So if you said that I would run 157.2 miles in the Pine Barrens of Long Island in New York in October, I would say “No way”. But I did. And what ensued in the race was one of the highlights of my year in my running for 2022.
The Tesla Hertz has been going on for 10 years. Put on by Vinny and Nichole at Happily Running, the race is a Fall highlight of a really cool area in Long Island. The Course is 10.48 mile loops with an aid station every 5 miles. It is a deceptively hard course. Yes, the elevation gain is not extreme, but the rolling nature of the course, the sudden twists and turns absolutely challenge your body. This year was a special year as the 157.2 mile option came about because of the 10th year anniversary and getting the race permit extended up to Monday. The community behind this race is the true highlight. I was blown away by the kindness everyone expressed out there and truly made this event one of the best of the year for me.
On a personal note, I have had a hard time training this Summer. After Gunstock, I have not been at my normal paces and fitness levels. I had a lot of pressure coming into Tesla Hertz and I really was wanting to have a great race here. I did not know what I was capable of but hopefully could run a low 30 hour finish. I have noticed some knee and IT band discomfort which I believe has been caused from running hard paces all year on sidewalks and roads here in Providence. I worked with my coaches to get some PT going and hoped for the best.
I drove to the race on a Friday afternoon and made it to the hotel around 6pm. I grabbed some local pizza and a beer nearby and grabbed some rest for the long race ahead.
The next morning, I would drive to the start and unfortunately we hit a small patch of rain though the rest of the race conditions would be cool in the 50’s during the day and 40’s and 30’s at night. It was amazing to see so many familiar faces-too many to mention even. I felt like I was with my tribe and ready to commit to 15 laps to run 157.2 miles in these pine barrens. At 6:10am, we were off. I settled in with the first few runners and decided to run their pace to the first aid station. We settled into miles in the 10 minute range which was where I hoped to be for the race as 157 10 minute miles is nothing but stellar. The rain was coming down a little and I just tried to remain calm in the dark of the morning. Running through the woods was really cool and it felt like I was in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, just the drier version. We eventually made it to the first aid station where I hit the bathroom and then surged to catch back up to my lead group. It was here I put together some 8 minute miles and then started my pace in the 9 minute range.
As the laps progressed, I started to feel better and better. The weather was perfect after that first loop with some nice sunshine and nice cool Fall temps. I continued to run sub 9 minute miles in the 8:30-8:40 range like clockwork. The sandy nature of the trails, made for running fast, difficult but the winding-nature of the course allowed me to really get into a groove. The course was a tale of two halves. The first half had a lot of winding trail, lots of steep ups and downs and was a half mile longer. The second half had a long steep hill towards the last 1.5 miles of the loop but the majority of the loop had more straightaways and less winding terrain.
My Ucan Energy and Edge gels were working great for me along with Long Haul Hydration and bananas at each aid station along with other whole foods. Man Dad came to crew and join me around Noon and I got into a nice groove trying to bank time in the day light. I was probably running too fast as I split the 50 mile mark around 7 hours and 30 minutes and continued that pace up through 70 miles. I was able to run 7 loops before it started to become dark and the woods started my need for a headlamp in my 8th. The pace I was going if I could maintain it, I could possibly finish 157 miles in 24 hours which would give me an unofficial performance for the US 24 hour team (as the course needs to be USATF certified and this one wasn’t) . I was flying and loving the course.
By the 8th lap, I had to slow down if I were to get to that 15th lap in a solid position. This is a course that wears you down. My joints took a beating. My hip flexors, lower back, shoulders, and ankles all felt it from the constant ups and downs of the trail. By mile 85, I knew I had to do my best to grit this out. “Survive the night” was the mantra I kept in my head. The trail at night is dark. We had a full moon and it did nothing to light the trail. The Pine Barrens are a mysterious place. The temperature on the first loop dropped like crazy. It soon dropped into the low 30’s and was moist, soul-crushing cold. To start lap 9, I put on a beanie, gloves and was able to run with Smithtown legend, Mike Petrina. It was amazing to have Mike along for the ride. In total, Mike would pace me two loops and he really helped set me up well as I pushed in the overnight.
This is where the race is won or lost. I was slowing down about a minute per mile from my 9-10 to 10-11 minute miles just having a hard time taking in the calories I needed. Pizza helped me for one lap, Starburst candies at Whiskey Girl Aid kept me going in the night, and warm broth. I pushed hard to 104 miles and finished that lap in around 18:30 close to the overall 104 mile course record. The night is tough. Your body and mind are tired and the cold weather saps your energy. My T8 kit I noticed was freezing out my legs a little bit so eventually I put on pants that made a massive difference. It was fun seeing everyone wearing crazy bright headlamps, running vests, often jamming out to music. But as the witching hour came, I saw fewer and fewer runners.
From mile 90 to the end, I needed to stop at the aid stations longer to roll out my hips. I even took a bottle of Motrin and used it to rub myself out. This was the point where I regretted signing up for the 157 mile. 104 miles felt good at this point but I knew I had to stay present. On my 11th lap, I fought the sleep demons. By the time I finished this loop, I needed a nap. I noticed the trail looked like a river or an ocean as the light from my headlamp was distorting things. My Dad was awesome and took a dog bed, blankets, a sleeping bag, and my Stupid Award Fleece Blanket from Hellgate last year and I covered myself up. I slept for maybe 25-30 minutes. I immediately started to feel good. That did the trick.
In these longer runs, there is a fine balance between time spent stopped to address food, sleep, rolling out etc vs pushing through the extreme fatigue. I knew this nap would make my chances at running 145 miles in 24 hours difficult to achieve but what would be bad if I did it in 26 hours or 27 but could keep moving strong to 157 miles. I did all I could muster to get through the night. By the time morning had come in the middle of my 12th lap, I was ready to roll. After eating some bacon at the Whiskey Girl Aid with Thad helping us runners out, my low I had from the night was over. The surge of energy I had was sheer magic. Often times when you are hurting, you just need more calories and the right type of calories to move you in the right direction. My pace immediately got back to where I needed to be running 9 and 10 minute miles again. It was like a switch was flicked on.
I ran another lap (14) with Mike and we flew. We hit that lap in 1 hour 45 minutes. By the time I started my last lap, I was going to finish this race close to 31 hours. I took my time to roll-out, chugged a Modelo just like in Cocodona and I was off. I ran this loop well hitting many 9 minute miles. The feeling that I was going to finish this thing was massive. It was a brutally hard race for what it does to your body. And I was proud I walked maybe .05-1% of the entire race, only at the one steep climb towards the end of the loop. I ran the last half lap with conviction and funny enough had not fallen until entering the final aid station. As I hit the last little hill to the aid station, my toe clipped a root and down I went. I had my phone in my hand and as my phone left my hand, it bounced on the sandy turf and bounced right into my forehead, drawing blood.
When I hit the last aid station, I was greeted by David and some of the other runners. I took some time to refuel on bacon and drank some Coca Cola and shot-out to catch the caravan of runners. But before I did, I took a shot of Fireball whiskey that I could only stomach half of it. As I caught them one by one, I could smell the barn. I hit 150 miles in just around 30 hours which was awesome and a goal. With more 9 minute miles, I was just 2 miles from the finish. I texted my Dad and Ashlee that I was almost done and then ran into Vin recording me out by the final section that is in the woods near a school. There was a soccer game going on so the cheering was extra motivation. Just like Cocodona, something took over me as I continued to pick up my pace. It was until I hit that final finish chute seeing a 5:11 mile pace tick on my Coros Apex watch. I crashed into the finish line thankful to be complete with the journey of 157.2 miles. 31 hours 27 minutes was my finish time. I averaged 12:04 a mile with a moving pace of 10:12. It was really a textbook run for me. I never greatly wavered from my pace and with going out very fast, I was able to adjust to more of my goal pace. What this endeavor taught me is that belief in yourself, is the #1 hurdle. When you let go of the pressure and just run, amazing things can happen.
These “longer” distances are not about sheer talent, but mental skill and fortitude. I am no Kilian Jornet, no Jim Walmsley. But what I have now found is that I excel at consistency in pacing and effort and my mental strength to adapt and power through difficult conditions is hard to beat. Where most athletes would take a 20 to 30 degree temperature swing as a death sentence, I look at is as an opportunity to adapt and stay engaged to my environment. After running across New Jersey, what I thought were my initial limits as an athlete are just the tip of the iceberg for me. Why do I seek out races beyond 100 miles? For me, I have found an incredible community of like-minded runners but also because it is when I push beyond the standard 100 mile distance, that I experience something new and profound. Multi-day running is unique and special. It is all of life diluted into a few days. What I gain from pushing myself these extreme distances have been so much more valuable than any medal, accolade, or Ultrasignup result. The journey of 157 miles, 250 miles, is what I love most about running. It is about pushing your own limits of what you think is possible, re-defining the status quo, and like a phoenix rising from the ashes, re-creating your potential with each passing checkpoint.
Running is not static, but fluid. We are our own champions of movement. So when you ask yourself, how can we run more than 100 miles, the answer is simple but the belief in the answer is the most difficult task: One step forward, one checkpoint at a time until the deed is done.
Thank you to everyone that has been a part of my journey thus far in ultra running. Tesla Hertz was the perfect event for me this Fall. Vinny, Nichole and the host of volunteers, fellow runners, and others in association with the event was absolutely spectacular. Everyone here truly was a breath of fresh air. Mike and the Smithtown Run Co crew was awesome! Thank you for that Modelo aka rocket fuel!
The various brands and people behind those brands that help me out thank you for your support:
T8 apparel: John and David, the blue camo T8 shorts are my favorite. The Iced Tee and Commandos also did the trick. No chafe issues for 157.2 miles.
Nathan Sports: The Vapor Krar Volume 2 vest and Halo Headlamp, and handhelds worked wonders. And the apparel for the cold night stretches and post race had me comfortable and looking sharp.
Ucan: once again the Ucan Energy powder and Edge gels just give me consistent energy that is built for the long miles. Since working with Katie and the Ucan team, my consistency in my racing has been next level.
Squirrels Nut Butter: To Chris and the gang, T8 and SNB work like a match made in heaven. SNB is incredible anti-chafe solutions and since using them, blisters do not really happen much these days.
Swiftwick socks: Kristen and Swiftwick have been stellar. A new partnership, Swiftwick has been a savior for my feet as they saved me at Cocodona and now Tesla Hertz. They fit my feet really, really well and the variety of their range is exactly what I need for both extreme hot and cold ultra runs and everything in-between.
Dion Snowshoes: Well I did not wear snowshoes for this race but snowshoe running is what has been my secret for building off-season strength in winter that keeps me active and in top shape for a long season of ultra running. Dions are the best and the buffs are cool too.
Willa and Nick at Norda for the great shoes along with Ray Zahab providing counsel on racing in the extremes.
Coros, Janji, Trails Collective, Finger Lakes Run Co and Confluence Run have all been past partners and some current that have helped out in many ways.
To my coaches Anthony and Lindsay, thank you for your continued guidance. I am excited to see what we do with the 340 mile Speed Project in 2023!
To Ashlee, my true inspiration, love of my life, crew boss, and overall super human, without you, none of this would be a reality. Her motivation, love and support is the best I could ever ask for!
Time to enjoy the Fall and get ready for 2023! My next BIG project will be in March with The Speed Project, a 340 mile run from Santa Monica to Las Vegas!