Saturday, November 18, 2023

426 Laps: The Stinger 24 Hour 2023 Edition

If I’m being honest, I had no business running a 24 hour race less than 12 weeks after UTMB. Recovery had gone okay, but I knew that it was going to be tough to ask my body and mind to do something long and difficult again in such a short amount of time. 

I told myself I could always bail if I wanted to. A timed race can be gracious in that way. If I ran 1 lap and decided it wasn’t my day, I would still be recorded for the 1 lap. I wanted to hit 100 miles, but I gave myself the grace that it would be okay if I was absolutely miserable.

Which is a strange notion considering how miserable conditions were, especially to start. I stayed at a hotel overnight near the race so that I could get a full night’s sleep and only have to drive 5 minutes to the track. When I peeked out the window that morning, I saw steady rain coming down and decided to wait until the last possible minute to head out.

At the race, I set up my changing tent over my small table to try to keep some of my stuff dry. This really didn’t work as the changing tent is definitely not waterproof and it was windy enough that all my gear not inside plastic bags or boxes ended up getting wet. Thankfully, most of my clothes remained dry so I at least had a few things to keep me warm later in the race.

Jared was running the 6 hour so he and I hung out in the few minutes before the race under the aid station tent to stay out of the rain. My feet were already soaking wet and we hadn’t even started yet. But at least it was on the track so there wasn’t any mud or slippery conditions. Just a few spots that the water had pooled on lane 1. 

I decided to just stick with my usual 24 hour strategy, which is to run 10ish minute miles for as long as I can. On the track, this is about a 2:30 lap. It didn’t take too long to get locked into the pace and just kind of zone out for a bit. I was surprisingly colder than I expected and was really glad I had added an extra layer before starting. As I was running around and around, I was thinking about all the extra gear I keep in my car and how I might have to go get some of it if I ran out of dry stuff!

In the orange hat on the far left

For nutrition, I started out with alternating a Spring Energy Awesomesauce Gel (180 cal) every 75 minutes or so and eating a mini croissant (?? calories) in between the gels. I did this pretty consistently until I got to the 7th gel and then switched to vegetable soup and soda (they had a 2 liter of Sprite and I'm pretty sure I drank most of it). Then, as usual, it became an exercise of eating whatever sounded palatable. There comes a point that chewing is actually really difficult despite all signs of my body telling me that I need to eat. I did manage to eat half of a cheeseburger at one point and I was really enjoying the hot chocolate later in the race. 

It rained pretty steady for the first 4ish hours of the race. I wore a rain jacket for awhile, but then I was soaked anyway and it was annoying me so I just went down to a wool base layer and a long-sleeve over it. I switched to my super warm mittens, but by the time that Cassy arrived at around 5 hours in, they were soaked too. I asked her to go retrieve all of my gloves that I keep in my center console in my car and ended up using probably 6 pairs of gloves throughout the race. Anyone who knows me can attest that it is crazy that I used that many as I’m usually so warm while racing!

Jared lapped me a bunch of times (as expected!) and it was nice to have a familiar face out there on the course for at least a quarter of the race. I knew it was going to get lonely later so I was happy to enjoy all the people running the “shorter race” while I could. Of course, when he was all packed up and leaving, I thought about how dumb I was to be continuing on for 18 more hours. Eek.

I planned to start with music, but then changed my mind and just left my phone/headphones within reach on my table. The music from the aid station was loud enough to be heard around the track so I didn’t really need it, but once Jared left, I decided to queue up my own playlist. 

It had slowed down to a mist for a while and was even dry for a few hours in the late afternoon and evening. But everything had a dampness about it and while I love the cold, I do not love the wet cold. I had to fight with my tent multiple times to keep it down and any time I needed something, I had to stop for it. 

I wore my New Balance 1080v11s for the first 50k or so and then switched to the 13s for the rest of the race. I am fortunate to typically not have blister issues on my feet, but my soles were achy very early on. I tried loosening my shoes as much as possible, but it didn’t really seem to help all that much. For much of the race, I kept thinking how nice it would feel to run without that dull ache. Thus, the quest for the perfect track/road ultra shoe continues.

Things felt heavy from the onset. The conditions, my brain, my body. I held a fairly steady pace for 50ish miles. I knew a few minutes here and there weren't a huge deal and as the miles ticked off, the more time I was able to bank to get to 100.

In my previous 24 hour races, I have hit the 50 mile mark in 9-10 hours and 100k in 11-12 hours. Despite feeling not so great, I still managed to be in that range and started to think about my rewards at miles 70, 80, and 90. It's those little motivations that I use later in the race that often keep me going when 30 miles seems like way too far to go.

At 70 miles, I called Adam for a pep talk. I chatted with him and Megan, who was staying with him, for a bit and then felt ready to bite off the next chunk of time. 

I told myself I could change into capris or leggings at mile 80. I expected I would be doing more walking and getting into something dry would feel nice. It was somewhere in the 70s that my eyes started to droop. It was so early! What was happening?! I let them droop over and over and I wandered slowly around a few laps, trying to will myself to feel less sleepy. 

Finally, I decided to go into the locker rooms to use a proper restroom and lie down in the warmth for 10 minutes. I set an alarm on my phone and hoped I would feel better after a teeny bit of sleep. I laid on the wooden bench and promptly passed out. Fortunately, it seemed to help a little and I forced myself to go back out into the cold night to keep going. 

This actually happened 2 more times before I reached 100 miles. I've never felt so sleepy in a 24 hour before! I ended up sleeping sitting up in a corner for my last nap, hoping it would be easier to get up when my timer went off. 

Once I started interspersing walk breaks, I tried to go 5 miles at a time before walking. Then 2.5. Then 1. And when I got to the last 5 miles, it was just trying to maintain slightly more running than walking. 

In the second half of the race, I was lucky to share some laps with other racers. The field had been whittled down as the 6 and 12 hour racers were finished (save for few who started later in the day) and the dark, rainy cold sent some of the 24 hour racers early. Talking with others kept me distracted for a while and I welcomed any conversation that was not my own thoughts at that point. Thanks Eric, Ray, and Karen!

One of the best things about this particular race was the other racers' crews. They were supporting their runners, but as the night wore on, they'd smile and offer words of encouragement to me as well. I loved seeing them do everything they could to keep their racer moving. It's one thing to crew someone every 5-10 miles, where you only have to be present for a few minutes every couple of hours. It's a totally different thing to be assisting every 2-4 minutes, especially in the cold rain! 

As I narrowed my own gap to 100 miles, I knew I was then faced with a new conundrum. My mom and her boyfriend Jay were coming to watch at 6am and see the final 2 hours of the race. It was going to be her first time attending an ultra event and it would be pretty lame if I tapped out after reaching 100 miles. I decided I'd do a lap to drop off my buckle, go take (another) brief nap, and then do some walking laps.

I reached 100 miles at 20:41:16 which somehow was only 15 minutes slower than last year, even with all my sleep breaks. 

I took my tiny nap and when I started walking, I got very nauseous. There really wasn't much in my stomach at that point, so I basically was just dry heaving. Okay body. Weird. 

After a few more laps, my stomach felt much better and then I realized I was pretty hungry. So I grabbed the last Dunkin’ Donut that I spotted at the aid station. 

I spotted my mom and Jay from across the track when they arrived and power walked over. I showed them where they could sit and watch a few zombies shuffle around for a couple of hours. My mom gave me little cheers every time I came around and Jay chatted with the race directors for a bit.

For many various reasons, I decided to tap out at 23ish hours. I had a few more miles than “just” 100. I was no longer running. My feet were really, really sore. And I was ready to change into dry clothes and eat some breakfast. 

So at just over 23 hours, 426 laps, and 105.47 miles, I turned in my timing chip and allowed myself to stop moving. 

I feel proud of this one for different reasons than I do other 100s/24 hour races I've completed. I spent a lot of time arguing with myself about why it would be okay to stop and it would have been completely valid. For a long time in my running “career”, I was solidly in the death before DNF camp. But once I DNF’d and realized that life goes on, I found that a less-than-ideal outcome is just sometimes how the cookie crumbles.

Of course I want to do well. I enjoy racing and competing. I want to get the best out of myself. But sometimes the day, my body, my mind, etc. are imperfect. I know I can do hard things. I don’t feel like I have to prove that to myself. I’ve had a slew of great races this year so it was not surprising in the least that I had to go to the well for this one. It definitely makes you appreciate the good ones!      


  1. Amazing once again!

  2. You continue to make us old people proud!

  3. I’m so glad you write this, Carissa. As a newcomer to all this, it’s fascinating. So glad your mom and I got to see you in action.