Monday, September 26, 2016

Hinson Lake 24 Hour Endurance Run: 109 Miles Of Transcendence

I am crying in the dark waddling on the backside of the course. Unrelenting stinging pain reduces me to walking and for a half mile, I sob and mutter obscenities. My inner thighs are rubbed raw from the past 80-something miles I've just run and though a reasonably proper facility is just 7 minutes away, a tree seems to be harmless. Instead, I realize with great horror that I can no longer squat far enough to avoid urine contact with my open wounds.

This is the low. Mentally, I am ashamed and broken. Physically, I am so uncomfortable that I fear my race is in jeopardy.

At my tent, I fight back more tears as I rip off my shorts and climb into capris. It is still warm even in the dark, but the chafing is now a bigger threat than the temperature.

Immediately, I am relieved of my acute physical pain. I toss the shorts outside of the tent and shuffle down the trail.


Race morning is like most others. Happy runners milling about, nervously excited about the impeding task.
The sunrise is incredible. I feel calm because I feel capable.
The race director gives a quick speech and then we are off.
Steve and I run the first 1.5 mile loop together. His goal is to try to maintain 21 minute laps. My goal is to stay around 12ish minute miles, knowing I will feel better early on (re: faster) and worse later (re: slower). The day is expected to be hot and I aim to be slightly faster in the first few hours when the temperatures are less terrible.

We part ways after the first loop as he switches to the walk part of his strategy. I throw off my tank as I passed our camp area.

For the first few hours of the race, I feel fantastic. The easy pace and tapered body are making me confident that I might actually pull this off. I grab my handheld out of the cooler after a couple of laps and begin to strategize my nutrition. At the fourth lap, I start making an effort to get something either at the official aid station or our setup.

I eat an orange slice or two and decide to grab a gel around 10ish miles. The Mountain Dew is too sugary in the heat and so I start mixing the blue Gatorade Endurance with water.

As the morning wears on, I am content to run by myself. Just chugging along and lost in my own little world. There are plenty of people of the course and I catch snippets of conversation in between my own thoughts. I see Steve, Jen, Angie, Rachelle, and Win. Sometimes we run together for a bit, sometimes we walk, and sometimes we just wave hello.
Miles 10-20 are a digestive nightmare. I am in and out of the porta-potties every other lap. They are insufferably hot and more intolerable than usual. Eventually my stomach settles and I decide on the 5th hour of running to try a bit of real food. I choose the tiniest slice of cheese pizza and walk for a minute to eat and digest. After a mile or so, nausea hits me again. Angie offers up her ginger chews and I start to feel a bit better.

Staying on top the heat is brutal. According to Garmin, the heat topped out at 91°. Factor in the humidity for extra fun. I stuff my sports bra and bandana with ice. I swap out my hat and bandana for frozen ones on the cooler. The only relief is that the course is mostly shaded and that the exposed sections total only a few hundred meters.

As we head into the heat of the day, I notice many runners taking long breaks. Many are lying in their campsites, seeking relief from the warmth. I am envious of their popsicle breaks and ability to eat real food.

I've crossed over the marathon mark, 50K mark, and begin to shoot for the 50 miles. The tediousness of the task is wearing on me and I am glad to pick up company for a few laps with David. It is wonderful to get out of my own head for a few miles and I am in a really great spot between miles 40-50.

Carrie stops by with her dog Farrah and I walk briefly with her and Jen. I am getting updates now about my placement which truly hadn't been on my radar given how much further we had to go. But admittedly, I feel a bit competitive when I find out I am in second place and the first female is planning to drop after a distance PR.

As the sun begins to drop, I know that despite getting relief from the heat, the night miles lie ahead. Dark and lonely, they loom. I fear how my body will react beyond the distance I know it is capable of running. I fear how dark my thoughts will go when I want to stop.

I cling to the good things. The gnomes planted all over the course that runners pick up and drop off at random makes me giggle. Eating pickles in the same bite as a potato chip and a cookie makes me giggle. Sharing a few steps or a few miles with my old friends or new friends makes me smile. Running through the makeshift misting station each lap makes me smile.

At dusk, I grab my headlamp and sigh as I prepare for a long night. My caloric intake has been abysmal thanks to the heat. I have started taking walk breaks from the aid station to the first boardwalk. The twilight hours reignite the field briefly and those who sought relief from the heat are back for a few laps.

I decide to change shorts somewhere around 100K. Sweet relief. I begin plotting treats for myself for the remainder of the course. Getting past 68 miles will be a distance PR and that's a treat unto itself. At 70 miles, I would allow myself to call Adam for a motivational pep talk. After midnight, I would allow myself music. At 80 miles, I would allow myself to change my sports bra. At 90 miles, I would open the card that Matt gave me "for emergency use".

Talking to Adam is like getting a hug and a swift kick in the ass. Our conversation is long enough to be meaningful and short enough that I don't lose much time. For a few miles, I am pumped up and motivated which is not something I expect in the 70-something range.

The walk breaks are making the laps longer. I spend a gross amount of time doing runner math. It is shockingly difficult to add 1.5 to any number after running for 15 hours. And forget about calculating time or paces. Who decided to make 60 minutes in an hour?! Why is it not 100?! 

Changing my sports bra is relatively uneventful and not as amazing as expected. I come around for my 82ndish mile and hear the aid station volunteer offering oatmeal. It seems rather unoffensive and perhaps a good way for me to get some calories. I scoop a few bites into my mouth as I walk down the trail. It feels good to actually eat something. I toss the rest in the trash can and walk a few steps. Immediateprojectilevomiting. Oatmeal and Gatorade come flying out of my mouth without warning. I am so shell-shocked by the velocity that I stagger a bit to stand upright. Other zombies runners ask if I am okay. I wave them on.

Is this rock bottom?

A few miles later, I would discover rock bottom in a volatile cocktail of piss and chafe. There is no sugarcoating this experience. No one comes here for the glory. It isn't comfortable or easy. You cannot cheat 100 miles. It will rip apart your spirit in an instant. But nothing ever lasts.

And just as I touched the darkest place, I starting climbing out. I can and I will finish this.

I started the countdown to laps to go. With 7 laps to go, I tore open the envelope from Matt and exclaimed to the group at our campsite that I was relieved his message was short and to the point. I tossed the card on my camp chair and enjoyed the boost from my treat.

It seemed a bit silly to grab music after such a long time without it, but 7 laps at my sluggish pace was daunting. I was determined to not need the crutch and spent more delirious time inside my head performing more terrible math equations.

Like out of a terrible movie (because really, who would want to watch this?), I latched onto Jay when I was on lap 66. He was on lap 62 and so there was a bit of sweet relief that we could technically slow walk our way to 100. It was just before 4:00 a.m. I had been running for 20 hours.

Somehow, the renewed vigor of sharing this experience with someone who was about to do the same brought new life to me. I did whine a bit about wanting to walk, but I was seriously grateful for the final push. We ran the entire last lap. It wasn't very fast, but it was running. And running after 99 miles was a feat unto itself.

As I crossed the timing mat, I jumped about 6 inches in the air. It was all I could muster. I expected myself to get emotional, but perhaps I was too exhausted to work up more tears. I felt a sense of gratefulness and relief. Grateful for the entirety of the experience and relief that I had set out what I had intended to do.

Though the overachiever in me would have preferred for me to push for more miles with 3.5 hours left in the race, I decided to take it relatively easy. I walked a solo lap and then allowed myself to change shoes and sit. Jen walked another lap with me and then I took a 5 minute catnap in her chair. Then I walked solo for a bit and enjoyed the sunrise.
David caught up with me and we ran for a short while. When it got close to 7:20, I got my banana for the banana lap and grabbed my phone. A banana is given to each runner with their bib number in the last hour or so of the race. Runners are to drop their banana when the horn is sounded at 8:00 a.m. Your banana lap is measured and tacked onto the last known time you cross timing mat.
I called Adam on my banana lap. It was strange to feel "done" before the race was over, but I was solidly 1st place female and solidly 2nd place overall and I felt satisfied with 109+ miles on a stupid hot day. My last 3.5 hours were slow, but I was moving nearly the entire 24 hours.

I ended up passing the timing mat around 7:50 a.m. and continued walking along to drop my banana near our campsite. It was a pretty perfect place to end the race.

Talking to Ron, the male winner made me feel a bit better as we compared stories of battling the heat and puke. Though he was running at my marathon pace (!!!) for a considerable amount of the day, he too experienced some rough patches. As we were presented our winner swag and buckles, I grinned like the dork I am.

At risk of sounding like an Academy Awards show, there are so many people to thank in making this dream a reality. I'm sure I'll forget someone who is awesome so please forgive me--I am still catching up on sleep. Thank you to Jenster for planting this seed in my head and for inspiring me to do crazy things--I also reread the Timothy Olson piece so I feel slightly less insane now. Thank you to Steve for all the miles, all over the country--let's keep doing adventures! Thank you to Angie for being one badass stubborn chick who I'm quite certain is part running robot. Thank you to Rachelle (first marathon! first ultra!!) and Win for being awesome camping buddies. Thank you Matt for the 90 mile letter; I definitely needed it. Thank you to Scott for logging hundreds of miles with me on the Greenway all these years and congrats on being an IRONMAN. Thank you to Mild Sauce and Team Matz for making me think it was cool to dip my toes into the ultra scene. Thank you to Todd who gives me encouragement before and after every race. Thank you to JJ, my party hard, run harder internet bestie for making me a better runner through your posts and real-life friendship. Thank you to Dan and Hal for running misadventures and a hell of a fun summer. Thank you to Megan for your incredible selflessness (the nails, the dogs, etc., etc.) and the first one to say DO IT; you make me a better person. Thank you to my family, in-laws, and extended who thinks I'm crazy, but still calls to congratulate me or humblebrags on Facebook.

And of course, thank you to Adam for letting me be me. I say half-jokingly all the time I do what I want. But I know it's because he knows that this crazy stuff makes me happy. And doing stuff that makes you happy is really what it's all about.

Links to the race splits here.

Links to my GPS data here. And here. And also here, because I killed 2 Garmins.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

100 Miles Ready

1,661 miles. 

Since the stroke of midnight on January 1st, I have run 1,661 miles. 

Five marathons, two 50Ks, one 6-hour race, one 50-miler, and one 12-hour race.

7 different states of racing.

Logged miles in 10 states.


Every single hour on the clock. 

I've run solo, with a friend, and with a group.

I've qualified for Boston twice.

I've stood on a podium 4 times.

3 sets of batteries in my headlamp.

9 different pairs of Hokas and 1 pair of Sauconys.

Climbed 58,369' in elevation.

252 total hours.
100 miles, I am ready for you.