Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Merrill's Mile 12 Hour RR: Don't Wake Me Up From This Dream

"How many more do you have?" blue shirt runner guy shouted from across the track.

"2!" I exclaimed.

"Are you going to keep going?"

"Of course!"

With an hour and a half left on the clock, I made my goal of 100K. 62 miles in 10:29:45. But the race wasn't to reach a mileage mark and finish. This was a 12 hour race. It was to see how far I could go in 720 minutes.

I had to go on. Despite everything in my body telling my mind to stop, I knew I still was capable of more.

1 year prior, I was in the exact same location, running my very first distance longer than a marathon. I loved it. In the 366 days since, I've pushed the envelope further than I could have imagined. 5 marathons (3 of them in 3:20-3:22 range) and 4 more ultras.

I'm still learning. I'm still making mistakes. But distance running is often an exercise in taking advantage of the really great seconds/minutes/hours and not letting the really terrible times define you. Because there will be terrible times. Even in the best of races, there will be low moments. But that's what makes getting to the finish so much sweeter.

My last race was a hot mess. I had four one too many beers the night before (shocker...), consumed too much fat/dairy in the hours before the race, and continued to dehydrate myself by not drinking early and often. Plus, it was about 15° warmer.

I didn't want to make the same mistakes. The misery was too fresh.

Steve and I did take a very slow hike at Amicalola Falls and up Blood Mountain on Thursday. My calves were a bit sore, but I don't think it had much ill-effect on my race. Plus, I think the mental nourishment outweighed any tightness. We are brewing up some plans to section hike the Appalachian Trail next year and this reignited my desire for adventure.

I hadn't run since Tuesday so we did a short shakeout run at the Greenway on Friday morning. It was a typical Hotlanta morning full of stifling humidity and oppressive heat. A nice reminder to be thankful that we were going to be racing in the dark.
We headed to Midtown after getting cleaned up to eat burgers and drink one last beer together at the Vortex before switching to water and Gatorade. While we were in the area, we took a short walk to and around Piedmont Park before returning to suburbia.
The next 24 hours were pretty uneventful. We ate, hydrated, slept, ate, hydrated, napped, and I made a sign to place with our personal aid station.
Adam drove us up to Camp Frank D. Merrill and Megan was already there when we arrived. She caught a few before snapshots of us while we were counting down to 9pm.

Soon, Steve and I had our bibs, timing chip ankle cuffs, and were standing around receiving "instructions" for the race. Run around the circle. Switch directions when told every 6 hours. Watch out for water moccasins. Have fun.

There were 48 hour (!!!!) and 24 hour (!!!) runners that we were joining on the track. They had started at 9am and looked hot and tired. Our starting group contained 6 hour and 12 hour runners and approximately 25-30 people lined up with us.
My goals were to run 100K and to keep moving for 12 hours. I knew I would feel better earlier and that my pace would naturally wane, but I really wanted to avoid the crash and burn. So I repeated 10 minute miles, 10 minute miles, 10 minute miles over and over knowing that as long as I was within 30 seconds of that, I wouldn't be setting myself up for a complete bonkfest.

Steve explained his strategy of running and then run/walking to me. I got lost in the runner math and decided to just try to run together until one of us felt particularly good or bad. The great thing about a 1 mile loop is that we knew we'd catch up with one another all night even if we separated.

We cruised easy for the first few miles trying to get in sync with a pace. Jeff and his parents arrived right at the start and we were able to wave our hellos to them. Our spectator group decided to take off as we rounded the 3rd lap and around the same time, we switched on our lights for a long night of running.

Steve and I talked back and forth and the first hour went by relatively quickly. We settled into a strategy of stopping every other lap for hydration/nutrition either from the official aid station or our own stash. I was making every attempt at staying hydrated and cool early on. At the sweltering L.A. Marathon earlier this year, I learned that sticking ice in your sports bra is heavenly. So I repeated this genius behavior and attribute much of my success to keeping my core body temperature lowered.

I ate an Uncrustable (grape, duh) early on when I realized I was pretty hungry. I knew that I needed to keep calories in so I was trying to eat something every other time I stopped for liquid even though I was getting some calories from the Mountain Dew and Gatorade.

My legs felt sluggish for the first 15 miles, but everything else was pretty much perfect. I was energized, in a good place mentally, and was relatively comfortable. I stopped to pee which was a good sign that I was hydrating early and often.

Somewhere around mile 17 or 18, Steve pushed me to go on while he walked a bit. We got in a solid 3 hours and though it was early, I knew we'd be able to run more later given the style of the course.

Soon after that, I saw Dan who had come out to set up his stuff for the 12 hour on Sunday as well as support a few other friends running. He ran a 1/2 mile lap with me and it was a nice transition into my loner hours. 

I was feeling so much different than the race I had 3 weeks prior. Everything started to fall in place and I tried to stay on top of anything that might sway me from a great night. Without Steve to talk to, I decided I would wait until somewhere between the marathon mark and 50K to grab my music. It seemed to pay off because some of my fastest miles were between 26-39.

I allowed myself to remember the awesome feeling I had when I finished the lap after the marathon mark last year. I was hoping that I would have a similar feeling as I cruised beyond mile 50 this year.

I did actually start to feel sleepy around 2am so I popped a caffeine pill and drank a few sips of coffee that I cooled off with ice. My feet were sore from all the miles on pavement and I was hoping that I would suffer no long-term effects from repeated doses of OTC painkillers.

Food was getting harder and harder to figure out. I was hungry, but nothing stood out so I just tried a bunch of everything. I ate a couple of mini chocolate donuts (those kind that almost taste like they are coated in wax?) and a fair number of boiled potatoes dipped in salt. I ate another half of an Uncrustable at some point and a bunch of Pringles. I ate some baby pickles, a few peanut M&M's, some orange slices, a couple of hunks of watermelon, and spent the last couple of hours eating a lemon sandwich cookie every other mile.

My Garmin died at mile 39.99 (really?, really.) and so I relied on the time clock and lap counter for the rest of the evening. As I headed into the 7th hour, I realized that I was about to slay my 50 mile PR. I've only run 50 twice and both were on trails, but I figured that this was still pretty awesome considering I still was going to run for nearly 4 more hours afterwards. I finished my 50th lap in 8:07:23!

I was thrilled going into mile 51 and I almost forgot that I was entering new territory mileage-wise. But then again it was 5am and now I was counting down the moments until I could get rid of my head lamp and hat. I caught up with Steve and we ran for a bit together. The sky slowly started to get lighter and though I knew the sun would bring heat, it would also signal that we were nearing the finish.

The light brought the race back to life for many runners. Now that we could properly see each other, there were all kinds of words of encouragement being tossed around. I ran with blue shirt runner guy for a bit and he told me he was aiming for 50 miles. We were both on track to hit our goals and it was exciting that we had an extra time cushion.

I was waving to him and Steve as we went 'round and 'round the circle. When I knew that 100K was locked in barring some act of God, I allowed myself to relax a bit. It seemed unreal that I had run that many miles.

And yet, when I crossed the mat at mile 62, I just kept right on going. I still had an hour and a half left. I ran a few more miles and then I sought companionship. The boredom and fatigue were beginning to consume me and I needed a distraction. When I reached Steve again, we walked and talked. Erin and her niece came just after 8am and they joined us for 2 miles. I grabbed a beer from the cooler as we walked what I thought was going to be my final mile. A victory lap of sorts. 68 laps was more than I hoped for so I was pleased as punch to just enjoy the moment.

But as we neared the last mile, we saw there were still 15 minutes left on the clock. Runnable, but questionably walkable in our zombie state. Erin gave me the challenging push and that was all I needed. I handed Steve my beer and took off hoping to squeak out another mile.

It hurt so good. Knowing that it was just icing on the cake took all the pressure off. I felt as though I was running a 6 minute mile. It was the perfect mix of silly and determined which pretty much sums up my running. With a few minutes still left before the cutoff, I crossed the line for my 69th lap.

Results are still pending so I'm not sure where I placed in the weekend. But no matter what, I am thrilled with my race and even happier that I got to spend the race weekend with my RB.
Steve knocked out an impressive 58+ miles and kept moving and smiling throughout the night. There aren't that many weirdos out there that want to run around in circles in the middle of July in Georgia overnight. I'm lucky to share breakfast beers and cookies with this swell dude from Michigan. Better yet? He and Adam can watch 58590380285 innings of baseball together all weekend while I take naps.

If this is a dream, please don't ever wake me up.

1 comment:

  1. Running 69 miles is uber impressive in itself, but doing it overnight when normal people are sleeping is unreal!