Ultramarathoner Finishes Strong in Old Dominion 100-Miler

David PloskonkaTo be successful as an ultramarathoner, you have to build more than just muscles and capillaries and cardiac efficiency. You have to also build willpower, mental determination, self-sufficiency, and, above all, the vaguely romantic sense of awe and wonder at the thought of spending hours and hours running through sunlight and darkness on rocky trails through the woods, and hot, shadeless roads, and cold eerie nights, to find out how it feels, to find out what will happen, to find out if you could. Fear and the thought of giving up or dropping out are the enemy to conquer and the dreaded three letters that every runner loathes with a passion: DNF—Did Not Finish.

Fear and the thought of quitting were conquered this weekend by David Ploskonka as he came in a strong fifth in the 33rd Annual Old Dominion 100 Mile Cross Country Race. This 100-mile race with 14,000 feet of elevation gain is the equivalent of four hilly marathons run back to back, and is a classic in ultramarathon running, with the telling motto “A Reason to Get Strong Since 1979.”

Breaking from his own tradition, this was the first time that David had run the same 100-mile race more than once. Despite knowing the course, he didn’t know how the race would turn out and felt his adrenaline surge, as it does at the start of every race, while he attempted to stay calm and keep any creeping fear at bay.

Although his training runs leading up to this race had been shorter, the intensity of the training prepared him for the pain that he would surely endure during the mountainous part of this event: 14 significant climbs and 14,000 feet of gain.

With 70 entrants made up of a who’s who of ultramarathoners, David’s plan was to go out aggressively, but not totally kill himself, and then hold on for dear life.

His plan worked very well for about the first 30 miles, as he was relatively comfortable leading the race. Climbing well up Woodstock Gap and not feeling overexerted, attacking the downhills, and generally feeling strong, things were looking good.

Fueling up on bananas, oranges, Energy 28™ and Natural Calm® Plus Calcium at every aid station kept David going fast as he clocked through the first of four marathon distances at a 3:40 pace. But then David scarfed down some sugary-fatty candy bars and cookies at a subsequent aid station, which he conceded was a mistake that upset his stomach and slowed him down.

At mile 32.5 David reached Four Points in fourth place and hung on. As the day became hotter and he covered another 15 miles, David looked good from the outside but was suffering greatly on the inside.

Still, he remained patient, knowing that the dreaded, exposed, rutted, ATV-ridden “ATV trail” was the next section of the course. He wasn’t moving forward as well as he would have liked, and somewhere along this trail he was passed by another runner, placing him in fifth. David vowed, if only to himself, that he would not lose any more ground to anyone, period.

The war of attrition—which, in the end, most 100-mile races turn out to be—continued as he navigated the dreaded 11-mile Sherman’s Gap/Veach Gap section in around three hours. Keeping a fairly steady pace from there to the finish, David came across the line in 19 hours, 14 minutes, and 30 seconds. This was a strong fifth place, which would’ve been good enough to win the race in years past.

For David, Old Dominion was about continued forward progress and another chance to practice overcoming fear and build a solid base of mental toughness. This is the type of mental fortitude which can override that sometimes overwhelming desire to stop or drop out of a race of this length, when the discomfort and pain are at their most relentless. It’s the practice of mental determination and dogged persistence that will get David to the finish line in the most challenging race on the planet—Badwater—which is fast approaching. David’s Old Dominion race results show he is on track to do just that.