I RAN 150 MILES FOR THIS HERE DOUGHNUT.
I’d just run the Veterans Memorial 150 from Ludington to Bay City, and the iconic Cops & Doughnuts is a sponsor of the race. So naturally I had to stop in and thank them for their support. I bought a bunch of their ginormous cookies, but I got this doughnut for free.
How come? It’s my trophy.
Because I. Won. The. Freaking. Race.
151 miles in 40 hours, 6 minutes, over two days of brutal heat that dropped half the field on Saturday, and many of the rest on Sunday. Ten runners made it to the one hundred-mile mark, and only four (including yours truly) went the entire distance.
I had other “firsts” too. It was my first race over one hundred miles, and the first race where I had a crew and pacers. And yet somehow, some way, it all came together. I’m still finding it hard to believe.
As there’s a lot to share about my experience, I’ll dedicate several posts to it. In this first post, I’ll tell you why I chose the race, trained for it, and planned it. Next, I’ll recap the race itself. Then I’ll talk about the factors essential to my finishing, and winning – what steps I took to prepare, how I dealt with foot issues, and how I handled the heat. And I’ll ask my crew and pacers to chime in with their thoughts and experiences, too.
So here we go!
What’s the VM150, and why did I sign up?
The Veterans Memorial Honor Run is a 150-mile jaunt from Ludington to Bay City – Lake Michigan to Lake Huron. Taking place over the Memorial Day weekend, it is also a fundraiser for Victory Gym, a nonprofit that offers free membership to veterans and first responders, and supports people dealing with PTSD and its effects.
Exercise has been shown to help alleviate PTSD symptoms, and the gym was founded by a veteran who discovered its benefits and wanted to help others. Both the unusual distance and the wonderful cause attracted me to the race, and not too long after I found out about it, I took a deep breath and signed up.
The Course: Lake Michigan to Lake Huron
For such a long race, the general directions were quite simple:
- Go to Ludington Pier, face east, and start running.
- Stop running at Bay City State Park.
Over half the race (81 miles from Baldwin to Midland) takes place along the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail. It’s very difficult to get lost on this stretch, although I nearly succeeded once. The final 23 miles out of Midland are on open roads, so I drove it a few weeks before to get familiar with that stretch, as I figured I’d be running it in the dark.
How to Train for a 150-Miler, Summary Edition
My training followed the same basic plan as for my 100-milers the past two years; strength train and run all winter, and warm up to the distance with spring ultras.
The fine folks at Body Specs did their part, pushing me hard three days per week. They worked my entire body, with a special focus on the muscles that support running – glutes, hamstrings, and core. I did a ton of squats, lunges, crunches, and resistance training.
My spring ultras were the Land Between the Lakes 50 (a PR!), the Dogwood 12 Hour (54.5 miles, 3rd place finish), and Trail Marathon Weekend (the “No Wimps” half + full marathon). In between ultras, I recovered, and never ran more than 35 miles per week.
Unorthodox? Yep. But I’d successfully used this routine for my 100 mile races, so I knew it would prepare me physically. But mentally, running 5-6 days per week would have been tedious and non-motivating. With no sponsors and nothing to prove except to myself, I wanted to enjoy the journey to the big event. Otherwise, what was the point?
Recruiting Crew and Pacers: Otherwise Rational People Agree to Support This Crazy Adventure
Last year’s Lighthouse 100 taught me the value of a crew. I ran that race unsupported in 95-degree heat, with aid stations ten miles apart. The result was a bonk and near-DNF until I was rescued by another runner’s crew. The VM150 aid stations also average about ten miles apart, so a crew of my own would be essential.
My wife volunteered for the job, as did my good friends Dave and Sue. As they’d never crewed before or witnessed an ultra in progress, I gave them plenty of warning and time to change their minds. I advised them that CREW stood for, “Cranky Runner, Endless Waiting” and the race would consume their entire weekend, when by all rights they should be sitting comfortably at our campground with cold drinks. They stuck to their guns, and I accepted with a mix of gratitude and concern. I would need to give them a lot of information and instruction for things to go well.
I would also need pacers. I figured by late Sunday I would be pretty tired, and running the final miles on open roads in the dark was not an attractive prospect solo. If nothing else, a pacer would keep me pointed in the right direction and save me from becoming a traffic hazard. My running coach Paul and his wife Colleen offered their services, as did my friend Charlie from Body Specs.
So I had a team. Now what I needed was . . .
First and foremost, I needed a schedule, so my crew could plan their stops and my pacers knew where to find me. I created a spreadsheet detailing my expected arrival and departure times at each aid station. At 50 and 100 miles I put in an extended break to rest, stretch, and change clothing and gear as needed.
I’d finished Lighthouse in 24 hours despite my near bonk, so I figured I could cover the first 100 miles at VM150 in the same time. This could be done with 11-minute miles for the first 50, and 13-15 minute miles from there to 100. I figured I’d be walking most of the final 50, which put my total race time around 45 hours, finishing near dawn on Monday morning.
I thought this was a conservative schedule, but I found I would arrive at many of the aid stations before they were scheduled to open! Not a problem since I had a crew, but curious. Wouldn’t many other runners be in the same situation?
Gear and Equipment
Next I created a packing list for clothes and gear, first-aid and personal care equipment, and food and drink. I packed them into separate and easily identifiable boxes so an item I needed could be found quickly.
Dave and Sue offered their custom van for the crew vehicle, which had plenty of room for all my supplies, plus a bed if I needed to lie down, and even a toilet. In terms of an ultra, this was real luxury. And no need to pack drop bags and guess which aid stations to send them to!
You can see my complete packing list below.
What to Wear? What to Wear?
With warm weather forecasted, the basics were easy. Shorts, shirt, compression underwear to prevent chafing, and lightweight socks. I packed spares of each, along with a light rain cover and a jacket. A light-colored cap was a necessity, as was a hand towel to dry myself or soak in ice water to stay cool.
For shoes I used my Saucony Kinvara 9s, with my Saucony Ride ISO and New Balance for backups. As a sock change can refresh sore feet, I packed six pairs. A basic belt held my phone and a Gu, and I used a handheld water bottle. With a crew close at hand, I could save the weight of extra food and fluids I would otherwise have to carry.
Food and Drink: The Ultra Diet
Here’s how you select food and drink for an ultra: Go to the grocery store and pull stuff off the shelves at random. Once home, sort out the items with fiber or any nutritional value whatever. Throw those away. Pack what remains.
A typical ultrarunner will burn between 400-600 calories per hour during a race, but can only replace about half that. Too much food, or heavy food, will stick in the gut and cause much unpleasantness.
Humans have tens of thousands of calories in fat stores, so there’s no danger of actual starvation. The trick is to prevent the body going into calorie conservation mode. Easy to digest foods with lots of carbs work best for most runners, with a small amount of protein and fats to help prevent muscle breakdown.
I stuck with the tried and true for me: PB&J on white bread, pretzels and pickles for salt, bananas and red grapes, and cookies and M&Ms for obvious reasons. Clif bars and chewy granola bars were handy items to “grab and go” and Gu packets give me a quick shot of energy if I’m not feeling up to eating at the time.
Water was my main drink. I used S-Cap tablets for electrolytes, supplementing with Gatorade. I also included iced tea, and Vernors, which provides sugar and settles my stomach.
Finally, ice would be key. It promised to be a warm weekend, so I’d need a lot to stay cool. Plus during any ultra I like my drinks to be ice-cold. Warm Gatorade in particular is no fun to drink.
The Night Before
We loaded up the van and drove to Beverly Ludington Friday evening. For a pre-race dinner I like something simple but not greasy. This time I had a grilled chicken sandwich and chips, which pleasantly filled me. I didn’t feel the need to “carbo load” as the course wouldn’t be strenuous and I’d have a crew nearby.
To our pleasant surprise, our motel had a beautiful Buddhist-style garden and koi pond, perfect for settling the mind and getting into the moment. I felt a sense of release very much like the start of my first marathon. All the training and preparation was done, and the stage was set. All that remained was to show up Saturday morning and run.
Up next: How did the race go? What went according to plan, and what didn’t? And what did some other runners see on the trail that first night? “Bear” with me to find out!