After another early wake up, this time in the 3am range, I was fired up and ready to go. There is something about race mornings, I never have a problem getting up to go do something that I love. The wake up on day 3 was a little earlier due to an earlier start time, some might complain but I would gladly run in the dark any time in exchange for less time in the heat. As usual I was the first one up, making sure I got my breakfast in, and all my nutrition and gear was set for the day. There was a lot less stress knowing I was off the bike and any mechanical issues would now come down to shoes and I had 4 pairs with me so I wasn't worried. Before I knew it everyone was up and it was time to head for the hour drive back to Mt Dora. Before we left Erica asked if I wanted to bring an extra pair of shorts just in case, but I thought 2 was enough.
My legs felt surprisingly good after the beating I gave them over the previous two days, and I was feeling pretty strong. I was probably a little more quiet than normal on the drive over as I knew very well I had a tough day ahead of me, but I was prepared to give it everything I had. We got to the start with about 30 minutes to go, I got my final nutrition in and prepared to run the 52.4 miles back to Orlando. Since the bathrooms were still locked we had to find a spot in the bushes to do our pre-race "business".
“The best pace is a suicide pace, and today looks like a good day to die.”- Steve Prefontaine
I started in the front, because that's exactly where I wanted to be, I had 49 minutes to make up on Chuck, and less than a minute on Inaki. I came down here to win, and if I played it conservatively my chances of making up such a huge chunk of time was slim. While it may matter to some, the difference for me between 2nd and 3rd place is negligible, over the previous 2 days I had done enough work to give myself a decent enough cushion that even if I had a spectacular blowup I would at the very least be able to maintain my position. I also knew that my plan was going to take an extreme amount of mental toughness and a little bit of luck as I would be on my own with just my crew all day if my plan worked.
When we finally got the signal, it was go time. I shot off the start line like I was shot out of a cannon and I was very quickly alone, like I knew I would be. I had a feeling Chuck would let me go, because with a big cushion like he had, his luxury would be pacing conservatively through the first marathon and hope I either blow up, or limit the damage so that making up the difference in the 2nd half of the run would be near impossible. I was unsure if Inaki would follow my lead but knowing that he had never run under 8 hrs in the past, I wasn't surprised when he didn't.
Getting out of the park was a little tedious as the turns weren't marked and I found myself constantly overshooting the turns, and having to ask which way I was going. That lasted for only a few minutes before we headed out into town and on the way back to Orlando. I never once looked back but I could tell by the beautiful night silence that I was completely alone. As I went through the first mile in 7:14 I passed some of the pacers that were waiting for their runners. I felt amazingly strong and my entire focus was ticking off the miles. At times they seemed pretty effortless and I was in a zone. I started on my nutrition early and wanted to make sure I was going to be able to fuel myself while maintaining my pace. At one point Erica asked me how fast I was running because I was so far ahead, when I told her 7:15 she shook her head in acknowledgement and told me to just keep running. For the first 9 miles I ticked off miles in the 7-7:15 range without incident but I soon started to get the GI rumble that every runner dreads.
Shortly after hitting the red road for the first time I had to pull over and tend to my "trots". I was way ahead at this point so I wasn't concerned with a small pit stop and kept on running, even able to maintain an 8:22 for that mile, but quickly bounced back to my 7:15 pace for the next 30 minutes or so, when I had to stop once again. I passed through the 1st half marathon and I got word that I was about 12 minutes ahead of Chuck and Inaki who were reported to be running together and I thought to myself if I keep this up its going to be close, but I might have an outside shot at sneaking in for the win. I stayed positive even though the heat was starting to become more intense and my bathroom breaks were becoming more frequent which was not letting me get in a rhythm. After another quick stop I went back to running but this time my running break only lasted 13 minutes before I had to stop yet again for another bowel movement.
I was starting to get very frustrated as nothing was seeming to stay in, and I was starting to run low on baby wipes. I had gone a little over 20 miles and I knew if I wasn't able to keep anything in the next 32 miles were going to be quite a challenge. It was after yet another nature break that I decided to see if walking up one of the first extended inclines would calm my system and allow me to get some nutrition in that I would hopefully be able to keep in. I walked the back half of mile 21 and ended up with a 11:20, the slowest of my day, in hopes that it would allow me to get back to running in the 7's where I should have, and wanted to be. I creeped back into the 7's and was able to run another 2 miles before I had to stop yet again, for you guessed it, another nature break.
As I started running again up one of the hills at the top one of the volunteers who was following us all weekend, Kathy, was waiting at the top on her bike and gave me her best impression of a Waynes world "we're not worthy" salute. It was a nice to have some support other than Erica and my crew, since I had not really seen anyone but them and Steve at the half marathon mark for some time. I might have looked strong at that point, but she had no idea what I was going through on the inside. Right after seeing Kathy I headed back downhill which rumbled my stomach more and had me on the side of the road once again a mere 12 minutes later.
At this point I think the head official was getting pretty frustrated as every time he came by looking for me I was in the bushes or somewhere else off the course hidden so I could do my business. I started running again and once again only lasted 12 minutes before having to stop and release. I had initially planned on changing my shorts half way through but I was so soaked and the chafing was starting to bother me so I combined this stop with a quick change since I was about 25 miles in to the run. I had now stopped 8 times since the 9 mile mark but to my surprise I still found myself in front of the race. I could hear Steve King's voice in the distance at the marathon mark and it drew me to run through and look strong, hoping that Steve would relay the message to Chuck and Inaki that I was looking strong, and not the one that I was breaking down.
For those that have never done an Ultraman Steves' voice is like an oasis in the middle of the desert. It's both calming and empowering as he shows up in the middle of nowhere with his announcing and yet he is somehow always at the next stop before you get there. It's like he magically appears and that can be very soothing as it means you have passed another checkpoint. That next checkpoint was the marathon mark which I crossed first in 3:28.
Ideally I wanted to run 7 hours or faster, 7:30 as a worst case scenario and halfway I was right on target. The problem was that I was still having GI issues and that combined with the excessive heat, 100% humidity and lack of shade was really starting to take its toll. I don't know what it was but for some reason about 28 miles in I looked back for the first time all day, and I could see Inaki. As much as I expected it to eventually happen, I didn't think it would have happened that soon. I decided, probably mistakenly, to back off completely until he passed. I slowed down to a walk and took in a recovery drink to see if that would perk me up so I could have energy to do some battling. I had not seen any one else that was racing for roughly 3 and half hours. I never looked back again just kept moving forward taking in my calories and expecting him to pass.
He eventually passed with a quick handshake and kept on his way, at that point to me, he looked pretty strong. A minute or two went by and as to be expected there was Chuck not far behind. I was still walking at this point, and as he ran past he told me I had some set of balls for starting out like I did. I knew at that point unless Chuck had a major breakdown he was going to be impossible to beat. 24 miles is still a long way to go, but he was averaging running in the 8 minute range, and in order to pick that up Inaki or I would have to run the rest of the run in the low to mid 6's to come away with the win. I told Erica I was going to let them both go in hopes of catching them later once I got some calories to stick, and she looked at me like I had 8 heads. In retrospect she was right, like she normally is, that it was a terrible idea. I walked the whole mile in 16:28 and even with walking, I had to stop once again for a bathroom break.
It's funny how quickly that it happened, but I went from leading the race and feeling on top of the world to being in 3rd and feeling completely helpless. I couldn't take in any solid foods, and anything liquid was going right through me. I decided to start up on the coke to see if that would settle my stomach and hopefully provide me with a little bit of a caffeinated boost. Erica had been pacing me on and off since right around the marathon point, but it was right around here where she made it clear she wasn't going to be leaving my side unless absolutely necessary. At some point over the next 4 miles I ended up running a mile, then walking a mile after my bathroom breaks. I had almost gone through an entire package of baby wipes and was in the bushes and Erica noticed that I was stating to wipe blood. I didn't let on at the time but I was really nervous that I was going to have to seriously dial it back even more, to make sure I got to the finish line in one piece.
Shortly after my blood incident I saw these nice people that were encouraging me and offering me stuff and I kind of wondered what they were doing out in the middle of nowhere. I thought they might have been volunteers and I thought it was strange that they were at such an odd spot but I didn't think anything of it. I kept moving forward and in another 15 minutes or so I saw them again, and I thought to myself, wow these guys are all over it, really nice to have volunteers that care so much about the racers in such a small field. As we got to the next section of the red road I quickly realized that the nice volunteers that I kept passing were another athletes crew. I could see the car creeping up, and I kept moving forward but I was depleted and having a hard time responding.
Somewhere around mile 34, Daniel made his pass, and looked quite convincing doing it. I was now in 4th place and fading faster than I would have liked. Before I knew it there was another crew car leap frogging us as well. All of the sudden I was looking at dropping back to 5th just like that. The next few miles were the most physical, mental and emotionally challenging miles I have ever experienced at any race of any distance. I tried to run and I would start moving sideways. It was brutally hot and the lack of shade was getting to me along with everything else. In as bad shape as I was I remember saying to Erica, wow do I feel bad for the bigger guys like Chris running in this heat, he's gotta have like 40+ lbs on me and this heat and these hills are no joke.
I thought to myself "I signed up for Ultraman Florida, I didn't sign up for Badwater". Coming from the north where most of my runs were in the 30's and 40's to running in the 90's was destroying me. The negativity was creeping in and I was having a hard time keeping it out. Thoughts of power, and strength had been replaced with weakness and demise. I was completely BROKEN. I had a complete emotional breakdown at that point. I had trained so hard, I am in such good shape to run, why can't I take a step without going sideways. I broke down and just started to tear up and feel sorry for myself. Erica grabbed my hand and just walked with me, as I was completely dejected and drained. At the same time in the crew car both my mother and mother-in-law were having a crying party of their own because I was in such bad shape. The entire team of athlete #31 was a distraught mess.
I'm not sure what it was but all of the sudden I got angry, and I forced myself to start running again, which surprisingly felt better than walking. I averaged 8:15 for the next 2 miles and caught back up to Daniel and away from the other crew car that was close to us. It wasn't the 7's I was running earlier in the day but with the increased heat and minimal calorie intake I was happy. I was able to run/walk the next 2 miles an get a few 11 minute miles and take myself back into 3rd place. I crossed the 3rd 1/2 marathon mark in back in 3rd place at 5:51 picking up 5 minutes on Daniel in the process, but I was now 30 minutes behind Chuck and Inaki. I actually had no idea where they were and I had stopped asking for splits after the marathon mark in fear that knowing that their gap was increasing would creep further negativity into my head.
I was so happy to hit that 3/4 mark, but at the same time something went very wrong after leaving the red road for the final time. In fact It took me almost an hour to cover miles 41-44. I walked the entire way, I'm still not exactly sure why and I don't know what was going through my head, but I wanted absolutely nothing to do with running. Maybe if I knew that they were only 30 minutes ahead it might have given me a boost, or maybe it would have made it worse. I have no idea. During my walk break Daniel passed me, then Artem passed me, then Leandro passed me, then Andres passed me and I'm not sure but I think Meredith passed me as well. I had dropped back and I was now in 8th place. The great thing about Ultraman is that EVERY...SINGLE..ONE of the people that passed me tried to get me to come and run with them at their pace. We were all suffering together with one goal get to that finish line as fast as possible.
I knew mathematically there was no way I was losing 3rd unless I walked the rest of the run and that just wasn't going to happen. While walking I was able to get some nutrition in, and I finally had stopped going to the bathroom every 15-20 minutes. I was wishing I had listened to Erica and brought extra shorts, as I was completely soaked and uncomfortable. I had ice bags to keep me cool and a wet tshirt that we were soaking in the cooler around my neck to keep me cool. Even with that I was still struggling to walk. I had been asking for salt pills, but the canister that we had them in mysteriously disappeared. Fortunately Leandros crew had a few extras that they were willing to part with and all of the sudden I came back to life.
With 10 miles to go I was suddenly on a mission. I started to run again, only taking walk breaks to keep my core temperature and heart rate down. I would run for 5-6 minutes with ice in my hand and put ice in my hat while I walked to cool down for a minute. I continued this strategy as I was covering a lot more ground. When I was running I was back to running in the mid 7 range, but my walk breaks were netting me miles in the 8:30-10 minute range. Little by little I started crawling my way back in the ranks. I gave as much encouragement as I could muster when I would make a pass but I spent some extra time trying to convince Daniel to run with me.
As I passed him I said come on lets go, I'm doing a run/walk lets finish this thing up. He said I would love to but "I ain't got that right now". I forged ahead with my head down and my face planted on my watch. I knew exactly when I was going to stop and exactly when I had to start running again. At this point in the race it's real easy to walk extra, and the walk breaks feel like they last for 10 seconds while the running feels like it lasts for hours. I was happy that Erica now was only coming to run with me sporadically, she needed a break from the heat and she got some well deserved time in the car.
Before I knew it I had crawled back in to 4th place on the run and I was still moving well with about 5 miles left. The closer I got to the finish the more my pace started to increase and the last few miles seemed to just tick away. With a little over a mile left to go Erica told me she wanted to cross the finish line with me, I said are you kidding me? There is no way you aren't going to be next to me crossing that line after everything you've done all weekend. I told her and the crew to go ahead and meet me at the finish line. I wasn't stopping any more and I was running the rest of the way in.
And that is exactly what I did, I knew I had done it. I suddenly had another energy burst as I could now feel the finish line. After I came across the final bridge I could see the finish flags and I could see Erica right there waiting for me. I was suddenly floating ,and the pace just came effortless to me, just like it had in the morning a little over 8 hours earlier. When I finally hit the point where Erica was standing we ran stride by stride all the way through the finish, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I ran as fast as I could muster for that last mile and in the end it ended up being just as fast as my first mile.
I crossed the line in 8:16:33 with almost a 4 hour PR of a 50 mile run. The only other time I ran 50 miles was in 2011 and I had run it in 12:29. As soon as I crossed the finish line I found a shady spot in the grass and just sat down, sitting down immediately turned into laying on my back as every muscle in my body was screaming and spasming. I had just emptied the tank and had absolutely nothing left. I stayed there, on my back for quite some time. At the time it was the most comfortable thing ever. I was laying in a bunch of sticks and leaves and I felt like I was in a California king size bed at a 5 star hotel with 1500 thread count sheets. I tried to stand up 3 or 4 times, but I was in that spot for at least an hour before I could get up and move around. The doctor came over to keep checking on me, just to make sure.
When I was finally up and about I started to get some more calories in and congratulating everyone on their finishes. I got my final medical stats taken and a massage to help work the kinks out. As much as I would have loved to stay around, after my massage I headed back to the condo as I was still in really bad shape. I was happy to be able to follow everyone elses progress via the Facebook group at home. I was literally stalking my phone refreshing the Facebook group to see when everyone was finishing and cheering from afar. I was sad to see that Bob & Eric had to pull out, but amazed at what happened in the last 5 minutes before the cutoff. Amy Palmiero-winters became the first Amputee to finish Ultraman on her 3rd try and Chris just made it to the finish with 69 seconds to spare. If you ever wanted to know about the vibe and culture that surrounds Ultraman it is explained in the 2 minute video below.
The awards ceremony the next night was just as amazing as the event itself. Everyone is invited up to talk about their race and their experiences and everyone is VERY emotional. I've heard before that the hardest part of the race is trying not to cry during your speech and after going through it, and experiencing the range of emotions over the weekend I can certainly see why. If anyone ever has any ambitions about doing one of these events I would highly recommend it. There is something extremely special about them that can't be explained unless you experience it for yourself.
I want to thank everyone for reading and of course need to thank all of my generous sponsors. Forte Gelato, Zoot, Pacific SBR, Enduropacks, and HUUB without your help all of this would not be possible. Most importantly I want to thank my wife for not only being there for me during the race but throughout the training as well. You know me better than anyone else and I am glad that I get to share my life and experiences like this with you.