Trail and ultra running club in the North Texas and greater Dallas / Ft. Worth areas

Ultracentric 24 hour

by Marshall King

December 11, 2005

I was very excited about this race. I had my bags packed and my gear all picked out almost a week before the race. I felt like I was going to be successful and I was ready for the challenge. My family was out of town visiting relatives the two weeks before the race so that gave me plenty of opportunity to sleep late, relax and reserve my energy for the race.

The night before the race I slept well until about 1:30, then fitfully until about 4:30, then I went ahead and got up and read (Swimming to Antarctica, a fascinating book and a perfect choice before an ultra event). Since the race didn't start until 10:00 AM (unusual for races, especially ultras) I had the luxury of taking a shower, making a latte and eating a leisurely breakfast, then going by Starbucks for a second latte on the way to the race.

I got to the race area (Greenhill School, a private school in Addison just North of Dallas, Texas) about 9:00 and met some of my ultra friends and the other walker in the event, Ollie Nanyes. Ollie is very involved in the racewalking and ultrawalking scene. He approached the Ultracentric Race Director last year and this year about co-hosting the Centurion event, so it is largely because of Ollie that we even have Centurion events in the US right now (they are more popular in Europe and Australia). Ollie introduced me to Dave Gwyn, important figure in the Texas/Houston racewalking scene, and Scott Demaree, ultrawalker and ultrarunner who became US Centurion 60 at the 2004 Ultracentric. Dave and Scott would share judging duties.

For those of you not familiar with Centurion events, it is very simple. To be a Centurion, you must walk 100 miles in 24 hours at a judged event. Judges must establish rules in advance and must ensure that all entrants adhere to the rules. In standard racewalking there are two rules (no bent knees and no loss of contact). In ultrawalking the bent knee rule is usually not observed, and that was the case with Ultracentric. Basically, you couldn't run. You had to have one foot on the ground at all times and could not run at any time.

It was overcast and cool when I arrived at the race, and right before the time to start a light rain began to fall. I put on a long sleeve running shirt and jacket and was wearing shorts. After the race started I quickly changed into my short sleeve shirt and took off the jacket.

So the RD, Scott Eppelman, told us it was time to start and we headed out to the track. We all lined up, he yelled "Go!" and it was time to start walking.

One small thing that annoyed me was that the walkers were required to walk in lane 5. This worked well in many ways because I had solitude to focus and concentrate, which is how I like to train and race. But the problem was I had done all of my time and lap estimates based on lane 1. You might not think this was a big deal, but over the course of 100 miles it makes a big difference: In lane 1, 100 miles is 402.336 laps In lane 5, 100 miles is 377.062 laps To maintain a 13:30 pace (my goal pace to allow time for breaks at the aid station, changes of clothes/gear, etc.) in lane 1, each loop needs to be 3:21.3; in lane five each loop needs to be 03:34.8.

So at first I was concerned, but once we got into the race I estimated how fast I needed to go and then stuck with my pace as much as possible.

In the early miles Ollie and I switched leads a few times, usually when one of us stopped for aid, port-a-potties, etc. After a little while I pulled ahead of Ollie and was ahead for the rest of the race.

So we went around. And around. And around. The main way I occupied myself was by calculating my splits and estimating my pace. Occasionally I would get a chance to talk to one of my friends, or one of the judges, but mostly I just walked alone in a circle. Every two hours we would change directions (they placed a little bobbing hula girl dashboard decoration on the track and you had to walk around her). Every loop I would wave at my lap counter and he/she would wave back (over the course of the 24 hours I think I had five lap counters--what a boring job! I appreciate their help). Once or twice the walking judge would ask me my laps and then go verify the official lap count, and once or twice it was wrong.

In general I felt pretty good most of the first half. I promised my body that we would have some Advil after six hours, so that was a milestone to aim for. After I hit six hours and had two Advil I felt almost like I was starting the race again. My legs felt stronger and fresh and I was able to do some nice splits. My goal was to maintain a very even pace, and I was mostly successful. I slowed down, naturally, but I wasn't all over the map in terms of lap time. In fact one of the volunteers started calling me "Metronome Marshall" because of my even pace.

I lapped Ollie a few times after about eight hours and I could tell he was struggling. His race report confirms this. Ultracentric was his goal race for the year so I could imagine his frustration and disappointment as his chance at the Centurion slipped away. But the whole time he kept at it, had encouraging words for me, and maintained the best possible attitude.

I decided to change to some more cushioned shoes at 50 miles. My feet were sore and I felt like I might have been getting a blister on the heel of one foot. So I stopped (the only time in the whole race that I sat down) and changed shoes and socks. It turned out that the blister was under the rough callouses on my heel, so there's not much you can do about that. I did go ahead and change shoes and socks, grabbed a bite to eat and then got back on the track. My 50 mile split was 11:21 (a PR for me) so I was in good shape. If I could keep up a decent pace I could make it!

I ate and drank regularly all day. I took one electrolyte cap per hour during the first 60% of the race; I ate Clif Shot Bloks (I highly recommend them) and at the aid station I ate peanut butter sandwiches, grilled cheese sandwiches, cookies, hot potato soup, etc. It was great having an aid station every loop because I could stop by and ask if they had a grilled cheese, for example. If they didn't, they would start one and I would walk a loop and then pick up my order and eat it while walking.

Sometime after 12 hours Ollie pulled off the track and threw up. I thought that would be the end of his race but I was wrong. He did leave the track and go to the heated locker rooms to clean up and sleep. But he would be back.

During the evening and night time hours there were lots of friends and families on the track. Husbands would walk with wives (and vice versa), brothers, sisters and fathers would come out and support their runners. It was really a great atmosphere. Some people had pitched tents in the infield and would sleep there while coming out periodically to offer encouragement and support. Many of my friends struggled with this race. Although you would think a track ultra would be easier than a trail ultra, there are several things that make a track ultra very challenging: --Mentally the track loops can be very stressful--you never make it anywhere, and every lap you can see your car, your gear, your escape --Because there is no variation in the terrain, your body gets very fatigued of the repetitive motion. I ended up with blisters, which is somewhat unusual for me, simply because I did the exact same thing for 24 hours --The track surface is soft but also very springy, and after a while that bounce takes its toll on your muscles

There were some awesome accomplishments. One person who had never run beyond a 50k completed 100 miles. Another good friend who had never run beyond a 50k toughed it out for 24 hours, in spite of a lot of pain and discomfort. A few people decided to do 50 miles and then call it a day (or night). As in every race there were some great accomplishments and some disappointments. But it was great to see friends and family out to support their runner. By this point I hadn't seen my wife or daughter in two weeks so I got very sad and a little lonely. I was ready to be with them again.

Back to the race. The night time was nice and cool. There were no lights on the track but there were lights on the adjacent soccer and football fields. That was nice because we had light but it wasn't bright and harsh. People came and went on the track. People took breaks, even naps, and then came back out. I'm too slow to stop so I kept moving. I know I slowed down but worked hard to maintain my racewalking form. Around and around and around I went.

Eventually the sun came up but it wasn't noticeable at first because it was grey and overcast. By this point I was very tired and I think I even took a couple of "micro-naps" on the track because I felt like I slept on my feet for brief moments.

Gradually the clouds cleared and the sun came up. Unfortunately, the wind that had been blowing all night got a lot stronger. I was really feeling tired and starting to doubt if I could keep up the pace. Turning into that wind every loop was really difficult. I had some new blisters, everything was sore and tired, and I knew I was slowing. I really wanted to finish because I knew if I didn't I would feel compelled to try again, and I really didn't want to try again. So I kept pushing as best as I could.

Then who shows up but Ollie! He was fresher and rested and ready to get in some more miles. He came up and offered me words of encouragement. I was honest with him and told him I didn't think I could make it. I'll never forget his words: "You won't have to do it alone." He got in front of me and set a great pace. I struggled to keep up with him, and that helped me keep an acceptable pace. When we turned the corner and headed into the wind Ollie would get directly in front of me and charge into the wind! It was one of the most moving moments I've experience in my racing--Ollie had no chance to become a Centurion this day but he wanted to help me make it. It was a perfect example of sportsmanship and real class.

Eventually Ollie moved on but his presence on the track was inspirational. I had slowed significantly since yesterday morning but I was still moving. Scott Demaree, one of the judges, was helping me calculate my laps and splits and I was still in good shape to get to 100. Eventually I had 15 laps left, then 10, then five, then one! I pushed as hard as I could (which I'm sure wasn't very fast) and did that last lap. During my last few laps lots of people in the tent were cheering and calling my name and encouraging me, and that really helped. I made the final lap and all I wanted to do was stop! I didn't feel much of anyting at this point, but I was proud. I pulled off to a corner of the track and Scott noted my time, 23:42. He then suggested I do another lap just in case there were any lap counting errors. So for the first time in 23 hours and 42 minutes I walked like a normal person. I happened to have my cell phone in my pack so I pulled it out and called my wife to tell her the good news. If you look at the pictures (below) you can see me on my "victory lap." After that last lap Scott noted my time and then I went and sat down. I probably should have done a few more laps in the time that was left but I was so tired I didn't see the point. So I walked to the tent and had a seat. Oh, it felt SOOOOOO good to sit down.

After a few more minutes the race was over! Some people lay down on the track, friends and family joined them, kids were running around, the sun was shining. It was a great moment. Gradually everyone made it to the tent for their gear, or to visit, or to rest. Here is a picture of Scott, Ollie and me after the race. There were no official finisher prizes for Ultracentric, but Ollie had purchased medals for the Centurions and had them engraved with "100 miles in 24 hours." He put it around my neck and congratulated me. It was a nice moment. After talking a little more, I packed up my gear and headed to the car. Ollie gave me a big hug, a race volunteer carried my stuff to the car and I headed home. I only live 15 minutes from the race but I fell asleep twice in the car, once hitting the median. I need to keep this in mind next time!

Official results haven't been published yet, but unofficially I finished 6th out of 23 starters, my best finish ever!

48 Hour
Mark Henderson TX 136.29
Paul Piplani AZ 116.71
Tim O'Rouke CA 31.10 (this guy wasn't here for the 48 hour race; his goal was to set a 50k record in his age group, and he was successful)

24 Hour
Mark Syring MN 121.01
Barbara Hitzfeld (f) TX 111.30
Fred Pollard CA 108.86
Letha Cruthirds (f) TX 101.36
Bill Rumbaugh TX 100.91
Marshall King TX 100.24 (walker)
Buddy Teaster TX 90.22
Sue Yates (f) TX 88.89
Marlin Howe MI 88.48
Shawna Brown (f) TX 80.77
Lisa Allen (f) CO 75.31
Ollie Nanyes IL 70.54 (walker)
Dave Emerson TX 69.09
Brett Mills TX 63.44
Davey Harrison TX 61.64
Tom Crull TX 57.91
Robert Jobe TX 56.42
Doug Ryan TX 50.20
Deborah Sexton (f) TX 50.20
Karen Riddle (f) TX 47.96
Michael Arredondo TX 42.50
Sam Livingston TX 40.01
Lorrie Dominguez TX 20.38

So that's my story. It lacks some of the drama of some of my trail ultras but I'm very pleased with the results. I don't have any plans to do another track ultra any time soon! I wouldn't mind to do a 12 hour some day and see what kind of mileage I could do. But I definitely prefer the trails to the track.

If you are interested in a track race I highly recommend this event. It was very well organized and very well supported. There was lots of encouragement and support and lots of great volunteers. In addition to the usual shirt and sample gels and electrolyte caps each racer received a pair of Injinji Tsocks, an "Ultracentric" glass, an "Ultracentric" pen, and a sample of a new Body Glide-type product.

Because it was a track race we passed the photographers many times, so for once there are actually some good pictures of me. I have my own page! Go here to see a bunch of pictures of me.

Go here to see some great pictures of the event. They really give you a sense of what the race was like.

Go here to see pictures of the other racers.

Updated: April 14, 2009 @ 18:21 EDT