Little by little, brick by brick.
Distance: 45.4 mi
Pace: N/A, but I tapped out at about 15:14, so 20:08
TBD once the results are published
Distance: 48.1 mi (once my watch even beeped off a mile while I was sitting in a chair)
Heart Rate: N/A
Big distance PR, short laps
What I ate the night before: Gyro pizza
What I ate on race morning: bagel with cream cheese
What I carried with me: gels, mints (I had some Oreo cookies at my tent), water bottle with electrolyte tabs
What I wore: t-shirt, shorts, arm warmers for the first few laps, ball cap, hydration vest (without a water bottle – used for storage), buff as headband (in the afternoon)
Gadgets: GPS watch, fitness tracker
Discussion: It’s pretty amazing how much the events of the week preceding the race can affect the race itself. The cumulative effects of a rainy and chilly Twins game on Monday, another Twins game on Tuesday that wasn’t rainy or cold but got out late, a lot of deadlines and stress at work, a really poor night’s sleep on Wednesday, air quality issues late in the week that left me feeling sick, and temperatures over 90F on Friday ended up putting me in a significant sleep debt. To cap it off, despite being tired when I went to bed on Friday, at a very decent hour, after avoiding caffeine most of the day (just like I did at Ice Age), my bedroom was so hot and stuffy I couldn’t fall asleep. I had a built-in excuse right from the get-go! Lucky me!
Before this week, I was really excited for the race. I imagined that I was going to really enjoy myself out there, that the shorter loops and the even surface would mean I could really cruise and even walking would be a lot faster. I pictured myself taking selfies with all my friends at the start and having a great time. I even allowed myself to imagine, for a moment, taking a few short loops at the end, dead tired but triumphant. It’s disappointing now to look back at how excited I was the week prior, and how optimistic I was, and see that I let the days preceding the race wholly throw me off my game.
I spent most of Friday preparing for the race, after doing almost nothing earlier in the week. I was just so darn tired. I meant to sleep in as late as possible, but ended up waking up at 7 to feed the cats and had a hard time truly falling back asleep, so I got up around 9. Very annoying, I used to be a champ at sleeping in. I realize that 9 am is sleeping in to a lot of people, but it’s all relative! I felt sick most of the day; my eyes itched and my head felt stuffy. I hoped it was due to the air quality and not due to an illness. Allergy pills didn’t help at all. I felt so listless I didn’t want to run any errands before the race, but I managed to get everything done that I needed to. I bought a bunch of gels (yes, I waited til the day before the race to replenish my gel stash!), picked up some bagels and vanilla Coke, packed my gear bag (I got a free duffel bag at the Twins game on Tuesday, which was the perfect size for my gear), re-stocked my supply kit, and went to packet pick-up to get my number and my t-shirt.
I tried to be as minimalist and self-sufficient as possible for this race. It stresses me out to rely on others for this event. It’s a lot to ask people to get up early/stay up late and sit around bored while I run in loops, whine and grump, and then throw in the towel early. It’s also very embarrassing to me to pack a lot of stuff, set up a tent, etc., and then have to haul it all away in a walk of shame when I tap out before the event ends. So this time, I brought hardly any gear at all, no tent, and I drove myself to the race. I told my dad he could stop by (this was a big mistake for him, because I was cranky every time he got there, which I feel badly about), and my husband came in the evening to support me overnight (the two of them also ferried my car back to our house, so that I wouldn’t have to figure that out later on), but other than that, I didn’t make a big deal of the race or invite a bunch of friends to do loops with me. You would think that this would make it easier to quit, but it actually worked out in my favor. The first year, I quit early in part because I knew that my dad was leaving and that would mean I’d have to haul a bunch of stuff back to his house in the morning, so I chose to quit so that we could send the tent and chairs and stuff back to his place when he left. I find that the more inconvenient a race is for others, the less likely I am to run it, or in this case, complete it. It’s sort of funny because in other spheres of my life, I am pretty self-centered, but in running I can’t seem to muster any of that selfishness.
I showed up to the event at about 7:00, a little later than the year prior, but I didn’t have to stake out a tent location. Instead of bringing my own tent, I was lucky enough to mooch off my friends’ tent. Through my race volunteering adventures, I have made friends with some incredibly awesome people who are also much more serious runners than I am. My friends Jeff and Amy had a whole set-up going, with a canopy, tent, tables, chairs, etc., and right next to them, my friends Tyson and Stefanie had a similar camp. I was able to lug my chair, cooler, tackle box, and duffel bag over to their site in one trip. (One benefit of the last-minute change of venue due to flooding at Fort Snelling: the new location has a parking lot close to the “camping” area.) I took over a little corner at the front of Amy and Jeff’s tent and walked over to get weighed in at the start. (The timing tent was actually about a quarter of a mile from the tent area, which was a little strange. I technically ran like 45.6 miles before giving up, boo, I was robbed of mileage!)
I felt really tired and out of it at the start, and basically wanted to quit right away. I have a serious running attitude problem that I need to fix if I ever want to improve. This self-defeating nonsense that gets inside my head on race day is seriously hampering my fun. Since there was no actual reason for quitting, I soldiered on. My legs felt kind of heavy, which was to be expected because I felt sleepy and because I hadn’t run since the previous Sunday (due to feeling sick/overwhelmed/tired). Overall, things just sucked for the first few miles, but I figured I’d get into a groove and go from there.
The new course is a bit different; it’s much hillier than the Fort Snelling course, and it’s all pavement. It’s also much busier; while I wouldn’t say it was crowded, there were a lot more non-racers on the course at any given time. There’s still a bit of plane traffic overhead since it’s close to the airport, and there was a lot more street traffic noise, since it’s much more urban. While I was glad not to have the painful gravel from Fort Snelling, I didn’t realize how much the asphalt would affect me.
For the first few loops, I used the hills as a natural point to switch from running to walking. I was drinking and eating gels fairly regularly; I didn’t want to get behind on my nutrition since that has been an issue for me in past races. There were Rice Krispie bars at the smaller aid station, and I probably ate three or four of those (or more) throughout the day – they were a bit sticky but they were a nice change from the usual cookies/chips, and they were surprisingly easy to eat, I thought they might be a little dry. The sun came out fairly early on, and while it was much cooler than it had been the day before, I started to heat up quickly. I decided to change my strategy to manage the heat; I told myself I’m here to stay, I’m not going to let myself get overheated, and I started walking entire laps. My friend Amy, who was entered in the 6 hour race but not really racing, joined me for a lap and perked me up. After running along in relative silence for close to 4 hours, I was glad to have her to talk to, and it changed my mental outlook. Talking to her also helped me release some of my expectations and anxieties about the race. I didn’t have to do anything, there was nothing I was supposed to do. I could do whatever I wanted.
I ended up resting a lot between laps, something I hadn’t done in the two previous races. I sat down and put my feet up a few times during the day, just to take the weight off my feet. I was having blister issues, which was unsurprising – I got them in the exact same spots I did at Ice Age, so my feet likely didn’t have a chance to recover entirely. I stopped and dealt with the first batch of blisters, drank some pop, and then got back out there. If this race has taught me anything, it’s that I need to get a much better handle on blister prevention. Time to start experimenting with the tips from Fixing Your Feet.
I thought things were going better for me after I taped up my feet, but then I got either sweat or sunscreen in my eyes. It doesn’t matter which, it just matters that it hurt like crazy and the sun and wind didn’t help. One eye was burning so badly that I had to run about half a mile with it mostly closed, tears running down my cheeks. I had to stop for probably 20 minutes to rinse out my eyes and let the stinging subside. I put a buff on my head under my hat after that and didn’t have any more problems, so maybe it was sweat (or sweat and sunscreen mixed together). Just as I was ready to head out after dealing with my eyes, my colleague (who was running the 6 hour) came by and said he’d walk the last lap of his race with me. We talked about strategy, and he told me screw it, just walk until it cools off or you feel better. He’s done the 24 hour race before, so I trusted his judgement. Once again, just spending a lap talking to someone changed my mindset for the better, and I was able to pick up the pace to match his.
After my colleague peeled off to do some short laps, I continued right into another lap. I knew I was getting close to a marathon, and I dialed in on that milestone. I told myself no more breaks til I was beyond the marathon. I hit the 26.2 mi mark at 7:13:24 (they had signs marking a marathon, 50K, 50 mi, etc.), and then focused on hitting 50K. I was feeling more motivated, so I switched to running the shady sections and walking the sunny sections, and was really motoring (for me). I could tell I was getting more blisters, and I had switched to straight water because I didn’t stop for more electrolyte tabs, but I wanted to get to 50K before I took another break. The 50K mark was between the timing tent and the camping area, but I wanted to do the entire loop to get “credit” for reaching 50K before I took a break.
I hit 50K in 8:44:37 and finished that loop for 31.6 miles. After that loop, I was looking forward to stopping, dealing with my feet, eating some spaghetti (yes, really) and chilling out. My dad was there when I reached the tent, and for some reason that was making me super anxious. I don’t know what it was, but it made me feel like a zoo animal, like he was just watching me and waiting for what I was going to do. Which he kind of was, but mentally at that point I just couldn’t take it. He said he was going to wait to leave until I was on my next lap, and that seemed like too much expectation. I ended up eating a couple cookies instead of the spaghetti, and basically told him to leave by saying I was going to start my next lap soon. Oh look, there was some of that selfishness coming out. After he left, I dealt with my blisters and hung out for a little longer talking to Amy before I headed out.
I ate my spaghetti on the following lap, as well as part of a piece of ciabatta. This was one of the biggest benefits of walking through the afternoon – my stomach was feeling great, as was most of the rest of my body. I was eating and drinking like normal, everything was going down fine, I wasn’t losing weight (I’d lost 2.5 lbs between the morning weigh-in and the 4:00 PM weigh in, but at the 8:00 PM weigh in, I was stable), and I didn’t have any dehydration issues (total TMI but because I wasn’t worried about time, I used the real bathroom at the pavilion a couple times, so I can confirm I was staying hydrated). I also didn’t have any issues with finger swelling like I did at Ice Age.
For a little while, things started to look up. The sun was still hot (I reapplied sunscreen at 6PM, and Amy asked “Are you sure you need that? It’s after 6.” I’m just that pasty) but I was able to run a lot more than I had been able to when it was hotter. I felt like things were going well. Then my feet started to hurt a lot. Not just the blisters, but the balls of my feet, as well as the side/top of my right foot, which hurt like my left one did last year. I was getting worried. I switched to completing a loop, then putting my feet up to rest, then heading out for another.
And it got dark! I made it past nightfall! That was huge for me. Last year I was still there at night, but I didn’t actually do a loop with a headlamp on. This year I did two. And they were hard. I ran quite a bit of them, mostly because it hurt more to run, but I was starting to get frustrated with how much my feet hurt, how much I wanted to go home and sleep in my own bed, and how futile the rest of the race felt. I passed last year’s total on lap 24, and started to feel better about how things were going, but I was also annoyed with how long each lap was taking. I was past last year’s total, but it had taken me so long to get there. I didn’t know how many more laps I had in me, and I started thinking about what it would take to even get to 50 miles. I finished what ended up being my final lap at about 11:00, and realized that it would probably take over two more hours, maybe even three, to do the three more laps I needed to get to 50 miles, and I decided it wasn’t worth it. I just didn’t feel like the effort was worth the result. I could go home and go to bed, or I could shuffle through a few more laps. I don’t think I could have even made 100K if I’d stayed there til the finish, and I didn’t care.
I don’t feel too badly about it. Of course now I realize I could have shuffled on longer with some tweaks here and there. I could have stopped at the benches along the way, for example. I could have stayed in my chair and just done a lap here or there and stayed there all night. I could have just shuffled along in increasing amounts of pain. But that’s okay. These are all things I am saying in hindsight; in the moment, I didn’t think of them, or I just didn’t want to do them. But I still did a lot.
I figured out a survival strategy when things were going wrong. I fixed my blisters (kind of) and got back out there. I ran when it hurt. I got back out there when I didn’t want to, over and over again. I didn’t chafe. I didn’t get sunburned. I ate and drank like I should have. I spent time with my friends. I got a distance PR and lasted longer than I ever have at this event. I ran night loops. I did all this on really minimal training – the only truly long run I did was another race.
I’m left with a lot of the same questions in my mind as I had last year. Am I cut out for these really long races? Is this event a waste of my time? Should I just do the 12 hour or 6 hour next year? So much helpful self-doubt and self-flagellation. Yet I do keep improving. And I do love this event. And there’s something so special about the loops after 8 PM and that solidarity that the 24 hour runners have that I don’t think I want to give up. I think I really need a big success at this event before I’ll feel comfortable trying for 100K or longer (I could probably still give 50 miles a shot, though it would need to be the right race), so it’s probably going to be on the docket for next year, even though I said last night that maybe I’ve finally scratched the itch this race has given me.
I completed 45.4 miles and was still running at the end. Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t even run the entire mile in gym class because it seemed too hard. Five years ago, I couldn’t even handle marathon training. When I feel like a failure, it helps to remember where I started.