Did you ever wish you could run a 100 mile race on a course that catered to your style in perfect weather conditions? Well, that’s exactly what we got this past Saturday, December 10th, 2016 in Jacksonville Beach, Florida for the second annual running of the Daytona 100 that is directed by ultra running legend Dave Krupski and his wife Alex. The Daytona 100, only in its second year, is a newer 100 mile ultra here in the state of Florida that starts at the One Ocean Resort and Spa in Jacksonville Beach and travels 100 miles south, ending at Daytona Beach’s North Turn. It starts at 6am on Saturday morning and ends at 12pm on Sunday, giving you 30 hours to complete the distance. The course is flat, fast roads with a few beach sections thrown in for good measure. As luck would have it, a small cold front moved in the day before, so the temperature at start time was in the upper 40’s, daytime temps were only in the low 60’s and nighttime in the upper 50’s. To make it even more perfect, throw in a 10mph tailwind to push you along. To say that we were anxious to get going was an understatement.
Jennifer Van Vlack, my ultra running partner in crime and co-member of Team Truckin’ On, and I, started planning this race back in mid-September, shortly after completing our first 100 mile race at Aaron Thompson’s and Ben Pangie’s Wildcat Ultra. This one would cater to us though since, as much as we love the trails, we are more used to running on the roads. Being that a cold front was moving in and the weather forecast was calling for temperatures that would be ideal , (highs in the low 60’s and lows in the high 50’s) we couldn’t wait to get started. We both believed that we could sub 24 this race if everything worked the way we wanted it to. Our plan was to run 5/1 intervals from the very beginning, for as long as we could, before making any kind of adjustments. A perfect scenario would be to hit 50 miles in 10 hours so that we could set ourselves up for a nice back half.
After waking up just before 4am, I got ready for the race. I had prepared what I was going to wear the night before so there would not have to be any thinking in the morning. I decided to wear my newest Headsweats hat, Ugly Christmas sweater, since it was that time of year. I also chose to wear my 26.2 INKnBURN shirt over a long sleeved compression shirt to start with plans to change into my 50 after I passed the 26.2 mile distance and change into my 100 after passing 50 miles. I also wore a little bit thicker Balega pair of socks since it is the only brand I run in. My shoe brand of choice to run in is always Altra. I went with my Paradigms, the most cushioned road running shoe that Altra makes. I felt it was the most appropriate choice for the terrain we were going to be running on. I also brought two handhelds with me filled with Tailwind Nutrition, my fuel of choice, because it really works. My crew had the rest of the Tailwind that I had brought with me in the car and would continually replenish my bottles each time I saw them. Fortunately for me, Tailwind Nutrition was the official fuel/electrolyte replacement drink on the course and so it would also be available at every aid station. Our crew dropped us off at the hotel/starting line at about 5:20am since we were required to be there by 5:30am to check in. After heading into the hotel lobby, where all the runners were gathering, we said hello to a number of people that we recognized or knew from other races. At about 5:45am, Jen and I headed back outside to get a few pictures by the start. Being that it was still a bit chilly at that time, everyone was bundled up with layers. I even took out my gloves to start the race with, only to find out I had grabbed my Injinji toe socks instead, mistaking the toes for fingers. We really laughed at this. Talk about a funny moment to take the edge off.
A few minutes later a prerecorded National Anthem was playing, and as always, I removed my hat out of respect for my country. Less than 2 minutes after that, the timing clock was counting down from 10 and before we knew it, we were off on our quest.
Because of the location of the race, crews were only allowed to crew in 5 designated areas for the first 31 miles, the first being between miles 3 and 4. Jen and I knew that we didn’t need our crew that early, so we told them to meet us at the second location, the Mickler’s Landing parking lot, which is right around mile 13. During these first 13 miles, the run was going great and we were sticking to our plan. We weren’t pushing ourselves and the scenery of all the homes was keeping us from even thinking about the run. It was here that our most awesome Team Truckin’ On Pit Crew got to work. Jen’s friends, Chris, Lindsay and Sara, all flew in with Jen to crew the both of us since we were running this race together. I had already met Chis and Lindsay back in September when they crewed us for Wildcat. Even though Sara was the newbie, she fit right in. We met them in the parking lot, took a couple of layers off, refilled our handhelds, and then were on our way. It was at this point that we were originally supposed to enter the first beach section, but because of Hurricane Matthew and the damage it caused, we had to run along the shoulder of A1A to mile 16.5, where the first aid station/check in was located. We told our crew to meet us there as well since they were able to.
We reached AS1 a short while later by continuing to stick to our plan. We let the aid station know our bib numbers, refilled our handhelds again at our crew vehicle, ate some food and then continued on our way. We would be seeing our crew again at mile 22, where AS2 was located and the first beach section would start. Jen and me continued with our 5/1 intervals and were keeping each other preoccupied by telling stories and keeping up the conversation.
By the time we got to mile 22 and saw our crew again, Jen and I had been running for about 4.5 hours by now. We were just over our pace to hit 50 in 10 hours, but were close enough to feel good about where we were. Again, we shed any layers that we wanted off, refilled, ate and then hit the beach.
To be perfectly honest with you, I’m not a fan of running on the beach, even though the surface was pretty solid. Beach running can really sap the energy out of you very quickly. Maybe this is what got into my head at this point because this section was taking me down the wrong mental road. Not even a mile into this section, Jen knew that something was wrong with me when I just got really quiet. She was trying to make me talk about things to distract me from thinking about what we were doing, but my answers were short and it was not working. As runners, we know there are times that this can happen and it’s nothing against anyone you might be running with. It was at this point that we cut our intervals down to 4/1 to see if that would work. Just under 2 hours later we were finally at mile 28 and leaving the beach section. The Team Truckin’ On Pit Crew met us here where once again we refilled our fuel/hydration, ate some food and changed some clothes. I changed out of my 26.2 INKnBURN shirt and changed into my 50 INKnBURN shirt like I had planned. Right before leaving I heard my name called and turned to see Claire and John Kelly, new friends of mine I had met at Justin Radley’s 8 Hours of Hell race series. Claire was the only one running though as John was crewing her. This was her first 100 miler and I was rooting for her. I gave them each a big hug and john got a picture of the two of us before Jen was pulling me along to get going. I was so glad I got to see them!
At this point Jen and I were back out on the road and on our way to AS3 which was at mile 32, the start of St Augustine. Crew restrictions would now be lifted after going over the small Vilano Bridge at mile 31. Right after starting on this next 4 mile section though, I was in a bad spot. We decreased the intervals again right away to 3/1, but for me, everything was just going south. As much as I would have loved to run this whole ultra with Jen, I also didn’t want to hold her back. She’s only 31, 16 years younger than me and I’m just the old guy trying to keep up. I knew she would sub 24 this race if she went off on her own, so a short while later I told her to go on without me. She asked if I was sure because that’s just who Jen is. We planned to do this together and she would have stayed with me if I wanted her to, but I didn’t want to hold her back. I said to go and sub 24 this ultra! I was going to walk a bit more, make my way to the next aid station slowly and go from there. She reset her watch back to her intervals and went on ahead. She would tell the crew to wait at the aid station for me. By then I had about 3 miles to go. During these 3 miles I thought of so many things, one of them being that I had nothing to prove to anybody since I had already run 100 miles and I was going to pull myself from the race. Every now and then I would think otherwise, but with about 2 miles to go I tried to start running again and my calves started cramping and I had to stop and walk the rest of the way. I texted my wife Kasi to let her know what was going on and she called me. She told me that I knew how to listen to what my body was telling me and to listen closely. She supported any decision that I made. Kasi always knows what to say to me. By the time I finally got to AS3, I had been running for just over 7 hours and I was still having a moment. I decided to take some S Caps at this point if the aid station had any, which they did. I swallowed two, had some food and rested a bit. I then actually did tell my crew, as well as the AS, that I was dropping out. Well, neither my crew nor the aid station people would let me. The AS guys said that I had to run through St. Augustine and over the Bridge of Lions first and after doing that, if I still wanted to drop, my crew would get me. I moved around a bit and realized that the cramping in my calves was completely gone, so I said I would continue. There was even one runner, an older guy that my crew nicknamed The Mayor because of how he acted. Before leaving the aid station, he asked me to give him a thumbs up to let him know I was ok. Everyone was overjoyed and was so happy for me. The S Caps that I had taken helped me so much that I would continue to take them every hour for the rest of the race. I must say, I held it together pretty good, but shortly after getting to mile 33 I had a pretty emotional moment all to myself. I knew that 90% of what I had just gone through was all in my head and I would have been pretty bummed if I had dropped. Sometimes you just hit a really low moment in a race like this and for me, this was mine. Luckily it was the only one I had.
So now here I was, back out on my quest to complete my second 100 mile ultra in 30 hours or less. Since Jen and I made such great time early in the run though, I was still at a great place time wise. My A goal of sub 24 would really be a push at this point, but B goal of 27:00 to 27:30 was definitely in reach. I locked in to the adjusted intervals and made my way through St. Augustine and over the Bridge of Lions. I really enjoyed seeing the town. I definitely plan to come back with Kasi to stay for a weekend and enjoy the history. The breeze off of the water lifted my spirits and really cleared my head.
After leaving AS3, my crew went on ahead to meet Jen at her next spot and then doubled back to meet me somewhere around mile 36 or 37. They noticed right away how much better I looked and were really happy for me. I asked them how Jen was doing and where she was mileage wise. I did this each time I saw them. I found out later on that she asked about me as well each time she saw them too. Since AS4 was going to be at mile 40, I told them to meet me somewhere around mile 44 or 45. I refilled my handhelds, drank some coke, took a turkey wrap to go and was on my way.
The next 8 or 9 miles went by in no time. There was some cloud coverage now, so I was happy I had on my heavier pullover. I stopped at AS4 at mile 40, replenished my needs and was off in no time. By the time I met the crew again just after 44 miles, I had been on the road almost 11 hours. Since it was closing in on 5:00pm, I proceeded to put my headlamp, safety vest and front and back blinking lights on for the nighttime hours. I ate some more food, refilled my handhelds with my Tailwind Nutrition, made sure all was a go and was off. I would be seeing them again at mile 52 where AS5 was located. This would probably be the longest stretch of the whole run before getting more aid. Because of this I brought some quick eats in my pockets.
I continued to trudge along A1A, running, walking, running, walking…over and over, not thinking of anything but getting to AS5. All I kept saying in my head was, “get to 50 and you could start counting down”. When I finally got there around 7:00pm, I was feeling pretty good. Crew members Lindsay and Sara were there like we had planned and once again got what I needed, made sure I ate and had fresh Tailwind and made me get going. They would be meeting me around mile 57.
This was the start of running through Flagler County all the way to Marineland. I got to mile 57 without a hitch, got what I needed and planned to meet them again somewhere around mile 65 or 66 since I was going to be getting to AS6 at mile 61.8 first. When I finally got there around 10pm (16 hours in) I was really happy because my friend Jamie Woyton was captaining that aid stations with his sons and some other people. When Jamie saw me, he shouted my name, gave me a big hug, sat me down and fed me some warm food. Anyone who knows Jamie knows that he is just an awesome person and someone you want in your life as a friend. He’s so positive. I was feeling good when I got there, but I felt even better when he kicked me out a few minutes later telling me that he can’t miss me if I don’t leave. He did give me another big hug before I left and told me he was proud of me and that buckle was mine. Talk about an emotional boost, especially since I had 38 miles to go.
Once again I met up with my crew just past mile 66 in a Publix parking lot along the route. I ended up getting there a minute before they did. While I was standing there, a woman came up to me and asked me what this walk we were doing was for. I just smiled and told her it was the Daytona 100. She told me she saw all of these people walking and was wondering what was going on. I don’t think she really knew what it was we were doing, but she made me smile when she said good luck. My crew pulled up at that point and this time it was Chris and Lindsay. Sara was out pacing Jen at that point. The Team Truckin’ On Pit Crew was working like a well- oiled machine at this point, going to meet Jen, then backtracking to meet me, over and over, putting more miles in the car than we had planned, but never complaining once. After once again getting what I needed from them I headed on out making that push for AS7 at mile 70.
I ended up getting to mile 70/AS7 just before 12:15am. When I arrived I saw the older guy I had seen at AS3 back in St. Augustine who told me to give him a thumbs up to let him know I was ok. As soon as I saw him and said hello, he took one look at me and said, “Hey, it’s the thumbs up guy! You made it”. That made me smile. I sat down, had some coke, refilled my bottles with water in one and Tailwind in the other and had some food. One of the aid station workers said that she had brought mini pre made toothbrushes, if anybody wanted one. My eyes lit up! How refreshing that was to brush my teeth at that point in the run. These are the little things that keep you going when taking on an ultra like this. Again, not spending too much time there, I got up and headed on out since I was going to be meeting my crew again around mile 75, which went without a hitch since I was still running the same intervals that I started back at mile 32. Lindsay told me she had a shot of Fireball at AS8 that I was heading to next.
I got to AS8, mile 81, at around 3:15am. It was set up in the TGIFridays parking lot. I sat down for a sec and again went through my routine of refilling my bottles, eating some food and drinking some coke. It was at this time that we were to cross the road and run on the beach side of A1A since we were going to be heading back out onto the beach fairly soon. One person at AS8 was telling everybody that the turn off was 7 miles up, which would make it mile 88. I decided to meet with my crew again shortly before this around mile 86, which I did. I got what I needed pretty quickly this time since I knew they wanted to get to the finish line to see Jen finish since she was around 10 to 12 miles ahead of me. Lindsay did mention that Jen’s Garmin got screwed up around this point right before the beach and to be careful. Being that I was 86 miles in, I could not think too clearly, but said ok. I wish I had paid attention a little bit more.
Since the person at AS8 was telling everyone that the turn off onto the beach was 7 miles up the road, which would mean 88 miles based on my Garmin, when I got to 88, then 88.5, then 88.8, I started panicking and was texting Lindsay to find out if I had passed it. She told me I hadn’t, not to worry and just keep going. Long story short, the mileage was more like 8.5 to 9 miles to the turn off. When I finally saw the signs for the turnoff onto the beach, I was so happy. It did throw off my intervals a bit though, but I was not worried. I had only about 10 miles to go.
When I finally got onto the beach and made the right turn, I had a little less than 4 miles before getting off the beach and hitting AS9 and meeting my crew for the last time before seeing them at the finish.
Slowly but surely I made my way on the beach. By the time I was getting to the exit, Lindsay said she was going to come onto the beach so I could see how far I had to go. It was now getting light out even though the sun wasn’t up yet and I was finally at AS9. For the final time, I got what I needed from the car, refilled my bottles, ate some food and headed on out for the final 7 miles. Lindsay was going to come with me to talk me through the final stretch. We set on out and didn’t run much of this last stretch. We talked, told some stories and even ran into a guy who at first made a funny comment after overhearing a story Lindsay was telling, but then went on and on, bragging about how great he was. After about 10 minutes of this one sided conversation, I couldn’t take it any longer, and said we were going to run for a bit again. We laughed about it after leaving him behind.
Finally, we were back on the beach for the final 2 miles and I kept looking to see if I could see the finishers arch that I would be crossing. My walking pace at this time was somewhere around 19 or 20 min/mile. When I was about ½ mile out, I was able to see the finish. Jen and the crew were there waiting for me. I crossed over with an official time of 27:17:05, a PR from my first 100 by just shy of 8 hours.
This 100 miler was so much different than the first but was just as rewarding. Even though I ran most of the race on my own after Jen and I had split up, it never felt that way. This was a journey of EPIC proportions and I am so thankful for being given the ability to do things like this. These are the challenges in my life that I thrive off of and motivate me. This ultra would not have been possible without the best possible Pit Crew a runner could have. They not only crewed 2 runners, but did so by going back and forth along the route over and over again since Jen and I were at different places. They didn’t complain once and handled it flawlessly. Thank You Lindsay, Chris and Sara, from the bottom of my heart, for volunteering your time to come and help Jen and me accomplish 100 #2. It meant everything to me and I know it meant everything to Jen as well. I also want to thank my brands I am an Ambassador for, Tailwind Nutrition for fueling all 100 miles and keeping me going the whole way, Headsweats for the awesome trucker hats that I never run without and INKnBURN for the incredible tech shirts that I always wear when running and even when I’m not running because they look and feel so good. I’d also like to thank Altra Running for making shoes for running that work for me better than any I have ever worn, and Balega International for making the most comfortable running socks, again in my opinion that a person can run in. I also want to thank all of my friends for all of the words of encouragement and support during the entire run. It’s always very humbling. I tried to garnish every ounce of energy from wherever I could to keep me going.
Last, but far from least, I want to thank my wife Kasi for being so supportive of this quest and believing in me that I could get it done….again! Love you honey!
Run Hard, Run Strong and #stayvertical my friends.
Joe Rainone is a Headsweats Ambassador and ultra marathoner who blogs at www.jsrainmanruns.blogspot.com.