So the Philly 100 comes up at a pretty neat time of year. The sun is getting closer, so it can provide a little refreshing vitamin D when your skin gets a chance to absorb it, but it's generally cool enough to stay covered, unless your running. The cherry blossoms are out, the grass is green, and the vibe is a little electric given the seasonal change.
The 'FA' is for 'fat ass' or 'for your own good' as I prefer to think of it, indicating a free or donation driven event.
NSA precludes the 'no strings attached' philosophy of 'no aid stations or course markings, do whatever you want just let me know if you finished' mentality.
It also fell on the weekend after my return from Europe. This promised one of two things; I would either be in great shape having run some and rested with good food while I was away, or I would come back a stoned, confused, mess with three different work projects in the air, and jet lagged legs barely capable of carrying me down the street.
As it turned out, I came back a little of both. While I was away for two weeks I ended up running a total of 20 miles in Oxford, England shaking off jetlag and getting used to Europe. On these runs I had the heaviest legs ever. It was struggle to crank out 5k; I felt distant and out of body and really had to focus to complete my planned routes. But I got them done and right as I got comfortable after 3 days it was time to go. From there the pace of our trip sped up considerably, enough so that I gave up trying to fit in workouts and just 'tapered', as we lounged on Mediterranean beaches for seven days.
Back at home, my buddy Marco, a persistently enthusiastic runner I had traveled to Buffalo with for the Winter Beast of Burden 100, reached out about the Fat Ass in Philly while I was in England. I had been eyeballing it for a while as it came up, and decided that if it was easy, cheap, and fun of course I'm going to go.
Find more Run in Philadelphia, PA
After that decision I then proceded to put as little thought or effort into planning for the completion of the full 100 on the 7th as I could. The rest of the vacation, return flight, unpacking, checking in with my studios, and the afore mentioned juggling act that is my work, kept me wide-eyed and making withdrawals from the sleep bank that I could not replace during the five days after I came home. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I got good workouts in. Eventually I ended up working all night Thursday, sleeping for four hours Friday afternoon, and then doing some internet work until it was time to go, Saturday morning at 1a.m. This left me drained with a total of 4 hours of sleep over the 48 hours before the race.
Aside from the obvious tasks one would complete for such a event, things like collecting the required volume of protein shakes, bananas, and empty but comforting calories in the form of Pringles and Twizzlers, (Minus the 12$ worth of Gatorade I left at the checkout counter of the gas station I stopped at at 2 in the morning, ugh.) I made sure I had all of my gear ready to go in less then an hour before walking out the door.
I felt confident that I could finish strong, that it would be fun and it would go by quickly and relatively painlessly.
The one lingering caveat was the shoe issue I was having lately.
So I got these damn Hoka Bondi B's, and I've put about 700-800 miles on them since January. I loved them when I first got them despite losing all but one toenail on my right foot due to the poor fit during the Beast Of Burden. But now they are splitting up the sides, separating the upper from the sole of the shoe, right at the bunion point. The large bunion on the big toe joint of my left foot has decided it can no longer be contained, and now pokes through the side of the narrow shoe. This provides a little comfort for the bunion but twists my toes into an awkward position that is less than ideal for 100 miles. I knew the Hokas probably wouldn't last and I would have to take my old Newtons out of retirement. I had condemned the Newtons to use on the soft rubber floor of the gym and treadmill because of the 1000+ miles I had put on them. They promised little bounce on the hard asphalt of the course in Philly, but maybe they had one more act in them so they came along for the ride.
I met Marco downtown at one in the morning with our third cohort, Tiger, a petite and sleepy girl who was focused squarely on getting into the back seat of the car and curling up into a ball of slumber for as long as possible. The ride down was uneventful; Marco and I chatted excitedly reminding each other of our race plans coming up. I forgot the Gatorade, but we get to the start by 4 in the morning in plenty of time to rest for an hour. I got up at 5 and commenced the ceremonial dance that is layering all the clothes, ipods, sleeves, and waterbags I need for the race right before the start.
I jog 100yds to the start line, about 2 minutes before the 6a.m. and catch a sliver of the RD mumbling about a non-existent course with no official aid stations, and to email her in a week if you finished the full 100 with your time. And say hello to the nice Columbia grads with the camera who are filming a doc about running 100's.
The race director swings her arm in a general direction down the sidewalk towards the Philadelphia Museum and tells us to start so she can go back to sleep. Out of the 25-30 people there to start, a few guys go, and are gone. Usually, I try to stay up there for a while with the frontrunners, catch some snippets of conversation and try to decipher everyone's intentions for the day, but this time I hung out in the back, wandering down the sidewalk with Marco and a few others towards the back of the pack.
As I got up around the first bend, and made the only significant directional turn of the course, the sun broke through the darkness ahead of me and I sped up to my planned pace as I ran alone down the path over a bridge between the highway and the Schuyllkill river. There was an interesting mural that caught my eye, and a pleasant stretch of park in the morning fog unrolled before me.
The four mile stretch down the river included pleasant views of the Ivy League boathouses on the far banks of the river with the crew teams training and stretching out on the launches; lots of attractive runner traffic everywhere both casual and competitive; as well as a plurality of clinically insane homeless people rousing with the introduction of sunlight (some having donned foliage as headwear to protect themselves from the day).
I waved 'good morning' to all.
On the far side of the course, over Falls Bridge, you pass a large cemetery high on a hill and little else. As both a dusty, pebbly carriage trail with an asphalt sidewalk next to it, it winds its way along the other side of the river, around several parking lots for the crewing events, past the finish line and grandstand for the rowing events, butts up next to a fairly busy road, and eventually past the front yards of the crew houses, where the teams were setting up their gear and so on. Eventually, after around 3 miles from Falls Bridge, you come across the imaginary start/finish in front of Loyd Hall where one young veteran runner who had completed the full race the previous year was sitting in a folding chair on bag watch for everyone's shit.
I enjoyed the first loop of 8 miles, and felt pretty confident as I went into the second. I held my pace past the half marathon point. I took in my fluids on time, and on pace, mechanically. As I came down the back side of Falls Bridge the second time though I began to feel some tightening in my hips, and I blamed it immediately on the hard workout from earlier on in the week. The shooting pains down my hamstrings would come and go as they do, but I started to develop a strange uncommon sensitivity in the middle of the ball of my foot. I kept landing on the center of my foot rather than slightly pigeon-toed and on the bunion which had become used to the impact. It unraveled quickly for me thereafter, as I cautiously, and slowly trotted in the on second of twelve laps, refueled and left for the 3rd 8 mile loop.
By the time I returned from the third, 'marathon lap', I was confident that there was little else I could do in the Hoka's.
Since my pace had dropped as a result of the pain, I became ridiculously sleepy, and as I watched runner after runner involved in the event sneak off for brunch and bed, I decided I needed to consult with the back of my eyelids for a while with my feet up on the dashboard of the car we came down in.
So off the course I went, barefoot, finally allowing my wide feet to stretch, and slept for about 1.5 minutes. Almost instantly, my hips and hamstrings started screaming at me, imploring me to find something flat to lie out on rather than the front bucket seat of a sedan. Then with the sun out, it began to get microwave-y hot in the car as well.
'Fuck it, I'll go back to the start. I can change my shoes. '
And so I took the Newtons out of retirement, stuck a voluminous amount of moleskin under the ball of my foot, and took off for anther lap. By now, around 10:30, the wind had picked up substantially, and there were even fewer runners involved in the event. Most did 3 laps for 24 miles while some did the 50k-ish 4 laps, before they left. Marco and Tiger were running in the opposite direction with every lap, so I would bump into them twice a lap. They were becoming bored. Excited, but bored. I changed direction for my 4th and 5th lap, and it was a welcome reprieve as the scenery felt a little different coming from the opposite direction. The shoe change allowed my feet to spread out and I began to run more naturally, distributing my weight instinctively and with less pain, eventually building up to my target pace.
Soon though the pain returned at the 5th lap, and Kino, Thunder, and a few other running friends that had come down from the city to crew assembled at the start/finish and we decided to pull the plug. Tiger who was on the cusp of a PB distance, decided to go for one more lap to make the full 6 laps/50 miles, while Marco and I settled with 42 miles, and the ability to fight another day.
I was really looking to make a serious decision (finally) about what I was going to do later in May, either the Massanutten 100 in VA (on waiting list), or the 200 in VT this weekend. I have support and the finacials for both, and my instinct always goes for the larger challenge. But something was holding back from dropping from the Massanutten wait list and going whole hog on the 200. I couldn't place what it was, and I was hoping it wasn't any sort of intimidation of the distance. But by the time I finished in Philly, it was crystal clear.
I'M SICK OF MULTIPLE LAP RACES.
This is not a forever thing, like my resolution to not race an event that utilizes a corral at the start. I'm just sick of ultra-running in circles. Every race that I've been in, from Knickerbocker in Nov onward has been some variation of a loop course, and it's draining the fun away for me.
I enjoy ultra because I enjoy traveling. I like going to new places, and to get there under my own power gets me even stiffer. That's why Bear100 is so appealing to me. Point to point, and you get to cross state lines on your way to Bear Lake. Thats some shit worth running for. And that's what was holding me back from the 20 laps in VT. I was instinctively refraining from, and not excited about, the intense tedium of it. Maybe next year I'll feel differently. VT is on the bucket list for sure. Maybe even a 500 attempt with Mike Ryan (I'm calling you out son!).
But for now, I'm gonna wait patiently for my turn off the wait list, scoop up pacer extrodinaire Chuck-a-Luck Roche, and were gonna be doin' VA in May.