Local man surpasses goal in 100-mile race
It was during the third lap that the storm came in heavy, and it got very cold.
“At that point, after over four hours of running, I had run longer than I ever had during my training,” said Brookfield resident John Pierz. “The thought of doing 61 more miles seemed enormous.”
Yet he plowed onward, through the downpour, and managed to finish the Umstead 100-Mile Endurance Run, which took place April 7 in Raleigh, N.C.
Runners were required to finish within 30 hours, but Pierz, 38, of Brookfield, ran the course in 19 hours, 25 minutes — surpassing his goal of 20 hours.
He came in 14th out of more than 265 runners. Forty-three percent of entrants finished, the lowest share since 2005.
Pierz came into the race feeling as prepared as he could have been.
“I had a very good aerobic base,” said Pierz, the director of Allied Brands at Pepsi in White Plains, N. Y. “I’m always training for something.”
Pierz, who along with his wife, Kerri, has two sons — Jack, 7, and Mason, 2 — runs regularly with Woodbridge Running Group in Brookfield. Since turning 30, he has run four marathons, eight Ironman Triathlons, a 50-miler and an assortment of other races.
But this new challenge was a whole different animal, he said. To train for it, he ran as many as six days and 74 miles a week.
“I would run on the sides of roads, off the shoulder,” he said. “I would go up and down on curves so my feet would get used to moving in my shoes.”
The 100-mile course, eight laps of 12.5 miles each, consisted of carriage trails six feet wide and involved 8,000 vertical feet of climbing.
“I walked every hill,” he said.
Because of a sensitive stomach, he consumed only water, an endurance drink, and energy gels — 32 of them.
During the first two laps, he said, “everyone around me was very chatty,” and the miles flew by. But by the end of lap 3, after running over 37 miles, he picked up gloves from Kerri, because the temperature had plummeted and his hands had gotten very cold.
It was at this point that negative thoughts began creeping in.
“You ride a wave of emotions,” he said. “You just start thinking why you’re out there.”
Last fall, Pierz had qualified for the Boston Marathon, which was to be held a week after the Umstead.
“I thought, I could have been running that, along with my friends,” he said. “It would have been over after a few hours. Yet I wanted to set a good example to my sons, and show them that with hard work, anything really is possible.”
Halfway through the race, he started to slow down. He was feeling hot spots in his shoes, but was afraid to take them off for fear of what he might find.
Finally, after running over 62 miles, he got the courage to remove his shoes, and saw many large, bleeding blisters.
“I lathered them with Trail Toes [a blister cream], and changed my shoes and socks,” he said.
The pain persisted, but whenever he thought of stopping, he recited what came to be his mantra throughout the day: “You’ll care tomorrow.”
“For me, it was about pushing myself further and harder than I ever had before,” he said.
At the end of lap 6, darkness set in and rain turned to snow — a first in Umstead history.
At 75 miles, when he still had a marathon distance to go, the pain in his feet grew intense.
For the last three loops of the race, he was allowed to have pacers run with him. Kerri, his coach and his coach’s husband each ran a loop with him.
“In all endurance sports, it’s ultimately about who can suffer the longest,” Pierz said. “At some point, everyone wants to quit. My ability to suffer is what allowed me to finish well.
“Coming into the finish at 1:30 in the morning, it’s such a crazy emotional ride,” he said. “You are so happy to be done, in a lot of pain, and everything in between.”
Pierz’s longtime running buddy Bill Baker — who tracked Pierz on his phone the entire race — said he never doubted his freind would finish.
“John keeps pushing the outer envelope of his physical limits, and his performance in this race was especially impressive given the distance and the miserable weather,” said Baker, a New Milford resident. “He had a very structured training and racing plan, and he stuck to both with great discipline. He’s a testament to what can be accomplished when you are smart about training, nutrition and race-day execution.”
The biggest question Pierz said he has been asked after this experience is: Would he do it again?
His answer, without any hesitation, is “Absolutely.”