Photo by Dave James
I am so stoked that I had the opportunity to run this years Fort Clinch 100 on awesomely beautiful Amelia Island in northeast Florida! Two years ago I had the chance to come run in Fort Clinch State Park while my fellow local ultrarunning friends were crushing the 100 mile course during brutally hot conditions and I have wanted to return ever since. The course is a 10.2 mile loop of gorgeous, rolling, twisty trails overgrown with oak hammocks, Spanish moss, palmettos, and ferns, rich with insects, arachnids, mushrooms, tons of wildlife, a short beach section and a long pier. The hills are the remnants of older sand dunes and the island is surrounded by tan sandy beach. Having mainly grown up on the coast of Georgia, exploring the many undeveloped barrier islands, this course felt like running through my own backyard. Familiarity with the environment, not getting lost (for once!), and well planned nutrition and hydration made this one of my most successful 100 mile runs.
I went into the race with a few goals in mind: to stay positive, stay in motion, stay focused, and keep nutrition and hydration on point. I also wanted to improve upon the course record of 17:59 set 2 years prior by Grant Maughan but I knew this would hinge on the unpredictable weather. I was nervous about my preparation due to a lack of hitting training goals in the weeks prior to the race, but I felt both fresh physically and mentally relaxed. My last long run had been a few weeks prior in the Grand Canyon where I completed 40 miles of the 46 Rim to Rim to Rim run (the north rim was too icy to complete the trek).
I arrived the night before the race for packet pick up and had an early dinner at 5:30 pm so I would have plenty of time to digest before the morning. My prerace dinner consisted of spinach and kale salad with olive oil sardines and coconut oil for dressing. This is consistent with what I eat normally and is a nice mix of proteins, fats, and nutrients that will not cause bloating and is easily digested. After mixing eight 140 calorie bottles of sports drink, I hung out with fellow local Savannah runners Bren Tompkins and Sara Maltby who were competing in the 50 mile race and fell asleep early on a cot in the back of the ultrawagon.
I woke up at 5:30 for the 7:00 a.m. start. I was planning on skipping a real breakfast and just having a spoon of coconut oil but Bren magically appeared with bacon so I ended up having two slices (thanks Bren!). Sara, Bren, and I caught a ride to the start with Chris who was there supporting Sara and Bren in the 50 mile race. Both races began at the same time so we all toed the line at 6:55 for the prerace announcements and at 7:00:30 we were off. It was tempting to run with those who jetted out in front after the race began but I've learned a few things from prior races and held back for a proper warm up, paying close attention to my heart rate monitor and trying to slowly, evenly increase the rate from 90 to 138 over the course of the next 20 minutes. My plan dictated that I not allow my heart rate to exceed 142 beats per minute (bpm) for at least the first 60 miles.
The first lap was dark under the oak hammocks on the rolling single track and I preceded with caution, paying close attention to the pervasive roots. Two years ago I came out to this race to show support for Sara and Bren (who were then running the 100) and the one lap that I ran I managed to badly sprain a toe just weeks before an important race. I did not want to make the same mistake twice! I ended behind a woman who had great knowledge of the course and she pointed out obstacles along the way. Thanks stranger! I felt warmed up four miles in and since our pace was a little restful at 128 bpm I passed my tour guide and was finally on my own. I would run the rest of the race entirely solo with the exception of a few minutes with other local runner Melissa.
Getting into a groove was slow, there is always some trepidation at the beginning of a 100 mile journey. I went through a mental checklist of physical diagnostics in an attempt to make sure every part was working well and in sync with the rest of my body. I tried to pay intense attention to the trail, breathing, and all of the surroundings. I saw many deer, squirrels, and birds the first loop. It was tempting to jump off trail and run with the deer and I slightly rued the fact that I was running in a race but maintained focus on the goal I had set out to accomplish.
I waited until partially thru the second loop (mile 13) to begin slowly sipping on some sports drink to supplement my energy expenditure. I usually wait at least an hour into long races before consuming anything form of calories so I maintain a nice aerobic fat burning zone. From when I started drinking calories, I tried to maintain a slow steady stream of about 175 calories per hour. I would get about 60 of those calories with spoonfuls of coconut oil and the rest mainly from sports drink with a few nibbles of solid food. When I ran 24 hours at 6 Days in the Dome, I was given the advice by Sharon Gayter of Great Britain to eat at least 1 solid thing per hour, even if it was just a nibble of chip in order to keep digestion in action. I heeded her advice then and have used it ever since to good effect.
The second loop flew by and before I knew it I was in the zone, cruisin along, singing songs in my head, feeling good, staying loose, natural, and relaxed as I danced over the roots and let gravity carry me down the slopes and around the banks of the tight turns. I had a good rhythm going on and was carefully monitoring the status of my stomach, joints, and muscles to deal with any issues quickly. Anytime I would lose focus I would bring my attention back to my surroundings, trying to take in as much as possible, and also be mindful of my breath. I avoided considering for too long how long I would have to maintain the effort of motion and tried to forget about the concept of time.
During the early afternoon, the threat of severe rain or hail seemed as though it had passed, but the humidity was thick and when the sun came out it was downright steamy. This was the most useful time for me to be monitoring my heart rate because I was showing increased exertion running the same speed that I had on prior loops. Whenever my HR exceed 142 bpm I would relax and slow down to keep from getting caught up in a zone that would be unsustainable for long periods. The heat and humidity of the afternoon also affected the rate at with which my stomach was processing liquids- I could feel that despite being thirsty for cold water, I was getting stomach slosh and so I abstained from eating or drinking for about 10 miles from around 1:30-3:00 pm. I instead poured water on my head to cool down and tried to coax out my stomach into motion to keep digestion going. It worked and my stomach slowly evacuated the slosh and I maintained regular peeing every two hours.
In the mid afternoon, I hit the 50 mile mark in 8:20. I still felt good despite the inevitable fatigue and I was happy to being counting down past the halfway mark. I saw Bren and Sara and both had impressive finishes in the 50 mile race, Bren coming in 1st overall and Sara coming in 1st female and improving the course record by over an hour! Congrats! I was a bit jealous of them being finished and being able to sit down when I still had a long way to go but I didn't dwell on it as I continued on.
After another loop I started to feel the fatigue more but I was able to maintain pace through constantly refocusing my effort. I really wanted to finish as much of the run as possible during the daylight hours to minimize the amount of time spent running in the dark which is usually slower. I was still sticking to the fueling plan after the afternoon heat slowly tapered and it worked well for me. I did not let myself consume more than 20 oz of liquid per hour, this being the max that I can absorb in that period of time.
Miles 60-75 were not easy but I was in a good groove and my heart was consistently at ease with little variance on the hills. I saw the most wildlife on these miles, jumping over snakes and sneaking up on deer for entertainment. The sunset was beautiful coming through the trees and I watched it fade behind the clouds over the bay as fog horns sounded from distant ships. What a great place to have a race!
I was happy to make it to about 76 miles before I had to turn on my head lamp and fire up a flashlight with only one more marathon to go. It was also at this time that I finally allowed myself to use caffeine for an added boost. I will not drink any caffeine until the last 1/4 of any long race and I was excited to try out the strong concoction of Asi yaupon tea I had brewed the night prior. In the past I have used coffee and also yerba mate for the caffeine but lately I have been experimenting with the locally harvested wild tea, yaupon, after reading accounts of Native American tribes using the tea to maintain stamina in battle. In addition to caffeine, the infusion also has stimulants in the form of theobromines and also healthy phytonutrient flavonol, which improves cardiovascular circulation. Downing a healthy portion at mile 75 provided a much needed mental boost and kept me moving strong into the night. I was also surprised that I did not see a jump up in my heart rate, odd considering I had consumed roughly 150 mg of caffeine at one time.
With the end in sight (sortof) I wanted to fly but held myself back for miles 80-90 and at mile 85 had my final pit stop to freshen up, relube, eat some coconut oil, down some strong yaupon tea, and take a short walk break for about 250 meters. This turned out to be the only time I walked for more than a few feet during the entire race. I was really stiff after stopping for a minute and it took me quite a while to accelerate from a slow shuffle back up to running speed.
Once I hit mile 90 in 15:18, I knew it would be possible, but not easy, to finish in under 17 hours. I was excited by the prospect of besting my time goal of 17:45 and focused on putting max effort into the last loop. I told myself to stick to the 10 min/mile pace until mile 95 and then I would be able to drop the backpack I had been wearing all day, take off my shirt that had been chafing me, and run free to the finish. Arriving at my aid station for the last time, I threw off the pack and my shirt, chugged 4 oz of yaupon tea, and hauled ass outta there with just my headlamp and two flashlights. It felt great to be closing in on the finish and three lights made the trail and roots easy to navigate. My GPS hit mile 100 as I left the trail for the short road section as soon as I no longer needed to pay strict attention to the ground to avoid obstacles I pushed it hard. This was the most amazing feeling to run mile 101 in 7 minutes and I experienced an interesting dissociation from my body where it simply felt like I was flying thru the cool coastal night air. It was all I could do to maintain the pace and when the mile ended on the pier I just smiled and relaxed into a relatively easy 8:35 pace until I crossed the finish line.
This was one of the most successful races I've ever ran. It takes a long time to figure out the hundred mile distance because you can't run them every week to try out different strategies but I finally feel competent at planning and execution. It was great to finish without a single blister, yet again, in my tried and true Luna sandals. Overall, this race was a successful assimilation of the many things that I have learned about myself over the course of my running 7 prior 100 milers. I am so excited to finally have a solid win at this distance after so many near misses in the past. I cannot thank enough Caleb Wilson (facebook.com/LlamaRunningCompany) for directing this awesome race, Luna Sandals (lunasandals.com) for getting me registered and providing footwear, Asi Yaupon tea (yaupontea.com) for providing me free tea to fuel the run, and the incredible volunteers who took time out to support all of the runners over the course of the weekend. Thanks, I will be back!
What I wore:
Luna Leadville trail sandals with tech strap
Injinji cotton toe socks
Brooks running shorts
Ultimate Direction AK race vest
Garmin 310xt gps watch with HR monitor
What I consumed:
5x 140 calorie bottles of Vitargo S2 carbohydrate drink (700 kcal)
7x 100 calorie spoons of coconut oil (700 kcal)
2x Ensure active heart health vanilla milkshake (260 kcal)
3x 5 oz portions of max strength Asi yaupon loose leaf tea brewed in french press (150 kcal)
1/4 gallon unsweetend coconut/almond milk blend (140 kcal)
6x candied ginger bites (65 kcal)
10x Hammer endurolyte extreme (every 1.75 hours)
10x master amino acid pattern protein for fast recovery (every 1.75 hours)
3x mini coconut macaroons (210 kcal)
4x fig newtons (220 kcal)
1x avacado (250 kcal)
Total calories = 2,695 = 160 kcal/hour