Putting into words what happened this weekend is going to be a challenge. In it’s most simple form, I ran around a 1 mile loop 63 times. 32 miles further than my longest run ever. I dislike the words “epic” and “journey” when it comes to describing experiences but those are the words that most often come to mind. Running 63 miles WAS epic and it most definitely was a journey. I feel like I experienced every high and low one can experience in the 20 hours I was out there. I did my best to encapsulate the events of the day. In running for that long, time became a very distant idea. I can tell my story cohesively until a point. After that, it becomes a bit choppy. Read on and you’ll see why.
Speaking of 20 hours; yes this was a 24 hour run but when I reached the 100k + 1 mark at 3ish in the morning, I was finished. I had nothing left in me to keep going. If I ever compete in the 24 hour genre again in the future, my goal will be to be still standing at the 24 hour mark. But today, I am comfortable with my decision. I came in 59 out of 154 people who started this race and I am damn proud of that.
Ok, so I want to start with a course description. As mentioned above, the course is a one mile loop. It is about 90% trail save for a brief portion of asphalt as you enter and exit the aid station. The course is made up of crushed limestone. There were some bigger rocks which made the course challenging to run after hours of my feet pounding into some of the bigger ones. My footwear (Altra Lonepeaks) made a massive difference with the substantial cushioning they offered. The first half of the course was a gradual uphill culminating in a big climb around the half mile mark. It was enough of climb in both height and distance that I did not see anyone running it throughout my time on the course. After that big climb, the next 1/3 of a mile was downhill minus a tiny rolling hill and the remainder was flat with a teeny teeny incline ( I seriously can’t emphasize how tiny this incline was) but after hours of running the loop, everyone was walking that “hill” as well.
My game plan going in to this race was to run 4 miles per hour for 8 hours, 3 miles per hour for 8 hours and 2 miles per hour for 8 hours. If that all went as planned, it would’ve gotten my to 72 in 24 hours. My intention was to run a 12-15 minute pace for those first 8 hours. I knew that it was unlikely that I’d actually run a 15 minute mile so I figured the extra time would be spent in the aid station. I found that I naturally settled in to 12-13 minute mile with the added hill walking pretty easily. I did at times have to fight the instinct to surge forward, wanting to push myself but instead I focused on maintaining my breathing and keeping it as easy as possible. I one time heard an ultra runner say “pick your ‘go all day’ pace and stay there.” There would be no redlining in this race whatsoever!
As the race started, I naturally fell in step with my friend Stephanie. Neither of us had run at Chapin Forest Reservation prior to the race day so the first two loops flew by as we took in what would be our home for the next 24 hours. Stephanie stopped to walk around 2 miles in and I kept going. The weather was predicted rain throughout the day and sure enough, it did rain steadily for the first 6 hours or so before becoming clear and overcast for the rest of the day. My first 10 miles flew by quickly and the only issue early on was a little anxiety due to not having great peripheral vision with my hat that I was wearing to keep rain off of my face. I decided that I’d rather have a wet face than deal with feeling constricted so I flipped my hat and felt so much better. Being able to see around me really improved my mood and start to put some of the thoughts of the future to rest. To be successful, I needed to stay in the hour I was in and not focus on what was going to happen later in the race. So that became my mantra for the moment “stay in the hour you’re in.” I wanted to be in hour 18 but I needed to stay in hour 2.
The hours quickly began to mount and I was greeted with visitors on several occasions which really helped to break up the day. Time began to fly as I completed the loops. By the 8th hour, I was right on track and hit the 50k mark within about 20 minutes of my goal. I have to mention that I did lose time because of my socialization but the reality is that I just didn’t care. I was blessed enough to have friends and family visit me throughout and the mental boost they provided is something that I will be grateful for for a long time.
At 8 hours in, longtime BRF Leighanna joined to pace me. She quickly got me back on pace and running. I had started to incorporate walking breaks in every 3rd mile just to break the monotony, so she got me back into steady running. That is until we passed a guy carrying a mug of coffee who said he was doing his hourly coffee mile. So then I needed a coffee mile too! Thankfully Amy joined for the duration soon after and resupplied me with a fresh cup of hot black coffee so I too could partake in a coffee mile!
At some point and I’m not sure when, the miles and hours got jumbled together. It was after 4pm so sometime after the 8 hour mark of running. It is very hard to piece together a cohesive story so here are some highlights from the last 2/3 of the race:
- I recall feeling good, like really good, for about 40 miles. Right around that point I experienced a low that lasted for a good long while. It became really hard for me to motivate myself and I had to rely on others to do so for me. Without going in to the nitty gritty, I would not have completed 63 miles if not for the generosity, wisdom, spirit, and encouragement of others. Each time I entered the aid station, I had to fight the urge to sit down because it was never just for “a minute.” My crew kept me going when I didn’t have the energy or desire. They changed my shoes and wet socks, helped me get my wet bra over my head and into dry clothes. They took care of my every need. BTW, aid stations and a warm fire every mile is very dangerous.
- I drastically underestimated how the nightfall would effect me. The falling temps coupled with the loss of the light really impacted my mood and I spent several hours just wishing I was home in my bed with Chris. Instead Chris spent several miles running and walking with me and talking about how our bed would feel when I finished what I set out to do. So grateful for this man.
- Speaking of sleep, around midnight I really really really wanted to sleep. I made a declarative statement that I was going into my car to sleep and to wake me up in an hour. That was quickly veto’ed and I was led to Amy’s tent where I was allowed to sleep for 10 minutes. And they refused to bring my a blanket. I had two towels. Well, after 8 minutes, I got cold and crampy and decided that staying warm while running would be easier. Later on, I realized that their strategy was to make sleeping as uncomfortable as possible so I would have to get up and go back out. Well played.
- The lack of resolve and inability to make decisions later on was quite amazing. I literally needed someone to make the decision that it was time to change out of my wet clothes. And my inability to push back or say no became quite pronounced (see my attempt to sleep in the bullet point above). I also needed a lot of reminders to do some basic things-keep myself warm, eat, drink, use the bathroom. At one point I bent over to get some rocks out of my shoe (for the hundredth time at least) and got dizzy. Fortunately I was with my friend Abbie who wisely suggested I start drinking more and then followed up to ensure that I did when we got to the aid station. The longer I ran, the more my brain felt fried. Likely a result of fatigue and dehydration. A good crew was an absolute necessity for me at this race.
- Chafing. Oh the chafing. You guys know I love body glide. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough. Nor was the Trail Toes lube. Many people heard me talk about chafing in a delicate place that night. Most probably didn’t need to know that. Also, it takes a true friend to offer to put lube on in places that only your significant other and Doctor typically see. I am so blessed with a few of those people in my life.
- I haven’t had a drink in over 15 years however you would have thought I had been tossing back margarita’s all night. I was loopy. I repeatedly made a “joke” about it being O’ loop O’Clock and proceeded to laugh hysterically anytime someone asked what time it was. Another example of me not behaving like myself was that in trying to get me to a 100k + finish, Leighanna, Amy, and Chris told me 100k was 63 miles. I know that it is not but as I mentioned above, i was not in a place where I was able to trust my decisions. It is 62.2 but in my exhausted state, I started to believe it was 63. I finally asked the race timer who confirmed that no, it was in fact 62. I was so angry upon finding this out, I told Leighanna I would shank her. Fortunately our friendship is strong enough to survive the threats that one makes in a state of pain and sleep deprivation. And you may be saying to yourself “but it’s only a mile.” My answer to that is go running for 20 hours and then have someone tell you to go out for “just” one more mile mmmkay. Oh and I did agree to 63 miles after hitting 62 and finding an untapped reserve of energy.
- This was the hardest experience of my life. Miles 40-63 were the toughest miles of my life. I wanted so badly to give up. I changed my goal from 72 to 62 but even entertained stopping at 55 and 50. It took everything I had to keep going and at the time I was convinced that this would be my last race. I am signed up for a few more this year and am happy to report that within a day or so of finishing, I felt differently. But as each lap passed, I pushed on. I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again; this was a team effort in a solo sport. I pushed on fighting fatigue, and mounting soreness. I counted the miles down and eventually we made it. Amy, Leighanna and I crossed the finish line/start line together for the last time. I gave my bib number to the timer and that was it. My heart was full and my legs were empty. It was time to call it a night. I walked to the lodge to collect my medal and shirt.
So that is my O24 experience in a nutshell. There is so much more I could write about the actual logistics, the prep, the during and the post race. I may save that for another post as this is fairly lengthy as is.
If you don’t like the sappy stuff, you may want to finish here. I would be remiss if not mentioning the following:
I truly can’t thank my friends and family enough. Without Amy and Leighanna, this whole thing would not have been possible. Thank you to Abbie who was the voice of reason as I descended into a dark place. She fed me oreo’s, talked about A Prairie Home Companion and did a loop with me as I carried a mannequin leg (Peg Leg-a race tradition). My husband Chris is amazing. He not only ensured I had the opportunity to train but he showed up on race day and carried me emotionally when I could not go on. The four of them stepped in for the long haul through the night which proved to be quite a task. I will forever crew them in any race they may ever do in the future.
With Abbie and Peg
The wonderful people who visited me and made sure I knew they were thinking of me-Heather, Candice, Nikaeda, Robin, Elizabeth, Rachel, Julie (who did a loop where all I remember is discussing math), Eugenia, my wonderful coworkers Leslie and Laura. I received so many text messages of support and videos throughout the race- I was brought to tears! Thank you to Alethea and Allison who somehow cajoled their students into cheering for me via video-I broke down into tears of gratitude on several occasions!
My family-my dad, my brother Andrew and Sister in Law Keri, and my Aunt and Uncle Bruce and Debra, all of whom ran/walked a looped with me. Uncle Bruce gave me some great tips from his own experience as an ultra runner which came in handy especially once night fell.
To all the runners both out there in their own race and those who showed up to volunteer. So many kind words and sage advice (although I’m not sure I would’ve called it kind at the time!) I even talked one volunteer into doing a loop with me (Thanks Lexi!!). Thank you to Holly who got to 100k and was the one who planted the idea in my head all those months ago. To Sarah who kicked so much butt and reached 76 miles and raised money in the process-never have I met someone with such a positive outlook on life. And to Stephanie who kept me company in the first hours of the day when so much seemed impossible.
Whew this recap got a bit long! Ok thanks for sticking with me. I’ll be back tomorrow with my first few days of recovery!