Friday, November 29, 2013

The Good and The Bad. What a 24 Hour Race Feels Like.

I have been contemplating what to write about for the last 3 days.  There are so many facets to a 24 hour race.  I decided to break it into 2 parts.  The first part will entail all the logistics.  The second part will delve into the emotional side of a 24 hour race.




Photo & PhotoShopping Courtesy of Nathan Daughtrey

We had 13 runners from Greensboro tackle the 3rd Annual Crooked Road 24 Hour Run.   I have been fortunate to be a participant all 3 years.  I have made some great running friendships all 3 years.  Ultra runners themselves are a cheery bunch.  You can arrive to these type of events and not know anyone, but quickly you forge bonds and form lasting friendships.  I still wonder if ultra runners are just genuinely nice people, or are they genuinely happy to see other like-minded (crazy to the outside world) athletes.  Either way, they become!

I had made a supply list for some of the other Greensboro runners, so here is what I sent them:

Supplies List for Crooked Road 24 hour Ultra
4 outfits….really….you have to get out of wet clothes to stay warm
Big jacket/hat(s)/mittens/gloves/neck warmer……it gets REALLY cold in the middle of the night Fleece pullovers- 2 thicknesses….thick and thin 3-4 pairs of shoes and the same for socks….
I used 3 pairs at Hinson Hot hands- I used 2 in my gloves, 2 in my shirt, 1 in my back pocket and one in my turtleneck Fleece blanket….you will want it when you are in walk mode…it definitely helps Arm warmers/compression socks- I took off compression socks at midnight- not sure if I will wear them at Crooked.
5-6 Gu Gels 2-3 pkgs of Gu Chomps
3 cans of coke or other magic elixir
2 5-hour energy drinks
1 Sugar Free RedBull
Hard Candy- help wet your mouth when you start to dehydrate a little
I made a gallon of Gatorade that I watered down a little into bottles I could quickly grab-the cups at the tables are so small that you need real fluid sometimes
Yoga Mat (for stretching on) and pillow Massage Stick/Foam Roller/tennis balls I used them all during Hinson
Pretzels or salty snacks….definitely need the salt.
 I love dipping half cooked potatoes into salt
I had 2 Ipods with me but didn’t use them until the evening…so many people around during the day. I downloaded some podcasts and some music
Winter coat & Scarf. I wore them the whole time at night.
I will definitely bring some soup mixes, or cans of soup.
Slip-on shoes (like Crocs)- you don’t want your feet touching the ground and you won’t have any balance- trust me on this one.
2 or 3 towels- 2 big ones, 1 hand towel.
Sanitizer- you will not want to go wash your hands, the bathroom is too far

Quite the list, but I ended up using most of everything.

The weather forecast changed so many times the week preceding the race that I frequently double-checked what city I had typed in.  The night before the race the weather people decided it could rain on Saturday before late afternoon and then there would be wind gusts up to 35 mph throughout the rest of Saturday into Sunday morning.  They also predicted snow flurries.  Did I mention they predicted real feel temperatures in the single digits?  They were accurate with the exception (thank goodness) of rain.  We, fortunately, did not have any rain....just snow flurries.

So, as you can see, you couldn't go into this race without preparation because the elements were going to be brutal, but I will save all those comments for the emotional section :)

I drove up the morning of the race with Christie & Bekah.  We had so much fun stopping to get a bacon biscuit.  I need laughter the morning of a race because I still tend to get very nervous about my own personal performance.  I am working on it, but alas "working" is a verb.  Look how much fun Bekah and Christie are having during the race.  This makes my heart smile.  I am a very competitive person, but somehow I really, really don't care how I place on a 24 hr. race.  I know it is hard to believe, but I don't even like to look at the leader boards because I'm racing myself; my own demons.

The great thing about the Crooked Road course is the .95 mile loop.  Yes.  I'm telling you, it is GREAT to have food, drink and PEOPLE every mile!  Would I prefer it to be a 1 mile exactly loop?  Absolutely.  On a good day I'm horrible at math.  On a 24 hour running/walking adventure I'm downright scary.  One question I frequently get asked (especially after 3 years of this race) is how do I not go insane going in circles?  I have never disliked this loop. Ever.  I love the winding path through brief trees.  I love running along the Pigg River.  I love hearing the waterfalls on the back corner of the course.  I love the little footbridge and the gravel road that leads to people, food & drink!  At night, there is no lighting so there are glow sticks which light the way.  It's really very peaceful at night.  The moon didn't come up till after 11pm (I think) and it illuminated much of the path, which was a good thing since my headlamp died around 4:30am.

The race itself started out just fine.  Here is a photo with my running friend, Amy.  Amy ran 102 miles at Hinson Lake 24 hour in September.  I actually ran a number of laps with her son, Drew, who is 10 and completed 50 miles there.  We became facebook friends and the rest is history.  I absolutely adore her!  She is a rockstar!

We ran a few laps together and chatted at the food table.  We encouraged one another and inspired the other to keep moving.  She also wanted to hit 100 miles.  Unfortunately it was not our day.  No woman went over 100 miles this year, and only 3 men made it.  We have chatted a few times since the race and we both are pleased with how we did considering the elements, but deep down still a little disappointed we didn't make it.

I have never made it a full 24 hours in a race because I previously hit my goals and went home.  Since I didn't make my goal, I did make it the full 24 hours.  It was really neat being a part of a small group that got to lay their stick down when we heard the air horn at 8am.  My husband was with me at the time and it is a moment I will NEVER forget. I REALLY felt.....


The race started out great!  I felt good and I smiled for quite a few photos throughout the day.  A couple of hours into the race, my BFF Melissa came to the race with Bailey (her adorable Golden Retriever).  She ran a few laps with me.  Bailey ran a few laps with me and it felt GREAT to have her there to distract this weird feeling I was having most of the morning.  After she left, it wasn't too much longer before some more of my friends showed up; Trish, Chris & Chris.  I am the luckiest woman in the world to have such great friends that would brave the cold to see me for a brief stint every time I went around the course.
 I ran with people for quite a while, but when I started  feeling off, I wanted to be inside my own head.  Off.  What does that mean?  Wish I knew.  I was feeling lethargic yes, but it was more than that.  About 26 miles into the race I was feeling like I could not regulate my temperature.  I'd be hot, then I'd be cold.  I then started having some GI issues.  Controlled diarrhea, if you will.  Sorry about that.  Here I am in this photo, hot...notice the other people still wearing jackets, etc. behind me.
I was able to continue to take fluids (protein drinks included), but I was having a hard time eating solids.  I did quite a few gels and chomps throughout the day and night.  I couldn't understand what was happening because I felt fabulous at Hinson.  I finished 75 miles by midnight there.  What was happening here?  I was deviating from the plan.  Yikes!  Late in the afternoon every time I saw my Greensboro peeps I would burst out in tears.  Don & Kathi came in the late afternoon with tomato soup and I cried as I tried to drink some of it while Kathi & Cara rubbed my legs to loosen them.  Once it got dark my trio (Trish, Chris, & Chris) came back to cheer me on for a few more laps.  Here is a very dark photo, but you can see the elation on my face to see friendly faces in the cold.

I wanted to hit my goal of 100 miles.  I wasn't taking any flack from my body.  Usually it is my mind that is my nemesis; not my body.  When the Greensboro peeps were leaving for their hotel, they asked me several times if I wanted to go with them.  I emphatically said no.  I was staying with Christine, Keith & David.  I think I remember crying as I said goodbye to them.  I started running again and ran into Keith.  He has done 100 miles before, just not in 24 hours, so it was my job in the middle of the night to help him achieve his goal.  He was having a really tough time.  At one point at our communal table, he said he was going to pack it in for the day.  I looked over at Christine and she was shivering so badly that I didn't have it in my heart to try and convince him to stay.  I think I teared up, gave them a hug, and soldiered on.  I have to tell you.  Giving up never entered my mind.  In retrospect, maybe I should have?  That is the interesting part of this journey.  Was I being too stubborn?  Who knows.  I do know I wore my black fellow flower which means, "Why yes, I am a force to be reckoned with".  I had it in my hair during the day and my pocket at night.  I touched it frequently to channel energy.

Around 1am the wind kicked up even more.  David was still there. He is the one in the photo above that looks like he is running on water.  David would run a few laps, walk a few laps, then get warm in his SUV.  We got to jog a few then walk a few laps together.  It started snowing and we interlocked our arms like we were on our way to a debutante ball.  Here is where I should tell you what I was wearing at the time (it's a wonder I could move at all!):

Climawear long sleeve shirt
Polar fleece pull-over
Down jacket
Lined, heavy raincoat (to block the wind)
thick, lined running tights
polar fleece pajama bottoms over top of the tights
hooded sweatshirt tied around my waist to keep my butt warm.
Fleece neck warmer I got in Sun Valley, ID
Winter hat given to us at Crooked Road last year
Hood from lined rain jacket over top of my hat
skiing mittens
I had hand warmers in both mittens, in my sports bra, in the back pocket of my running tights, and in the front waistband of my running tights.  I was BARELY warm enough.  Barely.

David and I chatted about music and the stars.  He talked about how much fun he was having at his first ultra.  He's never run a marathon, yet he was having a blast at an ultra.  I loved it!  When he decided to go lie down in his SUV, I had rejuvenated myself again and even starting running again.  The wind gusts were up to 35 mph.  It felt like I was being blown over a number of times.  Anyway, I was doing it.  I knew I wasn't going to hit my goal yet I was still determined to see what I could accomplish.  I was quite proud that I was still going, even knowing I wasn't going to succeed.  That was a huge break-through for me.  When things are going well, things are easy.  It's when things are going very wrong that you learn volumes about yourself.

It is the middle of the night and you know kept me trudging along?  The FANTASTIC volunteers.  They would bring you soup, coffee, hot chocolate and pretty much anything else you needed.  When my headlamp went dead around 4:30am, it was Sharon (wife of the race director) who loaned me her knuckle lights.  Sharon has been there for me through my best and more importantly, my worst.  It is amazing the level of care and hospitality all the volunteers gave us runners.  I would have been a frozen popsicle somewhere on the course if it had not been for their help.

Daylight started emerging.  Hallelujah.  My neck was sore from holding up the headlamp.  My back was sore probably because I was leaning over to illuminate my pathway with the headlamp.  Here is where I tell you I did not get a single blister.  Not a one.  I only got 2 chafe marks and they were where my capris squeezed my butt cheeks together.  Owww.  Yes, that took a number of days and a lot of Aquaphor to heal.  Some of the Greensboro runners came back to get a few more laps in.  I think I cried when I saw each one.  I walked a few laps with most of them.  Then, the most emotional moment of the whole 24 hours.  I saw Dan's car coming down the road towards the loop.  I started crying and hyperventilating.  I was so excited to see him I started running again.  I had less than 10 minutes left in the race so I told him to pack up all my stuff and I was going to run one more lap.  I ran the whole lap, even up the one big hill.  When I got around the course back to Dan I asked him to jog with me because I had 2 minutes left before the air horn and I wanted to get to the 100 mile marker on the course, even though I knew I didn't complete 100 miles.  I looked at that sign for 94 laps.  I told that sign for over 48 laps that I was going to see that 100 mile marker.  I then told that sign that even though I wasn't going to make it I was going to be joyful for EVERY lap I could see it.

I was zombie-like for a couple of days, but then all of the sudden I snapped back to the real me.  I never know if the fatigue is from running/walking so many miles or from the lack of sleep.  As I sit here and type I've already started running again.  I've taught a couple of yoga classes and 1 extreme interval (3/4 intensity for me) class. I feel like I accomplished more by falling short of my goal then if I had indeed succeeded.  I think ultras make you dig DEEP within yourself.  Do you have what it takes to persevere is a question you ask yourself many times.  I learned that I am tougher than I ever thought I was.  I learned that I can now safely call myself an ultra runner. For those of you who will ask,  I was 3rd female and 8th overall.  Not bad for a middle distance runner :)  What's up next?  I'm pacing the 1:45 half marathon at Myrtle Beach and I couldn't be happier and excited about it!