From Pennsylvania: Todd “Bode” Sailer:
Known for his insane descents in mountain races.
Longest race: 50K mountain trail
Miles 40-45 of the MOAT for me were very unexpectedly some of the smoothest, most fulfilling and glorious of the race. This race had been a struggle.
I had registered for MOAT soon after finishing the Green Monster 50k two months earlier and it would be my first 50 miler. I was so excited to bump up the milage that I rushed back into action which only put me out of commission with knee problems.
While I rehabbed aggressively enough to give it a shot I had my doubts whether my knees would last. In fact during my last run two weeks earlier I had pulled up lame after only 7 miles. Add in the Florida heat and I knew slow and steady gave me my only chance to come home with a buckle. This feeling was only reinforced during the first couple laps of the race due to intense aching and stiffness of the knees as well as what felt like my hamstring popping out while running (I assume from compensating for the kniee) which I had to hold in place while I ran at times.
The negative voices all ultra runners hear during a race had a lot of material to work with on this one.
At times it felt like my prospects for finishing were bleak. I had thought of stopping after the second lap or possibly converting to a 50k to avoid risking aggravating my injuries but in the end I reminded myself I didn’t travel down to Florida for a 50k .
I wasn’t giving up under any circumstances. If they let me keep going; I was going to finish if it took all night. (that dream came true)
I finished the third lap at around 5:30 or 6pm. I wasn’t sure if I would be allowed back out for the fourth and final lap but when the volunteer gave me the go ahead, it was on. Friend and fellow Runhole Jon (the champ in this race) was not going to let me pack it in anyway.
The heat of the day had dissipated. The sun was about to set and a much welcomed coolness was setting in.
Jon got me fired up and filled my water bottles. I refueled and while I usually forego music on the trails this was a time to crank up the itunes running playlist. I was pumped! One more lap and I would make it. As I took off down the trail at a pace I hadn’t seen since the first lap Jon yelled:
“This is it! You’re going to do it!”
After doubting it all day I knew he was right. There was no stopping now. I yelled back “hell yes!” and disappeared down the long grassy path. With the music keeping me motivated (what Philly guy can’t respond to Rocky songs)
I miraculously ran 40-45 at a good clip.
This stage of the race was truly a spiritual experience. The sun was setting at around miles 41-42. It was so beautiful I had to stop and snap a couple pics of it.
After that it was just me and the darkness.
The sky was full of stars. I could see every constellation. I ran between swamps listening to the sounds of various birds and God knows what else that inhabited a geography that was wholly unfamiliar to me.
I heard loud splashing around me as if large creatures were sliding into the swamp from the bank.
(that's because large creatures were sliding into the swamp from the bank)
Had to be gators. A few times I turned to the brush between me and the swamp and saw the reflection of eyes looking back at me. I wasn’t alarmed though.
For some reason I felt very much connected to and at one with the environment. I felt a strange bond with the essence of my humanity as if there was some part of me that had been in similar situations before. Maybe some bastion to the past?
Once I passed the swamps I reached an aid station which was about halfway through the last lap. I laid down on my back to stretch my tight and tired legs. My knees were swollen and weren’t bending very well by this point. No matter. I gazed up, enchanted by the bright stars above.
I knew I would finish now.
I would be the last one to finish in fact. But yet at that moment I felt victorious.
In my mind I had no business finishing this race which was 20 miles over my top distance with no training and two bad knees through exhausting heat.
To me this is the overwhelming and seductive appeal of ultra running. The rewards you gain from being tested to a point you thought was beyond your limits and succeeding simply by refusing to give up are unmatched. I was humbled and grateful in fact for the opportunity.
Advice, Stories, Editorials, Absurd Rants, and Utter Babbling Nonsense from our extensive Runhole team in the field.
13.1mi loop x 4. Mixed terrain around the swamps, forests, including a 3mile section of sugar sand. 70F to 85F and 70% humidity
From Florida: Heather “The Duchess” Hentze:
Team Runhole’s OCR Queen.
Longest race: 50K trail
I felt great after the first 2 laps but struggled on the 3rd. That’s what Jon said would be the “guts” lap before the “glory” final lap.
I was determined to make the 4th lap different.
I set out after a short stop with my “crew” (friends that ran the half earlier in the day that stayed to help me through the duration of my race) to replenish my hydration and nutrition.
I knew I would have company from one of them around mile 48. I was in a good place. As expected, I was excited to be on my last lap, nervous to be out alone knowing I was working against the setting sun and would likely encounter more of the natural obstacles Florida’s trails have to offer (i.e. bobcats, alligators, snakes, bugs, etc.), and unsure of how I would be emotionally knowing that my biggest race to date was within grasp.
I was excited as I entered mile 40, seeing 3 people ahead of me that I was gaining distance on.
I wasn’t going to be alone after all!
That excitement diminished when we hit the rest area and the end of mile 40 and they turned to take the 5 mile loop (of the 50K race they were running, not the 52.4mi course I was on) and I was left alone again to head off in the opposite direction on the 13.1 mile loop.
Mile 40 was tough.The sunlight was diminishing quickly and the reality of being on the course alone in the dark was beginning to set in. Halfway through mile 41 though I was startled as a friendly face in the form of a grown man in a tutu suddenly came up from behind. We chatted; he checked on me and headed off as he had no light source after dark and needed to make time.
I was alone again heading into mile 42 on the long straightaway that seemed endless. I knew that I’d be close to mile 43 as soon as I headed into the turn so my goal was to just get through that long mile.
I also knew I’d be at the aid station again at mile 45 and only another 5k until I had company on my run again for the final stretch.
I kept doing the math to distract myself, calculating distance, pace, replaying the course in my head, trying to take in the fact that every step I took was the last time I’d be in THAT place on THAT course.
Entering mile 43, I started to get emotional. It was growing darker by the minute and I was just trying to soak in the accomplishment ahead of me, the events of the day and then was quickly distracted as I looked ahead.
The bobcat I THOUGHT I saw on my 3rd lap (that I was hoping was just my imagination) was just ahead. Only this time he didn’t dart across the course and disappear, he was lingering ahead. The closer I got the more nervous I became. He hadn’t seen me…my heart was racing. I couldn’t see anyone ahead or behind me on any of the parallel paths.
It was just me. I was alone.
As I got closer he suddenly saw me and darted off. I sped up and realized in all the distraction, I was only a mile from the rest area.
I had entered mile 44...I quickly did the math and knew that once I got to the rest area, I was only 1.5 miles from the next rest area and a 5k away from company.
I swear there were more turns and straightaways than any of the previous 3 laps- the course seemed to be changing and getting longer as the darkness fell… but before I knew it, I was at the rest area.
I had reached mile 45…more miles than I had ever run before…every mile after that was another small victory on the road to my biggest racing accomplishment yet.
On Dec 12, 2015, three Team Runhole members participated in the Masters of all Terrain Trail Ultra in Florida. Each runner was asked to share their experience during the same set of miles in the race: Miles 40-45 of the 52.4mi race. This section starts at the beginning of the final 13.1mi loop of the race.
From Pennsylvania: Jon “Running Jesus” Nicholson:
“Experienced” ultra-runner with recent 8th place in Pine Creek 100K
The first lap was great. The second lap I overheated and rested 20minutes before heading out. The third lap was much better. I was getting stronger.
When I burst through the starting shoot to end the third lap and start the last one, I felt better than I had all day. I decided not to stop and change my socks and refuel.
I didn’t want anything to upset this high.
It wasn’t a runner’s high exactly. It wasn’t a sudden rush at all. I just kept feeling better throughout the day while many around me were slowly fading.
My goal was 10hrs for the race and I knew if I ran around a ballpark 2hr final lap, I would do it easily.
Throughout the year I had been working on energy management: not starting fast and continuing to slow, but instead, being more steady and trying to run negative splits in races. This was my test.
What I thought about in mile 40-45:
My mind wanders. I put my ipod on in the mid-third lap as a boost. I had a specific “Ultra” playlist filled with songs that would lift me, make me smile, energize me. It worked. I passed a number of people on mile 40 to 42, but since there were various distances being raced on the course, I never knew what lap or race they were on. I wasn’t worried about my place in the race either, just focusing on being totally present and the lap I was on.
In my mind I segmented the 13.1mi loop into three sections: 6.5 miles of swamp, 3.5 miles of forest, 3.5 miles of sand and finish stretch.
I had grown to love the swamp:
Soft ground, the ripe thick sour air, and long stretches of straight running with a bit of gravel road at the beginning and end of it.
As I hit mile 43, I felt like I was running 6 minute miles, though I know it was more like 9. Soon I was alone in the long stretch in the swamp. I thought of my friend Jim who passed away and who I loved running with and knew he would have loved this part of the race. I could imagine his big goofy grin as he ran beside me.
Suddenly, ahead of me, two bobcats appeared, perhaps 20 yards up. They ran beside each other in the middle of the path, bounding at a pace slightly faster than me. I picked it up a bit, grinning, thinking of the two of them as Jim and I.
This continued the whole straight stretch of about a mile before the trail turned sharply around a blind corner.
As I approached I had a tiny bit of paranoia that they were just sitting there, waiting for me, so I walked the corner (the last time I would walk that day), and sure enough, the two of them sat in the middle of the path, side by side, staring at me.
I had a whistle in my running vest, but instead I just made a crazy hissing sound instead and they scattered into the brush.
I said goodbye to them (I often talk to myself aloud in races), clapped my hands together, and said: “Let’s finish this.” I started running harder, and repeated my late race mantra:
“Legs strong, mind clear, be present.”
I sped off, passing the aid station on the dirt road without stopping, eagerly awaiting the end of the race but secretly wishing it could go on forever.
These are the moments that connect me to ultras: the quiet loneliness but connection at the same time late in races when you’re left entirely to your self- where you can meditate, ruminate, reflect.
I never zone out. I zone in, let my mind wander where it wishes, focus on the feeling in my legs, imagine myself as a scythe, cutting my way through a field, unstopping, untouchable, like a quiet storm where I am indistinguishable from everything around me, perfectly present.
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