Friday, June 13, 2014

TARC 100 2014 Race Report - My Second Novel

Well it has been almost a week since I returned from the TARC100 - my DNF at the TARC100 rather.  I was initially ok with my result in the immediate aftermath because I could still remember the state I was in when I decided to drop.  However, if you have ever DNF'd as time passes you forget the anguish and it begins to eat away at you.   Was there something left in the tank that you couldn't conger up?  Are you getting softer?  Are you getting too old for this?  And I presume it will eat away at me for quite some time to come yet.

I wasn't going to write a report at all until I received a message from fellow ultra runner Bernie Doucet – 'Still waiting on your race report bro'. I responded that I was not real keen on documenting failure.  He said you made it 65 miles, you could have some valuable insights for others – write the report.  

He is right, race reports are very valuable and where this race is so young it might help others and keep me from wallowing in despair – therapy for idiots so to speak.  The TARC100 is only in its second year and only the first time for this course and location – last year's was moved since it was a gruelling mud fest.  I personally would have benefitted from being able to google reports to get an idea of the terrain, etc – which could've been invaluable as it was to my successful run at the Vermont 100 in 2012.  Thanks Bernie I think I need to get this out of my head on paper regardless of its merit :)

So where did it all go wrong?

In hindsight, I would probably have to go way back to Wednesday evening prior to the race.  The plan was to leave Thursdaymorning after dropping the kids at school.  My pacer/crew Scott Dorcas had texted me he would drop off his gear in about 15 minutes so we would be ready to roll bright and early.  He hadn't arrived so the kids and I waited in the sunshine on the front steps.  I was crazy excited considering the amount of time, effort and training that is channelled into a 100 mile race.  I felt I was ready – I had a 11 hour up and down a ski hill effort in the middle of winter in February, a 90 km effort in April and 9 hour trail effort with 6k of climbing in May all under my belt with loads of miles littered in between.  I was better prepared than my last 100 mile effort. Right?

Scott sent me a follow up text - he was holding off coming to drop the gear since he heard what sounded like gunshots and there were lots of sirens close to his house.  I think the entire nation knows now what followed.  A 40 hour manhunt in our very immediate neighbourhood for an armed cop killer.  We were in the locked down perimeter with my 2 young kids to protect.  We stayed in the basement together for the first night as my wife wasn't allowed to get into the perimeter on her way back from yoga class that evening – she had left before the chaos started.  As you can imagine, sleep was not deep or constant for the first night.

We woke optimistic as Andrea was able to make it home early.  We figured they knew his location, how long could this last.  I was assuming he would be caught sometime during the day and packed my remaining clothes, etc.  As the day dragged on, we sat with the doors locked thinking of the slain officers and their families as well as the other RCMP officers still out there putting their lives on the line for this senseless rampage.  We wondered how could this happen to our quiet suburb as the choppers and planes flew constantly over the patrolling cars and armoured vehicles.

I was not at all thinking of the race now as the training, time, effort and destination seemed so trivial compared to the events transpiring around us.  I had no intentions of leaving my family until it was confirmed the shooter was dead or in custody.  

Hours turned into afternoon, when would they catch him?  The reports came that he was surrounded in a building.  I let the kids out in the yard for some badly needed fresh air and began to ready the van for a late departure to Boston.  False lead, he was still out there.  I hurried the kids back in the house and figured they had a few more hours to get him before night threatened their efforts again.  

As the sun set, I had pretty much given up all hope of racing.  When not following the events online, I was googling around for another race that might make sense.  I went to bed around 10 PM pretty down about it all but kept reminding myself how stupid my disappointment would be to miss my race based on the situation.  My family and I were safe and it was all that mattered.

Around midnight, my hair stood on end when I woke abruptly and thought I had heard someone trying to get into the house upstairs.  I went up with my trusty baseball bat to find nothing.  As I calmed my nerves and dozed again, Andrea woke me around 12:30 saying she heard shots or something.  Up we went again – checked online, situation seemed to be the same.  I again went back to get more sleep Andrea stayed up to monitor the events for a bit.  I just dozed off again, when she was calling me intensely trying not to wake the kids.  This scared me half to death as I thought there was a situation upstairs.  She said I think they got him!  The events unfolded over the better part of an hour but it was confirmed they had him now.  

I texted Scott and explained I was thinking of  heading out in the AM but I understood if he did not want to go given the events that had unfolded.  I honestly didn't think he would still be up for it and I could tell Andrea had no intention of letting me go at it alone.  I was stoked when he texted back and confirmed he would be ready to leave at 7 AM.

We left around 7:30 AM, it was strange indeed navigating the crime scenes of bullet ridden police cars, spent shells and police tape driving through the neighbourhood to pick up Scott – it all seemed like a dream.  Every car stopped to personally thank the officer directing traffic that morning.  Thank you RCMP. You are a brave band.

The drive seemed short until we hit the Boston traffic crawling into the city.  We checked into the hotel and immediately went to register.  It was odd to drive through some of the most affluent communities in the Boston area to get to the huge and beautiful nature reserve in which we would run.  I recall some of the locals saying 'I live here and didn't even know this place was here'.  We quickly registered and caught a glimpse of the shiny buckle and finisher's jacket that would be the prize upon crossing the finish line.

Here I have to take a few minutes to portray my expectations of the course.  A huge park in the middle of the wealthy Boston suburbs described as follows:

Welcome to Massachusetts’ first 100 miler!  You will not want to miss the TARC100.  Hosted by the Trail Animals Running Club in beautiful Westwood, MA on the Hale Reservation. About 20 minutes from downtown Boston, the race will be run on a 25 mile loop course: 99.9% trail, 2,500 acres of private reserve land, a cumulative vertical gain of 8,000 feet of climb and 8,000 feet of descent for a total elevation change of 16,000 feet, with aid every 5 – 6 miles.  Start time is 5:00 am, Saturday June 7, for the 100 miler with a 32 hour limit to complete the course. The 50 mile run will start at 7:00 am Saturday with a 15 hour limit.

I had read FB and blog reports that it was about the same as the StoneCat50 course or a bit harder.  I had read reports that it was smooth single track.  I believe I even seen the Garmin data that showed 10 k of elevation gain and loss.  So hard to get a solid answer.  So in my mind, smooth single track with not much climbing would put the race on a difficulty level approximately the same as the Vermont 100.  I arrived at this conclusion by thinking much less climbing, but no smooth country roads.  Man, was I wrong!

I have never been completely blindsided by the difficulty of a course in my life.  The Garmin data doesn't show rocks and roots :)  I found the single track to be quite technical.  I don't mean a extremely technical, but enough that when your legs are tired, you will need to hike many sections to avoid falling.  Now, in my neck of the woods, the extended winter and spring made the trails virtually  inaccessible for quality trail training until mid May.  I could have travelled to NS a bit more had I anticipated the course to be more technical than not. Again in my head I was thinking keep logging long flat miles and you will be fine as there is not much climbing.

We arrived in lots of time the morning of the race.   I was very excited as it had been two years since I had last run 100 miles.  Not to mention,  I really appreciated the fact that not 24 hours earlier I was in lock down with my family with little hope of seeing my efforts come to fruition.  The race started on a sandy beach which was pretty cool, the water was like glass and it was surprisingly bright for 5 AM – I wouldn't even need a headlamp in the tree cover to start.  After a few short announcements, one of the RDs came down and drew a line in the sand and a five second count down and a TARC yeti scream later – we were off!

I was amazed immediately by the beauty of the course and continually baffled how such a preserve could exist just 20 minutes from the vast Boston Metro.  I seen Scott at the first aid station and was pretty excited to tell him how much he is going to enjoy the final lap.  As I alluded earlier,  the course was technical but didn't sink in for the first 10 – 15 miles as the excitement and adventure masked it a bunch.  I had nursed an achilles injury for the last month of my training and after seeing the course I was a bit worried about how long it would be before it started to swell.  Thanks to Advanced Health and Physiotherapy in Moncton NB that was the least of my worries for the day.  

After the second aid station (10 miles), there was a ten mile stretch before the next manned aid station (20 miles).  In between, at mile 15 however there was an unmanned aid station with a bit of food and lots of water.  This was a long stretch for me all day as I kept finding myself weak through here as my stomach gets quite selective about what I eat while running and keeps me guessing.  What I mean by that is for an hour chips might work, after that I can't even look at them and I move on to candy until that ship sails, etc.  So I tried my best to have something in my pack but if that wasn't in agreement anymore and there was only a couple items at the unmanned.  I always felt depleted before I got to the farm at mile 20.

The farm was probably my favourite aid station for a few reasons:  1) Meadows - You have to run through open meadows to get there and I love running through meadows.  2)  Breeze -  there was a nice breeze outside of the tree cover.  Despite the breeze, it was getting hot quickly and the meadow was exposed to the sun which took it toll as well throughout the day – mainly on my stomach.  The farm aid station was fantastic.  They had really great quesadillas hot off the BBQ that I was able to stomach for some reason – weird for me.   The volunteers were outstanding at all aid stations – eager to fill packs, bladders and bottles for you while you rested and ate.  I also liked this aid station as it meant one more stretch to the start/finish where I would get access to Scott and my gear to begin the next loop. 

The five mile stretch between the farm and the beach (start/finish) was brutal.  No other way to describe it.  Even on good legs (when I say good – they were surprisingly trashed already but feeling good compared to where there would be in the coming hours) this section was very technical, long and hard – I had to hike the majority of it.  Most people spoke of this section being very hard and technical and mentioned they hiked 90% of it as well.

I have to say by the time I got to the beach to end the first lap, I was happy to see Scott but concerned about the state of my legs.  Both my IT bands on the sides of my knees were swelling already.  I had started the race in a button down cotton shirt anticipating keeping cool knowing the forecast of very hot weather.  The problem with this approach is that it even though does keep you nice and cool by not wicking away sweat - the cotton keeps the liquid close to your body – not good for nipple tape.  It was coming off already and is hard to get back on well after sweating has begun.  I changed into a technical T and re–taped hoping it would stay.  I was sure to get this right as that type of chaffing is not fun.

On a humorous note, you'd be surprised how many volunteers and other racers were upset I removed the plaid cotton :)  I had compliments all morning and one aid station volunteer was upset I had abandoned it – for the remainder of the race I was 'The plaid shirt guy' from Canada :)

It took me 6 hours to get the first lap done.  I had anticipated 5.  So what, in ultras, plans go out the window quickly and you must adapt to prevail.  I figured I could keep that pace for another lap and have lots of time for the final 2 laps – I mean 32 hours – I should have time to spare- I did under 24 in VT (right?)  :(

It was very hot already at this point and I didn't find I had enough water in my handheld between aid stations so I decided to use Scott's Ultraspire Alpha pack that I had never worn before since it had a 2 litre bladder – mine had a 1 litre.  I find it annoying to have to take them off to fill at the aid stations and that costs time as well.  This was the start of bad decisions that seem to be a trend all day.  Not huge decisions but little ones that continually add up and get at you mentally.  I would be smart and think of what I needed prior to getting to an aid station – such as:  food, electrolytes in handheld, water in pack, lube and put something in my pack to have on the trail.  I would leave with full bottles, no lube and nothing in my pack!  Why this happened I have no idea, but it happened all day – the heat maybe?  Or did I forget just how stupid you can get after running beyond 6 – 8 hours.  Dunno, but it was a trend all day.

So I started the lap with with Scott's pack which was very uncomfortable to my slim ultra runner physique (those of you who don't know me - I don't look the part of an ultra runner – moobs and love handles).  I feel like I was wearing a  girdle.  Cleavage pushing up and belly hanging out –  not happy.  But I had neglected to bring my bladder down from the car since I was only going to use my pack for the pockets and use a handheld to hydrate.  Luckily for me Scott could see my scowl and met me at the first aid station with my smaller pack ready to go.

A good point to mention here is that normally in ultras, your crew can meet you at handler stations with a vehicle.  On this course parking was at a premium and the roads were quite narrow so crews had to walk to access aid stations at mile 5 and 10 – after this you were on your own.  They didn't have to walk that far from the beach to get there – only about a mile for one and less than that for the other which we knew ahead of time.  However, worth noting for others.

So where are we?  On lap 2 at the first aid station, swapped the girdle for my own pack, now I was comfortable but shocked at the pain in my knees.  I had forgotten to pack tylenol and drink a Boost at the beach (go figure).  So I asked Scott to meet me at the 10 mile aid station with both.  

I was pretty sore and depleted at the 10 mile aid station but happy to see Scott with pain killers and Boost.  I took both and continued on in the heat.  It was getting scorching hot now.  I had not trained in a single day of heat given the weather to date in Moncton, NB.  However the tree cover helped immensely.  The boost and tylenol sparked me to life.  I was running pain free and with energy.  I met so many others at this point going through the same thing.  They all said the same – I have never felt this low this early.  I told them to keep plugging that I had just come out of a very dark spot as well.  I knew more would come and I reminded myself to reference how I felt now compared to 20 minutes ealier.  

The Boost and tylenol were wearing off by the time I made it 10 more miles to the farm.  I knew at this point I would be another hour slower at least on this lap than the previous.  I started to do the math already – how much would I keep losing per lap, would I have enough time to slog this out.  Not good.  I sat at the farm for a while as I liked it there and they fixed me up nicely – more pain killers (which I hardly ever take during a race), lube, food, water.  I left feeling energized again to be almost half way.  Yikes – knowing my condition – it was scary.  I had to back off and remember the smaller race picture.  Aid station to aid station – one thing at a time.

The last section again beat the heck out of me.  The tylenol had little effect now.  My legs were trashed and a huge blister had been forming on my left heel.  I would need that worked on back at the beach.  It took me 7.5 hours and I would be longer getting started again as I needed my heel fixed.  I finished the lap very low and beat up.  I loaded up on everything I could think of to get me through the next lap – salt tabs, pain killers, caffeine – food, water – I could no longer stomach electrolyte liquid – not good.  I sat in a chair as the medical staff worked on my blister.  I was patched up ready to go.  

Once again I felt energized as it was going to be a nice clear night and I love running at night.  It wasn't quite dark, Scott told me he would meet me at the 10 mile aid station with a boost and headlamp.  Another bad decision on my part, as it was getting dark in a hurry – would I make it 10 miles before dark.  I knew my legs were not going to last a fourth lap for running so I did the math and figured I needed to do this lap in 8 hours to leave enough time for Scott to join me hiking the last one entirely.  I took off pushing hard to run as much of the course as I could before I was slowed by a headlamp and darkness.  Turns out I was fast to the 5 mile aid station – as fast as my first lap.  I had some soup and ginger ale as my stomach was bad and energy starting to dwindle, but I had to push on to have a shot at finishing.  I also knew it was getting quite dark and I needed to get to my headlamp at the 10 mile aid station before I couldn't see without it.  

Scott met me on the road just before the station.  I couldn't drink the boost he had for me as I was starting to feel quite ill.  I put it in my pack to have with me knowing I had 10 miles till next aid after this one.  At this point I was moving well but feeling very ill – heat?  Not sure but I felt like I was going to be sick.  Scott had met me just prior to the 10 mile station so when I pulled in there I sat down and knew I needed to get something in my stomach – water alone was not going to get it done as I had only eaten small bits all day relying on salt tabs and electrolyte drink that I couldn't get down anymore.

I tried some warm soup and iced ginger ale as I did at the first aid station.  I sat for a bit and got up feeling woozy.  I figured I would start running and wait till my eyes began popping out of my head before I started with the caffeine tabs.  I walked out of the aid station.   A few minutes down the trail I became violently ill throwing up everything I had. With my headlamp on this must have been a spectacle.  Having eaten so little all day and drinking well, but sweating a ton – I was shocked at what came out of me.  I have thrown up after many events, but never during.  I have also had many hours where I couldn't eat but could drink water and take salt/electrolytes to power through.  So I figured there wasn't much sense going back to the aid station, I couldn't eat anything there and I was stocked with water and salt tabs.  I would keep moving forward as I felt we would need every minute to finish this thing – especially now.  I hiked a few more miles and started to get woozy and weak.  

I sat on a log in the dark and figured I needed to try and get some of the Boost down.  I took a sip of Boost and a caffeine pill.  My stomach turned inside out.  I got up and hiked about another half mile hoping it would settle.  I got very weak again and sat down – I started to fall asleep.  I knew that would be a bad idea as another runner might think I am unconscious or worse, I might cool off and wake shivering.  I tried water and a salt tab – my stomach again rejected.  I was worried now.  The reality of  where I was on the course set in.  I was 3 miles or so from 10 mile aid.  Going back would mean adding 6 miles to the course – not an option.  The unmanned aid station was of no use as I had water and I couldn't eat.  I was 7 miles from the farm with the two biggest climbs on the course coming after the unmanned station before the farm.  Damn.

I had been running by myself most of the day as many runners (even 50 milers) had dropped due to the heat and terrain.  I now had been hiking and sitting for a bit when I noticed a couple head lamps coming.  They seen my condition and said to follow them to the unmanned aid station, maybe someone would be there checking the stock. Worst case scenario, I could stay there and when they got to the farm they would tell them where I was if I couldn't manage to move on by then.

I thanked them and assured them I couldn't keep pace with them but I would try and keep their lamps in sight.  I went up a big climb and back down and came face to face with the same couple a ways down the trail.  I knew it took me quite a while to get up the climb so I asked if they had already been to the unmanned or still on their way.  (NOTE: a few spots on the course had two way traffic)  You had to be on the ball on many intersections.  They asked how I managed to get ahead of them and I realized I must have took a wrong turn.  Am I wandering?  At least I knew I was back on the right path to the unmanned station.  I got to the unmanned station and tried more Boost, water, caffeine and salt but my stomach kept rejecting.  I finally had to acknowledge this was the end of the road for me.  You run all day on the edge of fuelling and hydrating – it is like running a car on no gas if you cannot keep the cycle going.

After VT, I laid down immediately with exhaustion upon crossing the finish.  I was surprised with such a warm night to end up almost hypothermic, even with dry clothes I trembled uncontrollably as I tried to sleep that night.  Recalling this, I was worried now that I may have a two hour wait at least till the runners could get through to the farm to let them know I am here.  What if they forget – a real possibility – they would be assessing their own needs and with being quite tired themselves after 70 miles, they may forget entirely.  The goal now was to stay warm and awake till I was picked up.

There was a road beside the unmanned station.  I wasn't sure where it would lead, I knew it wasn't part of the Hale Reservation so I thought it would be a bad idea to see where it went in the middle of the night.  I could see houses across the street and cars passing every so often as I sat on a rock.  I figured if I felt like I was in danger of starting to shiver I could approach a house or flag a car.  However, flagging a car close to Boston in the middle of the night was not high on my list of things to do in the state I was in.  What if they agreed to take me to Hale or the farm and didn’t' stop?  I was in no position to defend myself.

After quite a while a runner and pacer came along, I told them I was done and asked them to tell the farm I was here to be picked up.  They pointed out a huge racoon in the tree beside the aid station table.  He would be my entertainment as I fought to stay awake and warm.  He would come down the tree and help himself to the food and scurry back up if other runners came along.  A couple more would come by, I would tell them to look in the tree with their headlamps to see the big fat raccoon and ask them to tell them at the farm I was done and needed a pickup.  Another couple of runners tried to convince me to change my decision but I had tried a couple more times to get fuel in with no luck.  If I left here and they came for me and I didn't make it to the farm I would be in real trouble.  So I stayed put.  I made several attempts to walk in both directions on the road to stay warm and see if I could decipher which way I should go if I had to move.  Even the raccoon got full and called it a night while I waited :)

Eventually 2 more runners came along and decided they were dropping as well.  Then another.  I explained I had been there quite a while.  I was woozy so I didn't know exactly how long but I was starting to get quite cold.  One of the runners sent his pacer along to get to the farm as he was pretty fresh. Just as he left a truck pulled in – it was Bob Crowley and another volunteer.  He said they came to find me.  Runners at the farm told him there was a dude in Zombie mode around the unmanned.  I was glad to see them.  They didn't expect 4 runners though.  I figured we might have to sit in the bed of the truck since we all were pretty nasty from the sweaty slog of a day, but Bob insisted we sit in the truck and he sat in the truck bed.  What a guy.  Good thing, I am sure we would've been shivering pretty bad.  The drive back to the beach took way longer than I had expected.  I realized had I started down that road I would've been lost for sure.  Wow, in reflection, it turns out I made a good decision that day after all :)

I got back to the beach, handed in my bib, changed and sat under the stars by the lake.  Scott came along shortly all stoked to go, but realized I was done.  He took it well and told me to take a seat for a moment and reflect a bit.  What a night, it was a peaceful moment.   I felt I gave it 110%.  It was a struggle from the get go and in hindsight not much went right but I fought though it all day until my stomach ended the run.  With time to reflect, I wonder did I do everything I could?  What could I have done differently?  What if I had've went back to the aid station at 10 miles after throwing up the first time?  What if I had've took Scott up on his offer to run the 3rd lap earlier than expected?  What if I had've pushed on and came back to life?  In the end, I guess it wasn't my day and I am the only one responsible for that – I will take it and learn from it. 

To the Trail Animals Running club, thank you for an amazing experience.  The course was hard, yet beautiful, very well marked and laid out.  It had some of everything you would want in a 100 mile adventure.  The volunteers were some of the best of have ever seen.  Despite my expectations being very different, the challenge is daunting as it should be.  Don't change a thing – besides manning that third aid station!  That buckle is going to be very coveted if the challenge remains as is.  The numbers don't lie – finish rates and times remain on par with some of the most difficult hundred mile races in North America.

A massive thank you to my amazing wife and kids for putting up with the training and allowing me time away to run this race.  I know it wasn't easy after the events that transpired in our neighbourhood.  I know the countless hours of training  is not easy for you all either.  I know it isn't easy to be home when I am in the woods so far from home.  I know it is even harder to understand why I am in the woods so far from home in the middle of the night.  I am not even sure if I know sometimes. I just know it makes sense to my heart, body and mind.  I feel really bad since I had wrote on my arm one name for each lap:  Andrea, Ellie, Avery and RCMP and I couldn't get the last two done.

Another huge thank you to Scott Dorcas and his family for allowing him to drive, pace and crew for me after the tragedy as well.  Andrea wasn't going to let me go alone so without you there was no race. Thanks for doing all you could do to get me to the finish.  You held up your end of the bargain – I dropped mine.  I was hoping you would at least see the trail.  At least you got to see a 100 miler close up :)

Thanks to the RCMP officers for taking care of the situation in Moncton, NB.  The day will never be forgotten.  You are a brave group who risk your lives every day for our safety.  Hopefully some good can come from this tragedy and those that laid down their lives and were so deeply affected and will continue to be affected by the events that transpired.

Hundred milers have the ability to strip us down to the very essense of who we are.  I guess that is why we run them.  Where else can you willingly bring your body and mind to the brink of mental and physical depletion in a controlled environment.  And don't kid  yourself, you need both the body and the mind to be finely tuned.  You can be in the physical shape of your life, but if you can't get it done mentally that day – they will chew you up and spit you out.  I guess that is why we find ourselves worlds away from home in the middle of the night exercising our will, determination and grit.  This day in age, it is very hard to exercise these intangibles.  You cannot know what you are truly capable of unless you put yourself to the test.

I couldn't help but notice when I read Scott Jurek's book Eat and Run when paging through his legacy that if he didn't win a race, he usually went back the next year and did.  I have no aspirations of winning anything but I do expect to cross the finish line after 6 months of hard training and preparation.  Next year or years down the road, who knows but I have unfinished business with this course and that is a damn nice buckle!

Happy Trails