Monday, May 23, 2016

3 Days at the Fair - 24 Hour Race May 14-15, 2016

3 Days at the Fair - 24 Hour Race  May 14-15, 2016
Sussex County Fairgrounds, Augusta NJ

How does one write a report on a 24 hour hour race?  By the hour?  By mileage blocks?

I'll start with the bottom line summary.  I stopped with 101 miles at 22:55:32.  That gave me 10th place overall, 9th place among 35 men.  Coming into the race the best result I could imagine was about 100 miles. As I approached that number my mind was made up to call it a day.  Since there was a belt buckle for 101 miles, I would stop there.

Regarding pacing, I basically ran at my easy long run effort level for 3/4ths of each 1 mile lap, walking 1/4th.  I intended to keep moving at least 90% of the time.  I ate and drank as hunger/thirst dictated, but with the thought that 200 calories per hour would be the minimum that might suffice.  My pacing calculations included some predicted paces based on what was usually my easy pace and a fair amount of practice walking as quickly and comfortably as possible.  I had a guess for what I would average during the first half and for the second half, expecting some slowing throughout.  Those calculations predicted 103.xx miles were possible. That had seemed too much to expect.

The rest of the story, a long story...

I gathered with the other 50 some runners just before the 9 am start.  It was mostly sunny with temps in the upper 50s.  The forecast included a high about 70, rain showers/thundershowers in the afternoon or evening, with clearing overnight and cooling to the low 40s by daybreak.  I wore lightweight short sleeve shirt, run shorts, calf sleeves, cap with visor, sunglasses.  Race Director Rick gave some general comments, gave us notice of the coming start time, then the signal to start.

And we started. We jogged up the slight hill from the timing mat and aid station area.  The timing center was on our right and aid station (actually a concession building with full kitchen) on the left. There was a right turn just before the restrooms, then through a small parking lot to a left turn and quickly another right.  This put us onto a level out and back stretch with runner/crew tents on both sides.  We ran about 75 yards to the turnaround then straight back the other way for a couple hundred yards to a right turn.  This end of the straight stretch dropped a little to the turn which was about a quarter mile from the start or timing mat.  We hadn't spread out a lot yet, but no one seemed in much of a hurry either.  This first quarter of the course always had the most activity, primarily family and support crew members.

The course - counter clockwise travel. Timing and aid at the red mark

After the right turn we went through a gate and up another short incline of maybe 50 yards, then left onto the "bell road".  This long slow left hand curve was about a half mile long and very slightly downhill.  There were grassy fields or meadows on both sides and some treeline areas behind the grass on the right.  We soon enough arrived at a left turn onto a gravel road where we could cut corners across a little bit of grass (or make a clearer right and left turn onto another bit of unpaved road.  This part had an equestrian area and horse show in progress off to our right.  The wooden fence blocked most of the view but sometimes I could see a bit of a rider above the fence and occasionally even the head of a taller horse.  Perhaps 150 yards of unpaved surface gave way to more blacktop and a right turn, then maybe 100 yards to a left turn and the slight uphill approach to the timing mat where we had started exactly one mile prior. 

Along right side of the last 100 yard section was my personal aid arranged in the back of my pickup.  There were another 20ish tents or RVs on this stretch with personal runner aid waiting for someone.  There were also some show buildings nearby with more camping set up.

My own aid station with reminder/info sheet. Tent in background.
For the first part of the race, I ran without my glasses, so things were a little out of focus visually.  I wore non prescription sunglasses to start until the rain started; then no glasses till the rain was over.  Anytime I wanted to check on my splits or total miles I had to move about 5 feet off the course to read the monitor with timing information.

I ran without walk breaks for about the first hour. I think I stopped once for a drink and maybe a little fruit.  Nearing the end of my 7th mile, I stopped at my truck to switch to a cap with a "cape" around the sides and back to shade my ears and neck.  I was already thoroughly treated with spf 50 sunblock, but I sprayed on some more for the part of my legs that was exposed.  I really wanted to head off any problems at or before the first hint of something.  Resuming my run, from now on I would begin walking from the turn into the stretch with aid/timing through the turnaround point on the out and back stretch.  This is a little less than a quarter mile and covered the primary uphill section.  It also gave a good amount of time to eat and drink anything I got from the aid area.

From this point I had a clear routine, always walking the same section and running the rest. About every 2nd lap I would stop for a drink and usually a little bit to eat: fruit, cookie, pretzels or chips, M&Ms.  Mostly I drank water but sometimes cola or coffee. Every couple of hours when stopping at my aid, I took a swallow or two of a honey/coffee energy mix.  As the morning hours gave way to afternoon, the temperatures got into the low 70s and skies remained mostly sunny.  There was a light breeze in our faces on the longest section of the straight out and back.  The later part of the bell section seemed to be a no breeze/dead air space. 

I reached 25 miles in about four and a half hours.  My legs were more tired than I expected at this point.  I took a break at my truck to sit down and prop up my feet and have some sweet treat snacks. I was going reward myself every couple hours with a bite or two of yummy brownies that my daughter-in-law sent along. This stop was a good time to text a progress update to my wife Rose.  I took some acetaminophen to head off the developing discomfort. And I checked my feet and rubbed them a little before getting back to running. 

Mostly I ran alone, just letting my pace come naturally.  There were friendly greetings exchanged with runners or spectators/volunteers. I never got bored running the same 1 mile loop.  There was always someone nearby to observe and conversations to listen in on.  In the busier areas some support crews were doing things to motivate their runners.  One man played a guitar and sang various kinds of of music.  He also kept adding quotes or messages that friends were sending to the runner he was supporting.  There were 2 messages that connected for me: "Don't let discomfort turn you into a coward."  "Do what you can until you can do more."

The long straight part of the out and back. Photo from prior evening.

I gradually recognized that I was feeling warm and my energy level was sagging. I decided to add to my walk period by starting sooner on the loop, at the beginning of the stretch where my aid was located.  And I became more purposeful about calories and fluids.  I hadn't had to urinate for several hours and didn't want to let that go too far.  I think 3 or 4 hours between pee stops should be the max acceptable for adequate hydration.  I mostly grabbed the things to eat that I thought would taste good, hoping my appetite would reflect what my body needed.  So around and around I went and miles continued to click by.  I was tracking progress toward the 50 mile mark and the possibility of setting my 50 mile PR. 

I got to 50 miles about 10:30 into the race, which in fact was a PR by more than 20 minutes.  I stopped by the timing station and rang a bell that was there for runners to celebrate any personal accomplishment we wanted to recognize.  As the bell sounded, a number of people nearby clapped and cheered.  Toward the end of the next lap I took another sit down/ feet up break and texted Rose another update.  I also texted a few training partner friends.  With my first break, increased walking, and more time at the aid station meant my second 25 miles had taken about an hour and a half longer.

I was feeling discouraged by how I felt and that I had taken this much longer since the first 25.  If each 25 slowed that much, I would not complete a 4th 25 for 100 miles.  I was supposing that the second 25 was twice as hard and painful as the first and that the second 50 would be twice as tough as the first.  So I had some self talk work to do with ideas like:  It is normal have a number of ups and downs, both physically and emotionally - this is normal.  I reminded myself that it doesn't always keep getting worse.  And I remembered a comment from a race report that at some point you don't get any more tired.  My main goal for this race was to learn how to keep moving all night long and I could still do that.  After some chocolate milk, brownie treat reward and some rest, I got back to what I came to do.

I had been noticing some IT band related soreness in my left knee and tried to think more about my running form.  After a few more miles I stopped at a physical therapy station and asked for help with that.  They didn't really provide relief, so I decided to change shoes in case that might make a difference.  My first time ever experiencing IT band issues was a number of years ago and it had mostly limited me to walking/limping for the rest of the race. This time the pain never went away, but the pain level was low enough that I think it didn't change my stride which would have likely made something else hurt.  I added another short walk section at the small uphill leading from a gate to the bell curve section.

As afternoon gave way to evening, the temperature dropped and eventually rain showers started. The cooler air was good for me.  Probably the adjustments to walk time, fluids and nutrition also had a positive effect and I was running well again.  From about dusk I carried on comfortably with the now familiar routine.  Walk, eat/drink, run. Repeat.  This turn for the better did wonders for my outlook.  I had realized that if I could do two 6 and a half hour marathons following the first 50 miles that 100 was still possible.

Up to this day, the longest single run distance for me was 50 miles or a little more.  I looked forward to a new milestone at 62 miles, which exceeded my age by 1 and was equal to 100K.  So I rang the bell for 62 miles.  This was after 13:35.  In another hour and a quarter I reached 67 miles and noted I was two thirds to 100. And then after a while the miles moved into the 70s.  It's strange to think that "only 30 more miles" seemed encouraging.  I was able to see that if I could average 15 minute miles (4 miles per hour) there was time for 100.  My pace had been averaging in the 13 to 14 range since things had turned around.

It was no surprise that all these hours and miles would be uncomfortable and eventually painful.  My IT band pain on the outside of my left knee never went away, but never became severe.  My thigh muscles were hurting since before the 50 mile mark and continued to ache and burn. Some hamstring soreness from the middle of the race did seem to go away.  My feet hurt too.  The run/walk pattern gave relief as I started walking, then that became unpleasant with more knee discomfort.  When I went back to running my feet and thighs really protested for about 10 steps before it went back to just hurting.  A couple toes on my right foot had a bit of a hot spot but never got uncomfortable enough to examine for blisters.  Amazingly, all these parts kept working.  So I kept on.  Just another 3/4ths of a mile, now walk a quarter. And now another... I think I walked the entire loop 3 or 4 times without any running.  And now and then during the second half I extended my walk period when I felt I needed it or when I hadn't finished my soup before reaching the place to start running.

A number of thoughts kept my mind busy:  Don't be surprised if there is another downturn, but stay in the present, don't calculate or count on too much.  It's up to God if I'm able to keep going.  It's up to me to try.  Pray for my friend Laurie running her own 24 hours race for a place on the national team.  Look up.  Keep smilin'. Pray for my church prayer list. Press on.

Through the night some other runners had left the course. Some in the 48 or 72 hour race went for sleep.  The 6 hour racers finished at midnight.  Still there were plenty of people, though most seemed to be walking.  One nice thing on this course was that it was lighted.  I never had a strong feeling of needing to sleep.  I think the brightness helped.  And it got colder.  After the rain stopped I had changed to a warmer shirt.  Gradually I added more clothes. First a sleeveless shirt over top, next put on gloves.  Later another long sleeve layer on top, switch to a fleece beenie cap. Finally I put tights on over my shorts.  My wardrobe additions ended a little before daylight.

Somewhere near 3 or 4 am when my energy level dropped and fatigue set in, I had some coffee and in a few laps some mountain dew.  I was hoping for a boost in energy when daylight arrived, but I don't remember anything dramatic.  The thought that I would be done in 3 hours or less was pretty encouraging.  All through the nighttime I put off the thought that another low point would be coming.  As my mile total crept up through the 80s and beyond 90, I became more optimistic about making 100.  With daylight more people were on the course.  Often family members were accompanying runner/walkers.  Sometimes couples or parent/child pairs walked hand in hand.

I had been asking the Lord for continuing ability to move.  As I approached 100 miles I had decided I would stop once I hit 101 to qualify for the belt buckle.  I was thinking it would be with only about a half hour to go since I was walking more of the laps from 95.  For a couple hours I had worried I would have to try speeding up to make it to 100.  Now I only had to finish laps 100 and 101. 

As I completed 100, the race director made sure I knew about it and that one more would mean a buckle.  I acknowledged that and thanked him.  As I neared the end of the lap, I decided I would run up the stretch to the timing mat even though it was a part of my walk portion.  Somehow it seemed I should run to my finish.  I crossed the mat and went to look at the monitor to be sure I had 101.  Then I rang the bell one more time for my new distance PR.  I had a few bits of emotion over the last couple laps as it seemed I would really make my goal.  Crossing the line I only felt relief.

Even though there was another hour on the clock - time to run 4 laps or walk 3, I turned in my timing chip, grabbed something to eat and drink and headed to my campsite.  I was hoping to shower before the awards breakfast so I could take a nap sooner.  The next day when I looked at the results I saw that if I had completed 2 more laps I would have been 5th male in stead of 9th.  There were 3 others who stopped at 101 miles before I did and one with 102.  I wish now I had continued, but at the time I wonder if knowing these details would have made any difference.  I really felt ready to be done.

Coin for 100 lifetime miles at the race, a belt buckle for 101 miles
2nd place award for 24 Hour Male NJ USATF Championship
Race jacket

Serge Arbona 72 Hour winner 303 Miles, John Fegyveresi 2nd place 257 miles




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