Thursday, May 21, 2009

from the archives: 2007 pioneer memorial 100 mile trek

with the 15th edition of the pioneer memorial trek coming up this weekend, decided to post my report from the 14th edition held in 2007. this report was originally posted on and runners world on-line forums. an abridged verision of the race report appeared in the summer 2007 edition of ultrarunning magazine.

here are some photos from the final day.

14th Biennial New York Pioneer Memorial 100 Mile Trek
Memorial Day Weekend, May 26-28, 2007

Day One: Crocheron Park, Queens
Day Two: Alley Park, Queens
Day Three: Kissena Park, Queens

This 3 day event was my first foray into the world of multi-day races. Not only was this event a first for me, it was also my first time running back-to-back ultras. While I’ve done a marathon and half marathon back to back (including long runs of 15 miles the day after a marathon), these would be my first back-to-back 50ks. I was confident that I could finish day one and complete at least most of the second day, but beyond that it would be terra incognita.

The 100 mile trek is three separate races of 33.333 miles each, spread across three different municipal parks in Queens, New York. In conjunction with the 100 mile trek, a separate 50k race was held each day. Individuals could sign up on race day and for ten dollars run the 50k on the same course the we competed on in the 100 mile trek. To be eligible for individual race day awards, or points toward the grand prix series, a runner had to complete all three days. The lowest cumulative time for all three races would win. Except for the lingering effects of an ill-timed tetanus booster on Thursday morning, namely a swollen left arm at the injection site and the lymph nodes under that arm, I was in great shape. I took two extra strength Tylenols to deal with that soreness.

Day One: Crocheron Park, Queens

I drove down to Crocheron Park with my friend Rob. He had pre-registered for the Trek but hadn’t gotten in very much training leading up to it. His plan was to run day one, then see if he felt up for days two and three. If he only did day one, it would kick off his training cycle for the 24 hour Around the Lake ultra at the end of July. Our friends Emmy and Kate were in Burlington to run the Vermont City Marathon on Sunday. Emmy planned to volunteer on day three of the Trek. In fact, when we arrived the first thing the race director, Rich, said to us was "Emmy called me and said she would volunteer on Monday." To which I replied, jokingly, "Rich, if she shows up on Monday, she’ll probably run the 50k."

We walked up a steep concrete staircase to reach the staging area. Rob said, "don’t worry, the hills aren’t this bad." While true, it didn’t make the significant hill on the course - that particular one - any easier to climb lap after lap. But the terrain was the least of our worries. It was sunny and at least 80 degrees at the start. Then it worked up to a high of 91 during the race. The last two marathons I ran in such hot conditions, Boston and Delaware in April and May of 2004, resulted in consecutive personal worst performances, 3:55 and 4:03, respectively. More ominously, each became essentially a death march by mile 20. So I dreaded the prospect of a repeat performance under similar conditions.

Our drop bags were spread out on a series of park benches spaced between two wooden gazebos on the northern end of the hill. The lap counters were located in the first gazebo and, before the benches with our drop bags, was the official aid station. The course consisted of a short loop of the hill followed by 34 laps of the rambling 0.9709 loop of the park. The 50k runners had a different starting line to adjust for the distance, but ran the same main loop. Before we started, ultrarunning legend Ted Corbitt briefly spoke to us about the ultrarunners to whom the day’s memorial awards were dedicated. We also took a group photo of the twenty participants. The short loop to adjust our mileage was tough because we ran the hill twice in the first few minutes. Once on the main loop we passed numerous little league games in progress on fields, as well as a section of tennis courts, and an official park "comfort station," situated directly on the course.

But the strangest and most interesting site those first few laps was undoubtedly the buxom bikini model posing at the gazebo just past our drop bags. I knew I couldn’t be seeing things, or hallucinating, that early in the race. So I picked up my pace and ran the second lap much faster than anticipated, just to make sure I hadn’t been seeing things the first time around. And this time I saw the photographer as well as the model. Aha - that explained it?! So for the first 10 laps I amused myself by catching a glimpse of her as I headed of on each new lap. One of the funnier anecdotes the following day was how we all kidded Rich because he was the only one who HADN’T seen the model doing her thing that day!

I had no preset plan in mind other than to run conservatively and get myself back out there to run on day two. The only significant strategy that I hoped to follow was get out in front early, try and lap as much of the field a couple of times, and then hold on as best I could. I ran the first 10 laps, including the initial short loop - roughly the first ten miles - in a split of 1:26:47. I finished 20 laps, again including the initial short loop, in 2:55:26. In those first twenty laps I was in third place. I had lapped the field at least twice and now had to see if I could hold on to that lead. Then next 10 laps witnessed a drop in my pace and I finished 30 laps in 4:50. It took just short of two hours to complete those 10 laps. Toward the end of thirty laps I was caught by the lead female runner, Sylvie Boisvert.

With only four laps left, I decided it was more important to conserve energy and included walking breaks in each loop. I finished the last 4 loops in 47 minutes, for a first day total of 5:36:56 - fourth overall. Phil McCarthy and Byron Lane, the overall winner of the 13th edition of the 100 mile Trek, had run together for the entire race. Phil took first place, with Byron a couple of minutes behind for second. Sylvie finished in third.

After Rob finished, we hung out with Nick Palazzo. He had just done a chunk (50+ miles) of MMT 100 two weeks earlier, and would run the 50k tomorrow in Alley Pond. A twelve time finisher of the Vermont 100, this year he would volunteer at an aid station, as well as run a bit ahead of dusk to hang glow sticks! Rob had a tough day out there, but finished in just over 7 hours. While not closing the door entirely, it wasn’t likely he’d be back tomorrow. But this was a solid long run for him and a good start to his training for the 24 hour run in two months.

Day Two: Alley Park, Queens

Conceding to a rare moment of pre-race hunger, I actually ate a peanut butter sandwich before I got in the car to drive down to Alley Park for the second day of the 100 mile trek. This morning the soreness in my arm was gone, but the swollen lymph node lingered. So I took another two extra strength Tylenols before the race. I had some slightly sore toes, but no blisters or other injuries to speak of following the first day. But when I got the park, all the bench space was taken so I was the first runner to make his camp on the grass.

I had also forgotten my bib from day one, so Rich razzed me a little before giving me another one - number 21 - which I consider my lucky number, so it brought a smile to my face. Once again Ted spoke briefly about the ultrarunners that the day’s race was dedicated to. Then we set off. Today’s course was 33 loops of a 1.0123 park road, with two significant hills. The initial loop was slightly short to adjust for the distance. Instead of fields filled with little leaguers, these fields were filled with weekend warriors playing softball - and large families having Memorial Day weekend picnics. Race day temperatures again lingered in the 80s - with lots of sunshine.

I ran the first 10 laps in 1:29, which included the slightly shorter first lap. But today, whether it was the exhaustion from day one creeping up on me, or the effects of all the heat and sun, my perceived effort seemed much harder. I reached 20 laps in 3:09:51, the second ten laps in an hour and 40 minutes and now I was starting to struggle. I was still in third place behind Phil and Byron at that point. I finished 30 laps in 5:11:40, taking just over two hours to run the third 10 laps. At that point I walked the one large hill at the start of the loop, but managed to run the second one throughout the day. I finished the last three laps strong, crossing the finish in 5:48:40, for third place, behind Phil and Byron, respectively. I had gained enough time on Sylvie to move into overall third place for the combined two days. But Sylvie herself had dropped to third woman on day two, behind Shishaldin Hanlen and Admas Belilgne, the winner of the 13th edition of the Trek.

Day two featured pizza as the post-race meal. I was so hungry that I wolfed down three slices before I even sat down and took off my running shoes and wet clothes! Better yet, we were all given Chinese food take-out menus to select a dish each for tomorrow’s post race celebration! My choice was beef with string beans. Looking ahead to tonight’s meal, when I called my wife to tell her I had finished, she asked if there was anything special I felt like eating. So I nonchalantly mentioned how good the thought of a Dunkin Donut sounded. Around the dinner table that night, my wife and daughter had dinner of Chinese food and I ate five jelly donuts. They had brought me home a dozen Dunkin Donuts. Our family wouldn’t win any healthy eating prizes this weekend.

Day Three: Kissena Park, Queens

The final day had various aches catch up to me. Still lingering was the soreness in my lymph nodes from that tetanus booster. So another day started off with two Tylenols. But the more critical ache was the soreness in the toes of my left foot - the big toe in particular. In the last third of yesterday’s race my feet had started to swell, making my toes uncomfortable. This morning the big one was noticeably swollen. I was a little concerned as I put on my running shoes, especially since I didn’t have a larger pair to switch into - which would have been the thing to do under the circumstances. Aside from those two aches, I was fine, if somewhat on the tired side. Today was very humid. Even with the temperature in the low 70's when I woke up, the humidity made it seem much hotter. The sun was blanketed by clouds, and there was a threat of showers.

As I waited for Emmy to pick me up for the drive down to Kissena Park, I threw caution to the wind and ate one of the leftover jelly donuts. I figured if I could handle a peanut butter sandwich before the start of yesterday’s race, why not have a donut to start today? I didn’t mention that particular donut to Emmy as we drove in, since she was pretty amazed that I had eaten five for dinner last night. She filled me in on all the news from Vermont. She finished in a very strong 3:32 - good enough for fifth in her age group. John’s relay team won its age group, and not only did Kate and her friend Jill run strong, but Kate’s brother also ran it! One of the members of John’s team, Zeke, had run the MMT 100 two weeks earlier. He too would be at the Vermont 100 as a volunteer.

Emmy had ten dollars in her hand as she walked up to Rich. I couldn’t help but smile as she told him she wanted to run the 50k. It would be her first back-to-back marathon/ultra. Also running in the 50k was a woman, Hanna, who completed the first day of the Trek, only to miss the second day because of illness. Today’s course would consist of 26 loops, with a long first loop, which included a half mile lap around the lake to adjust for the distance. Each main loop was 1.2598 miles, with two significant climbs. Like the first two races, Ted said a few words about the ultrarunners this stage was in honor of before we started. Phil was in first, ahead of Byron by just over 8 minutes. Either one could win the entire race based on today’s finish. I was in third place. Sylvie was still first woman overall, with a roughly 37 minute edge over Admas.

The heat and high humidity made this seem like the toughest day. That one hill and the high, dry heat of the first day almost seemed like a pleasant memory. I was drenched in sweat after finishing the short loop of the lake, before heading out on the main loop! Still, I was determined to push the pace as long as I could. I did the first (1.8 mile) loop in 15:35 and settled in for a string of main (1.25 mile) loops in the 10 minute range. In a very unusual move, I took my Ipod off at the end the fifth lap because the music was making me run too fast! I had run about 7 miles in 59:23. While that’s not very fast in most road races, it was faster than I had run in either of the previous days. The irony of this wasn’t lost on me - in the two previous days my Ipod died around 32 minutes into each race! Here, it finally decided to work, and I voluntarily abandoned it. Pretty strange.

My laps now clocked in between 11 and 12 minutes each, until laps 12 and 13 which took 14 and 15 minutes, respectively. I had reached the halfway point and started to feel the heat and humidity. After those two slow laps, I rallied back a little and began a string of 12 minute laps, until I reached 19. At that point I had lapped my nearest rivals a few times and was confident that, barring unforseen injury, I could hold third place overall. The real races were between Phil and Byron and between Sylvie and Admas. My laps 19-22 were between 13 and 14 minutes. My final 4 laps, 22-26, were between 15 and 16 minutes each. I finished strong in 5:45:17 - faster than day two! My three day total was 17:10:52 - good enough for third place overall.

The Trek was won by Phil, with Byron taking a close second. This was a reversal of the 13th edition in 2005 where Byron won, and Phil took second place. In a very strong finish, Admas came from behind to win the women’s race - and, in doing so, defended her title from the 13th edition! Her win was all the more impressive because she hadn’t planned to run the Trek. Next month she flies to South Africa to run the Comrades Marathon. Emmy ran strong as well. She finished second overall in the 50k! Then, as I completed my last lap, she came out and took a picture of me as I approached the finish. I had some fun as they had red tape for me to break as I crossed the line. Unfortunately, that one didn’t come out - but I had already made a beeline to the food and was - not surprisingly - already eating a donut! So Rich strung some toilet paper across the finish and we staged a shot of me breaking the tape - donut in hand! Priceless!

Final Thoughts

It would be an understatement to say this weekend was great. It was a truly uplifting experience. I’ve been to races where everyone pulls together to finish something tough. But this is the first time I felt a sense of extended family surrounding an entire event! It’s no exaggeration to say how much seeing the volunteers at the aid stations meant. Or the lap counters that took a personal interest in each runner. Or Nick, or Rich, or Ted, all of whom were out on the various courses doing things each day. Ted took pictures on day one, Rich did some laps, and Nick ran the 50k on day two. Or just hanging out with the other runners themselves - how much fun it was to hear their stories, or just run some laps together.

One final silly aside - Tim Kourounis came up to me after he finished the race, fourth overall, as I was digging into my Chinese food. "How old are you, twenty-what?" I said "44" He said, "You’re 24.?" "No, 44!" I said. "I don’t believe it." "Not only am I 44, in two months I’ll be 45!" And we joked along those lines for a bit. I haven’t felt that good since I last got carded when I went to buy some wine. The event wrapped up with a very personalized award ceremony. Each runner received a finishers’ prize, an autographed photo of Ted, a belt buckle from Nick, and a finisher tech shirt. Out of 20 starters, 17 runners completed the three day Trek!

No comments: