How to Run 500 Miles… A Tale of Two Races at Peak 500
My Peak 500 Race report this year is being broken up into 3 parts as really I witnessed more than one race happening the 8+ days I was in Vermont. Below is the second segment – How to Run 500 Miles… A Tale of Two Races at Peak 500. Here is the first segment link – Michelle’s Race.
How to Run 500 Miles… A Tale of Two Races at Peak 500
Previously I detailed Michelle Roy’s race but in fact there were 4 other competitors who toed the starting line for this years race. The Peak 500 is a 500-mile mountain trail running race in Pittsfield, Vermont. Participants have 10-days to traverse the rough 10-mile course fifty times. In the past only two men have completed the race and dozens have tried to get there. This year those racers were Will Bradley, Jessica Pendleton, Nick “Storm Trooper” Bautista, and Kale Poland. In the first few days injury took out both Will and Jessica who both had come to Peak 500 for the first time. They both put their blood and sweat into the mountain and left with their heads held high and with a new appreciation for the rugged Vermont trails. Hats off to them both for even having the courage to start such a race.
But really this post is about two men, Nick and Kale who both would add their names to the list of men who have completed Peak 500 before the end of the 10-days. However their journey to the finish line was very very different.
This was Nick’s second go around at Peak 500, last year he made it 460 miles (the farthest other than those who have finished). In 2013, at the 460 mile mark his body would literally not go any further. I watched as he came back to the barn a moment so powerfully charged with emotion it can never be recreated. After that race Nick went home and started planning, his blog. Nick spent the rest of the year leading up to the start of the 2014 race, training, strategizing, prepping, planning more, and planning even more. He and his crew prepped for every possible outcome and were like a NASCAR team by the time the race started. It is even humored Nick kept a journal/book about the race all year leading up to it with how it would run.
As Nick toed the line, he had his own custom pack, each pocket with a specific purpose. He had Jeff and Steve as his pacers and crew and they had a plan. I knew Nick was prepped but not until seeing it did I realize how much time and energy went into this years race. He had tubs marked with specific items, his own personal foot cream – made partly with Vegenaise (I was told it was completely edible). He had all his food and drink prepped, including Mexican Coke (the good stuff). Each time he took in salt or caffeine or food it was recorded in his phone by his crew to ensure he was staying at the correct properly hydrated and fueled. If you want to learn how to run an organized well tuned race, reach out to Nick and his coaching.
Once the race began Nick and his crew had a plan and they stuck to it. Nick ran about 50 miles a day after the first two days. Each morning he would run one loop with Jeff or Steve then run one alone, the remaining three loops would be split between Jeff and Steve. At the end of his last loop would be some foot care routine, then bed. The guys would wake him up in the morning and he would start all over again, the days beginning around 3:30-4:00am. When not pacing Jeff and Steve would get Nick the food – donuts in the morning with a smoothie, french fries in the afternoon as well as other sandwiches.
It truly was a NASCAR pit when Nick got in each lap, his pack would be replenished by Steve. Jeff would roll out or help stretch whatever had to happen or take care of his feet and they would hit the trail again. For the outside Nick looked unbreakable and like a machine. I marveled at his strength as he entered the barn each lap. He had a plan and never wavered from it. It was like clockwork each day and he managed to smile a lot through the whole thing, yes serious Nick does smile and laugh a bunch. As I watched Nick come in from and hit the 460 mark, I did cry a little when he went out for 470. It was at the same time I had to leave to head to a wedding and we hugged on the trail as I ran to my car. Hours later Nick would finish what he had started really two years ago when in the dark he came and would finish the Peak 500.
Kale I met a couple years ago, I think at a snowshoe or Death Race at Peak. Then again saw him at the Triple Iron Triathlon (3x’s the distance of an Ironman) in 2011 while I paced and crew for friend Jason Jaksetic and Andy Weinburg. I more knew of Kale then knew Kale going into this race. I knew he had finished the Deca Triathlon in Mexico (10x’s the distance of a regular triathlon) this past February, and knew he had just been married a few weeks before the race. But other than that, he was a guy who could do extremely long races and was from Maine and had an epic beard up until his wedding.
Kale arrived at Peak 500 after some prodding from Andy to come and do his race – Peak 500. So Kale showed up on race day with no crew, a bunch of food that would scare a nutritionist, a Jansport small pack, some trail shoes a friend had given him to use and try out from Sketchers, and later would run over 250 miles in a $14.00 pair of Starter Sneakers from Walmart. Michelle knew Kale as well and offered up my help before I could even offer myself. Really in a race like Peak 500 you look out for each other, it’s self supported other than a dinner delivered each day and we all chip in to help out.
Kale raced this race on intuition. Along the way as I paced him several nights I asked then everyone else around asked how you train for this race, his answer was always the same “life”. Indeed Kale’s background is varied, his sleep deprivation training came from the fact not long ago he was working several jobs and sleeping as little as 4-5 hours a night for months on end. His deep endurance is from working for years on the AT for the AMC and spending summers collecting camping fees and hiking all day. He now works in a bike shop. I am still not sure what Kale’s full race strategy was other than stay close to or one lap in front of Nick the whole time.
In terms of food Kale probably ate 9-10 full pizzas in the 10 days of racing, ate tons of cheese puffs, trail mix, some canned soups cold, as well as burgers, fries, sandwiches, and pretty much anything that was put in front of him. Most of our night loops included a Red Bull as well as water in his pack. A few days into the race his feet began to swell and his wife on the first weekend dropped off two new pairs of shoes for him to change into as the week progressed. These were not some fancy trail shoes but instead were $14.00 Starter sneakers from Walmart two sizes bigger than his normal running shoes.
I had the fortune to run several loops with Kale as the week progressed by the last 4 days he had gone from a crewless athlete to having Mark Jones (a Pittsfield resident), myself, and Stas another friend of Michelle’s adopt Kale. I split my time with Michelle and Kale and Mark and Stas did most of the heavy lifting helping Kale out. It was a team effort for sure, even Jessica’s mother who was there to crew for her did laundry and his socks more than once before Jessica had to drop. During my loops with Kale I realized it was mental fortitude that drives him. He has that tough New England spirit deeply ingrained into him from a lifetime in the outdoors. When I left on Saturday Kale was out finishing his 480th mile, trying to finish before the BBQ was over at the end of the day for the shorter races. He would finish among a crowd of 50-milers still wearing his Starters (traveling over 250 miles in them) and carrying his Jansport backpack a few hours before Nick and would be there to hug Nick as he finished his 500 miles, both men achieving a feat only two before had done in two very different ways.
People will tell you to complete a race you have to run this way or that way. You need to wear this, eat this, do this, train this way, live this way or some other nugget that will propel you to the end. As I watched both Nick and Kale accomplish something that was almost unaccomplishable I watched as two very different races unfolded. I make no judgment over which one was better than the other, because in truth one isn’t better than the other. At the end of the day, no matter how you slice it both men ran, walked, shuffled, and propelled themselves 500-miles on Joe’s Mountain.
This was if there ever was a quintessential example of running your own race. Watching Nick taught me the importance of planning and prepping for your events. From Nick I learned the power of finishing what you started and giving complete control and faith in those who pace and crew you. Nick’s bond with Jeff and Steve was so strong never did I see him question them when they told him he needed something. Sometimes to reach our goal we need to rely on others to help get us there. Watching Kale reminded me that fancy gear will not lead you to a finish line, it’s what’s in the person not what’s on the person. We can talk all day about the newest stuff (which the gear head in me loves) but it’s not and will never be about the gear. Watching Kale race was a reminder to not take yourself too seriously and just flow with life and races.
No matter how they did it both Nick and Kale accomplished a monumental feat on Joe’s Mountain this year. They are in a special (and I dare say elite) group of men who have completed this task, but beyond a few Facebook posts they have already moved onto the next challenge and the next step in life. Both do no dwell on their successes but spend the proper time celebrating then get back to life and back to training for the next thing. As I left them on Saturday knowing they were both going to finish I told them how silly the whole thing was, but at the same time I couldn’t think of a better place to be than Peak 500.
Once again congratulations to Nick and Kale on your achievements!!