Race Report Devil Dog 100km 12/17/2016
2016 started with injuries, limited training and many uncertainties. I wanted to run and compete but wasn't sure I could even start. In the course of this year there were also major personal setbacks. Through this year I have gradually (and unevenly) progressed from that low to an Ironman, Marine Corp Marathon and Stonemill 50mile. Similar to the Maryland Ironman, yesterday's inaugural Devil Dog ultra race had many weather issues. Yesterday's event was the highpoint of 2016 by running my farthest distance ever.
Physically and mentally I was ready for a challenge. Endurance events test you like no other. Things will go wrong, you will get hurt, you will get tired, you will want to stop. On the flip side, finishing these events gives me a great sense of accomplishment, achievement, hope, possibility, and confidence that spills over into other areas of my life.
By November I was feeling strong and uninjured (a rarity) and 100km/63miles did not seem much farther than the Stone Mill 50m. Devil Dog is held at a convenient local location (Prince William Forest, about 45 mins from home). Also the course is 3 loops for 100km and 5 loops for 100 miles. I thought a looped course easier for spectators and logistics, probably less chance for getting lost. The stars aligned and I registered about 3 weeks ago.
Race day there was an ice storm and the roads conditions, not too mention the trails, were very slick. The area around the race start area was covered in ice and walking anywhere was treacherous. We sipped coffee, made final adjustments and chatted nervously. I was apprehensive and edgy about the dodgy weather, great distance and my stamina. Nonetheless, at 6am we started ice skating down a rocky slope in the dark. We had to cross a wooden bridge to get to the main trail and this was the site of many falls, including my first. There was just no safe way to cross. The section of the trail near the start/finish was very rocky and the footing was treacherous. Clambering up and down the craggy trail required runners to test different strategies. I resorted to grabbing branches, sliding on my rear and back stepping. After about 2 miles the path improved and we could start running. It was still dark and so we were careful with our footing.
Somewhere in the early morning, freezing rain came down on us. I was glad of my new rain jacket but it too was soon covered with an icy frosting, making the jacket stiff and crunchy. There were many small bridges over streams, all frozen - few with handrails. I bravely led the way on many of these crossing by avoiding the bridges and leaping over the streams. At mile 12 I slipped and fell backwards into a stream breaking ice on the way down. I got soaked from neck to feet. The worst part of this was my gloves, leaving me with the terrible options - keep the soaking gloves on against the external 25F, knowing that I needed the protection for grabbing branches, or remove the wet gloves and risk frostbite another way! I opted for both - constantly removing and replacing my gloves. I did this for another 12 miles until I arrived at the next aid station where I could change into a spare pair from my drop bag. The gravel roads were no easier as some were quite steep and the pebbles slippy. Crossing the occasional blacktop was comical - we simply skated on some and crawled across others. My first loop took about 5 hours 15 mins and I fell 5 times.
During the first loop I experienced an amusing incident. A runner came by me and in his Texan accent said "I got bit hard." Thoughts that crossed my mind were had he been bitten by a dog or even worse - a snake or bear. "What?" I asked. "That blacktop bit me hard, I fell so bad" he explained.
The 2nd loop went much better although by now it was quite muddy in parts. I fell 2 more times including a heavy fall at mile 32. This fall knocked the stuffing out of me and it took ages to get going again. I don't even know how it happened. I was running quite fast on smooth trail, next moment I was airborne then crashing to a halt. It was the lowest point of the race and I was only halfway through - alone, bruised and feeling beaten. In trail running (as in life) sometimes there is no option to DNF and no escape but to carry on. It was very isolated and I had no other option here, other than to pick myself up, take some deep breaths and start moving. I think I crept 2 miles before running again. In many places the path was above a river bank and any slip would have put you in the drink. I stayed dry but I know others got a frozen dunking. At the end of loop 2 it was great to have Yancy and Janet tend to me and provide some TLC for a few minutes. Loop 2 took me about 4hours 30mins.
Loop 3 (last loop!) started off great. I ran a strong 7 miles but then darkness descended and I had headlamp problems. Despite new batteries the lighting was very weak and insufficient to see any real distance ahead. Miles 50-55 were at a 20+ minute pace. A fellow runner, Doug, was extremely helpful and we shared his lamp for several miles. Then he moved ahead on the twisty trail and I was back in the dark. Next runner along was just the opposite. He objected to me "drafting" off him, even though I was not slowing him. He kept side stepping and sprinting ahead to lose me, which is unlike anything I have ever seen or heard of from a fellow trailie. When I got to an aid station, a volunteer (Becca) kindly loaned me her headlamp and I was able to run/walk the final 7 miles in. Those final miles clambering over rocks seemed to take eons. There were no "1 mile to aid" signs and therefore some guesswork as to the remaining distance. 3rd loop was about 5hrs 30 and total race time about 15hours 32 mins. Despite all the challenges and setbacks, the falls and the bruises, I finished my first ever 100km. I was euphoric to cross the line. Yancy was there to cheer me into the finish. It is fantastic to have a friendly face at the end and she was so patient to have waited 10+ hours.
Final thoughts - Overall a tough day and not what I expected or planned for, but it finished OKAY and now I have a story to tell. Many others had similar reports of constant falls. There were many DNFs (Did not finish) too. I have so much additional respect for the 100 milers out there. Considering the very tough conditions on the course, it took grit for runners to complete any part of the race and spoke of their commitment and dedication. Of the 100km starters 38 were DNF and 61 finished. Of the 100m starters 65 were DNF and 41 finished. Post race I am stiff in many unusual places from all the teetering and balancing I was doing. Also bruised and scraped from my assorted falls. Other Reston area runners on the course were Lucas Moten, Ned White and Bret Kinsella. Thanks to all volunteers especially K.C., Amy, Marwa and Mike. It was encouraging to know that so many friends in Virginia and Maryland were following me online.