Ultraman Florida Feb 15-17, 2019

Initial Thoughts:

I haven’t done a blog entry for a while now and this race was a long time coming. It all started spring 2016 I suggested to Beth that I might want to try and do an Ultraman and had settled on Ultraman Florida with a target of racing in 2019 so in the spring of 2016 I reached out via email to the race organizer and offered to help at the 2017 Ultraman FL race.

In order to more effectively prepare I had planned on volunteering at the race at least once and even considered doing it more than once so that I could get a good handle on what it was all about. I’m really glad to have been a part of the race as staff and learned more than I could imagine by just being there helping out and doing what I could to give back to the race.

I also had planned on doing a number of other confidence boosters to better prepare and although not everything went to plan some things did go better than others and definitely had me ready to toe the line of Ultraman Florida 2019.

In the last 2 years I did more than I could have ever imagined possible 20 years ago when I started really running for fitness in my mid 20s. I did my first 50 mile trail race where I really learned how to suffer and still keep moving forward. I learned that it is possible to have a Ironman as a training race although still pretty crazy to think about. I learned that it’s easier to swim 13,000+ yards in a pool with others around you than it is to do it in open water (but having someone there with you the entire time taking care of you is wonderful.)

Life in general is about the journey and most importantly it’s about the experiences that you have along the way. To say that the journey to Ultraman Florida 2019 was an experience would be an understatement. I have met some amazing people that inspire me every day on Facebook and in real life.

Finishing the race is one thing. But the journey to the start and beyond that the people you meet and get to know along the way is what it is all about.

Ultraman Florida Day 1:

Day 1 – 10km – Swim:

Athlete photo before getting into the water.

In the few days leading up to the race there had been some concerns brought up by a few people about the temperature of the lake being a bit too cold but thankfully the water was almost perfect (at least in my opinion) having spent about 4.5 hours in the water I (and probably every one else) noticed that there was a layer of about 6 inches of “warm” water (from the sun) and then below that it got chilly pretty quickly. It wasn’t so cold that it was uncomfortable but it was noticeable.

I will admit that while I was generally confident that I could do the swim I am always a little nervous. I opted to have one of my crew in as my kayak escort in lieu of having Jen select someone for me. I did this for a few reason, because I had first hand experience crewing in a kayak for other swimmers I felt confident that I could successfully coach an experienced (or at least capable) kayaker through what I needed and what was needed to get me through the swim successfully. I also had confidence that Marcello being an engineer like myself would be able to adapt and adjust as needed.

The night before my wife went out with my crew to the local Walmart to get some additional food for the weekend along with getting something to decorate the kayak and texted everyone with ideas for decorating the kayak. She suggested a unicorn or a minion… I picked the minion because it’s a minion and I love minions they’re so much fun.

Marcello and the Minion in tow keeping me company and safe in the water.

My fueling plan for the swim was to mostly rely on taking my drink of choice (Ginger Mapleaid) every 2000 to 2500 meters which thankfully was much easier on this course since the buoys were setup about that distance. As such when shortly after we turned at the first buoy and after we got away from it a bit we opted to take my first drink. I had also given Marcello a few Pacific Health Labs Gels (1 Key Lime and 1 Orange Creme) on the off chance that I wanted something more than the drink. I’m very glad I did because just past the half way mark I asked Marcello for my first gel and then just before the last turn buoy I requested a second gel. I also had 2 or 3 drinks of my Mapleaid and had water with my gels.

On to the swim:

We arrived early enough to setup my bike in transition and I had put together a bag with everything I needed after getting out of the water to reduce what I needed to think about after exiting the water. I walked around and exchanged my good lucks to each of the competitors that I knew and after the requisite photos I joined the athletes in the water and looked out into the lake to find my minion (balloon).

Got a few last minute hugs from the other athletes and a few more good lucks and the countdown to the 7 AM start began then off we went.

In the water waiting for the 7 AM countdown

Everyone dove in the water and we all started swimming out towards our kayak escorts at this point I found it a bit more difficult to make out my minion (balloon) so as I was swimming out to him I started asking other kayakers if I was still on track. (I found out later that several of the other escorts were passing along to Marcello that I was on my way to him.

After I got next to him we quickly settled into a routine. I had him paddle (ever so slowly) to my right side as I swam as steadily as I could to the first turn buoy. The plan was to take my first bit of nutrition after the first buoy so I suggested near the turn that I would take it sometime from that buoy to the first sighting buoy.

My arm (in the back)

Continuing on we made it to the second turn in what seemed like a reasonable time and turned towards the next buoy. At this point we encountered our first dilemma. I had requested/planned to have Marcello to my right side however after this turn the position he was typically settled he was right in the sun. I suggested he move to the left side but after a few strokes I realized this wouldn’t work since when I attempted to peek to my left side (vs the right side) it really threw off my balance and I could not swim like this as such after a few moments I suggested he fall in just behind me.

Once we settled I started noticing that the minion (Balloon) which at the start had sunk to the water was now floating above the water and realized that minions were apparently solar powered.

At some point along this leg I noticed that unlike earlier in the swim all of the other swimmers were far too my left and may have started swimming that way… after a quick discussion with Marcello he mentioned that there appeared to be a current and that we were on the line that we needed to be… there may have been a bit of grumbling on my part under water but after a bit I realized that I had asked him to be responsible as my eyes and I should (and did) trust his judgement.

After making the next turn buoy I decided I needed a bit more than my drink and when Marcello asked if I would like something else I asked for my Key Lime Accel Gel. I also got some motivation from my minion as he bounced around near the water a few times and attempted to give him a high five. I mean why not, right?

Making my way to the finish.

I was definitely feeling the fatigue and soreness in my arms and was thinking that perhaps I hadn’t have trained quite enough… although I guess it was too late to turn back now. As we approached the final turn buoy Marcello mentioned that we were almost to the final turn and all we needed to do was make the final turn before heading back to the finish line. For a bit there I was a bit confused as I somehow had gotten it into my head that there was still another turn after the next buoy… that was definitely a great thing to hear to say the least.

I made the final turn and after a short bit took a second gel (Orange Creme Accel) and according to Marcello after taking my gels I had a bit more of a pickup. Marcello asked if I wanted Beth to bring anything to have for me on the shore and I suggested a bottle of water to drink with my transition nutrition a Skratch Bar since I had forgotten to include that in my transition bag.

A bit after the final sighting buoy once I was close enough to shore to make it on my own Marcello split off from me and left me to complete the last bit to the swim finish on my own. I exited the water and got some cheering from Chuck at the mic to cross under for my official swim time and made the wobbly/wonky run up to and through the new UM FL finisher arch and had a bit of celebration (to Jen’s excitement!!!) and made my way to my wife to start the process of removing my wet-suit.

Out of the water! YAY!!!

Swim Finish time: 4:32:11

(I must add that despite the extreme time in the water I think these are the best photos of me in a wet-suit that I have ever seen.)

Transition: I took a minute or so in transition (outside the changing building) to have a bit to eat and some water then after Marcello made it over took my tri bib shorts and made my way into the bathroom to change.

Putting on a trisuit when damp is always a bit of a challenge so I was glad to have some help for if nothing else some assistance in holding things.

As I’m changing Chris Holsner walks in and of course he makes some sort of comment about being able to see my penis (because I wouldn’t expect anything less from him.)

After a short exchange (with me agreeing wholeheartedly that he was certainly likely being truthful we exchanged some entertaining banter and I finished my task and returned outside to continue the process of dressing (putting on my top, socks, cycling shoes, helmet and cycling glasses.)

Ready to bike. Marcello photo-bomb!!!

Head over to the bike get a quick picture with Marcello photo-bombing and then I was on my way.

Day 1 – 91 Mile – Bike:

I’ve never swam 10k and then gotten on a bike and I’m gonna be honest it showed on my first few miles on my bike. OK, more like my first 30 or so miles.

Being in the water for 4.5 hours apparently is harder to recover from than most other distances/times in the water.

There were a few problems I was experiencing:

  • My arms were very fatigued and because of this my stability on the bike in aero especially was much less than normal.
  • Because of being in a horizontal position (during the swim) while working I think played a factor in my sense of balance.
  • Finally, I suspect that water intrusion during the long swim also affected my sense of balance.

All of these things in addition to the additional fatigue were making the bike already much more difficult than I was expecting and it made me dread the next 92 miles of riding.

Regardless the show must go on so I put my head down and got to work.

Out on the bike on Day 1

My fueling plan on the bike was a bit more well established than in the swim and it consists of drinking a bottle of Untapped Mapleaid (to start I had the Lemon Tea flavor) every 1.5 – 2 hours and usually that meant taking a swig every 15-20 minutes from a bottle behind my seat. I used to ride with a BTA bottle but with all the riding I was doing didn’t want to have to take the time to clean the bottle and opted to keep a simple bottle of water between my arms (to have with food) and keep one bottle behind my seat (I have 2 cages but only used one at at time during this race) because I knew I would have access to regular re-fueling with my crew every 5 or so miles (anywhere from 15-30 min pending road conditions.)

When I passed Dwana and Ultramama about 11 miles into the day 1 bike and I was still feeling like crap. She of course didn’t have a whole lot of sympathy pointing out that it was still early and that I had a lot to go still. (Love Dwana and Jim G. who are an amazing couple that took great care of me on day 2 of the December training camp). I of course acknowledged this and continued to bear down to keep moving after stopping safely at the stop sign.

Onward and forward I started bringing in solid food. The night before I had grabbed 2 different foods to carry on my person and had them in the back pocket of my jersey already so I had some choice.

I opted for a Skratch labs Ginger bread cookie as my first food and although it did try and crumble a bit I’m happy to say that all of it made it into my belly.

I had passed my crew a few times already but as of yet I hadn’t needed to exchange any bottles to it was so far all thumbs up and some cheering from the them and other crews that I was nearby.

The day one course was a bit of a combination of an out and back with some loops, and at least one actual out and back.

This was really nice because since it’s such a small group of people and many of them I had met before the race or had been exchanging stories and banter practically every athlete that passed me on their way back said something even going so far as calling me out by name. It really is a wonderful experience.

It is also great seeing my crew (all good friends) periodically as well and because Beth had listened I was happy to say that they almost always stopped at the crest of a hill which is the best place to exchange bottles or get food since it isn’t a problem stopping.

Also finally after about 20-30 miles (1.5 – 2 hours) I started to feel much better and finally got into a groove.

I should add that while I didn’t get far off course and I lay absolutely no blame on the course markings (since they were very clear) I did make one wrong turn before I got settled.

Thankfully, the day one ride went off without a hitch with no mechanical problems and everything going really well and I felt much better after getting settled into my groove and I was able to gradually work my way through the various athletes around me as the day went on settling around some athletes that I would spend a lot of time around all weekend.

I finished Day 1 the quickest of the three days with a bike of 5:50:29 (which includes transition) and a total time of 10:22:40 and a muted “Wahoo” to Jen when crossing the day one finish.

Day 1 Bike Finish
Day 1: Crew photo

Total Time Day 1: 10:22:40

Ultraman Day 2 – 172 mile – Bike:

We allowed ourselves to sleep in a bit on day 2 since there wasn’t as much to get done and I set my alarm at 4:15 instead 4:00 am on Day 2. we made our way to the venue and setup the bike got in line for the bathroom in good spirits as I was feeling pretty good.

The day 2 bike course was different than it had been in past years. In previous years the early parts of the course were fairly flat and there are hills later in the course (it did have less elevation but all much of the climbing was later in the day) the new course this year had more climbing but much of that climbing was early in the day vs later in the day. We did have to climb up the Sugarloaf Mountain road twice although the second time we climbed up the back of the steep hill and got to descend Sugarloaf. (Those of you in Ohio and have been to Great Seal know that if they call something Sugarloaf it’s going to be a tough climb and it definitely is… although you can find similar hill in Ohio especially out in Zanesfield for practicing on the bike.)

Regardless, Day 2 started off without a hitch.

Day 2: Start wearing a jacket

I was passing my crew periodically. I decided to start with a jacket and had planned on taking it off after it warmed up a bit. Because of the nature of the start it was a bit difficult to get spread out initially as there are several lights because after 5 miles we turn onto US 27 and spend the next several miles on this stretch.

1st hill of the day.

After that we turn onto Dewey and into the first hills of the day. The course stays hilly for the next 60-70 miles after that and then settles into much flatter course with the back half being much flatter than the first half.

For the most part the first 40-50 miles of the day went without a hitch. The second time we were on Dewey I received a notification on my head unit that had me worried a bit.

I got a low battery warning. Now it turns out that this low battery warning was relatively innocuous. As it turns out my PowerTap P1 Pedal batteries were getting low and my right pedal level was critical. This however made me worry about a few other battery powered devices on my bike and I decided to do what I could to preserve especially my Di2 batteries.

I wouldn’t have had to do this had I planned better and had my charger in the car as I could have tossed a USB charger in my back pocket and plugged in my Di2 to charge it on the fly. That said at this time it still had power and was working as it should.

Climbing Sugarloaf Mountain Rd.

Nevertheless, there wasn’t much i could do about the pedals as they were at the moment still working and although I did have spare batteries in the car I didn’t see much point in changing them at this time.

My P1 pedals did finally give up the ghost just over half way through the ride at 90 or so miles and while I changed the battery I didn’t have any more power or cadence the rest of the day. (good thing although I pay some attention to my power and heart rate I also generally race by feel as much as I do by power and heart rate.

My crew also took great care of me throughout the days and this race could never be done in any way shape or form be done without the support of great people doing things to take care of me both on the course and back in the hotel every evening. I was truly blessed with a great crew of awesome people (and for what it’s worth I’m not crying you’re crying.)

The much more fun descent of Sugarloaf Mountain Rd.

Much to my dismay I did finally get a low battery notification from my Di2. Thankfully, I only got this notification with about 20-25 miles left. I was still feeling pretty good and I decided that knowing that the last part of the course was pretty flat that I was better suited to be in the large chain-ring and as such I made sure that through my shifting I would be sure to be stuck in the large ring for the last few miles.

With about 10 miles left in the day, with my feet killing me for being stuck in my cycling shoes (for most of the last 60-70 miles) I tried to shift my rear gear from the 6th position to the 5th position and alas it didn’t move.

For those of you that ride with Di2 the way it works is that when the battery is low. The first thing to that happens when the battery is low is that the front derailleur will stop functioning (as an indication of sorts to get back home) then the rear derailleur stops after a while and you have yourself a fixed gear bike. Good times.

Thankfully in this case I had planned well and although I was stuck in a gear based on the remaining 10 miles it was the best gear. There were a few stops and a few locations that wouldn’t be ideal most of the remaining ride would be the best all around gear.

I did make a bit of a joke when waiting at the last light to one of the volunteers and joked that I could use a bit of a push because of the gear I was stuck in at the time.

Thanks to my crew awesome crew who dressed up as minions when I crossed 100 miles (thanks for the brilliant smile) it was truly memorable the second day went as well as it could have and although I was slower than I wanted/planned in the first half I’m glad they kept it to themselves (don’t worry I was paying attention I noticed it as well.) I knew that I was likely to do the back half faster than the first.

In the end although the day could have gone better it really went about as good as it could have and I finished the second day just a bit slower than the first in 11:01:19 and got some justifiable chastising from Jen for my battery dying.

Day 2 Bike Finish.
Day 2, Crew photo and the ever so awesome Jen McVeay

Bike Day 2 Time: 11:01:19

Total Cumulative Time: 21:23:59

Ultraman Florida – Day 3 – 52.4 mile – Run:

After not much sleep but with an awesome crew taking care of my every desire (well except for more sleep but that’s not their fault). We made our way to the race start and the day three preparation began. Unlike Day 1 & 2 the run day starts at 6:00 AM vs 7:00 AM. All things considered this morning I felt pretty good. My legs were not particularly sore and I felt like I could maybe do a double marathon.

I was nervous of course and it probably showed since I was chatting people up and making jokes with the other participants which was probably my way of relieving some stress.

After a prayer with all of the athletes in a circle led by Ultramama we all moved over to the trail and waited with baited breath for the countdown to the 6 o’clock start then off we went.

Day 3 pre-race prayer led by Ultramama

I will admit that I didn’t feel great but frankly that’s not unusual I often don’t feel good in a run until easily 5-6 miles. It’s one of the reasons that I like to run long because I know that regardless of how I feel in the beginning of the run at some point I’m bound to get in my groove.

At 1 mile I was joined by my first pacer, Vicci Jaffe, a Boston Qualified runner and just all around good person. We settled into a routine and after a few trials we figured out what I meant when I would ask for things. Best of all we were able to have conversations. I don’t remember everything we talked about but we discussed everything from my time going to my families cottage in Michigan (and how we lifted the cottage built in the 1920s 8 feet when we were repairing the foundation) to how she met her husband and the times I was out of the USA for extended periods of time.

Me showing off my guns or er gut? With My first pacer of the day Vicci

The beginning of the course is much more hilly than the back part of the course but thankfully I despite my tired legs and the stacked fatigue from the previous two days I was able to maintain my desired paces.

It was great seeing my crew regularly and getting the food and drink that I needed. Before the sun came up Vicci and I were hoping that we might have some cloud cover but alas the moment the sun rose the layer of clouds that were in the sky disappeared and the skies were clear blue.

At the 10 mile mark I exchanged Vicci for my second crew member Marcello who would stick with me for the next 10 miles. The sun started to come up and although I had removed my shirt in the last few miles to keep cooler the next time I passed my crew vehicle I requested my De Soto Skin Cooler top. I wore this top the remainder of the day and I’m very glad I had it as it kept the sun off of me and I was almost certainly cooler than I would have been had I not worn it.

Me with running with Marcello as my pacer (apparently I’m important or something).

With Marcello our conversation was entirely different from Vicci. I asked him to tell me about what he was doing at work. See Marcello is an engineering professor who teaches at The Ohio State University. Being an engineer and enjoying technical things I was happy and interested to hear about some of the things he was up to at work. I’m especially intrigued by the electric moto racing that they he is planning to do and absolutely look forward to seeing his lab once it is setup.

We were also intrigued by a heat gun that someone had and brain stormed an idea for a customized race top that could be created by testing people running on a treadmill and a FLIR camera to determine where they generate the most heat so that we could more effectively create a custom stitched/patterned skin cooling top. We spent much of the first ten miles trying to brainstorm company names and decided that I would be the face of the company and he could be the silent partner. In the end we decided we just needed to hire a marketing firm to come up with a company name.
When I exchanged my wife at the 20 mile mark I was finally in groove and on track for just about a 5 hour marathon. I was happy that I didn’t need to be constantly watching my watch but was still feeling pretty good. The hardest part of the day was still to come.

At around 24 miles I we finally left behind the pavement and entered the long section clay roads. I had planned on changing my socks and shoes and sat down in the car for a Ginger Ale (my first but definitely not last soda of the day) and my crew went to work changing my socks and shoes just like a well oiled pit crew and applied a new layer of sunscreen on everything but my hands (oopsies, yes my hands got a bit of sun… honestly though my crew did an amazing job taking care of me.)

After taking off with my wife we started the long section of clay roads with my wife for the first 6 or so miles of clay. With my wife we mostly talked about what sort of things I discussed with Marcello and Vicci and honestly it worked out pretty well.

We really had a great routine going on I had two hats and 2 cooling towels. We had a cooler in the car specifically for the hat and towels every 1-2 miles we would pass the vehicle and had gotten into the routine of exchanging the hat and towel every time I passed the vehicle so that I could have a cool towel and a hat (with some ice in it.)

This routine worked really well to keep my head and core cool without getting me overly wet and most importantly it kept my feet and shorts generally pretty dry.

If I was to say that the clay roads were easy I would be lying. There was nothing easy about that section of the course. That said the best part of the run day was that although everyone was suffering unlike the bike days when we were nearby one another we could talk more easily and exchange some good lucks and congratulations with each other.

Once we got out of the clay we only had a half marathon remaining and I had just under 4 hours to finish a half marathon.

I was dreading the few miles after the clay because I knew that it was a pretty exposed section of the course and was not very interesting but thankfully Marcello was there carrying a zip-lock bag of ice and kept me company until he handed me off to Beth for the next five mile section. We also had some awesome conversations to include farting (of which there was a lot of going on… farting that is.) and how I met Beth, and how he met Stephanie his wife.

Thankfully the last part of the race was much flatter than the beginning and once we got into the neighborhoods in the last 10 or so miles of the race were much nicer and although I was getting passed by some people I started to think we could probably make this thing happen.

In this section I will say I had a great conversation with Vicci and learned about how she met her husband (and I do still owe her the story of how my parents met since I forgot to ask them before the race.) We also talked about the times I’ve been out of the country and how the first time Beth went out of the country she went to Ghana and that there was always a chance that I wouldn’t have been there.

I will say there was one thing that I was absolutely thrilled about and that was that on Wednesday when we were out at the store getting things for the weekend Beth asked if I wanted watermelon and she bought a bit container because pretty much salted watermelon was my go to nutrition when the heat came out later in the day intermixed with Cola, Ginger Ale and 1 Cranberry Red-bull with 10 kms left in the run.

I was also happy that in general my stomach stuck it out and let me eat throughout the day without too much trouble.

Everyone on my crew and all the volunteers did amazing and I seriously couldn’t have done any of this without them…

I had the ever so awesome Julian pass me with about 2 miles remaining and I could tell that he was suffering but an amazing job digging deep and getting to the finish.

As we got closer I opted or at least did my best to spread the three of us that were nearby one another Julian a minute or so in front of me and Type 1 Diabetic Athlete Chris Clark a minute or so behind me.

To say this was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done would not be a lie and I was thrilled to make it to the finish line. I picked up my crew in the last few hundred meters and took them with me across the line.

Day 3  Run Time: 11:28:28

Total Cumulative Time: 32:52:27

Interesting Stats:

Total unique finishers of an Ultraman as of UMFL 2019: 859

Unique finisher #: 851

While I’ll probably never qualify for the Ironman World Championship I am now qualified for the Ultraman World Championship (anyone want to go to Hawaii with me?)

During the race I completed my longest bike ride ever at one time, 172 miles in 11:01:19

I also got a 50k and 50 mile PR of 6:11:59 and 10:58:24 and obviously a double marathon PR of 11:28:28.

Final Thoughts:

If you skipped the rest of the report and jumped to here I hope you enjoy my final thoughts about this race weekend and life in general.

There is something seriously special about this race and I’m really glad I took on the challenge of doing Ultraman Florida. There was definitely a lot of training involved in this and and a lot of preparation but frankly the I couldn’t have done this race without all the help and support of everyone that helped me along the way.

There were many athletes that helped me with ideas and thoughts that I took to heart and was able to implement on race day.

At the 2018 UM FL Tom Tom suggested that I needed to race the first two days planning for the Run as that was really where the race started, Jamie Harris is who suggested that changing hats every time I passed the vehicle with an ice cold hat that was spot on and helped me stay cool in the heat of the day. The banter between athletes on the course was motivating and everyone out there was so very supportive of one another. It really is a huge family (Ohana).

My Coach Kirk Blackmon of Fit Aspire coaching based in Colorado has helped tremendously. While I don’t say nearly enough about him. Having a coach to help balance the three disciplines of doing a triathlon is tremendously helpful and something that I wouldn’t want to do on my own while balancing a full workload and family life. It is especially useful for long course training as there are times that I just don’t have time to think about what I should be doing next week let alone what I need to do to get to my next race successfully.

I am glad to have the bike rides with members of the Central Ohio Triathlon Club and especially the additional motivation from many of the members that shared my winter training sessions with the club. They really were motivating and it helped me finish them to know that hopefully I would help motivate someone else to do something amazing.

I can’t thank the Front Runner training group enough for being there to run with every Sunday morning that I opted to join them for a run (because sometimes I need to go out on my own but other times I need the company of others.) I really like Front Runner because the group is more like family than it is like a training group. I’m sorry that spent most of the last year (or maybe even two years) talking about Ultraman… who knows what I’ll talk about now that I’ve finished the race.

I especially am thankful for Vicci and Marcello who took time out of their lives to fly down to Florida and take care of me this weekend. When Ia asked them early last year they agree to do it and never backed down in their support of me all the way through to the end. I seriously could not have done this without them there taking care of me.

They cooked dinner, changed my shoes and socks, organized and took notes (thanks professor), and were there all weekend just to take care of my every whim and desire. It was truly a team effort to get me from the start line through to the finish. All the help (Kokua) they and every one else along the way gave me is something I could never asked for and am truly appreciative of what they have done for me.

Finally, I’m thankful for my amazing wife who has supported me throughout this entire endeavor from the moment I said that I might want to give it a try all the way through being the best crew chief I could ever have (except for maybe Alin Lupas, an umbrella really?) Seriously though I am always amazed at what she does and lets me do… she really is awesome and I am glad to have found her and to have her in my life. I love you with all my heart and couldn’t imagine my life without you by my side (Aloha).

Now, I know a lot of people have asked me what’s next and you know what I’m still not sure…. the remainder of this year is going to be pretty light. I am signed up for the Lifetime indoor tri double wave on April 7th (yes I signed up for this before Ultraman Florida and hopefully I’ll see some of you out there.) Beyond that I might sign up for Ohio 70.3 since it’s in my back yard (effectively) and is a great race where I can see a lot of people I know on the course.

Is there a chance I’ll do another Ultraman… I’m certainly not going to rule it out… I’d also like to do some other things perhaps maybe try and find/do a swim-run event (although I’m not sure there are any closer and I’d have to find the right swimming/running partner that has a similar swim speed and run pace.

I will go back and volunteer because I gotta go back and seem my family in FL and perhaps find some more family members in AZ.

Seriously, this was the most amazing experience and I look forward to where I go from here… Aloha, Ohana, Kokua… I truly know what that means now.

Scott Shell

Huff 50k Trail Race

Training Cycle:

The training cycle leading up to the Huff 50k was an interesting roller coaster and culminated in what was a challenging but in the end fun first 50 kilometer trail race.

My preparation for this race started after I finished my triathlon season at the inaugural Ohio 70.3.  This race was a bit of a challenge and definitely showed me some things to work on for future long course races specifically nutrition since I felt like my nutrition was lacking on my races this summer.

I also decided that I needed a break from triathlon focus and even though I haven’t been as interested in trail running since my knee injury (hyper-extension) a few years ago that I was kind of interested in seeing if I could use trail running in this off season to decompress a bit and work on my stability and agility.  As such shortly after Ohio 70.3 I went out on some trails to prepare for a winter solstice (or at least close) trail race.

My first real hard core trail run to prepare for the Huff was a Ragnar race where I was on a masters ultra team… which meant that over the course of less than a 24 hour period I would be enjoying 3 trail runs at a distance of 9-13 miles or so… despite most of my legs being in the dark this was actually a lot of fun albeit also very tiring. Our team did great and we ended up winning or division and even came in 3rd place overall for the ultra teams.

Ragnar Ultra (OldZilla) Team Bib and Medal

The next training race I signed up for leading up to the Huff was even more fun and definitely one that I would love to do again.  My wife and I both signed up for the final day of the another inaugural race the Grand Circle Trailfest.  We signed up for the last day of the Trailfest which included an 18 mile run along the North rim of the Grand Canyon.

Beth and I on the edge of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon at the Grand Circle Trailfest.

We had also planned on spending a few extra days in the area after the race to enjoy Bryce and Zion and got some great hill climbs and other beautiful sights along with some great workouts out west as well.  We really enjoyed this trip and it just cemented the idea that we really want to get out that way sometime again in the future either for vacations or permanently.

These were the major races leading up to the Huff and most of my other trail running was done at a local metro park which was admittedly very repetitive to say the least.  As such some of the training runs (especially long runs) were an interesting challenge to say the least.  I did get a chance to try out some different speed work (Critical Velocity Intervals) in the beginning of this training cycle that did result in some interesting “insights” especially since the first few times doing the intervals they were very tough and nearly impossible but by the second cycle I was able to hold them and getting into the later cycles I was able to get even faster.

During this fall training cycle I also explored some different fueling for my long runs than I have done in the past.  One of the problems I have with race nutrition is that I often find that during running I can’t get sufficient calories because I don’t find most gels to be palatable for extend periods of time and as such I can’t keep up with my nutrition for longer than a couple of hours.  During this cycle I opted to try a few different things than I have in the past.  After reading a bit about it I decided to try out some Pacific Labs Endurance Gels.  Part of the reason I settled on these is because unlike most other gels I have used these are somewhat thinner and easier to take in while moving.  Another reason that decided to try these is because the formula includes a 4:1 combination of carbohydrates and protein.  They also had some flavors that were appealing and ultimately felt sufficiently light in flavor.  The three flavors I enjoy were Key Lime, Citrus Orange and (for later in races) Raspberry Cream with caffeine added.

Despite my training ups and downs this fall I did make it to the race and generally felt ready for the race.  The only element that worried me were the elements themselves.  This is because despite our usual winters usually really starting in January this December in the days leading up to the race we had snow pass through the mid-west and we had to deal with about 8-10 inches of snow at the race site for the Huff 50k which is done at the Chain O’ Lakes State Park in Albion, IN.

Race Day:

As is normal for trail races we arrived at the race site about 25 minutes (at most) ahead of the start of the race.  The trails walking to the parking lot that serves as the start and finish were slushy and definitely didn’t give me a warm fuzzy regarding how the day would go.  At just after 8 am the 25k (1 loopers) and relay teams were started and then 15 minutes after that the 50k and 10 milers (on a different trail) were started which included me.  And off we went.

And we’re off… in the snow.

Now as I was afraid the first few miles were tough to say the least.  It felt like running in sand only in addition to not having solid footing I also had to deal with sliding back about half a step for every step I took forward.  Because of this my pace was not great and in addition I was working much harder than I would have otherwise and my legs were definitely feeling it.  I could feel it burning and I was dreading the possibility that it would be this way over the entire course.  I also decided that due to the potential of lower temperatures I should/would use an insulated drinking tube for my bladder as such because of the unusual setup my usual process for nutrition didn’t work in the same way and unfortunately during one instance of removing my drinking tube from the pocket on the front of my hydration/gear pack I managed to knock out a gel packet which was promptly stepped on behind me and then proceeded to leak for the next few miles and drip all over my right leg (the standard drinking tube is held in place via magnet so that isn’t a concern for my normal setup.) As such when I arrived at the first aid station I was NOT in a good mood.

Me arriving at Aid station #1 about 4 miles into the race.

Fortunately after a bit of food and drink (the aid stations really are very good at this race.) I felt much better and was ready to get back out despite the potential conditions.

Feeling a bit better with some good food and drink.

Now in addition to the snow on the ground the race day conditions included basically a continuous light drizzle of freezing rain.  Now while that sounds like rather unpleasant conditions (and frankly elements of it definitely were) it did have at least a slightly positive effect in that as the day progressed the trail conditions started to improve.  This was mostly because of a combination of the runners on the trail packing down the snow on the ground and the freezing rain filling in the gaps (if you will) to allow the paths created by the runners to be less likely to give at every step and thankfully this really started to show up after the first aid station.

The next few miles were much better then the first 4 miles and by the second aid station I was feeling much better then I was ahead of the first aid station.

Leaving Aid station #2 (8 miles) feeling better about the day

After Aid station #2 there is about 7 miles until you return to the starting line and there isn’t a manned aid station until you return to the starting/finish line for the second loop. This is a long time to be out with freezing rain falling and I was definitely starting to get a chill before the halfway point.  That is where it is a very good thing that I had a few things to look forward to when I arrived at the halfway point.  This race is good in that there is a drop bag and I planned for the weather and had a few things waiting for me when I arrived.  Most important my wife was there which was a Godsend.  I’m sure I could have done this without her there but it was much nicer and much easier having an extra set of hands to help get things out of and put things back into my gear bag.  I also had a few other things there that I was really looking forward to at the halfway point.

  1. Fresh Socks – I considered a second pair of shoes but opted just for the socks because I figured that fresh socks would be wonderful for at least a few miles and additionally I figure that everything would just get wet again anyhow so it didn’t matter if I was putting back on the same shoes.
  2. A clean shirt and dry jacket (outer layer) – This one was loosely based on a recommendation from a friends post on the TAUR Facebook page.  I was glad to have done so and it really felt good to be dry for a while after getting back out on the trail.
  3. A HydroFlask with Hot Skratch Labs Apples and Cinnamon – This is something I saw someone do at last years race and it was wonderful to have it there and because of the HydroFlask it was still deliciously warm.
  4. I also used restocked my gels for the portions between the aid stations.

Feeling much better about my second loop with dry clothes and warm drink in my belly.

Starting out on the second loop it was obvious that the trail conditions were better and it was nice having and idea about how long it would take to get to each of the aid stations as I went along.  I did notice that during road crossings that because of the salt being applied the snow was especially slick which meant that it was more comfortable closer to the edges of the roads and in heavily tree covered areas (especially pine) the snow was much softer. Some other roads were also very slick and it was much better along the edge of the road despite the snow being deeper than on the roads themselves.  The first half of the second loop just kind of happened and soon I was arriving at Aid station #2 once again.

Now at this point I knew Beth would be there with the car and I had planned on asking for my rain coat (a pack-light Marmot) for after the race because I knew that it was pretty light and could easily pack into my Ultimate direction pack.  I also was getting pretty hungry at this point and I knew that this aid station had boiled potatoes which sounded great at this point of the race.  (They also had burgers but I wasn’t interested in one of those.)

Final stop at Aid Station #2 with my beard all icy… and potatoes in my belly.

Because of the freezing rain during the day the trails started to get a bit slicker and down hills were becoming more challenging to navigate.  This slowed me down a bit because since I have been getting out on the trail I had definitely improved my downhill running.  I will say it probably didn’t slow me down much because my quads were really starting to get sore and going down hill wouldn’t have been very brisk anyhow.

As an aside: The freezing rain also resulted in some interesting ice formations on my hydration pack straps and some nice beard-sickles.

After Aid station #2 it was just a matter of continuing to move through to the end and try to make steady progress forward.  I also find that as the race goes on the people on the course tend to be more and more talkative which is nice because none of us are going to win the race and having a conversation or laughing at things definitely passes the time.

I think the best line I heard was on one of the last portions were the trail intersects with the road and someone pointed out that if he had to deal with this much glaze then he wanted donuts. (mmm… hot Krispy Kreme).

Thankfully before long I was arriving at the final Aid station which is only about half a mile from the finish and my race was done.  My first 50k and longest ever run at once in 7:45:40 which as Beth likes to point out is slower than her 50k PR.

Me with my finisher buckle back in the hotel after a hot shower.

Apparently I’m not allowed to run any more of these so she can keep her PR that is better then mine.

Now that this race is finished I am looking forward to a short off-season break and then looking forward to getting back into triathlon training in preparation for a few 70.3s and a 140.6 this summer. Thanks for reading.


About Me

A little bit about me:

I have almost always been active at least in some way shape or form.  I didn’t always enjoy doing formal exercise but generally kept myself moving in one way or another growing up. (I’m sure my mom can attest to that being the case… as I’m sure I was a squirmy little boy.)

Bike: Growing up my family was out side of the city and I think biking became my staple form of transportation in part because it was really the only viable means to get to/from anywhere worthwhile because of the distance.  It was also quite a bit of fun… I learned to ride on some antique Schwinn bikes one of which included a banana saddle and a motorcycle style grip that made “engine” noises… it was the best.  As I got older through junior high and especially high school I graduated to more advanced bicycles and the first bike I bought for myself was an aluminum Schwinn Caliente 10 speed bike from the 1990s.  I did a number of rides on that bike until I bent the frame in a wreck while riding with no hands on the handlebars. (happened when a gust of wind caught the front wheels and I went over the bars…)

Swimming: We also belonged to the YMCA and spent summers at a family cottage on Lake Michigan and I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to at least learn how to swim.  During a swimming activity as a boy scout was actually where I learned of my ability to pace myself for endurance events.  When I was a young boy scout I completed the requirements to get my lifesaving merit badge and part of that badge was to swim 1/2 a mile.  I recall clearly starting the swim with my brother and although he started out going out faster then I did I maintained a steady pace and after a while I passed him because I “paced” myself better.

Running: Whereas I have off and on been interested in biking and swimming running was a different beast than the other two activities. Running definitely didn’t come as easily as biking or swimming for me.  I actually had a couple of interesting experiences in my early “formal” running experiences.  The first experience I recall was when I was at a church camp as a youngster… one of the adult leaders invited a number of campers to participate with him when he went out for morning runs although I did it while at camp the habit didn’t end up sticking.  Several years later when I was in Jr. High I tried out for the Jr High Cross country team which was run by one of the science teachers from the high school.  Although I participated and attempted to enjoy cross country in part because I was not skilled (i.e. fast) it just didn’t take and despite racing for at least one and possibly two years I quickly left it behind for several years.  I didn’t start running again until many years later.

I finally started running again many years later… and when that happened I did it on my own terms.  When I was 24 to 25 years old I got tired of my pants getting tighter and me getting more and more out of shape so I decided I needed to get into shape.  I had been juggling for many years and decided that I wanted to start running… I found the idea running to be extremely boring as such I decided to take up joggling… at first it was very hard (not because of the juggling but because I was completely out of shape.)  I gradually built up my miles and although I have had a few years here and there where I have gotten in and out of shape I have been pretty good about staying in condition and really enjoy being active and really enjoy endurance (especially ultra endurance) activities.

I guess I’m of the opinion that life it all about the long game… its not about who gets there first but who can hold out the longest… and is important to make sure that you’re enjoying view along the way to boot.

I hope you enjoy what you see here.