“I don’t know what I’ve done
Or if I like what I’ve begun
But something told me to run
And honey you know me it’s all or none”
<note if you want the race report for the Endless Summer 6 HR race, go to the first picture and start there. Otherwise you can hang on for some of my emotional musings.>
So I ran a 6 HR race on Saturday. “What the $(&**&^$*” you say. Well, you probably think that, since I suspect most of you don’t talk out loud to my blog. If you do, don’t worry, it talks back— in a nice calming tone no less. I got off track again didn’t I? Anyway, you are thinking why the heck the a guy with a busted knee who is out of shape would do something as colossally and unequivocally asinine as running a 6 HR timed race in the middle of Maryland in July and risk what little chance he has on completing his fall race schedule.
Well for one, I am colossally and unequivocally asinine. In addition, I was having a basic crisis of confidence. I felt that physically I don’t (and wouldn’t) have what it takes to complete my run schedule because of where I am in my training. This makes success and failure (or more specifically my definition of it) in big part a mental effort.
Frankly I have been feeling mentally weak recently
In my last race I honestly gave up. Yes there are excuses like hurting my knee and becoming dehydrated during the race, but even with those excuses my mind just gave up. It particularly hurt because I went into the race really wanting to kick butt. That didn’t happen and on some level it has been nagging at me for almost two months.
Right before the half in June I signed up for the Endless Summer 6 HR race. At the time I thought I would be around the 20 mile point for long runs (only missed that by 14.2 miles) and thought that despite the heat in Maryland in late July, it would be a good practice run for the start of a 24 HR race. I figured I could get 30+ miles in. Bahahahahahahaha. Even at the time I signed up, the idea of my first (potential) ultra caused me to throw up just a little bit.
Then I busted up my knee and pretty well forgot about the race until last weekend. Then I read an email about the race. I thought the race might be a good opportunity to practice my race walking (since I knew full well I wasn’t going to run for 6 hours). But still the idea of running/walking for 6 hours in the middle of summer kind of scared me. I decided this was a good time to test my mental toughness, but promised myself that I would be smart and bag the race if my knee started to act up (you can laugh, I am). So although it may not be the smartest thing I ever did, I made the decision I was going to run the race.
Singlet for Endless Summer 6 HR race. The slightly more normal part of the post starts now.
So I suspect all but one or two of you were wise and starting reading here. This race report is unique for me in two ways. One, I didn’t think to take a picture of the porta potties. The other is that I typically provide a synopsis of how the race went more or less mile by mile. 1. That would be horribly boring. 2. I honestly don’t remember every mile so I am going to report it per lap.
So I woke up at 4 AM and wondered what I had signed myself up for (fortunately I had written it down on a piece of paper). Courtesy of my list making skills I had my hydration pack loaded up with gels and my Hammer supplements; my cooler loaded with water, post race recovery drinks, ad ice ; and a backpack with 3 shirts, spare pair of shorts, spare pair of socks, sunglasses, sunscreen, compression tights and post race food/supplements. There is no Flat Running Lonely picture in this post because the packet pick-up was at the race site, so I just threw my running clothes in a heap on the floor the night before. I got out of bed and started to get ready. After a liberal application of sunscreen, and putting body glide/Vaseline every place I could think to, I put on my running gear (minus the monster brace which I wasn’t going to put on until I got to the site). Next I ate a pecan butter sandwich. Normally I don’t eat real food 2 hrs before the start of a race, because quite often I am not awake two hours before the race. But I figured given the effort ahead some solid food might be of use. After some foam roller work and loading up the car, I was out the door around 5:15.
Swag and timing chip. I don’t have much to say other than the glass is flexible plastic and is kinda cool. Well the swag is in the trunk of my car if that makes it more interesting.
The final race instructions said that the park where the race was being held would not open until 7:00 for a 7:30 race start. So I would have 30 minutes to park, get my race packet, pin my number, take a pit stop, make sure my bags were ready in the car and hit the start line. I got to Annapolis Maryland (hey, just realized, another state I have raced in!) a little after 6 AM. Found a convenience store and gassed up the car and used their facilities. I parked near the entrance to the park to wait for it to open. I noticed some cars going in, so I drove over and it turned out they were letting people in, so I got to the start around 6:30.
Distance from my car to start area. Sweet.
Got my packet and did all the things I said above (one of them twice). So it was time to for me to put on my hydration pack and after the pre-race talk and National Anthem I lined up with the other 80 or so runners. At first I lined up in the middle of the pack and thought better of it and moved to the back (though ahead of the woman with the walking cast (talk about tough)).
Since it has worked for me pretty well for my 17.75K race, I decided to set my race goals right before the start:
1. Don’t Die
2. Get a long run in of 6+ miles
3. Stay upright for 6 hours
4. Get in 16-20 miles
5. Maybe pull off Marathon distance
6. A sorta ultra distance
My plan was to get my long run distance in, walk the next mile and then walk/run the rest of the way.
To say the course is rolling would be an understatement. It seemed like we were always going uphill or downhill. Now I like uphills, but my knee doesn’t like downhill, so it was not an easy course (at least when you are looking at it for 6 hours). The course was mostly shaded (thank goodness) in a forest park. The loops were 4 miles long and I planned on swapping out shirts and reloading my hydration pack every two laps. If you are wonder why the shirt swap, I sweat enough that without the swap I would have wet, squishing shoes and that is just my idea of miserable. I decided against sunglasses and with all the shade (and it started overcast) and that turned out to be a good decision because I could barely read my Garmin even without sunglasses.
After the start the group thinned out quickly and soon I was running with a group of only 4 people. I was just trying to hold a solid pace and keep an eye on where the course was (it was well marked but I didn’t know that during the first lap). Hit the first lap at just under 44 minutes so I was feeling pretty decent about things.
On lap two the 4 of us were basically the last of the runners. It started to sprinkle (and I was thinking about the joy of running in the rain for 5 hours). I was talking to the runner next to me about what if it really started raining, or worst lightning. He said he wasn’t worried since I was taller, I would be the one that got hit by lightning. These ultra people are SO friendly. The sprinkles didn’t last very long. We were getting to the 7 mile point where I thought about starting to walk, but since I was running with a group of people, I went ahead and completed the 2nd lap. I went to the car to reload my hydration pack and swap out my trash for fresh gels. I totally forgot to change my shirt.
Staring lap 3 I was by myself and would basically be that way for the next 4 1/2 hours. I starting the lap with walking a mile (13:09 pace which means my race walking still needs work). Then I started a run/walk. Since the course was rolling and I didn’t want to run either the steeper up, or down, instead of run/walking on a schedule (like 5 minutes run/1walk), I played it by feel and ran when I wanted to and walked when I didn’t (and more importantly didn’t go home though part of me wanted to). Although this race didn’t allow headphones, I didn’t really miss them. It was nice to just run and concentrate on what I was doing. About halfway into this lap I noticed that my right big toe was hurting and I could tell a blister was starting to form. Lap 3 was the first lap that I got passed (and they told me I was doing a great job and I had to try not to laugh). I was moving along fairly well and after lap 3 went back to the car to actually get a new shirt .
Lap 4 I started to get passed more (although this includes the relay people who were “only” doing 4 mile laps, so whenever I was passed I just assumed they were a relay person). The walking was starting to dominate over the running and the sun was starting to come out (yippee—not). The main thing I remember about lap 4 is passing two people and thinking it was nice I had a pretty good shot of not coming in last (turns out once I completed lap 3 I would be out of last place since a couple of people pulled out at lap 2).
Lap 5 started with one of the leaders passing me for the 2nd time. He slowed down to chat with me for a few seconds and then went along and then another of the leaders passed and I was going along slightly behind them for a bit. I seemed to be going kind of fast and my brain finally kicked in and I looked down at my Garmin. The instantaneous pace was 8:39, which is less than my 10 K pace, so I put the brakes on before I cooked myself. Since the sun was in full fury my hydration became more of an issue as I sweated more (and really wasn’t drinking enough). I had to add the sun factor when deciding if to run or walk. My focus to this point had been pretty good but it started to slip. My mantra for the race was the acronym Best Gear Energy (really just thinking the letters B-G-E over and over) and I used it to help keep the pace. Finished lap 5 with a stop to the car and much like lap 2, forgot to get a new shirt. Ditched the hydration pack in favor of a bottle. I did this because it was more time-consuming to fill the pack than a bottle and there was less weight to carry. As I went to start this lap it dawned on me this was the longest I had ever gone at one time and I did actually get my 20 miler in.
Reloaded with a cool drink I was off for lap 6 and the main thing I remember was it was hot and this was the part where various body parts were starting to almost cramp up. First it was my left hamstring, then my right quad, then my left shin. I pulled back on the running to reduce my sweat rate knowing that cramping would probably end my day. Lap 6 ended without incident.
Solar Powered Pig with Wings cheering me on, that or he was trying to figure out how to get some Popsicles
At lap 7 there is was a little more than an hour left and I made a
blunder strategic decision. This race counts partial laps, but only if you pick up a flag with your race number and then when the 6 hours is up they blow a horn and you plant your flag (which sounds kinda dirty now that I am typing this). I made the choice not to pick up the flag and bet that I could finish the lap in time. The problem with this plan was if I didn’t make it, I would end with 24 miles and the milestones of my first marathon distance and first semi-ultra distance would be known only to me (and we know I can’t be trusted). If you are thinking that finishing a lap in an hour is a piece of cake, over half the field had at least one lap over 1 HR. My Garmin had been acting up the last lap or so (my guess is it wanted to go home). This made it harder to tell the mile times and I had to rely more by feel and generally knowing where the mile markers were at this point. I hit the marathon point and made sure to be running when I hit that milestone and did the same when I hit 27 miles (what’s really is the minimum ultra?–you got me.). At the 27 mile point, the volunteer stopping traffic (who had been out there for 6 hours I might add) let me know how much time to the end, and I knew I had it made.
I finished lap 7 and grabbed the flag and kept pushing. I know no one reading this cares if I end up with 28 or 28.5 miles, but it mattered to me. I went back more run than walk and actually passed a couple of people who had previously passed me. Finally the horn went off, I put my flag in the ground and took a short cut back to the start line (just because I had been going for 6 hours didn’t mean I was looking for it to last longer).
Turns out the course was 4.14 miles, so by lap 7 I was at
28.7 29.0 (they kept changing the distance, don’t ask me how).
My final mileage was just under 29.8 miles (and probably closer to 30 with the trips to the car). I’m calling it an ultra (my blog–my rules). I came in 29th place (though since the person in 28th had the same mileage maybe I really tied for 28th). I felt good about the effort and I proved that I can meet the challenges I have ahead. When I got home I noticed my race number was soaked with a darkish red/brown stain and when I took off my compression short I noticed 6 scratches bleeding on my left thigh and I hadn’t even noticed. Hopefully the future will be a little less bloody. The next thing I did was remove the “aspiring ultra runner” from my twitter profile and changed it to just “ultra runner” (is there a JUST ultra runner?)
Yum bloody numbers
I would like to thank the volunteers of this race. You were great and were working longer than we were running. It is impressive and I thank each of you.
Of course the most important thing to me in all of this is—- for once I finished in the same time as the person who won the race.
Canadian trivia will return next post and I will talk about what I learned from this race (other than B-G-E rocks as a mantra and training for a race is kinda worthwhile and I might want to try that for the next race)