’14 Francis Marion Dirt Dash

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Coach Andrew Taylor running the Francis Marion Dirt Dash

Training Leading Up to the Francis Marion Dirt Dash

After completing the Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run at the beginning of August in 24 hours and 19 minutes, I decided to remove myself from running for three weeks. This meant taking myself out of the planned Homestead 10x5K. I had really been looking forward to this event after completing it in August 2013. However, my knee was sore and still slightly swollen a week after BR100. It was a necessary break if I was going to fully recover and finish out the year strong. Instead of racing at Homestead 10x5K, I once again found myself at the race giving back to the community that gives me so much. Nicole and I spent the day in a heat index of 126 degrees taking pictures and trying to keep all the participants in the race 5k after 5k for ten straight hours.

Volunteering at the Homestead 10x5K Ultramarathon

During these three weeks of no running, I recapped many of the good and bad events from BR100 in my head and in conversations with others. I was almost certain that my knee trouble was due to the slant of the paved country roads in the first quarter of the race. However, I also knew that adding back in regular body-weight strength work would be very beneficial for both recovery and conditioning for the hard climbs and descents of Pinhoti 100 in November. For three weeks, I completed two strength workouts per week focusing on squat varieties, lunges, calf raises, core, and some light upper body exercises. I wanted to develop a solid strength routine again so that when I started back to running I would be able to continue this routine through the middle of October. I told several co-workers that even if it meant cutting a run a couple of miles short on a given day to make time for strength work that was what I was going to do.

The week of August 25-31, I started back running again.  This first week back consisted of a total of 35 miles for the week with the 5th Annual Francis Marion Dirt Dash Half Marathon at the end of the week.  Coming into Saturday, race day, I had completed three runs of five miles each, and there was no residual pain or discomfort in my knee or anywhere else for that matter. I am no longer a half marathon or even marathon-type runner. I lack all the speed that I used to have to cover 13.1 miles in under 1:20, so I came to the start of the Dirt Dash with just one goal, finish with no unnecessary pain.

Running the 2014 Francis Marathon Dirt Dash

Coach Andrew Taylor at the start of the Francis Marion Dirt DashAs the race started and everyone took off, I meandered off the line at what was probably at a 9-minute mile pace. I had no idea what pace exactly because my watch had not synced up and thus I was just running off a standard stopwatch for the race. I moved along with ease, deciding very early on that I was going to run a negative split. I carried with me two GU gels and 16-ounces of Tailwind Nutrition. In other words, I had 400 calories with me for a short 13.1-mile race. This seemed excessive to most, and I have to attempt somewhat even to myself. However, when you are used to taking in 250-300 calories per hour for an ultra-marathon or long training runs, it all just becomes second nature.

At 40-minutes into the race, I had gone through one gel and 8-ounces of Tailwind. I began to increase the pace slightly as we came back down Willow Hall Rd. and past the rest of the field as they were heading out to the first turnaround loop. Seeing so many familiar faces was energizing and I encouraged everyone along the way. I reached halfway in just over 50-minutes and somewhere in the top 10 of the race.

With around 5-miles to go, I passed a man and a woman that had been running together for much of the race. As I went past them, I thought I had put a pretty quick gap on them both, but to my surprise, the man had decided to latch onto my pace. He remained just a few steps back for the next 3.5 miles and it was a bit frustrating to have him just working off my effort and relying on me to set the tone. Most ultras are run solo and for much of the time, you find yourself completely alone on the trail. When your pace does match another runner, you engage in conversation, distract each other’s minds from the task at hand, and work together to maintain the effort. This was not an ultra, but I wanted so badly for this runner to join me in the effort as opposed to treating me like a rabbit in a 5K track race.

With just about 5K to go, I took my second gel and set my mind on hammering home the pace when we reached 1.5 miles to go. About 2-miles out, the man finally came past me and moved ahead by 15-20 yards. It sounds funny, but there was a huge relief that came over me with him now being in front of me. I guess I was just happy to sit back for a few minutes to see how hard he was going to work to pull away. But a last, with a little less than a mile to go, I shifted into another gear and definitively rushed past the man so fast that the only response he could give was to yell, ‘’oh shit!’’ I cruised across the finish line in a surprising 1:35:21, 4th place overall, and 1st place in my age group.

The finish time and placing were completely unexpected and the runner that finished just behind me in 5th place gave me a great story to share with others throughout the day. It made me laugh and it also made me realize that you don’t always have to run an ultra-distance in order to have a good time, embark on a journey with others, and create another fun story to tell. I hung around the finish line for the majority of the finishers, sipping on my morning post-race Yuengling, and passing out finisher medals to all that completed the journey as well. After three weeks off from running, I had successfully completed week one of my next training cycle and begun the preparation for Pinhoti 100 on November 1st, 2014.

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