This 48 hour race was part of my 100 mile endurance quest part 3!
Bottom Line: 72 miles accomplished – personal record. 100 mile goal still in play!
Here’s the skinny if you want the details!
Woke up early Friday morning for the 2 hour drive to Alabaster, Alabama, for a 9am. start time. Don’t overlook getting up early when you’re entering a 48 hour race where there will be little sleep! My intent early on was never to stay the entire 48 hours but that was the only option offered where I thought I could reach my 100 mile goal – which proved to be elusive. Plan was to get the 100 if I were capable and call it. Wishful thinking as you’ll soon find out.
Felt like I had taken the correct preventive measures to avoid the shortfalls of the Merrill’s Mile back in July. Thanks to Jacob we now had a canopy and yes it would later rain! Can’t have nothing! Jacob was a willing participant to enter this with me being a Marine and Triathlete with some pretty good accomplishments of his own in endurance racing. He would enter the 24 hour event. He too had a goal in mind that shouldn’t take take the entire time to complete. While usually running solo (not knowing anyone), having someone I knew was a big boost.
With a quick blast of a loud air horn the race started. Of course some took off like superstars while others knew the grind of endurance racing and started with a slow slog. I had never seen the 1 mile loop course before. Reason I thought I MIGHT achieve my 100 miles was the course was advertised as flat. Our first lap would prove that false advertising. I would estimate that 1/3 was a slow grinding hill. 1/3 of a mile is a long way to go up a small hill for hours and hours. When I saw that, I realized immediately that my 100 mile goal was in question. I thought about all those early mornings training with a goal in mind. I thought about all my long runs each week that were usually 20 miles. Now for those that are posers like me in the running world, 20 mile runs take a few minutes. So I’m also thinking about all the hours spent in training to realize the 100 probably wasn’t going to happen – and know it on the first lap!
All in all this is part of the mental game of endurance racing. Being strong mentally. You know when you start, at some point you’re going to suffer. The winner is usually the one that is willing to suffer the most, be it in training,the race day or both.
The course was beautiful, offering a lot to take your mind off what you know is coming – suffering! The highlight for me was the dog park. The course was in Veterans Park. Each lap during the daylight hours I looked forward to watching the dogs be dogs as I ran by. Then there was a huge fountain in the middle of a pond. While these sound simple, they help when you’re on the same course hour after hour.
Now to the strategy aspect of endurance racing. Strategy is a huge part. You must determine when to run, walk, jog, shuffle, sleep and eat. Nutrition is key to the success of the others. You must take in calories. Problem is your GI tract is not accustomed to bouncing up and down for hours on end. Many good racers have DNF’d (did not finish) due to nutrition issues – think throwing up for hours on end. So you want to practice with what you’ll eat on race day so there are no surprises. Wish I had followed my own advice…
I like to drink my calories with a product called Tailwind (Berry flavor). I like it mixed 2-3 scoops in my handheld water bottle. But the race would be providing Tailwind so one less thing to carry and buy – it’s not cheap! Say it with me, “MISTAKE!” I did not like the flavor, it mix mine over what the directions suggest. . The food that day never looked appealing so I got hungry. Solution? My wife Julie brought the best tasting chicken, egg and cheese bagel from Chic-fil-a that you could imagine. Then for lunch my son in law, Seth, came to the rescue with a Big Mac, cheeseburger and a large sweet tea! It was magical!
Don’t hear what I’m not saying… The aid station was number one. Lots of selection, people cooking constantly, well stocked – It just wasn’t clicking for me – totally a personal thing. The people and food were number one!
Now for the race itself… Started with my usual walk off the starting line – I mean I’m going to be out there for 30 hours and no need to show off early – I’ll save that for later of course! Then I move into my walk/run for hours throughout the day hoping the lactic acid in my thighs would hold off for as long as possible. You generally want to bank miles during the day while there is light, which is what I did. It’s important to stick to your strategy realizing your limitations for the long haul. As you watch the younger runners go by you wonder if they realize it’s a long race. Ton’s of people get beat late in the race because they started too fast. But then there are the superstars that can actually run much of the race – problem is, when people go by you don’t know which they are. So you stick to your own strategy. I’m one of those that know my limitations and race against myself trying to get personal bests each time. Which sometimes happens and sometimes not. Things pretty much went as planned. Banked miles in the day. But then night comes. And night is another beast within itself mentally for endurance racers. If you’ve banked miles for 12-13 hours you’re now tired. Then darkness sets in bringing with it in the early hours – sleepiness. Now you need to factor in how much sleep you need while remembering that you’re still racing even if your pace is down to a grinding shuffle, while the lactic acid wants to explode out of your quads. So this also means there are fewer people on the course at night. There were times between 2-3am where I was the only one that I could see on the course. Night proved to be cold, lonely and painful. The slow grind of the hill was now causing a ton of pain in not only my quads but now my hamstrings. I rarely have hamstring pain in flat races but the hill said otherwise. Grind, grind, grind. You just have to keep grinding out the miles.
Once I reached 50 I told myself that I was now half way to my goal – how insane is that? I’ve gone 50 miles and I have that many left to go. At that point I started doing the math and realized 100 miles was going to take way longer than I had anticipated on this course. Eventually the reality set in that it wasn’t going to happen. In fact now I had to determine if I could set a personal record to go past 70 miles. Grind, grind, grind. I had to just keep grinding the miles which included that stupid hill! The hill had become my nemesis! And honestly, if you went there today and saw it, you’d think no big deal and quit your whining!
During the night I slept maybe 45 minutes total in segments. And to say I slept is a stretch, I closed my eyes. But then I began to think about seeing my wife Julie and my daughter, Katelyn. They would be racing in the 6 hour race that started at 9am on Saturday. There is something awesome about watching the sunrise after being up all night racing. It brings new life. Unfortunately the morning proved to be overcast which meant it was darker longer! Again, can’t have nothing! Oh, and let’s add that the morning light brought it’s friend rain along with it. So now, you’re mentally and physically tired, cold, legs are stuffed with lactic acid to the max, and now it’s raining. Rain is great friends with chaffing and blisters.
At this point my family didn’t want me staying the full 48 hours and driving myself home for 2 hours which was smart on their part. At this point I knew that I had until 3pm to reach my personal record of 70 miles. That means I’d be racing from 9am the previous day until 3 pm the next. Makes me tired thinking about it! There were times when I was wondering if I could even beat 70 miles with that stupid hill but I eventually did! I did it in the less time allotted, collected my finisher medal and crawled into my car to rest until Julie and Katelyn finished. I did not want to take another step. I was done! But I had accomplished one of my goals and left the illusive 100 on the table for another day.
Overall a fun time had by all but let me explain in closing. I find it important to set physical goals. I’m not that superstar runner, I’m a hack at best. But it keeps me active. It reminds me that our minds are incredible machines created by God and will allow us to do more than we ever thought. Endurance racing is a mental thing. Your body is capable of way more than you give it credit for at any age if you’ve taken care of it.
Then there is suffering. Suffering is not necessarily a bad thing. We can learn a lot about ourselves while suffering. We can see what we’re really made of. We can see how mentally tough we really are. There are a lot of positive things that happen because of suffering. I think we grow stronger through suffering in many different ways but most importantly mentally. When you toe the line in endurance racing you know you’re going to suffer. The only question is when.