Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (“LOST”) 118-Mile Race Report

Genesis of this Ridiculous Undertaking

This race wasn’t even on my radar until the prior week.  My original plan was to run the Iron Horse 100 in Palatka (a city that gets a not-so-flattering shout-out in the Emma Stone movie “Easy A”) on Feb. 18th, for my first 100-miler of the year.  20 miles into that race, however, my left calf had other plans for me.  So I decided to seriously ease off the throttle, jog 30 more miles, and call it a day after 50 miles.

While I was disappointed, I knew I made the right decision; I’ve run enough of these things now to know the difference between a nagging soreness/pain that will eventually go away, on one hand, and a pulled muscle on the other.  It sucked to walk away in the middle of the afternoon (as opposed to around midnight), but better to live and fight another day.  As a side note, the dude who wound up winning the race, in the absurdly fast time of around 15:30 (a course record), had to be taken from the race in an ambulance with (what I heard was) some type of kidney issue.  Fellow Florida Ultra Runner (“FUR”) Sung Ho Choi (Bruce) came in second in around 16:40.  Crazy-fast as well.

That “another day” came a bit quicker than I thought it would.  While I was still teeming from my DNF — although the Iron Horse race director is nice enough to give you credit for the shorter distance you complete — I ran into Mike Melton, whom I’ve seen quite a bit over the past year at the various races down here (Keys 100, Peanut Island, Everglades Ultras, etc.).  He told me about his race the upcoming week — a 118-mile run around Lake Okeechobee.  A seed was definitely planted in my mind….

Since my calf issue luckily went away within a few days, I decided to give LOST a go.  The plan was that I would run the first 90-100 miles unsupported, and then my angel of a (pregnant) wife would crew me for the last 20-30 miles during the night.  At the end of the week, plan firmly in place, I was ready to head up to the “Big O.”

By Friday night, I was in beautiful (okay, not really) Clewiston, at the Roland Martin Resort/Marina getting ready for the race the next morning.  A few days before the race, I found out that Lake Okeechobee, the second-largest freshwater lake in the U.S., is pretty much ground-zero for competitive bass fishing, and this Roland Martin guy is apparently a living bass fishing legend.  At least I think he’s still alive — I’m not sure the ultra running crowd and the professional bass fishing crowd cross paths very often.  I doubt we’d have all that much to talk about.  As Crash Davis said to Susan Sarandon’s character in Bull Durham, “Talking to you is like a Martian trying to have a conversation with a fungo.” 🙂

Pre-race "carbo-loading" (beer) at the packet pick up the night before the race....

(Pre-race “carbo-loading” (beer) the night before the race)

Race Day (and a H20 Distribution Engineering Failure)

The race started at 7am the next morning.  I slept well, but at 5:30 am I realized I forgot my handheld bottle.  Awesome.  I can remember 3 pairs of shoes, countless changes of clothes, S-caps, hats, etc., but I can’t fricking remember a water bottle for an unsupported 118-mile run.  Luckily, my hotel was right across the street from a Walmart, and they actually had a water bottle with a handheld strap.

Crisis averted, I headed down to the start line to hear the race director, Mike, give the pre-race instructions (which, in the ultra community, basically means that the RD will try and scare the crap out of you).  I swear these guys try and one-up each other with descriptions of their courses and the dangers that runners will face.  (“If you fall here, we will have to send you home in pieces;” “Here’s a whistle in case there is a panther on the trail;” “You’ll be passing through Belle Glade, which has the highest per capita incidence of AIDS in the country.”).

That last one was from Mike.  Now that we were fully briefed, we were ready to begin.  I felt ready and prepared.  And if I felt the urge to have sex with a local during any part of the race, I’d make sure to wait until after I got out of the Belle Glade city limits.

The Start:  Miles 0-25

(This is pretty much exactly what the start line of the New York City marathon looks like…. )

The race started on time at 7am, and we 30 or so runners made our way onto the Herbert Hoover Dike, a mostly-paved trail at the edge of the lake that would be our home for the next 21-34 hours.  The first 20-25 miles were uneventful, and, after about 5 miles, I found myself running alone and in the lead.  The only eventful thing that happened during these early miles was that around mile 5, we came upon a fence along the trail that blocked our progress.  As I approached the fence, one of the runners who was running as part of a team (who I later learned was Eric Friedman) came running toward me, saying that there was no way around the fence.  When I got to the fence, I noticed it had a gate, which was unlocked.  I opened the gate, and we were on our way.  Another crisis averted.  (And no, Eric, I won’t tell anyone).

I hit the Mile 21 aid station/RV in a little over 3 hours, got a few things out of my drop bag, and was feeling pretty good.  No calf issues to speak of, and I was getting in a good groove.  I hit Mile 25 at about 3:50, which was a bit fast for my plan, but not too crazy.  (My plan was to run 25 in 4:00, 50 in 9:00, 75 in 14:00, 100 by 20:00, and then finish in under 24 hours….)

Miles 25-50:  Wind, Rain, One of Florida’s Best Ultra Runners, an Unidentified Animal, Eating the Trail, and More Wind

(I have no idea what these things are.  I passed them at Mile 26, and they started barking at me.  Literally barking.  It was a little early in the race for me to be imagining things already, so I decided just to keep moving (quickly)).

I wasn’t moving quickly enough, though.  By mile 30, the guy who won the Iron Horse the previous week, Bruce, had caught up to me.  The fact he was even running this race was completely mind-blowing to me (my plan for the following weekend was to be in Key West with my wife and more than a few adult beverages).  I spent the next half hour trying to get my head around Bruce’s ability to be running 9-min miles at miles 30-50 just one week after his awesome Iron Horse performance.  It was good, however, to have some company, as the trail was LONELY at this point.  We mowed down the miles, and ran together for the next 3 or so hours.  The wind was directly in our faces the entire time, and gusted to about 30mph at times.  The only positive about this was the hope that when we got to the top of the lake and went down the other side, the wind would (hopefully) be at our backs.  I also tripped on a rock and completely bit it during this time, which Mr. Ultra God Bruce was there to witness.   He also saw me stumble about 10 more times.  (To amuse himself, he started counting each time I stumbled.  Awesome.  I’m sure he’s REALLY worried about me challenging him at the Keys 100 in May….)

(Bruce, who weighs about as much as one of my legs, and I running on the trail at around Mile 40).

By the time we got to about Mile 47 or so, Bruce and I were both completely and utterly sick of the wind in our faces.  Luckily, the heavens sent down a simple mechanics-challenged angel:  Eric, the guy who couldn’t open the gate at Mile 5.  He and his partner, Michelle Matys, working as a team, caught up with us around this point.  Eric got in front of us and blocked the wind for us until the Mile 50 checkpoint; I felt like a Kenyan at a major marathon.  (Except, of course, I’m white, slow, not skinny, and not from Kenya).  We hit Mile 50 at around 8:20 (still a bit fast, but close enough to my goal pace….)

(Eric, brushing us off and in the “lead” at 50 miles)  🙂

Miles 50-75:  Plugging Along

By Mile 53, and about 9 hours of nonstop running (with only short breaks at aid stations, but no walking at all thus far), my energy level was definitely beginning to wane.  Bruce, however, appeared unfazed (by either the 53 miles we just ran, or the 100 miles he raced the previous week).  So I said good luck to him, backed off, and treated myself to a two-mile walk.  I knew I wouldn’t see Bruce until the finish, unless something went really wrong with his race (which was doubtful).  Now I was just focused on running my own race, and getting my energy level back up.

After a few miles of walking, I felt good enough to run again.  For the next twenty or so miles, I would run 3-4 miles, walk 1-2, and repeat.  I got into a nice rhythm doing this, and reached the Mile 75(ish) aid station in about 13:30.  It was the same RV from Mile 21, and it was nice to relax in the RV for a few minutes, have some food, and talk to the volunteer (Brad Lombardi) for a few minutes before heading back onto the course.  (Brad had finished 3rd the previous week at Iron Horse with a really fast time, and had just gotten accepted into Badwater, so he was taking a much-deserved break from racing that weekend).

Miles 75-95:  The Demilitarized Zone

The only portion of the race that wasn’t run on the levee (due to construction) was an 18-mile stretch from Mile 75 or so to Mile 93ish.  We had to run on the shoulder of the adjacent highway.  I was initially a bit concerned about it, but it turned out to be fine.  There wasn’t much traffic, and it felt a bit like running the Keys 100 at night.  (Well, except for the fact that instead of running over a bunch of beautiful islands, I was running through downtown AIDS-ville.  Small details….)

By the time I was almost in the town of Pahokee (advertised as one of the “wrong side of the train tracks”-type towns at the race briefing), my energy level was pretty good, mostly because I was at about mile 85, and excited that my wife would be arriving soon to crew me for the rest of the race.  She finally met up with me in downtown Pahokee, which was a great energy boost.

(Alex on our wedding day).

When we hit Pahokee, safety definitely did not feel like a concern to me.  This is mainly due to the fact every police officer in Florida was apparently working in Pahokee that night.   (I learned after the race that before I came into town, there was some “incident” in town involving some locals, drugs, guns, etc.).  By the time I got to Pahokee, there were literally 50 police cars patrolling the streets.

I was still going strong when we reached the regional airport a few miles down the road, and then the last major aid station, at Paul Raddin Park, a few miles past that at Mile 92.  Paul Raddin Park was a great aid station for several reasons:  First, it marked the end of running on the road — the last 20-something miles would be run entirely on the levee again.  Second, I could access a drop bag, change clothes, and drink a Red Bull that I had stashed earlier.  Third, there was hot soup at the station, made by volunteer and Florida runner/race director Bob Becker’s wife.  (By now, it was after 1am, and soup sounded really good).

(At the Mile 92 aid station with Bob Becker)

Mile 92-118:  Finishing Strong

I don’t really remember all that much about the last 25 miles, except that I felt REALLY, REALLY good during just about the entire stretch.  I ran at least 20 of those final miles, and ran the last 5.5 miles in under 50 minutes.  I really can’t explain why I felt so good after running for so long.  It just got to a point where I was running almost effortlessly.  It was borderline euphoric.  I’ve experienced the “runners’ high” before, but nothing like this.  I was fully-conscious during this period, but it still had a dream-like feeling to it.  (It probably helped that it was in the middle of the night, the wind was calm, and there was a mist/drizzle in the air).  Whatever it was, the feeling I had during the last few hours of this race is a feeling I can’t wait to experience again….

I hit Mile 100 in 19:10, which is about a 2.5 hour PR for me at the distance (the only other 100 I did was the Keys 100 in 2011, and some SERiOUS chafing led to a finishing time of 21:40).  When I got back to Clewiston and crossed the finish line, the clock said 22:57.  I had accomplished my goal of sub-24 and came in second overall to Bruce (who was waiting at the finish line; he finished an hour and a half earlier with a time of 21:30).

(Just a nice loop around the lake 🙂

I’d like to thank everyone, new friends and old, who made the LOST 118 such a great race.  First, Alex was key in keeping me motivated and properly hydrated for the last 30 or so miles.  And Mike Melton put on an amazing race — I would highly recommend this ultra to anyone looking for a great challenge on a very scenic lake.

The other runners were great as well — Bruce was great to run with while he was “slumming it” at my pace for a few hours, as was Eric.  I also got to catch up with some other runners at the end, such as Andrei Nana, who had a great run (and huge PR), completing the race in around 24 hours.

Finally, the volunteers, including Brad, Bob, Sue Anger, and others were great the entire weekend.  This was just a very well-run race with a ton of great people.  It’s what makes ultra running so fun and addicting down here in Florida . . . .

The Following Weekend . . . .

(At the Reach Resort pier:  Key West . . . 🙂

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