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June 22nd, 2021

Three Days (And One Birthday) at the Fair with Molly Forr

by Farah Visslailli

Here at Finish Line PT, we love an opportunity to brag on behalf of the amazing athletes that pass through our doors, so when we found out about the recent 100+ mile-achievement of our patient, ultra-runner Molly Forr, we jumped on the opportunity to hear all about it.

As an ultra-curious and one-time 60K runner myself who just weeks ago declared, after an unsatisfying hot and humid 10K here in NYC,  “no more short races!” I was particularly excited to get all the details about Molly’s experience at a very unique race called Three Days at the Fair, which is in some ways a very literal description, but also one which doesn’t quite do the race justice. Part race, part festival, the whole experience takes place on an active fairground in Sussex County, NJ. The race organizers offer 6, 12, 24, 48, 72, and 144-hour timed-race options, all taking place over the course of six days. The one-mile loop (yep, you read that right) also serves as a certified marathon and 50K course. Molly completed the 24-hour race, running a whopping 109 miles in that time, coming in as the first female, and second overall in the 24-hour race. Not only that, her 100-mile split was good enough to earn her 1st female and 5th overall for the 100-mile race. While we all pick our jaws up off the floor, let’s learn more about Molly’s adventure.

Credit: Matt VosBurgh

Why did you choose this race? 

I was always interested in ultras, and when this corner of the sport was still a little more niche, I read every race report I could find to learn about training and strategy. I think I first came across the Fair in some race reports in 2013 and I had my eye on it ever since. This year the race fell on my birthday, and the chance to celebrate the day with a 24-hour race was too perfect to miss.

What was your training strategy? 

I’ve been coached by Tiffany England (@RunAdventuresome) since I started running ultras in 2019. For this training cycle, we used a higher volume/lower intensity approach, maintaining between 60-80 miles a week for most of the training cycle and peaking at 100. Most weeks included at least one speed or threshold workout, as well as back-to-back long runs on the weekends. To build efficiency and strength endurance, a lot of my easy runs would end with strides or hill repeats in the last miles. 

How did you figure out how to incorporate all those training hours into your regular schedule

I’m a big fan of using two-a-day workouts when building mileage! The weekday medium-long run is a staple of marathon and ultra training, but doubles definitely have utility. They allow a little scheduling flexibility, and more importantly, they’re a way to increase mileage without tacking it on at the end of a workout when form may be starting to suffer. Learning to run on tired legs IS important, but it also needs to be balanced with the increased risk of injury. Doubles are a great way to do that.

How did PT accompany your training? 

Emmi was critical in helping me manage all the little niggles that come with high mileage and we also worked a lot on strength this training cycle to keep me healthy. This was my highest training volume ever and I had no major issues throughout!

What recovery strategies do you utilize? 

I’m generally pretty good about rolling and doing mobility work, but I found that compression boots and a Hypervolt were especially helpful this training cycle in speeding up recovery between hard days or back-to-back long runs. Given the volume and time I was spending running, it was great to be able to sit in the boots for an hour while I worked or spend 10 minutes with the Hypervolt when I didn’t have 20 minutes to roll everything out. Those tools aren’t shortcuts for doing other kinds of recovery and mobility work, but they definitely help fill the gaps!

Credit: Matt VosBurgh

Tell us about the overall race experience. 

This was the most fun race I’ve ever done! The magical thing about timed races on a looped course is that everyone out there is very much running their own race while sharing the same collective experience, and it really felt like that one mile loop became its own little community of runners and crew.

Did it go as planned? Would you change anything? 

It did! I went into the race hoping for 101 miles (the minimum distance to get the finishers’ buckle) and I actually exceeded my goal! My general strategy was to cover 30 miles in the first 5 hours, 60 by the 12-hour mark, and 75 by midnight, which was 15 hours in. Hitting those benchmarks allowed me to do more walking than running in the early morning and still be on track for 100 within 24 hours. My tireless crew, @MattVosburgh was a critical part of my race success, particularly in ensuring we were on track with the nutrition/hydration plan throughout. I learned a lot that I will carry into future ultras, but there really isn’t anything I’d change about this experience!

What mental strategies do you utilize to prepare for something like 100+ 1-mile loops? 

I generally try to figure out how I can take a bug and make it a feature… One of the things I end up repeating to myself in every race is Run the mile you’re in. TDATF was the best possible environment to practice that! 

Were there any moments when you went to a darker place mentally, and if so, how did you pull yourself out of that? 

There were definitely some hard laps, mostly when something was pulling me out of my zone—a blister, a side-stitch, or just general fatigue. I find it helpful in those situations to try to identify what is wrong as specifically as possible, rather than trying to disassociate. Often what initially feels like diffuse crankiness or fatigue is really a problem with an easy solution—fresh socks or a snack can do wonders!  Another nice thing about ultras is that while there is a lot more opportunity for things to go wrong, there’s also more time to problem-solve. In a marathon, one bad mile can cause a missed goal time, but in a 100-miler it’s just a 1% correction and there’s usually plenty of time to get back on track.

Credit: Matt VosBurgh

Biggest takeaways?

  • Go in with a plan and stick to it as much as possible. Decisions take energy and focus that may not be available at the point that they’re needed.
  • Eat (and drink) a little more than you think you need a little earlier than you think you need it. Underfueling is a direct path to fatigue.
  • Never underestimate the efficacy of a brisk walk!

Anything else worth sharing? 

It’s often said that ultras are 90% mental, which I would argue is only true after one has done 100% of the training. There IS a big mental component to ultras, though, and that challenge is less about the actual grind on race day and more about the preparation and planning that goes into a successful race experience.  Most runners appreciate all the logistics that go into racing a marathon—decisions about nutrition, course and pace strategy, gear, etc. In an ultra, there are many more decisions to make and logistics become increasingly important. When I think about ultras, I always come back to the need for efficiency. In the physical sense, efficient movement will save a massive amount of energy over the course of a race. In the same way, efficiency in execution not only saves time, but can ease or avoid a lot of physical and mental stress in a demanding event. Ultras will test you as a complete runner, and it’s an amazing challenge to undertake! 

Any crazy stories? 

Not really, though the best thing I overheard between runners in this race was “On a scale of 1 to 6, 6 being death…”

What’s next? 

The Boston Marathon in October!

We’re so grateful to Molly for sharing all about her experience at Three Days at the Fair. I know my interest is piqued! Best of luck to Molly in Boston this fall – and we do hope you get some sleep before then.

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