Monday, March 14, 2016

Race Report: Thomas Jefferson 100K - Pain, Community, New Friends, and Pure Happiness

I’m attempting my TJ100K race report while I’m still trying to soak in - or even comprehend - the truly incredible day I had out in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday. I didn’t expect to struggle so much. I didn’t expect I’d have to overcome so much. And I sure as heck didn’t think I had it in me to fight as hard as I did.

Rather than going section-by-section, I thought I’d try and write a general summary of my 11 hours and 20 minutes on the course (I tried to keep the report short, but failed - it's a long race!). If you like reports with struggles and comebacks, grab some coffee!

Per usual, here are the quick stats:
Time: 11:19:34
Place: 5th OA, 4th AG
  • Shoes: Mizuno Wave Hayate
  • Shirt: Nike Technical Shirt from Run Flagstaff
  • Nutrition: Tailwind, Coke, PB&J, Tater Tots, and Quesadilla
  • Shorts: Saucony
Course: Single-Track Loop Course (seven, nine-mile loops) in Charlottesville, Va. No major climbs, but never really flat, totaling about 1K of gain per loop. Some technical parts - plenty of places to trip and fall on your face...typical East Coast stuff.

Expectations and Goals
Since the day had so many unexpected turns, I thought I’d start with my thoughts going into the race. For starters, I was planning to race. Although it was my first 100K, I felt confident after Sean O’Brien, and while I knew I couldn’t podium, I thought I had a chance at top-ten (I’m usually a mid-packer, after all!). In terms of time, I wasn’t too sure, but sub-12 hours seemed to make sense based on my previous training run on the course.

I terms of how I felt - I was a bit scared by the distance, but felt good about my training. I was eating well, and trying to sleep a lot the week before, and all signs pointed to a good day. With one exception. A couple days before the race, I woke up with itchy eyes, a stuffy nose, and lots of sneezing - for the first time in my life, I had allergies. I was a little annoyed but just thought it would be a minor inconvenience, and didn’t worry about it too much.

Boy, was I wrong.

The Suffering
We started at 5am, and my first lap (9 miles) was pretty solid - right up there with the front pack. After a bio break, I drifted back a bit, but I didn’t mind because I enjoy solo running during longer races. My legs were good, and my nutrition and hydration were on point (actually, probably the best it’s been). But, my head/sinuses started to bother me in a painful, weird way.

By lap three, I was freaking miserable. Legs and nutrition were still good, but I felt so, so shitty. For a big chunk of the race, all I could think about was a bed, and with that mentality, came the flirtation with DNF-ing. I just felt like total crap! However, as I moved along and had help and encouragement from aid station volunteers (that's TRULY an understatement), the co-RD John, the other co-RD Andy Jones-Wilkins (“yo-yo time! You’ll bounce back”!), I knew I had to finish...even if it was going to take me into the night.
Trust me, I'm faking that smile...
When I finished lap five of seven, I told my fiance, who was my crew captain, that she should head out and have some fun since I figured it was going to take me so long. I just didn’t want her to wait…

Then the unexpected.

The Comeback
“Hey Taylor” - John, the co-RD. “Do you need a pacer?” he asked, as I was talking to my fiance.

“Ah, sure...yeah”. I’m a talker, and I love people, so I thought it could be a good distraction. So, Jeff of Crozet Running, finished his fourth slice of pizza, put on his shoes, and caught up to me as I was leaving the aid station.

I told him I was struggling, and he just stuck with me and chatted. Eventually he said, “you’re running really strong...I wouldn’t have had all that pizza if I knew you were going to be racing!”. I don’t know what happened - I guess it was partly because I was passing people, partly his distraction, partly some temporary relief (ICE TOWELS), and partly because a top-10, sub-12 hour finish was STILL POSSIBLE - but I kept moving along at a decent pace!
Jeff believed I had it in me, so he switched from ‘supportive’ to ‘pushing’. He didn’t let me complain. He gave me targets - ‘by that next hill, you’ll pass that person’. I put my head down, and I grinded. We eventually passed two people on my lap (and about 10 we lapped), before we flew into the aid station at the start/finish. I was met with cheers and excitement from all the volunteers, including the RDs Andy and John, and my incredible fiance who stuck around after she realized we were really moving. Andy said, “how you feeling now - you look much better!”. With a smile on my face, I said, “yes! Because I know I’m going to finish!!”.
This guy!!!
At this point, invested and crucial to my strong sixth lap, Jeff grabbed his running mate Dan (a.k.a., “Danton”) who he told to bring me home. They got me through the start/finish aid station quickly, and we were off!

Last Lap - Pure Happiness
About a quarter mile into the last loop, Dan turned to me and said - “Taylor, that’s fifth place up there - let’s go get him!”. We passed him, told him great job, and kept moving.

Although I was plugging along, it was much slower than before. My head was killing me, and my heart rate and lungs were all over the place. Dan was super chill, very supportive, and just so genuinely happy to help - not just me, but everyone else on the course. He and Jeff are why this community is amazing. They are why I love this sport, and what makes it special. I’m still so I said - still digesting all that happened!

As we were slowly moving along, there was a point where Dan said, “Taylor, in about 7 or so miles, you’re going to be a top-5 100K finisher. A Legend, Andy Jones-Wilkins, is going to hand you a $2 bill -- which basically makes you a pro (hehehe). You’re not going to catch 4th. I’m just being honest with you - he's too far ahead. But, sub-12 or not, you’re running strong, and you’re top five."

One step after the other, we passed the halfway point aid station, got through the tougher climbs, encouraged runners, managed my crazy heart rate/breathing issues, and eventually got to that beautiful, beautiful final climb before the finish. I told Dan how happy I was, and thanked him for the 50th time. I ran up the hill, saw that Finish banner, and took off as fast as I could.

I threw my arms in the air and was greeted by smiling faces and pure, genuine excitement by the RDs and volunteers. That one moment was truly one of the highlights of the entire day - I won’t forget it anytime soon!
Sub-12 became sub-11:30, and top-10 became top-5. Although I completed all nine laps, it really was a team effort. I’m so glad I had this experience. Not only did I learn a ton about myself, but I think seeing everyone and experiencing such a dark place for so long really helped me grow as a person.

John, AJW, Jeff, Dan, and Sarah - thank you, thank you, thank you! What a day!

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