Monday, January 04, 2010
Freedom Park New Year’s Ultra
Pain, cold and fatigue. It’s too bad to say so, but for most of the 24 hours at the Freedom Park New Year’s Ultra Run, that pretty well sums it up. This is not to say that there wasn’t some friendship, camaraderie and even some outright joy as well. Let’s start at the beginning.
It’s already been well documented how this thing got started: December 1st or thereabouts, Ladd Clifford mentioned to me that we ought to consider this 24-hour run in Morganton, North Carolina. I immediately replied that I’d already thought about it. We decided to seriously consider it, and of course get Dan DeRosha involved. I saw Dan that evening, and then we had a quorum. Within 24 hours of Ladd’s mentioning it, we were beginning to get registered. There only seems to be a bit of disagreement on which way the peer pressure had gone. Mike Keller from Columbus decided to go along with us as we were making our plans.
Speaking of plans, there were plenty to be made. There were logistics, such as hotels before and after, and who would drive. Then there was how to train for a 24-hour race. Ladd and Mike had experience; Dan and I had none to speak of. Finally there was the strategy of how to actually run the dang thing. The logistics went well, as Ladd drove his pickup, and the rest of us piled our considerable amounts of stuff in the back. One problem there was that with the constantly changing forecast, we weren’t sure what kind of weather to prepare for. The training had been written about in my other blog entries, as well as those of Ladd and Dan. Suffice it to say that we took it all quite seriously for that month of December. Now, about that race strategy.
Run 25, walk 5 (minutes), or walk five to ten minutes of each set of three nearly one-mile laps. Or even walk one entire lap for every two run. Strategies galore. Ladd and Mike (the experienced ones) were adamant that we should take those walking breaks early and often; that we should definitely pace ourselves. Would I listen? What do you think?
One other strategy that I had was to take one of my special pre-mixed super-carbo drinks and some electrolyte pills every six laps. I figured that this would work out to getting these nutrients every hour or so.
That First Marathon
After a brief meeting on the wet, slightly snowy grass, about 60 of us were off and running. The 12 and 6 hour runners would begin 12 hours later, at 8pm. Although it was a little cold and wet, with temperatures in the thirties and a ½ inch of snow, it was beginning to look like it wouldn’t be too bad a day, weather-wise. I’d been worried about the possibility of miserable, cold rain. There would be some very slight patches of drizzle and fog as the daytime temperatures of low forties eventually took hold. We ran counter-clockwise on the .98 mile asphalt trail around Freedom Park. I noticed the three hills right away. They were so small that it appeared that I’d be able to ignore them for most of the day. Yeah, sure.
Dan, Ladd and I ran together. Mike was using a slower strategy that included much more walking. The three of us also walked about 5 minutes of every third lap. Every sixth lap I did stop back at Camp Ohio for my carbo solution and electrolytes. Things were going swimmingly well for those early miles. At some point Ladd and Dan began to take additional walking and/or stopping, and I went on alone. Although I did continue taking the walking breaks, I changed my strategy a bit: I’d walk the three little hills every third lap, and that ought to work out the same way, right? By the way, those three pesky little hills were beginning to grow. And grow, and grow.
It’s not that I didn’t want to stay with Dan and Ladd; I knew they were doing the wise thing by taking their time. But by golly, I wanted to at least get up to 100 miles as soon as possible, and then take it fairly easy after that. I did try to force myself to stay with Ladd at times, but then found myself moving ahead again. I never said I was smart about these sorts of things.
As the day progressed, I achieved the marathon distance in a bit over four hours, and felt wonderful. By the time I got fairly well past 40 miles, my longest training run distance, I started to feel terribly lousy. I had been running well, and had even made the leader board by squeezing into fourth and fifth place at times. But now something was wrong. The problem was that I didn’t know what “it” was. I have, however, been there before: every footfall is simply a pain. Every bone in my body just plain hurt. I’ve been here before – at some of my really lousy marathons I’ve felt this same way. But then they were over and done with in three and a half hours or so.
When Math Doesn’t Work
Besides my Ohio friends, I’d been meeting plenty of others, new and old. Some, like Garth, Keith, Rosy, Shannon and Dave, I knew from North Coast. Others I knew by reputation or email. And some I simply met as new friends here in this interesting ultra universe. Some of those mentioned above were running very well. I myself had fallen out of the leader board, and was doing worse and worse as it got dark.
Another thing happened as it got dark: it got cold. I really noticed this when I decided to walk a lap to give my aching bones a slight rest from the hard running. It turned out that the hard walking wasn’t that much better. But what really hit me here was that bone-chilling, damp cold. Time to put on some more layers, and get back to running. That was better. Really.
Now I was still slowing down, but my rate of slowing had slowed. And I was feeling better doing it. Aaah, the inevitable math. I’m not as bad about it as some folks. Ladd (that eternal optimist) in particular stayed enthusiastically upbeat about our chances of doing well. As we progressed, he’d often say things like: “Dan, you did 65 (or whatever it was) miles in the first 12 hours; surely you can do way more than 35 in the last 12.” And yes, this does sound reasonable. But one thing all my years of experience have taught me is that the math never works.
No Longer Vertical
The friendly race organization folks had been doing a great job. They were serving food, but I hadn’t had anything other than some broth. My carbo mixture had been keeping me going. Or was it? After my resurgence from about miles 60 to 72, I was hurting, fatigued and cold once again. Did I mention cold? It was somewhere in the thirties, and there was an eerie fog and mist about. That damp cold may as well have been minus thirties for the way it felt to me.
As midnight approached, a race volunteer cheerily gave me a lei and tried to put a hat on my head. It took every ounce of will that I could muster to keep from saying or doing something mean to this nice person. Needless to say, I was too miserable to join the festivities, and just kept moving. I did hear the celebration and cheering from the other side of the park. Folks outside the park were boom-booming too. I hardly noticed.
What I did notice was that even as the New Year celebration ended, I hardly saw any other runners about. Where did they all go? I also noticed that I could hardly move in a straight line any more. It was time to get warmed up in the heated tent. Rhonda, the RD’s wife, helped me settle into a chair, and some kids got me some more broth. I wound up laying on a cold, uncomfortable metal bench with a couple space blankets from the Twin Cities Marathon wrapped around me. It was looking very much like I would not be able to continue running at all. Although I was far from comfortable, I dozed off for an hour or two.
Yes, I arose from that near-comatose state. It took quite a while to figure out where the heck I was and how I got there. I was still shivering, and needed some calories, but at least I was awake and alive. In fact, I actually did feel a tiny bit better. I had previously done around 84 laps. With several hours left, I actually began to entertain thoughts about getting outside to do some more. It seemed to take about thirty minutes to go from a laying to a sitting position, and then another hour to get from that sitting position to the course, which was only a few feet away. It was around 4am, and getting close to my usual running time. Except I wasn’t running now. You would be hard-pressed to call it walking. It was taking between 20 and 30 minutes to complete each lap, and in addition, I was stopping for food each time around.
At one stop I put some more layers on. The frozen fog had begun to lift, but I was still cold. Now I started to feel even better. I met up with Ladd, and we walked several laps together. Within the last ninety minutes, we were taking the laps one at a time, figuring that we could quit and call it a day at any time. Finally, with about 20 minutes left, I did. I turned in my chip after completing 95 laps. That works out to 93.66 miles.
This is the lessons learnt part of this post. And that’s what I needed: more.
More calories. I thought I was getting plenty with my carbo mix, but I believe that I had developed a deficit as the day wore into night. I should’ve taken more solid food.
More caffeine. I was trying to take this drug of choice in moderation or not at all, but perhaps I overdid the moderation part. I took one 5-hour energy at about 10pm, but by about midnight it had stopped working. I probably needed another one at that point.
More layers. It took a long time to figure out that walking wasn’t generating the heat that I usually get from running. That’s when I should’ve added the layers, but I dithered too much, not adding the layers until morning.
More patience. Ladd didn’t have his best day either, but he certainly knew better about starting out conservatively. I was just too anxious to take the walking breaks seriously. The best 24-hour runners are those that start slow but keep going and going and going.
The Joy is in the Journey
I don't believe that any of us on Team Ohio did ran as far as planned. Not that we were disappointed; it was just tough out there. The top runners, including Shannon and Dave, all ran well, and it was exciting to watch them.
I've said it before, but it bears repeating: the joy is in the journey. I often don’t like training for ultras, just because it seems so tedious. My training for Freedom Park was indeed tedious as well; I ran 387 miles in December, one of my highest monthly totals ever. But I actually enjoyed these miles for some reason. I am not able to explain why.
And then there was the journey down from Ohio to North Carolina. Mike, Ladd and Dan were a great bunch, and a lot of fun to travel with. The trip itself was a real blast.
Thanks to Dan DeRosha and Mike Keller for these photos.
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