Last May when I said I would run a 24 hour race I literally had no clue what I was getting myself into. I had never raced more than a half marathon and hadn’t even run that far in 3 years. Yet I decided to go on a journey and see what happened.
Turns out being clueless has its benefits
After a flight to Phoenix from DCA a couple of days earlier, I made the trek down to Glendale (where the White Sox/Dodgers have their Spring Training facility) the Saturday before the race for packet pickup. I picked up my swag (bag, gloves, beanie, race shirt, really nice jacket) race belt and my tent nameplate. Probably the smartest thing I did in the entire process was renting a tent/cot/table (which the organizers nicely put up for me in advance). After picking up my number, transponder, swag, and went over to claim my tent. Since I was fairly early, I was able to snag a tent fairly close to the course which made things a lot easier for the race.
The Pig starts the course preview
I went and walked the first half of the course (the 2nd half was closed off until the race). The course is mostly flat with dirt and some gravel. There is a short paved section (which also has a little gravel). I had gaiters for my shoes (you will see in a later picture). I would recommend them for those running this race unless you are used to little rocks in your shoes.
So on race day it was rainy leaving the hotel. The day before I raided REI for rain gear since the forecast was calling for up to 10 hours of rain with a slight possibility of snow (yes, snow in Phoenix). In the end it only rained a couple of hours, but I used most of the stuff I bought during the race. After unloading the cooler and all my equipment, I did some dynamic stretches and some light static stretches and it was off to the start line.
Hour 1- The Start
The start for this race was the most relaxed I had ever seen. They said to line up and give room to the runners still out on the course. Nobody moved. With 5 seconds to the start of the race I finally said “screw it” and walked toward the start along with people who were looking for a fast start.
Uh, what the hell am I doing that far up? The monster knee brace leads the way!
So the first lap (~1.0495 miles) came in at 10:30 (too fast but no one is surprised by that with me). The next lap the wind started kicking up dust in my eyes so after I finished my 11:00 minute lap I grabbed my sunglasses to keep the dust out of my eyes.
My original to plan was to start walking at 2.5 mile mark, but since I hadn’t been passed yet I thought I would run just a little more to see how long I could hold off the leaders. Not much longer it turned out and they zipped by me just before the end of lap 3 (11:10 (no I am not going to give all the split times)). I started walking and handed my jacket over to my crew and grabbed some water. I was worried about becoming dehydrated and overall probably went too much the other way. I ended up taking some sort of liquid on most laps. I started walking and then doing run 5 minutes followed by walk 1 minute for each lap. I was watching my heart rate to keep it nice and low, but now that I am looking at my split times, my next laps were 11:10, 11:17 and 11:24 which meant I was running too fast. But hey, it was early and I was still optimistic.
Hour 2 The Rain In AZ falls mostly on Marsden
Well spending my life savings at REI came in handy when it started to rain. I put on a rain jacket and handed back my now useless sunglasses to my crew. It wasn’t a hard rain, but without a jacket it would have been too cold and with the jacket I was sweating pretty good (or pretty bad if you are the one who has to look at it). I was finally slowing down the run pace and each lap during this hour came in around 11:50. I still felt good and with 10.5 miles completed in slightly less than two hours I was slightly better than my plan. About the only odd thing was a spike up in my heart rate that lasted about 5 minutes. Not sure if it was a problem with the Garmin, or its user, but I walked for a minute and that cleared the spike.
Hour 3- It can stop raining now
At some point during this hour it did stop raining. I was alternating laps of gel/water (Roctane or Chia Gel) and sports drink (Tailwind or Perpetuem). For the first 6 hours I didn’t really want to chance solid food since I had problems with solid food during training (read hurling on the National Mall). This lap was gel/water. The laps averaged 12 minutes with longer for handing over my rain jacket and gloves and taking gel. It was nice having a table at the edge of the course to get gels/water/drinks and get encouragement from my crew.
Well, fly is a relative term.
Hour 4-Feeling good, only 20 hours left!
The walk/run plan was going along well. I was getting some looks for having a singlet on in 40 deg F weather (OK, I choose to believe it was the singlet or arm warmers and not me). The laps this hour were around 12 minutes except for the lap when I did something I had never done during a race before.
Lap time 12:50. I really had to go at that point. As a note for those looking to run this race there are portapotties at the start, and three other locations in the first 1/2 mile. Inside the baseball complex there is one inside bathroom (heated!!) but it takes more time since you have to walk 20 yards from the course to get to them.
All in all I was pleased with how the race was going (you thought it was going to be about the peeing didn’t you).
Yes, there were Canadians in the race. They were too nice to run further than I did though.
Hour 5- About Face
One of the nice features of this race is that every 4 hours you get to switch directions. This helps with the muscle strain of taking the same curves for 24 hours. So the first lap you complete after the 4 hour mark you then go back in the other direction. It probably made the ultracast odd to watch seeing people running in both directions, but watching me on an ultracast you were already in odd territory. The laps this hour crept up to 12:30 on average except for the lap I did another bathroom first (and swapped singlets). We will just leave it at that. I also picked up my iPod shuffle and started listen to music for the next 4 hours to keep some energy in my pace.
Hour 6- Where will I be at the 6 hour mark?
When I was planning for my race I was hoping to be around 30 miles at the 6 hour point. I knew I was getting a smidgen tired (do ultra runners use the term smidgen?). However, I still felt reasonably good as I circled around. The first lap of the hour I got little over enthusiastic and came in at 12:10 for the lap (oops) but the rest of the laps were around 12:30 again. Just after 3 PM local I had hit 31.49 miles (50.69 KM for you KM types). I was pleased with my time and effort to that point and I felt good about the race.
Hour 7- Crappy Transition and no rhythm
My plan was to swap out, all my clothes (shoes, socks, compression shorts, shorts, long sleeve compression shirt, visor) and to reapply BodyGuide and Vaseline where needed. I noticed that my left knee was swelling a bit so decided to swap knee braces as well.
Yes, I was inside the tent when I changed clothes. You would have heard about it on the news otherwise. I did some light stretching and everything but my quads felt pretty good and the quads didn’t feel as bad as I expected.
However the transition took a bit and by the time I finally got back on the course it had been a while. The lap with clothes change took 27 minutes.
I swapped to my Hokas hoping they would provide better cushioning. The first lap they got a big rock stuck in the tread. Then I had to put the gaiters on them because I thought the Hokas would be better at keeping rocks out then my Nimbus (wrong). I finally toward the end of the hour started to find a good rhythm running 4 minutes walking 1 1/2 minutes with an extra 30 second walk break around my table to pick up gels and the such. I gave up my Garmin for a recharge. It took three more laps before I remembered I could take off my heart rate monitor as well. I never did use the Garmin again the rest of the race.
It was also during this hour I got sick of taking two-three gels an hour and switched totally to drink mix. This required more bathroom breaks but seemed better than puking. My crew actually had gotten advice from an experienced ultra runner that if I got sick of the gels and puked, I would be fine with them after that. I’m glad I didn’t get to find if that wisdom was correct.
Hour 8 Back on track(ish)
I started getting in a better flow of run/walking and picking parts of the course I didn’t want to run for my walk breaks (mostly the uphill and downhill (BTW we are talking 5 feet here, so it wasn’t Camelback Mountain)). Most laps were in the 13:20 range. I still was feeling halfway decent and still was optimistic. As the hour ended I noticed there were still 16 hours to go and my optimism started to float away like dandelion seeds.
Hour 9 The End of the Beginning (About Face part 2)
This hour was the last of the good ones. It started with going back in original direction we went in. I still was feeling decent and my splits for the hour were 13:00, 13:09, 13:02, 13:06 and 12:59. This is also when the sun set, so it would be goodbye to sunlight for another 14 hours (which is about as demoralizing as it sounds). Looking back this hour (and the first lap of the next hour) was the end of the smooth sailing. This was also when I stopped listening to my shuffle.
Hour 10 – Crap and More Crap
After a good first lap to the hour (13:34) I noticed my big toe on my right foot felt like it was starting to blister. I went to the tent which then started a comedy of errors on my part.
1. I took off the right shoe and sock and there was a hotspot on my right big toe so I made the decision to go back to the Nimbus and swap socks to a fresh pair of Smartwool compression socks(so far so good).
2. I put on the compression sock on my right foot before applying Vaseline. Take sock back off.
3. Put on right shoe before putting gaiter on. Take off shoe and put gaiter on.
4. Do the same gaiter trick with the left foot.
5. Finally get out of the tent and back on the track. Remember way too far down the loop that your forgot to put the transponder back on. Go back and get transponder and go back on the track.
6. How to turn in a 31 minute lap in 5 easy steps.
The last lap of the hour was 14:18 but mentally I was rattled. It didn’t help that it had started to rain again and was even spitting snow. It lasted less than 30 minutes, but it took a toll mentally. I also was trying to find a light that worked for lighting up the shadows of the course. If you are a trail runner, it’s no big deal (or probably if you are road runner with standard balance skills). If you are me with my ankles and knees, stepping where you can’t see where you are landing isn’t fun for hours on end (though this is only true for small parts of the course). I tried a variety of headlamps, flashlights and the such and each solution was unsatisfying in different ways. Eventually I gave up and just hoped I didn’t turn my ankle.
Hour 11- A milestone
At 10:45 I hit 50 miles. Not a bad time considering it was part of a 24 hour race. Ok, it was a great time considering it was me we are talking about. It felt like I had accomplished something. During this hour I also managed to dress for the evening (two shirts and a jacket and track pants) and managed to pull off a 18 minute lap.
Hour 12- Time to power down
It was at this point I knew I wasn’t going to get near 100 miles, or close to any placings (the guy who won it was a scant 23 miles ahead of me at this point). So I made the decision to move to exclusively walking with some short (1 minute) run breaks. This went well for the hour and I walked around 14:30 for each of the laps. I ended the 12 hours at 55.6 miles. I had pre-race felt that if I could be around 59 miles I would turn myself inside-out (not a pretty image, let me assure you) to get to 100, but I knew below 59 miles I just wouldn’t be able to pull it off (turns out I was wrong, I probably needed more like 65 miles). So at the end of the hour I started to walk exclusively to try to conserve my muscles for the long haul. This may or may not have been the best decision since I didn’t really do 50-100K walks in prep for this race to build my walking muscles.
Hour 13- Walk Walk Walk and its getting cold
The walking average around 15 min/lap except for the lap I went to the bathroom and started a series of glove changes which would last the next three hours on and off. The temps were quickly in the lower 30s (heading to around 28-30 deg F (or for my Florida readers-death)). I was having difficulty keeping my hands warm. I tried one pair of gloves after another with and without hand warmers and never really resolved the problem for the rest of the race. The one thing I didn’t buy at REI was a warm pair of mitts. Lesson learned.
Hour 14- Like hour 13 except slower and colder
At this point all the food and liquid I was taking in was cold and I was cold. If you think this isn’t the best combination, you are SOOO right. I kept stopping to try to resolve my glove issues and the laps were 15:49, 21:04, and 17:14. When I could keep out on the course I was still moving fairly well, but I kept making more and more stops to the tent.
Hour 15- More slow walking
The laps this hour were 18-19 minutes as I fussed over equipment and trying to get warm. My motivation was started to leak from me like a 4 day old balloon.
Happy New Year
On the first lap of the 11 PM hour I hit 100K. I didn’t even notice until the next lap when I looked at the monitor that tracked the runners as they went over the starting mat.
At the start line they had a countdown to midnight, everyone who wants to can have some champagne. Then the volunteers, families, and runner walk a lap together. It’s a nice tradition and my crew and I enjoyed the festive lap on the course (complete with sparklers). No, I didn’t let the Pig have any fireworks. Even in my addled state, I know better than that.
However the slow walk made my lips cold and in fact my lips were turning blue. I had brought a UA ski mask as a joke to the race and put it on to try to warm up my lips (I’m tired and mostly mouth breathing at this point). I also put on two pair of gloves with hand warmer and put on a hoodie I brought for post race. I then stuck both hands in the pocket of the hoodie to try to keep them warm. I also started to notice my right knee was hurting.
Hour 16 Downward Ho
The laps during this hour were all OK (around 21 minutes) given I was walking with my hand pressed up against my ribcage. However, both knees were making it hard to push forward and I couldn’t really get my hands and lips warm (I know what you are thinking, and that wasn’t going to happen). At the end of the hour I went to the food tent and got some soup and went to the warming tent to sit down.
Hour 17- Why go Forward?
My knees both hurt, I was cold and I had around 70 miles. If I quit now it wasn’t like anyone was going to laugh (or it would be the same people who would laugh at 80 or 90). I put my gloves near the space heater to warm up and sat as close as I could without setting myself on fire (some runners managed to start to melt their shoes). My crew brought me some soup and I said may not go on. They asked me if I was sure and just grunted that I was still thinking. I closed my eyes and just sat there. After a bit, I finally decided to leave the tent. My knees had other ideas and I had to lift myself out of the chair using my arms (swim cross training came in handy).
So I got back on the course and immediately determine that I had been sweating because when the breeze hit me I started to uncontrollably shiver. As I tried to gather up some speed to increase the heat I was generating, my teeth were chattering and I determined I would give it half a lap to warm up and if I couldn’t stop shivering I was going to pack it in for good. I finally stopped shivering but was still cold. Lap time including warming tent time was a blazing 49:07.
Hour 18 Life in the Heating Tent
I couldn’t stay out on the course longer than a lap because I was so cold, so I started a pattern of sitting in the heating tent long enough to eat something, warm up and go out for another lap. It was at this point I figured out that putting a gel packet in a cup of hot water was a great way to warm up the gel (think Salted Carmel GU warmed up). I was getting tired of potato soup so the gel helped keep my energy up. The laps (including stays in the warming tent) were 30 minutes. At the end of the hour I figured out it was only 6 more hours to go.
Hour 19 – Pancakes
Most of the solid food to the point didn’t really interest me, though I was eating some of it. However, pancakes were a total godsend. I actually was interested in eating those. I would like to thank the volunteers who quickly brought food to the runners and hustled even for those like me who were barely moving at the time. The food helped keep my situation from deteriorating further. The laps this hour were also 30 minutes but I was at least slowly climbing up the leader board which gave some motivation.
Hour 20 – More pancakes and some faster laps
Between the pancakes and finding someone going my pace that I could talk to for a lap, I was able to bring down the lap times and actually had one at 22 minutes including the heating tent. More pancakes were scarfed down in a manner unbecoming to a human. By the time they stopped serving them I felt pancakes were the most wondrous food on the planet.
Hour 22- A Goal Reached
Around 6:30 in the morning I hit my top end goal of 80 miles. My crew did a lap the lap with me to make sure I didn’t fall into the lake.
80 miles. My attempt to reach my goal was a success. My attempt to recreate the end of Breakfast Club not so much.
Again I thought about quitting (heck I reached my goal), but felt I probably wasn’t making my knees worse as long as I took it slow. As you can tell in the picture above there were not that many people out of the course except for those trying for placings (or in the longer races). I was getting passed by pretty much everyone at this point.
Hour 23- The Sun Does Exist
The sun finally came up around 7:30. This brought out more runners back out on the course. The light helped my mood a little and cranked out 28 minute miles. I was still spending a little time in the heating tent but it was less and less each lap. Just before the end of the hour, I got my phone out the tent and texted a couple of friends that I was still alive and that this was probably my last lap.
Hour 24- Pictures, Reflection and the last lap
I decided to take my phone with me to take photos of the course. I would stroll along and take in the course and try to take in what I had accomplished.
The lake in the White Sox/Dodgers facility. The light looked so good at that point.
Around the half way point of the course
At the conclusion of the lap I decided I had enough time for one last lap. I told my crew this time it really was the last lap and the last lap I screamed in at 25:48 (OK, I was too tired to scream).
Final Mileage 85.03 miles, 136.85 KM, tied for 29th place, 24th male overall (out of 188 total runners). Yes, I finished ahead of all the little kids in the race, so that was a double bonus.
I had done something I really didn’t think I was capable of and at least for a fleeting moment it felt good. That being said it was the only thing that felt good at that moment, lol.
The finish. Styling as always
Post Race Aftermath
I turned in my transponder, got my finishers glass mug, and very, very slowly put stuff into the car. I think a video would have had more movement out of the grass growing than me moving.
I went back to my hotel took a much needed shower, and tried to nap, but didn’t have much luck in doing so. I struggled a lot over the next few days of why I went back on the course when my muscles had pretty much failed, I was cold, and my knees hurt like hell. I fell into a depression of sorts (which later research showed mood swings aren’t that uncommon for some after long races like this). After much thought this is eventually what I came up with–I wanted to see what I could do in a 24 hour race and the only way I could do that is to keep moving for all 24 hours. That may seem like an obvious conclusion, but it took me a while to get there. Would I do it again?-maybe. I have been looking at 12 hour races which could lead up to a repeat attempt (or maybe the 48 hour race). Then again I have been looking at my bed and it is so much nicer than doing 30 mile runs so who knows what is next.
I would like to thank the race organizers. Aravaipa Running puts on a first class race which is great to run for both locals and those coming in from out-of-town. The volunteers are the best (including one person who had run the 48 hour race, was volunteering on New Year’s Eve, and then was going to run the 24 hour race (#badass).
I also would like to thank my crew. I would have ended up with hypothermia, fallen in the lake, or starved to death without your help. I had no clue what I was doing and yet you kept me moving when I needed to move.
I want to thank all of those who supported me on the blog, on Twitter and on Instagram. It took a lot of effort to get from a 10 miler to a 24 hour race, and your encouragement helped me along the way. Thanks for being a part of the journey. The journey is better with friends.
All in all I did what I set out to do. In the end, can any of us ask more of that out of a race? Well, that and for a day I had more mileage than just about anyone I knew in 2015.