Team Wylder Nation Race Report: Ghost Train 100 Mile Endurance Race 10/26/13 – 9:00 AM
I got up at 5:00 AM and went through my typical race preparation of coffee, bagel with peanut butter and a later Banana. I was about 30 mins late getting out of the house as it took me a little longer than expected to pin all of the kid’s photos onto my shirt.
As many of you know, I had teamed up with the families of Trek, Jacob, Kaitlyn, Quinn, Lily, Riley, Faith and Amber. These 9 children, including Wylder had all tragically passed away from Niemann-Pick A. I had become acquainted with their heartbreaking stories since meeting Steven and Shannon (Wylder’s parents) back in 2012 through the Wylder Nation blog.
I managed to make it to the race by 7:30 giving me about 1.5 hours to get my stuff and body ready to race.
When I arrived I was promptly greeted by my race crew, Rod and Emma. They had rented an RV the night before and were up and ready to help me get the day started. We shared cell numbers of pacers and support staff, got Twitter up and running on Rod’s phone, and went through the race plan one last time. Rod would not only be the crew chief, responsible for ensuring that I was taking in the right amount of calories, water, salt, monitoring my overall wellbeing, he was also ‘social media’ central and was responsible for tweeting my progress throughout the race on Run4RareDisease Twitter feed.
I was thrilled to see my friends Robin and Nick (pacer) and my wife Ann before the start. I also saw some friends from Gil’s athletic club (GAC); the group of ultra-runners from Topsfield I have been running with on occasion for a couple of years, and my friend’s Jean and Adrian.
Following the pre-race meeting, the gun went off at ~9:10 am. My plan was to start off very conservatively with no running faster than 11 min/mile and a couple of minutes of brisk walking every few miles. I was highly focused on my nutrition, making sure I was taking in ~300 calories/hour; especially in the first 45 miles. The race is a repeat of a 7.5 mile out and back totaling 15 miles per leg. My crew was positioned at the start line so I was able to see them at the end of each 15 mile segment or every 3-4 hours depending on the leg. The race had 6, 15 mile loops and one 10 mile loop at the end.
While on the first leg, I started to think about the team and best way to engage them in the run. Having had a short dialogue with Shannon about Garrett, a little boy with Niemann-Pick, I decided that the first 10 Miles will be run for him and I also decided that I would split the remaining 90 miles into 9 segments; one with each team member. When I got back to the aid station after the first 15 mile leg, I had Rod take a photo of each team member on my shirt with my cell phone so that I would have each of them stored for later texting. I then sent my first picture text out to Shannon with Kaitlyn’s photo saying “First 10 completed for Garrett” and “Next 10 with Kaitlyn”. Shannon then got right on board and became part of social media central with her Wylder Nation blog, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
I ran the first 3 loops (45 miles) alone and then had pacers for the remaining miles. During the last half of the 3rd loop, I made a change to my race plan that proved to be significant later in the race. My plan had me executing a mile and then a short walk after each mile. While running with Norm, a gentleman I had met previously, he told me that he uses time instead of mileage which sounded like a good idea. This enabled me to break the race down into even smaller increments; never thinking about the enormity of the day. I completed the 3rd loop using a 7 min run then 2 min walk plan. I finished the 3 loops in 2:53, 2:57, and 3:28 respectively. I didn’t listen to music during the first loop. I turned on my iPod at the start of the 2nd loop and listened to the playlist created from donations made back in June. The music was so energizing that I had to really focus on holding back my pace.
All was going very well on the first three loops with only a slight strain in my left hamstring which I was effectively managing. My friend Jessi ran the 45 – 60 mile loop as my pacer. As I was feeling a little bit sore after 45 miles, I gave Jessi the instructions of 5 min run and 2 min walk and told her she was responsible for the time and that I wasn’t going to be looking at my Garmin at all. When I got five miles in, I reached the half-way point of the race and sent out my fifth text “Amber was awesome. Half through. I feel great. Heavy hitters on deck with Faith leading off”. I was guided through the first 50 miles by Kaitlyn, Lily, Riley and Amber. Jessi did a fantastic job pacing and we got back to the finish at mile 60 as planned; completing the leg in 4:07. At this point, I was 60% through the race and following my race plan near perfectly. Jessi asked me if I will get into a zone at any point in these later miles. I told her that I didn’t know as I had never been in this place before today. I also said that “given the pain I am in, I doubt it”.
My friend Nick came back to pace me from 60 – 75. I had planned to completely change my clothes, running shoes and socks which I did. Though I developed quite a chill changing in the 38 degree weather, it gave me a fresh feeling and set me off for what proved to be the most challenging loop of the race. I reduced the running time by a minute and set out with Nick keeping the time of 4 min run and 2 min walk. The race got tougher and tougher over the loop. At approximately mile 70, we passed a man who was staggering about the trail. Nick asked him how he was doing and the man said he had a little vertigo caused by some allergies. That was all I needed to hear because shortly thereafter, I started to feel a little dizzy and nauseous. I stopped briefly to collect myself and we pressed on. I changed the plan to 3 min run and 2 min walk for the last two miles of loop 5 and got back to the aid station in one piece. Nick and I discussed my timing and whether or not I was on target to finish in under 24 hours which was my stretch goal but not at all in my race plan. As I completed loop 5 in 4:33 and now 18 hours into the race, I determined that I would not be able to complete the final 25 miles in under 6 hours and reported this to my race crew. I asked Rod to call Ann and report that I would be finishing later than planned; likely after 10 AM. Though I was physically and mentally spent, I had no doubts that I would finish this race. Faith, Quinn and Trek pulled me through that really tough stretch and gave me confidence that I would effectively navigate that last 25 miles even though it may take me quite a bit longer than I had planned….or so I thought…
Nick was now finished and Emma was set to pace me for the last 25 miles. She had been with Rod all day at the aid station and only managed to squeeze in 3 hours of sleep prior to running with me. We were now 18 hours into the race and it was 3:00 am in the morning. I gave her the plan of starting off with 3 min run and 2 min walk and told her that it was likely that I would switch to 2 and 2 in a short while if my condition didn’t improve. Emma’s first words for me were “it is my job to get you to the the finish line in under 24 hours”. I kept my doubts to myself as I had already done the math. As I left the aid station, Jeff, one of the GAC runners passed me and I expressed words of encouragement to him and Emma and I started into the last 15 mile loop with the 3 & 2 plan. After about 30 mins, I could see Jeff up ahead in the darkness and promptly said to Emma, let’s do 4 mins. As we passed Jeff, I then said let’s do 5. We then walked for the planned 2 mins and as we started running, I told her we are going on a 5 & 2 plan and will see how that goes.
From there on, something magical occurred. Picture a hand on a ‘feel good’ knob being moved from 0 to an 11 (Spinal Tap ref). That is exactly what was occurring at about mile 77. Miraculously I felt better than at almost any other point in the race with 23 miles to go. At some points we were running entire miles and were running other stretches at 7 & 2. Emma called Ann to tell her that the game was on and she needed to get my kids out of bed and head out to the race as my daughter Abby wanted to run the last 2.5 miles with us. When we got to the half-way point on the last 15 mile loop, I gave my water bottles to Emma and directed her to fill them up and to grab me some food (potatoes, PB&J sandwiches, bananas) as I was simply going to check in my bib #758 and immediately head back out. Emma did just that and it took her nearly a half mile to catch up to me as I was in the most amazing of zones (that answers Jessi’s question). I scoffed down some of the food she brought and held onto the rest. With 80 now completed with Trek, and Jacob now guiding me back to the aid station at 90, I started to feel that completing the race in less than 24 hours was back within reach. When we got to 90 in 3:28, neither Rod nor Nick were at the aid station as they had not expected us to complete the last 15 mile loop over an hour and a half ahead of schedule and they were in the RV sleeping. Again, I told Emma to fill up my bottles and grab food as I checked in and left immediately with no stopping. She surprised me by changing her shirt for the last 10 miles; something she thoughtfully created during her time in the RV in the early miles of the race. Well done Emma!!!!
We were now on the last loop (out 5 and back to finish) with Wylder. I was feeling incredible. I was belting out songs from the playlist while running and was now confident that we were going to finish well under the 24 hour stretch goal.
The reception we were getting from all of the other runners was awesome. Many of them were now mostly walking and they couldn’t believe how much running we were doing. For fun, since there was no check-in on the 5-mile turnaround on the last loop, I had Emma take this picture as proof.
At 97.5, Ann, Abby and Matty were waiting for us. Abby jumped right in to complete the last 2.5 miles with us. She was amazed that the last 2.5 was more like a 5K run than the completion of a 100 miler. She was also slightly embarrassed to hear me singing as she and Emma were out ahead of me a bit.
We completed the last mile at a 9:13 pace completing the last 10 mile loop in 1:54 and completing my first 100 mile race in 23:20:42, nearly 40 minutes below my stretch goal of 24 hours!!! We were 19th overall out of 44 who completed the 100 miler.
I don’t have a good explanation for what happened at mile 77 other than a strong belief that it was the angelic intervention of Team Wylder Nation that was responsible for the energy. This team of angels gave me the strength to run an uninmaginable 5th fastest loop 6 and 3rd fastest loop 7 as compared to the other runners…incredible! Thank you Kaitlyn, Lily, Riley, Amber, Faith, Quinn, Trek, Jacob & Wylder for helping me navigate the hardest run of my life. You will forever be in my thoughts!!