Monday, October 24, 2011

St Pat's 24 Hour

Wow, it's been 11 months since posting a blog. While I have not been writing, I have been running! I ran most of a 200k fat ass run, had a win at the Sunburn Six in the Stix 12hr, a DNF at Burning River 100 (damn achilles'!), and several other 5k and 10ks.
This year I decided to focus one race on a 24 hour event to see if I could break my PR of 130. I had planned to go back to San Francisco where I set my PR in the first place since its really flat and the weather is usually nice. However, logistics didn't work out so I tried to find a good race in the region. I found a great, really well run race, the St Pat's 24 Hour Race. So, this last weekend, Bridget and I woke up at 3:30am and made the two hour drive from Chicago to South Bend. Bridget was running the 12 hour, her first event over 6 hours!

I was feeling confident except out of the blue three days before the event, I started to have some achilles' tendon pain, my arch nemesis. It wasn't bad, but achilles problems ended my last 100 miler 60 miles in. However, I decided, screw it, just pretend there isn't a problem and just go.
The weather was perfect for running, it was a crisp fall day with colorful leaves on the trees and on the ground. The course was a three mile loop and each loop had only one significant downhill and uphill, although the rolling hills did seem to magically grow as the day and night wore on. I was feeling good so for the first ten laps I averaged just over 8 minute miles, putting me into the lead.
What I didn't see coming (literally) were all the roots! All the pretty fall leaves made excellent camouflage and I found myself hitting the ground over and over and over. I fell all the way to the ground seven times (a new PR) and clipped my toe and almost fell just as much. I heard other people fell, but not as often as I did. I must be a slow learner, I think I hit the exact same root on 3 separate occasions. Especially in really long races like a 24hr, I keep my feet close to the ground, which is great for efficient running, not so great for getting over roots. Later in the race when I slowed down I finally stopped falling as much, but by then a lot of damage had been done. Most of the damage was superficial: scuffed up hands and knees, bruised arm and shoulder, lots of dirt in my water bottle. However, a couple times I twisted my left ankle pretty bad, the same side I had my achilles problems. By mile 30 the ankle was swollen and the achilles was burning, although it had not forced me to limp (yet).
As night fell, the pain started to set in, both the pain of running all day and into the night and also in my increasingly swollen lower left leg. At 12 hours in, I had ran 75 miles, exactly my goal to beat my PR, however, I knew the likelihood of reaching the PR was becoming less and less and I could no longer put full weight on my left leg without some serious teeth grinding. I decided to stop for five minutes to rest and see how Bridget's 12 hour race finished.
It turns out, Bridget finished with 52 miles! Amazing accomplishment, more than 20 miles over her longest single stretch of running. Even more impressive, after a short rest, Bridget was helping me with my race and even joined for a few laps later on.
The 80 to 100 mile section was very tough so I was playing head games with myself. I was very close to walking so I kept telling myself: "Only one more lap and then we get to walk a bit". Then I would finish the lap and tell myself again: "Only one more lap and then we get to walk a bit." After a several laps of this torture, I was closing in on 100 miles. My goal became to get to 100 miles in under 18 hours. Mile 95-100 I felt like I was running hard and fast, but according to the splits, I was doing 15 minute miles. I was starting to slow big time, but I did the first 100 in under 18 hours, probably a new PR! (I am not exactly sure because most of my fastest 100 milers have come as a part of longer events: SF 24 hours, the 195 mile Windy 2 Indy, a 200k earlier this year).
I made it 100 miles in 18 hours and had 6 hours left to go. Just 30 miles in 6 hours to beat my PR. Normally 30 miles in 6 hours would be totally doable, but with the toll of mile and miles and messed up tendons and joints, it wasn't going to happen. So, my focus went to winning the race and trying to break the course record. The course record was 103 miles, so I felt I had that covered. After looking at the results this far I realized I had lapped everyone at least three times, so I was a minimum of 9 miles ahead of second place. 9 miles seems like a lot, but with 6 hours to go and me now mostly doing a slow walk, I had to keep going.
Fortunately, Bridget was (amazingly) willing and able to join me to walk a few laps. It gets lonely walking in the dark woods and I really appreciated the help. Also, the race staff were wonderful. They had everything available you could possibly want, and cheered the whole night. The only hard part was passing the nice bon fire they had set up every 3 miles.
Finally, the sun started to come up for the second time since the event started. With 30 minutes to go I was still around 9 miles ahead 114 miles total, so I got to sit down (whew).
Inspecting the damage, I lost 5 toenails, was bruised all over my left side, and my achilles and ankle are bad enough that I am not yet running a week later as I write this. On the plus side, I have some wonderful memories (in retrospect, painful at the time), a win, great time with fellow athletes/adventurers/head cases, and a nice hand made mirror for a prize. Awesome!

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