Happy to report some additional real-life proof that our Fruitarian lifestyle can kick some serious butt in sports. Here are the details:
Finished the race under 20 hours for my second win at Virgil Crest 100 on September 20th 2014. It was a great team effort with Veronica, we both prepared thoroughly for this one.
Earlier this year I took the plunge and stopped working as a senior financial analyst at a major corporation in order to focus on running. As a result, I was able to give my training more attention in the past months.
Yep, those slopes are for runners
Photo by Julie Goodale
Virgil Crest 100 presents a truly unique course with several repeating ski slopes (in both directions). Compared to the previous year, the course was a bit changed, with even more elevation added (23,000 feet total ascent), and extra mile added (for a total of 101.6 miles). This course demands a lot of respect from all runners.
Course profile (to be repeated 2 times)
The uphills strain your hamstrings and calves, the downhills burn the quads, hammer your knees and back, and on top of all of this you still need to keep pushing your body to finish 100 miles of rugged trails.
In the past few years this 100-mile course was consistently being completed by less than 50% of the participants.
Here is how the course looks like on a 3D map (neat, right?):
My first attempt at Virgil Crest 100 (in 2012) was quite successful.
However, last year I had to DNF (did not finish) after 86 miles due to hypothermia and undertraining.
This time around I prepared more thoroughly and felt ready to endure the challenges of the updated course that race director Ian Golden prepared for the runners.
Pre-race tour of the aid stations
I was logging about 115 miles/week at the peak of my training, mostly on rough trails, with plenty of elevation change of course.
Based on Ultrasignup.com, the main competitor in the race was Sebastien Roulier, who gathered some impressive wins this year, as well as qualifying for the Canadian National 100K team. Sebastien is preparing for the 100K World Championships in Qatar in November, and based on his recent results, he is in a fantastic shape.
And of course, the main contender was last year’s winner Jim Blandford, who raced with me two times before (2013 MMT100, and 2013 VirgilCrest100), and he won each battle that we had so far. With Virgil Crest Jim was finishing up his great 2014 season after taking 3rd place at MMT100, 2nd at Eastern States 100, and winning a tough 12-hour race in NJ.
Ready to go
The weather was perfect and we started out fast. For the first few hours Jim, Sebastien, and I ran together. Going up the steepest slope (around mile 16) I managed to break away. Jim kept running right on my tail just few minutes behind, while Sebastien (probably more wisely) eased off a little and fell a bit behind, saving himself for the second half of the race.
In the zone
Photo by Karen Blandford
The first half of the race (50.8 miles) was done in 8h 44m – over 2 hours faster than last year and over 1 hour faster than during my 2012 winning effort. I knew that such fast pace is not very safe and could lead to some issues down the road, but I felt fast and light, and my body felt ready to keep running strong.
Running down the ski slope
Photo by Veronica Mikhaylove
At the half-race turnaround point I dropped off a portable charger for my Garmin, picked up my iPod with some Russian dancing pop music from late 90s (I wouldn’t listen to this stuff casually or even in training, but in a racing environment somehow it worked well for me), and promptly headed back on the course.
My awesome crew for this race (consisting only of my wife Veronica) was also prepared and very efficient. At each aid station I was quickly trading a kiss for a bottle of OJ, and was going back on the course without any delay.
Photo by Veronica Mikhaylove
After heading out almost immediately I saw Jim approaching me, running towards the aid station. He was only several minutes behind me. But at the moment when we ran past each other, he told me that he is dropping out at the coming aid station. We stopped and chatted a little, he said that he didn’t feel too well. Too much racing in the past months and fast pace in the first half of the race had burned him out. I suggested that he rested a bit at the aid station and considered getting back on the course, but his 100-mile race was over. Jim still left Virgil with a very respectable result – 3rd overall in the 50-mile race.
Jim finishing 50.8 miles
Photo by Karen Blandford
Sebastien was only 25 minutes behind me and looked fresh, being in a good position for an attack during second half of the race, so I needed to maintain my pace in order to protect my lead. Luckily I felt light and fast.
I was running alone since mile 16, and now with darkness completely covering the hills again, my mind started to wander a little. Alone at night on the top of the hills, I ran on tall grass past large ski lift structures, which were casting shadows on my path under the bright stars. Very unreal and unique experience. All of the sudden I began to hear someone playing a guitar! A little down the ski slope there was a guy almost in complete darkness loudly signing and playing on his guitar! This was probably the most unusual way to cheer up tired runners at night that I have ever encountered. Hey, it worked. The aid station was just half mile away from there.
Photo by Veronica Mikhaylove
After passing the last aid station I had only 6 miles to go, but that section was full of deep mud, and I knew that Sebastien’s trail shoes were better equipped to handle it than my minimal road shoes with no thread. I managed to keep up a decent pace, and was sure that my leading position was safe at this point. With 2-3 miles to the end, I looked at my watch and realized that it would be possible to finish under 20 hours if I speed up a little. After my 2012 win in 21h 34m, I knew that with solid training and good weather it would be possible to have a sub-20 finish. During the race I completely forgot about my sub-20hr ambitions as I was too busy working on staying at a comfortable distance from one very fast Canadian.
The last 2 miles of the course I was running fast (for 100 miles race anyway). Up until the last half-mile I wasn’t sure if sub-20hr finish will happen. But it did. Veronica met me few hundred feet before finish and we crossed the line together. It was a great team effort and we were very happy with the result: solid race with no low points and a great total time of 19h 56m.
Crossing the finish line
Photo by Ian Golden
Sebastien was able to reduce a gap a bit, and finished 37 minutes behind. A good illustration of the fast pace that Sebastien and I maintained is the finishing time of 3rd place runner (Jack Ryon) – 25h 38m, which is over 5 hours behind Sebastien.
20 people completed all 101.6 miles this year (only 3 women). The dropout rate this year was 55% (yes, most runners did not finish). And this is in perfect weather conditions. Last year (with bad weather) the dropout rate was 73%!
Photo by Chie Yanagihara
The objective of simply finishing the race is harder to achieve here at Virgil, even for the elite runners. After taking a win in 2012, I DNF in 2013, and same happened with Jim Blandford – after winning in 2013, he didn’t complete all 100 miles this time around. This course demands respect and very good preparation.
A true hero of 2014 race was Jim Porter, who finished VC100 as his first completed 100-miler (he dropped out last year at mile 64). It took him over 36 hours (!) to complete the race, at the end the temperatures dropped and it started to rain, but he kept moving. The last 25 miles took him 9.5 hours to complete. Incredible determination. This is a true spirit of the endurance running.
And just like in my case, Jim’s success at this race was mostly due to a good team work. Jim emphasized after the race: “I could not have done this without the amazing Lisa Zucker Glick – most definitely during the race, and for months before when we trained together and she was unfailingly optimistic, supportive, and encouraging. I would not have crossed that finish line without her.“
Jim Porter finishing his journey
photo by Tom Garby
Here is another hero of the race: Julie Goodale.
I met her during my training run at the bottom of the mountain not far from NYC few weeks before the race. She told me that she is training for her 3rd attempt at VirgilCrest100. I saw her going up and down the mountain for the whole day, training really hard with all gear that she’ll have at the race. Her positive attitude and appreciation of the race experience regardless of the outcome were really touching.
Julie on the course
She was running strong, but happened to get lost for a while, and then started to have issues with the stomach. Julie finished 57 miles out of 100 in her third year of trying, but she still was all smiles the next day. Her experience was a blast, the challenge is still there waiting for her, and she’s already planning her fourth trip. Check out her race report HERE.
I switched back to using my trusted Brooks T6/T7. After trying out Hokas without much success last season, I’m back to minimal shoes for the ultras. It works for me.
Warning: Use these Brooks for ultra-marathons with extreme caution – this is a minimal road running shoe, designed for up to half-marathons, use it on rugged trail at your own risk. Most people report that it is way too minimal for the rugged courses.
Icebreaker t-shirt, made from merino wool. It kept me warm and dry during the first hours of the race
Garmin Fenix GPS watch
New Balance running shorts
Ultimate Direction backpack
Black Diamond hiking poles
Pre-race: Veronica’s custom-made raw chocolate, fruit juices, bananas.
During the race: mostly OJ and gels, few Vega bars, some Naked juice, a cup or two of caffeinated sparkling beverage. Not a single salt pill, but took some electrolytes drinks in the second half of the race.
This race has really awesome foods at the finish line and all aid stations – tons of fruit (which is what I care about the most), and plenty of prepared food options.
Enjoying the fruits of my work this weekend. Great peaches!
It is time for me to look for sponsorships so I can sustain my running endeavors.
For my next race I can’t decide between Russian National Mountain Running Championships in Sochi (October 26th, only 20 miles), and USATF-certified 24 -hours race by NJ Trail Series (November 8th). Leaning towards 24 HR.
Check out my website at www.DenisMikhaylove.com