by Deborah Sexton
24 Hour National Championship
November 17-19, 2006
Last year I entered the 24-Hour Ultracentric, which was on a quarter-mile track. I dropped after doing 50 miles due to some really bad hip pain. Since I never have trouble with my hips, I attributed it to not being used to running on a track for that long.
When I found out that this year’s event was on a park road about a mile long out and back, my thoughts were this will be much better because I won’t have to train on a track to do this race as I thought I was going to have to do.
Then I went out to the race site. The road was an abandoned park road that was no longer open to the public. It had gates at the start and end and two gates in-between. The surface was pitted and cracked with huge weeds sprouting up through the cracks. It also has some slight hills. I ran out there for four hours and when I left I decided against doing the race because of the poor road conditions. You would need a flashlight and I was concerned about stumbling on all the cracks and holes along the course and not falling on a trail but on hard asphalt.
My other big concern was I have a permanent back condition, spondylotheseis, which totally hates pavement and my left knee also tends to give me problems but only when I run on pavement. I had never run more than a marathon on pavement before and I was afraid it might ruin me for several weeks after the run recovering.
Then I was told that the road was going to be repaved by race day. So I decided I would go ahead and sign up for the 12 hour. If my back or knee started hurting, I would drop. Then I was out running at North Shore trail with Brad Garrison one day and I ran into Letha Cruthids (North Texas Trail Runners fellow member) and she talked me into the entering the 24-hour. So I did. I wanted to run the 24-hour in my heart because I had dropped the year before. Letha pointed out that hey, you can always drop and I got suckered into that argument. So thank you Letha!
Another of my reasons for wanting to do the 24-hour was to try out a new eating and drinking strategy. I had dropped at 72 miles at Lean Horse 100 in August due to stomach problems so severe I could no longer make myself stand up. I was sitting down on the trail with my head down trying to recover enough to get to the next aid station.
After e-mailing back and forth with Karl King and Damon Lease, a mentor of mine, the consensus was the huge consumption of Gatorade that day had done me in. I love Gatorade and I drink it full strength. So on Karl’s advice, I got some Clip 2, Amino, and the pre- and post-race recovery packets.
I decided going into the race that my prime objective was not to drop. I wasn’t going to worry about total mileage but focus on staying on my feet for the entire 24 hours and avoid stomach problems. I decided that I would try and hold a 12-minute pace for as long as I could and then I wouldn’t worry about time or distance but focus on drinking, taking my S caps, and avoid eating any kind of sugar.
I got to the race about 7:45 a.m. and set up my little area. I had a tent to throw my extra clothes and blankets in (temps were to dive to the 30 degree range) and I had a big plastic storage container and a little table to set out my drink packets, flashlight, backup food, etc so I’d have easy access.
The start and finish of the race was really ideal. There was this long road that comes down to the edge of the lake (Lake Grapevine) and it made a loop, which created a big island of grass in the middle. Along that road, people set up their cars and tables with their supplies. Even though there were around 170 runners in the race, there was plenty of room for everyone to have their own mini aid station. When you ran, you ran down the road, around the island, through the chip timer archway and then you hit the race aid station, then you could conveniently pass your own area. That was really nice.
There also were a lot of crew and family members who were camped out along that road so you got cheered coming and going all day long and a few hardy souls stayed up most of the night and continued to yell out words of encouragement and support. So that was really nice.
Just as I finished setting up I saw a taxi pull up with Dean Karnazes. According to his blog, since he had finished his 50 marathons in 50 days, he had been averaging 40-50 miles a day as he ran from NYC to his home in San Francisco. I was very curious to see how he would do in the Ultracentric with zero recovery time. He did not disappoint.
At a few minutes before nine, race director Robert Tavernini gathered us all together and gave us a few last-minute details. The biggest one was after 8 a.m. the next morning, we were not to go back out on the course but run around the island, which was about a quarter mile. This was because at 9 a.m. we were to stop exactly where we were standing and volunteers came around the course with a measuring wheel to determine exactly how far we had gone to come up with our total mileage.
The temps seemed to be around 50 degrees and there was a light breeze coming off the lake. The sun was out and it was beautiful day. So the race began. I started running. I had lots of friends in this race as it’s in my hometown and almost all of the North Texas Trail Runners club members to which I belong were either running or volunteering. As it worked out, Tom Crull, whom I run with on occasion was running at a 12-minute pace. I knew this because I had my brand new Garmin 101 Forerunner to tell me how many miles per hour. So I decided to see how long I could hang on to him.
Well, as it turned out, I managed to hang on for a solid four hours with Tom. He finally took a break due to some groin pain and other issues and I continued on another hour managing 25 miles in the first 5 hours. This was a good pace for me and I was happy about it.
At this point, there were 48-hour, 24-hour, and 12-hour runners on the course. I had concerns about it getting crowded, but it never was an issue. You ran 1.2 miles down the road where there was another aid station that only had water, Heed, and Cytomax to drink. There also was a porty potty there. The other main aid station was fully stocked with food. The 6-hour runners started at 3 p.m. and so I saw a few more familiar faces as more NTTR members joined in.
It was really fun to get to constantly see all the other runners. You quickly identified some of the faster people because they kept passing you. I never learned all the names of the top runners but I would occasionally yell out to people, who are you, and I learned several new names and faces of people I had seen on the top of ultra race lists. This race was a national championship 24-Hour so a lot of top runners were there. That made it more fun.
During the day, everybody ran pretty consistently, but it was at night that you got to talk to a few of the faster people as more and more people occasionally slowed down to walk. One of the faster people I got to chat with was Pam Reed, whom I had seen at Old Pueblo and Western States but never had actually spoken with. She was very nice and we didn’t have a long conversation but I enjoyed the time I spend with her. She reported that she was having a tough day mentally and I could relate to that!
I had a good day, running very consistently and walking only minimally. However, when 9 p.m. came and the 12-hour runners finished, I was feeling pretty trashed. Knock on wood, I had no stomach issues, but I was tired and I still had 12 hours to go. So I decided I would take a little break and I crawled into my tent and wrapped my blanket around me. I dozed for about an hour. It was also starting to get really cold at this point so I pulled on some more warm clothes. My GPS had turned itself off somehow, but I would guess I was at around 43-45 miles at the 12-hour mark.
After my nap, when I got up I felt really great and refreshed again and mentally prepared to run through the night. I ran for three more hours and was able to eat some hot chicken soup and hot potato soup. I switched from Clip 2 to Amino and I took one of the recovery packets of pills. A lot of people were walking at this point. I was able to consistently run the flat parts and walked up hills and this combination allowed me to feel good and get some miles in.
Around 1 a.m. I started to feel crappy again (not from stomach) and I took another nap in my tent. I got up at 2 a.m. and felt good again. It was even colder now and I was shaking as I pulled on another jacket and switched from a ball cap to a knit cap. I ate a hot soup and set off again down the road.
I noticed that a lot of the top runners never walked. Dean passed me over and over again and never seemed to slow down. He had on only a tank top and shorts. Brrrhh. I don’t know how he wasn’t cold! I had on two shirts, a windbreaker and two sweat shirt jackets. Alex Swenson never let up, Roy Pirrung kept going by, Carolyn Smith was simply amazing. I could not imagine how anyone could just keep going at that pace. (She ended up third overall with 139 miles!) Connie Gardener also just seemed to be like a machine. I never saw any of them walking. It was very impressive to me.
So the night passed. It was a long night. It’s always the toughest part for me as I hate the dark and I did slow down and would sit in my chair to eat my soup or hot chocolate with my blanket wrapped around me. I lost miles taking so much time but I was having fun and was so happy not to feel sick.
The sun finally rose and so did my spirits. I knew I only had about 2.5 hours to go. I hooked up with Sue Yates, a friend and member of my club and we finished the race together. It was nice to have her to talk to and it helped the time pass more quickly.
Sue and I had just finished out last out and back and it was right at 8 a.m. so we started circling around the island. As other runners came in, we were joined by more and more. The top runners were still running. Lynn Ballard, who was in the 48-hour also was running. I heard him say, “It hurts so good.”
Sue and I mostly walked but with about 5 minutes to go Sue decided we needed to run it in. So we ran about two loops. Then I stopped to walk because my left foot was really hurting me and she kept going. The horn finally sounded. A host of angels wouldn’t have sounded better to me as I was so ready to sit down. And I did. I plopped right down where I stood, I pulled off a jacket and rolled it into a pillow and I laid down on the asphalt as I waited for the measuring wheel to get to me.
Once you were recorded, there as a feast awaiting the finishers underneath this big white and purple tent. Sammy Voltaggio, the best ultra cook in the world, had made pancakes, scrambled eggs, chopped ham, fruit salads and there was a dazzling selection of muffins and pastries. We all ate and the Robert announced and handled out the awards. Some people had some amazing mileage. I had to marvel at how awesome some of these runners were. Our own Butch Allmon (from NTTR) had run 183 miles in 48 hours. Geez! That was incredible. And every time I saw him, he looked happy and smiling. Dean ended coming in fifth place overall with 138 miles. And that was after a week of averaging 40-50 miles a day. It just doesn’t seem possible for a human being to be able to do that. And he was happy and smiling the whole time too.
All the finishers got a plaque and I was so glad to drive myself home and go to bed!
I have to say overall I was very pleased with how the race went. The runners lacked for nothing. Aid stations were great. The course layout was ideal for letting everyone have their own little space. It was dark on a lot of the course so you had to use lights but there was one section with two giant lights set up that lighted the path. There was a live band that played at the start/finish from around 9 p.m. to midnight. There was plenty of close-by parking and the post race breakfast was really superb. I didn’t mind the slight hills because they provided natural walking breaks and I didn’t feel they were significant. Of course, I’m sure they slowed down the times a bit.
The course was a little rough. It never was repaved but patched up and cleaned up with weeds removed and so forth. It was the only real detraction from the race. Kudos and many thanks to Robert for taking on this huge job. I think his organization was great and it really was a fun race to do. Thanks also to Jay Norman who headed up the volunteer efforts, which is always one of the toughest jobs.
I ended up doing 77 miles, which I was happy with. The best news for me was no stomach issues, no back pain, and very little knee pain. So the asphalt was not nearly as detrimental as I thought it might be. I had a good race and felt pretty good the whole time. Now I can conquer my next 100 miler knowing how to eat and drink to avoid the stomach issues.