Monday, May 12, 2014

Minding the Ducks for 12 Fantastic Hours

Photo Credits (T. Perry, R. Heerkens Jr.)

72 laps done...and enjoying some well-earned happiness

Never in a hundred years would I have thought that I'd have the opportunity to run an ultra in my childhood home town, just 5 miles from the house I grew up in.  Thinking back to my junior-varsity cross-country days, I recall that my very first organized race, a short 3-mile local invitational, was in Webster Park just down the road from North Ponds.  Here I was on Saturday, some 20+ years later running again in Webster.  It was marvelous.

North Ponds Park is a place I hadn't been to since I was very young.  I have vague memories of flying kites there with my dad when I was probably 8 years old.  When I happened across a listing for a 12-hour ultra event titled "Mind The Ducks" that would take place at the Park, I had to sign up.  I knew that I was already signed up for "3 Days at the Fair" for the following week, but I couldn't pass on the opportunity to run loops around my old childhood stomping grounds.  The only limit I set for myself was to not do anything stupid and mess myself up for 3 Days.  Which...well.....I maybe sort of did do.   Oops.

North Ponds Park (with mile loop around the perimeter)

A view along the lovely course

Another view of the course

Just how close the race was to my old house

The drive up took maybe an hour from where I was staying down in the Finger Lakes.  I was running late due to some road construction and didn't pull into the parking lot until about 6:48 or so.  I had only about 10 minutes to get ready.  Thankfully I came already dressed to run, and simply had to swap shoes, move my supplies bin over to the course, and make a bathroom stop.  I checked in, pinned on my number, and by the time I readied myself I had only about 3 minutes till the start.....but I still needed to hit the restroom.  I figured....well, this is a 12-hour, so it won't really matter if I start a minute or two late.  I stepped into the port-o-potty, took care of business, and outside I could hear some muffled speech through a megaphone.  I never heard an official "start" or horn, but when I stepped out of the restroom, the runners were all already on their way and I was left standing alone at an empty start line.  I couldn't help but chuckle a little.  I stepped over the starting mat, and began jogging my way up to the front of the pack.  

My pace goal from the start was to try to maintain a moderate-to-easy pace for the first 25-30 miles.  To me this mean about a 9 minute mile (perhaps a tiny bit slower).  I ended up pushing it a smidge and was averaging 8:45's for the first 15 or so.  I was kind of using my memory of my Pine Creek Challenge races as a sort-of gauge.  At Pine Creek, I ran comfortably all day, and managed a 10:21 100K.  This meant, if I went a touch slower, I should be able to tack on a few extra over 62, but really didn't think I'd get that far.  Knowing I had "3 Days" the follow week, I kept trying to tell myself that I would limit my effort to 50 miles or less....perhaps even 50k.  Once out there though, I just couldn't bring myself to quit early.  Everything about the day was simply marvelous.  I have been under a lot of stress lately with dissertation writing, so getting out on the beautiful loop in my home town was just too good to quit early.  I was smiling, and enjoying myself...and figured as long as I was having fun, there was no need to stop early.  Life is too short to always be planning for "the next race".  I was in a wonderful event, and I was going to suck the marrow out of it.

Race Start....(and I'm in the outhouse in the back!)

And they're off! (without me)

...and I'm playing catch-up in the first minute of the race.

A lot of people have asked how a self-described "trail-runner" like myself, could possibly enjoy a paved 1-mile loop.  The honest answer is that I'm not entirely sure why I do...but that I just do.  I really just like being outdoors...and running.  It's that simple.  I like mixing things up too and having a diverse blend of events that I participate in.  This way, things don't get stagnant or too familiar.  Last year was the first year I decided to take a stab at timed events and so far, I've really enjoyed them.  I never had any interest in them at all, but now that I've done a few, I can say that my opinion has changed.  I would still choose a narrow, serpentine single-track as my first choice of course, but that doesn't mean running loops around a lovely little park in upstate New York can't also keep me smiling.

As the loops began adding up early in the day, my pace remained fairly steady.  I was maintaining consistent 8:45 - 9:00 minute miles and still smiling.  The course was littered with Canada Geese and flocks of their fuzzy baby goslings, as well as numerous snapping turtles.  I must have stopped a dozen times to pick up stray baby turtles (hatchlings? turtlets? turtlings?) that were on the path...and move them to the grass off-course.  The field of runners was quite diverse with an incredibly positive and fun attitude overall.  I had some great conversations with many throughout the day.  In general, everyone seemed very happy to be there and all had some really great goals set for themselves.  One of the nice bonuses to a 1-mile event too is that you get a spectacular cheering section every 10-15 minutes.  All day as I came through the timing mat, I was welcomed with consistent cheering and encouragement.  Even at the 1/2 mile mark there were small groups set up to cheer us on all day.  This was particularly nice at the top of the short little pitch we had to climb about halfway into the loop.

Early in the day, the weather was perfect.  There was some misty clouds keeping the sun slightly shaded, and there was a slight breeze to keep us cooled off.  It was truly perfect running weather.  As the day approached noon though, the clouds cleared up and the sun got nice and hot (with some added humidity to boot).  It wasn't miserable, but it definitely slowed people down, myself included.  I was a little late getting the sunblock on too, and ended up with some slight sunburn.

Coming in to the end of a loop

Cruising down the one "hill" on the course


When I hit the Marathon mark, I decided to take a 5 minute rest break.  I made a pit stop, and then visited my supplies bin where I finally put on some sunblock, chapstick, and changed into my more ventilated button-down shirt.  I rolled my legs out with my "Stick" and simply took a few minutes to myself walking around to the aid station.  I had my bin set up about 0.1 miles from the finish, so it felt good to walk for a short bit.  At the station I finally enjoyed a nice sit-down break.  Up until this point, I had no idea what place I was in.  Each lap I saw my name pop up on the top of the TV screen, but just assumed I was on top because I was the most recent person to cross the mat.  It turns out that I was looking at the leader board.  I honestly hadn't even thought I'd have a chance to place at this event as I knew the current record holder was supposed to be running again (He had done something like 87 miles back in 2011).  It turns out, he wasn't there though.  I would be happy to get the 100K so was quite surprised to find out I was leading the race by 2 laps.  The race director announced as I came through that I was the "first marathon finisher!".  It was pretty exciting, but it also started to churn up some old memories of finding out I was leading at Pine Creek.  Now what?  Do I keep running to simply enjoy myself, or do I knowingly push the pace to try to secure the win?  I fought this question for the better part of the next 20 miles.  I did NOT want to push it, but there's just something so exciting about knowing you're leading a race...a feeling I almost never get (only once before).  I decided to just try to keep maintaining my steady pace, rather than to push it,  in hopes that everyone else would be slowing down throughout the day.  If by chance, someone were to catch me, than I would give them a hardy congrats and celebrate with them, as they would have obviously paced themselves better throughout the day than I did.  At this point there wasn't a whole lot I could really do other than to just keep trucking along and hope to maintain my lead.

The day continued to get hotter, and I was starting to slow significantly.  I was talking short walk breaks, and stopping consistently for 10-20 second breaks at the aid station.  The volunteers were wonderful though, and always made sure to have my bottle filled for the next loop.  I felt bad during the afternoon as the wind really began to pick up, and everything was blowing away.  They put in some monumental efforts to keep things "glued" down to the table.  As far as nutrition, I played it relatively well.  I kept a steady flow of gels coming through the day, and popped down occasional fruit, pretzels, and candy when I felt like it.  At lunch time I ate a couple of small pieces of pizza too.  I did get a little behind on my salt, until I realized they had tabs at the station.  After a few hours of catch up, I did finally feel like I got myself regulated and never had any major stomach discomfort.  I probably should have drank more throughout the day though as I didn't make as many bathroom stops as I would have liked.

By late afternoon the clouds had started to cover up the sun, and the temps became pleasant again.  It was a nice relief.  As I approached the 50-mile mark I was rather surprised to see that my time was 7:49, literally the exact same time that I posted for my fastest ever 50-mile PR at Tussey Mountain.  Granted this was a flat 1-mile loop, but this obviously had me a smidge worried as this seemed way too fast (although my body didn't seem to feel like it was).  I still felt ok and wanted to keep jogging away.  At mile 57, I was surprised when I came around a loop a bit tired and in need of a pick-me-up, to find my wonderful partner and other-half waiting for me and cheering me on near the finish.  I told her not to make the drive up from the Finger Lakes, but I was glad to see her...and glad that I would be seeing her for the final 3 hours.  Talk about a pick-me-up!  My sister and my nephew would show up just another half-hour later and it was simply fantastic to see them both at one of my events.  My nephew is coming up on his 1-year birthday and he seemed like he was having a great time and smiling each time I passed by.  Perhaps my plan to secretly plant the subliminal seed early for him to be an working!  It certainly brought a smile to my face to see them all each loop.   When I finally hit 62 miles just a hair over 10 hours (a new PR for 100k for me), I decided I needed a long break.  I sat for along time with my family and rolled out my legs on the grass.  I played with my nephew a bit and we all just talked about whether or not I should keep going for the final 2 hours.  I decided to just walk a full loop and see how I felt.  

Coming in on one of the many mid-day hot loops.

After the one-mile walking loop, I took note of the leader-board and saw that I still maintained a 4-loop lead.  I had sort of reasoned at this point that even if just plodded along for the final 1hr 40mins, that I'd probably keep the win.  So I began jogging.  But then the math started to kick in.  I started playing the numbers game of how many laps could I get in.  At first I thought hitting 70 would be about right.  But then I quickly realized that 71 was totally doable.  Finally, I thought it would somehow be a good idea if I ran 8:30 miles for 3 miles...then I could get in 72.  Not my most intelligent idea, but nonetheless what I decided to go with.

So miles 69, 70, and 71 were less than pleasant.  I began huffing, and grunting, and pushing rather hard just so that I'd guarantee myself at least 12 minutes for that last mile and perhaps a chance to walk a bit. For those three miles I never stopped at the aid station, I never refilled my bottle, I just ran solid. hurt a bit.  I had played it so safe all day, and yet here I was, likely blowing out my legs, just 30 minutes before the finish.  Oh well...carpe diem right?  At this point most of the field was still out there chugging along and most still quite happy.  I was really thrilled by all of the cheers and encouragement from the all as I made my way around those last miles.  I tried as much as I could to also offer words of encouragement all day to everyone that I could.  I was really impressed by everybody's effort all day.  There were likely many detailed and storied personal challenges at play out there that I wasn't aware of...and I know that all that participated should feel proud of their accomplishments.  

Finishing lap 70

Coming in at the end of 71, not feeling great...but
just one more to go

Finishing Lap 71...One more

As I rounded the finish stanchion at the end of 71, I tossed my water bottle, and began my final lap  with a full 16 minutes to do it.  I knew that this would be plenty of time to take it easy.  My pace slowed to a meager trot, and I tried to take in the cool air and enjoy the last mile to its fullest.  I stopped to walk about 1/2 way in to the lap and even stopped at one point to admire one last gaze over the ponds.  It was a fantastic way to end the day.  I walked a leisurely stroll along the far side of the park and when I rounded the last turn along the highway, I picked it back up to a slow jog.  I trotted the final 2/10 into the finish and crossed the line with almost 4 minutes still to spare.  I immediately walked over to the the plushest bit of grass I could find and laid down for a long 10 minutes.  I missed the final runner crossing the line at 12:00 hours exactly but certainly heard the cheers.  

The Finish (11:56:28).  72 Laps, 72.86 miles

Overall I was thrilled with my day.  Today, my soreness has all but gone, which is good, but I likely will have to take it quite easy at 3 Days.  To me, this is ok though.  I was able to notch only my 2nd victory ever with a quite respectable 72 laps (72.86 miles), and keep a hearty smile on for 95% of the day.  The volunteers were top notch, the race director took a very active role in the race and was there all day cheering everyone on, and even dressed up in a full shirt/tie.  I think it's quite refreshing to participate in an event that is run so well as an entire package.....especially one in my home town!  Thanks also go to the sponsors.

Thanks all for a great experience, and perhaps I'll see you gain in '15.  It was a pleasure running and chatting with each of you.


Some gear and geek stuff:
  • I went very standard for this event and brought very little with me.  I ran the first half in just an old beat-up running shirt and running shorts, and at the marathon mark changed into my old polyester button-down shirt.  I wore an old pair of Hokas that already had way too many miles on them, but they held up fine.  The tread was already severely worn, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to wear them even more.  Needless to say they are looking pretty bad now.
  • I carried a single old water bottle for random laps throughout the day, but never any food.
  • I ate mostly gels and fruit (and assorted aid station food), and took some occasional salt tabs
  • I drank a fair amount of caffeine (mtn dew), ginger-ale for my stomach, and gatorade/powerade
  • I took a tylenol late in the day.

FINAL RESULTS:  Mind The Ducks Results

Garmin Data:  Mind the Ducks Garmin
(The elevation data is messed up however)

My numbers plot clearly shows how my pace played out.  My first 26 were quite steady, and then I began to get rather erratic.  These times reflect my total pace including breaks (not just moving pace).  You can see things like my 26 mile break, and my breaks and walking loops at the end.  Additionally, you can see the 3 miles near the end where I picked it up.  I'm fairly certain that had the race been a few hours longer, that the top women's finisher (Vikki Baylis) would have likely caught me as she was only a few miles behind and was doing a much better job at keeping a steady pace all day.  Which reminds me.....major kudos to the womens field in general.  The leaders ran really smart races and placed 5 of the 10 overall finishes.  It was basically dead even between the top 5 mens and top 5 womens finishers if you compare times and stats.

Race Pace

One last thing....the prize swag is fantastic!  I honestly wasn't even really expecting anything over-the-top when it comes to swag, but the prizes here were definitely top notch.  I came away with an enormous bag of goodies, including a Buff, a thermos, coffee mug (already been used btw), and various other fun things.  I thought the way the race director set up the prizes was both clever, and very motivating.  He had assigned various prizes for each "milestone".  In other words, you got something for hitting the marathon mark, and then something else for hitting 50k, and 50 miles.  Lastly, you got the final awards for topping 100K...which is how I came away with all the prizes even including a small cooler and a Mind the Ducks towel.  I think this made for very discrete milestones for people to focus on achieving.  

I even got a wooden hand-made first-place finishers award!

All of my crazy goodies!

Overall MTD Winner Award.  Sweet!


TheRunningHacker said...

Really fun to see you taking care of business out there, John! I was working the late shift at the AS and keeping track of your progress all afternoon. Those three fast miles at the end were something to behold!

Hope you continue to recover well, and look forward to joining you on the course at 3DATF!

Rae said...

Absolutely awesome. As a fellow webster native, I was inspired to make this my first Ultra....and loved it as much as you did!! Congrats on your win!!

Eliza Ralph-Murphy said...

John, Shelley Viggiano is the visionary behind "Mind The Ducks" and dreamed of having the race in the place she loved to run in 2009( )
She has since passed the reins over to this year's new RD. It was really great to read about how the event is still going strong in Shelley's absence and keeping her dream alive and especially cool that you were able to run and WIN it!