Saturday, September 15, 2012

Hallucination 100 Run -- Race Report

“There is an answer / I haven’t found it / But I will keep dancing ‘til I do”
- Dirty Projectors, Dance for You

Buckle Hungry
Three weeks before this race I took on the Leadville Trail 100, my first attempt at a hundo. The training was in my legs at Leadville, but the altitude took me out and I DNF’d at mile 80. So after coming home from Colorado, I signed up for the local 100 miler, just 20 miles from my doorstep, the Hallucination 100.

 The course is a 16.66 mile loop that you do 6 times. All at breathe-able sea level. Ahhh, smell that? That’s my lungs functioning properly. Most of the course is on trails, some on the Potto, a trail I’ve run dozens of times, but there’s a significant portion on the rolling dirt roads too.

The 100 is part of Run Woodstock, Running Fit’s three day festival of races, which includes lots of other distances and even a “natural run” on Friday night. (un?)Fortunately, we didn’t see any birds in nests out on course this year. The race is odd in that it starts at 4pm, and you run all through the night early on.

Because I still had Leadville miles leeching my legs, I knew wouldn’t be 100%, but I hiked more than ran in CO, so maybe ye olde sticks would have something to give. All week leading up to the race I was cooler than the other side of the pillow. I visualized myself crossing the finish line, reminded myself how well I fueled and paced at Leadville, and felt that buckle hunger in my belly.

Me in white, Jon in stripes at the start.  

Despite all that confidence, on race day I couldn’t get my stomach to settle. Gas-X, tums, water, only gluten-free foods, I tried them all. Oh well, let’s roll the dice on this running thing.

Before the race, Alaina and I talked with a couple from AZ who have run the Copper Canyon race, knew Caballo Blanco, and were involved with the Mas Locos. Cool couple.

 I caught up with Jon, who I knew had big plans for this race, and the man was ready to rock this afternoon. As we lined up at the start, he asked, “are you sure you don’t want to run with me the first 60 miles? We can race the last 40!?” I mean, who says that kind of shit? Damn ultrarunners. Race for 40 miles! Heh. So when we took off doing sub-8 minute miles in the first ½ mile, I backed off and said, ‘I’m not getting caught up in that noise’.

First Loop: Miles 0 - 16.66

And so it begins. I was sweating like Christopher Walken in Deer Hunter at the start, being mid 80s and humid as a cigar chest out there. Might have gotten a touch dehydrated this first loop. The goal was to keep the effort super easy, go for 3:15 per loop or 11:49/mi and take in solid foods as well as I could. If I could run even splits for each loop, I might just have enough to run hard on the last loop.

I saw three guys go way out in front, and then Jon running with the course record holder, Marc, and then a couple other guys, and then me. I was probably sitting in 10th place this entire loop. Didn’t matter though, for all I wanted was a finish. First or last place, 18 hours or 30 hours, I don’t care, I just want that buckle today.

Go time.  Photo courtesy of Jonathan Clinthorne

So I’m running along at mile 2 on the hot dry trail, and I feel some dirt cling to my legs. I brush it off with my hand and dammit if it isn’t a swath of bees on my legs. A hot iron pierces my ankle and it's clear that one of them sumbeetches has tagged me, right through my sock and everything, hitting the spot of the one injury I’ve had all year, peroneal tendinitis. I’m sprinting now, whacking at my legs and shouting to the runner behind me BEES! BEES! But apparently that runner was the bee whisperer and didn’t get stung at all.  'Stay calm', I told myself, only 98 miles to go, and nothing you can do about that stabbing pain in your ankle.

About half way through this loop I met some new running friends to talk with, wife/husband pair, Emily and Todd Bello, fellow triathletes and ultrarunners, who were going for the Midwest Grand Slam, four 100 mile races in a single year: Kettle Moraine, Mohican, Burning River, and Hallucination. Emily told this incredible story of how she crashed her bike training for IM Wisconsin last year, just a couple months before the race, breaking her collarbone and other bones, and they were forced to ride bikes on the trainer inside the entire summer. But they finished IM MOO! They train and do all their races together, which made me miss Alaina but glad to be in good company.

My plan was to run a bit faster in the first loop of full daylight before 11 hours of night running, so I took off by myself the rest of the loop. The last 8 miles of each loop are hillier than the first, so I pow hiked the hills and navigated the many turns, attempting to memorize the course as a recce for the dark miles.  I happen to have a profound gift for getting lost on these damn long runs. Finished the first loop in 2:43, definitely too fast, but I knew night running would slow me down.

Starting early on, but really for the entire race, I was moved by this Dirty Projectors line from "Dance for You": "There is an answer / I haven't found it / But I will keep dancing 'til I do"

Came into the campground to huge cheers, saw Alaina, who filled up my handheld with gels, gave me a couple potatoes to eat, and got my headlamp on. I kissed her, told her I love her, and went off for the second loop. She was my ultra crew of one, and she was fabulous.

Second Loop: Miles 16.66 - 33.32
I took down a couple small potatoes like they were golden delicious apples and immediately felt my stomach yell up to me, ‘hey, asshat, I’m working overtime down here trying to get things settled down and you just threw 100 grams of low GI carbs into the pipes. F-you!’

Potato eat good.
My stomach didn’t feel so good on the first loop, but on this loop it really went on me, feeling bloated and nauseous and forcing me to lower my effort level until it cleared up. I popped another Gas-X and took Tums at every aid station, but my body was not liking this one bit. On top of that, my legs were stiff and suffering by mile 20. I mean, I thought they’d give me until 30 before going out, but Leadville was still barking. So I decided that I needed to go to an 8 minute run / 2 minute walk regimen. This would help settle my stomach and take some of the pain off running.

As darkness settled in, I began to realize that I was in a very familiar spot in the race: far back from the leaders, but well ahead of the main pack. It was going to be a lonely night, and I reminded myself to grab my ipod at the start/finish so that I’d have some podcast company. I actually started obsessing over the loneliness a little. I imagined that I was running with the 3 Non Joggers -- well, not Carl The Mailman, but he was there via phoner -- and we were taping a show live on course. Russ was making fun of my lycra shorts, Gary the Vale was evaluating the merits of potatoes, and Carl was yelling at Gary.

And then it started raining. At first I opened my arms up to the heavens like Andy in Shawshank when he crawls out of the pipe to freedom. Cool and refreshing! I’ve never felt such relief in my life! How could this get any better?!

I came in on this loop at 3:03, much more on target, and Alaina was waiting there again for me! She was racing the half-marathon in the morning, and I thought for sure she’d be off to sleep in the Element. I told her I couldn’t have any solid foods, so she got me more gels, gave me the ipod for company and sent me right off again.

Third Loop: Miles 33.32 - 50

The rain felt awesome -- Oh how I tricked myself into thinking that wolf was a sheep -- and the trail was still pretty decent in most places but getting slick in others. I laughed with 3NJ and tried to keep moving steadily, sticking tightly to the 8/2 run/walk strategy.

Gradually, the rain turned into a downpour, and then the wind picked up and the rain came in sideways. Then the water fell in buckets so hard that my headlamp was nearly useless and the trail turned into muck, with sections that were totally flooded and smelled like horse crap. I took fewer walk breaks because I needed to keep moving to stay warm. The rain was a My Bloody Valentine song, droning and unflagging, absolutely ripping into me. I was still just in my singlet and lycra shorts, basically nekkid out there and now I was freezing. My hands went numb next and I started obsessing over hot chicken broth. Then my ipod died, killed by the rain. I was all alone again.

I started seeing frogs. Everywhere. Small frogs darting across the trail, giant frogs the size of my fist in the larger puddles, the trail was covered in frogs, came alive with bouncing frogs. I thought for sure I was hallucinating but these things were real, man.

As I came to the last, hilliest section, which has a bunch of turns, I glanced at my watch and saw the mileage creeping very close to 16.66. WTF, I should be at the campground. I should be able to hear the campground. Where am I?! Did I miss a turn?! I’m panicked, I’m cold and tired and it’s pouring and I feel like I’m on a mobius strip, stuck in a vortex of pain and cold and wet and I start yelling “HELP! Is anyone there?!” Big fat dead silence. I run up to a trail signpost, trying to navigate my way back, but the arrow pointing to the next signpost is literally pointed directly into the brush. I’m sprinting away now, following flags backwards and seeing the mileage on my Garmin cross 17 miles before I come upon the greatest sign on earth: “PINK TO CAMPGROUND”. Ok, I’ll be Ok. So I added an extra mile somehow, and I’ll be more careful next time. Just get me some broth!

I made it in to the start/finish aid station at 3:21, but really not bad for going an extra mile and stopping to read trail signs. My friend Steve was at the aid station and I barely even recognized him in my freaked state, but how awesome when I came to! He helped me right away get some broth and change my shoes and socks and headlamp batteries. Thank you Steve! There were a bunch of Hell’s Angels’ looking dudes in the tent, like 6’6” and 250+ pounds, with Budweisers in hand and beer cans stuffed in their leather jackets, hollering, “CAN I GET YOU SOME SOUP?!” in seriously the most helpful way possible. Like aggressively helpful, but they were there in the middle of the night and running that joint.

Fourth Loop: Miles 50 - 66.66

I made it about 2 miles into this loop, riding the high of the aid station, before I realized that I made a really really stupid mistake. No poncho. I forgot it in my drop bag at the start/finish area! I had fresh warm shoes and socks, but I was only wearing my little tri top singlet (soaking wet) and the wind had picked up on the Lakelands path section, the rain was unflagging lashes, and here I was.

Just like at Leadville, this was a very dark period in the race. It’s about 2 a.m., I’m freezing and cold and in a lot of pain, and the finish -- hell, even daylight -- looks impossibly far away. Maybe I should quit at the 100k mark and get a finish time for that. Still an ultra, right? No one would wonder why, I mean this sucks. It’s been raining for 6 hours!

I have no specific memories of the rest of this loop. I must’ve completely blacked out. It kept raining. My second iPod died, probably killed by the rain as well. I passed runners on the dirt road section like ships in the night. A little wave to them and one back, but it was silent as a grave out there.

I came into the start/finish aid station through ankle-deep puddles at 3:14, and somehow I was still on target for a sub-20 hour finish.  But even more amazing was that Alaina was there! She got up at dark o’clock to see me before my 5th loop!

Fifth Loop: Miles 66.66 - 83.32

What a whiny child I became in that aid station. Alaina got me a dry shirt, took the soaked buff off my head and got me a dry hat, arm sleeves, and my poncho. I kept saying in this pleading, goaty voice, ‘I need to get out of here’ over and over. wah. I looked around the aid station and it was lined with frozen, bone colored runners in blankets. People were waiting out the storm, waiting until morning light, waiting to see if they wanted to drop. I needed to get out of there!

So I went back out covered in warm gear and a poncho and POOF the rain stopped. My whole focus then became getting to mile 80 and beyond. I held Leadville in my gut and pushed on and on through leg pain that shook my frame. Sure, I wasn’t getting any faster, but I wasn’t slowing down too much either, despite the mud slides and flooded trails.

Daylight crept in on cat’s feet and I thought for sure it would bring renewed energy. But after staring through the headlamp induced tunnel vision, the light just tripped me out and made me dizzy. I downed a couple gels at a time to combat the weariness and sank myself deeply in the songs in my ears: Neil Young, Springsteen, Joni Mitchell, Pavement, one after another song seemed to be speaking directly to me right then.

End of 5th Loop.  Photo courtesy of Jonathan Clinthorne
Mile 80 came up on my Garmin, and I stared at it while I ran. You’re going down, mile 80, I’m going to run past you and keep going and I’m going to finish this race. I’m going to put Leadville DNF behind me and I’m never looking back. I can do this. Redemption will happen today. I can finish this race!

Finished this loop in my race-worst 3:22, which I found out later was actually the fastest fifth loop of any runner.

Sixth Loop: Miles 83.32 - 100

This is it. Time to get behind the mule and plow. You’re going to kill this loop.

I don’t know where the energy came from, but I started hammering.  It might have been the power of the Cheetos, which was the only solid food I’d been able to eat since loop two, but I could actually hold an 11 minute per mile average pace, even with the walk breaks. I calculated whether I could go under 19 hours -- a total dream at the start -- and I knew that if I threw down something nasty I’d just barely have a shot.

The trail got hot again and very humid, and it also got crowded with all the other distance runners sharing the same course. As conga lines of half-marathon and marathon runners formed, I found myself running past many of them, through the brush, through the muck, up and down the hills.

I heard encouragement from other runners unlike anything I’ve ever experienced at any other race. Runners were clapping for me and telling me I looked great, and I couldn’t help but smile. I love the ultra community. I cheered them back. A couple runners I went past asked, “Are you in second?” I shook my head incredulously, ‘Naw, I don’t know where I am!' They laughed and hollered, “Dude, you’re totally in second!” No. F-in. Way. I had absolutely no idea. But 2nd!!!

A Springsteen live performance came on the ipod, one where he tells the story of how he and his dad fought a lot when he was young, but when Bruce gets his draft card and subsequently fails his physical, his dad, who previously said the Army would fix him, is filled with relief that his son won’t be going to Vietnam. The story choked me up and I cried tears into the dirt. I wished that I could’ve finished Leadville so that my Dad could’ve caught me at the finish line, I wished he was here to see me finish this. My parents were at Leadville and poured their energy into crewing for me and helping me get as far as I did and I needed to finish this to say ‘thank you’ for everything.

I came running down the dirt road into Grace aid station at mile 96 and saw Alaina running toward me. I couldn’t believe Alaina was there for me! She was going to pace me in for the last 4 miles. I handed her my water bottle and asked her to fill it as I kept going down the trail.

I ran much harder here finding that extra gear, holding 10 m/m pace and completely filled with happiness at having Alaina for the end of the race. But where was she? I felt like I’d gone a mile since the aid station and she wasn’t there. And then I saw her grinning face sprinting down the trail, gasping ‘I had to sprint all the way here! You’re doing great!’

I started singing Reason to Believe at the top of my lungs and for the first time I REALLY knew that I was going to finish a 100 hundred miler for the first time. I hit lap at mile 99 and told Alaina we were going for it. Let’s hammer this thing home. We smoked the last mile in 8:52.

As I entered the campground at the finish, Alaina pumped up the spectators, calling “100 mile finisher here!” and I heard all the cheers and claps. I ran hard all the way through the finishing banner, which was basked in sunlight, and I screamed with joy, threw my arms up in the air, pumped my fist, and spiked my water bottle on the ground. I’ve never ever at any other race felt the kind of rush of happiness that I did crossing that finish line.

18:41 and a Second Place Overall Finish. Official results and splits here.  I thought I was right on the edge of 19 hours, but had no idea I was that far under. My first watch had died before I could check my total time, and I was running with Alaina’s watch at the end.

Redemption was mine. The weight of my DNF at Leadville fell off my shoulders and I felt totally free. I went over to the aid station to congratulate my friend Jonathan Clinthorne on his incredible 18:10 win and danced a ridiculous jig when I saw him, so happy for everything he’s earned. He held up his giant gold record plaque for winning with an even bigger smile.

I wandered off to a grassy patch and felt the tunnel vision come back and I fell in slow motion to my knees and tried not to throw up. Jon’s mom brought me some food, drink, and a chair as she saw me going down. I sat and talked with Jon and Jason and Kai and a lot of other great people as we waited for the next 100 mile finishers.

I curled up in a blanket with my Cheetos and tried not to puke, feeling feverish and yet so happy. Redemption!  My last lap was in 2:57, which was my second fastest loop the entire day and the fastest sixth loop of any runner.

Huge thanks to Alaina for everything she does, to Steven Rose for emergency crewing, to Erin O'Mara for getting Alaina to the final aid station, and to everyone who has supported me in this journey.  It means the world to me. 

Before and after shot
My buckle for the finish and bus for winning my AG. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Clinthorne
My zombie walk post-race. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Clinthorne.


  1. Wow Ryan! What an incredible accomplishment!

    1. Thanks Jana! Can't wait to follow your Kona journey!

  2. I love everything about this race report. Inspiring and beyond. Congrats x1000

    1. Thank you Lisa, glad you enjoyed the report! I know you had an awesome 50k race and I have a little voice in my head that says maybe you'd like to give the 50 mile distance a try. Any truth to these voices in my head? :D