So, Lucy had this crazy idea that she would run 100 miles. I know, right? I can’t say much because I plan to run my own race soon (more on that later), but I was able to head out to the race with a few friends to crew, support, and pace her for the last 25 miles. It was an incredible experience, and I hope that everyone is able to crew an Ultra at some point in their life!
(Some background here for many readers/family that are not as familiar with Ultra Running) Typically, a 100 mile race has a cut-off time of 30 hours, with some intermediate time cut-offs along the way. (This race did not have any cut other than 30 hours.) Many runners have the goal of finishing in under 24-hours, however, for one’s first race, it is also very common to just focus on finishing within the allotted time. The traditional finisher’s medal for these races is a belt buckle… Originally 100 mile races were intended for horses. Way back when, this guy Gordon Ainsleigh was riding a horse that went lame during the race. The next year he decided he would complete the race without a horse, and did so under 24 hours. Thus the great cowboy tradition of ultra races!
Our buddy Mon Ferrer (seated next to Lucy below) has been such a huge part of our Ultra Running adventures over the last two years, and I would be remiss not to mention him at this time. Neither of us would be the runners that we are today without his encouragement and support… I count Mon as my Pinoy brother. With two runners to support, I am extremely grateful that I was able to assemble an all-star crew for this event. I was blessed to be joined by Lucy’s fellow Nike Pacers Tiffany Carson and Mike Toma, as well as Brooks iD and accomplished Ultra Runner Stephen England. Together we would be charged with keeping our runners happy, fed, hydrated, and moving! We were also hosted by our amazing friends Jen and Bryan Weinstein. Bryan would also become a guest crew-member/pacer. More on that later!
The adventure started with an extremely long drive up to Buffalo from New York City. We got an extremely late start heading out… Things happen… Thankfully, we were hosted Jen’s parents about 20 minutes to the race start. Though we got in at almost 2am, we would be able to get SOME sleep thanks to the 10am race start. We planned to be at race site (for check-in, meeting, drop bags, etc) at 8:30am. Fortunately the runners were able to get quite a bit of sleep on the car ride up. The crew, on the other hand, helped me stay awake driving by strategizing our plan for the next day and organizing our responsibilities. Needless to say, the crew arrived quite tired, but still excited for what was to come!
The great thing about having a crew in a race is that, as a runner, you don’t have to worry about logistics. You don’t have to worry about a drop bag, or shoes, or socks, or whatever. It’s the crew’s job to do all that for you! Mon and Lucy were able to head to the start and collect their bibs and packets while we set up camp, complete with tent; blankets; fuel; chairs; and a cooler of cold everything! After they came back with numbers we relaxed for a bit and prepared their hydration packs with ice water and whatever food they wanted to take for the first 25 miles. Pacers are not allowed until after 25 miles (nor would they have needed us) so we wouldn’t see them for about 5 hours. Plenty of time to lay out some baby food packets, extra baggies of dates, and get breakfast. In fact, it was enough time for Stephen and Tiffany to take a trip to Niagara Falls, ride the Maiden of the Mist, buy Mike and I lunch and come back. To put this in perspective… The two of them went on a multi-hour tourist adventure, brought back lunch, and these crazy runners were still only a quarter of the way through their race.
Since they didn’t have any pacers, Lucy and Mon were able to run the first 25-mile loop together! This is great, because the course is quite a boring, flat, straight out and straight back loop on canal tow path. It’s extremely helpful just to have someone to keep you company. Once we saw Lucy and Mon across the canal, we knew we had about 30 minutes to get ready, as the runners run out about a mile away from the start line before looping back on the finish side of the path for a little over a mile to the start/finish line.
The two runners looked fantastic coming in after running their first marathon of the day, but we knew it was very hot out there. There is almost no shade at-all on the course, so we made sure to fill up their hydration bladders with a LOT of ice when they stopped back by. Another lifesaver was Tiffany’s ice bandana. We filled this bandana with ice and wrapped it around the runners necks. Such a great way to stay cool. Lucy also put ample amounts of ice into her hat… Perhaps someday I will convince Mon to run with a hat. Lord knows I have tried.
At the end of this loop, it was game time for the crew/pacers. We had all decided to pace as well as crew for the race, and Tiffany had first shift! We decided to cut a few miles off her adventure by taking her to Orangeport, which is about 6 miles in to the course and 1 mile before the Gasport AS—Approximately 31 miles into the race. From there she would take the runners through the Gasport AS and out to Middleport AS, where Mike, Stephen and I would be waiting for them.
The Middleport AS is kind-of difficult to find. It’s not marked very well on the course map, but it’s a very small town so a couple of minutes of driving led us to the right spot. It’s basically an empty Free Mason hall, where they set up drop bags, some tables, and a plentiful Aid Station. There is also a kitchen, which allowed for hot food later in the race. For those of you without much Ultra experience, this is what makes many of us choose these types of races over corporate Marathons. Think: Grilled Cheese, Banana, Hot Soup, Pretzels, Candy, Soda, Cookies, Energy Bars, Watermelon… It’s amazing. We helped fill their packs at Middleport and then headed back to the Start/Finish (Widewaters) to wait for them again.
At some point soon after Middleport, Mon was really feeling the heat. We had been joined by Jen’s husband Bryan Weinstein, and they both decided to run a few miles with everyone. When Mon was slowing down a bit, Bryan smartly convinced Lucy and Tiffany to keep moving ahead. Lucy (being the amazing friend she is) did not want to leave our best running buddy behind. But, Tiffany convinced her this was the best decision and they kept moving. Mon has several 100-mile races under his belt (buckle) already, so we all knew he would be fine. It’s not a harsh thing to say… this is the reality of running a very long way. Sometimes you are feeling it, sometimes you are not. Preparation and mental fortitude are key, but you just never know what is going to come on race day. In any case, Mon was still well on pace for a 24-hour finish! Lucy didn’t need to worry about someone else in her first 100, and it was a fantastic decision regardless of the emotions of the moment.
After the second loop was complete, it was Mike Toma’s turn to do the driving. He was quite excited about this, as it would soon be nightfall. Time to put on the headlamps and blinking safety lights. Although it was way too early to really think about it in someone’s first 100, (and it didn’t really matter) we suspected that Lucy was among the top 5 women in the race. We also had a suspicion that she was at least in the top 25% of runners in the race overall. We didn’t tell her any of this, because she didn’t need to worry about it! But we did have that in the back of our minds as a crew, and there was no reason to believe she wouldn’t keep moving the way she was. She was on target to finish near 21-hours, which is absolutely fantastic. We really wanted to keep her on this pace. However, because Lucy and Mon were now separated, we had to change our game plan a bit.
Stephen had already put in a hard 12.5 miles earlier in the day… Something about preparing for some crazy race (UROC 100k)… We had to think a bit to figure out how to best help our buddy Mon. When he came in to our crew base at mile 50, he had been running with Bryan for quite a while. I knew that mentally, this was a rough patch. It was getting dark. It was getting colder. Mon needed a dry shirt, and he needed to get back moving as soon as possible. When you are struggling, there’s no sense in wasting time… Keep moving. So, I literally gave Mon the shirt off my back! It was the only extra, dry, technical shirt that we could get to easily… It would have to work. I could get by for a while with a singlet. I decided to run with Mon the 6-miles to Orangeport… We really wanted to get him moving so I did this without really changing into proper running gear… 9″ inseam shorts are not exactly what I would call amazing gear… Anyway, I’d have more than an hour to talk to him on the run and assess his needs, and from Orangeport, we would regroup and decide the next steps.
As I talked to him, I basically laid out the options, and we decided that the best plan would be for Stephen to run with Mon from Orangeport to Middleport (~6.5 miles). There we would wait for him and help him get ready for the 12.5 mile run back to Widewaters. He’d be on his own for that stretch, but then he would be able to pick up Stephen again for the last 25 miles. Mon is an amazing runner. He is strong and determined, and never doubts the body’s ability to do amazing things. Once we arrived at Orangeport, Stephen and I did a quick hand-off, and Tiffany and I drove out to Middleport, where we hoped we would still be able to catch Lucy and Mike.
At Middleport Tiffany and I did a bit more investigating, and were fairly confident that Lucy was, in fact, 3rd place Female. We still didn’t want to bother her with this information (it can be stressful to start thinking about an Ultra as a RACE) but we were happy with that, and excited that we were in the hunt! You start doing crazy things to keep yourselves awake after 15 hours or so with no sleep and little food… Lucy came into Middleport even sooner than we had expected, and we happily went about refilling her pack and getting her some soup broth. This was around the time in the race where nothing really sounds that exciting or appetizing. She didn’t really want food, or much of anything, really. At this point, it seemed a huge mental boost for her to revel in the fact that each mile run would now be the farthest she had ever run! Lucy set off to finish the loop and Tiffany and I waited for Stephen and Mon to roll in.
Mon and Stephen came in a while later and were looking pretty good. We sent Mon off on his own for a few miles and headed back to the start finish to see if I could get a bit of sleep before the final 25 mile push!
As soon as we got back, I crawled into the tent, changed clothes and decided to get a power nap before pacing duties. Lucy came pretty quickly, and before I knew it we were off and running again! It’s so atypical for a runner to do this type of race with such even splits. We kept thinking, “surely she will be a bit slower this half,” or, “maybe she is going to take it easy this loop…” Not our Lucy. She was so amazingly steady that it was almost hard to imagine she had been running for over 16 hours. She was now well positioned to finish under 22 hours! My job over the next couple of hours was just to keep Lucy entertained.
We had been moving at pretty much the same pace for the entire loop, and it was going really well. Sometime after passing Gasport, we saw the sun start to come up… I think that’s when it really starts to set in. When you see the sun come up for the second time without going to bed, you know that something is wrong with you! Because of the type of course, the finish line comes into view with about 3 miles to go. Once you can see that finish… It’s only a matter of time. When Lucy saw the finish, she really began to understand what was happening and how incredible an accomplishment this was. In other words, she started running faster, and vowed not to stop until she got to the end!
Finally we were in the final half mile, and could see our tent and friends up ahead. Mike and Tiffany joined in and ran with us to an amazing finish!
[This is Lucy interrupting this recap for one short bit]:
To this day, It’s hard for me to believe that I actually crossed THAT finish line. Being surrounded by so much love and support on top of completing a distance by foot I wasn’t fully convinced I could do felt INCREDIBLE. People often ask why I run, “why run 100 miles”. My thoughts: “because I CAN”. Because the human body is amazing, and because every time I finish a crazy race I am reminded of just how incredible our bodies are and how incredible its creator.
Of course, no 100 miler would be complete without the coveted belt buckle!
Oh, and let’s not forget Mon! After Lucy finished, I couldn’t wait to crawl into that tent and sneak in a nap. Lucy headed back to Jen’s house to shower, and I proceeded to absolutely pass out. A couple of hours later, Mike woke me up when he saw Mon and Stephen running on the other side of the canal with Tiffany. Yes, Tiffany, super pacer, went out for another 7 miles or-so just because. I may, or may not have crawled back into the tent after cheering for them, as I knew I had probably another 40 minutes before seeing them approach the finish line.
A short while later, Mon was running in, and dropping his crew on the home stretch! Despite having a tough day, nothing was going to stop this beast from finishing strong!
For his remarkable performance, Mon received a special order of bacon and a belt buckle.
And to celebrate his own accomplishments, Stephen was treated to a bacon sandwich.
Once again, huge thanks to everyone that helped make this happen… To Jen, Bryan, and the Weinstein family; Tiffany, Stephen, and Mike… What an awesome crew. I was in the company of absolute stars, and I can’t say enough how much fun this was!
Lucy Ledezma — 21h:28m:26s; 3rd Female/20; 9/51 Overall.
Mon Ferrer — 24h:21m:03s; 15th Male/31; 22/51 Overall.