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10 Lessons From My First 100 Mile Ultra Marathon – Peak Races

Originally I had planned on running the 50 mile option for the Peak Races Ultra Marathon up in the beautiful Green Mountain Trails. When I signed up this past winter for the race, I believe it was around the middle of November while visiting Joe De Sena, Miguel Medina and Andy Weinberg up in their cozy town of Pittsfield, VT.

As soon as I told Andy, the Race Director of Peak Races, that I wanted to do the 50 miler he came back at me telling me that I had to do the 100 miler. Apparently, the 50 miler was not an option for me. Perks of being a previous Death Racer and friend I suppose? I didn’t hesitate and happily took on this challenge. Going into the race I did not put in nearly enough training to be running this race, I knew it, my girlfriend knew it, everybody that knew how little I ran on a regular basis knew I hadn’t trained nearly enough to be going into a 100 mile race. Regardless, I was still ready for the challenge. After all, I have finished one Death Race out of pure stubbornness and both times I’ve competed in the Death Race I was forced to stay awake and on my feet much longer than the 34 hour cut-off allotted to complete the mileage in. 100 Mile, Ultra, Peak Races, Peak Ultra, Marathon

When I decided to write this post I opted to skip the long story that I normally put together for these types of adventures. Let’s be real, no one wants to hear about how I went around in circles for nearly 24 hours doing the same loop over and over again. That’d be really boring, I promise. What I did instead is create a list of lessons I learned on the trail from doing my first true Ultra Marathon, other than the Fuego Y Agua Survival Run: Hunter Gatherer 50K I did last October I’ve never ran more than a standard marathon (2012 Chicago Marathon) in one go.

From what I gathered from the seasoned ultra marathoners on the course, I picked quite the difficult 100 miler for my first. Of course I did. In addition to this list I created, I put together a short video of clips I filmed during each of my loops. Hope you enjoy.

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10 Lessons I Learned at the Peak 100 Mile Ultra

  1. Not a lot of people show up to run the ultra long distances, 15 racers showed for the 100 Mile and 11 racers for the 200 Mile
  2. Having a support crew can make all the difference in a race of this nature. Thanks momma (Darnell Matesi) and sista (Mariah Matesi) and Kristine Iotte
  3. Teaching your support crew about your needs for each lap can save anywhere from 5-10 minutes during each lap
  4. Having a water bottle that works is a lot more useful (I couldn’t sip out of my Ultimate Direction water bottles if my life depended on it, I kept having to unscrew the cap to drink which resulted in lots of spillage)
  5. More real food, less gels, chews, and other non-real food substitutes. By mile 70 my stomach was in knots and couldn’t stand much of anything
  6. Burgers, Pizza, Beer, and Egg with Bacon sandwiches are the most delicious things you can have between laps and give you such an incredible energy boost. Oh ya, and Mountain Dew. Mmmm
  7. Apparently taking Aleve is a very good idea to help with some of the aches and pains that start to settle in after 40 or 50 miles
  8. Trail toes truly is the most amazing anti-chaffing balm there is, after 70 miles of rugged terrain over the course of just under 22 hours I only changed my socks once and had zero hotspots and zero blisters. Note: I wore Injinji Outdoor 2.0 toe socks, they’re fantastic – sock review coming soon
  9. Training is a lot more important than I expected. I thought I could will my way through this, I’ve finished a Death Race, why couldn’t I finish this? That was my thought process. It was wrong. Next year I’ll be logging more miles the months leading up to this race.
  10. There is something exciting about pushing yourself to run a ridiculous amount of miles through the mountains. When it comes to trails and mountains, I really do enjoy running on them.

Survival Run: Hunter Gatherer – Camp Eagle: Because I Can

The further away from the cabin I found myself going, the more cruel I felt Josue was. At times I found it difficult to wrap my head around how I found myself here. Why did I sign up for this race? Why do I continue to put myself through these ridiculous challenges that bring out the primal nature within? I started questioning myself but the first answer I came to and always will come to when people ask “Why? Why do this? Why put yourself through something like that?” Because I can. It was as simple as that, and with that thought, that knowledge, I did what I had to do and I carried on and continued along the path Josue laid out for us. Up and down the hills, moving further and further away from that tiny beacon of hope. That cabin on the ridge.

In my mind I already knew reaching that cabin meant a few things. It would be the next source of water. My next challenge would await me and perhaps I would be that much closer to finishing this extraordinary race. In my haste to leave the fire pit I did not refill my water. That last time that I enjoyed the refreshing taste of water that I had to purify myself was during my last few attempts at starting a fire.  It became apparent that unlike most races I was not taking my nutrition or my hydration very seriously.  I was not eating as much as I normally would during a race of this magnitude. Upon that realization I thought back to other racers where I had been laser-focused on my nutrition and yet even with that perfect balance of carbs, protein, potassium and all the other important nutrients needed to succeed there were many races where I still had issues. Back in Vermont at the World Championships Spartan Beast I even had issues. Somehow out here in the foothills of Texas, my lack of nutrition or focus on it had little effect. In fact, I felt quite wonderful. My body was doing well, the feet – while suffering from the technical terrain and lack of protection, I found it wasn’t all that unbearable.  My mood was starting to lift. My face began to pull itself up and I could feel an enormous smile forming, ear-to-ear. In the silence around me with only my thoughts to guide me I knew it was true, I love this shit. This is my happy place. This is what I, what we (as a species) are born to do. Astonishing. Being alone can either be the worst thing or the best thing, it’s all about perspective. That’s what this moment was. It was that feeling of enlightenment. This entire race was a meditation. I was finding myself yet again. And even though I did not succeed in making fire, even though I was unofficially moving forward one step at a time in this race, even though I was all alone with no one to talk to, I was happy. That’s why I do this. That’s why I challenge myself and find myself alone, whether it be in the woods of Vermont of the Hills of Texas, I do it for one reason and one reason only. To find my happy place.

srhg6Almost within an instant of making that connection, my happiness was tested. My concentration had strayed away from watching my every step and in that moment of bliss my foot came smashing down into a patch of prickly pear cacti.  What felt like a 1000 needles pierced my skin, sticking deep within the tips of my toes and the top of my foot. “DAMMIT Josue!!!” That’s the edited version of what I really said. Profanities became my vocabulary for a brief moment, but I would not let this ruin my mood. I couldn’t. This is what I signed up for. This was my choice to take on this race and a few needles in my foot was not going to break me. No. I wouldn’t let it.  So I picked all of them out with as much haste as I could trying not to miss a single one. (Even after a month I still found needles buried deep within my toes.) 1275480_521493091273678_836067679_o Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 8.01.30 PM From there I continued on my way toward that distant cabin that loomed over the cliffside almost mocking me. I needed water bad and that cabin was my source. I needed to pick up the pace. Nearing the last stretch of trail leading to my next challenge Josue started taking us up a very interesting cliffside.  The brush became thicker and I found myself ducking under branches while trying to find the right footing as began to scale my way up the cliffside. I was even faced with having to do some bouldering just to make it to the top. This is so badass, is all I could think. This adventure was proving to be one of the most complex, riveting challenges that I have faced to date. As much as I found my self cursing Josue, I found myself loving the brilliance of his twisted creation. 1271837_521493117940342_264512149_oPlacing my hand on the boulder that protruded from the cliffside I pulled myself up over that last ridge and a feeling of relief swept over me. I made it. Finally, after all those moments of false hope I had arrived at the cabin. I was greeted by a very jolly man who as it turned out was the father of the two boys who had been “taunting” me with their superior fire making skills. Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 7.57.23 PMAs had become the standard at this point I asked him the same question I asked each time I arrived at a challenge. How is Corinne doing, and how long ago had she left. It turned out I wasn’t too far behind but she had left over an hour ago. I really wasted a lot of time because of my absent-minded loss of my knife. I needed to finish the challenges here fast so I can make up more time on the course. Before that though I needed to take care of the most basic of needs. I needed water. I asked where I could fill up my canteens and was pointed over to a cow trough. Are you kidding me? I walked over to it and it was disgusting. Filled with mosquitos and gnats. I turned everything off in my mind and just did what had to be done. I purified over 3Ls of water with my SteriPEN there, drinking one of the liters before finding out what challenges await. Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 8.00.43 PMAlong the way we were supposed to gather Juniper berries and algarita. I had grabbed mine before even leaving the fire-making challenge and stuffed them inside a wrapper from my GU Chomps. After presenting those to the man, I was handed a test all about the qualities of those plants. From the airport to the race Corinne and I had studied the plant guide we were given by Josue. Since finishing graduate school I knew that the less I study something the better I usually do so I only reviewed the material as much as I felt I needed. The real test here was how well do I know my ability to retain information. As I waited for my test to be graded I wondered how I would do. Passing was 7/10…I nailed it. Only missing one question and realizing my mistake before he even told me which one it was. Feeling extraordinarily proud of myself I was ready for my next task. Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 8.00.37 PMWe were to take a few strips of Sotol fibers and we had to soften them up with a rock so we could make it into almost a string-like material.  Then we were to braid them together a total of 3 feet. Having grown up with two older half sisters and a younger sister, I found this to be way too easy. Once I finished I was presented with my beads for completing the first two tasks and I was given my final task before leaving the cabin. Make a Bow. This was it. One of the tasks I had been waiting for. The Bow and Arrow has been one of my favorite weapons since I was a wee little one. I went over to one of the Juniper and found myself the best curved branch I could. I hacked away at it with my KaBar and began to shave off the excess bark. I noticed some of the other racers were taking a significantly large amount of time to craft their bows. I was more concerned with making the time cut-off than anything else so I did not put in the time or effort that I would have liked to but felt I had made a fairly decent bow. I strung it up with some of the orange string I was provided and made my way. Once again, I was all alone. And I felt absolutely epic running along those trails, bow in hand.

To be concluded…

Survival Run: Hunter Gatherer – Camp Eagle: Primal Beings

As I trudged through the river I could see we were nearing the large cabin area, the same place where the race began, I knew the water was about to become deeper and swimming with our logs as opposed to walking with them would become my ultimate challenge. My panic began to rise again. Without the help of Justin Atteberry, whom I met over a year ago when I crewed and played photographer at the Ultimate Suck, I would have probably taken much longer to finish this section of the course, that is if I’d have finished at all. The other racers: Paul Kavanagh, Shannon Hulme, Christian Griffith, and Isaiah Vidal also offered encouragement, which helped me to overcome my newly developed fear. Until that moment, I had no idea how terrified of swimming in a river at night I was. After taking some deep breaths, and eventually calming myself down, I pushed forward.  Justin stayed by my side and helped me through every freak out I had. Every time I felt the seaweed slowly wrap around my torso to weigh me down and hold me back, or I felt it entangling and intertwining itself around my legs – he was there. Every time I began to lose my cool, Justin was there to calm me. I’m very thankful for all he did.

Screen Shot 2013-10-19 at 9.07.14 PMWhat someone in this situation needs to understand is this seaweed was very thick and in many spots completely unavoidable and all there was to light the way were the headlamps of some incredibly skilled, talented, masochistic athletes. As you tread through the dark murky waters barely lit by the moonlight the seaweed would wrap itself around your legs, your waist, your feet and ankles. It felt like it would completely consume me, and yes, I feared it would pull me under and hold me there. Trapped and unable to escape. This was my fear. This was my demon. The density of all the seaweed combined with my fear added an additional element to the already muscle and confidence-sapping challenge of having to swim a mile and a half with a floating log.  By time we had hit the first dam the sun began to rise. My fear faded away and we made up some serious time as Justin and I swam side by side, purposefully swimming longer distances just to avoid any patches of seaweed that we might encounter. We even passed a few racers in the process. It felt good to be back in a secure state of mind. It goes without saying that dark waters really did a number on me. I guess I have something to work on. 

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 11.21.04 PMContinuing down the river we eventually reached the final dam, concluding our swimming adventure. After tossing both logs down together I climbed my way to the ground below, untied my log and carried it over to where the volunteers were waiting for us. Thankfully, there were a couple of metal folding chairs so I could sit down in and reattach my awesome DIY Luna Sandals to my feet feet again. Now that the fabric was wet I made sure to secure the lacing just a slightly tighter than I had earlier. I also took the time to make sure I wouldn’t have to screw around with it later, which was the last thing I wanted to have to do during a 100K race was stop more than I had to. Every time you stop it’s a chance for your body to seize up, so constant movement is key. I collected my bead for successfully completing that terrifying swim down the river and consumed a Clif Bar and a GU packet if I recall. Next, I began my climb up the trail and across the wobbly wooden suspension bridge and followed that same path Shannon and I went on for our “5K Warm-Up.” Again, I found myself running alongside Shannon and we joked about how it was a good thing we turned around when we did the night before, the terrain that started to come up right after that turnaround point was pretty gnarly.  It involved some rock climbing, scaling and lots of bushwhacking.

After going up another one of what seemed like an infinite amount of Texan hills, we finally arrived at the next challenge where the volunteers awaited our arrival. My two concerns were: How far behind from the leader were we? And how long ago did Corinne leave this challenge? I wanted to know if I would be able to realistically catch up to her during the running sections after having so many issues early on. I learned that she wasn’t too far ahead, so I listened to what the challenge was, and without hesitation opened my custom-made ruck, pulled out and opened up the yellow compression sack. This sack exclusively held my random gear such as my SteriPEN, paracord, and the item I pulled out for this challenge, my orange sharpie that I kept with me for moments just like this where memory would be key.

caveentranceOur challenge was to crawl through this very small hole in the ground into a cavern; a very tight and narrow cavern that I am told was littered with snakes, scorpions and who knows what other bugs and such. Fortunately, I was so focused on finding our objective, find six symbols placed throughout the cave, that I never really noticed any bugs or reptiles. I went straight down the cavern and to the left. I snaked my own way through the different levels of the cave until I found myself in the very back where I found the first two symbols. All they symbols were found in pairs. The first four I found within 30 seconds of each other.  Each time I found them I would take my bib off my compression shorts, scribble the symbol onto the back of the bib with my sharpie and continue to hunt for the next ones. The last two were a little more difficult to find, but thanks to Shannon, I found them and made my way out. I ended up sharing my Sharpie with a few people and even left it for Paul to use since he was entering as I was leaving.

photo (7)Upon exiting the cave I removed a couple safety pins and peeled back my bib off to reveal all my drawings and asked the volunteers, “Do you want me to draw them, point to them, or will this suffice?” They looked over the symbols and let me carry on my way. In hindsight, it was pretty funny because you could tell they considered having me point them out but decided not to bother since I had all the correct symbols. The seemed very amused by my tactic for conquering this challenge. I was awarded my FAIL amulet and I was directed to collect a prickly pear cactus pad before the next challenge and went on my way. I was on a mission to catch up with my race partner, Corinne. A lot of the trails followed along a fence line that surely kept us separated from the exotic animals that were hunted on the other side. It was kind of creepy to think about. With every step I had to constantly make sure not to roll my ankles, step on a prickly pear cactus, or stub my toes. It was a constant battle and basically limited me to a cautious jog as opposed to anything that could actually resemble a “run.” When I was not running along the fence line I found myself navigating ravines, climbing over trees and dodging branches searching constantly for the little trail markers to make sure I wasn’t going off path or missing a sneaky turn. I found some of the markers to be extra tricky to spot sometimes. After climbing through a rather heavily covered area eventually I emerged only to find myrself climbing through a bed of prickly pears only to see a Windmill in the clearing at the peak of this hill. There, my next series of challenges awaited me.

841178_521492717940382_2069296530_oAs I walked up to the challenge I could see this was going to reveal another weakness, throwing. Growing up I played a little tee ball and threw around footballs like all kids do, but it became very apparent that my left arm was nothing special, it wasn’t meant to throw, my aim (when it comes to throwing) is just not there. That’s why I strayed further and further away from most American sports and stuck to what I was best at, climbing, swinging, jumping, and flipping. When I saw that we would have to hit one of these three skinny hanging log targets with a requirement of hitting at least one of those targets 3 times out of 7 chances. Immediately, I knew I was probably going to miss out on earning this bead.

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 11.25.18 PMAll positivity escaped me but I found humor in knowing that I wouldn’t succeed. The Volunteers presented me with my first quiz when I arrived. There were three questions asking us about the qualities of a prickly pear cactus and of course now we were also to take out our prickly pear pad which I had already de-needled and we had to turn it into a canteen and prove that we could drink from it. I missed one question on the quiz – no bead. I got out my KaBar and started to clean up my throwing stick just a bit to avoid splinters. When I went to make my first few practice throws at the metal legs of the windmill I was dead on, so I figured after two throws it was time to try my luck. First throw, way off. Second throw a little closer. Third and fourth throws were perfectly aimed just came in a bit low. Finally, I hit one on my fifth throw and it wasn’t even a direct hit, I basically just clipped the edge of the hanging log with my throwing stick. To leave this challenge successful I would have to hit the next two throws dead on. Knowing my abilities and lack of consistency, I had little faith that I would succeed and expressed it very vocally. I know I wasn’t being positive but there is a reason why I got myself into sports such as gymnastics, cheerleading, and now obstacle racing. I suck at throwing sports. Period. So with my awesomely negative mindset I took my last throws. Two more misses and that was it.  I only hit the throwing stick target once – no bead.  All I succeeded at here was making my canteen.

At this challenge checkpoint we were also given the opportunity to refill our water from this giant water collection tank that was filled with mosquitos and who knows what else. Between the quiz and throwing challenge I took the opportunity to rehydrate and fill up.  Thankfully, I had my SteriPEN Freedom with me and I was able to make that water clean and purified in just a short 48 seconds (for each liter that I filled). After filling my steel canteen and my foldable hydration pack, I ate some of the Saquito Chia mix the volunteers offered us and took off with my throwing stick that we were told to keep with us. I also grabbed an Epic Bar to try later. We were also told we were welcome to find another throwing stick later if we would like so I ditched mine and took off. I was now only 10-15 minutes behind Corinne, and I knew I could catch up to her at the next challenge so I took off.

856096_521492617940392_1171662524_oThe next few sections of the course had me cursing Josue and the course markings constantly. No matter how hard I looked or how hard I tried to get some sort of pace going I couldn’t, the course marking were sometimes too high to see. It didn’t help I had my eyes glued to the ground in front of me for fear of wrecking my feet and or ankles in these oh-so-protective barefoot sandals of mine. All of this slowed me down quite a bit, I had to constantly stop to scan the area and make sure I wasn’t missing a trail marker. It’s not that the course was poorly marked, it was very well marked in terms of frequency but too often the markers were either too high to easily see or from the angle I was searching they were just hidden behind a branch or a leaf. I was just not seeing them as easily as I’d have liked. The distance from the Windmill to our next challenge was 4.8 miles and around half way through all the treacherous climbs, rocky descents, and ridge-less ridge traversing, I looked down at the knife sheath that I had fixed to my left calf with paracord and to my absolute horror I discovered that my KaBar was no longer there, the button that holds it in place was undone. Had I left it at the last challenge? Did I lose it along the way? What was I going to do at the next challenge? At that moment all the frustration that had been building up came out and I screamed…”F*********CK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

To be continued…