I've run 5 races over 100K (62 miles)- all in the past 18 months.
* Feb 2009- Rocky Raccoon 100 Miler- Unseasonably warm. Had bad heat issues that forced me to walk the last 20 miles, but I finished (though outside of my 24 hour goal).
* Sept 2009- Hinson Lake 24 Hour- Unseasonably hot. I didn't have many heat issues, but many did. Made it 90 miles and felt pretty good. Loved the race set up.
* New Years 2009/2010- Freedom Park 24 Hour- 35 degrees and drizzly all day. Got bored and joints hurt from asphalt. Went home after 70 miles. Felt OK about that decision.
* June 2010- Black Mountain Monster 24 Hour- Unseasonably hot. Blew up due to heat & being out of shape. Still struggled through 66 miles. Rough.
* Sept 2010- Hinson Lake again- 95 degrees- Record high! I still haven't run 100 miles in 24 hours. It'll have to wait for better conditions, but I did have a great time out there!
Hinson Lake & Mount Mitchell were the 2 races I looked forward to most this year. I really enjoyed Hinson Lake last year. Race organization is fantastic, the course is condusive for running major miles, and it's pretty close to home.
THE COURSE: The course at Hinson Lake is a 1.52 mile loop around a lake. When I read about this a few years ago, I thought to myself, "How ridiculous is that?! Somebody stop me if I ever sign up for that thing." I cannot stress how PERFECT the course is for me though. Both years, I stuck to a plan and absolutely followed it completely until around 75 miles & then all bets are off. You go out about .85 mile on a finely crushed rock (dusty, deeper and loose this year, but no complaints) path that's about 6' wide. Then you hit the only hill on the course. The first time this year, I kept waiting for it to get steeper but it never did. I commented to someone, "This is the hill? It was so much bigger last year. I'm sure it'll grow later on." So after the first 3 loops, I walked this hill. I had a tree picked out- one with a little knot thing near the bottom- if you were there, you know the one I'm talking about. I walked from there to the top of the incline each lap and that's all I walked for the first 75 miles, except for the aid station on occasion. Broken up like that makes it so perfect in my head... "Run .85 mile, then a walk break. Then run .6 mile, then an aid station break." Makes it so much easier to keep going. If the aid had been 5+ miles between stations like most ultras, there's no way I'd get through it on a tough weekend like this one. So much easier carrying nothing with you.
THE HEAT: I'd seen the forecast early in the week. High of 94. But these things change all the time, right? Not this time. Predicted 94 high and it actually got up to 95, tying a record for this date. Knowing my history in the heat, I was very worried. In the back of my mind, I sort of figured there were really only 2 results possible: A) Dropping out early after several hours of misery; B) Running a couple of hours, taking a couple of hours of break, and repeating for 24 hours. There was a 3rd option I hadn't considered- actually doing well!
THE RACE: I started off comfortably. I was running about 8:00-8:30 pace early on + short aid station breaks, so 9:00 miles, and I don't think I fell off that for 20 miles or so... it's hard to remember. The time spent at aid stations got a little longer after 10 miles or so, but I was moving nicely. Felt great!
At 30 miles, I wasn't sweating like I should and my stomach was sloshing with water, so I decided to take a 20-30 minute hydration break. I didn't want to, oddly enough (I usually welcome breaks.). Felt great still & wanted to keep going but knew I needed to cool down & drink. Got in the back of my car & did just that. Piled ice on my chest and neck. Ran most of the daylight hours with ice in my hat.
Going into this race, I felt more like a real runner than I have in recent years. That may sound strange. I usually feel like a guy who can stay out on a rugged trail for a really long time, but not like a runner. I've felt a little faster lately and have had good intervals and tempo runs with the team lately. Even though it's a 24 hour race, during the first half I felt like I was moving along nicely with quicker turnover and better form than usual. Good feeling.
At 45 miles, I had developed a really bad chafing problem all over. Anywhere skin touched clothing or skin touched skin, I was having problems. I think the salt sweated out was a big factor. My skin was on fire the whole race. You can see from the pictures, I'm bright red. Looks like sunburn, but wasn't. Just from the heat/dehydration. So at 45 miles, I decided to pull an unorthodox move and left the race for an emergency Wal-Mart trip to try to get the chafing under control. Saved my race but cost me 45 minutes at the store!
I felt pretty decent for another 10 miles and at about 55 I started a roller coaster pattern. Great for 6-8 miles, then crash. Repeat, repeat, repeat. The later into the race, the shorter the spikes. 8:00 miles one lap, followed by one where I hallucinate, can barely walk in a straight line, feel like I might pass out, etc., and then feel fantastic again. Strange. I was coherent enough to know there was a problem and to know that it would pass. Had I not had the positive spikes, I would've dropped out.
This is the 2nd consecutive race I've hallucinated a little (sea creatures were passing through my body last time) and before that, I thought people were exaggerating. Just before daylight after 21 hours of staring at the ground, I noticed, "Wow! The ground is so shiny from my headlamp. There must be millions of flecks of mica on this trail. It's so beautiful. It looks like stars--- wait no, it IS stars--- no, the mica on the trail is a reflection of the beautiful stars in the sky. But where's the moon? I can't see the moon on the trail." Soon after that, I was feeling great, and ran past Ray K. I slowed a little and talked to him for a couple of minutes. "Ahh! Did you see that?! A rat! Something just ran between us." His response, "Dude, there are no rats. You're hallucinating. The shadows this time of night play funny tricks on you." I saw, and hurdled two more just after leaving him, but I think he was right. I never listen to music when I run, but started to at night during these long races. I've also never been a big Metallica fan, but like to run listening to sort of fast, but not super fast metal & punk. I spent probably 30 minutes pondering, "I never realized it, but Metallica's 'Creeping Death,' was written for this exact moment. How did they know it was going to happen? How did they know I was feeling like death was creeping up on me? Did they know that I ran away from it & feel great now? That's so crazy b/c I don't even know those guys. Those dudes in Metallica must be really smart." Yeah, I lost it a bit. :)
75-85 miles was, by far, the worst of the race. I had a couple of positive spikes in there, but it was rough. That was the first time I strayed away from my "only walk on the hill strategy." I collapsed on a bench about every other time I got to the aid station and stayed there for 10 minutes each time. During the whole race, I probably took: one 40 minute Wal-Mart break, one 30 minute break to cool down & hydrate, two 20 minute breaks for the same reason, and three 10 minutes bench breaks. That's 2:20 of breaks + the time spent picking out food, drink & supplements at the aid station, which may have been about an hour total. My pre-race plan was to reduce these breaks, but on a hot day like this, I don't fault myself for all the lost time. I needed it.
Sun came up around mile 85 and I was more lucid. Had a smile on my face. I did a lot of walking because I knew I'd beat my 90 miles from last year but could not get 100. Didn't see much use in killing myself for 95 when I could enjoy a few more laps around the lake for 92. I saw these sort of as victory laps. Walked the entire last 2 miles I think. I talked to more people during this time than the whole rest of the race combined. Lot of "How'd it go" stories. Many people ran during the daylight hours of Saturday, slept at night and got in a couple of laps Sunday morning, so there were a lot more people out than there were at night.
THE ORGANIZATION: Tom Gabell and his crew do such a good job and are so unbelievably friendly!! I couldn't appreciate it more. When I was losing it, I felt like the bearded guy who counted my laps all day & all night was my best friend. After collapsing on the bench around 85 miles, I heard Tom say, "Anyone who completed one lap is a finisher." I yelled out, "Tom, did I just hear you say I was finished? I completed a lap." I my delirium, I thought it was the funniest joke ever. I recall trading jokes with the volunteers late into the race last year. Running for 24 hours is hard, but there is personal reward. Tallying laps or filling Gatorade cups for 24 hours is maybe even more commendable. What's the payoff? Entry was $24. Tom and these folks aren't getting rich. My ice filled hat goes off to these people for making the event possible. Most of them didn't take shifts- they were out there the entire time.
Ray K said this was the biggest 24 hour race ever held in the US with about 250 people registered. I certainly would never argue with his assessment of the ultra world past or present. Results haven't been posted but I think I was about 12th for men & probably 3-4 women beat me. I made the leader board of top 10 for a brief spell around 80 miles. I finished 7th last year with 90.0 miles and went 92.xx this year. I almost stopped at 91.25 but I don't like odd numbers, so... seriously, that's why I went out on another lap. Horn sounded the end of the 24 hours and you have to drop a banana with your name on it where you stopped. Mike Morton, the eventual winner flew past me dozens of times during the day. He finished 100 miles in less than 13:30!!! I walked some of my last full lap with him and I was the one who wanted to keep running. He said he really struggled after 100 but still managed to get in 152 miles!! Unbelievable especially in the heat!
REFLECTION: Had fun, met some people- some who have seen this blog and 3 who watched the 2009 Hinson Lake video I put on youtube, overcame some obstacles, and just generally had a great experience out there.
If I can run 92 miles when it's 95 degrees, I know I can crack 100 in 24 hours under good conditions. I'll have to wait for that day to come. As much as I didn't have a good experience (no fault of race director!) at Freedom Park because of the paved loop and yucky weather, I'm planning on going back. We'll see how that goes. Also can't wait for Hinson Lake 2011!!