Monday, September 24, 2012

North Coast 24 Hour Endurance Run

Short and Sweet:  I participated in the North Coast 24 Hour Endurance run this past weekend in Cleveland, Ohio, completing 83.8 miles in 20 hours and 20 minutes, and then stopped because I don't think I could have continued.  I did this same event last year, and did 83.4 miles in 24 hours last time, so I feel that I made some progress, completing essentially the same mileage as last year, but much quicker this year.

The Before and After:


Ok, here is the much longer version. After doing this event last year, I decided right away that this race was going to be a goal race for 2012 and signed up as soon as it opened.  I was the 4th person to register, however, plans changed and I pulled out of the race back in January.  Plans changed again later on in the year and I decided that I really wanted to crew the race when I found a really cheap summer airfare sale, round trip from Omaha to Cleveland for $200. And by late summer, I decided that if I was already going to be at the race to crew, I might as well run it, and the RDs let me back in, so I really didn't start "training" for this until the end of July.  Oops.

The Training:  I had just come off the year-long streak of completing 17 marathons or ultras in 17 different states earlier this summer, so I had a fairly strong running base.  I quickly ramped up the mileage and was able to reach 72 mpw through the month of August, but didn't do any significantly long runs (which would be typical training).  In 2011, during my peak training, I hit 310 miles in a 30 day period, and my longest solo run was 42 miles. In 2012, I again hit 310 miles in a 30 day period, but my running was a lot of doubles and triples (shorter runs), no single really long runs, and overall, 1 minute faster on my pace than last year.  So, same training volume, but a completely different style of training for an event like this.

My Goals:  Going in, I really didn't set a hard goal.  I found that last year, once I hit my goal, my mind said I was done, even though I probably could have gone further.  So, I decided to not set a goal this year and just see what my body would allow.  I'm serious. I did however give myself 10 mini lessons that I wanted to remember. 

1) Slow down while running. 2) Walk more frequently. 3) Walk/run the tangents. 4) Use porta potties (versus spending time walking to the flush toilets). 5) Stretch every hour. 6) Take care of hot spots immediately. 7) Even if it hurts to change clothes, utilize what I have to feel comfortable. 8) If it hurts to run and it hurts to walk, run (slowly). 9) Have fun and smile and be grateful, even if it sucks. 10) Don't die.

And I would say, I met nearly all of those objectives.  The course is a 0.9 mile loop.  I walked at least twice each lap from the very beginning, and when running, I was running slow and comfortable and easy.  I never felt out of breath once during the event.  I never used a flush toilet, I did stop and stretch once, and occasionally twice an hour, and felt I managed my blisters to the best of my ability (although could/should have done it better perhaps).  I had a pretty good attitude through about 67 miles, but then, I got into a really dark emotional place and really just wanted it to be over (more on that later).  Overall though, it was a great, fun race, and I most certainly didn't die, probably the most important thing! 

The Weather:  Well, it was grand for the first 6 hours and 45 minutes.  Cool at the start with a temperature of 54, with a nice breeze of 10 to 15 mph, then the sun came out and I even got a nice tan/sunburn out of it.  Then all hell broke loose about 340 pm when a severe storm rolled in.  We got blasted with a measured 38 mph wind squall, gusting up to 60 mph wind right on the lake front, half inch hail, lightning, thunder, and torrential sideways downpours, which in fact destroyed many of the tents and canopies that people had set up.  Oops.  We saved ours though. And after a 10 minute break to ride out the worst of it, I was back out there.  And for the next 19 hours, it rained off and on, with 15 to 30 mph winds that were constant, non stop.  Mostly light rain, an occasional dry period, but occasionally periods of heavy rain when a squall would move off the lake.  Those were the worst.  I'm a meteorologist, and to put it bluntly, it sucked. I wore a rain poncho, which helped keep my head and body core dry, but everything else was soaked.  It sucked some of the joy right out of me.  And that's where I got into a really dark emotional state late in the evening, around 67 miles in.  I texted my wife and posted on Facebook, "67 miles, physically I'm fine, emotionally, I'm toast."  Once you get into that state of mind, it's hard to pull yourself back out. It's dark outside. You're alone in your thoughts, doing endless laps around a 0.9 mile track.  The wind beating you. The rain pelting you. Questioning why I was there, thinking that there wasn't any real point. I hated running at that time.  I was still moving relatively fine, with a decent pace, but I just mentally had checked out.  Note, going in, we knew it was going to rain.  In fact, I was joking earlier in the week about using an umbrella when someone asked what to use for rain gear.  Race morning gave us an 80 percent chance of rain, so the forecasts were spot on.

Radar image at the time the first storm hit, at 341 pm.  The race location is at the center of the white square that I added to the image below.

The Aches and Pains:  I can honestly say, I didn't have a lot early in the race, although once the rain hit, my legs really stiffened up and I slowed down.  After completing my first 26.2 miles, around 4 hours and 45 minutes, I stopped to change socks and thought I was getting a blister.  The sock change helped, and that pain went away.  For the next several hours, I was pain free.  I ran easy, I walked, I stretched.  I was never winded.  Everything felt great.  Even at 67 miles, even though my emotional state was low, my body was mostly still fine, legs were really getting stiffer though, but OK. However, those last few miles during the middle of the night, the blisters started to develop, the wet conditions just made them worse. I stopped to change my socks a couple more times, hoping it would help.  But the rain was just too much for me. Running through puddles of water for hours and hours makes it hard. I should have stopped at the medical tent to ask for help, but it was also very cold with the wind blowing.  Anytime I stopped, I immediately got chilled and stiffened up, so I knew spending 30 minutes in the med tent to get blisters looked at would probably be the end, so I didn't stop. I couldn't stop. Temperatures were in the mid 40s (colder with the wind chill), but as long as I was moving, I was generating enough heat to keep warm. However, toward the end, the blisters were too bad for me, and my pace had slipped below the point of diminishing returns and I couldn't stay warm any longer.  I told myself that once I reached a distance PR, I would stop.  I also knew that I could not make it to the end of the race, and I finally made peace with that.  It was a very hard decision to make, but at 20 hours and 20 minutes, I completed my last lap and turned in my timing chip.  I was shivering, despite having on every layer that I brought, another rain squall was coming in off the lake, I could barely walk on my feet, and also noticed a red tinge seeping out of the side of my shoes.  Both feet were bleeding slightly.  It was time to stop.  I also had a little bit of chaffing, in an unmentionable place, most likely from all the rain that kept running down/through there, despite generous amounts of Body Glide. Oh well.

The Food:  Fueling and hydration are keys to a successful race, no matter the distance.  For this race, I ate just about everything, but mostly from the aid station. Even though we had enough food at our own aid station to stock a convenience store, I did most of my eating from the main aid station, although I did grab chips and cookies from our own table.  I drank Heed and Gatorade mostly, and occasionally a cup of Coke or Mountain Dew. I ate PB/J, ham, turkey, and cheese, sandwiches, candy bars, MnMs, rice krispies, fruit, crackers, grilled cheese, ginger cookies, pizza, ramen and potato soup, potato chips, and probably a few more things I don't even remember.  Every lap, I would grab something, a handful of whatever. I carried a hand held bottle with me that I kept full at all times, to sip on every little bit.  You need calories to do this, and I was piling them in.  In fact, I joked that I probably was close to consuming more calories than I burned, and I never once felt sick or tired or just worn out, so I think I did a good job of maintaining my fuel source.

The Finish:  Even though I stopped my race at 20:20, I fully intended on coming back to see the friends I was running with finish.  After retreating to my motel room for some foot care, a shower and a 30 minute nap, I made it back to the course with 5 minutes to spare, just in time to see a good friend Sue complete her last lap and also win the race!  She was not only the lead female, but the overall winner.  I gave her a big hug, and also helped cheer other runners in.  Everyone gathered for the post race breakfast and relived some of the triumphs and tragedies of the race, and to help Sue celebrate. It was a great ending to a tough 24 hours!

The Race Organization: Overall, this is an outstanding race, and an ideal entry into ultra running.  The race directors do a great job of paying attention to every detail.  It's a short 0.9 mile loop course, with bathrooms on each end, a smorgasboard buffet aid station with more food than you could ever dream of, and all around, just a wonderfully run race!  That's the nice thing about a timed event, there is no chance of a DNF.  You can go as long as you want without fear since there's no chance that you won't reach the finish line.  You can go for as long as your body and mind will allow.

My Pacing:

The first 44 miles were pretty evenly paced, average pace 12:18, which included the breaks for changing socks, etc.  Average running pace in there was 10:59.

The next 40 miles...Note the pace was still pretty consistent through about 67 miles, but then you can really see the dramatic dropoff once the blisters started hurting more and more.  Even at midnight, I was on pace to hit 100 miles in the event, and Sue walked with me a bit to give me a mental boost. The blister set in fast though, and that was the beginning of the end for me. 

The Crew:  I can't say thank you enough to the crew who helped us this year.  A local running friend arrived and set up our home base with a canopy, a tent, tables, signs, and more.  Another running friend Jenny was there to cheer us on and take pictures.  And an online running acquaintance George was there too offering encouraging words.  I really appreciated their willingness to help out.

The Runners:  For me, the big draw for this type of event is the camaraderie.  Something on this scale would be hard to do by myself.  I can't thank enough the other runners from my online running board that helped make this event a life experience. I've had the privilege of doing this race twice. And legitimately, it's a group effort, we all helped each other at various points in the race to get through it.

Pre Race Picture: (courtesy Bob)

Post Race Picture: (courtesy Bob)

The Aftermath:  I know it sounds crazy, but this morning (Monday) 24 hours after the event, my legs did not hurt that badly.  I was slightly stiff, but otherwise felt fine.  Really.  The bottoms of my feet were another story.  Very painful to walk on, huge 2" blisters on the balls of my feet, and hobbling through the airports was challenging, if not comical. But overall, the legs felt fine.  Guess all that walking really helps.

The End: Well, that's it. I completed another fun event, with a faster result than last year, and slightly more mileage. At the end of the day, I'm pleased with my progress.  Could I have done more, or done things differently?  Absolutely.  In hindsight, I really should have tended to the blisters more diligently and taken a chance with the med tent.  In the end though, I'm content with my results.  After all, It's Just Running.  

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