Why I Love Ultras: The 2014 Pinellas Trail Challenge

1.  Introduction/Course Description:

As a warm-up (and I mean that quite literally) for the 153-mile Spartathlon I’m running in a few weeks in Greece, I decided to head to the Tampa Bay area this past weekend to take part in the second running of the Pinellas Trail Challenge, a 46-mile paved “trail” through the cities and towns that make up Pinellas County.  (For those who do not know, Pinellas County is west of Tampa, and includes the Gulfside towns of St. Petersberg, PInellas Park, Largo, Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, and Tarpon Springs, among others). The Pinellas Trail is a 45-mile multi-use path (used mostly by cyclists and runners on the weekends) that starts in downtown St. Pete, right on Tampa Bay, and makes its way toward the Gulf before heading north through various towns, parks, golf courses, and downtown areas before turning east in Tarpon Springs, and finally south for a few miles until it finishes at the entrance to John Chestnut State Park.  (The race is 46.2 miles; the final 1.2 miles are run in the park).   PTC course The PTC ultra was conceived by Michael Stork, a local runner who decided to host a FREE event spanning the entire length of the Pinellas Trail.  So on August 30th, along with about 75 other runners, I found myself standing at the start of the trail at 6:30 am.  It was already over 80 degrees outside…

2.  Getting Started (Miles 1-15):

Of the 46 miles of the race, the first 10 or so are the most uneventful, as they are generally run through St. Pete’s downtown/industrial neighborhoods before the course starts to open up into parks, golf courses, and seaside towns.  In fact, at Mile 1, you pass the travesty of a ballpark named Tropicana Field, the home of the Tampa Bay Rays.  (Of the 30 major league ballparks, the “Trop” is EASILY the worst; it’s not really even close.)  Call me a stuck-up purist, but as a lifelong baseball player (well, at least until I graduated college), I just don’t think that baseball should be played (a) indoors or (b) on artificial turf.  An outfielder shouldn’t lose the ball in the white dome above his head or because it hits one of the catwalks on the roof, lands in front of him, and bounces over his head. Trop (Probably not what Abner Doubleday envisioned back in the day…)

Okay, rant over; back to the race.  My race plan was simply to run 8:00/mile for the first 3-4 hours, and then coast into the finish line in around 7 hours.  (Spoiler alert:  that didn’t happen).  I did run the first 15 miles in 2 hours (so, 8-min/mi pace), but when I came up to my awesome crew team (Alex and the “named partners” of Team Zwitty (Zoey and Witt), I was (a) a bit bored from running alone for 2 hours, (b) starting to get tired, but (c) most of all, it wast just getting really, really hot… Early miles (Yeah, it’s getting hot…)

3.  Getting Real (Miles 15-35):

Over the past four years, I’ve run my fair share of “heat” races.  I’ve run the Keys 100 four times, Badwater on one of the hottest years ever (the mercury hit 125 during last year’s race), and a few others, but — I’m being totally serious here — the PTC is right up there with any of those races.  The ACTUAL temperature during the race hit about 96 degrees.  With the stifling Florida summer humidity, I don’t even want to know what the heat index was on the course on Saturday.  Suffice to say, it was “hot” with a capital F. Luckily, by about Mile 15, I started running with another runner, a Lakeland guy named Lucas Smelser. Luke is training for his first 100-miler (Javelina Jundred, a desert race in the Phoenix area in a few months), and has run a few ultras to date.  He was being supported by his wife Lisa, who was riding her bike along with us on the trail.  Luke and I had pretty similar running backgrounds before getting into ultras (lots of marathons, and some sub-3s mixed in there), so we were running pretty much the same pace for the next 20 miles. PTC running with Luke

As much as they could, these 20 miles flew by.  Luke is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met in this sport (and that’s saying something).  The guy had a huge smile on his face the entire race and enthusiastically said “hi” to everyone — and I mean EVERYONE — we saw on the trail.  Between his constant enthusiasm and the fact his watch literally beeped every 5 seconds for some pre-programmed reason (“okay, that means 45 seconds until the next scheduled walk break”), Luke was worried that he was being annoying.  I told him that his happy/joyous demeanor is EXACTLY how people should run ultras.  I have seen so many people “run angry” — always looking really serious, being short/rude with their own crew or volunteers, etc. — and it never works for them.  In my opinion, running (especially running ultras) should be an expression of joy/love/affection/etc., not a form of self-torture.  Those who can get in that mindset tend to do the best in these things.  And Luke was certainly no exception to that general rule… Luke smiling (Luke’s perma-smile, even while running so fast that the background is blurry!)

At about the marathon mark, Luke and I were comfortably moving along through the course when out of nowhere, a woman blew right by us.  “I think she’s in the race,” Luke’s wife stated.  “No way” was my response.  She looked like she was running a 10k, not (essentially) a 50-miler. Well, we would come to find out that Lisa was right.  The runner, Kacie Herrick, was not only in the race, but actually running her first race over 50k. Kacie

(Kacie flying right by us and saying, “Peace, bitches!  I’ll see your slow asses at the finish line.”)

(Okay, there is a small chance that didn’t happen).

Later in the race, when I caught up to her, I learned that she was an accomplished marathon runner (about a 3hr runner who has run Boston multiple times), who was running the PTC uncrewed (which is completely ridiculous; even with Alex meeting me every two miles to give me new ice bandanas, refill my water bottles, and let me dump ice water all over myself, I was still completely overheated).  By contrast, this girl looked like she was just out for a casual morning run! As an aside, it should have come as no surprise to me that another Florida female ultrarunner was blowing by me in a race.  Top-level female runners seem to grow on trees here in Florida.  Of the top 5  ultrarunners currently living in Florida right now, AT LEAST 3 of them are female…

4.  Why I Love Ultrarunning (Miles 36-46):

By the Mile 36 aid station (which was conveniently — at least for the volunteers — located at a popular tavern in Tarpon Springs), I was feeling utterly overheated while Luke looked fresh as a daisy.  I told him to go ahead and I would “catch up” (which is code for “there is no f–king way I can keep up your pace; see you at the finish line…”).  It actually took some SERIOUS convincing on my part before he agreed to press forward and win the race, which speaks to his character.  You really don’t see that kind of “we’re in this together” attitude from the race leaders of any other type of sport.   (Can you imagine that happening in a triathlon??)  🙂  Seriously, though, examples of that type of attitude pervade this sport; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard of the race leader in a major trail race take a wrong turn, and then the chase pack waits until that person gets back on track, instead of taking advantage of the mistake.  Sure, people are competitive in the sport, want to win, and competition is fun and healthy, but it just is NOT the same level of cut-throatedness (I just made that word up) that you get in other sports.  As we are not pro athletes, and there is no prize money at the end, that type of “it’s about the collective more than the individual” attitude is really awesome to me. So, anyway, with Smilin’ Luke running away with the win (he would finish in around 7:20, which is an astounding time considering the weather), I down-shifted for a few miles and ran with Kacie (who had started to slow down as well) for a few miles.  Even though it was hot as [insert whatever absurd metaphor you want here], and she had run 10 miles more than she ever did in her life, she maintained a positive attitude throughout and finished strongly for the female win in just under 8 hours.  If she keeps this up, Aly Venti and Katalin Nagy will soon have some serious competition… 🙂 I finished between Luke and Kacie, in 7:47, and overall, it was a great experience.

5.  Upcoming Florida Races and the Zwitty Endurance Training Program.

Labor Day is a great day on the calendar in Florida ultrarunning because it signals the unofficial end of summer and promises that the start of the true Florida ultrarunning season is just around the corner.  While the PTC was an AWESOME race, it is occasionally fun to run on other surfaces besides the sun.  In the next few months, there are some great 50 and 100-mile races coming up.  Some of the more notable ones include the Wild Sebastian 50/100 (November), the Ancient Oaks 100 (December), the Long Haul 100 (January), and also a few brand new 12 or 24 hour “timed” races (Azalea and Icarus Ultrafest, both in November). For those looking to focus their passion for ultrarunning a little bit more and arrive at the start lines of these races as prepared as absolutely possible, I’m pleased to announce my new coaching program, the Zwitty Endurance Program.  It’s a full-service coaching program, where you get unlimited access to me, weekly training schedules, and at a fraction of what comparable programs cost.  If interested, please check out http://www.davekrupski.com for more information.  And please “like” us on Facebook. Zwitty Logo-Web As I say on the website, I’m not looking to get rich off of anyone.  What I AM looking to do is to share some of my knowledge (from training and more importantly, from experience) with some people — primarily in Florida — to help them achieve their lofty goals.  I genuinely want EVERYONE to succeed at these races, and I know I can help.  Our motto is “Focus Your Passion,” and that is exactly what I will help you do.  🙂 The Florida ultra season is just around the corner; can’t wait to see you guys at all the races!

6.  One Final Note —  Shout Out to Lauren Hadley:

To conclude this report, I’d like to congratulate Zwitty Endurance Program athlete Lauren Hadley — who is training for the Ancient Oaks 100 in December — on a remarkable performance this past weekend at PTC.  Before Saturday, her fastest time in a 50-miler was over almost 17 hours (16:40).  At PTC, despite the heat/humidity issues, she SLICED OVER SIX HOURS off of that time and finished in 10:25!!  (And yes, I realize that PTC was 3.8 miles short of 50, but the added heat/humidity more than makes up for the difference). LH at PTC (Aly Venti may need to start looking in her rear view mirror pretty soon…) 🙂

All right, now I’m really done.  See y’all “out there”!          

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