularly challenging surface.

When the race started at 6:20 am in Key Largo, I was already dripping sweat. Even so, the first 15 miles were almost comfortable as the pace was easy and I was not dehydrated or overheating, yet. I even took time for selfies and had energy to chat.

Mile 16 with Ashkan Mokhtari.

Mile 16 with Ashkan Mokhtari.

As the day wore on, temperatures rose to the mid-90’s, while the humidity remained. Sparse clouds did nothing to shield runners from the sun. At one point along the course, a sign announced that we were about to run through “The Tunnel Of Hell.” Or maybe it read, “Welcome To Hell’s Tunnel.” Either way, the concrete path meandered through a heat-trapping tunnel of boondoggled bush for several miles. I wanted to speed through this phase of the course, but my body was too stressed for anything faster than about a 12-minute run/walk pace. A tedious pace under normal conditions, but a top-speed after 40 miles under the Floridian sun.

I eventually made it to the 50 mile aid-station, but after about nine hours on the tarmac, I was thoroughly cooked. I knew from past ultra-marathon experiences, that I would be better off, later on in the race, if I cooled my body now, as opposed to pushing myself past the point of recovery. Thus, I sat in the shade for 30 minutes with ice cubes on my head, replacing them with fresh ice as they melted.

Cooling down with an ice-packed hat at the 50 Mile Aid Station.

Cooling down with an ice-packed hat at the 50 Mile Aid Station.

It was discouraging to see other runners go past, but I reminded myself that ultra-running ultimately isn’t about competing with other runners, but rather oneself. If I had tried to keep pace with other racers I would have soon overheated or my muscles would have cramped. Unlike shorter races, where one can match pace with other runners, in ultramarathons, each runner has to find his or her optimum pace and fueling strategy to get the finish the fastest. Furthermore, I was running the race without a crew so it was prudent to err on the side of caution. Before leaving the aid-station I swapped out my well worn Huakas with a brand new pair which I had packed in a drop bag.

I paid a price for the long, but necessary break. When I restarted my quadriceps and and hip flexors were extremely tight and I noticed sharp pains in my right hip and left knee. It was a discouraging moment because running another 50 miles seemed impossible due to the frozen muscles and aches. Slowly, my muscles warmed up, and I endeavored to not stop for the rest of the race. Along the way, I popped 200 milligrams of advil and tylenol, but only after drinking enough water and electrolytes that my pee was nearly clear. 

Eventually, the sun set and temperatures dropped enough for me to increase my pace without the risk of overheating. It was still hot and I continued to pack ice under my hat for rest of the race whenever possible. I did not negative split thanks to the extended aid station break, but I did run the second fastest split of all the runners over the final 25 miles and finished in 19:55, 5th overall, and First Place Master. 

There was very little room for error in the steamy South Florida climate and the right nutrition and gear were critical to finishing. As usual, I relied on a steady diet of HammerNutrition which included: one Endurolyte Extreme capsule and gel every hour, one Sustained Energy serving every 25 miles, one Endurance Amino capsule every hour and every couple hours a Fizz tablet was added to my CamelBak bladder. Many bananas and a potato rounded out my calories.

Race nutrition prepared pre-race and distributed at drop points along the course.

Race nutrition prepared pre-race and distributed at drop points along the course.

The CamelBak Marathoner vest was perfect for this race as the bladder holds up to two liters of water and it also has two front pockets for water bottles. I used one water bottle specifically for dousing myself with water in order to keep cool, one bottle held my Sustained Energy mix, and I drank from the bladder.

It’s official, I am in a relationship, with the Huakas. With substantial cushioning and light-weight, they have proven to be an amazing shoe for both short and long distances.

Done! First Place Master.

Done! First Place Master.

Definitely in Florida.

Orangiant Juice. Definitely in Florida. Mustard for scale.

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Burning River 100

July 31, 2013

Burning River 100: Breaking Wind, Breaking The Ice

Passing wind during an ultramarathon is as expected as gulping HEED (http://www.hammernutrition.com/products/heed-sports-drink.he.html?navcat=fuels-energy-drinks ) at an aid station. The combination of a race diet and prolonged jostling of the digestive tract is a perfect formula for creating gale force breezes the boys from Jackass would envy. I am shocked by the immediate acceptance, even celebration of public flatulence on the trail. As soon as one runner breaks the sound barrier, a symphony of cheek-squeezed sounds is bound to follow.

Around mile 30 of the Burning River 100 I fell in step behind a male runner. Lets call him Russ and say he is a father of four and a collegiate cross-country coach from Wisconsin. Like the start of many friendships in the running world, Russ and I first engaged in self-deprecating banter and grumbled about the weather conditions during an aid station stop and then hit the trail together. Conversation came easy between us and it wasn’t until after running together for 10 miles that we formally introduced ourselves. Russ was a stronger runner and took the lead as I trailed closely behind. It wasn’t long before a thunderbolt tore through his spandex clad booty, directly in my path. I appreciated the audible warning. Regardless, there wasn’t much for me to do, but wince and forge ahead. I hoped to declare my own brand of chemical warfare in return – if only I could get ahead of him. We acknowledged this act of nature was part of ultrarunning and joked about the topic for the rest of our miles together.

Eventually Russ ran ahead, leaving me on my own at the mile 67 aid station as I tried to pull myself together. “Everything hurt” and the attentive volunteers took note of my struggle. One volunteer untied my absolutely disgusting mudcaked shoelaces as I endeavored to replaced the Asics Nimbus with a lighter and fresher pair of Asics DS, while another brought me homeade vegan potato soup –and then a second helping of the savory delight.

Shortly after I left the station I sat down on the trail in order to retie a shoelace and catch a break. I looked generally pathetic plopped down in the middle the path, Raidlight running pack off to the side and shoe untied, and a runner stopped to check on me. His name was Harvey Lewis from Cincinnati, Ohio and he wasn’t actually racing, but rather out for a 40 mile training run and to socialize with friends who were competing. We quickly figured out that we had both been at the Badwater 135 in the week prior – Harvey as a runner and 4th place finisher, myself as a crew member for Eberhard Frixe – and that we had friends and interests in common. As we chatted I discovered that Harvey is an ultrarunning legend, though the legendary parts of his story had to be coaxed out of him.

From the moment we met until the end of the race he was nothing but selfless, positive and overflowing with helpful advice. I am beyond grateful for his presence which helped me to eventually cross the finish line. There were points – basically the tiny stretch between miles 35 – 95 in which I doubted whether or not I could finish. I started the race with a sore right hip and buttocks which still hadn’t recovered from a previous race and my body developed other pains along the way, the most debilitating of which was a throbbing left knee. The searing pain eventually demanded all of my attention and I was forced to stop running and instead march in agony for approximately the final 20 miles. I had been on pace to meet my sub 24 hour goal, but ultimately I was satisfied to cross the finish line- and more importantly, I was grateful for the generosity and goodwill of people I met along the way.

My diet consisted of a Hammer gel http://www.hammernutrition.com/products/hammer-gel.hg.html?navcat=fuels-energy-drinks every 45 minutes, a Hammer bar http://www.hammernutrition.com/products/hammer-bars.fb.html?navcat=fuels-energy-drinks every hour, salty soups at aid stations and approximately 20 oz of water per hour mixed with Endurolytes Fizz. I felt great the entire race – minus the leg pains – which speaks volumes about Hammer Nutrition which once again proved to be one of my best friends in a long race.

burning river

That bridge was as “slippery as a stripper’s twat.”  What? Did I really hear that? No – actually, grandmaster competitor, Bruce, had warned the runners in his 56 year-old wake that the wooden bridge was as “slippery as snot.”  Either way – the mud-covered planks bridging wet sections of the Finger Lakes 50 course were hazardous if not treated with extreme caution. Days of rain prior to the race, plus successive mud-covered footsteps from the runners created a most skateable surface.

This was my third annual journey to Hector, NY, in order to run in the Finger Lakes 50 – the best trail race extravaganza I have experienced in the Northeast. Not only does one race through rugged, undulating, wooded terrain, but two nights of camping amongst a small sea of ultrarunners is the norm, making for a well-rounded get the f*** out of the city experience.

As opposed to the 2011 and 2012 races, this course was extremely muddy.  Traipsing through the unavoidable mud path added pounds to my running shoes and gaiters.  Midway through the second of three laps, I felt as though I were running in work boots, with concrete plastered to the outside. During the third loop I actually detoured through forested sections in order to avoid further buildup of mudcake.

The wet woods not only created treacherous footing, but also a veritable love hotel for mosquitoes and black flies. It was as if the insects had spent a year since the last ultramarathon reproducing and not eating – thus creating a massive population of voracious winged predators. During the first lap, I managed to outrun most of the flies, but as I slowed in the second and third laps I was ripe for the plunging of their proboscis (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosquito). The bugs were a blessing and a curse as they were responsible for speeding me along the trail when I would have otherwise slowed. I was excited to leave New York City for a woodsy experience and I got it!

I was satisfied to have finished the 50 miles in about 8:40:00 and 4th place overall.  While I have yet to negative split during the race, I have negative split the annual times dropping from 11:35:00 in 2011 to 9:35:00 in 2012 to this year’s 8:40:00.

Hammer Nutrition’s Sustained Energy mixed with Hammer chocolate gel was my race fuel and I mostly drank the Hammer Heed provided at aid stations along the course. I also popped a total of three Hammer Energy Surge tablets during the race when I felt sluggish and took two Hammer Anti-fatigue Caps. In addition, I ate about four bananas and some watermelon slices. I felt great except for the heavy shoes.

Obviously, I love Hammer products. Since trying them out I haven’t used any other recovery or race fuels. If you would like 15% off your next Hammer order just reference my name “Zandy Mangold” and referral code “153088.” http://www.hammernutrition.com

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Mud.

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Mud-caked shoes and gaiter.

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Finger Lakes Pedicure.