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November 26, 2006
by Bill (The "Geeze") Rumbaugh
It's a few days before the 24 hour event takes place. Between now and then is the Thanksgiving Holiday. I expect to be rested, fueled and hydrated before the start. (Well, with a houseful of company, fueled and hydrated anyway! But it's all good.) The only nagging question is, have I given enough time for the old bod to recover from the Rockledge Rumble 50k two weeks prior.
The beauty of this event is that it takes away all the excuses. Everything the runner needs is there at trackside. If you need something (other than a brain transplant for signing up for it in the first place) you have only a couple of minutes to wait until you are at the next aid station. This event has them every quarter mile! How helpful is that? And wherever do they get all the volunteers? No rocks, roots, scree, water crossings, hills, sticky mud, poorly marked trails to get you lost, no spider webs, no cougars, albino squirrels, or snakes, none of the things that us trail runners hold near and dear. No pesky headlights or flashlights which can let you down at the derndest times, because there is no need for 'em – the field is lighted! Hate hitting the bushes for nature calls? No prob, heated restrooms are nearby and porta-potties at trackside. Nope, it's all about what you can do, Bubba. No excuses.
Speaking of brain transplants (or implants, depending) my friends and colleagues are accustomed to asking me, what's my next event? This time I have migrated to telling them some evasive answer like, "Oh, a timed event over in Addison. Nice day today." Hoping to change the subject.
Usually, some comment about, I did not know Addison had any trails.
"Yeah, well, this one is a track event, rather than trails. I'm a 'compleat' runner, doncha know." Still clinging to the hope that we can move on before the final, crucial piece of information is exposed for examination.
Sometimes I'm lucky, but usually, it's "Well, just how long is it?"
"Oh, um 24 hours. New (sneakers, 'do, pocket protector)? Cool!"
"Wait. Did you say 24 hours? As in a freakin' DAY???"
If they had any suspicions about my sanity, I've succeeded in rooting them out and obliterating them forever.
But … it's all in the name of finding out what you've got.
Just about all of us human beans are fortunate enough to be able to walk. The majority of those can manage 4 miles per hour. It's fairly brisk, but achievable. Keep it up for 24 hours and you got 96 hours under your belt. Only 4 more and you can hit the century mark, a nice, round number anyone can identify with. A significant three digits, instead of a trivial two. Now, any runner worthy of the name ought to be able to run a few miles early on, build up a bit of a cushion and walk it in the rest of the way, right? What could possibly go wrong???
Doing anything physical for 24 hours is sure to wear a person down, so it's all about stamina and mental toughness. In my book, that's a big part of ultrarunning, so even though this is not in a wilderness area, it does contain that key ingredient.
So, will I be a champ and achieve my goal of 100 miles in 24 hours, or will I be a chump and fall short, wimping out to some trivial ailment that I've blown out of proportion in the wee hours when fuel is low, willpower wanes, and cold numbs my bones? Will I succumb to boredom, wander off the track, and "come to" in some nearby shopping mall or the back yard of a residence? Will a forgotten injury from years gone by rise Phoenix-like from its ashes to come back to revisit me at this, the worst possible time? Yer about to find out, Big Guy!
My introduction to the event was remarkably idyllic. There were 3 runners who showed up the day prior, for the 48-hour event (which runs concurrently with the 24-hour event). I had signed on to help count laps for them. Tom Crull counted laps for two of them, Mark Henderson a lean, strong, tough runner, and a smallish older gentleman who appeared to be of Indian/Pakistani extraction. The latter person showed up about 30 minutes after the race started and proceeded to walk/run at a quite leisurely pace. "My" runner was Tim O'Rourke from California, who was not actually there to run for two days, but rather to make an attempt at the US 50k record for his age group (45 – 49). The old record was 3:24, he obliterated it in 3:17. He was amazingly consistent, his splits were within my accuracy to note them from the course clock, plus or minus one second per reading (when you subtract one from the other, calculated splits can vary a couple of seconds). He was very focused, and made it look sooo easy.
After Tim left, I took over duties of lap counting for one of the other runners. It was at that point that I discovered the guy who showed up late and started out slowly was none other than the famous/infamous Paul Piplani, PhD., from Arizona. If you subscribe to the Ultra List, you know him by reputation. I was told that he had just driven in from Arizona the morning of the race. Gosh, that's farther than El Paso. Then he plans to run for two days?
It started to sprinkle a few minutes before 10:00 the morning of the 24 hour event, just about start time. I was watching the clock which read 23:59:30 and still nearly everyone was under the tent. Finally, just a few ticks before 24:00:00 there was some general motion toward the starting line and the Race Director, Scott Eppelman, aimed us in the right direction, shouted "GO" and we were off.
The rubberized track surface was new and cushy, and as you might expect, flat and level, including the turns which were not banked. Tom Crull pointed out during one of our conversations during the race that the rubber surface has its drawbacks. The rebound from the surface with each step takes its toll on your muscles and joints over time. Plus, you tend to use the same muscles running in a straight line on level ground. Trails, by comparison, provide variations which distribute the wear and tear over more muscles. 100 miles on the trail is easier on a person than 100 miles on pavement, and, it would appear that this applies even to the seemingly more user-friendly cushy track surfaces.
In other races, both marathons and trail runs, I have gotten into a zone where I tend to focus on the next major landmark, whether it be a turn at a corner of the course or the next aid station. The miles in between, sort of melt away as I chat with other runners or just enjoy the scenery. Not so with track running, I found out. A quarter of a mile does not sound like much to a runner who logs tens of miles per week. But on the track, it can seem like it takes a really long time getting around the thing. Each circuit requires substantial effort, and each and every mile is hard-fought. At least that was how it seemed to me.
I had read that there is a lot of conversation between the runners at events like this. Helps stave off boredom. I saw a lot of talking, and I even had a few chats, but not as many as I expected, and none were protracted. There was difficulty in finding people with exactly the same pace. I would slow up a little, but did not want to run at the slower pace too long, nor was I wanting to push my own pace for very long to keep up. Some would peel off for water or other breaks, or would simply need to walk when I was running or vice versa. I was kind of disappointed, hoping to get to know some of the folks a bit better.
In high school gym class, if you were caught goofing off or otherwise screwing up, you got to go run laps. How I hated that. If any of my gym teachers/coaches are still alive today, they would never believe I'd be a willing participant in an undertaking like this. Speaking of which, my high school track was a quarter mile oval, "paved" with cinders. These days, they are a tad bit shorter, based on the metric system. So many of our high school athletes compete internationally, you know. So 400 laps is not 100 miles, it takes 402 laps plus some change to actually get to 100 miles. This was news to me until the day of the event, but then, what's another couple of laps at that point.
My experience seemed to be divided into four phases.
The first 8 or 9 hours was spent just settling in. The rain let up and yielded to a mostly cloudy sky with occasional patches of sun the remainder of the day. There were some issues with my left foot. The bottom of it was hurting, which was something new for me. I tried to ignore it but it did not go away. Then I noticed the instep was also giving me problems. Well, I needed to deal with this before things got out of hand. I had brought all of my shoes, so I changed from trail shoes (with their good drainage/ventilation needed during the rain) to my best pair of street shoes. Later, I changed from Injinji toe socks (which were bunching up at the base of the toes on my right foot) to what I typically use during long runs, polypropylene sock liners and Thorlo trail running socks. This got me to a plateau where the pain was not getting significantly worse with time and was more general than localized. This seems to be about as much as you can hope for. Long about this time, it was getting dark. I thought, "Man, it seems like we've been at this forever!" It was, in fact longer than I had ever run before in my life (my longest races to date were two 50k's both completed within the past 5 weeks). I realized that we will be running in the dark more than we will be running in the light. It's just now getting dark. The 12 hour halfway point is still hours away. It began to sink in that this was going to be a really long race.
The next phase was one of dull monotony where the laps clicked off on my handheld lap counter and if I had a "zone," that was probably it. Toward the end of this phase (at 10:00 PM), my Sweet Wife Mariana, her sister Kathleen, and her husband Pat, arrived to take their turn as volunteer lap counters. The Billmans (Dave and Paula) also reported for duty for the same 10 – 2 shift. It was great to have several people at the tables who knew me and rooted loudly as I passed several of the intermediary milestones. Thanks, guys!
I had hoped to pass lap 300 by the time they left, but it was not to be. It was more like 275 or so. My strategy for the race, if you want to call it that, was to run 3 laps and walk one, and to keep it up as long as I could before deviating. You have to have a strategy and that was mine. At lap 300 I decided to go to a 2/1 scheme, sort of surprised that I was able to keep it up that long. It was getting increasingly hard to get myself into running mode after walking a lap. My body, especially my legs/quads, were really rebelling at that point. I had resorted to taking a couple of ibuprofen earlier in the race. I am not a guy who goes for the pain killers at the drop of a hat, plus all the bad press that has been heaped upon "Vitamin I" lately made me take them only as a last resort. I did keep the number small (total of 8) and it helped to get me through. At about lap 325 I thought that I had built up enough of a time cushion that I could probably walk it in the rest of the way. If I came up a lap or two short, I could run them as needed. It was a little after 3 AM at that point. So I began to walk and walk and walk. The miles crept by. The total on my lap counter ever so slowly incremented its way upward.
One of the recurring thoughts I had at this point was all the traffic going by on Spring Valley Road, a stone's throw from the track. If the vehicle occupants even noticed that the soccer and football field lights were on at that ghastly hour, I'm sure none of them had any idea of the agony that was taking place just on the other side of the fence. Glycogen depletion had long since set in. As you may know, glycogen is the only fuel that your brain uses. My muscles had glommed much of it, leaving a scarcity of it in my bloodstream. Bottom line, well into an endurance event, you are not able to think very clearly. I don't remember exactly when it was, probably about 6 AM or so, it began to dawn on my effort-fogged brain that my time cushion was evaporating and I best start running if I hope to get to 100 miles before the 24 hours is up. Thankfully, all the walking had given my running muscles the break they needed. So I resumed my 2/1 regimen without the screaming protest from my quads that I had expected. After my first lap running after about 3 hours of walking, I remember one of the volunteers in the tent yelling, "All right, he’s back in this!" Two laps running at this point was about all I could manage on a sustained basis. I no longer had any "depth." My plan was to get ahead of things to the point where I knew for certain that I had it in the bag, and then hoof it on in. I never got to that point. When my "crew" showed up near the end of the race to celebrate my victory (or mourn my demise as the case may be), I was still 2/1-ing it. I had caught it early enough that I was barely able to finish 100 miles plus a couple of easy "insurance" laps at the end. It wasn't pretty, but I got 'er done!
There were several experienced runners who had bad days. Some overcame, and managed to finish with distinction, others had issues they could not recover from. All in all it was inspiring to me to see raw grit and determination in action. I can't remember everybody, but "Lethal Letha" Cruthirds and I were running about the same pace in the wee hours, and she mentioned that she was hurting. Toward the end, her ultrarunner spirit prevailed and her pace picked back up and she finished strong. Mark Syring (from Minnesota) was ridiculously fast, effortlessly passing the field many, many times. Others had severe foot problems and had to drop out. Shawna Brown toughed it out to the end, earning a PB of 80+ miles, most of it on feet that hurt too much to support running. Marshall King kept up his smooth racewalking gait the whole time. I think I saw him walking a regular walk one time the whole race, and if he took any breaks they were few in number. With racewalking you have to be very consistent, because at its slower speed, you cannot build up much of a time cushion. He is now an official member of the elite Centurions, those who have completed 100 miles racewalking in 24 hours. Good goin' Marshall! Mark Henderson (who has run something like 14 ultras this year) held a strong pace through his first 24 hours and well into the second 24 when an injury took him out of commission. He was handily passing 24 hour runners while they were still fresh. It appeared to be the type of injury that will be slow to heal and that should not be aggravated by further abuse. He left the field to rest and recover but came back to walk a lot of laps during the night and morning, providing encouragement to others. He had duct tape around his calf and down his leg and motion was painful. His goal was to set a new course record and he appeared to be on track to do it, but 'twas not to be, this year. I observed several instances of "ralphing" and there were numerous blisters that needed attention, some more major than others, none trivial. One person was weaving a bit toward the wee hours and it became apparent that they were actually asleep while walking. Another, after a strong effort all day suddenly slowed way down, became erratic and staggered into the infield area twice within a short distance. I reported the incident to the lap counters and an official pulled them to the side. The person was not seen for several laps and then returned later to resume the earlier pace. A case of running out of gas, apparently. It can and does happen. Some amazing stuff.
The organization and venue were top notch. High fives to Scott Eppelman, on this, his last time to direct this race. He moves on to a higher calling (becoming a Dad) and we all wish him and his family the very best. I can't think of anything that was overlooked or not taken into account at this event. It all had the look of a well run, organized proceeding that was staffed by experienced people. Thank you, Scott, well done!
I can't say enough about the volunteers. To come out and have to be fully focused for 4 hours straight (you don't want to let your runners down, after all) is a substantial effort and much appreciated. The folks who manned the "kitchen" were most obliging, providing anything a runner could want (but fresh legs, of course). Those who came out in the middle of the night to do this are over the top. One man, named Bill (wish I could remember his last name) came from another state (Tennessee? The Volunteer State?) to volunteer. He counted laps for me for two 4-hour shifts back to back. He was there Friday at the beginning of the 48-hour event and was on hand at the finish. What a guy. All you guys made it happen, many thanks!
WHAT WORKED FOR ME
There were two of us folks age 60 or over who completed 100 miles in 24 hours this time. Looking through the previous records of the event, there were a total of five others (one of them twice) who had done so in the 16 year history of the event. If you are interested in taking on something like this in the future, you might be interested in what I did in preparation and during the event. (Remember the part about the brain transplant!)
Before the Event:
Made a list (and checked it twice) of all the stuff I thought I might need. I actually needed/used only about ¼ of it, but remember the Scout Motto! Organized it into different bags. Most of the things that would be damaged, or made less pleasant to use if wet, were packaged in Ziploc bags in case of rain. Brought a lawn chair to sit in while I changed shoes/sox. The chair also helped to organize my stuff, clothing and food/miscellaneous items in the chair, shoe bag under the chair. I brought a tarp to put over the whole thing and weighted it down with my ice chest on one side and my tackle box (with just about everything I could think of that a runner might need) on the other side to keep it from blowing away. I had a luggage cart to help wrangle the stuff to and from the race site. I brought enough shoes to be sure that I could change to dry ones periodically and brought every technical pair of socks that I own (in a Ziploc, of course).
During the Event:
Stopped every hour to refuel. Synchronized fuel stops with my walking laps. I alternated between a half PB&J and a bottle of Ensure. I had a schedule in laminated plastic so I could quickly figure out what I needed to do. I know this last part sounds a bit anal retentive, but it really helped to have something I could go to that would tell me exactly what needed to be done and when. You gotta have a plan. The diet was lackluster, but not being an experienced ultrarunner, I don't know yet what foods really work for me but I knew these do. As we all know, this is not the time to experiment. I'd rather be monotonous than pay Ralph a visit. For the wee hours, my Sweet Wife brought some thermos jugs of hot potato soup. This was especially tasty and quite welcome. Toward the end of the event, nothing really sounded good and I stopped eating regularly the last 4 or 5 hours. I was not hungry at any time, but I did drink a bottle of Ensure at one point, to stay stoked. About a half hour from the very end, I took a Hammer gel, just to be sure I was not the one staggering around on the infield with my goal in sight. I took an electrolyte capsule every hour. I took on plenty of water, felt guilty about using all the small cups, but I did not want to carry a handheld water bottle. One hand had the lap counter in it, and to occupy the other hand unnecessarily was just not something I wanted to do. For one thing (I know it's gross and crude) my nose runs a lot when I'm out of doors in the cold, especially when running. I have gotten to where I'm pretty good at blowing my nose without a handkerchief. The Ultracentric has really honed my skills in this area. To have to mess with a handkerchief or Kleenex (both of which are cold, wet and unpleasant to use pretty early on) is something else I did not want to contend with. So an unencumbered free hand was useful in other ways. Enough of that, we do what we gotta do. For muscle cramps the electrolyte pills did their job. A time or two I felt my hamstrings begin to tighten a little. I brought a few bottles of tonic water in the ice chest. It contains quinine which can dilate blood vessels slightly. I think this helped, anyway the tightening gradually went away. It tasted good, too, a pleasant change of pace is always welcome. I had heard of people getting sleepy in the early morning hours, when sane folks are sawing logs. Then I saw the person sleeping while they were walking. Kind of as an afterthought I had put a can of a caffeine drink in my ice chest. I got it at a race many moons before, and don't even remember the name of it. Had a strong citrus flavor and was highly carbonated. So I drank most of it, and it seemed to help. Red Bull or a similar drink is probably a good idea for this type of event.
After the Event
This was by far the worst I have ever trashed my body. I thought I felt bad after my first couple of marathons. This really took it to a whole new level! I remember remarking to someone, "If this is what it feels like to be old, take me now!" Without a lot of boring specifics, pretty much every muscle used in walking or running hurts. My right knee hurts too, which concerns me a little. But I believe that a little rest will help me to snap back. I am oh, so grateful that I thought to put in for an extra day of vacation after the Thanksgiving weekend just on the outside chance that I might need it. Boy howdy, did I ever need it!
I have read of (and know of) people who swear by ice baths for the lower extremities, say after a marathon. If ever there was a time I needed it, this would be that time. So I gave it a try, using the leftover ice from my ice chest. Much discomfort, little benefit that I can tell. I know, think how bad it would have been had I not taken it. I ain't believin' it. We went out to dinner the evening of the race's completion. I had taken a fitful nap that afternoon, could not find a comfortable position where nothing hurt. I eventually got to sleep but woke up about 3 hours later, got up and got dressed. The restaurant was on the second floor of its building. Going up the stairs was a little slow, but after sitting in one place without moving around for like, 2 hours, getting back down the steps afterward was glacial (not to mention painful). As I shuffled by, other patrons probably thought, "Look at that poor old geezer, he must have arthritis. It hurts to see him move." Little could they know what I had been doing less than 12 hours before. Enough of the complaints. Of the bugaboos that plague ultrarunners, I was surprisingly free of them. No problems with digestion or runner’s trots, no blisters, and no muscle pulls or cramping. Any of which could have potentially taken me out of contention for reaching the goal. There were a few places that were chafed but not seriously, and I expect them to go away on their own in a few days with little or no attention.
There are some quotes that come to mind:
- "The only way to define your limits is by going beyond them."
- Arthur Clarke
- "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go."
- T.S. Eliot
- "A man's got to know his limitations."
- Clint Eastwood as 'Dirty Harry'
- As well as one from the slightly less famous Marshall King: "I told my wife, 'If I ever mention doing this again, you are to hit me upside the head with a shovel.'" My sentiments exactly. I have found my limits and they are 100 miles in 24 hours.
The Sunmart 50k Endurance Run on December 10, back to more sane mileage. Can he be ready? Stay tuned for the next exciting episode!