Daytona 100: Running Brave

2020 is a year that can’t end soon enough. It has been a year of disappointment for many of us runners with countless races cancelled and little motivation to keep on training for events that may not be. Yet I held on to hope that I’d still get an opportunity to complete a 100 mile race. After Badwater was cancelled just a week prior to the scheduled race I felt utterly deflated. I signed up for two more 100’s and a 200 mile race, all which were subsequently cancelled. Finally, I had the opportunity to run a real race, the Shawnee Hills 100… but 60 miles in I slipped and took a terrible fall in the mud hitting my head and knocking myself completely out.  Race over.

I didn’t give up though. Driven by my hard training and by how great I felt before my concussion at Shawnee Hills, I was determined to still get in a 100 mile finish before this 2020 nightmare came to an end. So I started searching for any and every possible 100 mile race and I was drawn to the Daytona 100. First, it takes place in Florida where nearly everything was open. Second, it would be much warmer than the Midwest. Third, it is flat, fast and ripe for a PR. And fourth, it is on the beach and I needed a vacation!

With another race to keep me motivated, I recovered from my fall and started ramping up the mileage again. A couple more race opportunities arose so I scheduled them in for training runs. Yankee Springs 50K and Mohican Marathon. I was able to win both races and felt confident that my body was holding up through the training.

For this training session I decreased overall mileage somewhat and stayed around 80 miles per week, maybe peaked with a couple weeks at 90 miles. I added in more quality tempo runs and made sure to get in several 30 mile runs practicing my pacing strategy for Daytona.

Although my run training was going great, my nutrition and strength were a bit off. I was only having time for maybe one short strength workout per week with my son with autism being forced to home school. Scrambling to fit in teaching, working, parenting, running 80-90 miles, and three strength workouts each week was a bit much. I just couldn’t get everything in. But I tried not to fret too much. I was doing the best I could.

However, I did let keto go down the drain. For some reason I lost the will power and discipline. I tried to get in two weeks of keto leading up to the race but only got in about four days. I would have to plan on getting in consistent calories during the race and hope that if I couldn’t eat my body would remember how to burn fat efficiently.

As race day approached I knew I had done all I could to prepare my body. Now it was time to prepare my mind. This is an area I think I work on more than the average ultra runner. I do a lot of imagery usually during my taper weeks picturing and running the race in my mind. I never imagine it going perfectly but instead imagine everything possible that could go wrong. I imagine myself feeling absolutely miserable, yet fighting through it and being determined to not ever give up. I think of my motivation. I think about being blessed to be able to run races like this when so many others with systemic lupus are just fighting for their lives. There’s no telling when my body will no longer be capable of this. For this race, my motto was “run strong, run brave.” I repeated this to myself frequently.

My biggest motivation was my crew. When other people make sacrifices in their lives to help me reach a goal, I never want to let them down. We would also be vacationing together for several days after the race. I wanted it to be a great week. I didn’t want anyone feeling disappointed or let down. I knew if I had a successful race we would have much to celebrate together.

The race began in Jacksonville on Atlantic Beach. We would traverse through beautiful, ritzy neighborhoods lined with ten million dollar beach homes on our way to St. Augustine, the oldest city in the United States, around mile 31. We would wind our way over bridges and through this cute, historic town staying on highway A1A for a majority of the race. When entering the town of Flagler around mile 55, we hopped on a 20 mile stretch of bike path headed to the outskirts of Daytona. We would run the busy Daytona Beach section in the dark, remaining on A1A until mile 96.5 where we would finally turn off the road and turn back up north on the beach for the remaining 3.5 miles.

The race began at 6am on a brisk morning of 50 degrees. I wore my Altra race singlet, arm sleeves and a light shell jacket. I wore my ultimate direction vest but carried just one 17oz soft flask in one pocket and extra nutrition in the other. I wore my favorite Altra Torin Plush which offers amazing cushion at a very light weight. It was also cold enough for me to wear lightweight gloves.

My main competition was Kathleen Cusick. She has won many hundred mile races and in 2017 was ranked 6th in the top ten female ultrarunners of the year. At the start line she approached me and asked what wave I was and what that time goal was. The RD Dave Krupsiki had announced the first wave as sub 20 hours so I reported that to her. She strangely laughed at that then began jumping up and down, shaking out her legs while I stood perfectly still trying to save my energy. My first mile would be nice and slow to warm everything up.

At the start line with the first wave. It was a chilly morning for Florida!

The race began and following tradition, Dave led the first mile loop stating he had never lost the Daytona 1 mile. I stayed with him and chatted a bit trying to lighten up the mood and shake out the nerves. Our first mile was slow at 9:09, much slower than my planned sub 8:30 for the first 25 miles. I picked up the pace the next several miles averaging around 8:15’s. Kathleen ran a little ahead of me. It was hard, but I tried not to let this bother me. It would be a long day.

For the first 31 miles, crew were only allowed in designated places. Our plan was for them to see me at mile 5 and then they wouldn’t be allowed to see me until 12.5 so it was crucial that I get a new bottle at mile 5.  I messed up here big time. Because I had programmed a run walk schedule into my watch I was only seeing the mileage of each interval. After a one mile warm up the watch was forced to program in, a new 4 mile run section began. When I saw my crew on the corner I was confused because my watch said 4 miles not 5. I thought they had stopped early for some reason and would see me in another mile (which makes no sense as they likely wouldn’t have gotten there in time yet I wasn’t thinking clearly). So I didn’t take the new bottle telling Stephanie I’d get it at mile 5. She looked quite confused by that.  A few minutes later I realized my mistake and then pictured Stephanie having a major conniption. Then I relaxed remembering that Garett was with her and I was sure he would help her remain calm. Being so chilly, I had not drank much yet. I would make it 7 more miles before getting more water.

My bathroom issues began right after this. I was desperately searching for construction sites that might have a port-a-pot but never found one. Finally I had to duck into some shrubs. Then 3 or 4 more bathroom stops before finally reaching my crew at mile 12.5. I lost my favorite blue IT100 jacket on one bathroom stop… forgetting it was wrapped around my waste. Ugh, not very smart and definitely gross. I also lost my soft flask bottle as I was dealing with the jacket issue and left it in the shrubs. I realized it about a quarter mile down the road and there was no way I was going back for it. We had extras.

I was very frustrated with the early GI issues. I  prayed that eventually I’d be all cleaned out and it would end. Having lupus affects every part of my body, including the intestines causing bad inflammation. I had to focus on what I could control. I was still feeling positive that my body felt strong and an 8:20 pace felt so easy I could nap.

I tried making up the time by skipping the walk breaks any time I had a bathroom stop. For the first 25 miles I planned on a 3 minute walk every 4 miles while keeping my run pace under 8:30. My target was to hit 25 miles around 3:47. I hit it at 3:40 feeling very strong despite the constant bathroom stops. At one point I needed a complete clothes change- no explanation needed….

I played leap frog with Kathleen the first 50K. Before we hit St. Augustine, I passed her as she pulled into an aid station. I swapped out my bottle and continued without stopping. A couple miles later we hit the first bridge. I decided to stay conservative and walk the hill and focus on hydration. Kathleen came zipping by running up the bridge. Garett asked if I was ok.  Part of me wanted to run but I kept calm knowing we had 70 miles still to go. We hit the second bridge a little later and again I walked the incline. I was still well on pace and I felt strongly that if I reached my 16 hour goal I would win this race. I focused on following my plan. We crested the top and started running down. At the bottom of the bridge was the next aid station. Again, Kathleen went into the aid station and I went on ahead of her. It would be the last time I would see her in the race.

Winding through St. Augustine would be the trickiest part of the race with little markings and several turns. With my pathetic sense of direction, we strategically had Garett pace me the ten miles of this section. I hit a mild depression here with continued bathroom issues.  I mentioned to Garett that I was beginning a bit of a low. My negative thoughts were creeping in and I wondered if I was too old to be competitive anymore. Garett said, “You’re never going to run one of these again, right?” He told me this is the time to make promises like that to myself, and I did. I would retire immediately after crossing the finish line, take up chain smoking and make myself fat … but I would make it to the finish line first.

Feeling the mental low I decided to ask for a Frappuccino at mile 50 to give me something to look forward to. It was around mile 35 and as soon as we reached Stephanie and Karen at the next crew stop, they had a mocha java chip Frappuccino waiting for me already! It’s pretty awesome having a crew that can predict exactly what I need before I ask for it. I took a few gulps and got on my way.

Where’s my Starbuck’s sponsorship?

Garett took a pacing break at mile 37 and I was on my own again, but feeling more energized from the caffeine of the frappe. I also had a good period here with few bathroom stops and could get into a good running rhythm with 8-8:30 miles. I stuck to my plan with 3 minute walk breaks at this point every 3 miles but making sure to keep my running pace strong.

The race was run mostly on hard cement sidewalks, which seemed to be off camber for a majority of it (and my right hip can testify to that now).  Most years, 38 or so miles are run on the beach – and the beaches here are perfect for running. They are hard enough for cars, yet not insanely hard like cement sidewalks. And you don’t have to watch out for cars, stop at intersections and red lights, or risk tripping over curbs. I had to constantly watch for uneven sidewalk and bumps that my toe could clip. It also was constantly sloping up and down through intersections. It was challenging and forced me to stay alert.

My bathroom issues continued and I tried to make up for all the stops by skipping or shortening any walk breaks. I ended up hitting mile 50 ahead of my target. My pace plan had me at 7:40 and I finished the first 50 miles in 7:34. I was feeling good and positive now.

It did start to get a little warm with the full sun and little protection. Karen offered me arm sleeves dipped in ice water and I declined to take them, but half a mile later I began feeling pretty warm so I put them on when I came to the crew three miles later. That felt pretty nice.

I decided to ask Garett to pace me 65-70 and then 80-100. I think that would break it up nicely mentally for me. I felt some pain in the bottom of my foot as well as some blisters on my toes, but I didn’t feel the need to stop to treat them. I wanted to waste no more time. I was confident I could run through the pain.

My biggest issue was now nausea and continued GI issues. It was not pleasant. But I had this determination in me and I was more focused than I’ve ever been in any race. I kept to my plan like my life depended on it. I refused to slow down no matter how miserable I felt… and I was as miserable as I’ve ever been in any ultra. I repeated my motto to myself, ‘run strong, run brave’ and then it went to simply repeating, ‘run brave, run brave, run brave…’ I was now 60 miles in and still ahead of pace… until more bathroom issues hit and I again needed to change clothes.. another extra 10 minutes were lost. I was angry at my body but there was nothing I could do be keep running. I took two Imodium during the race which didn’t have much effect.

Garett got me to mile 70 and the nausea continued to be absolutely overwhelming. I could no longer swallow anything solid. We went to Pepsi and Gingerale for the remainder of the race.  My memory of the last 30 miles is minimal. All I really remember is feeling like I was going to puke the entire time but could never actually puke. I wondered if I would have felt better if I had just made myself throw up and get everything out and start over, but that could have just worsened my dehydration from the bathroom issues.

Looking at the final splits, my goal was to hit 75 miles in 11:45 and I lost some time with the bathroom and stomach issues and hit it in 11:52. During the race, I had no idea what my overall time was. I was paying attention to my pace as I was running each interval, and I even had my watch set to alert me if I was running slower than goal pace. It hardly ever signaled to me that I was off pace. I was relatively confident that I was running close to my goal.

It was difficult to tell how much of a lead I had now on Kathleen. My crew always told me they didn’t know how far back she was. I had to just focus on running my race. At one point I was told I was two minutes ahead. I freaked out because this was during a severe nausea and dizziness stretch. Every time I stopped to walk and change bottles, the nausea was horrendous and I would get dizzy and lightheaded. I had to lean over multiple times not sure if I was going to pass out. I feared my kidneys were shutting down like they did at Desert Solstice causing the blood pressure instability. But every time I started to run again I would feel better. We decided to try having me continue running at crew stops while Garett would grab a new bottle and nutrition for me. This didn’t work so well either.

After freaking out about being only 2 minutes ahead, Karen reassured me the next time that I was actually two miles ahead. That gave me a huge relief and I stopped panicking.

Approaching mile 80, Garett jumped in to finish it up with me. I have to say how comforting it was having him with me. He has a calm demeanor and in 100 mile races that is exactly what I need. I am a highly anxious person to say the least, so having Garett by my side these last miles was perfect. I am so grateful for all he did for me.

It was dark at this time so I used my favorite waist light and all runners and crew were required to wear 360 degree reflection and red blinking lights. We were in the outskirts of Daytona now. Somewhere as we approached Daytona Beach I had the only hallucinations of the race. I saw Stephanie and Karen clear as day standing maybe a quarter mile away waiting for me. I was sure it was them… Stephanie’s blond hair, Karen standing much taller next to her. But as we got closer, the vision dissipated. They vanished in thin air.

We ran by a lot of bars and clubs and a fun looking place called Hanky Panky Café, or something like that. I wanted to make a joke about it but I was too exhausted to speak. I was excited to be passing our hotel around mile 88. I knew once there I was on the home stretch.

With ten miles to go I finally was feeling relief from the nausea. I think drinking just Pepsi and no more solid food helped immensely. I also couldn’t believe how great my legs felt. They were just as fresh as the beginning of the race. With 8 miles to go I finally checked my overall time. I have horrible vision up close and I thought my watched read over 16 hours! I was so disappointed and couldn’t believe it. How was I that far over my goal time? But I was still in the lead and now had passed the second place male so I kept pushing and with the nausea better I was able to run strong.

The last aid station was a bit tricky. We had to take a left turn to enter the beach around mile 94. We approached Karen and Stephanie running toward us all panicked because we missed a turn and they weren’t sure where it was. We turned around a ran back looking for it. Luckily it wasn’t very far and we headed toward the sand. We turned right on the beach toward some blinking lights that I assumed would be the check in point. A small group of people were standing there and they pointed me up some stairs to a house. I was confused but they told me to walk through the house to check in. First time in any ultra for me where the course consisted of traversing through someone’s house. They pointed me out the back door and back on the original road.

We ran the next three miles down the road until we hit a couple people sitting at the end of their driveway offering us water. They pointed us to the next left turn which landed us back on the beach. Another left turn on the beach and we were on the home straightaway back to the finish line which was at the house where we had just come from.

I felt amazingly strong. My last miles were under a 9 minute pace. Yet the finish line that we could see for the last 2 miles never seemed to get any closer. It was a peaceful, gorgeous night with the stars so bright and the sound of the ocean was dreamlike. I wasn’t too happy about my time, but was happy with how I fought through these obstacles and never let myself slowdown or stop.  When we finally saw Stephanie and Karen waiting at the finish line I felt such enormous relief.

We made our way up the stairs to the house. Stephanie immediately handed me a bag of clothes so I could clean up in the bathroom – no one wanted to be near me I’m sure. In the bathroom I finally decided to look at my watch. I about fell over in shock when I saw 16:12!!! How did I misread my watch?? I was only 6 minutes over my pace plan! I knew it didn’t make sense how I could be that much slower when I was always running on pace.

#1 Crew
#1 pacer

That night the pain was extreme, like my legs had never ached so much from any race not even Badwater. I couldn’t sleep at all. The next day I limped around a bit. My right hip was a mess but Stephanie needled it, and the next day it was better and nearly all of my soreness was gone.

The next morning we enjoyed a delicious breakfast at the award ceremony and I had the privilege of spending time with the legendary Pam Reed. Pam was the overall winner of Badwater 135 in both 2002 and 2003 beating all everyone including the men. She shared with me some tips for my next Badwater attempt. At 59 years old, she finished Daytona in just under 21 hours.

Exchanging race strategies with the great Pam Reed

What is next? I have my eye on Jackpot in Vegas which is the US National 100 mile championship. After this race I am confident that, if not for the bathroom issues and clothing changes, I can get close to 15 hours.  I was so strong at the end and had a lot left in the tank.

I have to thank my crew as, like I said before the race, I had an unfair advantage with the phenomenal people there helping me. I have no doubt we were the best team there. All of my needs were met before I even knew what they were. They flooded me with encouragement, they quickly prepared my bottles, nutrition, electrolytes, change of clothes, lube, etc, and Garett paced me 40 miles. Like one spectator on the street told them, we were like a Nascar team out there. It was a beautiful thing.

I want to also thank Garett and Karen’s kids, Chelsea and Troy for coming along on this fun adventure. Chelsea entertained Troy for us Friday and Saturday and I’m sure had to take Troy out for many PR’s (pops at a restaurant). And thank you Troy for the beautiful note you wrote me before the race. I remembered your words and often thought to myself, “Ultras get hard sometimes.”

Once again, Stephanie proved she is the most talented and selfless coach/physical therapist and friend that I know. Her never ending support and love has gotten me through a lot more than just 100 mile races. I am a much better person because of her.

Last and most importantly, I must thank God for providing me with the ability and strength to run far and fearlessly, and for the wonderful friends he has put in my life.  Because of my faith in God I was able to “run brave” for 16 hours and 12 minutes.  

I’m ready for more now. I’ll have to put off retirement and chain smoking until next time.

2 thoughts on “Daytona 100: Running Brave

  1. Stephanie Amspaugh Reply

    It was a smart race run by an extremely talented athlete. Congratulations Suzi!

  2. Dave Schweikert Reply

    I could read this over and over. Your message to never, ever give up is so inspiring Suzi. From one GWR holder to another- awesome, just awesome!

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