Race Recap: Midnight Squatchapalooza - 6-Hour Timed Race

July 16, 2021

Chase Smith is a Chaski Athlete coached by Coach Kris Brown. He was a former Commercial Credit Associate Underwriter for Bank of America. He's currently taking his Masters' Degree of Business Administration (MBA) program at Bentley University with a focus on leadership. Chase's passion for running led him to victory on his first race after along time.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here and a large part of the reason for that has been due to a lack of races the last year and a half.   However, a smaller, yet still significant part has been a lot of life changes that have just made it more difficult to carve out the time to keep this blog up.  

I hope to continue to dedicate more time to it now, and in the future. In the past two years since I have posted, I have finished my Masters of Business Administration at Bentley University, moved into an apartment with my girlfriend in Revere, Massachusetts, worked at Bank of America, moved to my girlfriend’s parents’ house in New Jersey for a year due to the pandemic, left Bank of America, moved into another apartment with my girlfriend in Norwalk, Connecticut, and started a new job.

In that time, I have also had my share of ups and downs involving running. Some of the ups include setting a new Marathon PR of 2:49:37 at the Baystate Marathon in October 2019 and taking part in the Quarantine Backyard Ultra in April 2020.

Some of the downs included DNFing my first Ultra at the TARC Fall Classic 50 Mile in September 2019 and taking two months off for a stress fracture in my tibia in September 2020.

Race Start! Photo by Greg Hudson

I have recently started racing again, as the pandemic has wound down, and it has definitely put a spring back in my step, in terms of my love for running. I have always been a racer at heart and it had been really tough to keep up my motivation with a lack of races.

Right now, my primary goal is to run a new PR at the Boston Marathon in October, but with more races opening up, and the fact that I had not run an Ultra in just about two years, I felt called to find one and run one.

This led me down to the Midnight Squatachapalooza 12H/6H Timed Race in Columbus, NJ put on by Sassquad Trail Runners. As an aside, one of the things that left me even more motivated to run this race was seeing others begin to race again as well.

I attribute part of the reason for having such a strong desire to race to watching all the awesome guys and girls running at Western States and in the Olympic Trials. It was just a great week(end) all around for running and I really felt like I capitalized on the energy surrounding that.

As the title of this post suggests, the race did in fact start at Midnight, something I felt a bit underprepared for, if I’m being honest. I don’t have much night running experience, but that is one of the things I wanted to change since my goal is to eventually compete in longer races and Backyard Ultras that will certainly require that. In fact, I’ll be running the Mountain Lakes Backyard Ultra in New York in August, and that race starts at 6:30 PM, so this would be a great test run! On to the race…

I arrived at the Burlington County Fair Grounds in Columbus, NJ at about 11:00PM after a two-hour drive from my apartment in Norwalk. I quickly picked up my bib and started prepping for the race.

I had planned six bottles of water mixed with Tailwind, or about one per hour. I also had one gel and a couple bags of potato chips, but I had planned to try and run completely off  liquids for this race since it was on the shorter side. Fast forward an hour later and I am standing on the starting line, not entirely sure what to expect from my first night ultra, and first timed format race for that matter.

At 12:01 AM, we were off. For this race, we would be completing 2.5 Mile loops with about a third of the loop being on pavement, and the other two-thirds through grass fields. I am a bit directionally challenged when it comes to trail races, so my strategy was to stick behind at least one other person for the first lap, or until I felt confident in my ability to navigate the loop.

We started on the pavement and turned onto the grass field after about a quarter of a mile. I will say that I was unprepared for how tall the grass was and how it would feel; almost like running on sand.

I settled into third place as we moved into the middle of the first lap and I worked to steady my nerves. I knew that I was in good shape; I had been putting together 70-75 mile weeks for the last two months.

I also have a great coach, Kris Brown, whom I have been working with for the past few months. In addition to being a great all-around guy, Kris is an impressive ultra-runner, sporting a top-10 placing at the 2018 Western States.

He is one of the coaches in the Chaski Endurance Collective, founded by Marathoner and Ultramarathoner Tyler Andrews (who previously coached me in 2019). I have been a part of this group for almost a year now and I can’t say enough good things about it.

Kris helped me to carve out a good race plan in terms of both pacing and nutrition. For pacing, the goal was simple: hold a sub-8 average pace for as long as possible. I knew this would be a possibility due to the fact that the course only had 20 feet of elevation gain per mile, but I was worried about the heat and humidity, and how my stomach would react to a night race. Still, I felt prepared. When I hit the first mile in 7:29, I felt comfortable knowing that the effort was not super difficult and all systems felt normal.

Mid-Race. Photo by Greg Hudson

Overall, the loop course was extremely well marked, and only featured a handful of turns. At no point during the race did I ever need to even think about where I was going, so I could really dial in my focus. As we exited the grass portion of the loop for the first time and hit the pavement again, I picked up the pace to move to catch up to first.

We came through the first loop together in 18:37. He stopped quickly, and I didn’t, so I pulled into the lead, which I would not relinquish for the rest of the race. I will say that the grass portion of the course was a touch slower than I expected; I was running about 20-30 seconds a mile quicker on the pavement with about the same effort.

My fastest mile of the day was Mile 3 in 6:51, which I attribute to being mostly on the pavement and the adrenaline from moving into first. While I was running by myself now, I ran into the friendly headlamps of lapped runners by about mid-loop and this would continue to direct me for the rest of the night.

In fact, I dropped my headlamp at the end of loop two and relied solely on my small hand-held flashlight. The headlamp was tight on my head anyway, so it wasn’t a big loss. I hit loop two in 18:19, my fastest loop of the day.

Beginning loop three, I remarked at how strong I felt.   Of course, it was early, but I had been nervous about planning my sleep and my fueling the day of the race. The previous morning,

I had slept in as long as possible and took a nap in the afternoon and that seemed to have been enough. I went for something easy for dinner, just a sandwich around 7PM, and that also seemed like the right call.

I finished loop three at 19:06 and reloaded on my water bottle. My informal goal was to run about 16-18 loops, or about three loops an hour so that generally left me in a good place to refuel each hour.

Loop four (19:43) and loop five (19:25) went down without a hitch, but I hit my first low point of the race on loop six. By now the adrenaline had worn off, and my stomach was starting to give me issues, probably because I’m usually asleep at 2AM, not running through open fields in the middle of New Jersey.

I could feel my pace begin to flag and a bit of doubt start to creep in. I hit loop six in 20:04 and stopped to refuel, which helped. For loop seven (20:08) and loop eight (20:21), I had begun to settle into a new pace range right around eight minutes per mile. Overall, my legs were feeling good still as I began to approach the marathon mark.

Loop nine again brought problems with my stomach and my pace began to drop to nine minutes a mile, where it would remain for most of the race. I had built up a pretty big buffer on sub-8 pace but really was not feeling great.

I hit loop nine in 22:43, with my total time at right around three hours. I knew at that point 18 loops were probably out the window, so I focused on a new goal of getting in eight over the next three hours to go for 17 loops total.

Loop ten came and went in 23:01 as my pace continued to hover around nine minutes a mile. By the time I hit the Marathon mark in 3:27:58 (7:56 Pace) I was still in a bad place. All of the liquid in my stomach was sloshing around and I felt like I was going to throw up. I tried to stop on the side of the trail and force it but to no avail. Maybe a quick stop was all I needed to settle my stomach and refocus though because I started to get a second wind as I came into loop eleven in 22:42.

Post-Race Sasquatch

One of the things that kept me motivated in this race was the fact that I had absolutely no idea who was behind me and whether or not they were closing. I figured as long as I kept everyone behind me though, I would be good.

I hit loop twelve in 23:05 and the 50K mark in 4:12:37 for an 8:07 average pace. While I had dropped above a sub-8 average pace, I still felt very content with the race I had run thus far. Maybe it was the lack of elevation change, but my legs really still felt fresh. I hit loop thirteen in 23:39, my slowest loop of the day, but still very much in control and with a lot left to give.

As I began on lap fourteen I felt like I could begin to see the first hints of the sun beginning to appear, a sign that my time on the course was beginning to dwindle. At this point, I knew it would be super tight for me to get in 17 loops, but I had an outside shot at it.

The course record was 15 loops, so I knew I was pacing well to break that. I hit loop fifteen in 23:39. I told the timing guys I had two loops left in me and of course, they were goading me on to do three instead. I stopped for my last water bottle here and set off on loop fifteen. I accidentally left my flashlight at the aid station, but at this point, I didn’t need it anyway.

All I could think about with each step was that I just had to pass each spot one more time, just one more time. I hit loop fifteen in 22:47 and began on my sixteenth lap. By this point, I had mentally accepted that this was the last lap of my race, barring being passed by another runner.

I had already dropped my water bottle to free up my hands and I was really moving to pick up my pace. It was definitely a mentally challenging lap, even though I knew I was almost done. Everything must come to an end though.  

I turned onto the pavement for one final time. I pulled down the pace to bring it in strong and finished loop sixteen in 20:34, my fastest loop since loop seven, for a total time of 5:37:23 and a total distance of 40.78 Miles for an 8:16 Pace.

While I may have been able to just sneak in one more lap, I was more than content to take the win and the course record. While I missed my pace goal slightly, this run was probably my best ultra-performance thus far in my running career and by far the furthest I have ever run at a pace like this. I’ll definitely be attempting more of these timed races with flatter, shorter, and faster courses in the future.

Thanks to the Sassquad Trail Runners and RD Kim Levinsky for putting on an amazing race! I’ll definitely be back to another one again in the future.

Loop Splits from Strava

— Chase Smith

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