Running one hundred miles changes you. Not just on the surface. It will change you from the inside out. It forces you to look deep into yourself, sometimes deeper than you want to look. You will learn things about yourself you never knew and you will grow. Through all the ups and downs of the race you will grow in physically, mentally and spiritually. And maybe, just maybe, you will reach a new level of self awareness; you will transcend. This is the story of my journey to the finish line of the Pigtails Challenge 100 Miler.
In many ways, my journey began years ago when I ran my first half marathon. Afterwards, I began researching long distance running and was introduced to a world I had no idea existed. I poured over articles on nutrition, training, athletes and races. I often found myself thinking "why the hell would anyone run farther than a marathon?" or "who are these crazy people?". Then it happened, I met some of them. I joined a local running club and was the sole non-marathoner amongst them. In fact, many of them were these crazy ultra marathon runners I had been reading about. As of today, four people (not counting myself) in the club have completed 100 mile races. Running and chatting over coffee with them planted the seed.
Fast forward eight years to this past December. I had run multiple marathons and one ultra marathon. Something in my head clicked and I decided this was the year to go for it. At the time I didn't know what it was. Maybe life had big changes in store and I wouldn't have time after this year or maybe I would get injured and have to take time off. Whatever the hand the flipped the switch was, it also clicked the register button. I had a little under six months to get from marathon shape to 100 mile shape.
For the majority of the training, I was also coaching a group of half/full marathoners for my store. This made big weekends easy. I was running 20/20 or 30/20 weekends or at least a 30 miler for a few months. That was one nugget of knowledge I had gotten from some seasoned vets. True, overall mileage is important but big weekends are key. In my marathon training, I had typically peaked around 60 mpw. For Pigtails, I averaged over 60 mpw with a peak in the mid 80's.
The peak of my training was to be in late April. A key 30 mile run followed by a 50 mile race the next weekend. The 30 miler went very well. I was able to close the last thee miles at 6:30 pace. The 50 miler, not so well. I pulled out at the mile ~28 aid station. I had a strong 20 mile start and then I started to fall apart. In hind sight, it was all nutrition.
(Shortly before dropping at Mt Si)
My typical 30 mile run was gel at miles 5, 10, 15 followed by a Harvest Energy Bar at 20 and another gel (if needed) around 27. Well, apparently I forgot that. At the Mt Si 50, I took a gel at 6 and 12. Then I tried to eat a bar at 20. A few miles later, the bar was only 1/3 gone. I put it in my pack and figured I'd try again in a few miles. Then I forgot to keep eating it. By mile 26, I was mostly walking or running about ~2 minute per mile slower. I had never been at that point in a run so I didn't know what it felt like or what it was. I just thought I was done. Without a crew or pacer to make sure I was eating, I dropped at the first opportunity.
It took me a few days to shake off some of that. I think a lot of it stuck with me until Pigtails. I had to force myself to shake it a little as the group I was coaching had their goal race the very next weekend. I didn't want my demeanor to affect them or their races. After all, they had worked just as hard as I to prepare and deserved every bit of support and energy I could give them.
My store also has a booth at the expo for this event. So I spent all day Friday on my feet. Around 5pm, I decided that I was going to double. I walked over to the registration table and signed up for a marathon that started the next morning (a ghost event). I figured the double would give me the boost of confidence I needed for the 100. I had some serious doubts about being able to come close to finishing after dropping out of Mt Si. Sometime at the expo, I convinced (well, I like to think I convinced. Really, she probably convinced me) the coach from our second store, Sabrina, to double with me. While I was entering new territory, this was old hat for her. The past two years she has completed the Seattle Quadzilla (four marathons in four days), even winning it last year.
The next morning, we ran separately at our own paces. There is also a half marathon at Ghost so I had the pleasure of running with a local PT, Erik, for the first half. I ended up slowing a bit the second half, finishing around 3:34. Then we both spent all day on our feet at the expo and laced up again the next morning for the second marathon. This was the main event for our training group.
(Erik and I at mile 13)
After we unloaded her car at the finish line (we have a VIP Tent there for our trainees), we headed to the start with two of our trainees. We hung out in the car for a bit to stay warm. Then we found more trainees, took some pics with them, took some pics with other Marathon Maniacs and lined up for the race.
(Staying warm in the car)
(Bonney Lake Trainees)
(Tacoma Trainees & some fellow Maniacs)
We started out fairly close together but ended up running the first few miles separate. I paced one of my trainees, Jeff, for the first bit before catching up to Sabrina. Her and I ran together for the rest of the race (save a few miles I'll talk about in a bit). That was a whole new experience for me. Sure, I'd paced family and friends in 5k's and half marathons, but I had never ran the majority of a marathon with another person. Sharing in that experience, the quad punishing downhills, the rollers through Point Defiance and the seemingly never ending flats of the waterfront in day two of a double is something I still have trouble describing. It bonds you to the other runner more than I thought possible. Going along that path together, in my mind, cemented our friendship. No matter where life takes either of us, I know I'll be able to pick up the phone and chat with her or meet up for a run.
Sabrina and I had actually started running together a few months prior to race day. Once a week, I'm usually at our second location for a meeting with their store manager, our owner and Sabrina. In the fall our owner and I met early to run before the meeting. He got injured and has been unable to run for a while. Being in the habit, I continued to come early and run solo. Then I kept running into Sabrina on the waterfront. So we just planned on running together that morning every week. We actually just finished running before I started writing this part. Through all the miles, we started opening up to each other. There was an instant trust and connection there. We've both been struggling with different things in our lives lately and those miles on the waterfront were/are our outlet. We lean on each other and push each other to grow and enjoy life. I think I've learned more about myself along that waterfront than I had my entire life before this year.
Back to the race. Somewhere around mile 14 Ellis (one of the trainees from Tacoma) caught us, or maybe we caught him. We ran with him/near him for about 4 miles, telling all the spectators to yell "Go Ellis" for him.
Near mile 19 or so we caught Jeff, from the Bonney Lake crew. I had ran the first ~4 miles with him. He was trying to get his first sub-4 hour finish. I let Sabrina keep going at our pace and ran with Jeff for a bit. I pushed him a little, just getting him to move along at a steady clip, taking walk breaks when needed. I did my best to be a coach and give him advice for the last 3 miles of the course (and he got his sub-4!). Then I sped up to catch Sabrina. Along the way I passed several of the ladies I had coached who were running the half marathon. I stopped and ran with them each for a little bit to see how they were doing, etc.
We ended up crossing the finish line around the 3:54 mark. Let me tell you, this girl can kick! We're ~200m from the finish and she says "watch this" and takes off! I really had to dig to stay with her through the finish. I think this is best described using the picture below. Its a photo that our trainees bought for us and actually printed out to poster size. Sabrina looks full of energy and I look completely wrecked. Its awesome. Probably my favorite finish line pic.
(Seven New Manics: Aurea, Brittany, Garrett, Amber, Evan, Ashley and Ellis)
(Sabrina and I at the start of Cap City)
Cap City was a great race. Definitely going to be on my to do list for a while. I was able to sleep in my own bed the night before and park a block from the start. Sabrina and I ran the all 26.2 miles together this time. Side by side, stride for stride. Along the way we ran with a few friends, including Bill and Ellis for several miles. The pic above was in an online version of the local paper. Was it the best idea to run a marathon 6 days before the 100 miler? Probably not. Did I have fun doing it? Absolutely! Being with my running family is what keeps me sane. Its how I find myself and what I am made of.
(Stride for stride at the finish)
(Post Cap City)
Change of shoes
Nathan Hydration Pack
Nathan handheld pack (no bottle)
PowerBar bottles (2)
PowerBar Energy Blends
PowerBar Recovery Drink Mix
PowerBar Harvest Energy Bars
Starbuck Double Shot drinks
Trigger Point Grid foam roller
Addaday Type A roller
Post-race clothes (pants, shirt, jacket)
Marathon Maniac jacket
Garbage bag (for dirty clothes)
Garmin Forerunner 910XT
Flashlight (for my crew)
Clipboard with projected times/instructions for pacers
Air Heads Candy
I tried to go to bed early the night before and actually got to sleep while it was still light out. I woke up at 3am to get dressed and get some food in my system. My wonderful wife and I had already packed the car the night before after Sabrina helped us pack. She too got up at 3am to drive me to the start and hang out for a few laps. We arrived at the starting area around 5am for the 6am start. Despite the early hour, there was plenty of life already. You see, at this event I was only running the half. That's right. Thursday morning roughly a dozen brave souls started a 200 mile race. Friday morning, about seven runners toed the line for a 150 mile run. I checked in, got my bin/chair set up and got as mentally ready as I could. After my dnf at the Mt Si 50 Miler, I knew the mental aspect would be huge in this race. To those that know me, it was no secret that I kinda wanted to go for the course record. Though the analytical side of me, which usually wins, knew that would not happen. At least, not this year.
This race is different from many ultra marathons in that you are allowed a pacer at anytime (but no more than two at a time). I had a huge outpouring of offers to come pace me from friends. It appeared that I would only be solo for the first 15.4 miles and possibly another 9.4 miles around the halfway point. Another difference, no race shirt. Instead of race shirts we all got race robes. They are a very good quality robe with the Pigtails Challenge logo. Bel got a picture of me in the robe before the race as well as a shot of all the 100 mile runners with the RD.
Everyone in my crew chronicled the event via Facebook so my friends and family could follow along. Most of the pics below are from them.
(Before the start in my robe)
(100 Mile Runners with the RD)
Eventually, Gavin and the 2nd place finisher pulled away a bit. They turned a little too early but knew they did. They saw us and said "That was too soon, right?". Yes. Yes it was. I had actually let myself go a little too quick and started to pull back a little. The racer in me wanted to run them down and hang with them but I knew I was going too fast. I finished the out and back in 53 minutes. Afterwards, I ditched the jacket before starting lap 1.
(Start of the 100)
Sabrina and I cruised through lap 1 in 1:35. I made sure to eat something (usually a gel) every 30 minutes. At the main aid station I tried to eat something more solid and the backside aid station was more about getting some Coke or refilling my water bottle. I used the Amphipod handheld for the first 43 miles or so. After that I switched to the Nathan strap and my PowerBar bottles. They held more water and it was getting warm out.
At the end of lap 1, I grabbed some solid food and had Bel refill my water bottle while I ate. I also grabbed another salt capsule. The plan was to take one every lap. I was then joined by Jesse, one of the gals I coached for the Tacoma City Marathon. On one of our laps, I saw Linda at the backside aid station. She is an accomplished runner from my run club. She had ran this event in the past and was one of the brains I picked during my training. Jesse ran two laps with me in 1:34 and 1:46. Between those laps, Bel went home to rest a bit/be productive. At this point I felt ok but I knew I wasn't eating enough. Let me tell you, it sucks knowing you should be eating more but just don't want to. I had heard from friends who ran 100's that eventually I wouldn't want to eat and would be forced to by my pacers. I just didn't think it would be so early in the race and I thought I wouldn't be aware that I wasn't eating enough.
Between laps 3 and 4, I changed from my split shorts to my half tights and swapped the t-shirt for a singlet. I also changed socks and swapped my Hoka Conquest for my Hoka Bondi's. I also rolled out a little with the Addaday roller. Lap 4 I was joined by Tom, from my running club. He made sure I ate solid food on our lap, particularly some pb&j squares that I did not want to eat/tasted horrible to me at that point, and made a note on my pacer instruction sheet to make sure I was eating. He also kept me moving. If I recall correctly, this was the only lap where I spoke negatively (the thoughts crept up on a few laps) and Tom turned my attitude around real quick. He convinced me that as long as I could still walk, I could finish. We completed out lap in 1:58. This is the lap break where I discovered how glorious watermelon is. I'm pretty sure I had watermelon at every lap. I also started eating chips and potatoes at this point.
(Rolling our somewhere around lap 4)
(Finishing up lap 4 with Tom)
I was then joined by my friend Kelli for two laps. Somewhere on our first lap I discovered I no longer wanted gels or salt capsules. Still being aware of the need for calories, I mixed two gels and the salt/electrolyte capsules into my water. I believe this was the lap where Jeff (who I pushed at TCM) and his wife Heather were manning the backside aid station. It was good to see their faces for a few laps. At the end of our first lap, my family and friends at arrived to show some support. My wife, parents, little sister, nephew Malachi were there as well as our friends Faustine and Todd, Matt and Kara and their son Oliver. Having such a huge support crew at that point (just past halfway) was amazing. Playing with Malachi for a minute with the Addaday roller, sharing a cookie with Oliver, and some cantaloupe that Faustine and Todd brought.
(Starting lap 5 with Kelli)
(Photo my dad took of Kelli and I heading out)
It was either the lap 4/5 break or the 5/6 break where I discovered my magic potion (which, I believe Sabrina called my Galaxy Juice at 1 am). A mixture of two gels, salt/electrolyte capsules and PowerBar Recovery Mix. That was in my bottle the entire rest of the race and my crew prepped the extra PowerBar bottle for me while I was out so all I had to do was change bottles at the lap breaks. Bel was amazing at making sure I was good and had what I needed/had sunscreen on. I couldn't have finished this race without her there. Kelli and I went back out for another lap. During my first lap with Sabrina, I had started walking the uphills (roughly 700ft of gain per lap). Kelli kept saying how fast I was moving on the walks considering how far into the race I was. Our lap splits were 1:53 and 2:07.
(Gearing up for lap 6)
(Actually eating after lap 6)
After lap 6, I actually had a good amount of solid food. I are some Fig Newtons and a hotdog as well as more fruit. Bill and Sabrina had returned to support/crew chief for me. I was joined at lap 7 by Amy and Nicole, two gals from our Tacoma training group. They were amazing! Two very energetic, funny and talkative women is exactly what I needed at mile 62. With about 2 miles left in the lap, Emily and Tamra appeared on the trail. They are two of the employees at my store. I had coached/paced them through their first half marathon and they had driven up after work to pace me. Seeing their faces and running with them was most definitely one of the highlights of the race for me. We finished lap 7 in 2:05.
(Lap 7 pacers: Amy & Nicole!)
(Backside aid station lap 7)
After lap 7 Ben, the only other guy from my store, was there. I ate more solid food, including a slice of pizza before Ben and I took off. He was training for an ultra himself and was using this as a long run. Initially he had planned to run two laps with me but stuck it out for three laps. We chatted, well, Ben chatted tried to distract me like a good pacer. It worked well. At the backside aid station, I ran ahead (like 30 feet) for my last port-a-pottie stop. When I walked back to the aid station I just heard "I know you from Fleet Feet". "Colleen, right?" Our stores old Nuun rep was there. Turns out, now she works for Brooks Running. Once again it felt good to see an unexpected and familiar face out on the course. Roughly half way through that lap, the sun began to set. For whatever reason, the literal darkness brought me to one of my dark points in the race. I was not doing well with no light besides our headlamps. I wasn't cramping and I felt ok physically, I just wanted to be done. I had to fight a lot mentally the last three laps. We finished our guy's lap in 2:12.
(Amy helping Ben gear up for the guy's lap)
(Backside aid on lap 8, starting to get dark)
During the lap 8/9 break Belinda and my father-in-law had arrived to support me through the finish. I had more solid food: some amazing cheese quesadillas. I also had some really good chicken broth. While I was sitting in my chair drinking the broth, I knew I needed something else on the course with me. I needed Sabrina. Her spirit is contagious and her energy is seemingly relentless. I looked up from my cup and said "you have two more laps in you?". She just smiled and said "yep". So the last two laps were Sabrina, Ben and myself. The first lap we were loud. Talking to each other, laughing. We even youtubed the skip from the Wizard of Oz so we could do that for a few strides. Lap 9 was 2:18.
The lap 9/10 break I had more fruit, chips, broth etc. Its funny, everyone always told me in training Beware the Chair. I sat in my chair almost every lap break and had no problems getting back up. I had decided it was time to finish. Sabrina, Ben and myself headed back out for the final lap. This one was much quieter. We were all just pushing through. At one point, we even turned our headlamps off for a few strides to just embrace nature and the journey I was on. We finished lap 10 in 2:37. I had said something about finishing with them and Sabrina said something like "This is all you, we're pulling back". Her and Ben slowed enough to let me pull ahead but were still able to watch me finish. At 2:58 am, I crossed the finish line in 3rd place. My wife and father-in-law congratulated me as well as Ben and Sabrina. The race director came over and gave me my buckle and congratulated me as well. Side note: my watch is awesome. It lasted the entire race. All twenty hours and fifty-eight minutes.
After some pics, a little more food and some very emotional hugs, we left for home. While I was walking around fine at the finish line, getting out of the car at home was insanely difficult. I spent most of Sunday sleeping and most of Monday cleaning the apartment. Took a few Epsom salt baths and a few walks. It was nice to lay low for a few days. I took six days off from running afterwards to recover.
(With my amazing wife)
I learned a lot about myself on that run. I connected with friends on a deeper level and I connected with nature. I looked deeper into myself than I had before. I pushed through dark times and fought a mental battle like never before. I grew physically, spiritually and emotionally. I was given a whole new perspective on life and a new level of awareness. I had transcended.
I want to include a few things that some of my crew wrote about the event, particularly Ben and Sabrina. Their comments are below. While this was initially a bucket list event for me, I wouldn't be surprised if I make this journey another time.
"I must share an experience I had yesterday. My buddy Nick Paterno has been training for a 100 miler! Let me say that again 100 miles. I was humbled and honored to pace him for his final three laps of this race. Not only did this incredible person finish but place 3rd on his first 100!!!! This man is an inspiration to everyone and shows the world that there are no limits to the human body. Enjoy all your accolades nick, you deserve every second of them stud!! I will run until 3am with you any day!!" -Ben
"When you go into something with unconditional confidence, there's no room for anything but success. Even if the outcome is different than what you expected, your experience had forever enhanced your perception of the world and you have evolved. Beyond the Tacoma and the Capital City Marathons I found myself side by side with Coach Guru at the Pigtails 100 mile adventure. We literally ran these races together. This is the blend of our own training and coaching. I was honored to send Nick off in the early hours while fresh in his 100 mile race. He was nervous anticipating this new distance and wondered what lay ahead. We ran side by side as friends in his journey, plodding along while he redefined his limits. Friends he has met through running came to pace him at various points in his race. Runners know how to support each other both spiritually and physically. I came back to run miles 80-100 with Nick. He has the strength in him but the act of running by his side represented the celebration and honor of the human spirit. We crave a journey, connection to the earth, spirituality and companionship. Nick was able to feel the pain in his body, listen to his mind considering the effects of his distance, but trust his spirituality to transcend him to finish 100 miles. I’ve been told by a wise soul that if you put it out there the universe will provide." -Sabrina
(All smiles and still standing)