25 April 2010, Amherst, NY

I drove to Buffalo the day before with Moe Clayton who also ran the race. We had haggled over whether to drive in the night before and spend a night in a nearby hotel or not. Fortunately for me, Moe convinced me that we should drive there the day before.

I was not very encouraged by my recent training. I had put on about 20 pounds and my knee was swelling with inflammation, which severely limited my training. The week before the race I ran only 4 miles. Unintentional, and probably well-advised, tapering, eh?

My physical therapist had given me some exercises to try to troubleshoot my problem. Her work supposedly turned on some muscles I haven’t been using, and she taped the kneecap to restrict it from moving from its comfortable position. A couple of test runs the days before the race encouraged me to at least go to the race and start.

Due to these uncertainties, I had no strategy or plan whatsoever. I was very skeptical of my ability and had no high hopes. I decided my only strategy would be to actually start the race and then see what happens.

The forecast called for 47-56 degrees F, with rain, and a wind from the E or SE ranging from 7-12 mph. It was raining when we went to register and get our chips. It was raining when we helped the Viggianos put up the club tent next to the tent Mack Duett put up. And, it was raining throughout the entire race. The wind blew hard in our faces, much harder than 12 mph, and grew stronger as the day wore on. I know, because 12 mph is 5 minute pace, and I run that all the time, and I know what a 12 mph head wind feels like. This was definitely not it. Much stronger winds.

I lined up at the very back of the pack and took off into the driving rain. I decided right after the start that I would try very diligently to not lap any other competitor on my first lap. I was faithful to this commitment and succeeded in living up to it. There were 92 starters, and I just jogged along trying to warm up and stay out of the deeper puddles. The course was on a very nicely blacktop paved track about 12 feet wide. Water was pooling in spots from the rain. At the first left turn there were two volunteers warning us of the puddle just around the turn and to keep left. They had a big golf umbrella and were stationed there for at least my first two laps. What a cold, wet job that must have been!

Due to the low 40s temps, the driving wind and rain, I decided to run in my warmups. I had my long sleeved poly top and my ultra running shorts with all the pockets on, and opted to leave on my tights and a very old jacket. Completed with a Tilley UV treated sun cap, my running kit, as we trans-continental ultrarunners call it, was fitted out as captured in the photo below, taken by Tom Perry during my first lap.  As I ran by, Tom asked me how my knee was doing. That’s what I was answering with the OK signal.

I kept running along holding to my usual regimen. Run two miles. Then at every even mile, walk 0.2 miles and take a small bite of a Clif bar. At every odd mile, enjoy the delectable taste treat of a life saver. I also got water every one of the first 6 laps at the aid station, manned all day by Jim Lampman, one of our UM club mates. And at every lap, I had a sip of Accelerade, some water, a salt stick if it was near an hour, and once I had a packet of Crank Sports eGel. That one gave me lots of gas so I didn’t try any more Crank.

I ran my first lap in 34:48. This I found interesting. I was not pushing it at all. I was just doing my run, walk, repeat thing. So I got to thinking (always a mistake). First, I had told myself early on that if I started feeling snotty, it would be more of a head thing than a legs thing. And so, if I detected that feeling, I was to ingest sugar right away and get my head back together. Other than that, and not lapping anyone on my first lap, I had no plan. But I started to put one together.

After my second lap took me only 35:40, the arithmetic started. I found that if I rounded my average lap time up to 40 minutes, I could run 9 laps x 40 minutes per lap = 360 minutes or 6 hours. And since my first two laps were faster, I had 10 minutes "in the bank" in case of trouble. Or in case of no trouble (I started fantasizing and hallucinating simultaneously here - in running technical speak this is called multi-tasking) I would have enough spare minutes saved up to run a tenth lap. That would be 32.5 miles. And here my plan hatched. I would have a first goal of running 10 laps, a second goal of 9 laps, and a third goal of 8 laps. 8 laps technically would only be 26 miles, and not qualify as an ultramarathon, but, I had wandered across the pavement missing puddles enough to add 0.35 miles in the first two laps, according to my GPS watch. So, in my mind, I could call 8 laps an ultra marathon if I wanted. However, I didn’t want to.

I wanted to be able to call myself an ultramarathoner once more. This is a funny business. Just the fact that I can recall these hallucinations now is funny. I am always curious about when, exactly, a person is an ultramarathoner, and when that person is not an ultramarathoner. I ran behind a guy in 1995 on the Appalachian Trail part of the JFK 50 race whose shirt said "it’s not bragging if you can do it." To me that means that if you are doing something, then it is a fact that you are doing whatever that might be. If you are talking about it before or after, then that might qualify as bragging. Somehow this line of reasoning degenerates to my position that if I am running an ultramarathon, then I am an ultramarathoner. And at all other times, I am not. In order to consider myself an ultramarathoner, I have to run an ultramarathon, and that means, more than 26.2 miles. This moniker has a half life of 72 hours, so you (or I) can be an ultramarathoner for about 141.5 hours or 5.9 days, give or take, after actually running an ultramarathon. [The actual integration of this is left to the reader as an exercise. I do have a degree in Mathematics, and if you don’t, then trust me on this.]

Now I made all of that up while I was running my third lap, but that does NOT mean it’s wrong. It’s simply to illustrate what the mind goes through in the first of 6 hours of running in a 43 degree rainstorm.

My knee felt fine until 9.1 miles. Then it started feeling very sore and inflamed, and I started getting pretty dejected. I had this well thought out strategy and plan, I was on track for an ultramarathon performance, and in a single step, it was gone. I envisioned me snatching defeat from the very jaws of victory. And feeling pretty snotty. Jimmy V lapped me. I limped on. Then it came to me: it was the Dalai Llama who said "Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional." And I changed my mind. I was going to keep going without suffering. I was going to have a good time (told you I was hallucinating!)

I popped a lifesaver and ran along. Shelley ran up to lap me. I told her the Dalai Llama’s advice and to get going and pass her husband. Or maybe this was all later in the race. Anyway, I tuned up my attitude and got my head back into it. My third lap was actually as fast as my first. I was a new man. Or goat. Or a man staring at a goat. Believe me, no animals were harmed during the imagining of this or the running of the race.

I just kept padding my budget of time in the bank until I got to 20 minutes. At which time I started wondering if I should do 10, if I could do 10, if I would do 10. The other thought I was fixated on was that in order to race the last hour, you had to still be running after the first 5 hours. I started challenging my UM team mates that the race begins at the 5 hour mark. I am quite sure they are glad no one could identify me as a UM member and that I was definitely oxygen deprived, smoking dope in the porta-potty, or both. Probably both.

Strange as this may seem, my tights were getting pretty wet. They were completely soaked, and now sticking to my legs. This was uncomfortable and I kept pulling them up. I was also feeling some discomfort on my inner quads, right on top of the medial quadriceps muscle. After the 7th lap I decided to remove my leggings. When I did, my thighs were bleeding. I mean, blood running down my thighs. Funny, they were so cold I hadn’t felt that much pain. Apparently the wet material had just rubbed holes through my skin. I applied some body glide and on I went.

I really felt great the 8th lap. I got my lap back from Jimmy V and I was barely ahead of him. He was having a tough time and not responding appropriately to my humorous challenge that when the clock struck 5, we’re racing baby. And I had another guy in my sights, and that was Ben. I just couldn’t reel him in, but I was trying. I think my 27th mile was 10:16 pace or something incredible like that. When I made the turn for the 9th lap, Ben pulled away and I was utterly destroyed. The fast mile took a lot out of me, and now I couldn’t walk the 0.2 mile section. It hurt too much to walk, and I had to continue shambling along in what approximated a running gait.

Jimmy V almost caught me back, but then he made a critical strategic error. He told me how good my butt looked. I didn’t want any of that, and I took off, leaving a wistful and lovelorn look on his face. I couldn’t run very fast, but I could keep going without a lot of pain. And absolutely no suffering. At the aid station I asked Jim if it was bad form to go out for another lap with 20 minutes remaining, when you know it’s going to take you 40 minutes. He said that was perfectly acceptable. And because of that, I had no choice but to go out a 10th lap. It would have been much more convenient if he had lied to me and told me it wasn’t done. Now I had no excuse.

My 10th lap was kind of desolate. Two guys passed me (for more than the first time - I was being lapped again). By the way, I should have pointed out before that on my third lap, Matt Chaffin lapped me twice. He lapped me twice in one lap. Not fair.

Well, I did it. I’m not sure it was good judgment. If my knee swells up, it will have been bad judgment. 24 hours later, no swelling. Lots of chafing. I need to remember that body glide goes everywhere if you plan to run long distance in the rain. Everywhere. ‘Nuff said.

Moe and I drove the 0.15 miles to the Amherst Center to go inside their restroom to change into dry clothes. I am sure it was pretty funny to see two old guys trying to change clothes after running for 6 hours. I still don’t know if it was harder to get my pants on or my socks. I mentioned to Moe how sore my feet were the last few laps - not blisters, just pounding on the soles. I told him the shoes I wore were my MT100s, and really light, almost nothing to them. He asked me why in the world I would wear shoes like that with no cushioning when I intend to pound my feet in them for 6 hours. I told him they were really light, and instead of wearing normal shoes and weighing 193 pounds 9 ounces, I weighed only 193 pounds 7 ounces. Moe told me, truthfully, that this was not a very bright decision. He was right.

We drove the 0.15 miles back to the same parking space and caught the awards handout. Moe got 2nd in his age group. Our club cleaned up with over all winner, female winner, veteran winner, etc. Everyone won something, and the race director even gave me a little loaf of cinnamon swirl bread as a consolation for not winning anything.

However, a day later, I wrote the race director and asked if I was 30th. She said I was, and that they had called a Floyd Farnham for a finisher’s medal. Due to my hearing loss, the howling wind, hypoxia, hallucinations, the howling wind, and mostly my hearing deficiency, I didn’t hear them call my name. But she is a sweetheart and she’s going to mail me my medal.

Thanks to the race director. Thanks to club mate Tom Perry for being there all day, taking photos, and taking care of his club mates. Thanks to all the UM runners for being very encouraging, polite, and not telling me to shut the hell up! Thanks especially to Moe for talking me into making it an overnight trip.

Thanks to John Hanna for giving me the inspiration to do him proud. 15 years ago this summer, John set the American record (38:38.77) for the men 85-90 5K outdoor track racewalk. That record still stands. He set the record at the 1995 WAVA championships held at UB. And I could see the stadium on every lap, where we went to watch John get on the medal stand and receive his gold medal. We watched John win that race at a practice track somewhere beyond the football stadium. When he finished the race, we told him he won, and he didn’t believe us. John was a wonderful man and role model. He passed away on Christmas 2008, a few months short of his 100th birthday. He was on my mind on every lap encouraging me. I used to tell John that one of my two goals in life is to break his American record. And that still is my goal, and John still chuckles modestly when he hears me say that.

From the WNY Ultra Series Home Page:

"BPAC 6 Hour Distance Classic - Matt Chaffin (42.25 miles) / Jill Perry (41.09  miles)

It rained for almost the entire six hours, making for a wet celebration of the 30th anniversary of ultrarunning in Buffalo.  Matt Chaffin was the first overall finisher and the Masters Men category winner.  Canadian Paul Chenery finished second overall and first in the Veteran Men category with 41.28 miles.  Jill Perry finished third overall and first in the Open Women category.  Robert McMahon was the Open Men category winner with 39.00 miles.  Christine Reynolds won the Masters Women category with 32.50 miles.  Amy Bryan was the Veteran Women category winner with 32.38 miles.  Despite the difficult conditions, 44 runners finished 8 laps (26.00 miles) or more.  Click here for Overall Results.  Click here for Individual Splits.  Click here for Tom Perry's 300+ photos of the event."

2010 BPAC 6 Hour Race