After my Dad passed away unexpectedly last month, I knew I wanted to do a run in honor of him. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew it had to be something that challenged me both physically and mentally. My Dad, a retired Navy SEAL of 20 years, was one of the strongest people I knew and never backed down from a challenge. In my efforts to find the right race to run as a tribute, I came across the Mind the Ducks 12 hour run in Webster, NY. This was a race that started at 7 AM and concluded at 7 PM. During those 12 hours, runners would circle the same 1.012 mile loop around a lake as many times as they could. It just so happened that this event took place two days before my Dad would have turned 65. I immediately knew what race I had to do.
My initial thought was to run 65 miles for my Dad’s 65th birthday. Thankfully, a good friend and fellow runner convinced me to set my goals a little bit lower and more reasonable. I could will myself to run 65 miles, but the 12 hour time limit may have been the challenging part for my current fitness level. Coupling that with a preexisting ankle issue that gets aggravated by pounding on concrete and I may have been setting myself up for failure. Being forced to stop would have been a tough pill for me to swallow and the idea of failure would have hung heavily upon my shoulders. So I decided that 65km (just over 40 miles) was a better suited goal. It was reasonably attainable within the time constraints and it would be challenging, yet reachable.
When I finally decided to pull the trigger and register it was the week of the race. I went to the website and was met with the unfortunate reality that the race had sold out. There was a waitlist however, so I hopped on that and crossed my fingers. The website told me I was first in line so I only had to hope that one person would drop out. The next 48 hours or so were pure torture as I habitually checked my email and the Mind the Ducks Facebook group for any signs that I may have the opportunity to participate. Fortunately, the race director eventually informed me that a spot had opened up. I quickly completed my registration and breathed a sigh of relief. The weekend could not get here soon enough.
Saturday morning came very early as I had an hour and a half drive to Webster from Buffalo. I wanted to get there in plenty of time to get a good parking spot and claim an area for my gear. The drive itself was easy enough but apparently I misjudged how early I would need to get there. The parking lot was already pretty full by 6:15 AM. Luckily I was still able to find a spot in the main lot, it just wasn’t as close as I would have liked to the main running path. I lugged my chair, duffle bag, and drop bin over to the course and found a nice spot not too far from the bathrooms and aid station. I got my pack ready and mixed up my drink mixes in my water bottles. I decided to take my duffle bag back to the car since storms were in the forecast and I didn’t have any type of tent to protect my gear. My thought was that if my bag got soaked, the wet gear inside wouldn’t do me any more good than the wet gear I was going to be changing out of. I could always go back to my car mid run if I really needed to change. All that was left to do was go to the bathroom and I would be set.
I should know better by now that the line at the bathroom is indirectly proportional to the time remaining until the race starts. With 5 minutes until the start, I found myself standing in line to a port-o-potty. Normally I would be freaking out about this, yet on this day I found myself to be oddly calm. I guess it had something to do with the fact that I planned on running all day that I was able to be at peace with starting a few minutes late. By the time I got out the race had been underway for about 20 seconds. This actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I was forced to run at an appropriate pace that would be maintainable all day. Going out too fast in races is always a huge problem for me, so it was nice to be able to know that from the start, I was right where I needed to be to achieve my goals for the day.
I had never run the loop before so lap one was a complete mystery to me. About a quarter mile into the race there was a small, yet steep, hill about 20 meters long. It was no problem now, but I foresaw this causing some issues much later in the race. Around the three-quarter of a mile mark there was another hill, this time about 160 meters long but at a much shallower and gradual grade. Before I knew it, lap one was over and I was clipping along lap after lap. I found myself packing up with numerous individuals throughout the day, having some great conversations and an all-around good time. It was very helpful mentally to be able to just chat with different people at times and allow a few laps to tick by at the same time.
The weather was holding out for a while but all good things must come to an end at some point. About four hours into the event, the sky darkened and the rain began to fall. I didn’t mind it so much as I was already pretty wet from sweating, but I just didn’t want any storms to roll through with their accompanying thunder and lightning. Thankfully, the first round of rain passed almost as quickly as it appeared. The sun came back out and the day continued. This would be the pattern for most of the day: Sun-Rain-Sun-Rain.
I had about 27 miles completed when I started to feel some tightness in my Achilles. I was torn between being elated that my ankle was holding up so well on the concrete and annoyed that a new never before seen injury had decided to rear its ugly head. I decided to walk all of lap 28 in an effort to rest and loosen up my troublesome tendon. Not much improved in that lap. Discouraged, I contemplated stopping at 50k (31 miles). I feared I may do some serious damage if I continued on. Before making that call though, I stopped at my bin and decided an ibuprofen might help. I popped one and then heard a fellow runner I had seen and conversed with throughout the day yell, “Let’s go Robert!” I quickly replied with, “my Achilles isn’t cooperating right now; I’ll see you out there in a minute.” As I took off again walking down the path, a gentleman in the tent next to me inquired if I would like to use his stick roller since he heard I was having Achilles pain. I joyfully accepted his offer. This is what I love about the running community, especially the ultra-running community. Everyone is so nice and willing to help out in any way they can. We all want to see the person right next to us succeed just as much as we want to succeed ourselves. I rolled out, thanked the man, and set off walking again. I told myself I would walk up the first hill and give the NSAID time to kick in. Sure enough, I found myself pain free a few minutes later and set off ticking off some more laps. I crossed the 50k mark just over 6 hours. I was on a great pace and even better, I was feeling relatively good!
The weather went through a few more additional rain and sun cycles and then the wind came. I was packed up with a man and we had chatted for a lap or two. We reached the second hill and were shuffling up it when a huge wind gust blew through. I saw a pop-up tent start to lift off the ground and come our way. I yelled for him to watch out as his head was down. He dodged the initial attack, but then the tent began to completely tumble after him. He ran down the embankment towards the lake as the tent gave chase. He was out of the tent’s path, but his momentum kept him running down the hill. He found himself in the lake in some thick mud and eventually completely on his back. I was actually a little worried as the fall looked hard and he wasn’t initially moving. Several of us ran down to check on him, yelling, “Are you ok???” Still sitting in the mud, he simply responded with, “I think so.” We helped him out of the mud and all began our trek back around towards the aid station at the start of the lap. He remarked that once his legs got him going down the hill he just couldn’t stop. I can laugh about it now as everything seemed fine in the end but that was definitely a scary moment for us all.
This all happened around mile 37 or 38. I was two laps away from my goal and I started getting some more tightness in my Achilles. I took another ibuprofen to get me through the last stretch and ensure nothing ruptured. I was able to get through those last 2 laps relatively pain free. I had done it! Not only had I run 40 miles, but I was able to do it as a tribute to my Dad! I crossed the line at just over 8 hours. I still had 4 hours available to run but I decided that there was no reason to do that. I had achieved what I had set out to do that day. Today wasn’t about seeing how far I could run. Today was about running 64k, and that’s exactly what I did.
Some other notable highlights to the day included:
-The amazing volunteers. They were awesome at the aid station, filling up bottles and making sure there was plenty of food available. After I had stopped, one even offered to help me get my things back to my car. A simple act like that goes a very long way, especially after 40 miles.
-I developed a new found appreciation for having a personal crew. Abigail wasn’t able to join me today as she had a prior obligation. I was in charge of myself for the day. You wouldn’t think simple things like putting drink mix in your water bottles, grabbing gels, applying sun block, grabbing pain meds, reloading Salt Stick dispensers, etc. would be too hard to do. By themselves, they aren’t. But when I’m trying to maintain a consistent pace and remember everything I need to grab that lap, it becomes quite the pain. Not only did it cut into my overall pace, but I would often find myself reciting what I needed to grab from my bin on the next pass, only to completely forget what it was by the time I got there. In my previous ultras, Abigail was an amazing crew, always ensuring I had everything I needed. I will never downplay the importance of a crew again.
-I didn’t cramp up once throughout the entire run or have any stomach issues. I’m not sure it was as a result of any one particular thing I did, but perhaps a combination of everything. Before the run I had a packet of the Skratch Labs Hyper Hydration mix and a piece of Run Gum. Throughout the run I had: Several bottles worth of Skratch Labs electrolyte mix, 8-10 salted watermelon gu’s (these have a higher sodium concentration that most of the other flavors), 10 Salt Stick pills, lots of sliced watermelon, a handful of grapes, a couple fig newtons, an entire PB&J sandwich, and 1-2 pickles.
-Ducks on the course! It wasn’t called “Mind the Ducks” for nothing. There were geese and their ducklings all around the lake. At one point there were 2 geese and around 20 ducklings completely blocking the running path. As a few runners and I slowed down trying to figure out what to do, I simply remarked, “I don’t know what the protocol is here guys. I guess just stay away from the big ones.” We charged in carefully and allowed the tiny ones to scramble away while we got hissed at by the big geese.
-Lastly, but certainly not least, as I mentioned before the people and conversations on the course were incredible. The camaraderie I experience from complete strangers for those 8 hours was nothing short of awesome. I absolutely could not have done it out there by myself and I’m very happy I got to experience it with so many truly inspiring people. To Jay, Rae, Jim, Kelly, Cathy, Cathy’s husband whose name is escaping me at the moment, and anyone else I may be forgetting thank you all so much for talking with me and helping me through those 40 miles.