My 2020 Tunnel Hill 100 Mile training began in November 2019. Ending this season of a primarily 70.3 distance triathlon focus I ran the Indianapolis Marathon. Respectively, I finished in 2:37 from running on average 22 miles per week (with a lot of swimming and cycling). After much thought I decided in 2020 to switch from Ironman 70.3 racing to focus on the marathon. My goal was and still is to run Olympic Trials Qualification in 2023. I had decided to leave my bike and swim goggles behind for a new adventure. Sadly, with everything going on in the world due to corona virus this year both my spring, and fall marathon plans were cancelled. In July of 2020 I had set sights to run my first ultra marathon. For those of you who don’t know what an ultra-marathon, this is any running race over 26.2 miles. I had chosen the 100-mile distance at Tunnel Hill on November 14.
My sixteen week build into Tunnel Hill was the most consistent training I had ever done in my life. Monday through Friday I’d wake up at 4am to run 16 miles before school, then I would run 8 miles after school. All of these runs were what I classify as aerobic endurance. On Saturday’s I would run really long at a speed faster than goal 100-mile race pace. These long runs ranged from 32-40 miles. On Sunday’s I would follow up with a 26.2 mile run faster than race pace again. I repeated this cycle A LOT. Typically, I was running hard for three weeks followed with a de-load week. I had two key workouts that gave me confidence. On Labor Day weekend I ran a double marathon (52.4 miles) time trial in 5:53. Then two weeks before Tunnel Hill I ran 50 miles in six hours, and I followed up the next day with a three-hour marathon; this was wrapping up a 200-mile week. Over this four month build I averaged right around 170 miles per week. Getting this fitness level so unnaturally high required me to forfeit my life to my own training and nearly injuring myself several times. I had made more sacrifices than ever before in my life for this race, and my social life was nonexistent. Everything was surrendered to running. I had the attitude of whatever it takes.
When my 14-day taper started I was blown away. Everyday I felt a little fresher and faster. Finally, race weekend came, and everything went according to plan. Race day went very smooth; I had woken up around 3:15 to start my day and by then time Logan, Jared, Cole, and I left the hotel I was excited to compete. Up until I FaceTimed my mom twenty minutes before the race I was completely calm. However, as we walked to the start my nerves settled. Jared said “this is a day of pacing, not racing”; he was on the spot about that statement.
As the race started my body felt great. I had chosen to run in the Nike Alpha Fly, wrapping around them were Salomon high trail gaiters, I wore Smart Wool PHD performance socks, Rabbit FKT shorts, and finally in my hands were 22 oz Nathan bottles. My nutrition consisted of birthday cake flavored GU gels, Honey Stinger waffles, Cliff Block Chews, bananas, uncrustable PB&J’s, Powerade Zero with four teaspoons of salt, and a few shots of pickle juice. My race plan was 3:05, 3:05, 3:00, and 2:57 with a goal finishing time of 12:07
During the first hour of race my GPS watch was losing signal and throwing my pace off; it had said I was running either 9 minute miles or 2 minute miles. For the next 11 hours I had to base my effort off feel. Since I got my first GPS watch in high school I have been married to looking at it. I went out running at a warm up pace, my first few miles were around a 7:40 minute per mile average. The first quarter of the race when exactly as planned. The guys were at every aid station; I could tell early on we were a unit on a mission. I am a true believer that having positive thoughts from the second a race starts all the way to the finish is key. I kept telling myself I feel fast, and the pace felt like I was walking. Just having a continuous conveyer belt of positive thinking is half of the game. Negative thoughts or doubt do not own any real estate in my head.
After I crossed Vienna Park for the first time I went down to Tunnel Hill; this is a slight downhill part of the course. Since my watch wasn’t working correctly I was running faster than I had intended. My plan was to run the first half in 6:10; that is a 7:20 pace, but since I didn’t know how fast I was running I was splitting 6:40 miles… yikes. It was a down and back through Tunnel Hill. When I ran back to Vienna Park for the second time I was halfway. Anyway, 50 miles down and 50 miles to go! I had run the first half in 5:49. Because of my GPS issues I was 20 minutes too fast. *insert sweaty face emoji* However, I knew this wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle. To be completely honest, I had the thought going through my head I was capable of running under 12 hours. Positive thinking goes a long way in endurance events.
Miles 50-75 I ran a more conservative pace. Also, this is when some cramps started occurring. I stopped the cramps from eating bananas, drinking pickle juice, and sipping on my 22 ounce Powerade that had four teaspoons of salt in it. I only carried water in my bottle, I sipped on my nutrition at the aid stations from my crew. Every time I started going through a rough patch I repeated to myself of a few things. First, I reminded myself I had trained for these dark moments. I continued to eat. I was taking in a gel or a block shot every three miles at that point. Then I would just try to increase my stride a little more, focus on higher knees, and kick back farther. A friend of mine told me whenever I started to feel down during my race to eat as much food as possible. I remember during the turn around at 62.5 miles I downed a Gu and a Block Shot back to back; that’s 350 calories and nearly 75 grams of carbohydrates. Most recommend 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour. Thankfully, I can eat, digest food, and still manage to run well without my heart rate spiking.
When I came up at Vienna Park for the third time I took my headlamp. The race clock read nine hours and eleven minutes. As I am getting my aid from my crew I look at Cole, and he says “you need a 2:55 split.” Then I look at Jared and he says “you know what you have to do.” Finally, Logan gets my attention then says to me “whatever it takes.” This short moment between the four of us was something I will never forget. Over nine hours into the run is when my race began. The war against myself had started. I spent the past sixteen weeks of my life training for the final quarter of this run.
Going back down to Tunnel Hill every fellow racer was cheering for me, thank you everyone. I apologize for not saying anything back, I knew I had to conserve as much energy as possible. Thirty minutes go by then the rain starts; it poured for a few miles. Thankfully, the rain stopped. Now, it was time to turn on my headlamp, and run into the night. I was running a ten-mile stretch where I would not see my crew. I came through the tunnel and approached the guys at mile 85; at this point it is pitch black. After this I make my final turnaround then come back to my crew at mile 90. This is when shit started to hurt. My crew gave me my tank with a new bottle, I ate a banana, had a big gulp of my nutrition drink then I was off. I asked them how fast I had to run. Logan and Jared said “you have to cook.” Cole said this was it, my negative split moment. For the next seventy-five minutes I was running alone chasing that 12:07 to the finish line. Reminding myself whatever it takes.
Thirty to forty minutes after I left my crew I started to hallucinate. I saw a guy at the end of a bridge looking down checking his watch with a headlamp on. However, when I got to the end of the bridge no one was there. I reached the 97-mile aid station, and I looked down at my watch for the race time. This is the moment when I knew I wasn’t going to break the record I had set out on. I’m not one to ever give up, but I would’ve had to run my final three miles in sixteens minutes for this to happen. So, I made the decision just to finish this race, and enjoy the final miles. I had nothing else to prove to myself. After twenty minutes I ran up on Cole and I asked him about three times if I was at mile 99; he wouldn’t tell me.
A few minutes goes by, and I can eye the finish line. It was the most rewarding sight I had ever seen in my entire life. I crossed the finish in 12:19:54. This time made me the second fastest American to run 100 miles on an unpaved surface. I couldn’t believe in my first ultra-marathon I ran 100 miles and came up 12 minutes short of the American Record. After crossing the finish line, I celebrated with my friends and my mom via FaceTime. The adrenaline was pumping through my veins for ten minutes until I sat down. My legs felt like they had snapped, and my body felt like I ripped it into half. For the first time in my life I left everything on the course. I did not regret going out at American Record pace and falling off. A few minutes later we decided I better get back to the hotel. My crew had to carry me into the car. I think if most people would’ve felt the way I felt they would be on their way to the emergency room. For the next two days I couldn’t stand up or walk without assistance.
Words cannot express how thankful I am for my crew. The guys were so incredibly vested in my run by doing everything possible to make sure I was running fast. Afterwards they made sure I was taken care of by carrying me into the hotel. I had never been in so much pain in my life.
I want to thank everyone for following along on race day and reaching out to me afterwards. This day was a dream come true to me. On May 1st 2021 I will be targeting the 100-mile treadmill world record that is 12:09:15. I want to run the 100 miles under 12 hours. Also, I will be returning to Tunnel Hill this November. Again, thank you for supporting my running endeavors. Normally, after my final race of the season I am fatigued physically as well as mentally. This offseason is different; the flame is burning hotter now than it ever has before. I am ready to get back on the roads doing my favorite thing. Whatever it takes.