2018 Daytona 100 Race Report

2018 Daytona 100 Race Report

– a celebration of 15 years cancer free

 

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

-from Invictus, by Henley

Why

On December 4, 2003 my wife guided me from a chair in the chemotherapy wing of the Mayo Clinic to our car for the 12th and final time. Standing 6’4” I weighed just 139 lbs. Scans showed that I was now cancer free, but I had never felt less alive. We had succeeded in so destroying my physical body that this unwelcome intruder had shown itself out. Thanks to hormone injections my white blood cell count had hovered just north of 1.0 for the past 6 months (with one notable exception that certainly had nothing to do with surfing a late summer South Swell).  This whole process felt akin to burning down a house to clear it of squatters. This walk, like each of the past 6 months, was eventful with balance issues, shortness of breath, and vomiting. That last thing happened a lot – usually in the lushly landscaped beds of caladiums lining the walkways of the Ponte Vedra campus. I hate caladiums to this day; yet, a painting of them hangs in my office. I like being able to look at them and not feel nauseous. Most days I can. That took a while. This is me. So when the staff informed me that Bleomycin (the B in ABVD chemotherapy a standard best practice for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) would compromise my lung function I nodded politely. Endurance sports, they advised, were off the table. Privately I vowed to prove them wrong. I was 27 and hadn’t run since high school, but they just told me I couldn’t anymore. Bloody, but unbowed.

On my own I researched morbidity rates. Terrible idea; why aren’t these data charts password protected? 15 years. That was the general consensus of as much more life as I could hope for. So 42…okay…I’ll take that. And just like that, I stamped an expiration date in my mind. Though I would deny this if anyone asked, I think regularly about those charts. I suspect many cancer survivors do the same. But what happens when that date passes? Well for me, that milestone was to occur just 4 days before the 4th running of the Daytona 100 ultramarathon. As I read the course descriptions and thought of the possibilities, I remembered barely being able to finish a 5K in February, 2004. I remembered crying in my car after that race because I was afraid they were right. Then I decided they were wrong, and I got to work. Over 15 years I steadily built myself into not just a runner, but an ultramarathon runner. Like Dad always said “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right”. I’m not fast. I don’t win. It’s not easy. But when I run, I think of caladiums. This chip on my shoulder has ushered me to finish lines at multiple 50K races, and even a 50 miler out west. Surely a 100 miler was possible. What better way to find out? What better reason than marking 15 years since my last treatment and 4 days past my sell by date? So I registered. Bloody but unbowed.

This thing was destined from the beginning as more than just timing went into this race selection. First of all, the course is identical to the roads I run around St. Simons Island everyday- flat, smooth, and fast pavement along the beach. Second, our oldest daughter had a volleyball tournament in Daytona that same weekend. I mean…we were already going to be there…so why not? And lastly, Dave and his crew at Zwitty Ultras allow runners to request their own bib numbers. So, 1203 (December, 2003) would be mine and a constant reminder that I wore proudly on my lucky, pocket torn shorts (yep, the ones from the keys miracle at Antelope Canyon). This really sealed it for me. I wanted this to be a celebration and I proudly explained my bib number to everyone I encountered.

bib

Training

Not much changed here from my training for Antelope Canyon. In fact, I even followed the same mileage build up program. Even though the distance was twice as long, I was banking on the terrain being much more user friendly. As before, I did several months’ worth of Power Speed Endurance (formerly CrossFit Endurance) run specific training before shifting to running only. This training heavily emphasizes form, cadence, and breathing; all things I had previously taken for granted. In practical application this looks a lot like a really tall skinny dude running down the sidewalk to the very fast beat of a metronome while breathing nasally…in sandals. Yep, I still run in sandals. Deal with it. Exactly 4 months before race day, I shifted to running only for my training and began building up miles. Most weeks included 3 midweek runs of short to medium distance with back to back long runs on the weekend. A local 50K coincided nearly perfectly with this program and served as a chance for Alyssa, Riley, and Pasley to “practice” crewing me and familiarizing themselves with the absurdity of the ultra-scene. On the way home I laughingly told them “Uncle Ken calls these things lunatic conventions” to which Riley quipped “he’s not wrong!”. Cool, so they get it. My peak mileage weeks were 65 miles and then I tapered for 3 weeks. I completely shut it down one week before race day and focused on resting and getting mentally ready. I was genuinely excited. Running had never felt easier, and I was confident. I told myself that I wouldn’t stop no matter what. I meant it. Bloody but unbowed.

packet pickup

Race Day

The set up for this race couldn’t have been more perfect. The race started directly in front of the host hotel (One Ocean) in Atlantic Beach. Alyssa and the girls left at 5:30 as the volleyball was starting at 8:00 in Daytona. I tentatively planned to see them in St. Augustine at midday, but didn’t attach any certainty to that and focused instead on enjoying each mile. At 6:00 Dave the RD sent us on our way as we headed north for ½ mile before turning and going south for the next 97.5 miles! Following from previous race reports from this race and other flat races of this length, I decided to follow a 5:1 run-walk interval from the beginning. This meant that I would run at a comfortable pace for 5 minutes followed by 1 minute of fast walking. This was really hard to stick to at the beginning when all I wanted to do was run, but I held to it and was relieved I had later in the day. Several others seemed to be following similar plans so I felt even more comfortable with the strategy.

The first 12.5 miles took us through Jax Beach and Ponte Vedra Beach. As the sun was still beyond the horizon we were all treated to some pretty solid Christmas light displays. The sun finally broke out as we were passing the Ponte Vedra Inn and the smell of bacon nearly lured me in for breakfast. Aid Station 1 (AS1) was set up at Mickler’s Landing. I reached back and felt my hydration pack- all good, no need to stop so I pressed on feeling great. Entering a long stretch of highway through the Guana Preserve I met Jim from Syracuse and the next 10 miles flew by as we talked about other races, the advantages of Jelly Belly Sport Beans (so good), and the dangers of telling aid station workers the truth when they ask you how you’re feeling. AS2 was at mile 22 and captained by Bryce who was immensely supportive and helpful when I told him this was my first 100. Cautioning me against forcing anything he said “the race doesn’t start until mile 60” and I repeated that to myself for the next 40 miles. In keeping with the incredible people who make up this community of ultra-runners, it turns out Bryce is the same guy who set the record for fastest solo, unassisted row across the Atlantic Ocean this summer (www.nytimes.com/2018/08/06/world/bryce-carlson-rows-atlantic-ocean.html). No mention was made of this; my buddy told me the next day. Humble and grateful.

Just past mile 27, things took a turn for the worse. I had just put in my earbuds and Nelly’s “Country Grammar” (don’t judge) had me moving. I threw a salt cap in my mouth, took a sip of tailwind, and promptly choked on it and triggered my stomach. As Nelly was going “down down baby your street in a Range Rover” I was on the side of AIA vomiting out nearly 5 hours’ worth of steady hydration and calories. Caladiums. Yep. This is supposed to be hard. Now it’s an ultra. I cleaned myself up, popped a ginger chew, restarted Nelly, and got back to running. “Shimmy shimmy cocoa what…”.  I’ve read before that completing races of this distance is about being able to solve problems. I reminded myself of that advice, thought of Bryce’s admonition, glanced at the upside down 1203 on my race bib, and got back in the flow. Bloody but unbowed

Coming off the Vilano Bridge into St. Augustine I was thrilled to see a really tall and a really short blonde in the distance. Alyssa and Pasley had made it! The waived me by as I ran into AS3 at mile 31 feeling new life. The aid station workers gave me some magical cherry flavored anti-nasseau chews that mixed brilliantly with Coke. This mixture settled my stomach for the next 20 miles. Alyssa and Pasley checked on me briefly before giving me the bad news that the volleyball was taking longer and they wouldn’t see me again until after dark. I asked them to drop my headlamp and reflective vest at AS5 at mile 50 and was off into St. Augustine. Weaving in and out of the tourists along San Marco was actually a lot of fun. I turned it into an imaginary slalom course and ran pretty fast through Old Town and over the Bridge of Lions. Ever since college road trips took me to St. Augustine this has been a special place to me. Running through it during this event only added to those good memories; a real highlight of the course.

The stretch from AS3 to AS5 took us about 19 miles through St. Augustine Beach, Butler Beach, and Crescent Beach including a stop at AS4 (mile 40) for some Coke and PB&J. I know this stretch of road very well and allowed myself to settle into a mellow groove. Ultimately, I dropped my intervals to 4:1 as the heat of the day was taking a toll and I thought of Bryce’s advice. I arrived at AS5 about an hour before sunset but put on my night gear nonetheless. It’s worth pointing out that this is the only time in the entire race that I actually sat down. I generally avoid sitting at all costs during these things; it’s just too tempting to stay seated. I sat down as it was here that I put on toe socks for added cushion. I typically do this at the halfway mark as a nice little treat for my feet. I love running in my Luna’s, but the extra cushion of some Injinji toe socks always lifts me up a bit.  Shortly after this Aid Station we entered a 20 mile stretch called the Flagler Trail AKA the Flagler Sidewalk. I’m still not sure how this was any different than the sidewalk I’d been running on, but whatever, I told myself it was a change.

Running in the dark now at mile 60ish a car passed me and I heard a familiar voice call out “Steve?”. When I yelled out “Yes! It’s me” they all shrieked with more enthusiasm than I thought the situation warranted. With excitement in her voice Alyssa told me to keep going; that the next aid station was a mile further. When I arrived the relief was visible on all their faces. Apparently, the volunteers at AS5 never marked me on the roster and no one really knew where I was. The next day all three admitted that they had privately written me off for dead on the side of the road. Nice to know they were confident in me! I gave them my phone for a charge and asked them to meet me 4.5 miles up the road. An hour or so later there they were with my now fully charged phone. (This must be what it’s like having a crew). I thanked them all and told them goodnight with promise to text them at mile 95 so they could wake up and meet me at the finish. Little did I know I’d see them just one mile later at Rocky’s Pizza in Flagler Beach. Previous year race reports had mentioned this spot and I was prepared with cash in my pack. Sure enough in the midst of an active bar scene along the beach, I spotted Rocky’s and stopped at the window (literally along the sidewalk) to order a slice. Before I could tell the very confused looking girl at the counter what I wanted, I spotted Alyssa inside who told me they had already ordered for me. Score! Two minutes later I had a piping hot slice of cheese pizza and a Coke. I said goodnight again and set off into the night. The looks on the faces of all the drunks said it all. 6’4”, bald, shirtless, torn board shorts, hydration pack, headlamp, and slice of pizza. I’m surprised no one called the cops. Regardless, that remains the single greatest slice of pizza I’ve ever had, and I wrote as much in my 5 star Yelp review!

I’m not sure if it was the gluten, sleep deprivation, Kevin Gates, or a Red Bull I bought along the way, but the stretch from Rocky’s to AS8 at mile 81 is a total blur. I don’t even remember AS7. I do specifically remember falling asleep for a fraction of a second twice while running. The first time I “came to” in the middle of AIA; fortunately there wasn’t a lot of traffic and I guided myself back to the sidewalk like nothing had happened. I very clearly remember AS8 at mile 81 because that was when I first truly knew that not only was I going to finish this race, but that a sub 24-hour finish was possible. In fact, if I had just stuck to my pace it would have been well under 24 hours, but I made my second mistake of the day (first being the salt cap incident at mile 27) – I allowed myself to consider beyond the moment. My ego got in the way and I decided to push the pace and “lock down” this finish. Worst. Idea. Ever. The homeless women in Ormond Beach agrees for it was alongside her that I became severely sick for 10-15 minutes as a direct result of pushing too hard. Okay Mansfield, you done being stupid? Get moving. Humble and Grateful.

So I slogged on from there. After abandoning my ego and completely destroying what little relationship my stomach and I had left, I became acutely aware of how much the ball of my left foot hurt. I made a conscious decision to change my stride at this point (genius, I know) and became a heel striker for the first time in my life. At mile 83. In sandals. Oh boy. Those last 17 miles or so were just plain ugly. I must have looked pretty rough too because the gentlemen conducting late night business at a trap house in Daytona actually avoided making eye contact with me. I laughed to myself and just kept looking at the illuminated circle of light cast from my headlamp.

The final aid station at mile 95 allowed us a glimpse of the finish line as this year they were one in the same. From there we did a 5 mile loop through Ponce Inlet, around the lighthouse, and back up the beach for two miles. I’ve spent the past three weeks trying to make sense of those 5 miles and I just cannot. So I’ll simply say this- at mile 96 there was a very colorful and upright sitting housecat watching sprinklers like Vegas tourists watch the fountains at the Bellagio, the beach was infested with thousands of crabs that I was sure I was going to step on, and I had a nice exchange with a garbage can that applauded me and offered encouragement. Safe to say I was a bit tired and maybe not totally in my right mind.

Leaving the beach and running the extra 0.2 miles to Dave’s parents’ house for the “finish line” I tried to think about everything this day meant to me. I tried to think about my family and friends who were rooting me on and had supported me through so much. I tried to think of the hours and hours of training that had brought me to this point; of gratitude for this life and these abilities. I tried to think of those who were still fighting their diseases or who had lost their fights. I do think of all those things now and I am overwhelmed with gratitude for each. I recognize that without that fight with cancer, this never would have happened because I never would have considered that it might not be able to happen. Complacency terrifies me. So, yeah, I’m grateful for my cancer. Crazy as that sounds; it saved my life. Those all would have been nice things to think about there at the end, but honestly, I just thought about that cat.

Time: 24:21

Gear and Nutrition:

Luna Venado 2.0 Sandals

Injinji toe socks

Zensah Compression Leg Sleeves

Tailwind, Jelly Belly Sport Beans, Prince of Peace Ginger Chews

Ultimate Direction Wasp hydration pack

Petzyl Headlamp

Still defunct RVCA boardshorts

finish

 

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2018 Antelope Canyon 50 Miler Race Report

Instagram is the devil. I will never understand how, but the good people at Ultra Adventures found me 2 years ago and began routinely polluting my feed with awe inspiring imagery. Imagery that makes the desert look like an accessible Mars to a kid from the Jersey Shore. Even worse, imagery that makes the idea of running 50 miles through Mars seem totally doable. Spoiler alert: it is, but every step is earned.

Orange, red, brown, and yellow slot canyons speckled with light. That’s what got me. I clicked “follow”. The images continued- more frequently as registration for the Antelope Canyon 50 approached. I looped fellow challenge addict DonJon into my thinking. Like a junkie hooked by a pusher; it took and the seed sprouted and grew. We sent event pictures and race reports back and forth seemingly daring the other. Then I did the unthinkable. I registered. Naturally, I immediately screenshot my entry and sent it to Don. Nope, this is no longer the thing we say someday we should do. On Feb. 24, 2018, we are doing this. Book your travel.
Training
I was still riding a high of a great finish at the Angry Tortoise 50K last February, and I believed it was time to test a longer distance. This time, I vowed to incorporate regular long runs in my training as I did not want the fear of distance to block my enjoyment of the scenery. Shortly after registering, I began following the tried and true 12 week CrossFit Endurance template once featured in Competitor Magazine to get my motor ready. It has worked for me before, but this time I followed it up with 4 months of strictly running (sorry CFE peeps, but I was nervous). I watched the pounds and muscle strip away, but by the time I arrived in Page, AZ my running was dialed in. Most importantly, since every race report I found told of the horrors of the sand at Antelope, I did all my long runs in the soft sand of the beach where I live. Full disclosure, I did them in the dunes…illegally…sorry, but I’m trying to run 50 miles in the desert. I promise I avoided sea turtle nests.
Travel
Things are bigger out west. The wind. The mountains. The snow. Yep, snow. I was sure the girl at the rental car counter was trying to upsell me. No, I don’t want your gas, insurance, or 4WD upgrade. What do I look like, a fool? Would love to re-think that last one. Long story short, a Hyundai Sonata is not equipped for mountain passes during a blizzard. But I made it, checked into the Page Boy Motel (website made it look just like the hotel from No Country for Old Men) and met DonJon at the race expo-the now indoors race expo because it was obscenely cold. The cold blew my mind. Apparently Arizona is a pretty big state and this being Northern Arizona, it gets pretty darn cold. All that said, the expo was great. The Q&A with Salem and Matt Gunn was informative; although I mostly focused on building the perfect s’more while they rambled on about sand and course markings. Seriously, the s’mores alone were almost worth the drive. Back to the Page Boy to check my gear, attach my bib, and rest up.
Race Day
I was ready for the sand. I was ready for the distance. I was not, however, ready for “slickrock”. In retrospect, having my first exposure to slickrock occur at 6:05 am (five minutes into the race) was not ideal. For those unfamiliar, slickrock is sandstone that looks a lot like undulating sand, only its not sand. Its rock. Hard, slippery rock. And about 5 minutes into the first 50 miler of my life, we climbed up some on all fours in the first climb of the day. I’ll take sand all day long over this stuff. Once we made that climb, we followed a winding trail through the frozen desert until entering the first slot canyon at about 4.5 miles. The scenery was surreal in the rising sun. Frozen sand, desert shrubs, snow covered hills in the distance, and cows. Yes, cows. I wondered for most of that opening stretch what those cows ate. I still do actually. Anyway, the first canyon was a great warm up for the real sites of Antelope and later Waterholes Canyons. It was fun to wind through; like a video game. Making our way out of there involved climbing up a short bit of slickrock and winding our way to the Antelope Aid station. Too cold to stop so I threw out a shaka at the super enthusiastic aid workers and pressed on to Antelope. Feeling great, glad the sand was still crunching from the freeze, and ready to see first hand the imagery that had brought me to this foreign landscape. It did not disappoint. Not sure words or pictures can come close the this. It simply has to be experienced. I wished I’d been a bit slower getting there as in sections of the canyon there was almost no light. I almost clotheslined myself in one particular bend. I laughed out loud and kept moving in disbelief at the features surrounding me. We made our way through the canyon and up onto a ridgeline headed back to Antelope Aid station on a total high. This section offered up the first bit of open desert running. Pick a line and follow it through the bushes as best you can. It reminded me very much of the dunes I trained in, and I felt supremely confident at this stage.
After the second pass through Antelope Aid (11.5 miles) we dropped back into that first canyon and retraced our steps in the opposite direction. That section of slickrock we had previously gone up was too slippery for my Xeros so I dropped to my butt and slid down. Again, I was having fun. No thoughts of the rental car keys stowed in my back pocket. Nope. None at all. Just a dude running through the desert…what could go wrong?
About 4 miles before SlickRock Aid Station (17.5) I performed a quick systems check to make sure everything was in order as I ran. Hydration pack-check. Cell phone-check. Extra Tailwind-check. Chia seeds-check. Backpocket-empty…wait. Where are my keys?!? I stepped off the trail. Total freak out. It’s almost 9am and I’m stranded in the desert. Panic is like that. Suddenly I was the only person there and I was totally screwed. I felt my back pocket and realized it had torn. It must have happened when I slid into that canyon. Do I go back? No, they’re gone. You’re gonna die out here. Again rational thought was gone. The next 4 miles were horrific. I burst into the aid station and accosted the volunteer “I lost my keys! Help! Has someone found them?” Nope. He offered me water. “I don’t want water, I want my keys”. I’d love to say I was soft spoken and gentle with him, but I doubt so. Either way, he was unflappable and totally confident that it would all work out. How the hell can this dude be so calm?!? Im screwed! A couple other runners noticed the tall bald guy freaking out and asked what was wrong. I explained what had happened and they were appropriately alarmed. See, they know you’re gonna die out here. Just then, a runner immediately to my right said that reminded him…he wondered aloud if maybe someone else lost their keys too because he found some in the canyon. No kidding. He reached in his hydration vest pocket and produced my rental car keys. I hugged him. Enthusiastically. Im not exactly a hugger, but desert miracles are funny things. I was back on top of the world and took off for Horseshoe Bend feeling the magic of the day.

At the Horseshoe Bend aid station (22.5 miles) I got some socks out of my drop bag as my feet were frozen and bloody from an apparent encounter with a cactus bush. I had promised my wife that I would take this next section slow and be safe. The views of the Colorado River and the cliffs on either side were other worldly. Still, I didn’t spend much time looking to the right. The cliff was steep, sudden, and right-freaking-there. This was the hardest 8 miles of the day. I saw a couple people running, but most were carefully walking like I was. At this stage of the day I was terrified of losing concentration and falling, so I chatted up a new friend from Salt Lake, took it easy, and made my way to Waterholes.
I actually think Waterholes was the best feature of this race. That may be an unpopular take, but it rivaled Antelope in its beauty while simultaneously challenging the runners in a variety of ways. Actually, no, not really a variety, mostly just climbing over stuff, down a sketchy descent, and back up a not quite tall enough ladder. All this with 30 miles on our legs. That was awesome. Coming out of Waterholes and crossing back towards Horseshoe Aid I felt it. That thing that keeps me coming back. I left me and just ran. Runner’s high doesn’t do this sensation justice, it’s better than that. I laughed to myself and picked up the pace. Yep, this is why you came. That was all warm –up. Enjoy it, every bit of it. The hurt, the fatigue, the sand, the wind, the air, the scenery. You earned it all. You are a part of it all. That’s it, that’s why I run. That is the present and it’s what I constantly seek. All the Why questions are answered, but none of them seem to matter anymore. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. Ahh.
Heading out of Horseshoe Bend Aid station the second time (33.5 miles) we went up a long, straight, gradual climb in some deep sand. It was exactly what I trained for and I loved every second of it. Back to Slickrock Aid (36.5 miles) where I was locally famous as the guy that lost his keys. Slammed a quick quesadilla and off I went. Running towards Page again we could see the finish line at the amphitheater just in time to turn left and head to the Page Rim Trail. I had been looking forward to this all day as other race reports indicated it was a highly runnable single track. It would have been except Beelzebub himself placed small rocks and pebbles about 3 inches apart for the entirety of the 10 miles. My feet were wrecked and I couldn’t ever find a stride. This was my one regret on the day. If I go back, I will have separate shoes at the Page Rim Aid for this section. It would have been fun to really get after it here. I kept reminding myself that every step was a new distance record for me; just keep moving.

Finishing up the trail involved one last super sketchy butt slide down a “technical” section and about a half mile back to the amphitheater for the finish. Popping back on my feet after that last challenge it hit me. I was going to finish. I spent those last few minutes thinking back on the day, the canyons, the cliff, my keys, those poor cows…and everything felt right. Salem, the race director was there at the finish and could not have been more helpful as I inquired about DonJon. Salem checked his phone and was able to tell me approximately where he was on the course, and that he should be finishing soon. No worries. I turned my attention to the people cooking pizza and sat by the fire. Every 10 minutes or so a new runner would emerge for the finish and the party atmosphere would crank up again.

This was truly a great event. Prior to this, most of my races have been very low key local events. This was a different realm. The staff and volunteers far exceeded expectations before, during, and after the race. As I wrote this report (3 weeks later) I received another follow up email from Salem detailing their thoughts and proposed changes for next year after reviewing our surveys. This is truly a professional organization, and I cannot wait to run with them again. Thank you to everyone involved in this event; it was first class. Thank you to my wife and daughters for tolerating my obsessions, my limping, my gross feet, and the smell of TufFoot.
Time: 12:28.some seconds
Gear and Nutrition:
Xero Cloud Barefoot Sandals
Injinji toe socks
Zensah Compression Leg Sleeves
Tailwind, Chia Seeds, aid station nachos and quesadilla (the best!)
Ultimate Direction Wasp hydration pack
Petzyl Headlamp
Now defunct RVCA boardshorts