I had no business running this race…
The Daytona 100 is a 100 mile race that starts on Atlantic Beach in Jacksonville, Florida, and finished in Ponce Inlet (just south of Daytona). You are given the option to run it crewed or uncrewed (I ran uncrewed) and you have 30 hours to make it to the finish.
4 weeks prior to the Daytona 100, I ran the Tunnel Hill 100 Mile Trail Race. My training was not great the 6 months before Tunnel Hill. I did complete a Spring 100 miler, but after that I got into lifting heavy. I am 6’7” and I bulked up from 266lbs to 285lbs. I was leaner but carrying a lot more upper body weight; not ideal for running but I did enjoy the break from running and the change in routine, okay and how I looked in tight t-shirts. Though, when it was time to buckle down and train, I could not stay healthy. I was essentially sick and off and on antibiotics for 60 days going into Tunnel Hill and did not train. That bulk I put on got considerably flabby and I entered Tunnel Hill at 288lbs.
Tunnel Hill did not go well.
I only made it 76 miles at Tunnel Hill. My legs were failing me, but it was my stomach that ultimately did me in as I did not keep food down the last 4+ hours. After that race, I had lost a lot of the skin on both forefeet and had several bad blisters as well as a severely swollen left foot and strained right knee. I kept off my feet as much as possible the next few weeks. I was not considering the Daytona 100 and and I figured my ultra running days would be over for 6+ months.
10 days before the Daytona 100, I started to feel a bit recovered. Most of my blisters were healed, my knee was no longer hurting, my foot was about 50% better, and I had lost 12lbs. I started to consider the Daytona 100. On one hand, I was not fully recovered and if I attempted it, I’d be in by far the worst shape and condition I’ve been in going into any race. I’d not even run a 5k in this type of shape and condition before, let alone 100 miles. On the other hand, if I did not start the race, there was a 0% chance of finishing. I thought that, though finishing would realistically be unlikely, there was a chance that if I could get through the first half feeling decent, my experience could pull me through to a finish.
One week before the Daytona 100, I decided I was in!
The Race Plan
Start slow. Slow down. Slow down more. Keep slowing down until I finish. That is humorous, but it was essentially my plan. I wanted to make sure to work in walking from the start of the race, and walk about 1/2 mile every 3 miles through 40, and then with to 5 minutes of jogging and 5 minutes of power walking for as long as I could keep that up. I figured the generous amount of planned walking would save my legs and allow me to keep a decent pace well past 50 miles (spoiler alert – that did not prove to be true).
I planed to eat 100-125 calories of gels/blocks/etc each hour and drink another 25-50 calories per hour, then add 200-250 calories at the aid stations (every 10 miles-13 miles) for the first 50, and then start to consume 300-500 calories at each future aid station. I planned on drinking 30 ounces of fluids per hour.
I had a change of socks and shoes at mile 30, a wider pair of shoes anticipating feet swelling, to change into, as well as my night gear and shirt change. I then had another change of socks, shorts and shirt at mile 60 along with trekking poles, if needed (they would prove to be very much needed).
Well… at least the first few miles went well. A TON of runners went out fast. I settled into a pace around 11:30 per mile and enjoyed the first few miles as I chatted with fellow runners. The first few miles had a few turns. Crews for crewed runners were providing aid to their runners as early as mile 1. I did start in a jacket, and one of the all-time great ultra runners, Harvey Lewis, spotted me wearing it at mile two and suggested I take it off. Good call Harvey. I was beginning to sweat too much. I found a crew of someone near me and tossed it to them, walked for a few minutes, then picked back up around a 11:20 pace through mile 10.
Side Note on Harvey Lewis: He is a true Champion of the sport! His Fiancé was running and was about a mile behind me all through mile 50, until she smoked me. Harvey crewed her, and so about every 3-4 miles I would see him just getting setup for her to come by. Harvey offered encouragement and support to every single runner. There was an un-manned aid station with jugs of water laying around and Harvey picked up a jug and started filling everyones bottles. That type of love of sport and just love of fellow man to be relentlessly supporting everyone was inspiring. Fellow runners, be like Harvey, get out there to a race and be an encourager; that positive energy, even just for a moment, can fuel a runner for miles.
Interestingly, four of the runners that I started chatting with at the very first mile ended up settling in near me by mile 10, and we’d be back and forth for the entire race, and we’d all finish within minutes of each other. Typically, you don’t settle in around the people you’ll finish near until the last 20-30 miles.
Back to the race…
I found my mind was in it early. I was focused but also really enjoying myself. It was also the most social group of runners I’ve been around in a race, and whereas I thought having everyones crew stopping every few miles for them would be annoying, it was good to keep seeing some of the same people and engaging in short friendly banter. Also, the weather was perfect! 65 and partly sunny the whole time.
As I got through mile 10, I was making good time, but I was already noticing that I was feeling a bit more fatigued that I should be and already taking more walking breaks than planned. Nevertheless, I was clipping off miles at a good pace, power walking during my walk breaks at a very fast pace and continue that through to mile 20.
Miles 20-28 went pretty well. I had kept the same pace that I establishes around mile 10 and I found myself passing runner after runner. I came through 25 miles in just under 5:30. I was starting to get optimistic about the race and was doing the math on a sub 24 hour 100. That was short lived. By mile 28, though still going at a good pace, I started to feel way more fatigued than I should, and I also started to feel the skin on both forefoot, that had not healed 100%, start to peel off. Things were about to get interesting.
My fellow experienced Ultra Runners know this, there is usually a distance in a 100 mile race that we know we will almost always get to without major issues, and from there on the battle begins. I am always able to cruise through 38-42 miles, at which point I start to slow considerably, but in every 100 I have run, official race or solo 100+ adventures, I can get past 65 miles before I really have to battle. This point came at mile 30 for me at Daytona.
I got to the aid station at mile 30, and I was done! Beside the blisters and some bleeding on my feet, nothing was hurt, but my legs were done and my energy was low. I took a long 10+ minute break at this aid station. I got some calories in me. Mentally, I was still sharp and upbeat, smiling, joking, dancing. I know there are lows ultra runners go through, sometimes multiple times, in 100 milers and bounce out of them, but I knew this was different. My body was done. D. O. N. E. Done! But hey, this is when the fun starts. Time to go to war, battle every step, and see how far I can make it. Gone was the sub 24 hour finishing goal. Heck, gone was the finishing goal. The goal now was to keep moving forward until I finished or they dragged my body off the course.
I stood up after my long break at mile 30, legs stiff as can be from the break, put a smile on my face, and soldiered on.
It took me a bit to get moved after having sat down so long. To make things worse, the course was going through St. Augustine in which a holiday parade had just ended and people were all over the sidewalks and roads. Then, another problem came up, I could not run. My legs were truly done. They had no bounce, and pushing off my forefoot and toes was causing considerable pain and would lead to significant swelling. From here on, I would have to walk. Luckily, at 6’7”, I have one heck of a power walk. On flat ground, I can walk close to a 12 minute mile, and comfortable a 13:15 or so. But, could I power walk 70 miles? Honestly, I had no clue, but onward I went.
Each step was a battle and brought not what I would call pain but, “extreme discomfort.” However, I was making good time and keeping all of my miles under 13 minutes from 31-39. Mile 39 was the last time that we’ve be off of A1A until mile 95. Heading into and out of the mile 40 checkpoint, I started to pass several of the runners that went out too fast and a few that had started to walk a bit. While I was only walking, my walk was substantially faster than anyone else walk, and their run not much faster than my walk.
Miles 40-50 were one of my better stretches. At mile 30, my body was done. However, since then, nothing had gotten worse, and that provided an odd comfort that helped me push myself a bit more. I kept on power walking, slowing a bit, but keeping the miles under 14 per mile. I wanted to get to mile 50 before it got dark and then take a break and get some food in me.
I got into mile 50 in 11:20.
At mile 50, I took a 25 minute break. I closed my eyes for a few minutes and focused on my breathing. I focused on what was ahead. I was also waiting for a grilled cheese to be made for me, but both times they made one, someone else took it, so I gave up on the grilled cheese. Then I put on my night gear (headlamp, red light blinking reflective vest and reflective stripes on my legs and arms), and headed into the early evening.
The long break, though needed, did stiffen me up. From this point on, any time I’d stop, even if just for a few seconds, it would take a few minutes to get going again. The next 10 miles I was all alone. Those who left mile 50 before me were pushing on well ahead of me, and those I had passed going into mile 50 had dropped or fallen back further. This was a section that was also partially on the side of a high speed road, so I had to stay alert. By mile 52, I was back to my sub 14 per mile power walking pace and I was able to hold that through around mile 55, but then I once again hit a low.
Around mile 56, for the first time, my mind was not sharp. I had now been on my feet for nearly 14 hours. I usually stay mentally in it and alert the full 100 miles and that is something that usually sets me a part from most runners; you’ll usually see me joking and laughing and smiling just the same at mile 90 as I am at mile 10. But, I was fading. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I thought perhaps I was low on my calories. The early aid stations had limited or no food and so I hadn’t taken in as many calories through the first 40 miles as planned and I thought maybe that was catching up with me.
I did not panic. I just focused on getting myself to the mile 60 aid station and I’d then rest, get food in me, and reassess after that.
I hobbled into mile 60. This was the first aid station with energy and with multiple people working it. It was much needed. I was greeted as I entered the aid station by a veteran ultra runner. He helped me work through what I was feeling. Besides my feet, I was not injured. My body had quit on me at mile 30, but it hadn’t gotten much worse. It had to be calories. Again, I asked for a grilled cheese and this time I got one. It hit the spot. I also had a few slices of bacon. Then, I reached into my bag of goodies (salt tablets, electrolyte capsules, Motrin, caffeine pills) and took two caffeine pills for a total of 200mg. That is a lot, but I needed the jolt. I took about 20 minutes at this stop, then I headed back out.
I started to use my trekking poles. I had never used them more then 30 miles, and that was a trail ultra in the mountains, but my legs were shot and I thought I could utilize my upper body strength and take some pounding off my legs. The poles do slow me down a bit but the trade off is worth it. The best I could do at this point was a 15 minute mile, but I’d take 15 minute miles all day at this point. Despite the long stops and slower pace, I was still about 2 hours under the cutoff pace.
The trekking poles were helping. Much like the previous 10 miles, besides seeing the crews of other runners, I did not see other runners. I did not mind. It was peaceful as it was getting past 10pm at night. I then started to go by some bars. The drunken patrons were very confused as to why they saw runners and walkers in headlamps and reflective gear going by every few minutes. Similar to the previous 10 mile stretch, I was able to push a good pace through the first 5-6 miles and then I started to struggle. Mile 66 I started to struggle to hold a 15 minute per mile pace. I was getting a bit unstable on my feet and wandering a bit from side to side of the sidewalk. It again became a struggle to get myself to the next aid station at mile 71.
I got into mile 71 just before midnight in 17:58. There were picnic benches at this aid station and I sat down at one for about 15 minutes. Another long stop. I ate several pieces of bacon, a few donut holes, and took another caffeine pill. When I stood up to head out, it was a real struggle. The next mile took me around 23 minutes. I fought through that mile. Getting into a rhythm was no longer going to happen, but I just kept pushing on as best I can. I was able to get back down to 16 and 17 minute miles for the next several miles. I did eventually see some other runners in this section, passing three people who all ended up dropping out at the next aid station.
I was now official chasing the cutoff.
While I was putting in some 15-16 minute miles, most my miles were closer to 20. I had built a nice time cushion earlier, but it was gone. By mile 77 I knew I no longer had room to slow down, at all. I had to keep up my pace or I’d miss the cutoff. Keeping the same pace is not unreasonable, though it is unlikely.
I pushed on towards the mile 81 aid station. Slowly, eventually, barely, I wobbled into mile 81. This was the last time I would be able to sit down for a few minutes. From here on, I’d not be able to stop much and I had to keep my miles under 20 minutes. I took a few minutes at the aid station, then got up to answer the final bell.
No more stopping. No more resting. 19 miles to go.
For the first time in 50 miles, I had people with me. As is often the case in 100 mile races, a few of us had ended up together. A gentlemen from Canada, Chris, was side by side with me and would remain that way until near the end. Two other men and two women were within a half mile. Being that I knew the area, people were following me. Being the leader, setting the pace, all be it a very slow pace, helped keep me going. I was able to drop my pace below 20 minutes per mile, below 18, and around 15 per mile for several miles in a row.
My legs shot. Energy gone. Feet bodied with blisters. Hands bleeding from blisters form using my trekking poles. I kept on pushing, one step at a time.
Each mile seemed to take forever. The sun was starting to come up. This was the longest section between aid stations, 14 miles. I know this stretch well and have run it 100+ times, but every part of it seemed 10 times longer than it had any other time I had run down this road. As I got past mile 90 and was still making good time, I knew I had more than enough time to finish, it was just a matter of surviving.
You would think that, at mile 90, with “just” 10 miles to go, that I’d feel like I had it in the bag, but that was not the feeling. The last 10 miles were going to take me 3+ hours. A lot could happen. I started to keep my head down, focusing on my feet and each step.
I made it to the 95 mile checkpoint with 4 other runners. I stopped to refill my water and all 4 of them went out together for the last 5 miles. I took about 5 minutes at the stop and headed out alone.
Mile 96 was mostly downhill. I was not just swinging my legs forward and dragging them along as best as I could, but I was pushing myself. I did mile 96 under 15 minutes, and mile 97 under 14 minutes, my fastest mile in the past 20+ miles. Around mile 98, I turned onto the beach for the final stretch.
With two miles to go, I took out my phone and sent messages to my family as well as posting on social media that I was at mile 98 and, excitedly, that I was going to do it. That excitement lead me to another fast mile, at which point some of the other runners came into my site. Then, it happened.
I stopped being able to support myself. My trekking poles were the only thing holding me up. If I did not have them, I would not have been able to keep going. I was putting almost all of my weight on my poles and using my upper body to pull myself forward. My hands and arms were cramped up from having to use them so much with the poles. I had more than enough time, but it was a struggle. I could see the final turning point, but it never seemed to get closer as the sun beat down on me on the beach. Just moments ago I had envisioned a victory lap type last mile, but not I was in a battle just to finish.
Slowly. Painfully, I inched forward, eventually turning off the beach, and working my way up the final 1/4 mile….and across the finish line.
I did it.
When I finish most of my ultra’s, I don’t have much of a reaction. I never impress myself much. I just smile, thank those around, take my medal, and head home. But this time, for really the first time finishing an ultra, and for the first time in life in a long while, I was proud of myself.
This was the hardest I had to work to finish a race. As detailed as my race recap was, it was tough to really explain just how defeated I felt at mile 30, and just how much discomfort I was in every step, mile after mile, hour after hour, and I just left going.
I started the race in the worst shape I had been in, in the worst condition, sick and under trained. I had no business doing it. Not even I thought I could do it. But, I did it.
At my very worst, I gave my best. I am a finisher.