Raw Vegan runner goes from finishing his first 100mi race - to winning Virgil Crest 100 - in 8 weeks!
Inspired by Michael Arnstein (long-term fruitarian and 2011 Vermont100 winner), 2 years ago I decided to give a try to the combination of raw vegan high-carb (Fruitarian) diet and running training. Fast-forward to the summer and fall of 2012...
After 19:38 finish in my first 100mi race in Vermont at the end of July, and then not very fast time at the Escarpment trail race next weekend (where I was 3rd last year), I certainly didn't plan (or trained for) another 100mi any time soon. But this pretty technical course seemed to be just perfect fit for me, and despite scary elevation gain (over 23K feet (according to Garmin), which is much more elevation than in Vermont100), I decided to do this race only few days before the start. Virgil Crest 100
is one of the toughest 100mi races in America.
In these 8 weeks between my two 100mi races I've done:
Escarpment trail race (next weekend after Vermont100, 13th place);
Trail marathon and some triathlon training at the Woodstock Fruit Festival;
Wheel And Heel Olympic Duathlon (3rd place).
Also, some cycling and occasional interval workouts.
Overall running for sure less than 40 or even 30 miles/week (not exactly the way to train for 100mi race).
Two weeks before this race my staple foods were: various melons, peaches, tomatoes, oranges, bananas, and greens (mostly spinach and arugula). All raw and simple.
During the race: Dates, gels, electrolytes, fruit juices.
Day before the race:
Legs felt fresh, but not at 100% (could use more rest after interval workouts that week).
Drop (trash) bags are ready and full of stuff that will support me at the aid stations along the way
Went to bed early, but hardly got any sleep in my green "Palace".
Race director (Ian Golden) announced during his pre-race meeting that this year he'll have a polka-dot "Climber jersey", similar to the "King of the mountain" in cycling.
It would be awarded to the fastest runner through the 4-mi ski slope loop which is repeated 4 times in the 100mi and 2 times in 50mi. I totally fell for this. In my brief road cycling racing experience I considered myself to be a decent climber, but I never won this KOM jersey in a cycling race... And here it was. Of course, it's not very smart to sprint up the mountain after only 10 miles into a very hilly 100 miles race, but I came here to have fun and I was going for this thing)).
Hello... DurianRider? I'm ready, bro...
Ready to rock
Pretty cold at the start (40s?), but after we hit the hills it felt warm even without a shirt...
First 4 miles running in a group of 4-5 front runners. After first aid station it was Jeff Rixe (racing 50miles) and me. When we hit this first loop of ski trails, I pushed hard (too hard?), went way ahead of Jeff, and by the end of the loop I was pretty sure that nobody will go through these hills faster later in the race and contest my polka-dot climber jersey. I was done with the fun part, and now the 100 mile race begins.
Coming back from my sprint.
I thought that if I want to have any chance at all in this race now, then I need to seriously slow down and recover, or I'll be done even before 50mi mark. The recovery took a long time. Jeff caught up with me and we run together for a while, but his 50-mile winning pace was not sustainable for me and I had to let him go. At a turnaround point (mile 25, only couple of minutes behind Jeff) I finally saw who's chasing me. I saw two runners about 15 min behind me, one of which (Michele Graglia
) was in my 100mi race. Michele was one of the favorites in this race, already having under the belt few ultra wins earlier this year.
I thought that my lead was comfortable and that I need to keep slowing down and recovering. Miles 25-40 didn't feel very enjoyable, especially second time up those ski slopes.
I felt like I won't have enough juice in me to last for 60 more miles. Also, occasional rain and cold wind were adding too much "fun" experience to already abundant mud and hills. The last 10 miles before the half-race turn-around I finally felt recovered enough to get into a slightly higher gear, and tried to protect my lead. And it was not a good time for...... getting lost.
I ran well, but missed a turn and went extra 1.2 miles on the trail for 50K race. Luckily, it was a small loop that brought me back to the same place. I quickly realized what happened and followed some 50mi runner in the right direction. At the turn-around (start/finish line) it was mile 50 and my lowest point during the race. I didn't feel like running any more at all, my tent was right here, and I wasn't in my best mood while being mad at myself for running extra distance. I lost only about 12 minutes in that extra loop, but making even one unnecessary step in addition to 100 miles felt pretty discouraging (I really hope to get better at dealing with these situations in future races). Michele passed me and was already refueling at the station. I quickly got what I needed from my drop bag and we head out back into the woods together.
It feels like a brand new race now, seems like nobody was close enough to us to get into our race for 1st place. Michele is running steady and light, and I'm trying to keep up with him while waiting for my "beast" mode to return. From mile 50 to 90 I felt progressively better and faster. We went 3rd time through the ski slopes together as it was getting darker and colder.
At times it was hard to follow Michele, but once we entered a long gnarly trail again, it felt like home. I took the lead and started to feel my fast legs coming back to me. Technical trails - my favorite running surface, and I finally felt good both physically and mentally. As Michele correctly pointed out, it was not safe to fly like this on the muddy trail at night, but I almost couldn't help it. Around mile 73 Michele lets me go.
My pacer Elena Makovskaya finally joins me at 75mi and we're rocking it all the way until the top of those ski slopes again (mile 88). That's where comes some extra drama. The storm hits the mountain with ice-cold wind and heavy rain, and we got hit right on the top, before going back down through the mud. It was so cold that slowing down was not an option. We fell and slid down on the steep muddy slopes several times each, and fortunately didn't get hurt. Later we learned that at the time when the storm hit us many people dropped out of the race (overall, more than half of the 100mi runners didn't finish).
Start of the ski slopes loop
We're back down from the slopes, and immediately run to a race official to interrogate him about the time when Michele got on these slopes. After some calculation we figured that he started ascending 45 minutes after us. With only 10mi to go this information really relaxes me (big mistake here).
Now I'm thinking that the only thing that can get on the way is some sudden injury or cramping. So, I decide to take it really easy and safe as I never ran so much elevation before. To get things even more "relaxed", at the last aid station (4mi to go) one of the runners (not in the 100mi race) tells us that he saw Michele dropping out. It turned out that Michele considered quitting at the aid station, but it was so cold that he decided to keep running. Fast. And at the same time we're walking all uphills, and I even joke "Elena, can you imagine, we're taking it easy here and he's back in the race and chasing us hard. No, no way...". Yes way, it was actually happening.
This 25mi portion of the race is repeated 4 times
Now I'm glad that I also started to feel cold and picked up some speed to keep warm. Michele finished ski slopes with the same time as we did, and then gained over 25 minutes on us on that last 10mi section, and reduced my lead by the finish line to 19 minutes. But we only learned it later, after doing a very enjoyable last sprint and crossing the finish line around 3:30am on Sunday with total race time of 21:34 (almost 2hrs faster than last year's winner).
Great lessons learned. Next year I should be able to do better, Elena thinks that with proper preparation and execution we'll finish it under 20hr...
To summarize, here are the main factors that in my opinion contributed to this performance:
- Solid racing season. Even best training can not replicate racing conditions. I had rather busy racing schedule this year in very different events, and from month to month my form keeps improving.
- Nutrition. Giving to my body only our perfect food as was designed by nature (raw fruits and greens) ensures that all my systems are working at their best, no vital resources are being spent on fighting any diseases or eliminating toxins, and recovery is fast. C'mon, ask me now where do I get my protein...
And first woman in this race is vegetarian!
- I am having fun. I enjoy what I do, and I do not stick to any rigid training schedule. I bike and run when I want to, and over time this translates into more and more volume of this "training".
- I share the joy of being active with others. This means being part of awesome NY running community, having great fun runs together, and helping each other in races and training. In 2012 for the 3rd time I'll be participating in the NYC Marathon with Achilles International team, helping athletes with disabilities to achieve their dream of finishing this famous race. Also, Woodstock Fruit Festival was a great chance for me to connect, relax, and recover mentally from my busy NYC life. Being out in nature with like-minded people, learning from all great athletes there, and sharing our diverse experiences - all gave me huge mental boost, was very reassuring, and I'm sure that it helped me to maintain a positive attitude (without which I don't know how it's even possible to finish these grueling races). In addition, this year I found myself doing more and more consulting and coaching related to diet and sport, helping people to improve their health, athletic performance, and quality of life.
Let's choose to be the best we can.
I finally earned my polka-dot jersey
With Michele Graglia, 2nd place.
With Elena Makovskaya and Ian Golden, race director.