It’s a few days before the race, and I’m sitting at home nervous. 51 miles on the beach? What was I thinking? It started off as a good idea between two friends. David Kalal and I were going to run 50k in what looked like a really interesting race- Badwater Cape Fear. My ego had pushed me into the 51 miler, and I’d somehow convinced David and another friend, Fraser Koroluk to jump up to 51 miles as well. I was now seriously questioning why the heck I had done that.
David and I had just finished running the Fed Apple 50 K about a month previous. We had both been using a coach to train using heart rate to determine pace. On an icy hilly course the result for me was less than spectacular. My time was OK, but I expected to do better. It didn’t help that David did crush it beating me by over an hour. I was determined not to get bitten by an hour, but I didn’t know what to expect, running on sand. There was no way I could train on the sand even looked into building a sandbox to run in but that was impractical. On top of that, I was having doubts about being able to run a large portion of the race in my Luna sandals like I had planned. As I read through the course description, and rethought my race plans for the 17th time, A new thought entered my head: why are you taking this so seriously? This is supposed to be fun! So let’s have some fun: Who doesn’t want to be a pirate? (Apart from Jerry Seinfeld)
Gathered with other (non pirate) runners for a late(ish) 7:45 start, we gathered around old baldy. Swatting away biting flies, we waited for the start. The first 12 miles would be on the roads of the island, with a mile long trek on a trail near the end. The breeze was up, so despite the warming air, it was a pleasant run. I maintained a pace that kept my HR below 140, occasionally waving at spectators and having conversations with my fellow runners.
At mile 12, right before the beach, I changed out of my shoes and into my sandals. David and I had essentially run together and Fraser was ahead of us, heading out as we were heading in. I restocked my tailwind, filled my bottle and was out and onto the sand for the first 20 mile out and back. The tide was low, so we were running on mostly packed sand. There were slight rises where the tide had carved out hills and gullies, but it was essentially flat. There was also a slight incline, so your seaward side was slightly lower- noticeable, but not uncomfortable. Yet.
The challenge of running on the beach for 10 miles in one direction is twofold: 1- you’re running on the beach, and 2- it’s 10 miles. The sand is unpredictable, and so somewhat like on a trail, you have to be aware where you’re putting your feet. After a while you can begin to “read” the sand and see where the runners that came before you (and there were quite a few) made good and bad stride decisions. The distance is also a challenge because you can see for a long way, but you really can’t see that well. You have a vague sense that what’s in the distance is getting closer, but aid station mirages seemed to appear and disappear with frustrating regularity.
Challenges aside, we were making pretty good time and so far, my heart rate had stayed down. It was warming up, though, and for some reason my pirate costume was responding. While David was feeling the heat, I felt ok. That’s not to say that I didn’t have issues. For one, my flowing locks were a pain in the ass when I was running downwind. The breeze was up, so for 10 miles on the way back, I was constantly spitting “hair” out of my mouth. It was a distraction, but not a pleasant one…
We hit the 50k mark in pretty good time. If I had stopped, it would have been my second fastest 50k and I would have come in 5th. David succumbed to the heat and so I was left to chase Fraser and the elusive FKTP. I also made a decision to change back into my shoes. My reasoning was that the tide was coming in and although I wasn’t having issues with rubbing (due in large part to my sweet sock and sandal fashion statement), the sandals in deep sand would act like mini shovels as I ran. Buried treasure was the furthest thing from my mind and I don’t generally like to up the difficulty level if I can help it. I put the earphones in, tuned to my Sea Shanties playlist, and headed out.
The last 20 miles: this was the race. There were a few people in front of me and I started to focus on catching as many as I could. One of my mental strategies in the last 20 miles is that if I pass someone, they stay passed. I got out of the aid station at mile 31 with 44 people ahead of me. I caught 11 of them.
Don’t get me wrong. I was not blazing. It still took me 5 ½ hours to go 20 miles, but the tide was coming in and we ran the last 15 miles in a combination of deep sand and knee high surf. The wind had changed direction, so now the 10 miles out was with a tailwind. Fine, except for that “hair-in-the-mouth” thing, which was getting pretty old.
“Ran” may even be a generous term. On the way back, my stomach had started to act up: food had no appeal. My strategy was down to a run/walk pattern: run 100-200 steps and then walk until I felt better. The pattern of running and resting lent some normalcy to the end of the run. That and the fact that someone I had passed much earlier in the race was gaining on me. I really didn’t want to get passed.
As I rounded the final point at Cape Fear, with less than a mile to go, I felt the presence of that final runner gaining on me. Head down, I stepped on the gas and managed a lightning quick 12:46 pace for the final mile. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to hold him off (The runner, Jeff Gleason, later said he thought he was going to catch me until he saw me “take off”, so I guess it’s all relative).
As I came across the finish, the enormity of the accomplishment started to settle on me….FKT(P)….Fastest Known Time (by a Pirate) is not a record I achieved on my own. I have to thank David and Fraser for their inspiration, my coach, Nick Holland for his instruction and motivation, and Johnny Brock’s in St. Louis for the pirate costume. It really does take a team to surmount the obstacles required to post a fastest known time. I’m honored and proud to hold the record (at least until some other idiot decides to wear a pirate costume)