I must say, it is my 1st time writing any sort of race report, but in this case I decided to share my experience as it was pretty damn special. Jackpot 100 in Vegas on Feb 15-16, 2014 was my 2nd 100 miler and it was one of those perfect races that don't come too often: I ran 100 miles in 17:33:27 (which a 100 mile PR for me by almost 9hrs!), took 2nd place female (1st woman was 5min away), placed 4th overall and never ran into any trouble, and this last part is pretty rare in any ultra, especially 100 miles long... Many people say "good luck" before a race, which is nice, but it always makes me feel a bit odd, because there is no such thing is "luck" on race day. You get the results that reflect how hard you worked for many months leading up to your goal race. As my coach Howard Nippert (www.howardnippert.com) said to me before the race: "I don't believe in luck on race day. It is superior preparation and race day execution". And then he added: "Get it done." These exact words were in my head for the entire 17+ hours, and now I can share what exactly went into the "preparation" and "execution" parts, combination of which produced such a perfect result.
PART 1: PREPARATION
I picked this race for few reasons: chances of good running weather in Vegas in Feb are very high, very fast and runnable course, short loop setup (so you have constant access to your own stuff and aid station food), and a finish buckle in a form of a HUGE casino chip!! How could I possibly resist to that?? This is what originally caught my attention!
Me and Howard started training for this race specifically since mid Nov 2013 and had exactly 3 month to prepare. I followed the running plan he was preparing for me 100% and reporting back how I was feeling and doing on a regular basis. My usual running plan included: running 7 days a week (for the total of 55-70 miles a week), some interval sessions, some longer tempo runs, few easy recovery runs and long runs on weekends. 6 days out of 7 I would run my workouts alone around where I live (Hackensack, NJ), but for the long runs I was coming out to Rockefeller Park to run with my very good friend and running partner Tony Portera (he is a true ultra running machine, having completed 25+ races of 100 miles and longer and also 5 Badwater Ultramarathons, www.irunultras.com). Tony was sold on this race as soon as I mentioned "Vegas", signed up for immediately, so we were training for the same 100 and it made sense to coordinate our long runs. Not to mention, he is a great guy and a very funny person. My VCTC teammate, David Isaac, also joined us for some fun long runs in the Rockies and I think from hanging out around us he got the ultra bug as well.. :)
Anyway, back to preparation... Most of my long runs were 3-4 hrs long. Once I did a back-to-back (4hrs followed by 2hrs next day) at a controlled 100-mile race pace. There was also one 50-mile long "training run", which I did in a race environment in Louisiana 6 weeks before the 100, also at a very controlled 100-mile pace. And one other 31 mile (5.5hrs) run in really frigid conditions in New York: snow, wind, sub freezing temps, frozen water, body parts, you name it... Those kinds of real hard long runs, when you also have the "weather" factor, definitely build up your strength and the ability to never give up and never quit, which one desperately needs in a 100 mile race.
So, after 3 months of doing this kind of race specific training, I felt extremely ready to run well. How well? My only other 100 before this was VT100 from 2013 and that was 26:09. I had some major chafing and nutrition issues which I failed to recognize early on in that race, and those costed me many hours at the end! So, having learned from that experience, I knew I could do much better than that. I thought that I could shoot for a sub-20 finish realistically, which would be very-very cool and respectable. But, in the back of my mind I also had 17-18 hrs numbers... I must clarify something here: in Sep of this year I am signed up for a 24hr race where I will try to hit qualification mark to be in 24hr World Championship in 2015 and that minimum is 120 miles. So, I did my homework studying splits from different 24hr races and saw that anyone who ran 120-130 miles in 24hr races, usually went through 100 miles around 17-18 hrs. That is why I had these numbers in my head and wanted to see how close I could come to that. So, 17-18 was my A++++ goal, but seriously I did not think I could get there from 1st try.
PART 2: EXECUTION
Thanks to big snow storm, Tony and I got to Vegas 2 days early to be on the safe side and not be stuck under a snow pile. As it turned out, that was a really good call. Huge credit here goes to Tony for taking the weather forecast very seriously early on and quickly being able to change flights and other logistics. With 3 days before the race, we had plenty of chances to relax, adjust to time (sort of...), watch the big snow back home off TV screens, take a trip to Death Valley and check out race course few times. The race course was 2.38 mile loop, which you run 42 times for 100 mile distance. Saturday race morning came quick and next thing I knew I was running 100 miles...
Before the race, I asked my coach Howard if I should incorporate forced walk breaks early on (a very popular strategy for 100s and one of my long training runs was done that way too). He said that if I could run relaxed and strong, running was going to be more efficient than walking. As we all learned later, this was a really great advice in my case! (And this again proves that working with someone who knows you and knows what he is doing really does help in many ways.) So, I decided to run as far as I could before I would be forced to start taking walk breaks. I was also curious as to how far that would be...
I knew I could definitely run to 50, so I made that my small goal #1. I got to 50 in 8:22 (7 min slower than my 50m PR) and felt pretty good. So, I picked my next little goal to be 100k (62 miles) and got there in 10:36 (setting a new unofficial 100k PR by almost 2hrs!) After that was covered all by running, I still felt pretty good and strong and decided to run to 70 miles and see what happens... 70 came and went and I still felt quite alright... I then made 80 my next target and ran there too. I was definitely slowing down (11 min/mi pace or so by then) but I was still moving very steady. Somewhere at mile 88 I told myself that I had nothing to lose and decided to pick up the pace and try to get closer to 1st woman, Stacey Costa, who was always about a mile ahead of me since about mile 40... Stacey is a very accomplished and experienced ultra runner, so everyone in the race expected her finish time to be in 17-hr range. Almost from the start, we kept seeing each other 2 times per loop at the same places, cheering on each other and we were both quite aware of our positions in the race. This is yet another great thing about a course like that: the fact that you always know where your competition is, if you want to know. Even though I knew the entire time I was 2nd woman and very close to 1st, I was extremely dedicated to follow my own plan and run my own race and not chase anyone early on. But at mile 88 I decided to do a little gamble (it it Vegas after all!!) and go all out... Bet Big.. "All out" at mile 88 meant for me running about 4 miles at 8-9 min pace and those few miles (88-92) turned out to be some of my fastest miles of the entire race!!! Simple discovery that I could still pull it off was definitely very encouraging.
Stacey saw my "cruel" intentions immediately and also picked it up and built up some safe distance again. Those 3 miles did take the life out of me, but knowing that I only had few more to go I was still able to keep it up at average 10-11 min pace all the way to the finish. Stacey finished about 5 min before me and we congratulated each other on amazing performances and new 100 mile PRs for both. Turned out, we were also 3rd and 4th overall as only 2 guys finished before us
So, I basically ran 99% of the entire distance. I only stopped for water refills, bathroom breaks and while getting solid food down trying not to choke on it. Lots of food too... Cold cuts, hamburgers, hot dogs, noodle soup, burritos, lots of pizza, coke, Red Bull and bunch of energy gels.. Thanks to my Soviet born iron stomach, all of the above was staying in, quickly processing and fueling my running engine. I never had any GI issues. So, essentially, I never got the answer to the question I had before the race: how far I need to run before I am forced to walk.. Maybe in that 24hr race in Sep I will find out... But I also believe that when properly trained, running at right pace and staying on top of nutrition, one can run pretty far...
To wrap it up, I want to say again: there is no such thing as "luck" on the race day, even in Vegas! You get what you put into it. And few things can definitely help: good structured individualized running plan from a experienced and knowledgeable running coach, right motivation, great friends and support from those and believing in yourself. The race was put on by a company called "Beyond Limits" and this was truly an event that took many people way beyond their limits as witnessed by so many PRs and great performances.