I keep thinking to myself that this number is absurd. 143.39 miles. In 24 hours. I still can't believe that I did it. I mean, in my heart I knew I could, and it is what I was aiming for, but to have such an ambitious goal realized after over a year of hard training for this very number (or at least 140) is still kind of surreal.
Let's back up a little bit. Back to August 16, 2012 in Burlington, Vermont. This was 2 days before the USAT Age Group National Championships. It was the first opportunity I ever had to compete in this type of "national championship race" which I qualified for by placing high enough in my age group earlier in the year. I just thought it would be great to be there and to see what I could do against some of the best in the country. I was to compete in the Sprint triathlon national championship race. This consisted of a 1/2 mile swim, 13 mile bike, and a 5k run. It is the shortest race in the tri world.
On this day, 2 days before the race, I sat there with my friend, Ironman Lake Placid training partner, and founder of Zoom Multisport Jonathan Dioli. Jonathan and I were grabbing lunch at a small cafe and he began looking through the results of the 2011 sprint national championship race and he said "you know, you have a shot at making this team." Until this moment, competing for Team USA had never been really a thought of mine. I didn't think I was fast enough or good enough to even consider this as a realistic goal. Long story short, I missed a spot on the team by a few minutes and about half a dozen places, but I was close. Close enough to know that I wanted to represent my country. I wanted to wear the red, white, and blue and know what it felt like to be one of the best in the US at something. It turns out it isn't triathlon, but it just may be ultra running.
Fast forward back to the present and we're at the 2016 Desert Solstice invitational track meet in Phoenix, AZ. The race began on December 10th at 8am and finished the following day at 8am. Leading up to the race I was feeling every range of emotion and really had no idea what to expect. I was simply happy to be there competing with some of the best 24 hour runners in the country/world. I was proud that all of my hard work had earned me a space in this race. Now, I wanted to prove to the other runners and also to myself that I deserved to be there.
Before I get into the nitty gritty of the race itself, i need to take another moment to thank my crew chief for making the last minute trip from St. Louis to Phoenix to spend the weekend awake all night and essentially waiting on me hand and foot (foot and foot?). This is the second time that John has come out to crew for me this year alone and he is no doubt one of the best in the business. I know he takes this responsibility seriously and genuinely wants to do everything he can to keep me moving forward at all times. I did not want to let him down again (as I feel like I did when I gave up with an hour to go at the Run Around the World). I also could not have run as far as I did on this day without his support or without the support of Tim, Melissa, Jason, Mike, and Myra who all came out to cheer me on at this race. I am lucky that the race was close enough to so many good friends/family!
Okay, race time. Things started out pretty uneventful and I stuck to the plan pretty well. I had a specific plan to run a certain amount of miles during each 4 hour block of the race. That plan was:
Hours 0-4: 26 miles
Hours 4-8: 25 miles
Hours 8-12: 25 miles
Hours 12-16: 24 miles
Hours 16-20: 23 miles
Hours 20-24: 22 miles
This would be a "best case scenario" and would put me at 145 miles in the 24 hours. It also provided me with a little buffer if I miss a mile here or there.
The first 8 hours were pretty much on schedule or very close with the first marathon coming in just under 4 hours and hitting my 50 mile split a little under 8 hours. I did end up having to make a few stops in the bathroom (more than any other race before) which slowed me down between hours 4-16 or so, but then it was okay. My aim was to consume around 250-300 calories per hour, but after several hours of this I felt bloated and full so after these bathroom breaks I decided to back the calories down to 200-225 per hour. I went about an hour without any food to even things out and from there I began feeling much better. I ran out of my Fast Bars that I really enjoy and decided to eat more "real food" during the race. I ate a lot of watermelon, banana, and even an ice cream sandwich in addition to drinking Tailwind and eating some random gels and bars. I also began to have some hot spots on both of my big toes around this time. I asked Johnny to cut out the big toes of an old pair of Hoka's that I had as back up. A couple of laps around the track and he was ready so I swapped out shoes and did a quick stretch. This immediately made my feet feel better. An hour or so later I had Johnny toss me the left other shoe and swapped out while he cut the pinky toe out again.
Hours 8-16 were a little slower than goal pace and I think I hit 24 and 23 miles respectively. I felt good but the bathroom and stretching breaks were slowing me down a tiny bit more than expected. I hit the 100 mile split in 16:23:43 which was about 23 minutes or 2-3 miles slower than I hoped for, but at the same time it was still over a 30 minute PR, so I couldn't be too upset about it. For the last two races the 100 mile split has kind of been a make/break point. In my first 24 hour I froze up at about mile 107 and at the second one I began rapidly slowing down around mile 110. I knew that I felt good and that I just needed to keep going.
At this point, the only guy ahead of me (there were also 2 women) had hit 100 miles and stopped running as he was only registered for the 100 mile and not the 24 hour. From there I took the lead in the men's race for a couple of hours until John Cash and Bob Hearn caught up to me. Running in the lead overnight really helped keep me motivated and going. My stomach was also a little bit uneasy so I asked Johnny to fill up my bottle with ginger ale instead of Tailwind. He took it upon himself (great idea!) to water the ginger ale down instead of all soda. I finished the first bottle in about a lap. I never had soda that tasted so good. I got the majority of my calories the rest of the race through the ginger ale and it was delicious. I've probably not drank that much soda in the past 5 years combined!
For the remainder of the race Bob kept the lead, but there were several times that John Cash (a member of the 2015 US Men's National 24 hour Team) and I bounced back and forth. John was not having a good day, to his standards, and I've honestly never seen someone push and fight through struggles like I saw John do that day. I think I saw John throw up about a dozen times. This guy would be down hunched over the trash can, fence, table, etc. throwing up for 5-10+ minutes then he would start walking a lap or two, then start banging out 8-9 minute miles again. This happened several times throughout the race. I know that I couldn't have kept feeling that poorly and rallied time and time again without throwing in the towel. I know that the mileage wasn't what he wanted, but watching him hit the highs and lows all night really kept me pushing harder. Bob also was struggling (which I learned more of after the race) but kept a very consistent pace enough to stay 1-2 miles ahead of John and I for most of the night. He would walk some laps now and then to eat and then right back at it. Bob and John were both fierce competitors and I can't wait to run with them again.
Sometime around hour 18 or so I began to slow my pace for a few miles and I was starting to struggle. I tried caffeine and a couple other things to get me moving, but it wasn't happening. So, I took the advice from Greg Armstrong (which he gave me during the Run Around the World 24 hour race) and put my feet up and closed my eyes for a very quick power nap to recharge the batteries. I asked Johnny to pull my chair over and grab the blanket out of the bag and to wake me up in 7...no 8 minutes. I pulled my cap down over my eyes and tried to refresh. I didn't actually fall asleep, but it definitely worked. After one lap to warm back up my pace began to drop back near the 10-10:15 per mile pace that I was aiming for. I was back on track and moving well. I didn't find out until after the race that John only allowed me to nap for 5 minutes. I appreciate that he made the executive decision on that.
For the next 4 hours I kept pretty much on pace and going around 10-10:30 miles. I hit 130 miles with a little bit over 2 hours left in the race. From here I knew I would have no problem hitting 140, but how much over it could I go? I knew in the back of my mind that two of the guys on the qualifying list were at 140 and 142 miles and that if I could get to at least 142 it would bump me up the standings a little bit. From there I would need to hit 145 to move up any further. This would not likely be doable but for those last two hours it was time to see what was left in the tank.
The sun came up shortly thereafter and I FELT AMAZING! The Phoenix sunrises and sunsets were amazing over the mountains and it gave me the boost of energy I was desperately waiting for. With about an hour left in the race Tim came back over to cheer me on and shortly after Mike and Myra arrived just in time to see me hit the 140 mark with about 25 minutes left in the race. This moment was one of the greatest joys I've ever felt related to running (or triathlon, etc.). After hitting 140 I threw my water bottle at Johnny and announced it was "go time." I felt like I was running a 5k for the last 25 minutes of the race, but in reality was running about 8 minute pace +/- a bit. I was definitely moving faster than anyone on the track, but with only a few minutes left in the race I could not make up enough distance to pass either John or Bob. That didn't matter, I was running for ME right now. I wanted to know that I ran every damn second of the 24 hours and left it all out there.
This race was different also in the fact that they would offer a "partial lap split" which meant I could stop wherever I was on the track and get a measurement an exact distance instead of needing to complete a full lap for it to count as most races do. On the last lap with the countdown going 10-9-8-7-6...I ran as hard as I've maybe ever run and made the final lap almost back to the timing mat. Once the race was over I immediately collapsed and began laughing/crying. As I type this I am getting emotional thinking of that moment and how I felt with my friends around me and knowing I finally had a good 24 hour race and got the results I was hoping for. This was it. This was what I have been dreaming about for over a year now. It's why I've been getting up at 4am to run before work and why I've missed dinner or drinks with friends. Today, it was all worth it. Every ounce of hard work paid off. The below image was captured by one of the race spectators and another runner, Tracey Outlaw, who was a great supporter all race long! Tracey is also the administrator for the US National 24 hour Facebook Page. He had this to say when sending me the image:
"You were the first person I ran over to when the 24th hour came to an end at Desert Solstice Invitational Track Meet - 100 Miles & 24 Hours. It was emotional to share that moment with you and your crew. You ran an unbelievable and consistent race and I am so glad I saw your reaction along the straightaway when you hit 140 miles, becoming one of the the few men to hit that minimum qualifying mark for the U.S. National 24 Hour Running Team. But that was not enough. You pressed on and hit 143 miles, applying constant pressure on John Cash and Bob Hearn throughout, making for one of the most memorable and competitive 24 hour races I have seen- especially in the last four hours. I am sure now they appreciate how you pushed them for even bigger miles (at the time, not so much!) Despite the "High five" fail, as a St Louis Cardinals fan, :-) watching you mentally and physically stay focused until the very end was simply inspiring. You should feel very, very proud, Gregory Soutiea."
The final results had me at 143.39 miles and 4th overall and 3rd male in the 24 hour event (2nd in the 100 mile). Official Results can be found here on UltraSignup. I must also say that this race was without a doubt the best run race I've ever completed in. The crew from Aravaipa Running went above and beyond making sure all runners had everything they could possibly want or need to be successful here. This event is made for PR's and records. On this day I witnessed the women's world 100 mile record fall as well as some other shorter age group national records. Last year this race also saw Zach Bitter set the American 100 mile record. Before 2016 there had been 41 National Records and 10 World records set at this event.
This result puts me officially in the 8th qualifying spot for the 2017 World 24 hour Championship race in Ireland in July. The US team only takes 6 runners. I would need two runners to not take the spot or not be able to go for some reason.
Now, when I think about the race and look back, I know that I have a lot of room to improve on the effort. I know that I am capable of running 150+ miles. So, that's what I'll aim to do next.
I want to also extend a most sincere thank you to all of my friends and family who read this site, who have called, texted, messaged, commented, liked, and supported me over the past year. Knowing I've got a literal army of supporters really pushes and motivates me more than I can describe. I especially loved ALL of the messages sent through text and FB during the race that Johnny put up on the marker board for me to see. A special thanks also to all of my Zoom Multisport and Somerville Road Runner teammates.
It was also great to finally meet Ed Ettinghausen, aka The Jester in person. Ed took time out of his schedule to talk to me on the phone for about an hour before my first 24 hour race back in June. He was also supportive and encouraging throughout the entire race. Ed also holds the world record for most 100 mile races completed in one year.
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