Thursday, May 19, 2011

Race Report: 3 Days at the Fair 48 Hour Race

Pic: Lap 290, for the record

Pic: Early in the run, with creeply humanoid recycling containers in background

Pic: Me, Sabrina, Deb and Anna with our awards

Pic: Me with last year's 48 hour winners, Scott Brockmeier and Liz Bauer

Pic: Me with RD Rick McNulty

This race I had high hopes for coming into. After the 2007 24 Hour World Challenge in Drummondville, where I did better than expected, I was talking with Roy Pirrung and John Geesler about running a 48 hour race. They both encouraged me and gave me advice, and thought I might even be able to take a shot at the record, which was John's at 400K (248.55 miles) and was Roy's before that. So I had set my sights on the 48 hour record.

I got my first chance at the prestigious invitation-only race in Surgeres, France in May 2008. I had one of the greatest experiences of my life and ran very well, but fell short of the record, with 235 miles. Due to various circumstances, I didn't get my next chance until Across the Years this past New Year's. I started out well at this race, but was slowed down by the cold the first night, then after about 25 hours I had to pull out with an inflamed achilles.

So after Across the Years it was actually Deb Horn who reminded me about 3 Days at the Fair, which takes place at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in Augusta, NJ. I was free and I signed up. The event also includes 72 hour, 24 hour, 12 hour and 6 hour races, all of which (except the 6 hour) concluded at 9:00 am Sunday morning, May 15. I enlisted the help of Lydia Redding to drive me to the race and home again after.

My plan for this race was the same as my previous 48's. I mapped out my intended splits for each 50K. My first would take 5 hours, then 5:30, 5:30, 6, 6, 6, 6:30 and 6:30, which left an hour for a cushion. I had originally thought I could easily run a 6-hour 50K on a basically flat course no matter how tired I was, but I learned at Surgeres how hard it can really be. But I decided to stick with that plan.

I arrived at the race site and race director Rick McNulty gave me a quick tour of the facilities, which looked nice, indeed. The start/finish area was on what could be called the fairgrounds' "main drag", with the large kitchen/concession stand on one side, a large hall of some sort used for special events on the other, and a large, clean restroom facility (including showers) at the far end. (I can't tell you know nice it is to be able to wash your hands during a race like this!) This stretch would be a bit of an uphill, but nothing too strenuous, and I thought could be a good place for walking breaks. I knew the course would not be pancake flat, which was fine with me.

I set up my table under Deb's canopy, which I was thankful for, since the weather forecast during the race called for scattered showers, and set up my little pup tent, which I was hoping would go unused. Sabrina Moran set up next to Deb and me, and her parents came by later to provide a more substantial setup for her.

So at 9:00 am we 48 hour runners were off on our adventure. The course was a .8578-mile loop that ran counterclockwise from the start uphill towards the bathrooms, around and down the other side and after jutting out 50 yards or so headed down around a long bell-type curve. This curve is a gradual downhill to the bottom and gradual uphill coming back. Then a turn onto a grass/gravel section before coming back towards the main drag.

The race started comfortably enough, and I was settling into a stride and getting comfortable with the course. I decided that I'd take my walking breaks at the little section that juts out on the downhill stretch, since it's a slight uphill between downhill sections, and could become mentally discouraging later on. I also decidded to keep my walking break there to 36 steps - just enough to stretch my legs and catch my breath a bit. Early on, I caught onto a stride that felt very comfortable and sustainable. My physical therapist, Dr. Jack Mantione, had told me that I had been working my hamstrings too much, and that I should let the glutes do the work, and here I felt like I was letting my glutes propel me forward. I hit my first 50K split ahead of schedule at about 4:45.

I continued on, and no issues arose. I had decided to take more liquid calories in this race, mainly from Hammer Perpetuem and Sustained Energy, as well as Cytomax. The kitchen was offering some incredible food - besides the usual ultra food, they had a wider selection of fruits, including blueberries, raspberries and grapes, soups, and hot foods like hamburgers, grilled cheese, pizza, quesadillas, lots of good stuff. I went through quite a bit of the chicken broth - that really hit the spot! But lot of it would slow me down while eating, so I only occasionally took part of a hamburger or grilled cheese (but they were soooo good).

Through the first night, I was still keeping pace, and I only stopped once to rest, laying down about 10 minutes without sleeping, just to rest my feet. I did start to have a recurrence of my achilles problem after about 20 hours, but this time I brought a brace that I wrapped around my ankle, and the achilles was not an issue after that. Once at about 20 hours as I went by the timing tent, they gave my mileage and said, "You're in second." Second?!!! Last year's winner, Scott Brockmeier, and Darren Worts were both running well, but I didn't think they were ahead of me, who could it be? Next time around I asked and they said Sabrina was ahead, but we were on the same lap. Yes, she was running well, and she was well on track for the women's record of 234 miles, if she could keep the pace. She is definitely a young runner to watch. And her parents very kindly volunteered to fill my bottles for me.

At the halfway point, the 24 hour runners joined us, including good friends Anna Piskorska and Shannon McGinn. So that brought a new energy to the course. I had hit my 200K mark just under 22 hours, just ahead of schedule, and was still feeling comfortable. As the second day passed I just kept plugging along, and was surprised that even after 36 hours I was still keeping the same pace I was running at 12 hours.

I don't generally like to talk a lot during a race, even a long race like this, but I did get some enjoyable chatting time with a number of runners and was rooting for many of them to reach their goals. Sabrina, however, had struggled just before the halfway point and went home to re-energize and regroup. Deb wasn't having the race she was hoping for, saying she was having trouble eating enough. Charlotte Vasarhelyi was running the 72 and shooting for the Canadian 48 and 72 hour records. She had her ups and downs, but well into her third day was running as well as I'd seen anyone running that late into a 72 hour.

Saturday evening there was some sort of large event going on in the hall on the main drag, which looked like a lot of fun, but it was crowding the course a little, and I was looking forward to the time when they'd all go home. But it did provide something new to look at and think about. At 9:00 pm the 12 hour race started, which brought still more fresh runners to the course. It's always a little boost to see runners who are clean and fresh. And I was told that the course can be very sparsely populated on Saturday night, so the more runners out there, the better.

Through the second night I took a couple more short non-sleeping rests - about 5 minutes and 7 minutes, and another few minutes on a park bench - for my feet's sake, but my legs were still feeling good. I kept monitoring my stride, and I was still using my glutes to propel myself, my feet were still going "pat-pat-pat" instead of "clomp-clomp-clomp", and my nutrition plan was working. I was not taking extended walking breaks, and I was still running roughly 10-minute laps (11:30 miles). I needed 290 laps to break John's record, and I was counting down and silently celebrating every 10 laps. I was feeling very confident that it would happen, but still anything could happen, especially on the second night. After 220 laps, about 34:00, I decided to take one last rest break before making a final push for the last 70 laps.

Lydia came back to crew for me at about 11:00 pm, and it was very nice to have her help. I didn't feel like I was getting sleepy, but my mind was definitely a little out of it. Going past the timing station and having Rick call out my lap number, and with the people in the kitchen, by the time I went out on the lonely back stretch (which seemed to get longer and longer all night), it felt like the timing station was a dream, they were two separate worlds. The time in the race was winding down, and I was hoping I'd be able to stay out there and not take any time off the course.

Then at about the 41 hour mark (2:00 am) the rain came down, and it got heavy for a while and was creating some puddles on the road. Fortunately I had my rain jacket with me, but my feet were getting wet, and I suddenly felt awake, although I couldn't tell if I was still maintaining my pace. The rain let up to become a spotty drizzle, and I was determined to push on and get that record, it was too close now, and I might never be in this position again. The splits were well ingrained in my head and I was still on pace.

At about 45 hours it poured again, for almost an hour straight. By this time I had 280 laps, and I was going to push for those 10 laps, even picking up the pace. I was thankful for Lydia being there to help keep my supplies and extra clothes dry. My own clothes were soaking wet, which at this time was shorts and wind pants, a long sleeve shirt, short sleeve shirt, wind jacket and rain jacket, much bulkier than I'd prefer, but I didn't want to get sidelined by hypothermia at this point.

Rick was at the timing station counting down the final laps for me, and there was an enthusiastic group at the picnic tables by the kitchen cheering me on as well, and I kept up sub-10 minute laps. Finally I crossed the line at 290 laps - 248.7 miles at 46:18, more than an hour 40 minutes left. After some hugs and handshakes to celebrate I was back on my way. I was still feeling good, and although there was a part of me that wanted to relax and be happy with anything I could get now, I still was motivated to get as high a mileage total as I could. Pulling away from the main drag, it felt strange that this was now uncharted territory for any American runner, everything I did now was covering new ground.

With a little over an hour to go, Rick told me I could get 300 laps - 257 miles. I thought it would be close, averaging 10 minute laps, and the last thing I wanted to happen, since partial laps weren't counted, was for me to run almost a full lap and just miss the finish line by a few seconds. But what choice did I have? I just had to push harder. But my last few laps I was running just a little faster, and my last three laps were even under nine minutes. Heading out on my last lap with 15 minutes to go, I was mentally saying goodbye to the landmarks I wouldn't see again. No more hill by the bathroom, no more downhill stretch interrupted by the right-turn uphill, no more long bell curve, no more recycling container that looked like a soldier, no more gravel section, then the road before turning back onto the main drag one last time, and across the finish line for 300 laps - 257.34 miles, with six minutes to spare. My last lap was 8:33 - about 10:00 for a mile. But it felt so good to finally be done, and to be able to celebrate.

With a good breakfast and a very nice awards ceremony, where winners of all races were given beautiful homemade pottery in place of trophies, I was able to enjoy the company of the other runners, who were so supportive during the race and as ultrarunners tend to be, just incredibly wonderful people. Sabrina came back and won the women's 48 hour, Deb getting second. Anna won the 24 hour. Darren Worts got second in the 48, with over 200 miles himself.

So I have to give a big thanks to Lydia Redding for crewing me and giving me transportation, and for cleaning up and breaking down after the race; to Jack Mantione for his pre-race tune-up; to the Morans for their help during the race; and of course for Rick McNulty and all of the staff of the race for putting on such a great event, and for being attentive to my record attempt. And a special thanks to John Geesler for being supportive throughout, as was Roy Pirrung before him. It's my pledge to be as supportive of whoever is going to break my record.

But the basic info, that people have asked about: my shoes were the Mizuno Wave Precision 11, socks were WrightSock double-layered socks, and I never changed shoes or socks during the race. My 24-hour splits were about 136 and 121. My 50K splits are below - intended splits and total time, followed by actual splits and total time:

50K: 5:00 - 5:00; actual 4:47 - 4:47

100K: 5:30 - 10:30; actual 5:06 - 9:54

150K: 5:30 - 16:00; actual 5:52 - 15:46

200K: 6:00 - 22:00; actual 6:04 - 21:51

250K: 6:00 - 28:00; actual 5:44 - 27:35

300K: 6:00 - 34:00; actual 5:59 - 33:34

350K: 6:30 - 40:30; actual 6:24 - 39:59

400K: 6:30 - 47:00; actual 6:19 - 46:18

P.S. - I haven't been able to keep up on my bridges, but they will return shortly!


  1. Great race report! And again, I wish you a huuuuge congratulations!!!! :)

  2. Thank you for the write-up

    Congratulations on the amazing effort and race - To me it is a thing of beauty to be appreciated like a fine symphony or painting.

    A great 48 race distance for you, but also another step forward for US ultra-running. I hope like a great work of art, it inspires more poeple to push their own limits and attempt 48 hour races!

    Recover well!

    Michael Henze

  3. Amazing report, Phil. I couldn't believe how strong and steady you were the ENTIRE race. Truly an inspiration!!! CONGRATULATIONS!!

  4. Phil, you are totally awesome. CONGRATULATIONS. You are an inspiration!

  5. More than anything, I'm impressed by your speed at the end (the last 100K). This is the way I like to run in workouts and races, and it always leaves me feeling great. It sounds like it worked out that way for you too, Phil. And the photo of you passing the line and breaking the record embodies that.
    Good job, and keep it going!

  6. Phil you are the man!!!! Have a great race at NC24! You won't have that crazy rabbit to chase down this year but I know you will do awesome out there! :) Run Strong!

  7. Amazing job, Phil! I really enjoyed reading your account of the race. Congratulations on breaking the American record!