Mighty Mosquito | Mighty Lessons | Running My Second 100 Miler
I spent all year training for this one event. Speed Work. Hill Repeats. Weekend long runs. Mid-week long runs. Back to back long runs. Cross training. Cycling. Yoga. Strength Training. Core work. All the time I spend putting my feet on the ground. One foot in front of the other. All the hours of hard work. All the time slowly progressing towards this day.
I am thankful to all my friends who spend time with me out on the roads and trails progressing towards this goal to all the people who clicked like or left a comment on a running related post I shared, that most people couldn’t care less about.
The idea to do this event got put into my head by a couple of friends. As is the case with all good friends of crazy trail and ultra-runners. That is why we have friends. Who else is going to help us find crazy dreams to chase and then stand beside us as we chase them down.
The Mighty Mosquito 99 as it is known officially looked like a really good option for me to take on for my second 100 mile race. The race consists of 3 separate loops. Each loops is 5.5 miles long. Each runner runs loop 1 for 6 laps, then moves on to loop 2 for 6 laps, and then completes 6 laps of loop 3. Then to complete the 100 miles there is a bonus 1 mile loop that the runners complete to finish the race.
One reason I thought this would be a god second 100 mile race for me is that it has elevation change but nothing drastic. There is 900 feet of elevation gain for loop 1. Then on loop 2 there is I guess for a lack of a better term a break with only 300 feet of elevation gain for each of the six loops. And finally on loop 3 the elevation gain goes up again a bit, but not to the level it was at the beginning, with an elevation gain 600 feet per loop.
The race starts at 6 am. There is a 30 hour cut of to accomplish all that.
And of course as all sane people do I looked at that and thought, This seems perfectly reasonable. Not easy, but within the realm of possibilities.
I had an idea of what pace I wanted to have over the course of the race, but thinking about how that would play out mile by mile or even loop by loop was challenging.
I really wanted to be conservative, but I was worried I would run a bit too fast out of the gate for the first few miles to first few laps. I figured at the pace I was looking to run and especially if I went out too fast, I would have plenty of time for the eventual slowdown that would occur over the course of the race.
I was hoping to eventually connect with a fellow trail runner with more experience who I knew was conservative and emulate what they were doing.
One of my biggest concerns throughout the year and leading into this race was the fact that this was a summer race. I do not do well in the heat. I was really concerned about it being hot weather. I came prepared to deal with it as best I could.
However, the race day forecast was for a relatively cool mid-summer day. I actually ended up starting the race off wearing a light jacket. Turns out I didn’t really need that for very long. A short while into the race I had worked up a good sweat, not difficult for me, I took my hydration pack off, stripped out of the jacket, and stuffed it into my pack.
At 6 AM we were of. I started off trying not to go to fast. Keep my level of exertion low. Walk all elevation gains. The key was to not get overheated. I think I started of doing this pretty well.
Before long I heard a familiar voice talking to me. It was a friend and fellow trail runner I had met back at my first 100 mil race. Back then we had shred some time on the trails together during that adventure.
This year he was volunteering at aid stations during my 50 mile race and really helped me out. I knew he was going to be hear. It was really cool to hear his voice so early on.
We linked up and ran together for long stretches of time during the 6 laps needed to complete loop 1. With no plan or purposeful intent we would connect time and again on the trails. Get back to the beginning of each loop et out aid and head back out on the trails often separately. Then back out on the trails our pace would synchronize and we would link up again.
This was really one of the most enjoyable features of this race. I am not a particularly chatty person with people I don’t know. So I do not often talk much at races unless I am purposefully running with someone I know.
But at this race, having linked up with another runner who is much more personable made this a totally different experience for me. Whenever we caught up to another person or persons or people caught up to us, my fellow trail runner stuck up conversations with everyone. He would ask each person their names then introduce everyone who was part of our current contingent of runners traveling down the path together in that moment.
I have never talked to so many people at a race that I did not go to the race with or plan to meet there. It was a really fun time just talking with everyone about running an life while we were out on the trail. It really helped to pass the time. Our groups merged and splintered as the race went on. But conversations continued. Saying hi to people you met earlier later on in the race. Picking up on a thread from an earlier conversation the next time you saw that person on the trail. This was all new to me.
I knew eventually I wouldn’t be able to keep up with a much more experience trail runner who clearly had his pace dialed in from years of ultra-experience, but it was great fun while it lasted. And it continued as we crossed paths while on the trails and when seeing other runners he drew into our orbit.
One cool feature of this event was I cold have a pacer whenever I wanted. I had a plan for when I wanted to use pacers and who I was planning to have with me at what times, but nothing was set in stone. As it turns out one of my pacers was bored of just siting around and was ready to get out on the trails early. Around the same point that I could no longer keep up with the other runners I had been with.
It was good to be getting out on the trails with my pacer. The down side was for a while I had been feeling my feet heating up. Like they were just starting to rub a bit. It was around the time I had planned to reapply anti chafe to my feet and change socks. I took off my shoes and socks only to see my feet covered in dirt and grit. Under other race conditions this would not be too unexpected. However, at this race I had gaiters over my shoes and the course to this point was dry as a bone. Perhaps I didn’t clean my shoes well enough after my last muddy adventure at Finger Lakes 50s.
It was not a good sign that I could already se hotspots and blisters starting to appear on my feet. Blisters were nothing new to me but having them already at less than a third the way into the race was concerning.
More anti chafe applies, socks, changed, shoes back on. My first pacer and I head back out onto the trails. Still on loop 1.
Unfortunately after just one lap I could feel my foot still rubbing and getting irritated. I was forced to take another extended stop with my crew to clean my feet and reapply my anti chafe yet again, this time I applied it very liberally.
Loop one was a beautiful part of the course. This part of the course is mostly woodlands. There are countless trails winding and weaving in and out from the route we are running. So many more places to explore in the future. And apparently a place many people enjoy exploring. There were so many people, dogs, and even horses out on the trails. As we did loops we repeated crossed paths with other people doing their own multi loop hikes out on the trails. It was funny seeing the same people repeatedly that weren’t even running the race.
Out in the woodlands there were enormous beautiful trees. The woods are so lush and green. Occasionally the woods opened into brief sections of fields or clearings where cars could park. I was really happy that most of the early part of the day which would be spent here as the day warms up would be spent under the cover of beautiful tree canopies.
One of the coolest features of this area were the valleys and ridge lines. Despite having relatively low amounts of elevation changes there were times where we would be running through a small valley with trees building up along the sides of the higher ground. And at times there were huge trees topples over off of the valley sides across the valley floor.
Then there was the opposite landscapes. These features were even more beautiful to traverse. Running across open ridgelines where they forest floor dropped off on either side. We remained under the protective canopy of trees because they were so tall, but the ground dropped off on both sides, leaving only a strip of land to run down. Some areas were wider than others, but it was cool.
The wide variation in terrain on this loop was quite amazing. The trail itself changed from dirt, to gravel, to loose stones, then large rocks, shifting to heavily rooted sections, and even included sections of sand. And the makeup of the trail itself was as variable as the rolling ever changing terrain.
Eventually I finished loop 1 and headed out to see loop 2. Despite the beauty of loop 1 I was ready to be done with the larger amounts of elevation change and get to something relatively flat. Time to see some new scenery.
I was beginning to get tired. Tired is to be expected, but I was more tired earlier than I would have liked. I was really looking forward to getting out on this section with my pacer, where my pacer hold help me keep a nice even pace. Mix in some running and walking to balance things out. Keep from getting overheated. Conserve energy, but keep a decent pace at the same time.
Loop 2 was more open than loop 1 was. The loop stated off with traversing more grasslands than it seemed there was in the entire time on loop 1. Not my favorite experience.
It would not have been so bad if it wasn’t summer, mid day, sunny, and a lot of open exposure to the sun.
On aspect of the 2nd loop that I liked better than the 1st loop was there were fewer intersections with other trails. So fewer opportunities to really end up off course. That helps when you reach the stage of the event where your brain starts to turn to mush.
This loop of the course was beautiful in its own way. I probably would have appreciated it more if it was not in the middle of the day. Despite not being overly hot, I still spent most of my time on this loop just managing my experience of the heat.
There was one spot that felt so odd. Following the flags across a field then the course turns right. As the runner approaches the turn you cross over a section of ground where it seems like there was just a section of trees and bushes bulldozed. As I try to navigate across tractor tread impressions in the ground. That was strange. And you get to do it 6 times.
One cool feature of this section of the course was all the blackberry bushes. At times when I needed to slow down, my pacer would just pick some berries to enjoy. Who need said stations or fuel to carry. Just eat all the blackberries. We also saw other visitors to the park out in that section enjoying the blackberries.
There was one feature of this loop of the course that under almost any other circumstances I would really have enjoyed. It would have been especially nice if I was just there for a fun day of photography. This factor is the trail for this loop mostly stays very near to a large pond.
In the early morning or evening this would probably be really nice. However, running mid day in the bright sunlight and heat, not so much. It was kind of like running through a small sauna at times. I would hit sections of the trail where it neared or crossed the water and the humidity instantly increased. At least it felt much worse to my perception. Almost as if steam was rising off the water.
I completely realize how difficult it can be to construct a race course especially on trails. But there was this one section that just felt so odd to me. We are running down this nice clearly delineated section of trail. Then there suddenly is this large cluster of flags directing the runners to essentially leave the trail and bushwhack through the woods.
It just felt so strange to leave the trail for the woods. The RDs did an awesome job marking it or surely I would have thought it was wrong and assumed I was supposed to stay on the course. But we take that turn into the woods. maneuver over some obstacles/trees and then arrive at a road crossing.
Moving across the road and along a field until we reached another trail through the woods and along the dreaded pond.
It was at this section that another cool thing occurred. People at races are generally some of the best people. During one lap of loop 2 there was a woman there passing out freeze pops to the runners. And this occurred at the perfect time for me. Was getting warm and fading and the freeze pop was the perfect little pick me up. Thank you random trail race stranger.
After a few laps on the 2nd loop I picked up a new pacer. And it was going to be dark soon. Despite not really loving this loop it was fun to pick up a new pacer. Picking up a new pacer is always fun because it shakes things up a little bit and can refresh everything from conversation to pace.
It was really cool to have this person on board as one of my pacers for a couple of reasons. This was another good friend. a friend who has been out there with me sharing in many training miles. Who better to share miles with than somebody who literally knows how hard you worked for this day because they helped see you through so many training runs.
Another fun thing about getting this friend out pacing me at a 100 mile race is they are new to the trail and ultra world. They do not run ultra distances. And they don’t really run many trails. So it was really cool to introduce someone toi the world of trail and ultra running through their participation in helping to crew and pace me at this event.
It didn’t improve my performance, I actually continued to decline, but at least I had a good time doing it?
Over the course of the 6 loops I needed to run around loop 2 I continued to slow down. Slowing down over the course of a 100 mile race is to be expected. Especially for someone like me who is relatively new to the event and not particularly fast to begin with.
But the relatively steady pace I was hoping to maintain wasn’t happening. The recovery I was hoping to get due to fewer elevation changes didn’t happen.
I started off mixing in periods of running and walking to keep myself fresh. As the time went on the time spent running decreased and the time spent walking increased.
It got to the point where I could run, but my body just wasn’t responding well to it. So eventually I would have to take a break from it to recover. So I would have to walk.
It seemed to me that the walking after a period of running was at a pace so slow in order to recover that it completely negated the improved pace of running. On my final lap of the 2nd loop I decided to try to just power hike the entire loop. Just trying to see if I could keep up a decent pace and feel ok physically not requiring so much time to slow down and recover.
I eventually finished my final lap of the 2nd loop and arrived back with my crew and sat in a chair.
After finishing loop 2 I was pretty pessimistic. I was getting down. It was the slowest lap of the entire day. I didn’t run at all and I was still tired.
I was ready to give in. I was ready to call it quits.
My crew did what any good crew does. They rallied around me. My crew got me going. They got me motivated again. They got me ready to go out there and take on loop 3.
I was picking up a new pacer to start loop 3. One of my best friends. A person I have shared many miles with and a person who has taken on some of the same gnarly trail races I have. And they have also paced me previously.
I also picked up my trekking poles. This loop was going to have more elevation changes to it than before on loop 2. Maybe having the changing elevation profile will help me and I will actually speed up on this loop, right? Right!?
As I got myself mentally and physically prepared to go out for my first lap of loop 3 I was feeling “good”. Maybe even hopeful, as my pacer and I crossed the blackness of a wide open grassy field at night. Just our headlamps to guide the way.
As I am headed out on the course with my pacer still chewing on the food I picked up from my crew I maybe feel this glimmer of, I can still do this.
I remember actually feeling better as we started to head out. Unfortunately this did not last long.
This loop had less total elevation change than the first loop, but it felt like it was constantly changing elevation. And that my friends was doing me in.
I could physically make it up the short but steep climbs, however long it took. But once at the top I frequently had this sensation that I was getting lightheaded. I don’t think that really accurately describes how I felt, but atop every climb I just needed a minute to physically regroup. Like my body and my mind needed to reconstitute itself.
The descents after the climbs were I think worse than the climbs. None of them that I remember were easy gradual paths down a hill. They all seemed to be steep with a tangle of root and rocks.
Under normal circumstances nothing too challenging. Under my physical and mental fatigue, grueling. In addition I had by this point developed terrible blisters on both feet which cause me to be extremely ginger with each stepdown.
There were no shortages of ups and downs on loop 3. It felt endless.
There were also no shortage of obstacles to go over or under on this loop. I am sure it is fewer than it seemed, but I felt like I may have been in an OCR event at this point. Ducking under or climbing over numerous fallen trees. Not really what you want to be doing in the advanced stages of a 100 mile race.
I was moving so slowly on this lap. I actually feel bad for my pacer. It must be hard for a fresh person to go so slow. But, I just could not get my energy level up. I could not get my legs to move any faster. I don’t know why. I had been eating and fueling well and my hydration was good. I even ate solid food during this lap. Eating a salt potato whenever I got a little hungry.
It didn’t help that during this lap was when real mental fatigue finally began to set in. The fatigue of lack of sleep.
I could feel how slow I was going. I was alert enough to know I was hardly moving at all. If this was the tortoise and the hare I was definitely the tortoise, but I think at this point the tortoise could have easily out paced me.
Over the course of the lap I asked my pacer multiple times how far we had gone and how long it took us. I was barely crawling along the path. I was doing the calculations in my head. I knew I was going to slow to finish at this rate.
If something didn’t change I would not be able to finish the race. Something needed to change drastically and it needed to change soon.
Unfortunately nothing changed. It took me 3 hours to complete 1 lap of the third loop. I covered 5.5 miles in 3 hours. It was not going to work. I still needed to go nearly 30 more miles. And to get that done I would basically have to run faster than I was running at the beginning of the race. There was just no way that was going to happen.
Could I keep going. Physically yes. But to what end? Keep going. Keep deteriorating my body. Only to not finish regardless? I love physical activity and I love running. The last thing I wanted to do was long term damage to my body for a race I could not finish. There would be more opportunities for amazing adventures in the future. Today just was not my day.
At the end of my first lap of loop 3 I called it quits. I could not go on. It did not make sense to go on.
My Mental State
One thing I will remember from this race was my mental state. As I began to get fatigued I became increasingly irritable and grumpy.
If my crew couldn’t find something or have something handed to me instantly I was so irritated by it. I would use items I needed and then just throw them on the ground.
I am just like everyone else. I get angry if I get into an argument with someone, but generally I am probably one of the most easy going, most personable people who can get along with anyone.
But the fact that I could recognize in real time that I was just in a foul mood is disheartening. I am pretty sure I apologized in advance to my pacers for how bad a mood I was in.
I was the most grumpy I have ever been especially at a race. I started complaining about everything.
I feel bad about how I felt and how I treated my friends at this race. I don’t know why I was in such a bad head space.
What Went Right
This race wasn’t all bad, as I hope I have made clear throughout this account. Despite not finishing there are some positive take aways.
Aside from finishing the biggest goal for this race was to avoid having a major breakdown where I am completely out of commission and in a chair for 45 minutes to an hour. And at least for as far into the race as I lasted we avoided that. And I don’t feel like anything like that was on the verge of happening in this race.
One big concern was with this being a summer race I needed to make sure I stayed hydrated. Hydration was on point. This may have been because in large part it was cool for an upstate New York summer. But I also discovered a new hydration product to help in high heat environments. And I gained valuable experience planning for future challenges.
I was prepared with almost all the gear I could possibly need. I planned for extras of some things and actually needed them. I had all the gear I needed to run.
Nutrition at my last 100 was a challenge. I had a wide variety of nutrition options for this race. I have really tried to rely on actual food over gels if possible. My nutrition I feel was pretty on point. I ate early and often. My crew was awesome at making sure I was taking in calories every time I saw them. I ate an entire 3 lb. bag of apples during the race. I may consider supplementing with a different kind of liquid nutrition next time.
And the biggest thing that went right. My crew and pacers were all amazing. Tolerating me when I was being unbearable. Encouraging me to do the hard thing. They were invaluable and I owe them so much.
Challenges And Struggles
As much as I think my nutrition plan went pretty well I think there is still room to dial it in better. I think I made the right call to supplement my solid food with liquid food in the form of maple syrup. However at one point my mouth could not take any more maple syrup. It became too overpowering of a flavor and I just couldn’t drink it anymore. I will need to find something with a more subtle flavor profile.
I need to figure out a way to prevent blisters on my feet. For shorter ultras they are manageable not usually too bad. But in my two attempts at 100 miles they have been pretty debilitating. And it has been almost a week since the race and they are still keeping me in pain.
I don’t know if I need better socks. I have tried many brands, but they all seem to end up with issues at some point. Maybe I need a different anti chafe solution for my feet specifically. I have tried a few different things. But maybe this distance requires something specific.
I made sure to plan for stops to change socks and reapply anti chafe to my feet and I still ended up with blisters that really slowed me down.
One issue I had was in my shoes and or socks specifically. I run in a lot of muddy conditions. This included a very muddy 50 mile race a month prior to this as my biggest training run. I cleaned my shoes after the race, but maybe not well enough. Same goes for my socks. Maybe I need to dedicate clean gear with no residual dirt from prior races for my 100 mile attempts.
The week of the race I came down with this strange sore throat. And I don’t usually get sick. It stuck with me so long that on race day I included cough drops in my race kit. Maybe once I had ground myself down over the many miles of the race the virus was able to take advantage and that played a part of why I didn’t feel great during the race. Not an excuse, but something to consider.
Best Things About This Ultra Challenge
One of the best parts of taking on big challenges like this is spending time out on the trails with my wife and my friends. It really doesn’t get better than that. I don’t even need a race. I have planned long adventures on the trails for my friends and I on our own. I think it is time for another fun day like that.
Races are great. I am not huge on travel. But having a place to go for a race is a great way of getting to explore a new area I have never been. I have heard of Mendon Ponds for a long time. I was there briefly for a race in the past. Now I am so happy to have been able to see more of it. I am excited to go back and explore more at a more relaxed time.
Apples are the best. Go ahead fight me.
Quitting The Fight
When you choose to do hard things you have to accept that you might fail.
I gave it my all on race day. When I decided to stop I was completely comfortable with my decision. It doesn’t make it less of a bummer and it doesn’t stop the second guessing of things I could have done differently. But I am ok with the result.
I pushed my body as far as it could go that day. I followed my plan. I executed it well. No major mistakes. Sometimes it is just not your time.
When I second guess myself or have doubts about how this day ended I think about all the professional ultra runners out there and how many of them do not finish races. If they are professionals and can “fail” at a race then go back out there and train all over gain and go for it again at another race then so can I. If the pros can be ok with a DNF then so can I.
I did not have the finish I had hopped for. But I had the experience I had hoped for. I am not in this for the end result I am in this for the process.
This is how I live my life. I am in it to experience life to the fullest. Part of living life to the fullest for me is seeing what my body can do. And doing that with the support of people I care about around me. Life just doesn’t get better than that. Go out there fill your spirit with the desire to do something hard.
You don’t have to run 100 miles. You don’t have to run any miles. But think of that thing you have always wanted to do but people always told you you could never do it. Go try and do that thing. You will never regret trying to do something hard. It is hard for a reason.
One of the hardest things I have done happened this year and it had nothing to do with running. I stood up in front of a small class and taught photography.
Seek the thing that will bring you a spark and give it your best shot. You never know what will happen.
While I didn’t succeed in accomplishing what is ostensibly the goal, run 100 miles. I did succeed at the actual goal. I pushed my body to its limit. I took myself as far as I could go on that day. I put my best effort in. I gave it my all.