This past March, David Decker set out to run 100 miles at the NJ Ultra Festival. This would be his first attempt at such an insane distance. With the help of family and friends, Dave finished the race and continues to inspire those around him by organizing groups trail runs and encouraging others to find happiness through their running. What follows is the first part of his race report. Be careful, Dave might just inspire you to try this yourself!
by David Decker
About 10 years ago I started running seriously. I’m not built for speed but I’ve been teaching myself to run farther over the years. For the last 5 years I’ve been focused on making my first attempt at completing a hundred mile race.
I had one false start about 4 years ago. I had done my first 50 mile mountain race in Vermont and thrown in an Ironman and a few marathons in a very short period of time and ended up spending the better part of a year nursing some knee injuries.
I started over from square one…ok, maybe not quite square one but it sure felt like it at the time.
I was determined to go into this race with a healthy body. Yes, I still did some long runs but I also added in a lot of double runs during the day and night. I ran a lot on tired legs. Not so many 20 mile runs but a lot of 15 mile runs broken up into 5 at lunch and 10 after work with friends.
I’ve learned that my body tends to start breaking down if I get over 50 miles per week. I also get bored of that amount of running. So, I kept my mileage in the 45 miles per week area.
Was that kind of mileage enough to finish a hundred? I had no idea, but I overheard my daughter Amy on the phone one day explaining to my sister-in-law about the race. The half of the conversation that I heard went something like this, “well he’s pretty determined to finish so I expect he probably will.”
She knows her father. I’ve never had a “DNF” (Did Not Finish) in a race but clearly, if I was ever going to have one…this could be it.
I was healthy going into the race. No aches and pains. My mind and body were in a good place.
The race that I picked was nearby, The New Jersey Ultra Series. As a result, I had a lot of family and a lot of friends there to cheer and keep my spirits up.
The majority of the course is on the very flat Columbia Trail (76 miles) but there is a significant portion of the race that was on the Patriots Path (24 miles). Not an insignificant amount of very rocky, hilly, washed out trail kind of miles…especially significant after 20 or 25 hours.
We got really lucky with the weather in March. The few days just before the race warmed up into the 70’s which dried out a lot of the very rainy spring rains we had already seen and the wind was supposed to calm down which would keep the first night very comfortable (in the mid 40’s) and the second night down near freezing (but I had the warm clothes ready for that temperature).
The one thing that I didn’t count on at the beginning of the journey, the thing that I couldn’t count on until we got closer to the race, was the amazing amount of running support that my family and my running friends genuinely wanted to give me during the race.
I was rarely alone. My wife and two daughters volunteered at the far western turnaround location (so that always gave me something to look forward to on the way out) and almost my entire group of running friends (the Breakfast Club Runners…look for it on Facebook if you want to see the pictures of the race) scheduled their Saturday morning run on the Columbia trail so they could cheer me on for a few hours.
My sister and her family was in town escaping the earthquake problems of Tokyo and she asked if she could come out and run with me. Well, my mom and dad drove out with her for moral support and my sister came along for the run. My dad ended up running 12 miles with me and my sister ran 16.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The hundred mile race started at 4am, followed by the 100 kilometer racers an hour after us, followed by the 50 mile racers an hour later, followed by the 50 kilometer racers, and finally the marathon racers starting at 8am.
This was really nice because it gave the longer distance runners more space to find their own pace without a lot of jack rabbits around at aid stations at the same time we were moving through. It also gave you the feeling that there were a lot of people on the out and back course to look at.
So off we went into the night with the full moon overhead and we started to churn out miles. Nothing fast. Just steady.
Running at night is a sensation all its own. You can only see the next five feet or so in front of you so you don’t look down the trail and see 10 or 15 unending miles in front of you. You just see those 5 feet. It’s very calming and I really love it.
That first 16 miles were just flying by and before I knew it, the sun was starting to come up and I turned off the head lamp on my head. I watched what I knew would be my first sunrise of the race. I also knew that the second time I saw a sunrise during the race, I wouldn’t be feeling that good.
Just before I got back to the start/finish race headquarters area to start my second loop, my first of many visitors were hanging out the window cheering for me. There was Frank, Jennie, fGayle and Alison all ready to run…well, Alison wasn’t running but only because she is about to have her third child, otherwise she would have run too. fGayle jumped out of the car and started running with me, followed by both Frank and Jennie farther down the trail. Jennie was worried ahead of time that she wouldn’t be running fast enough to keep up during a race but I quickly explained to her how slow I would be going. I’m not sure she believed me until she got out on the trail and saw the pace I was keeping. fGayle and I ended up running something like 16 miles together that morning.
I was just shy of my first marathon of the day when cars pulled up alongside the trail and out jumped an entire pack of Breakfast Club Runners. Out jumped Roger, Carol, mGayle, Christina and her friend Stacy. Adding in Frank, Jennie and fGayle…I suddenly had 8 friends surrounding me for their 5 mile jaunt through the forrest.
They took lots of pictures, which was a good thing since at that time I was still having fun and smiling.
It was great fun having everyone around for that hour or so but after a bit, they went off to get breakfast (as they should…we are the breakfast club after all) and it was just me and fGayle heading back to town.
As we were getting closer to town, suddenly at the road crossing ahead was my wife and two daughters cheering and yelling their heads off at the two of us approaching. They had gone out that morning to the dollar store and bought pom poms and clappers and all kinds of things to help the runner’s spirits stay high.
I stopped just long enough for hugs and kisses and headed off to complete my 2nd Western loop and my 32nd mile.
Heading down the Patriots Path was my friend Mark on his mountain bike. Mark was the reason I had even heard of this race because he happens to live about 1 minute from the trail. He came along with me for a few miles and showed me some of his favorite trout fishing locations when suddenly there was another big group to see me. On the right side of the path were my friends Kimberly, Jean and Susan and on the left side of the path was my mom, dad and sister. I said a quick hello to my friends, went to the left side of the trail and dad and my sister joined in with me. Mark peeled off on his bike and headed home for a few hours of rest. He was part of the night shift and I knew I would be seeing him around 2am ready to run some very difficult miles.
My dad and sister took me out to the west end and back logging the 12 and 16 miles with me which took me to the halfway point. I looked at my watch. Just over 12 hours for 50 miles.
The rule of thumb is that if you want to figure out your estimated time for 100 miles, you take your 50 mile time, multiply those hours by 1.5, add them together and you’ve got a good idea for how long it’s going to take.
Ok, both my runs in the 50 mile area were around 12 hours and this run so far was 12 hours so we multiply 12 times 1.5 and we get 18 hours for the second 50 miles.
That can’t be right, can it?
That’s 30 hours total. Boy, I hope that isn’t right. Ahead of time I looked at my estimated numbers and said to myself, if I can hold 4.5 miles per hour early, then 4 miles per hour in the second 25 miles, then I could spend the second half of the race at 3 miles per hour and still be just a little over 28 hours.
Three miles per hour is incredibly slow by any standards and that translates to a little more that 19 minutes per mile. On a normal day, it’s hard to WALK that slow let alone run at that pace.
Except this wasn’t a normal day and these wouldn’t be normal conditions and I would quickly learn how hard it would be to maintain such an optimistic expectation as 19 minutes per mile.
But once again, forgive me for getting ahead of myself.
I’ve heard that during any typical 100 mile experience you and your body will experience several high points and several low points. Expect the low points and have a plan to get past them. The plan is pretty simple actually. Get more food and water into your body. A low point usually means you are running low on fuel.
The aid stations were excellent. Lots of variety. Tons of fresh fruit. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. All kinds of energy drinks, Coca Cola, Mountain Dew, Ginger Ale. Trail mixes, candies. More sugar and carbohydrates (read: fuel) than any runner could possibly consume.
But here’s the problem (and it’s always the same problem at just about every race), after 12 or 15 or 20 hours everyone gets sick of eating sweet things. I remember grabbing a handful of strawberries at one point during the night (so that must have been north of 64 miles) and just couldn’t swallow a mouthful of delicious strawberries.
So, somewhere back at mile 45 or so, I was having one of those low points. I just couldn’t get enough calories into my body. I’m just realizing it now looking back on the day that my energy levels picked up again shortly after I drank one of my bottles of vanilla Ensure at about mile 58 or so.
The other thing I picked up at mile 58 was my friend Brian and his friend Jim. Brian is an excellent athlete. Loves to do all kinds of long bike and running races. So, as the story was told to me while we were running, Brian called up Jim and said, “hey, do you want to do something really stupid tonight?”. Well, Jim had already done an 89 mile bike ride in the morning so he clearly had no reason NOT to join in the fun. Jim is my kind of people!
They packed up their Camelbacks, loaded up with food and sandwiches and introduced themselves to my wife and daughters and waited for me to arrive. Well kind of. They were actually anxious to get started so they started trotting down the path in military tempo to meet me a mile earlier even though they knew I had to be coming their way any minute.
They retraced their steps with me in tow this time and I went to get my 4th of 4 check marks on my race number to prove I had made it to the far, western side of the course again.
More kisses and hugs from my girls. Drank that bottle of Ensure that I mentioned earlier (why didn’t I think of that later in the race?) and off we went.
The eastern part of the course was ahead, but we had to run 8 miles before we would get there.
We actually picked up the pace quite nicely in this section. We were guessing we were covering miles at about a 14 minute clip at that point. We would walk for a bit then switch to a trot for a mile or so again.
The best part of finishing that loop was I wouldn’t have to head over to the Western side of the course anymore.
And here’s why…originally, the plan for the race was, run the 16 mile loop to the west, then head out on the eastern loop for 9 miles…25 miles total and do the entire thing four times. That would have made perfect sense but apparently one of the townships wouldn’t give permission for the racers to be on the course after dark. So, they decided to do all 4 Western loops first (during the daytime) and then switch to the eastern loops for night time.
It worked out fine. In fact, from the race director’s perspective it might even have worked out better this way. They wouldn’t have to stock three full aid stations with food and volunteers constantly for 30 hours and they wouldn’t need to staff both turnarounds for the entire time as well.
But with all that said, after spending all that time (roughly 16 hours) and all those miles (a total of 64) on the West side…I was happy to get to the east side of the course.
I pulled into the start/finish aid station and started to prepare for the night run and right there was my brother Jon and his girlfriend Brittany. They were going to join us for the first of four nighttime loops.
I needed warmer clothes. The temperature was expected to drop below 32 degrees overnight and I was prepared. We grabbed my bag of clothes and headed into the church for as quick of a change as possible. So far all my aid station stops were less than a minute. I didn’t want to lose time when I could be eating and walking toward the finish line.
But this was going to be different. I needed to change every bit of clothing. (I only didn’t change my shoes. At that point I didn’t have any blisters so I didn’t want to “fix” something that wasn’t broken.)
The other very, very important item for my attention was that I needed to re-apply the Body Glide to prevent chafing.
At the start of this race I really felt that my legs were strong enough and my mind was strong enough to get to the finish line. The one thing that could sink this ship in a flash would have been the chafing.
Back in Philadelphia when I did my double marathon I was in serious, serious pain because the waist band of my shorts and tights had cut a gash into my skin all the way around my body. And that was only 52 miles. I couldn’t afford to make that kind of an error in this event.
Body Glide is a lubricant but for some reason it doesn’t wear off quickly. I ended up re-applying it 3 times though out the day and night to my waist, my shoulders and chest…and those unmentionable areas that would have been a big, big problem with chafing!
So, there we are in the church, looking for a private area for me to get changed. Both bathrooms were taken so we went to a hallway and started stripping down…Jon keeping a lookout and my pit-crew getting me dry clothes and packing away the wet clothes.
Of course, this happened to be the very moment when a girl opened the front door right behind me and walked into the hall.
I apologized for my nakedness and went on with the task at hand.
We probably lost 15 minutes.
On the way out the door I found a tray of these little mini enchilada type things that were just heavenly. My body was craving spicy food. I grabbed about 12 of them and we marched out the door and headed to the trail.
That first “eastern” loop I was still feeling pretty good. Those were miles 64 to 73 and if I’m remembering correctly we started that loop around 8:30 pm on Saturday night.
I wasn’t running a lot at that point but every now and then I would start trotting down the path and that would help our speed.
This section was tighter than the western loop. It was only 9 miles long as opposed to 16 miles long and it was always 3 miles between aid station stops.
Me crew at that point was Brian, Jim, Jon and Brittany. Every time we came to an aid station Brian would try to get me to eat. We all knew I needed to get a lot more calories into my body than was going in. I ate some salt tablets and a couple Advil. (During the entire event I ate probably 6 to 8 salt tablets and 7 Advil.)
Pretzel sticks worked a little. I kept eating some grapes, forced in some strawberries and M&M’s. But it really wasn’t working.
We headed down to the turnaround and suddenly mGayle was trotting towards and joined our group. I knew he was interested in putting in some serious miles too and was probably going to be around until Mark showed up at about 2am.
The rest of that loop was pretty uneventful. We hit the turnaround and headed back to the start/finish area. As we got back to the end of the Patriots Path Brian and Jim decided to call it a night (they had put in about 6 hours of running at that point). They knew that I had a bunch of people coming shortly and that I wouldn’t be on the trail alone.
Jon and Brittany also had a long drive home so they headed out as well.
Check back next week for Part II of Dave’s Hundred Mile Adventure!