Daytona 100 Mile, Florida, 9 December 2017

I was so apprehensive about this race, my first hundred miler, because of the weather. I had drawn up a time plan which I thought amply allowed for the heat, but I still got a shock when I tried to run the first time in hot Florida, and then I strained my calf so I didn’t run again until the race. But then the weather forecast for the weekend came through and spoke of a huge cold front to blanket the east of the USA, timed for Saturday. I realised that with low temperatures and a tailwind this could be my best opportunity for completing this huge distance.

It was a point to point course from Jacksonville to Daytona Beach. On the Friday afternoon, the day before the race, I drove to the race finish area, parked and took the shuttle to the start, 100 miles north. It was 30 degrees when I got into the shuttle. It was uncomfortably warm. When we got out at Neptune Beach two hours later it was 9 degrees! It was uncomfortably cold. I was wearing just my race gear, shorts and short sleeved shirt, and carrying two drop bags for the race, and a disposable toothbrush for tonight and the morning, but luckily I had brought a sweatshirt with me in case of a cold morning start to the race. 

By the time we came out of the race briefing at 6pm there was a full thunderstorm happening, big flashes of lightening and heavy rain - and I had to walk almost a mile to my hotel. My luck was in because a guy who had been on the shuttle was staying at the same hotel so we shared an Uber. I went to Panera and bought a sandwich and soup (!) for dinner without getting drenched, and a bear claw for breakfast, hoping the hotel would have coffee.

In the morning, 5am, this same guy tried to order an Uber to get us to the race start, or even a cab, but there weren’t any. It was still raining. We stopped a guy in the hallway who was clearly going to the race start and asked if we could share his car; he didn’t speak much English but appeared to say yes so we followed him outside. He loaded up his bicycle and pedalled off. We found a lift in a car.

The early miles of the race, still in the dark, took us through Neptune Beach where nothing whatsoever was going on. It had just stopped raining and there were lots of big puddles. I could see runners far ahead dodging the puddles. I wore my sweatshirt and was glad of it.

After we left the town we settled into a long stretch along a highway, A1A. I was going to be spending the bulk of my day on this road, but this was not the nicest part of it. We were running on the shoulder of the road and passing through some very upscale communities, huge houses and intricately landscaped yards. And a bonus: this was about to become a day when I couldn’t stop needing to wee, and whenever a house was having some construction work done there would be a portaloo near the road which was unlocked and available for use by runners. 

We had to run a section along the beach. The sand was mostly not too soft so we could run but there was a problem with it being high tide. Much of the beach had been eroded by Cyclone Irma and at some points when a big wave broke there was nowhere for us to go. On a hot day it would have been a way to cool down to be immersed in water but the prospect was not enticing on this day when the temperature never rose above 12 degrees. So we had to detour up to the road a few times. Once this involved clambering up a dune. I was running with a German woman - initially I tried to speak some German but I was relieved when she started speaking English. It was nice to chat and I enjoyed the company right up to the 50 kilometre point in St Augustine.

Coming into St Augustine we crossed a massive bridge over the Intracoastal waterway. The Intracoastal is a huge feature in Florida, as spectacular as the beaches. Last time I came to St Augustine I just sat in a traffic jam right through the town and never got out of the car. I felt good here. My second 50 kilometres was my best stretch of the day, and this wasn’t what I had been expecting.

When I got to the next bridge back across the Intracoastal there was a surprise: it was a drawbridge and it was open. A group of runners were waiting for the road to return to a runnable position and I joined them, not minding a rest. There followed a long stretch through a suburban area of strip malls. Ever since the beach section I was playing cat and mouse with two women, constantly passing them and being passed. They went into a bar, presumably for the toilet rather than for beer. I was happy to notice a restroom at the back of a taco place and I ducked in. 

The sun came out for a while in the late afternoon. Its weak warmth was pleasant. Once I was back on the open road the weeing became more of a problem. There weren’t any public toilets. I went into the bushes once. I put my sweatshirt back on in the hope of making myself sweat out some of this surplus liquid. As I approached 50 miles I was again getting desperate. (This was a shame because the scenery had suddenly improved, with views of the waters and vegetated islands of the Intracoastal as the sun was going down.) Where there was roadside vegetation it was too dense to penetrate. I thought I spied a toilet in a roadside park but it turned out to be a large signboard. Then we crossed the Intracoastal on a long bridge so no privacy there. On the far side I was delighted to see a portaloo in a parking lot but when I got closer I could see the portaloo was surrounded by deep water and was barricaded off. Not far off I found a gas station and just brazenly walked in to use the facilities.

It seemed to take ages to get to the 52 mile aid station, but when I got there it marked a big improvement on the earlier aid stations, which had quite frankly been disappointing with just a few lollies, Oreos, scraps of peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. This one offered cooked-to-order grilled sandwiches, although I didn’t want to hang around while there was a remnant of daylight, and had  dips and chips. I took a big drink of Coke and had a large portion of espresso flavoured gel, and I felt amazing. I resolved to do the rest of the race on Coke. Most of the aid stations lacked cups so I drank the Coke from the bottle, hoping nobody was watching. When I contrasted how I had felt at the end of the 50 mile JFK with how I felt now - very comfortable - I was very satisfied. Truthfully I didn’t exactly want to run another 50 miles but I believed I could.

With darkness the temperature did not initially fall. We started on the Flagler to Marineland Trail which was a paved footpath alongside but separated from the road. It had palms and other vegetation on both sides and was nice running in the darkness. This was not a built up area and there was little traffic. I ran with a guy for a while but he was running a bit too fast for me. (Later on I passed him easily.) He was meeting up with his crew frequently and sitting down with them, an activity I would not contemplate. I took some early advice, "Beware the chair" very seriously. 

The vast majority of runners had crew, and I got plaudits for being alone (plus offers of help) but I liked it this way. The only issue I had was that the aid stations were geared up for people with their own crew. But I had a laugh when a the crew in one car asked me where the "rest station" was as they couldn’t see it; I thought of them as restaurants rather than places for resting!

I was taking many walking breaks, starting with running for 10 or 15 minutes and walking 200 or just 100 paces, but if I wasn’t ready to run at the end of my walk then I walked more. I thought it was better to take it easy now and feel strong later.

While I was running I was working on finding the best mental strategy. At times I would think: ok, just the McCall to go (at 60 miles) or: less than my biggest training day to go (at 70 miles), but I didn’t find this helpful, it was too far to contemplate comfortably. Nor did I feel good if I thought: two thirds done, or: just a fifth to go. It was better to break it into ten mile tranches and just focus on each one. It became a ten mile run, over and over. But I was pleased to have run my fastest 100 kilometres ever, at 13 1/2 hours.

After a while we were running alongside the ocean. I couldn’t see it but I could hear it. The sky was clear and full of stars. On the inland side we passed  what seemed like dozens of shack-like restaurants. Some had people in them but for a Saturday night they seemed too quiet. Maybe it was the cold weather. None of them had obvious toilets and I wasn’t game to go inside and ask. Eventually I went into a 7-11 and asked to use theirs, which was fine. But that was the last of such luxury. From then on I sought out the darkest gardens that had a bit of a bush close to the footpath that I could hide behind. 

At one point I was running with a woman whom I had been close to all day. We were comparing notes about the aid stations and she said "I’m sure I saw someone drinking out of a Coke bottle". I don’t think she meant me, but I 'fessed up anyway! At the 60 mile aid station I noticed they had a container of quesadillas so I took some, my favourite food. But they weren’t very nice, the cheese tasted artificial and was far too salty. At 70 miles I had a cup of noodles. But mostly I was drinking Coke, eating Oreos and PB&J's (where they were homemade). There were mini aid stations in between the main ones for runners like me who had no support crew, with just Coke and water and crisps. I sat down at the 70 mile aid station, the only one where I did this, and it was painful standing up.

For several hours I had been having feint but repetitive spasms in my left calf, not the one I strained in St Pete’s. They would come in bursts and then go, and I hoped for the best. My right glute was getting tighter.

It was getting colder and I was pleased to see my drop bag at the 82 mile aid station in Ormond Beach. I was wearing shorts with my cotton sweatshirt that I had carried since the morning. As I arrived I asked the volunteers if they thought I could use the toilet at the restaurant just there and they laughed, saying it had been closed for hours. I just had no idea of the time, and I think that’s a good way to be when doing this sort of race. I put on my tights which I had been carrying since my first drop bag at 60 miles, and my lightweight jacket, beanie and gloves. Once these things were on I felt good, but I had difficulty getting the clothes on because I was so stiff and my hands were cold.

This was a very built up area and when I left the aid station I had no confidence I was going the right way. The race was very short on signs, which did not usually matter. But suddenly in the middle of the night I felt very alone and uncertain. Remember the two women I had been playing cat and mouse with much earlier? One of the women had vanished but I was still running near the other one; I was just in front or just behind for hours and hours. A mile or so after I left this aid station, where she had been refuelling and chatting with her crew, I decided to stop and wait for her to be sure I was going the right way. I never saw her again. But another group of runners came by and assured me I was going the right way. 

It was quite amusing to see other runners with their pacers. There was plenty of walking, and when they ran the person who was in the race moved with a pained slow shuffle while the pacers looked as if they were dancing on air. I was walking more and more but when I ran I still felt strong, well, strong-ish. But I no doubt looked quite pathetic.

We ran through the endless town of Daytona Beach. It was mostly quiet as you'd expect long after midnight, but had pockets of activity. Thankfully there weren’t any drunks around and little traffic. I had been anxious beforehand about running through built up areas alone in the dark but I never felt uneasy. I got a slight surprise when a guy sitting on a bench suddenly spoke out of the darkness (not to me but to himself) but he actually apologised to me! Sometimes people would call out of passing cars, but it was always friendly encouragement. Someone sitting at a cafe called out to ask what we were doing, and when I told him he responded "Go, get 'em!" 

Without realising, I ran past the car park where I’d left my car, although I would have noticed the 7-11 I'd parked outside because I noticed every open business (for reasons I won’t repeat again).

The last main aid station was in the garage of the home of the race organiser's parents. They allowed me to use their toilet! It was such a lovely warm room. After this we were finally done with A1A. Five miles to go. Again I stopped and waited for other runners because I wasn’t sure I was going the right way. I lost some time here because no runners came. Finally a random jogger approached me and confirmed I was doing ok. I was surprised to see a jogger in the middle of the  night but it was closer to morning than I realised. 

I was in a residential area, then I ran past the Ponce Inlet lighthouse and reached the beach. The final two miles. As I ran onto the beach I felt tears welling up. I was going to finish this thing. The beach was wide and flat and easy running, but into a stiff headwind. A guy came up behind me and said he wanted to run behind me, for some reason I couldn’t understand. I didn’t care, I was running as fast as I could, and counting slowly in my head for distraction. I could see the finish line clock as soon as I turned onto the beach. Then I just had to run past five large apartment blocks and it would all be over.

And I was done. The race organiser was standing at the finish line and I don’t think he immediately realised I was in the race, he behaved as if he thought I was pacing that guy behind me. I quickly put him right about that! 

It was 24 hours and 42 minutes after I had left Neptune Beach. Night was ending and the beach was beginning to be suffused with a pale blue light. Suddenly I was amazingly tired. Someone gave me a lift to my car. I went into the 7-11 and bought a large coffee and donuts and changed some of my clothes. I took off my socks and was shocked to see my feet were chafed raw in several places, and covered with a red rash. I sat in my car to drink the coffee and then lay down on the back seat, where I dozed a little. Then I drove to my hotel and was very pleased that I was able to check in before 9am. I went straight to bed.

My initial reaction to the race is that 100 miles is just more of the same; it wasn’t a whole new animal after 100 kilometres. It was long, of course, but I was lucky not to go through extra low points due to the distance. My lowest point was approaching the 50 mile mark, but not from a tiredness point of view, more because the aid station seemed elusive. The frequent toilet stops were a huge nuisance to me, especially since I’ve run 50 miles before without using a toilet once!


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