Three weeks later and I'm still having trouble putting words to paper (or computer as it is) about my second attempt at the 24 hour timed event. I knew going in that I didn't put in quite the training miles for this race as I did for my first 24 hour back in May, especially that last couple of training blocks. This was mostly due to the fact that I wanted to try to sneak in a 2017 Boston Marathon Qualifier, which I did when Woo and I went up and ran Quebec City marathon in August. Though, in doing so, I reduced my weekly mileage and worked in higher speed workouts. I guess we'll call this a trade-off. Though come April when I'm running down Boylston I surely won't regret it.
After the marathon, I think my body didn't recover quite as quickly as it has most of the year because my last 2 long runs leading up to the Run Around the World were absolute sh*t. The first, a 24 mile progression run the week after the marathon crushed my soul and the 20 miler the following week left me feeling even more defeated than the last one. I was now kind of dealing with a nagging quad issue and had zero confidence based on lower mileage and poor last long runs going into the race.
I had a good long chat with Coach Amy while waiting for my flight and she reminded me to trust in my training and that my "endurance is my strength" (I really do like that one). She also said I should relax and let the miles come to me. I also like the sound of that one. So I felt a little better heading down to Nashville after that chat, but still wasn't feeling as confident going into the race as I typically do.
I arrived in Nashville on Thursday night and hopped in an Uber over to my hotel near the race for the night. On Friday morning, I slept in, got some breakfast, then sat in the hotel hot tub for a while as my good friend John made the drive down from St. Louis to be my 1 man crew for the weekend. John arrived around noon to pick me up and we found an amazing little pizza place on Yelp (Painturo's Pizza) that was just perfect. So good! From there we grabbed some groceries and headed over to the race site to set up our tent and camp for the night. We arrived to find the Race Director (and former USA 24 hour team member Greg Armstrong) and his wife getting things set up. We chatted for a bit and decided the best place to set up. Anyone who knows me knows that I like to get to races super early so I can have the best parking or crew spot. We certainly accomplished both for this weekend.
Once we got camp set up we decided to get out of the race area because there was a "kids marathon" going on that evening for a few hours and we wouldn't be able to leave the parking lot once it began. We decided to go catch a movie and relax a bit. We saw the Magnificent Seven (quite good) and then grabbed a bite of food before heading back to camp for the night. We got in a little after 7pm and were both pretty tired. Once I finished getting all of my race setup done we decided to call it a night sometime around 830-9pm. Only problem is that Johnny forgot to bring sheets or pillows for the air mattress so we were left covering up with some cheap towels we bought at Aldi's earlier and using hoodies as pillows. I think I slept pretty well considering. That plus there was apparently a high school football game going on somewhere nearby so we heart the announcer calling that game for a while then they must have won because there was a huge party going on almost all night until about 3am which we could hear pretty much all night long. So that was fun.
The race was a 6am start, so I got up around 4:30 to begin getting in a few calories and getting ready to go. Though, I'm not sure what I was doing all morning, because all of a sudden it was 5:50am and the race was about to begin and I still didn't even have socks and shoes or my number on! AGH!! I frantically finished getting ready while missing the national anthem and John put my number on the race belt and brought it and my first bottle of water to the start line. It was just about now that I realized the race director (aforementioned USAMNT 24 hour alum) had a bib on. I had actually been stalking the entry list online all week to see if he was going to be running and he wasn't actually registered. Sneaky sneaky.
6am. Go time.
I think Woo once mentioned how anti-climactic the start of these races are. Nobody goes out guns blazing or in a dead sprint, but the whole group just starts to slowly meander forward. Greg and I ran together for the first hour or so before he stopped for a minute and I took a small lead while always looking over my shoulder waiting for him to catch up. As the race began we chatted a little bit about the impending heat coming our way very soon (heat wave expecting temps to be well into the 90's!). I asked if he intended to try to "squeeze in a few extra miles early on before it got too hot" and he said that he didn't see the point in changing a game plan just because of weather and that he wasn't trying to pick up the pace early. This made me quickly second guess my own strategy, but I decided that 5 minutes into a 24 hour long race was no time to begin doubting my game plan so I stuck to it and knew that I could run a couple of extra miles in the first 4 hour segment and then slow down a bit during the heat and keep my HR down until it began to cool back off later that night.
The early part of the race was pretty uneventful as I cruised around just under 9 minute mile pace for the first 4 hours getting the 27 miles I wanted to get in perfectly on schedule while maintaining a low heart rate. The next 8 hours (10a until 6p) were the hottest of the day without a doubt with temps hitting 95*F. What made this even better was the freshly paved blacktop on the school/church parking lot that really helped to keep the temperature on the course at a manageable level (<-- insert sarcasm here). For these 8 hours my plan was to drop the pace to just under 10:30 pace, do my best to stay cool and keep the HR down, and just keep pushing forward with as little effort as possible. I was actually very happy with my ability to stay cool by drinking roughly 10 oz of water/tailwind per mile lap. I also had a nice neck gaiter from Math Sports which I kept tossing ice water onto and which I was actually able to wrap one of my extra Simple Hydration bottles in full of ice on the back of my neck which is clearly visible in the photo below and felt great! I also kept spraying on sunscreen in an effort to keep my body/core from getting overheated. I probably applied some 100 SPF a dozen times at least.
The only problem with vastly increasing my liquid consumption is that in addition to the extra water I was taking in more calories of Tailwind than I planned for. At the time, I thought this was no big deal as I felt great. Though, this may have led to my eventual downfall at about hour 18 or so where my stomach was far too upset to eat anything and I began slowing down. I still am not 100% certain what happened, but the best reason (i.e. excuse) I can come up with was that I took in too many calories early on in the race when it was hot out and that caused my later stomach problems. I aim to take in between 200-300 calories per hour when racing for these long races/efforts but I was probably hitting 300-350 for many of the early hours of the race. Maybe it was fine, maybe not?
Hours 12-16 were pretty uneventful as I kept right on the 10:26 pace I was aiming for and neared the 100 mile mark. At about 16 hours and 55 minutes I hit the 100 mile mark which was about an hour and 10 minutes faster than at my last 24 hour event. I knew I was crushing it and gaining confidence with every lap while adding up the time I had to get to 140 miles or maybe even 142 if things went perfectly for the last 8 hours! At one point about 16 hours or so in after I noticed that other Race Director Greg (there were at least 4 of us on the course) had dropped out of the race I knew that unless something drastic happened I would be well in line for the race win, but that's not the only reason I was there. I wanted 140. I believe I even told Johnny that "there was a new F-ing Greg in town" (referencing the fact that the RD Greg Armstrong was a local ultra runner putting on the race and having been much more established in this sport than I am - sorry if you read this Greg, no disrespect intended). I also told him that I was probably saying this about 8 hours too soon, but I didn't care...so there's that.
After hitting the 100 mile mark I managed to cruise along for about another hour before things started to turn downward. I dropped off the 10:26 pace I was aiming for during the 16-20 hour portion of the race to about 12 minute pace. John and Greg (RD) kept asking what I needed, what could they do to keep me on pace. I simply didn't know. I just wasn't able to get any calories in. Every bite of food I took just made my stomach churn. Much to my dismay John without fail each lap by would try to hand me some food or snack to get something in my stomach. I kept sipping tailwind but I probably couldn't even get in 100 calories per hour. Hours 20-24 were pretty much a massive struggle to just keep moving forward and with every lap I could feel my goal of 140 miles slipping further and further away. Greg ran a lap with me to see if there was anything he could do or advise to help. He recommended that I took a 10 minute power nap in a reclining camping chair he had. He said that when he ran 145 miles he took a quick power nap and it made a world of difference. At this point I didn't figure I had much to lose so I gave it a go. Leaned back and closed my eyes and told Johnny to wake me in 10. I didn't actually sleep any, but just resting for a few minutes made me feel better. After getting up I was able to get back down closer to the 12 minute pace (as opposed to 15-17 minute walk/run pace) for 3 or so miles. Unfortunately though after a few laps I was right back to where I was pre-nap: walking and yelling at my body to "f-ing run!" "just go" or whatever other profanities I thought shouting at myself would help. None of it did.
Another hour or two of walk/running and another attempt at another power nap (which helped again for a couple of miles) left me feeling defeated and beaten I decided to just get to 130, which is the equivalent of 5 marathons and call it a day. I realized this about 22 and a half hours in and decided that John would never let me quit with about an hour left of the race. In my delirium I concocted a plan to let John know that he could go and take a nap and I would wake him when the race was over. I thought this would be the perfect plan to get him off the course so I could quit early. As I came around to the finish line for lap 126 (I think) to tell him he could go ahead and take a nap I noticed his phone was following me as I walked by the start/finish line. From there I concluded that he was filming me, which apparently I didn't love. See video below. Much to my surprise, he took the bait and went off for a nap! From there I finished up 130 miles in about 23 hours and 10 minutes and called it. I knew that I could keep walking maybe 3 more miles, but in the end what was the difference between 130 and 133? Nothing. It would not be enough to qualify me for the US Men's National team, so it didn't matter. I was spent. I think I might have had a little more motivation the last hour or so (as I've noticed in the past) if the race had began at 7am instead of 6am because then the last hour of the race would have been for sunrise, which I always LOVE. Though, not the case today.
In the end, even after running a near perfect race for 18 hours I fell short of my goal. That's the thing about running literally for a day...there is SO MUCH TIME for things to go wrong! In both of my 24 hour races I've felt every range of plausible emotions ranging from complete joy and elation to absolute defeat and everything in between. I don't even know how to describe the highs and lows I've experienced in these races. I am on top of the world one minute (or one hour) and just at the lowest of lows a few hours later. It is an extremely humbling feeling.
It turns out that there is a difference between giving all you've got for a full 24 hours and knowing you bailed before the bell rang. I now desperately regret leaving those 50ish minutes on the clock. Just knowing that I gave up early. That's not how I do things, and it's certainly not how someone gets to be in a position to represent their country.
I know deep down that I have the ability to hit 140 miles and even 145-150 if things go perfectly in that time, but I just have to keep trying. And try I will. Luckily in this race I was still able to win and learn a lot, but that won't always be the case.
Until next time.