Thursday, September 26, 2013

Race Report: 2013 North Coast 24-Hour

At the finish, with the guy who got me there
Let me preface this report by saying Rob Hoy is an outstanding crew!  I feel like long races like this have two parts, and you need to be on top of both parts to really excel.  One part is obviously the physical task of running.  But the other is the logistics of having what you need when you need it -- in terms of food, clothes, lights, information, and so on.  A windy, rainy day doesn't help when the rain might soak your bag of "dry" clothes or the wind might knock over your trash can.  I was aiming high with a goal of 135 miles, and Rob was totally on top of all that stuff, freeing me to focus on the running.


Speaking of weather...  I had checked the 10-day forecast when race weekend came into view.  Sunny, sunny, sunny, then thunderstorms on Friday and rain on race day.  Yuck.  I told myself at least it wouldn't be too hot, but I sure wouldn't have minded if the forecast shifted everything around by a few days as the big weekend approached.  (It did not.)

The weather seemed nice enough when we drove to Cleveland on Friday, dry and cloudy.  That gave me hope!  If they could screw up on the thunderstorms, maybe all weekend would just be dry and cloudy...  But about dinner time, the rain started.  First gently, then, well, not so gently.  Rob and I huddled in the hotel for a final talk on Friday night, and you could hear the rain drumming the window.  Sideways.  Oh, well.  The one time I checked the race forecast with the weather app on my phone, it said the low for the night would be 32.  32!  I freaked out for a moment, before checking a regular weather site that showed a much more reasonable 54.  Stupid weather app.

In any case, I woke early on Saturday, unable to get back to sleep even though I knew I'd wish for that extra hour later.  Too excited, I guess.  I had been looking forward to this race for quite a while.  It started in May, when I did the 24-hour race at 3 Days at the Fair in NJ.  Now the point of a timed race is to go as far as you can in the allotted time, and rather than the fastest runner, it's the runner who puts in the most total distance who wins.  3 Days at the Fair went incredibly well for 90 miles, and then I got dehydrated and crashed and burned.  I tried to get moving again and staggered through one final mile in maybe 40 minutes, then gave up and headed home.  It was all the more frustrating because it was around 15 hours -- there was so much time left, I easily could have had a huge result.  And it was my fault -- it wasn't like the course was too tough or hilly, I was just too brain-dead to make sure I was hydrating sufficiently.

That's when I looked around for a fall 24-hour, and as soon as Rob told me he'd crew for me at the North Coast 24, I made up my mind.  I shifted my training a little to include some more long runs on pavement and tow path instead of 100% trails.  One day in July I did the entire length of the Delaware canal tow path (on the PA side).  After slogging through the heat and humidity for 60 miles, I figured at least I had the hydration part nailed.


So I was excited and feeling pretty well prepared as race day rolled around.  Other than the weather, there was just one final wrinkle: taper week.  Actually, that was two wrinkles.

The first was caffeine.  I'd pretty much made it through the first 38 years of my life without coffee.  I got a great laugh when Peter Wayner sent me this excerpt about coffee and the end of civilization.  But that was when I had, at most, three children.  Connor's arrival shattered my illusions, and within two months I was up to about a pot a day.  The problem was, I wanted to get a little zing from some caffeine at the race, particularly since I'd be running through the night in my perpetually sleep-deprived state.  So the only choice was to cut back before the race.

It would be a rainy run
Just not too far before the race.  Because I'm sure not drinking it for the taste!  So on Monday, I switched to tea and Mountain Dew, then less tea and less Mountain Dew, until I got under the equivalent caffeine of one cup of coffee.  Success!  Well, so long as you consider 'tired and irritable' synonymous with 'success.'  At least I managed to avoid the headaches that usually accompany withdrawal.  This all generated some skepticism on Facebook, but I didn't feel like it would be better to prolong the agony for more than a week or to go into the race needing a pot of coffee just as my baseline.

The other wrinkle was, now that I think about it, also due to Connor (two months old and not yet mobile on his own).  Monday before the race, I'd spent an unusually large amount of time carrying him around.  We took some walks around the neighborhood, we danced in the family room, we had quality time.  My back got a little sore from holding him so much, but whatever.

Then Tuesday rolled around.  Everything was fine until I actually had the gall to run a little.  I suddenly noticed a giant knot in my back, somewhere on the bottom right, which was pulling on my hamstring and making my right leg extraordinarily tight.  It felt fine on the uphills, but between the sore back and the tight leg, flat or downhill was no good at all.  And this course I was about to run -- totally flat.  I told myself it would be gone by Saturday.  That was, let's see, four more nights to recover.  Plenty.

Wednesday felt no better.  Well, I shouldn't say that.  By the end of my run, and with a little massaging, it seemed to loosen up a bit.  Now was that getting better, or would it just tighten back up as soon as I sat down again?

Thursday the right side was better, but the left side was bothering me.  What the...?

Friday my back was fine, until I started getting some aches and pains on the drive.  Now was that an actual problem or just the natural side effect of all that time in the car?  And if my back was better, was it better, better?  Or was it just going to flare up again during the race?

Bottom line: tapering sucks.

Race Morning

At least the coffee thing was over and done with.  You'd think I'd have prepped a cup in the little hotel coffee maker as soon as I woke up.  Or brought down my little chit for a free coffee when I took Cael and Sarah for breakfast.  Or taken advantage of Rob to get me a cup when I saw him all ready to go while I was still eating breakfast in PJs.  But somehow, I didn't think about it until I was otherwise pretty much ready to go.

After I dropped the kids off with Erin, I finally put on a cup.  While I waited for the little machine to brew, I vigorously lubed all the spots I thought might be subject to chafing.  On wet or humid days I can get it from my shoes, shirt, and shorts -- in other words pretty much everywhere -- and this was shaping up to be a wet and humid day.

The rain had been going pretty consistently all morning, sometimes harder or sometimes lighter, but never really stopping.  Thankfully it was light as we walked over to Rob's car and loaded my bags in.  I had one bag mainly full of dry clothes of various styles and weights, plus my usual running backpack with lights, first aid, Vaseline, salt tablets, and the other odds and ends that I've accumulated.  The clothes bag was extra-heavy because it had my stash of a hundred or so gels at the bottom, but those would come out soon enough.

My table was one of the last to leave after the race
It was a quick ride to the race site at Edgewater Park, and Rob seemed to have it all under control.  He pulled into the closest parking lot and stopped at the best spot for unloading.  We could see the tent farm going strong already, and picked a clear spot to claim for ourselves.  We brought over the various supplies for our aid station -- a ten-by-ten canopy to keep the rain off, a folding table, a big water jug he had already filled with ice from the hotel, camp chairs, empty cups, several gallons of water and a few bottles of Gatorade, my bags, a tarp to keep things dry, a trash can, and more.  It made a pretty good station -- I guess we've both done this before.

Shortly after we got the tent set up, Andy arrived.  He was another friend of Rob's, who I had also sort of bumped into at a previous race, and would be sharing the station with me.  Andy largely brought his own supplies and set up on one end of the table.  I took the rest for my giant bowl of gels, smaller bowl of salt caplets, water jug, Advil, and array of cups of water.  While we arranged the table, Rob velcroed his tarp to the back side of the canopy, giving some protection against wind and rain coming in off the lake.

We both checked in and got our bibs and timing chips, which we strapped around our ankles.  In light of the rain, I put on a jacket over my short-sleeve shirt.  And that pretty much did it for the setup.  Not wanting to spend one iota of extra energy, I planted myself in a chair to wait for the start.  Andy looked a little more lively.  It turned out that he had crewed somebody at the last 24-hour race I did, and had a station next to mine there.  When I crashed out at 92 miles, he helped Erin take down our station and pack all the stuff back into our car.  So we hadn't really talked at the time (me being busy trying to resuscitate myself in the car), but we had a connection.

This time, we were both hoping for more.  It was Andy's first 24-hour, though he'd won a 12-hour race before, so he has some speed.  I had certainly shown some speed at previous 24-hour races, I just hadn't managed to put it together and keep going for the whole 24 hours.  In three previous attempts I'd had a really good 17 hours, a really good 14 hours, and a lousy day followed by a decent night.  My goal all along has been to reach 135 miles, the qualifying standard for the US National Team.  (As is the case for virtually everybody who's gotten past the point of aiming for one hundred miles in a 24-hour.)  I felt like I've shown that I can do what I have to for 90-100 miles with plenty of time left on the clock, but something has always gone wrong -- weather, dehydration, whatever.

Runners, eager to start
Surely it's not lack of training (I say with more than a healthy dose of irony).  Andy told me about one of his friends who logs 150 miles per week, and when he scheduled a tough training run with Andy, he put in something like fifty miles in the two days preceding it.  Andy said he managed more like fifty miles a week total.  I kept my mouth shut, since it's a good week if I hit thirty miles.  I seem to be fortunate in that my combination of CrossFit, short track-type workouts, and a weekly long run keep me fit enough for ultras.  I'd be hard-pressed to justify it as sufficient training to qualify for the national team, though.  We'd just have to see.

The Start

With five minutes to go, we headed over to the main pavilion, and I was surprised to see the race director herding everyone back down the path.  It was a nine-tenths of a mile paved loop, and I figured we'd start just on one side or the other of the timing mats.  But this turned out to be the clever workaround for the odd distance -- by starting an extra couple hundred feet down the path, the total distance for 111 laps would be precisely one hundred miles.  It let people get a certified hundred-mile time, and meant anybody going for only that mark didn't have to run an extra half mile just to make sure they hit it.

My best hundred-mile time was at a previous 24-hour, and it was just over seventeen hours.  I had been on a pace to beat that handily at my 24-hour in May, but that's the one where Andy helped pack up my stuff at 92 miles.  So I hoped for a new hundred-mile PR today -- it would position me very well to hit my goal of 135.

I lined up at the front of the pack, and the guy next to me turned my way.  "What's your goal today?"  I knew there was one superhero there -- Harvey Lewis -- with a PR of at least 150 miles.  Somehow I got the feeling this was him.  "One thirty-five, of course."  He nodded and wished me luck.  When the horn blew, he was off like a shot.  Having not even warmed up, I was determined to keep myself to a comfortable pace in the early hours.  I didn't even try to keep up.

Woo-hoo!  Second place!
Still, I was a little surprised to find myself in second just behind Harvey as we crossed the timing mat for the first time.  I was hoping for a good day, but second place didn't seem realistic.  Plus there are usually plenty of folks who blow the doors down in the early laps.

Soon enough, another guy passed me like I was walking.  He caught up to Harvey, briefly charged way ahead, and then fell back so the two of them ran together.  They built a decent lead by the end of the second time lap, almost two miles into the race.  My first lap had been too fast at 7:35, but the second was getting more reasonable at 7:55.  My goal was to be between 8 and 9 minute laps (equating to nine to ten minute miles) for as long as possible.  I'd probably float up to the higher end of the range by twenty or thirty miles in, but I hoped to stick there for a hundred miles anyway.

Fortunately, the rain wasn't too bothersome.  It wasn't hard or slanted enough to reach past my hat to my glasses, which was the key measure to me.  I quickly warmed up too much to keep the jacket on, and after the second lap I left it at the table with Rob, also swapping my hat for a cooler visor.  This was the start of the clothing shuffle, which was very unusual for me, but would continue for much of the race.

First layer off...
To begin with, my shirt quickly soaked through, and I continued to warm up.  By the fourth lap I left Rob my shirt too.  Other than gathering my discarded clothes, I'm afraid I didn't leave him much to do.  Every lap I took a cup of water, and about four times an hour I took a gel as well.  I'd walk a little while I ate and drank, and then deposit the cup and wrapper in the trash can I'd left a little down the path from our table.  So long as Rob kept a few cups of water ready at the table, I was good.

Meanwhile Rob always had an encouraging word for me, which was great.  Meanwhile I wondered why I hadn't seen Andy -- I sort of expected him to catch up or pass while I walked, at least.  I certainly wasn't lapping him, so he was reasonably close, but behind.  Maybe just running a smarter race -- I was still in the high sevens or low eights for most of my laps.  But the start is always tough.  Some slow people run fast, some fast people run slow, every bathroom break seems to have an inordinately large effect on the timing...  I figured everything ought to settle down by twenty or thirty miles, and then we'd see.

Speaking of bathroom breaks, I had a couple in the first hour.  There was an array of porta-potties just off the trail at the far end of the loop, which was great -- the ones in the buildings were like twenty yards off to the side, with a big pond to soak your feet just outside the doorways.  Even with the rain my feet were staying pretty dry, so avoiding the walk and the water in favor of the porta-potties seemed like a much better option.

Second layer off...
Still, it was frustrating.  I've learned from my prior races and training runs that the first hour or two means nothing in terms of hydration.  I can pee ten times and then suddenly come up dehydrated.  So on the one hand, I hate to waste time standing still.  On the other hand, if I cut back on what I was drinking early in the race, I could be setting myself up for disaster a few hours down the road.  I was pretty sure dehydration was what sidelined me at the last one -- I just hadn't had the brain cells to realize it until afterward.  So I tried to ride it out, figuring it was better to lose time in the porta-potty than to get dehydrated.

After a while the wind and rain picked up, and my concerns shifted elsewhere.  The final turn before the pavilion seemed to be subject to brutal gusts of wind -- somehow much worse than anywhere else on the course.  The saving grace was that it was the only substantial downhill on the course as well.  So every time I went by, I just relaxed my effort and let gravity fight the wind on my behalf.  Shortly past an hour, though, the wind and rain combined started to get a little chilly.  I needed to be warmer, but just a little.

Singlet on, and quickly soaked through
The next time past the table, I dug around a little in my crew bag and found a Terrapin Mountain singlet.  That was a stroke of luck.  It had been in my bag when I was packing for the race, and I started to take it out, but then figured what could it hurt?  Now it was perfect -- warmer than no shirt, but cooler than a t-shirt, plus lighter once it soaked through.  It proved to have only one down side -- it was just loose enough that the wind blew it around and I got a bit of a sail effect as it flapped.  I ended up pulling the bottom tight and tucking it in to cut back on the flapping, and that worked well enough.

Rob, meanwhile, continued to be an excellent crew.  There was always water ready when I came by.  When I got out my backpack, the next time around he had wrapped it in a trash bag to keep it dry.  At one point the tarp came down and he just used it to wrap all our bags and stuff, leaving himself exposed to the wind and rain instead.  At the same time, he told me I was the easiest runner to crew for!  I guess we both seemed to be happy enough with the arrangement.

Sayonara to the Easy Part

So far, all the issues had been incredibly minor.  Even the rain wasn't really bothering me -- and it sure beat dry and humid.

The first serious wrinkle cropped up after about ten miles.  I started to get some unexpected pain.  It was in my right hip, and the inside of my left knee.  After a little consideration, I decided it was due to the curvature of the course.  It wasn't a perfect circle or oval -- the path just followed the contour of the park.  And it had several turns that were tighter than I'm used to -- tighter than anything I train on, in any case.  It felt like I was leaning into the turns, and over time it was starting to bother me.  I tried to fight the lean, but I could never seem to remember consistently.

Brief cameo by the arm sleeves
In the third hour, colder still, I added some arm sleeves.  But almost immediately it seemed to warm up, and I ditched them again.  Meanwhile, Harvey lapped me for this first time.  This I was fine with -- if he lapped me every two hours and I ended up about ten miles behind him, I should be right on my best-case goal.  Later in the hour, I caught up to Andy.  We ran together and chatted for a while.

Andy asked how I was doing, and I confessed that I was dealing with some unexpected pain.  The frustrating part was that it's not unusual.  I can clearly run a hundred miles, yet the pain often starts at ten to twenty miles.  What's with that?  If you can do a hundred, shouldn't the pain hold off for at least eighty?  He said it made him feel better to hear it, because he felt like he was having an off day too.  I wasn't about to go that far -- I intended to run right through the pain -- but it would have been nicer without it.

Shortly after four hours in, things changed.  My leg was hurting enough that I couldn't keep going like that.  My hip in particular was the problem -- the knee hurt, but didn't seem to have as much of an impact on the race.  My hip flexor, or something running along the outside of my hip, was bothering me past the point where I could ignore it.  I stopped at the table and took some Advil, which I hate to do during a race, but on the other hand it does seem to work.

Meanwhile Rob, not about to let me rest on my laurels, informed me that I was in fifth place.  I was happy to hear it, and it certainly encouraged me to not lay off.  But I didn't want to outrun myself either.  I had to keep a pace I could maintain, certainly until the Advil kicked in, and probably more importantly thereafter.  It's great to feel nice, but I had twenty hours of running left, and it was getting to the part of the race where it was more important to run at a comfortable pace than a fast pace.  Too fast now and I'd be sitting on the sideline while everyone I had tried to outrun blew by.

So with Advil in my stomach and this mess of strategy playing out in my head, I left the table.  Over the next half hour the Advil upset my stomach a little, thankfully not seriously enough to prevent the gels from going down.  Finally after four laps at the upper limit of my goal pace, the effect I was waiting for seemed to kick in, and I got past the stomach thing too.  Back in action.  I figured I'd take more Advil every six hours -- ten, sixteen, and twenty-two hours -- and that should cover me.  (Oh, how mistaken that would prove to be...)

Kids Playing = Good Spirits!

Still, this was the start of a high point for me.  I was feeling better, running well, in a great position in the pack, and then Erin and the kids arrived.  She had stopped by earlier but driven around the parking areas and then left before anyone got out -- I assumed to get Connor to sleep in his car seat.  Our minivan returned in due course, and Caelan and Sean got their sand toys out and went crazy.

World's biggest sand box
Edgewater Park was right next to a beach, and while most of the park was grassy, the side near the beach tended toward sand.  Erin found a parking spot next to a huge expanse of sand.  Not just sand, but wet sand -- the best!  When we were packing the car Cael had insisted on keeping the bag of sand toys in the back, and I didn't see any reason to bring them along, but I didn't fight him on it.  Thank goodness!  I think I'll be coming back to this race because I'm sure I'll have the full and enthusiastic support of my kids.

The first time they saw me coming by, Cael and Sean sprinted across the diagonal to meet me further down the trail.  I paused for some enormous hugs, which was great, and every time I passed for the next few hours, my spirits got a lift watching them play.  After a while Sarah came out to join the party, then as the rain cleared, Erin and Connor came out as well.  By the early afternoon they all seemed to be having fun at the park, and it made for some easy miles for me.  Sure, Harvey lapped me again, though I joked a little because he passed me and then immediately spent more time at his tent, so I briefly got the lap back.  Then I heard those rapid footsteps approaching, and called out "Come to take your lap back, have you?"  Indeed he had.  But I was still holding on well.

Look ma, no clean!
Eventually Erin and the kids got ready to leave, and I collected a final round of hugs.  The next time past the table, I told Rob 'I just got hugs from all my kids.  I'm good to go for another thirty miles!'  And I felt like I was.

Sadly, there was an unpleasant surprise in store.  The Advil.  Seven hours in and it was done.  Instead of getting six hours out of it, I got three (and that includes the half hour it took to kick in).  Once again, I was faced with the decision of more Advil or less run.  Well, that was easy.  I took another dose.  I wasn't real happy about effectively doubling up, but I didn't want to stop, either.

Other than the Advil, there was good news and bad news.  The good news was, I was second place male.  In fact I was back and forth a bit with Jill, the lead woman, for second place overall.  But all the awards were split out by gender, so all that really mattered was that I was second place male.  The bad news was, I wasn't sticking to the ten-minute per mile pace.  In truth, I only needed an overall average of 10:40 per mile to make my goal of 135, but I really expected to slow down in the final third of the race.  Bottom line, I felt that I needed to stick to ten minutes for at least half if not two thirds of it in order to leave myself a little room to slide at the end.

Again, there wasn't much I could do.  It would be stupid to press hard to bump up my pace, especially fighting what was getting to be pretty serious hip pain.  Instead, I'd have to work to maintain a 10 to 10:30 pace, and plan to fight the slide at the end.

Meanwhile I talked to Andy again, and he congratulated me since Rob had told him I was in second.  I tried to downplay it, as there was an awful lot of race left, and the places at seven hours don't mean that much.  But what can I say?  I was proud at the same time.

We also compared notes on goals.  Andy said he promised his older kids 50 miles each, and anything past that was for the baby.  I told him I was sure glad I hadn't made that deal, since I had three older kids!  I was still hoping for 135, but the way things were going it wasn't necessarily in the cards.  I was a little bummed that Andy seemed to be on his fallback goal of just reaching a hundred, but for his first 24-hour, that would still be pretty respectable.  And we were both still moving.

Creeping Doubts

A brief moment of sunshine

The question I asked myself was, for how long?  The pain was bad enough that I didn't think I'd be able to make another seventeen hours, Advil or no.  I could dose up and drag it out, but that probably just meant I'd be over-medicated when I bailed a little later.  I was starting to think the smart thing might be to stop before I really hurt myself.

Then Harvey came around again, looking as strong as ever.  He asked how I was doing, and I said "Well if my hip flexor holds out, I'll have a good race, and if not, not."  He must have heard which way things were leaning, because he said I should stretch it every lap.  It might have been good advice, but I had no idea how to stretch it.  I could swing my leg way out to the side, but that felt like it would be stressing it more than stretching it.

I talked to Jason for a while, a runner I had spent a few minutes with here and there as we went.  We had compared notes on other hundreds we had done, and the evils of tow path sections in long trail races.  This time he came up running strong while I was dragging, and I confessed to being in a bad place.  He said "You know it'll pass.  It always does."  Which in one sense was true -- every ultra seemed to come with its share of highs and lows.  But physical breakdown was a different matter.

Rob, meanwhile, pushed me to get a massage from the medical tent.  The problem was, I wasn't about to spend the time stationary.  Even if they made my hip feel better, there was no guarantee I'd be able to get moving again after stopping or (heaven forbid) lying down for a while.  Rob assured me it would only take two minutes, but I felt like I could waste that much just walking back and forth.  That said, massage didn't sound like a bad idea, so I took to rubbing where it hurt while I walked from our station to the trash can.  It helped a little.  One time past Rob gave me an ice pack to use on my hip, and maybe that helped too.  He said the medics would give me a freeze-pack, but I wasn't sure I wanted real cold for real long.

Still, I had to rethink my position on it.  It didn't escape my notice that while I was hanging my head and considering bailing out of the race, everybody else was finding ways to see me through.  I needed to start thinking like they were.  And the rubbing during my walk breaks kept me going.  For the moment, it was good enough.

Hanging on for Dear Life

The field had spread out a bit behind Harvey.  He was up there having a ball -- occasionally I saw him talking to folks or stopping to take a picture of another pair of runners for them.  His idea of a walk break was to walk about three steps and then start running again.  Must be nice!  Meanwhile, other than Jill, there were a few runners reasonably close to me.  Rob kept me informed.  There was one with a tent near ours, and another with a Hammer shirt. First one would gain on me, then another, then they'd fall back a bit -- everybody had their ups and downs.

Then I hit nine and a half hours, and the Advil wore out again.  Down from three hours to two and a half.  It was not a happy trend.  Once again it took a while for it to kick in, but it did help.

Nightfall was a nice milestone.  A lot of runners broke out headlamps -- in fact Andy had forgotten his so I loaned him one of mine.  I didn't take one myself.  There was just enough light from the surroundings to do without, and I preferred not to have the awkward weight on my head if I could get by without it.

Overall, I was barely hanging on to my time goals.  I had hit fifty miles just under 8:20 and 100K right at 10:20 (both of those reflecting a ten-minute pace).  But I knew the trend was in the wrong direction -- I had been fourteen minutes ahead at 50K, and now dead even at 100K.  My next milestone would be 12 hours, where I'd hope to hit 72 miles.

I suppose it wasn't bad -- I was at about 71.5 miles when I hit the halfway point, so I had only lost five minutes.  Big picture, I only had to put in 63.5 in the second half of the race to hit my goal.  An eleven-minute mile pace would do it for the second half of the race.  So actually, every time I beat a 10 minute lap, that was still time in the bank.  I just had to drag out the decline as much as possible.

On the up side Erin and the kids visited again, though it was shorter-lived since they were pretty tired and I was trying hard to press on without stopping.  It lifted my spirits again, in any case.  The next time I saw Jason, I was doing well and he seemed to be struggling a little.  He commented on my recovery: "I see it passed.  It always does."

Doesn't look like one of my better laps
But the leg thing was really causing problems.  I had taken more Advil, now approaching two hours per dose.  That was really starting to concern me.  At some point, the stupid stuff had to just work, right?  Especially if I had basically two doses active at once?

I was also having some chafing issues.  I had gone with a product that came highly recommended on the ultra list, but it hadn't survived the rain and humidity.  I cracked out the Vaseline and slathered it everywhere I could feel the friction -- pretty much everywhere between my belly and thighs.  Rob quickly turned his back, saying, "look buddy, crew duties only go so far..."  It was fine, I didn't need help on this one.

Finally, there were the blisters.  I could feel one on the little toe of my left foot, and one on the toes of my right foot.  Neither were big, but they were there.  It probably would have been wise to treat them, but I didn't want to spend the time sitting down, and I definitely didn't want to take my shoes off in the colder night air.  I worried about getting started again if I stopped.  I resolved to ignore the blisters, which I did more or less successfully until the last twenty minutes of the race.

147,320 Steps

Condition aside, I was still moving.  My next big milestone was 15 hours.  That would be midnight.  It was sort of an artificial spot, but I needed something between 12 hours and 100 miles.  Also, I was wearing a FitBit Flex, basically a glorified pedometer, and it tracked steps per day (midnight to midnight).  This was my chance to blow its mind a little, by inserting fifteen hours of running into my day.  The Flex does all its reporting through a Web site that gives little motivational badges for reaching 10,000 steps in a day, 15,000 steps in a day, and so on.  Silly as it was, I was sort of looking forward to seeing how far all that stuff went!

Plus, I had some pace references.  Last time I had hit 90 miles in 14:36, and I clearly wasn't on that pace, but if I had a good number at fifteen hours, that would make my goal easier for the last nine.  The ten-minute pace I originally wanted would be 90 miles.  Probably not in the cards, but I pushed to keep up the pace to whatever extent I could.

The first 15 hours, according to FitBit
At fifteen hours, I was still in second place.  My mileage was around 86, which confirmed the slowdown, but what can you do?  My goal was still possible, it would just have to come in a different way than I had hoped.  I assessed the leg pain again and it was pretty ugly, but so far the Advil had more or less kept it at bay.  I figured if I took more every two hours, I'd need eight pills to cover the rest of the race.  The jar was small and had looked pretty empty, so I asked Rob to count and find another crew who could spare a few if needed.  The next time around he reported that I had exactly eight remaining.

It was a few laps later, about 15:40 race time, when disaster struck.  The Advil ran out after less than an hour and a half.  I tried to push through the pain, but I couldn't -- it was affecting my stride, my speed, and my mind.  Massaging worked well enough when backed up by Advil, but not on its own.  I had done 100 laps, or 90 miles, almost exactly where I broke down last time, though for completely different reasons.

The 90-Mile Crash

I staggered in to our station, demoralized, but unwilling to give up.  I explained to Rob.  I was just unwilling to take the Advil every 80 minutes, especially as the coverage was only getting worse.  But I couldn't run without it.  So I needed my big bag of clothes, and I was going to put on more layers of warmer stuff, and walk if I couldn't run.  I wanted to change fast, before the sitting really sank in and I got the chills and couldn't go on.

The second day's pace wasn't as consistent
That was a big problem for me -- two out of three times I ended a 24-hour early, it was at least in part because I got chills so bad I could barely move, and certainly not brave a full lap.  I'm used to that at the end of a race, but if I let it set in now, I'd be in big trouble.  I had brought some heat packs, so I dug out a couple for my pockets, hoping that worst case I could break them open, stick them in my armpits, and press on.

Rob got me dressed and going quickly, and I was back on my feet and moving again before I could get too comfortable in the chair.  That only left one problem -- the wind.  Our tent was about halfway along the long stretch of the course near the lake.  The lake exposure was where the wind was worst.  I hadn't noticed it for hours, but when I staggered up the small rise past the last tents, it hit me full bore.  In moments I was shivering.  I tried to walk faster, knowing that I could build up enough body heat to overcome it.  The wind blew harder.  I was in pants, a jacket with hood, hat and gloves -- about the only thing left exposed was my face.  The wind blew hard on my face and I almost had to turn back.

I fought it for what seemed like ages, walking as hard as I could against shivers that wracked my whole body, when finally I rounded a corner and put my back to the wind.  In only a moment I was warm again, and that was the end of my wind problem.

Relentless Forward Motion

It was a terribly slow pace and my stride was awkward at best, but I was moving.  In the twenty some minutes that lap took, I had a lot of time to wonder what kind of idiot would walk for over eight more hours.  But I also knew there were people who came to this race with no intention of running at all, and walked every mile they put in.  I felt like I wouldn't even be living up to their standard if I bailed because I didn't feel like walking.  I calculated in my head how far I'd get walking at a thirty minute pace, which is about what I felt like I was doing.  It was going to be tough to even pass 108 miles to reach a PR, but I wasn't going to settle for less.

I reckon we'll be back to this one...
The good news was, small breaks no longer mattered.  I had to pee and couldn't care less.  I felt a little tired and stopped at the main aid station for coffee.  I had to walk extra-carefully out of the station while the coffee cooled, and it didn't bother me.  If there was any benefit to a lousy pace, that was it -- a lot less mattered.

Rob still encouraged me, commenting when my lap times improved a little.  To perhaps a twenty minute pace, a respectable walk I thought, especially for this point in the race.  Was that good enough for Rob?  "Yeah, when I hit trouble at the 20in24, I just walked the rest at a fifteen-minute pace and that was great."  I sighed.

I bumped into Andy a little later.  He was really struggling, and now I was too.  I told him I'd be walking it in from here, not yet willing to talk about quitting out loud.  What did Andy think of this?  "Well, anybody can walk at four miles an hour, so you'll do great."  What was with these people?!?

I pushed harder, and managed to at least approach a fifteen-minute pace, though it was by no means clear I'd be able to sustain it.  I ran the numbers in my head for 3.5 miles an hour, and it was a lot more promising than for thirty minute laps.  For some reason I seemed to have to pee more often when walking, but whatever, it didn't cost me that much.


In just a couple more laps, I noticed an amazing thing.  The hip pain had subsided.  What a difference a little rest and a long walk made!  I walked even a bit faster, and then surprised myself.  The next time around, two hours after I thought my race was over for sure, I dumped my jacked and started jogging again.  The first lap wasn't great, but I managed to put in seven very solid laps before the pain got to be too much again.

And in the middle there, I hit a hundred miles.  Harvey had hit it in sixteen hours flat and we were now past eighteen, well past my PR of 17:03.  But an 18-and-change hundred miler was nothing to sneeze at!  Here's the funny thing.  In my last half lap before hitting a hundred, Jill blew by.  Then seemingly in the last hundred yards, the guy in the Hammer shirt blew by.  Within a minute and a half, three of us hit a hundred miles, and I fell from second place overall to fourth.  Somehow, I hadn't given up my spot during the long walk, but with the lure of a hundred miles pulling everybody on, I started slipping down the ranks.

I got those places right back, though.  Jill had never run more than a marathon, and wanted a nice long rest after hitting a hundred.  Gregory, the guy in the Hammer shirt, said he deserved to walk a full lap for hitting a hundred (in a new PR, no less).  I figured if I had any chance of keeping a decent place, now was the time, and I kept right on running.

Still moving...
It didn't last more than a couple laps, though.  Gregory blew by again before long to put me back into third, and shortly I was reduced to walking.  My first lap after that was slow and awkward again -- it seemed like if I pushed my running time to the limit, I suffered a bit when I fell back to walking.  But I was at nineteen hours, and over a hundred miles.  Any shot at 135 was long gone -- even at my best I was nowhere near seven miles an hour -- but I had a decent place and I was still moving.  If I could do 3.5 miles an hour I'd still score a decent PR.

Plus, it hadn't escaped my notice that there were cash prizes for the top three in each gender.  Unless Gregory crashed hard the top two were out of reach, but according to Rob, I still had a lead of a couple laps on the fourth place guy behind me.  He said that was now a guy in a checkered shirt, which didn't sound familiar.  It wasn't until several laps later I realized he meant the guy running in running shorts and what looked to be a plaid button-down shirt.  About as far from a running shirt as you could get.  And he was pretty close on my heels.


Shortly after that, the plaid shirt guy seemed to crash.  I saw him walking extremely slowly and awkwardly with help close by.  Andy told me a little later the guy had been fighting cramps.  It looked like he was out of the race, though he eventually pulled it back together and finished with 110 miles.

In the mean time, around 20 hours, I was left in third place, with a comfortable margin over fourth.  Looking for a goal, I settled on 120 miles.  It wouldn't be easy, and it wouldn't be 135, but it would be a solid PR and respectable result.  I was walking, aiming for that 15-minute pace, but not always reaching it.  Still, with 120 in mind, I managed to jog another couple laps before the hip threatened me again.  It got me to 21 hours, and we were all starting to think about dawn.

The night had not been particularly kind to me.  I'd stopped for coffee once more, and later sent Rob get a third cup for me.  Normally I just rely on caffeinated gels, but the ones I brought this time came with an unpleasant consistency.  They were thicker than the regular ones, and harder to get down, requiring more water, necessitating more porta-potty breaks.  I had started to avoid them, and between that and not running so much, I was having a tougher than normal time staying mentally sharp.  Plus the hip and walking and watching my goal and my place go out the window.  I'd be thrilled to see the new day.

Still moving...
I made my plan.  I'd take my last Advil (and at this point they really were my last) with 2:30 left in the race.  I'd give it a half hour to kick in.  And then I'd run, however much it took to stay in third place.  I was assuming, though, that I was still and would still be in third.  I'd check with Rob when I hit that 2:30 mark.

It was a great plan, but Rob wasn't at the table when I hit 2:30.  I took the Advil and carried on.  I put in two more solid walking laps, and still having not seen Rob, detoured into the main pavilion to check the separate monitor showing the current standings.  Naturally, it took a while to get what I wanted.  By the time I found myself on the screen, it flopped to show something else, and I had to wait for it to circle back.  Finally it did.  Still in third, next guy five laps back!  I didn't recognize the name, but I decided I'd try to put in eight laps in the last two hours, which would guarantee me the 120 even if I didn't get a partial lap at the end.  I doubted anyone but Harvey could put in 13 laps in two hours at this point, so I shouldn't have to worry about fourth place.


I wasn't sure I could definitely put in 15-minute laps, so I jogged the first two to give myself a little buffer for the next two.  Walking the third put me at 22:34, plenty of time for the fourth in that hour.  But there was an ominous trend.

The sun rose, and suddenly runners were blowing past me left and right.  One guy I though had been close to me earlier was flying by, with his wife or something apparently pacing him.  (I thought that wasn't allowed, but I didn't fancy coming in fourth and then trying to get the runner ahead of me DQ'd.)  Another guy I didn't recognize blew by, but it could have been someone familiar who just changed clothes.  Then Harvey.  Then one more.  Seemed like half a lap and I was passed four times, and it looked like they had plenty of energy left.  I had to rethink whether anyone could lap me five times in two hours, because I certainly had some good candidates here!

Thankfully, Rob had good news for me.  Fourth place was, if anything, further back.  And no one else even that close.  All these super runners must have been coming back from a nap or something.  Whew!  Jill did pass me for the final time, but I couldn't find the energy to chase her down when we were in totally separate divisions anyway.

I made my four laps in the second-to-last hour, and very nearly five.  That just encouraged me to walk that much faster, trying for another five.  I ended up walking so fast I stumbled into a jog.  Past the limit of the Advil, and with twenty-three and a half hours under my belt, it didn't turn out to be much of a jog, but I was surprising myself.

And then my toe objected.  After twenty-three hours and almost forty minutes, I felt the little blister on my left big toe suddenly rip into a giant blister.  In the last freakin' half hour!  I couldn't believe it.  But I wasn't about to stop for it, either.  I just cursed my toe in my head for the rest of the lap.

Final Stretch

Can I claim I crossed the line JUST before Harvey?
With twenty minutes to go, all the crews seemed to be clustered around the timing mats and status displays.  Rob was cheering and snapping photos of the status display.  The race director asked my number as I crossed, and I had to pull down my pants to look at the bib on my shorts underneath.  I called back "one ninety-seven," wondering what that was all about.  But twenty yards down the path, someone came up next to me and pressed a small wooden block marked "197" into my hand.  This was the partial-lap token, I guess.

I easily made it around another time.  As I was approaching the final hill, someone was screaming frantically down the path behind me.  I couldn't make out the words.  But as I floated down the hill, it hit me.  "Haaaaaaarrrrrrvvveeeeeyyyy!!!  Come on, man!!!"

My last crossing
I wasn't sure why they cared, since he obviously had an enormous victory.  But I heard someone say "this lap is only one forty-nine point five".  Apparently nobody wanted to risk him coming up just short of 150 on the final partial lap.

Harvey crossed the mat right as I did, with just over eight minutes left.  The difference was, I was staggering, and he was flying.  I think his last lap was probably faster than his first, because he made it all the way around again with time to spare.  I did about three-quarters before I heard the horns and sirens indicating the end.

It was with a certain amount of elation that I stopped and put down my block on the edge of the track.  As did the runners ahead of me.  I got ready to walk the final tenth of a mile or so to the pavilion, when I noticed someone crossing the grass.  Finally free to cut the corner!  I walked over to the parking lot where Erin and the kids had been parked earlier, and Erin met me there with a giant hug and a blanket to wrap up in.  Delightful!

Rob contemplates; We're just happy to have breakfast.
In the end, I was thrilled with my finish.  Disappointed to yet again miss out on 135, but there were so many things that went well.  In four attempts, it was the first time I had really kept moving for the entire 24 hours.  Despite the rain, wind, and humidity, I had no problems with temperature or hydration.  After thinking my race was done, I managed to put in another 32 miles.  And even with the tremendous slowdown in the last third of the race, I hung on for third place male (and missed third overall by less than half a mile).  It's really hard to complain.

My final tally (including the initial and final partial laps) was 122.4 miles, for an overall average pace of 11:44 per mile.


Even though my hip didn't like the route very much, I have to say it was an excellent event.  The organization and support was outstanding, the other runners I talked to were great, there was hot food ready and waiting at the finish, the awards ceremony was prompt, they gave out giant medals (plus buckles for 100-mile finishers), it was all great.

And once again, Rob was an outstanding crew, who freed me to worry about the running instead of the logistics.  Or maybe I should say the walking.  Or whether I should be running or walking.  Well, you get the idea.

Two happy finishers, and a Thomas the Train blanket
Andy met his commitments to his kids, and even managed to help out with my kids at the finish line.

I ended up with four blisters on my toes, two pretty nasty, resulting in two toenails that are probably not long for this world.

On Monday, the day after the finish, despite the massive calorie burn of the race and recovery, my weight was up seven pounds.  It wasn't hard to see why -- all the swelling in my feet and lower legs.  When I tried walking, my stride seemed natural, but excruciatingly slow.  It seemed like maybe I just couldn't take more than really short steps.  And if I sat down for a while, wow, then I got tight.  But I could never sit too long, because every three hours I was absolutely ravenous.  And no matter how much caffeine I took, I was still tired enough to just fall over.

The second day was better.  By the third, I was only a pound up.

It's now day four and I'm already wondering whether I can squeeze in one more shot at 135 this year.

Photo credits: Rob Hoy, Erin Mulder, John J. McCarroll