Pony Express 100 miler – Steve’s first 100

The Pony Express 100 was my first 100 mile ultramarathon. I decided last year that I wanted to do a 100 mile ultra and I spent all of 2015 leading up to it getting ready for this race. I ran multiple 50 milers earlier in the year, then I dialed things back a bit to let my body heal. A couple months before the race, I ramped up the training again. As the race approached I became more and more nervous. 100 miles is a REALLY LONG WAY. The longest I had done before was 100k (62 miles), and I now needed to do 38 more miles than that.

This 100 miler has an interesting format. The race takes place on dirt roads on the old pony express route (I’m sure you figured that part out). Participants provide their own vehicle and crew. The crew vehicle leapfrogs the runner along to give aid. The actual race only has a few aid stations and check in points. This format makes it great for first-timers like me. I had ample access to aid. This also makes it so friends and family can be a direct part of the race for their participants. I had my friends RJ, Josh, and Paul to crew/pace me. I realize this was a huge sacrifice in time, energy, and cost on their part. I deeply appreciate it.

I didn’t realize the logistics involved in a 100 miler. I had to make sure the crew was all briefed on their duties, the route, and timing. I had to make sure I had a vehicle and the right gear/equipment. We were also camping at the start the night before so I had to prepare for that. Plus all the normal items to pack like race clothing, nutrition, etc for a very long run.

The Pre-Race Crew Pic

We pulled up to the campground at the start line late Thursday night. It was a beautiful evening. The stars were amazing that far away from civilization. I didn’t sleep too well, as I suspected, given my nervousness. Also, there is a staggered start for the race to break up the crew vehicle traffic and have everyone finish within a certain time window. I was starting at 8am (with the faster group, although I wasn’t sure I belonged in that group). The others started at 5am, 6am, and 7am. So I kept getting woken up by runners starting, not that I slept much anyways.

The Pony Express

The race began in usual ultra fashion, laid back and without much fanfare. Off we went. The beginning of a 100 mile journey. The weather was fantastic in the morning. The first 13 or so miles were downhill. I settled into a pretty quick pace alongside the eventual 100 mile winner Curtis Eppley and Peter Van Horn. We had a good chat as we ran. My crew settled in a routine but quickly decided it would be prudent to top off the gas tank in the vehicle. This was fine since it was early in the race and I didn’t need as much aid. Curtis’ crew kindly took a few of my things to help me out along the way. I love stuff like that in the trail and ultra running community. People are willing to help each other out and want to see everyone succeed.

Running with Curtis Early(photo credit to Lara Roundy Eppley)

Eventually my crew returned and Curtis took off and I ran by myself through long stretches of the pony express trail. It was beautiful out there. You could see so far. There were very few man-made items along the natural landscape. There were some cool historical monuments along the way. The biggest hazard were the hunters flying down the road without regard to how dangerous it was to runners or how much dust they created for me to choke on while I ran. All the crews, volunteers, and everyone else associated with the race were very respectful keeping their dust and speed down as they approached runners. Some of those other drivers were scary, especially at night.

The View

I was going faster than I should have. During the beginning of the 100 miler, I ran a sub 2 hour half marathon, then a 4 hour marathon, then a 9 hour 50 miler, I PR’ed my 50k, and then PR’ed my 100k. Apparently, my first 50 miles of the race were nearly as fast as the winner of the 50 mile race. Yeah, it was a fast start to a 100 miler for me.

Cruising Along

About 50k into the race, my feet started to get a bit sore. I was still cruising though. By this time, I had Josh pacing me and things were going great. At first, I was hydrating with plain water or water with Nuun. I was consuming gels and Mamma Chia squeezes. I quickly got sick of the gels. Literally, my stomach was getting upset. I ate some ginger candy (with real ginger) and that helped settle things. I didn’t want to go back to the gels though. I rotated through coconut water, fruit, and chia squeezes. That seemed to work well. When I got to Blackrock aid station at mile 68, I had some hot broth that really helped.

Running with Josh(photo credit to Matthew Van Horn)

After about 50 miles, I started rotating more walking alternating with running. Most of the race so far I was in second or third (to my knowledge). I yo-yoed back and forth with Melissa Soper, an amazing ultra runner that went on to take first place woman. At the aid station at mile 33, Melissa and another runner Philip, left the aid station before me. I wasn’t stressed about it. I was content to run my own race. There was so much race left to run. I was focused on getting through it and my own issues (my stomach at the time). There was also a lot of sun exposure along those long straight dirt roads. The temps were fine but the sun took its toll even on this desert runner from Las Vegas. The sun was almost always on my left side throughout the race so I ended up with a funny sunburn only on my left arm and only on the left side of my face/neck, haha.

Pain Face

As I got to Fish Springs, I saw Phillip and his RV (sweet crew vehicle) on the side of the road. He was in a chair with his socks and shoes off. I asked him if he was okay and if he needed anything. He said he was having blister problems. Ouch. After checking in at the turnaround at Fish Springs, and re-applying some anti-chafing product (to avoid problems of my own), it had become dark and we headed out into it. RJ started pacing me at this point. Not far out of Fish Springs, we saw no sign of Philip or his RV as my crew leapfrogged ahead. Last we saw of him, he didn’t look like he was going anywhere anytime soon. Later, when we had cell service, we saw they hadn’t recorded a check-in for him at Fish Springs. We theorized that his foot issues were bad enough to warrant a DNF so he packed it up and drove off. We figured I was second or third as I kept changing places with Melissa.

Melissa and I got to Blackrock aid station (mile 68) at nearly the same time. I stopped for soup and she left quickly (smart). Sitting in the chair at the aid station was a bad idea for me. I did NOT want to get up. Paul was an awesome crew member and rubbed my sore lower back muscles. Eventually, I forced myself back out on the course. I felt really great after the soup but the feeling didn’t last long.

Having some soup

The miles in the 70s were the toughest for me. I started a long incline up to Dugway pass. I just didn’t have it in me to run at this point. Everything started hurting. My feet, calves, back, hips, glutes, and quads all hurt. Every step hurt.

Pain

I knew my crew was getting tired too. I was worried about them. I wanted them to get some sleep in shifts. I felt bad for how BORING the race was at this point too. We were walking along at as quick of a power hike as I could muster for so long. RJ traded pacing duties with Paul who hiked with me for a while. I was glad when I would get to vehicle and see a crew member or two grabbing some rest. I still felt like I wasn’t eating enough. Just some fruit and coconut water? I didn’t think that was enough fuel but I couldn’t risk another upset stomach. The night temperature was pleasant. The stars were beautiful and it was quiet. I had some negative thoughts though. Should I quit? Is this worth it if I have to walk the rest of this thing? I had come so far though. RJ had previously done the math that if I could maintain even a 15min/mile average, I could finish under 24 hours, which was my goal. That was a nice thought but that was such a long time away. Being out there walking so long was not appealing. When I hit mile 74, I realized I had a whole marathon left. When I hit mile 75, I realized I had one fourth of the whole race left. I was so negative even though I tried to tell myself to be patient. There I was in a world of negativity and pain.

But… I kept going.

Paul kept hiking along with me trying to be positive. We kept hiking up to the top of Dugway Pass, which felt like it would never come. Once I got to the top, I was so happy. I could run! I ran down the other side and kept going for a while. I pepped back up and did more running alternating with walking.

RJ started pacing me again. Before the 100, I was worried if I would get really loopy late in the race. I don’t think I got too bad. I heard some noises in the bushes and I got really drowsy at points as I watched my headlamp beam bob in front of me. I didn’t have any crazy hallucinations though.

Josh started pacing me. Now, Josh meant business at this point. “Let’s run,” he says. “I can’t,” I replied. “Sure you can. Let’s run a quarter mile.” “Okay.” And on it went. Josh kept pushing me, trying to get all the running he could out of me. I tried not to get too frustrated because I was in pain, and I knew Josh was trying to help me. He knew better than I did what I was capable of. He kept prodding just enough to get more out of me.

Now in the mid-80 miles, Josh and I were approaching another runner in the distance. His name was Kyle Emery and he had started at 7am. I knew, as far as placement, that I was still ahead of him because I could see him and I had an hour buffer. Still, it was nice to have someone to chase after. Eventually we caught up to him and it appeared he was resting in his vehicle and really struggling.  After we passed him, I kept running to put a little distance between us so he didn’t get any ideas about chasing me, hehe.

As I kept going, we saw more vehicles ahead. We ran by Melissa who was sitting in a chair being tended by her crew. I asked if she was okay and they said she’ll be fine. Josh and I got really excited because this now meant I was possibly in second place. I saw Melissa getting up and Josh and I took off! I don’t know what came over me. I had energy and motivation. I was excited and wanted to run. It felt like I was flying! Although I checked my splits later and I was running 9-10 min miles. I suppose that pace is kind of like flying at 86-96 miles into a race. The crew vehicle would move up for aid. I would wave it off. I wanted to keep this rhythm. I couldn’t stop (because I didn’t know if I could start again). I had to ride this wave. We just kept going, kept waving off the aid vehicle. Josh and Rychen ran alongside me. Everyone was pumped. We saw some other runners and their vehicles as we passed by. We saw Melissa’s crew vehicle pass by me, turn around, and head back. Hmmmm maybe she sent her husband up to see how far ahead I was? As he drove by, I did my best to look like I was running as fast as possible and showing no signs of slowing down!

Coming in for the finish

Finally, with a few miles left, we reached a hill and I had to slow down. I kept looking behind me as I hiked up that hill to see if anyone was coming. Nobody was catching up. I was so excited to be so close, but, seriously, a hill at mile 99? What’s up with that? I felt the anticipation building as I rounded that final corner, and ran down to the finish! What a feeling! I had accomplished this goal I had worked so hard for so long to accomplish. It was incredibly difficult. In my most optimistic projections, I thought a finishing time of 22:30 would be great if everything went right. I ended up finishing in 21:42! I thought maybe I had finished in second but Davy Crockett, the race director, told me I was third. Apparently, Phillip had really taken off and done well after he tended to his blisters rather than dropping and took second. I was so happy with third overall. I did not anticipate finishing so well. I got that 100 mile buckle too! It sure was nice to finally sit down with a cup of hot chocolate at the end and take my shoes off. To my surprise, no blisters or toenail problems! I wore the Altra Lone Peak 2.5s for the whole race with Injinji trail socks and it really helped.

Finished

I have so much more respect for the runners that compete in the 100 mile distance now. It was more difficult than I could have imagined.

Thank you to my family, crew, friends, trail and ultra community, volunteers, Davy Crockett, and all others involved in the Pony Express 100!

Buckle and Medal

Running Gear: Altra Lone Peak 2.5 shoes, Injinji trails socks, Pearl Izumi shorts, Ink n Burn shirt, Ultimate Direction handhelds

Nutrition: Water w/ Nuun, Mamma Chia, GU gels, Coca-Cola, fruit, ginger, PB&J, C2O coconut water, and hot broth.

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