the reward for 28 7.25 mile loops...)
It's a fair question. Set in the middle of nowhere (Clewiston, one of the cities on Lake Okeechobee in central Florida, which is one of the poorest areas of the state), the Skydive Ultra course consists of a 7.25-mile trail loop through a bunch of farming fields that surround an airpark. To say the course is "nondescript" would be the understatement of the century . . . it is flat, plain, and the terrain is non-technical. (Seriously, I didn't fall once in 203 miles, and anyone who knows my disdain for technical trails will quickly realize the Skydive course must have been the smoothest trail in the world (which it basically was).
As you can see, notably absent from the course are the sweeping vistas and inspiring views of some iconic point-to-point races, such as the Badwater 135, the 153-mile Spartathlon in Greece, the 175-mile UltraMilano-Sanremo in Italy, the Keys 100, the Daytona 100, the inaugural Lighthouse 100, and basically every other point-to-point ultra in gorgeous locations that I've run in my life. Also absent was any real competition: only 4 brave runners started the race, and we started a full 40 hours before the vast majority of the runners doing shorter distances (from 100 miles on down to the 10k) started on Saturday morning. (The 150-milers started 26 hours after us, at 5pm on Friday). So that meant for the first 26 hours, there were a grand total of 3 people on the course (one guy dropped after 50k, citing boredom and the fact he (completely rationally) thought there were better ways to spend his birthday weekend.)
After 26 hours, 10 or so more people running in the 150-mile race joined us. In other words, I ran the first 153 miles of the race almost completely alone, with nothing to look at, no one to talk to, and no one pushing me, competition-wise. So, as I explained to the Skydive RD (and founder of the Florida Ultra Runners (FUR) Facebook group) Eric Friedman, this was a race with no "external" motivation or stimuli. We 200-milers would only have the motivation we packed along with us, nothing more, nothing less.
And therein lies the primary answer of why I chose to run this race: I wanted to put myself through the most lonely, mentally-tough, repetitive, rationally-pointless endeavor I could possibly find. I figured if I could get myself through this race in one piece, I could accomplish anything. Well, I succeeded in that respect . . . this race's brutality was all I knew it would be!!
Now that six days have passed since finishing the race, I've had plenty of time to recover, for my blisters to heal, for the soreness to subside, and for me to reflect upon what transpired out there. Rather than a traditional "blow-by-blow" race report that seems to be all the rage in the ultra world these days (e.g., "and then at Mile 128, I took 3 SCaps, an Apple Cinnamon Hammer Gel, and took three minutes to defecate..."), here are 5 take-aways from my race I think contributed greatly to my ability to finish the race, and things that apply to any ultra out there:
1. "EVERyone has a plan until they get
punched in the face."
That's probably one of my favorite quotes ever; the fact Mike Tyson is the one who said it only makes it more unique to me. Iron Mike was on to something, though . . . we can spend as much time as we want plotting and planning our races, and exactly how they will unfold, but it is when the shit hits the proverbial fan that we find out what we are really made of...
The Skydive 200 started at 3pm on Thursday. It was 85 degrees with high humidity. The forecast for the race was temps around 60 degrees Thursday night, a high of 70 on Friday, with lows in the 40s on Friday night, and then temps around 70 again on Saturday. So the three hottest loops of the entire race would be the first three.
Based on my results at some other super-long races I've run, including the 175-mile UltraMilano Sanremo in Italy, in 33.5 hours, I initially was shooting for a sub-48 finish at Skydive; I thought that was well-within my abilities.
(Celebrated philosopher, M. Tyson)
I fully believe that more than anything, it is this pacing decision that allowed me to have a strong and successful race. My first 50-miles were 11:30, and my second was 12:15 (anything under an hour between the first half and second half of a 100-mile race is considered really good). While I definitely slowed down in the second 100, and was forced to take breaks off of my feet (which I never do in ultras), my decision to scrap my initial plan was absolutely key to my race.
The key is to be able to quickly assess the race, the conditions, and how you feel, and then adapt your plan accordingly.
2. "play this game with fear and
I could write a whole article on "The Wisdom of Bull Durham," and the above quote is one of the best from the movie; it is advice given by the grizzled veteran catcher (Kevin Costner) to the talented airhead rookie pitcher (Tim Robbins) on how to succeed in baseball.
We all have our insecurities/fears when it comes to our ability to get the job done on game day. The "do I even belong here" self-doubts. The "I'm going to be exposed as a fraud" feelings.
Those feelings are important and serve an important purpose: to help us train as hard and effectively as possible for an event. Those feelings can get us out of bed when we don't want to for an early-morning run before work, or get us to the gym for a nighttime session after work, when all we want to do is go home and put our feet up.
In other words, fear is an important pre-race tool. But once the gun goes off for your race, now is the time for supreme confidence. You have to believe you're the best runner you can possibly be, and nothing is getting in your way today. For a long ultra (100 miles or longer), no other attitude will suffice. You need to be able to say "I'm finishing this race today, no matter what, and nobody can stop me."
"Arrogance" is probably the wrong word to describe this feeling, because it implies a sense of confidence that is unfounded. What you need is confidence based in reality, which you will have if you train as diligently as intelligently as possible going into the race. For me, I averaged 125 miles per week in the month prior to Skydive . . . while I largely took it easy in 2016 (only completing 4 races of 100 miles or longer), I knew from my last month of training that I was "back" to where I needed to be for this race.
Based on my training, I knew I was going to finish the race and do well. So I adopted the "nothing is stopping me today" mindset . . . any other result besides a strong finish was simply unacceptable. Fear and doubt have their uses, but not on race day. Train hard enough to leave them behind where they belong . . . on the miles and miles of training roads and trails.
3. "Too many mind."
That is the opposite of a "winning" mindset. Just as Capt. Algren was repeatedly getting his butt kicked by Ujio because he couldn't maintain focus on the one important thing in front of him, you too will get torn apart by an ultramarathon unless you are hyper-vigilant about staying in the present. If you feel like crap at Mile 25, your only thoughts should be about diagnosing what is wrong, and the immediate steps you can do to start climbing out of your hole. That's it. If you feel good at Mile 25, then just focus on the next segment of the race, and reaching the goal you set for yourself in that segment.
The Skydive 200 is 28 loops of 7.25 miles. I further divided it into about 15 segments per loop. That's 109 individual segments throughout the race. One of the most popular questions I've gotten this week is "what went through your mind, being out there so long for so many miles?" Well, 99% of my thoughts were about those 109 segments, and reaching my goal for each one of them. ("Okay, from here to the aid station is one mile; let's do it in 10.5 minutes. We've got this.") We can handle the concept of running a mile. No one can handle the concept of running 200 miles (especially on a loop course). But you don't have to handle that concept . . . just stay in the present and focus on the task in front of you right now; sooner or later, the task in front of you will be "cross the finish line and receive your belt buckle."
The Skydive 200 taught me to be laser-focused on the present like no race I've ever run before. As my body got more and more tired throughout the race, my focus became more and more narrow. I developed a wicked sense of tunnel vision, where all I could basically even see/acknowledge was the segment of trail directly in front of me. Sue Edwards, who volunteered at the race over the weekend, took this great picture of me on Friday morning . . . it perfectly encapsulates what the course looked like to me, in my head, for the final 50 miles on Saturday:
4. rewards are good.
Finally, long-time Zwitty runner and friend, "Magic Pat" Hrabos showed up at around 3:30pm to run the final three loops with me. It was an absolute life-saver, as while I was never in danger of stopping, I was getting very tired at that point (I only had 1.5 hours of sleep between Thursday at 6am when I woke up, and Saturday night). So it was great to have someone else to talk to and share the last 22 miles with.
Pat's presence also provided a fair bit of comedy, and showed me just how much of a "running robot" I had become throughout the race. On our first lap together (Lap 26), Pat noticed all sorts of things on the course. ("Hey look, what kind of tree is that?" "What is that building over there") ("Uh, Pat, I've never seen that tree (even though I passed it 25 times already); there's a building over there??") It definitely made me smile when I realized how narrow my vision had been throughout the race!
5. It's a team sport.
I say this all the time: if you ever start to lose faith in humanity and the basic goodness of people, attend a local ultramarathon; my guess is your faith will be restored quickly and resoundingly. Skydive was no exception to that rule . . . in fact, it has one of the best atmospheres of any race in Florida. Eric Friedman does a wonderful job of creating a supportive and festive atmosphere at the start finish line, and he was cheering me on throughout the entire race, as was race timer Mike Melton. As well as hundreds of others. Most notably, Scott Richards and Jamie Woyton took me under their wings and got me anything I needed until Alex and the kids could show up. And encouragement from others such as Tom Grinovich went a long way to keeping my spirits up and keeping me moving!
So thanks, everyone, for a wonderful experience of self-discovery! And for everyone coming up to the Jacksonville area next weekend for the Donna 110, I'll see you out there!!!