logoI ran Jackpot 100 again, held at Cornerstone Park near Las Vegas, in Henderson, Nevada. This race is a loop-format race on a 2.38-mile course through the park. Various races are held concurrently, 48-hour, 24-hour, 100-mile, 12-hour, six-hour, and marathon. I chose to run the 100-miler. Last year I finished in 6th, with a time of 20:51, my best 100-mile time of the year. I looked forward to another possible fast race.

But this year a terrible rain storm was forecast and the rain would pour for hours. I came prepared with rain gear and mentally prepared myself for potentially miserable race conditions. My goal was to finish in the top-five and hopefully run faster than my time last year. But I didn’t have firm, high expectations. Two weeks ago I finished Rocky Raccoon 100 and I had been sick with a sinus infection ever since, with very little training.

geese

Cornerstone Park which opened in 2012, was converted from a gravel pit. The pit was mostly filled in and contains a 30-acre pond with the rest of the 100 acres developed nicely. Many geese made the park their home and they were very tame. One goose would walk with runners on a bridge. (I observed that a woman came to the park in the evening and fed the geese and ducks with a bunch of food. I imagine feeding these wild animals has greatly affected their migration routine.)

I arrived at the park early in the morning during pouring rain. I set up a table and chair, but the chair quickly blew down and was drenched so I gave up using a chair. I did bring out two coolers, one with my food and one with my gear. The coolers would keep all the contents dry. My car was parked nearby with my dry clothes if I needed to change.

I stayed in my car, out of the rain until the start at 8:00 a.m., missing the race briefing. We started on time, 100-milers, 24, 12, and 6-hour runners, and marathon runners. The 48-hour runners had already been circling the park for a day.

map

During my first lap, I discovered the course was different. I saw that it was longer and included a new big hill to run over twice, avoiding a potentially flooded area. This would definitely be a lot harder this year, also with about a half mile more pavement each lap. I later learned that they wisely adjusted the distance of each lap to 2.5 miles. I believe it actually was about 2.45, but that was close.

I started out pretty quickly and was pleased that I seemed to be running well with good strength. My first few miles in the wind and rain were: 8:34, 8:57, 9:14, 8:59, 9:14, and 9:16. I hoped to run faster than 9:30 pace for the first 20 mile. I did it, arriving at mile 20 at 3:03. I was seven minutes ahead of my goal time. With these loop courses I concentrated on avoiding stops at my aid station as much as possible to save minutes. I observed other runners soon losing 2-3 minutes every lap because they stopped each time.

The rain poured. It would end up raining about a half inch during the morning. I decided to dress lightly, shorts and short sleeves, with a long garbage bag and rain cap. I also wore a race bib waist belt to keep the bag from flapping. The daytime temperatures climbed to about 55 and night would fall to about 48, so this getup turned out to be perfect. I stayed mostly dry and never did a ton of sweating under my rain gear. I observed others getting soaked, needing to change often.

With the out-and-back horseshoe course, it was very easy to track the progress of other runners. I knew the bib-number range for those running the 100-mile division, so I watched to see which runners were running close to me. One tall runner was running within a quarter mile of me and I had fun trying to stretch my lead each lap.

The three hills each lap became harder and harder as the miles went by, but I was determined to run those hills throughout the entire race. Most of the other runners started to walk them by mile 30. With the much tougher course, I decided to throw away my goal to try to beat my time for last year. This year was about surviving and finishing. A short single-track section started to get very muddy with puddles.

Cory Reese photo

Cory Reese photo

For some strange reason I seem to do very well running races in the rain if my gear is working and my shoes grip well. Others were bundled up in high-tech water proof rain gear, probably sweating like crazy, but I was running past them in my low-tech garbage bag feeling mostly dry, cool, and comfortable. I hit the marathon mark at about 4:15 and the 50K mark at 5:10. My pace sheet in my pocket became a little wet, bleeding the ink, so I didn’t try to follow it much. At about mile 40, I was rather stunned that despite the tougher course and rainy conditions, that I was about 15 minutes ahead of last year. Was it possible that I could do well?

But then I made a bad mistake. The rain had stopped and I thought the forecast called for better weather in the afternoon, so I took off the garbage bag and left it at my aid station. A lap later it started to pour harder than ever. By the time I returned I was completely soaked and cold. I then took my first long break, about 15 minutes in my car with the heat blasting. I dried out my hat and gloves, put on a dry shirt, and ate plenty.

Feeling much better, I continued on and reached the 50-mile mark at 9:12 as dusk was arriving. After four more laps, at mile 60, at 11:27, I took a planned long rest to make sure my stomach didn’t shut down as it often does in the evening. My son, Kevin, who lives nearby came by to see how I was doing and we sat together in the car. He cheered me up as I rested. My stop ended up taking 25 minutes and lost me a lap, but I think it was worth it. I knew that I was ahead of my Rocky Raccoon pace at 60 miles from two weeks ago and that when I stopped, I was 10 minutes ahead of my pace goals to beat my last year’s time. The rest was good. My heart-rate and respiration came under control and I ate well. I told my son that I would probably finish around dawn, probably at 7:00 a.m. in 23 hours. Kevin bid me good-bye and headed home to sleep in a dry, warm bed.  I headed back out to face the rain.

On my way again, I quickly started to feel very well again, finding my second wind. The rain had stopped. Lights reflecting off the pond looked amazing. The evening seemed so pleasant and it was wasn’t cold. I had planned to shift to dry clothes, but I ultimately decided to just stick with the garbage bag all the way to the finish. My pace between miles 60 and 70 dramatically improved to about 12:00 pace. By mile 70, I had gained back some time and was only eight minutes behind my goal pace to beat last year’s time.

The other runners around me were very friendly and kind. I took more time during this race to slow down periodically and talk with other runners. I ran slowly with Jester Ed for about a mile and with Fast Cory for about a half mile. Others would throw out very kind comments that I was a “running machine” that never stopped. I refused to walk up the hills and each time found the strength to keep a running pace going up the hills. That also helped to keep me awake through the night.

At about mile 70, I started to pay attention to the monitor in the timing tent. They didn’t list the standings, but did list about the last 20 runners who came through, what race they were in, and what lap they completed. As far as I could tell, there was just one runner ahead of me in the 100-mile race. (Actually the eventual winner was about ten miles ahead, 4 laps and another runner a couple laps ahead). There were very few people actually still running hard. I figured out who the runner was right ahead of me and at mile 75 I passed him at around 11:00 p.m. I would increase my distance on him each lap by another quarter mile. Another runner caught up to me and talked for a while.  Later I realized it was Ernie Floyd from Utah. He said that as far as he could tell, no one else was in front of me and he believed that he was two laps behind me. He pushed on ahead and next time I checked the monitor, I figured out that Ernie was only one lap behind me and running much faster than me at this point.

I pondered if it could it be possible that I was in first place? I had planned a rest stop at mile 80, but if I was in first place, I needed to push hard to the finish. I reached mile 80 at 16:10 and that woke me up. That was a very good 80-mile split time, about an hour faster than Rocky Raccoon two weeks ago. Could I run the last 20 miles in 4:50 (including stops each lap) to break 21 hours? I now believed that I could. I was just three minutes behind my goal pace.

But at mile 85, at 1:20 a.m., my stomach rebelled and I started to throw up. I didn’t bonk hard like I did at Rocky Raccoon at mile 81, but my speed was greatly affected as I tried everything I could think of to make my stomach happy again. Somehow I managed to keep my pace to 14-minute-miles, or 35-minute laps. To make matters worse, it started to rain again and at times poured, but eventually it stopped. Altogether it rained for about 14 hours during my race.

Ernie continued to gain on me. I predicted that he would catch me around mile 92. I was in 3rd place from miles 75-92. Once he caught up, we talked. He still thought he was still a lap down, but I let him know that we were now on the same lap and I wished him well. He didn’t realize that I took that long rest at mile 60, costing me a lap. I told him that I had hoped to finish in under 21 hours, but that had slipped away. He corrected me, and said we were still on 21-hour pace. Ernie was running the 100-miler of his life at age 62.  Amazing!

From the monitor I could tell that there were about six other runners behind me by less than a lap and gaining. I was counting down the laps – just three more to go. I thought I was going slowly, but the timing guy assured me I was going fast and I noticed that each of my laps at this point were 35 minutes, for the 2.5 mile laps.

My stomach recovered by mile 95. Five miles to go and I was at 19:45. With two more 35-minute laps I could break 21 hours! At about mile 97, a young runner passed me, giving me encouragement. I asked him how many more laps he had to go and he said one. Shoot! He just passed me, going in 4th place, and I couldn’t keep up.

My next-to-last lap was another 35 minute lap, completing it at 20:20. I was now determined to dig down as deep as I could to not let a sub-21 hour finish slip away. One more 2.5 mile lap to go. Ernie ran toward me, finishing his last lap in 3rd place about 18 minutes ahead of me. I was breathing very hard, sounding like an over-stressed steam train. There was no way other runners were going to pass me on this lap. I greeted friends and let them know that I was on my last lap. With about 1.5 miles to go, I determined that I could beat last year’s finish time of 20:51 if I pushed very hard the rest of the way. It felt like I was sprinting, but 9:00 pace feels like sprinting at mile 99. My elapsed time was displayed largely on my watch. I needed to beat 20:51. With about a half mile to go, my watch displayed 20:44. I could do this! I splashed through the puddles as fast as I could, ignoring all the pain. When I crossed the finish line my watch displayed 20:48:56. I did it!

IMG_0662 (640x497)

Ken, the race director was managing the timing tent at the time and congratulated me, telling me I won the 50+ old man age group since Ernie took the 3rd place award. He also let me know I finished in 5th place. (The 4rd place runner. Al Joel De Jesus, finished about 6 minutes ahead of me.) Ken gave me my medal, belt buckle, skull trophy, and a nice hug. It felt so good to be finished and before 5:00 a.m.

I was very pleased, knowing that a 20:48 100-mile finish at age 58 is very rare. As far as I can tell only about 25 other men age 58+ have ever run 100 miles that fast or faster. As I packed away my personal aid station into my car, many runners came by and congratulated me. I was still trying to find my breath after pushing the finish so hard. I drove the few miles to my son’s apartment, showered and then collapsed in bed. My 88th 100-mile finish was in the books. Only 12 more to go.

fitbit

Fitbit Record – 172,000 steps, 327 floors

Recovery went amazing well.  During the race I never had to take off my shoes and did not develop any blisters at all.  Within two days I only had a little soreness in a hamstring, but otherwise had a spring in my step and looked forward to run again in a day or two.