Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Iron Horse 100K Race Report

I can't believe that this race has finally come and gone.  There were so many unknowns before the race, but once it started, it was time to stop worrying and just keep putting one foot in front of the other, staying hydrated, eating, and taking in the experience.

And, after 11 hours and 6 minutes I crossed the finish line.

Day Before
Got on the road and left my house just after noon and stopped at Wendy's on the way up there for a baked potato to start carbing up some more.  Arrived into the nearby town of Palatka and checked into the hotel - a Quality Inn because the main host hotel was filled up.  After settling in, drove out to Florahome to go look to make sure I could find the starting area.

After that, headed back to Palatka to the Holiday Inn Express where the pre-race meeting was going to be held.  I felt a little bit intimidated because every seemed to look so much more "ultra-ey" to me like they had all done at least 7 or 8 100 mile races.  But, once I sat down and chatted with a few people I realized it wasn't like that at all.   Yes, there were some very experienced people, but there were some newbies like myself.  I chatted to a few people before the meeting, then we listened to the race briefing from Chris, the race director.  It was practical and entertaining.  For example, he told us about the "Bardin Booger", the local Yeti like creature, and about what to do if encountering a Florida Panther (run, of course), and about being required to walk across the old train bridge - no running allowed - because there's alligators in the water that might eat you.   At the end of the talk, as I was about to leave I saw Kim from Daily Mile.  She said she'd be easy to spot as the tallest girl there, so I said hi to her and her husband before I headed out.

Went back to the hotel and had dinner at the Beef O' Brady's restaurant there.  Maybe not what people think of for pre race meals, but it was close and I wasn't sure where else to go.  Had a cuban sandwich and a side of rice.

Race Morning
I woke up about 5:15 and slowly got moving.  I had somewhat organized my stuff but I felt completely unprepared, and slightly unmotivated.   Maybe I was just trying to get myself into the right frame of mind of starting out slowly.

Made it over to the starting area about 6:30, grabbed my drop bag and small cooler and walked over to the start.

If you want to see a breakdown by mile - Here are the (Garmnin) mile by mile splits.
Otherwise, here's what I can remember.

First 25 Miles
First 25 mile loop completed in 4:15, thinking it was a little bit fast but also wanted to take advantage of the cooler temps.  I started out slowly, feeling a little bit tight since I figured that there would be plenty of time to warm up.  Did my first walk break about 10 minutes after the start.  It felt kind of odd, because I didn't feel like walking.   But, I was going to try and do a 9:1 run:walk strategy as suggested by my friend Claude W.,, who also recommended boiled potatoes with salt and 5 hour energy (all of which were great suggestions).  However, I think I wasn't as disciplined about the walk breaks, and looking back at my splits for the first half, I seemed to take a walk break every other mile.  My fastest mile was 9:15 and the slowest mile was 12:29.

The air felt cool at first (low 60s) but kind of humid.  The temperature would later climb up into the 70s

The first 3.5 miles were on an out and back section heading west, then past the starting line out to the east for the longer section.

 Then, just after about 6.5 miles, the paved section ended and we were on the old dirt and gravel section of trail.

I'm not remembering too much more right now about the first 25 miles, other than how fresh everyone was looking.  I can't remember if it was during the first or second 25 miles that I took a picture of "M&M" hand and put it on Facebook -    
I think eating M&M's is one of those little things that makes an ultra marathon special, along with Mountain Dew and other fun refreshments they don't serve in marathons.

Second 25 Miles
Second 25 mile loop in 4:28 - a bit slower, not completely by choice, but at least partially, knowing I needed to slow down if I didn't want to really crash.  The temperature was climbing, but at least there was no more unknowns about what the terrain would be like.  I'd been on pavement, to dirt, to gravel, and out to the train bridge for a second time -  

A little ways after the train bridge was the turn around point -

On the way out towards the turn around for the second time, stopped at the aid station again, I heard a volunteer call out to one of the other runners that they had completed 41 miles and told them their time.  Since I still had to get to the turn around and come back, I was at about 39 miles and couldn't wait to be at 41 miles, so I'd be in the "40's" - a new running distance for me.  (although I had only just twice scratched the surface of the 30's before).

Coming back to the aid station I got to hear the same thing "ok runner 110, you are at 41 miles" (actually, at some of the stops they knew my name which was a really nice touch - all of the volunteers were awesome - especially aid station number 2 which was manned by Navy JROTC high school kids and a retired Master Chief).

The excitement of passing that milestone soon faded when I realized there was still over 20 miles to go and I was hit by the worst slump of the race.  I even felt like crying, but when I opened my mouth up laughter came out (I'm really not making this up, it was like I was temporarily miswired).  I was listening to "Railroad Man" by the Eels on my mp3 player - kind of a fitting song and a bit sad, but I was out of my slump after hearing it:

And i know i can walk along the tracks
It may take a little longer but i'll know
How to find my way back

No tracks anymore, they were ripped out some time in the 80's, but it was a good song to hear on a seemingly endless section.

Then, I was back on the paved section and making my way to the starting area.  As I approached, I saw someone running towards me, it was my good running friend Eudair, we ran to the aid station and her husband got a few pictures of me.

So, first 50 miles in 8:43

Last 12 Miles
My math brain was working enough so that I knew 12 miles left, in 3 hours, or 15 minute miles would get me in under 12 hours. I stayed on a strategy of running part of the mile, then walking until my pace for that mile had gotten about 30 seconds slower than I wanted, then started running again until the next mile.

Got going again, and Eudair ran with me for about a mile before turning back.  After about 4 miles, I started to really feel like this thing would come to an end.

I kept on my run-walk strategy, which had evolved a bit - instead of a set amount of walking, I would walk in the middle of a mile until my pace slowed to about 30 seconds slower than where I wanted to be, then start running again.  It was easy to keep track of and a sort of fun mind game to play.

After the Race
I think I look a bit out of it
They handed my the finisher's medal, a belt buckle actually -

Not Knowing What I Didn't Know- The big thing that I found out was how much I didn't know but wish I had known.  Fortunately, I did take advice from people who had run these before, even if the advice didn't make sense to me when I heard it.

Walking - I have a new found appreciation for walking.   I think that some of the walking that I did early on really saved me at the end, maybe a little bit more might have helped.  However, once I got to the point where I needed to do more walking, it really did help to recharge me and get me back running again.  I was afraid I'd end up doing back to back miles of walking, but the walk breaks during each mile prevented that.

Eating - Pretty early on I started eating solid food.  I think I had a Cliff bar around mile 5.  I ate pretzels, m&m's, boiled potatoes, and pb&j at the aid stations, at least a little bit of solid food at each one.  At the end of each 25 miles, I drank a Muscle Milk

Salt - I had grabbed salt packets at Wendy's on the drive up, but ended up not taking them with me.  But, along with the potatoes, there was a bowl of salt.  I felt like I couldn't get enough salt, they also had Endurolyte capsules at the aid stations.

Drinking - Made sure and tried to finish drinking my two 10 ounce bottles before I got to each aid station.  I had mixed up Accelerade before the race and had some extra in my cooler at the starting area, but would refill with HEED drink that they had on the course.

TMI - To know if I was drinking enough, I had a goal to make sure to stop a few times to relieve myself and avoid getting into the dark yellow 

Shoes- I was worried about what shoes to wear.  I had read several race reports and everyone talked about how rough some of the gravel sections were on your feet.  I don't own trail shoes, however, almost all of my trail training miles I ran in Asics Nimbus which are nice and cushioned.  I did run the Croom Zoom 50K in Brooks Launch, and those felt pretty good, but my feet were a bit sore at the end.   Also, since about 8 of every 25 miles was paved, the Nimbus worked out really well.

 Everyone one I talked to on the course while running, walking, or at an aid station felt like family. Seeing Eudair and Franco as I approached mile 50 was a huge boost and was just about 6 miles after feeling like I totally had fallen apart. Glad I had my phone with me to text Jenny some updates and receive back words of encouragement to keep me going (she has always believed in my running ability more than me), as well as posting random pictures to facebook, gave me something to do and look forward to during the walk breaks (although it ended up jabbing into my back a bit too much, need to find a better place for it if I try this again).

Pleasantly surprised with a nice photo that Cathy B. took of me and posted to DM today. Inspired by Kimberly H. as she bravely took on 100 miles after missing a good deal of training, so very encouraging to me each time we crossed (I later found out she had to drop out after 89 miles due to some dehydration related issues, but it was definitely the smart thing to do, even more inspired by her courage to make the right call).

I'm still kind of in disbelief that I completed this - and except for the few aches and pains and the few low points, came through it ok. And as an added bonus, I'm happy with the time.

**Update - results are now posted here
I didn't realize it at the time but I came in second place overall for the 100km


  1. Congratulations, Mark! I am very impressed that you did this - especially when you are not a big potato fan! Kidding aside, we are all proud of you for accomplishing this - great job!

    1. When I was told before the race that I would like eating salted potatoes, that I would enjoy them even I was a bit skeptical. They were amazing. Also, a small piece of trivia here, they were red potatoes like your Mom and Jenny (and maybe you also?) use in potato salad

    2. That's funny - do you think the red potatoes have some special endurance qualities? And way to go on placing 2nd for the 100K - woo haa!

  2. I read on Amy's blog about your run. Congratulations Mark! That is a super time as well. I really enjoyed your report. Rest well!

  3. Fabulous Mark, just fabulous! Your discipline paid off and you killed your goal, hope to see you at a start line soon :)

    1. Thanks Kim! Hope to see you at a start line sometime soon also!

  4. Mark, You are amazing!.. Congrats.. I had been waiting for your blog since you finished your ULTRA race!...It is remarkable what you just achieved.


  5. Way to go Mark, you're a beast!!

  6. Wow, Mark, I loved reading your story! Sounds like such an amazing experience and accomplishment. Congrats again!!
    ~Amye Eastman

  7. What a great adventure, Mark! Congratulation for reaching your goal and crossing the finish line after 11 hours!
    Did runners run that Iron Horse 100K Race with a mobile phone? I'm curious!
    It's easy to see that you ran through a beautiful environment ... The third photo shows a soft running path: it is a good place to run! I would have never though a section of the running path on a train bridge :) Nice report!

  8. Yes, I think a good number of people ran with their mobile phones - the race director somewhat encouraged it and gave out his phone number in case anyone got into trouble and needed assistance - although he stressed the point that if you make any turns (besides turning around at each end) then you have left the course.
    I carried my iPhone but did not have a great place to carry it - the pouch on the back of my fuel belt was a bad spot since the phone ended up digging into my back causing a large swollen area by 50 miles.

    The course was 25 miles per out and back, with about 8 miles of it paved, and the other 17 miles dirt and gravel - there used to be railroad tracks a long time ago. There used to be three old railroad bridges to cross (up until last year), but the state department of transportation has turned part of the trail into a bike path.

  9. I'm looking into doing the 50 miler next year. How bad are the gravel areas? I just did the Croom Fools 50K this past weekend, and am looking for a flatter course for my first 50 miler. Do you recommend this one?

    1. The gravel areas are not too bad. I was expecting a little bit worse, can be a little bit annoying but not terrible. One of the racers I chatted with said that the parts that were the worst had been paved over. About 7 out of 25 miles is paved. I ran the Croom Fools race myself so I'd have to say that the Iron Horse course is overall easier despite the gravel. There is some sand, but less than at Croom, there are no hills and I think there's a little more shade. Croom is more picturesque but Iron Horse has some decent scenery. Although running near a road the whole time, it is mostly wooded.

    2. Awesome! Thanks for the info!! Croom was tough with all the hills, so I think I would be better off with a flatter course for my first 50 miler. Congrats on your awesome finish!!