Pony Express 100 Mile Endurance Run

As fate would allow it, this past weekend opened up for me and I was faced with a challenge:  sign up for a 100 miler last moment.  Should I do it?  The question was easy: yes.  I am certifiably insane now.  I did even consider the idea of just signing up for the 50 miler.  I’m a “full-monty” sort of guy.  Of course, I had my doubts the night before.  Had I been training sufficiently to throw myself at at a three-headed hydra?  Would I fall apart?  Only the miles would tell.

Finding a crew was a major challenge for the race.  With only a couple days until the race and a Friday start, my options were VERY limited.  I owe my finish to this man: FRANK BOTT.  Frank has done this race 5 times and graciously offered to crew me for the event.  I am humbled and needless to say, happy I was able to throw down the hammer to get us both to the finish line in a quick and expedient manner.  Now begins my story:

Myself and my faithful steed, Shadow, drove down to Lookout Pass Thursday afternoon.  After picking up a giant pizza to use as fuel during the race, I headed to the start line and showed up around 7 PM.  Davy Crockett and Frank were there to greet me and check me in.  I got settled in, ate a big dinner, and crawled into my sleeping bag around 8 PM.  Many people have a problem sleeping the night before a big race, but I seem to be quite the opposite, which can have huge effects on how well the latter portions of a 100 mile race go.  I woke from my slumber around 5 AM, dozed for another hour, then got ready for the race at 6.  I had a monstrous breakfast of Greek Yogurt, Vespa, and protein granola bars.  It was just enough food that I would be able to run comfortably with.  With a crewed race, it is very simple to have quick and easy access to any food you want, which I knew would play well to my advantage.  Before I knew it, Davy was counting us down and we were off.  I started my race at 7 AM, the 3rd of 4 start waves.  This race is a “downhill” course.  You are imperceptibly losing altitude for the 1st 20 miles.

I definitely took my time.  I am the King of pacing, knowing how hard to push the body to maintain a steady pace.  This has helped me reap huge dividends late in the race (my finish at Badwater was a great example).  For the first 20 miles, I was averaging 8:30 to 9:30 miles.  The course was slowly losing altitude, but I knew not to push too hard, so I would not fall apart later on in the race.  I hit the 20 mile mark in about 3 hours.  Around mile 14 or so, I started passing people from the earlier waves.  I made sure to slow down and chat with many people, because I really enjoy the neat people I get to meet doing these things!  I met this “old” dude named Dave, who was doing the 50 miler at age 72.  It is a neat thing to see people rising to the challenge later on in life.  I think I’m partial to the idea because I’ve watched my own dad transform into an amazing ultrarunner in the last couple years.

The desert was amazing.  It definitely had that Badwater feel to it.  Massive, open views complimented by interesting mountain formations and that lonely feeling that accompanied it.  I simply love the desert.  There were many long, straight stretches of road that seemed to disappear into the horizon.  I know this can bother people in the middle of a long ultramarathon, but not me.  After the 1st 20 miles of the race, the course really flattens out for about 10 miles before you get to the first major climb of the race: Dugway Pass.  It is mostly runnable, until the last mile before the top of the pass.  I slowed down and chatted with fellow entrants, while angry hunters flew by.  I guess the local hunting population really doesn’t like the race.  They fly by going 50+ mph on dirt roads, tailing the crew vehicles and generally being very unpleasant.  Never have I seen so much disregard for human life, but I suppose my adrenaline and anger helped fuel me to a great finish.

I reached the top of Dugway Pass at mile 36 not feeling the greatest.  For a few miles before that, the temperatures were on the rise, slowing me down while my body tried to recover.  I told Frank that I would take a break and sit down once I got to the top of the pass, but once I got there, I felt better instantly and cruised down the back.  The nice part of that pass is that the course heads generally downhill for the next 20 miles all the way to the turnaround point.  I hit the 40 mile mark under 7 hours, which means I’m generally running pretty well.  At mile 47 you pass the 50 mile finish (called Blackrock).  There’s an actual aid station there with a Venezuelan barbeque going on.  I stopped and used the portajohn here and continued on my way.  From here it was 11 long miles to the 100 mile turnaround point.  This was the worst portion of the race for me.

I hit mile 50 in 8:50 and realized I might be on track to finish really well.  I know from prior experience that I should take my 50 mile time and basically add 3 hours to come up with the pretty accurate finish time.  In this case, did even better, with splits of 8:50/10:52 for the whole race.  After the 50 mile mark, the race heads west.  This stretch was terrible for me because of three things.  For one, I forgot a hat.  At this point of the day, the sun was directly in my face, which was not fun for a couple hours.  Second, I realized my feet were beginning to hurt really badly.  My feet had swelled up way too much and I would need to change into different shoes.  I threw on my Scott Sports Kinabulus which saved my race and allowed my feet to feel much better. But thirdly, this last long stretch of road just really got to me.  I told Frank, my crew, that I needed to sit down and change shoes.  I secretly wanted to DNF pretty badly.  But I told myself that I was just being a wuss and needed to soldier on for a few more miles before I could make that decision.  After I sat down (which actually was the only time I sat down during the entire race, minus 2 pit stops), Frank told me that getting to the turnaround point would be a huge boost and impressive to do in sunlight.  2.5 miles before the turnaround point I was passed by Matthew Van Horn, who would go on to win in 16:52.  He was very friendly and even stopped for a minute to chat with us.  That, plus the road turning to the north, greatly improved my spirits.  I realized when I got to the time station at mile 58, I was officially in 2nd place.  This was huge for me, as it would be for anyone.  That, plus seeing my good friend Phil Lowry being close to passing me (he was a 1/2 mile behind), really engaged my competitive personality.  I was now “game on” to hold my place in the race and get to the finish in a good time.

With the sun on my back and a renewed competitive drive, I started to feel extremely good.  I told Frank “Let’s get done early and get to bed at a reasonable hour” which he definitely chimed with.  It was good vibes from here on out.  After turning around I started to pass the running field for the 100.  It was really nice to see many people out doing the 100 mile race.  For 95% of the race, I was by myself, minus the 10 or so miles my dog Shadow ran with me.  It was nice to see lots of friends out there.  A lot of the crew members were very supportive and cheered me on too.  Even if I felt bad, I could always muster up a smile.  These ultras are induced torture, so you can only smile and appreciate the challenge for what it is.  I passed Vince Romney’s crew vehicle around (my) mile 65 or so.  Vince is a great guy and came and ran IMTUF a couple months ago.  Vince was in the passenger seat, looking awful.  I gave him a motivational pep talk with hopes that he would return from the dead and get a finish.  I arrived at Blackrock Round II (mile 68) in 12:35.  At this point, I knew I was in a real race.  I had never run this well late in a race like this, minus my Badwater a couple years ago.  With nighttime arriving, I knew the only way I could assure my watch’s estimated finish time of 2:45 AM a success is if I really focused every ounce of energy on maintaining pace and minimal breaks.  I did an extremely good job of this during the day.  Looking back, my slowest mile was 18 minutes, and that was with a pit stop.

Around 8 PM I started feeling the body struggling and craving sleep.  I knew I simply couldn’t allow this to happen, if I wanted to keep my position in 2nd.  I had some nasty insta-coffee, an espresso Hammer gel, and a maximum strength 5 hour energy.  My stomach didn’t appreciate this, but I knew throwing that all in my system would allow me to stay alert and continue to push hard to the finish.  It was around this time that I was passed by Kelly Agnew, who would go on to finish in 18:02.  He was running so well, I had no chance of keeping up with him.  I continued to plow up the steady uphill grade towards Dugway Pass.  My goal was to maintain sub 12 minute miles, but it just wasn’t in the cards.  I stayed close to 13 minute miles all the way up though.  Frank had a great attitude and we both did our best to stay super motivated about finishing.  I knew I definitely had a good possibility of going under 20 hours by mile 70.  So I just kept with it.

After I crested Dugway Pass (mile 78), I flew down the descent off the top.  I continued to eat steadily and worked to maintain 5 MPH.  I could see the crew vehicle for 2nd place Kelly Agnew ahead.  I thought I might be catching up with him, but his crew vehicle kept pulling farther and farther away.  At this point, I was definitely starting to feel the mileage.  Most of my body ached badly and my feet were especially tender.  Still, the moonlight and my place in the race kept me going.  I set goals of trying to do 10 miles every 2 hours.  I might have been able to do this, but I was slightly overhydrated and had to urinate at least every mile.  I cut back on the water and upped my food intake.  By midnight, I was at mile 87.  I was so excited to only have a half marathon to go!  I planned to push really hard once I got to mile 90.  At this point, Frank was pacing me a little bit every mile.  This really helped me to stay focused on maintaining a strong steady pace.  At mile 90, I blasted off!  I did the next mile in 9:10.  I did the next mile in a little over 10. Then I reached a tough hill and had to walk.  It was at this point I really lost all my energy.  I had to dig so deep to continue to move.  I was so low on reserves, it felt like a car engine was trying to squeeze all of its last gasoline out of an imaginary sponge.  I just wanted to lay down and sleep.  I just couldn’t allow this to happen though.  I continued to gut out the last miles.  I could see the car lights off in the distance behind me of all the people that were trying to pass me.  Frank was really pushing me hard to run as fast as I could.  I was back to doing 12 minute miles, which was impressive considering how awful I felt.  We edged closer and closer to the finish.  Finally, he parked the car at the last turn of the race, which was only a third of a mile from the finish.  I told him to grab the camera and get to the finish.  I ran intensely hard, even with my whole body trying to drag me down.  I rolled my ankle a bit in that stretch, but sprinted across the finish line.  My time was 19:42, a whopping 1:40 off my personal record.  There was a heated trailer at this finish line, which I walked into and immediately collapsed on the floor.  They had a warm cot in the trailer I could lay in, so I crawled into that cot and passed out. It was, without a doubt, the most courageous push I have ever done in the latter bit of a 100.  I now feel like I am “fast.”  I ended up taking 3rd place overall, posting the 6th fastest time in the race’s 9 year history.

Nutrition:  I would eat a Hammer gel, granola bar w/protein, or whatever sounded good every 20 minutes.  About every  7-10 miles, I would try to eat a sandwich (Mustard, Mayo, half-healthy deli meat, tomato).  I had pizza on hand as well.  On top of all this, I would do a Vespa packet every 20 miles.  I’ve decided this worked wonderfully.  My personal take is that the Vespa sent my metabolic rate into warp speed ahead, Mr. Spock.  Even today (Monday), I am still having a really hard time keeping up with my insane appetite.  The ability to burn through food quickly and efficiently drastically improved my strength and speed the 2nd half of the race.  I also took many Hammer nutrition Endurolytes.  These kept my muscles happy the whole race.

Clothing:  I will continue to swear by my Zensah Recovery Calf Sleeves.  My legs felt great the whole race.  I wore my Standhope moisture wicking t-shirt for the 1st 70 miles.  When it got warm out, I had Frank soak it in cold water, which felt great while my body was heating up.  I forgot a bigger pair of shoes and a hat.  Won’t do that again.  At nighttime, I threw on a long-sleeve shirt and a pullover jacket.  This kept me comfortable while we had a bit of a nighttime breeze (which was cold).

Pictures are soon to come!


7 thoughts on “Pony Express 100 Mile Endurance Run

  1. Great run Ben! Way to push it at the end when you were struggling. That is a lesson we can all learn from. I kind of like the out and back set up, it gives you a sense of where you are and extra motivation to kick ass at the end.

    1. When I dig the deepest, I can honestly have no regrets, like I did with this race. It is so satisfying to know you gave nothing less than 110%. Thanks for the well wishes Frank. I look forward to running with you again.

  2. What is important to point out to the readers.. is Ben no matter how tough things got.. keep so composed.. so professional.. so on top of his game.. it was only those last insane miles.. when he was digging super freaking deep.. that the pain came to the surface. You have an amazing ability to eat.. while running.. your wild card for sure.. what is key is you use this talent as you call it .. to push forward with tons of energy. You ever call or write me .. with a couple days notice that you need a crew.. a support person in the middle of freaking no where.. i will drop everything and be there. everything. .. frank bott

    1. Really appreciate it boss. Hopefully I’ll be looking for some some help for a little race in Death Valley next July. You can be the first to get a call.

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