Race Report – Devil Dog, a 100 mile trail race, took place December 3-4, 2022, just outside of DC in Triangle, Virginia. I finished in 31 hours. Originally, I was hoping to do it in 28-29 hours. For comparison, the first place winner finished in around 20:08 hours. (Tara Dower from Virginia Beach broke the women’s record, as well as took home the overall prize).
Meta – I retold this in two different ways, so it might seem a bit weird. One was for myself and one was for others and because I wrote it at two different times, one was right after the race when my brain was scattered by many things and the other was almost a week later after I was able to have clearer thoughts and is more coherent.
This race meant so much for me and I felt relief to have done it. I am a bit lost for words of how to write this report. At first, I wanted to put it aside for a few weeks before attempting to write, but then I know I got to move on. There is no telling what I will be doing in the next few weeks and I might not be able to find the time to get to this. So, here goes, strike the iron while it’s hot.
I. A bit of a background, I ran this course last year doing the 100K, however, I did not finish (DNF). It was a heartbreak because it was unexpected. I ended up with a knee injury and a back injury and that set me back for this entire year. In truth, it affected my MMT training, and partly too why I did not finish the MMT 100. MMT is another epic race comparable to the Devil Dog. Devil Dog is the goofy version of it.
I wanted to redo the Devil Dog to redeem myself. Not just because I couldn’t finish it last year but to prove to myself I could still do a 100 mile race (because I DNF’d at the MMT race earlier in the year).
The question is what am I doing differently this year for the Devil Dog? I wrote out a bunch of tips in my last year race report. I followed most of them. (here is my last year race RP)
More importantly, I am a much stronger runner this year and also gain more experience as a runner, having gone through the trial by fire at the MMT and Iron Mountain. Nothing get my attention quicker than being whooped, a good whooping I admit.
As readers know, I kept Devil Dog quiet, both because it was a scary race to me and I did not want to think about it, and second, there were other races I was focusing just before the Devil Dog, and there was no time to specifically train for the Devil Dog. Once bitten, you kind of have a respect for the puppy. Though looking back, I was more prepared this time around, but before the race, I was still doubtful if I have what it take or would it be another DNF to close the year.
The weather prediction leading up to the race did not help. We were looking at temperature that could be as low as 26 F (~4 C) at night, and during the day would be raining. Wet plus cold means a very cold run, and a dnf kind of situation. This race is known for many not finishing it (based on the last few years finishing rates). This year finishing rate was 65% (45% did not make it). Mostly because many underestimated the course.
Luckily, we got a break by race day. The night before the race, the temperature warmed up to around 50-60 F (at night!). We had fall weather once again and to me it means running in a shirt and shorts. I have been breaking all kind of records in this season and it was at the temperatures I am doing well in. I like running in warmer temperatures. The race morning was warm. They said we had the full 4 seasons because it got cold at night (but I don’t remember much). The rain was light enough and lasted only “briefly” for 3 hours of the entire 32 hour race. Rain came early and that was good. We were not affected much by it other than the trail was wet and slippery. More on this later.
My two friends heard about me running this race came out to support me, more specifically to be my crew. David (one whom I ran the JFK with) took the day shift, and he was there when I was halfway through my first loop around 9 AM and he came back around 5 pm at the end of my second loop. (I will explain the course soon, yes it is a loop course). Iris, a friend I met at the BRR (Bull Run Run) came for the night shift, from midnight to six in the morning. Finally, I was surprised by two other friends, Dan and Mike, whom I met in previous races (StoneMill, Cat, MMT), who helped me on my final loop on the following morning and at the finish. I am forever in debt to them. I believe they were crucial in helping me crossing the finish. A good crew can make or break a race when doing it without them.
About the course, I ran this before, so it was not a surprise. In early April I signed for a 12 hour night race (AEQ race), there to train for the course. This year the course was slightly different because there was a new trail added and another (rocky) trail removed. The course is described as having generally rolling hills, some double tracks, but it was mostly on single track trails. People said it is deceptively easy but is not. Now having done it, I think it was not too hard. But that was one reason I underestimated the course last year to my own detriment.
I believe most of the elevation comes at the beginning of the loop. It was not much but had couple hundred feet of climbing. Comparing to MMT this was nothing, though after we ran it 5 times, the hills worn us down. First loop was a few miles longer (23 miles total) by added an extra section and subsequent loops were 19 miles. There were just many little hills and they tired you out. I mentioned this in my last year report.
We have three manned aid stations (Remi, Gunny, and Toofy), and 3 unmanned stations (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie). Unmanned ones were alternated with manned ones. My strategy was run from station to station. For me, they were set about an hour from one another. A loop took an average 6 hours (for me). Of course, those who could run fast could do it easily in about 3 hours.
I stored my supplies at Gunny, Toofy and Remi. It means I was usually an hour or two away from my supplies (such as food or clean clothing) and not 5-6 hours like last year. Remi was the start and finish point. I liked the section from Remi to Gunny the best, even though there were some serious climbs, but I felt there were no hidden tricks.
From Gunny to Toofy, usually I felt it was a bit too long. It was probably the longest segment. It was long enough for me to sub divide it into two parts. It also had a lot of climbing, though still runnable.
From Toofy to back to Remi was the hardest section for me. This part is more rocky and has a lot of ups and downs. And generally not as runable. This segment was my downfall the previous year. I kind of hated it. Though this year, I did not have any troubles. I mentioned last year, that I am usually good with a long hard climb, but not with a bunch of smaller ups and downs. The constant changes of directions put a lot of strains on the knees and finer muscles. The third section felt like a roller coaster ride.
The first few loops were relatively easy for me. I started off easy because I knew the battle would be during the last two loops. I was not in a hurry unlike last year. Last year, I went out expecting to do a loop like 3-4 hours because that was how fast I could run in a marathon. However, one has to be patience in a 100 miler. It is more like a cat and mouse game. The slower is the better. I was fine with finishing a loop in 6 hours this year. I was able to run it in 5.5 hours the first few loops and banked those extra minutes. I expected the final loop to take 7 hours. I ended up doing 7 hours on the last two loops.
I was able to team up with another runner (bib 48, Jim), who has done this race before and has done many 100 miles. He was not rushed. I wasn’t either. We were okay with the whole field of runners passed us. Many those runners later could not finish.
We met up with many other runners, such as Sam. I haven’t met Sam personally but I knew of her name from various races. Jim was an outgoing guy. He was calling out people when he encountered them. He was pacing someone also. Throughout the race, he was always pacing some runners. When a runner dropped out, he would find another set of runners around him. Another woman who was doing a 100k also joined with us for a while. Jim was talking about various things. I just listened.
Even though I was with Jim, but when he started picking up the pace, I dropped back. I learned to run at my own pace this year. Jim, I suspected was doing a reverse split. That guy could easily run a sub 24 hour for this race, but he likes spending time with us slower runners. He finished in a decent time. He didn’t get exhausted like me on the final lap (and I think he did it in four hours).
Most of the Saturday was like that. I was in it for a treat (to enjoy). I just did not think much on anything and ran. I passed my friend Fernando. I met Fernando before the start at Camp Remi. We chatted, since he set up his dropbag next to mine. Fernando was not doing well because he started walking.
We got to a section of the course from Camp Toofy to Remi and in this section we were on a newly created trail, which just finished a week before. It did not have any gravels on it yet. It was just hard pack clay. With the rain, the trail became slick. Fernando and I could not even walk on it because we started sliding off from the trail. The trail was not flat but curved down (a reverse banking turn, you know on a race track, the track is curve down on the inside turn, so you could go faster on the outside, but this trail curves the other way, downward on the cliff edge). Quite dangerous. Frenando said what the hell is this. He was not having a good time. I had to grab on a tree to prevent going off the hill. I did not get to see Frenando again. He did not fall. He got to mile 75 the next day but was cut.
The next person I came across was John on my second loop at Camp Gunny. John was walking. I asked what was going on with him. John said his knees were bothering him. This was John’s 4th Devil Dog. He dnf’ed all previous attempts. I felt sorry for John because to me, it was likely John would not finish again this year. He seemed like limping at the time. There were still four more laps and it was going to be a long time to the finish.
To finish one needs to be persistent as well as being efficient in not waste too much time, yet not go out too fast. It means finding that sweet spot and adjusting it from time to time. It is sometimes hard to find that perfect balance. This was my sixth or 7th hundred mile race, but I had only successfully finished two. This time I was able to pull together all the prior experiences to finish this race. It is a reason I am so pleased with it. However, I am having a hard time how to describe that perfect pace. Actually there might not be one single pace, but you got to adjust from time to time in a 100. Mentioning this, because that what John got.
I saw John again at the beginning on my last loop. John caught up to me from behind. I was surprised. It was a WTF moment for me. The tortoise had caught up to the hare. John has perservered and he told me this was the farest he had ever been on this course (and I think on any hundred miles). I thought I was fast and John who was just walking all this time, was now about to pass me.
I was not doing well. I lasted through the night and on the last loop, doubts crept in whether I could finish. Logically, I had enough time to do it, but physically, I was tired. Seeing John renewed the determination. If John could do it, I must push harder and do better than John because my feet were healthier than his.
I got to Camp Toofy for the last time. The cut off was at 11:30 and I was there around 10:45 (not sure), I think, they were packing things up. My friends Ram and Mike helped me. They fed me and suggested if I wanted to leave my hydration pack behind (note, this could have been a ground for DQ for this race, you have to have a hydration pack or a bottle), since I was using a water bottle now. I found handheld water bottle is quicker to refill than with a hydration vest. They helped repin the bib on me. My two friends reassured that I could finish. I went back out with renewed determination. There were only 6 miles left and three hours to do them.
John passed me again the third time when I came out of Camp Toofy. I could not keep up with his pace this time around. Doubts again crept in. This final section was my Waterloo the year before. It took me more than four hours to get through this section last year. Today, we only had three hours.
I told myself I had to keep John in my sight. As best as I could, tried to get my walking pace up again to match John. Soon strength returned. I started over taking John on downhill sections. John was having trouble going downhills. I felt sorry for him, because he struggled so hard.
We both reached the finish line by 1 pm with a few minutes apart, 31 hours since we started. It was surreal when the race director handed me the buckle (finisher prize).
I felt thankful. The one year ordeal was finally over. I was no longer considered a DNF at the Devil Dog any more. I’ve beaten the course. To others, the threat I would be dnf this time was nonexistent, but as a participant, the final lap got me into a bit of a fear as I raced from cutoff to cutoff and seeing my time slipping at each stop. At the last 6 miles, struggles were real that I started doubting if I could finish. I was grateful when I did it. I felt I lost it and was given back. The race was redeemed.
More than that, My several friends helped me through the race. I could not let them down. Also, I wanted them to feel the significance of what they contributed. I couldn’t have done without them! Without their helps, it was likely, the race would have gone down to the wire and I could have dnf. In a hundred mile race, a bad thing could magnify many times and same with a good thing. It is like investment, good things compound! Just a few minutes saving from my friends would translate to an hour or more at the end.
Dan and Mike were a great help at the finish because I could not walk another step after I reached the finish line. I was one of those who stopped functioning once it is over. My left calf was really hurting. Mike and Dan made sure I stayed warm and got me inside. Then they made sure I ate. Finally gathered all my things and arranged a ride for me to get my car (the shuttle ride to the other lot).
—- Now part 2 —-
II. What I did differently in this race? Lots of things.
1. Dropbags. use them fully. Never underestimate them. Also something new to me is to pack food at the drop locations both to eat during at the rest stops and also take something to go.
In truth, I over packed, but better get everything I possibly need than to be missing the things I really need.
2. PreRace camping. I stayed at a cabin at the race by paying $20 more (not expensive). This gave me more time to sleep and not had to rush to the start. No need for a 2 am wake up. Devil Dog had a complicated shuttle ride system, so staying on site avoided the rush in the morning. This was one of the best advices I gave myself last year in the race report. I followed.
3. experience. is a key to my success this year. Yes having friends to help was part of it, but knowing where and how I failed in previous races help avoid making the same mistakes. At MMT, I learned the important of eating and having a pacer. The most important is finding the appropriate pace at various phases of the race. This time, I learned who to follow and when not to follow. Also not to panic when things were going downhill. Yes, Wisdom to judge situations. This comes from experience.
4. Being Efficient at AS. The idea of constant keeping moving yet also have enough rest and food needed for the run. I felt it was a balancing act. It is a key to finish a 100. This means being efficient at an aid station.
Biggest thing I learned is to pack your food bags. So when you enter the station that has the dropbag, grab/exchange food and trashes. Aid Station food is only a secondary source of energy to food you brought. Relating to this is Eat while on the trail rather than at the aid station! (all about the efficiency and constantly on the move)
5. One of the biggest risks in an ultra is the feet. Last year, I had blisters early in loop 1. This year, I did not have warm spots until the final loop (80 miles in). I did finish with couple of blisters, but those were dealt with post race. What changes were keeping feet dry and wearing old comfortable shoes I did not need to change shoes until mile 80! Last year, I changed at mile 20.
6. A strategy/technique – is not to powerwalk this time, I saved my legs until the last 20 miles. I learned this earlier at Pemberton 24. Powerwalking hurts my calfs. Powerwalking is good for marathons or even 50 miles but for 100 distances, I felt it worn out the walking muscles.
III. What didn’t go as expected and could be improved on?
a. packing. I definitely could pack much lighter. I thought I was going to change at every loop but in truth, I could wear the same set of clothes for the whole race. Maybe bring an extra set to change. Two sets are the most I needed.
b. food. Pack in small ziplocks of enough food for 6-12 miles. This allows be quick at the transition and to eat.
c. crew. Crew was a great help. It was a difference of night and day having a crew vs not having one. Knowledgeable crew is a plus. I was blessed with a team of good people helping me. Some tasks crew can help can be planned ahead. Otherwise, some of my crew members kept asking “what do you need” etc, and they were as stressed as me. When I answered them, “food”, there were a lot back and forth of what type, and how much. “Do I need anything else?”, so a lot time was wasted. The basic things can be streamlined and so less question being asked or requiring my attention. Instead of them taking orders from me, if I could get it the other way, of me listening to them.
d. injury. I was slow on the last two laps (40 miles) because my left calf started hurting. Two nights before the race (Thursday night), while sleeping, my left calf cramped up. I knew it would cause trouble in the race and it did. First three loops not much an issue. It felt a bit warm and sore. By forth loop, it started hurting and then a lot. Fifth loop it got worse. I finished with the calf definitely injured from the overused. I don’t know what I could have done differently. Maybe pack a heating pad?
IV. Conclusion. There were a few things here. I was glad it was a resounding victory. I corrected some of my defects and ran the race successfully and therefore redeemed my previous failures.
Looking just at this race on its own, it was a great accomplishment too, because it was an undertaking that required months of preparation and finally seeing everything coming together successfully (see preparation).
Many people, also did the same preparation I did but did not finish. No one dares show up to a 100 mile race and is not trained for it (you could run a 26 miles without training, but not a 100 mile). It was kind of a validation for me. I know I don’t and shouldn’t look at other people. Yet, it makes me feel lucky. Their unsuccessful attempts boosted me. And validating my training system worked.
(There’s no time to share about a runner who felt ill at mile 75 at 4 AM in the morning. Later, I checked the results, she was not able to finish — I think it was unsafe to let her back on the course, and the station captain might prevent the runner from returning on the course)
Some people really earned this. My friend, John, who year after year trying it over and over finally completed it and earned the buckle the first time. I was glad for him. We don’t want failures, but once we overcome them, they make it sweeter.
Lastly, last year I was a nobody running this race. However, through and because my dnfs many people got to know me. They were all wishing for me to succeed this time. Iris, Elaina from MMT, Mike and Ram, and Eileen at Iron Mountain. A whole slew of people wishing me success from back home. These people saw my struggles. They wanted so much so, they volunteered and did everything they could to get me to the finish line. I am in debt to them. They gave me hope that I can redeem my MMT race too.
There is a saying you can’t walk into the same river twice. In a sense, that is right. This year is not last year. The course is not exactly the same (I think it was a little easier). This race also is not the MMT or Iron Mountain. Last year, the Devil Dog was not even a big race to me, but this year it was.
I don’t know where I am going with this. The reason I like it was for the challenge. As prepared as I was, I did not know ahead of time whether I would finish or not. I tried to anticipate troubles ahead and planned accordingly. Sometimes things are unavoidable. I felt lucky to just having it done.
Winners get write the history. The moment I crossed over the finish line, everything brightened up. All the stresses were gone. The race became such a good experience. It was so good to finish a race. Mentioned somewhere before on the last lap, I felt the race was slipping away almost to a point there was a possibility that I would not finish. The euphoria of actually crossing the finish line was unbelievable. Immediately, the race was not that hard any more.
Overall, I was very at peace during the whole race. I met some decent people, Fernando, Watts and Jackie (no time to mention Watson & Jackie, but an amazing couple). Also, I was there when the last runner came in (DFL award).
Should you run a 100 mile? I felt it was challenging for me. 100 are races that there are decent chance of not being able to finish (in this race this year 45% of the starters did not finish). About a third of the initial signed up participants did not showed up (DNS, though the final results purged them from the list). There were only thirty plus people out of close to 90 original runners finished. However, the reward is so satisfying when you did it. There are still a lot for me to learn but each time I run it, I get better. Lastly, I run, so I could do some even greater runs down the road.
(updated to edit)
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