Thursday, May 17, 2018

​EMU Six-Day Race World Trophy 2018

Now that's what I call trophies

As usual, there's far more detail here than most readers will be interested in. Feel free to skip ahead to The Race, at least. Day Two is where it begins to get interesting.
Background Six days. Why would anyone want to run for six days straight? That's basically been my attitude since, well, I first became aware it was a thing. True, it is one of the three fixed-time day-plus formats for which World Records are maintained (in addition to 24-hour and 48-hour) by the IAU. And true, it has a storied history going back to the late 19th century, where six-day was the NASCAR of the era, with enormous prizes, gambling, and scandals. But I see my friends do six-day races, and I think (1) that's a really long time to take out of your life (not to mention your family's) for one race, and (2) that can't be good for you. Which, OK, you can laugh at that, coming from a guy who's run ~150 marathons and ultras, with I think 12 of those being well over 100 miles, and accumulated many injuries along the way. But this is different, because of the sleep deprivation. There's a lot of evidence that cumulative lack of sleep basically means cumulative brain damage, invisibly shortening your life and worsening your end days. Six days of that is a big hit. (In all sincerity I feel that, on balance, my running is a big net positive for my physical, mental, and emotional health, and my life expectancy.) So what changed my mind? In a word: Joe. Joe Fejes and I have been fairly evenly matched rivals the past few years. We're only a couple months apart in age. I've edged him in over-50 records for 24-hour and 48-hour. But Joe has the overall, not just age-group, six-day American Record, 606 miles. And after I proved I could handle myself at 48-hour (at Snowdrop 55), Joe began to lobby me. "You can beat my mark. You can challenge Yiannis Kouros' World Record (644 miles)." Yeah right. After Snowdrop I was 100% positive multiday was not for me. I'd tested the waters, and they sucked. The suffering induced by the sleep deprivation on the second day... that was a kind of torture I'm just not made for. Not to mention, Yiannis Kouros?! And me at 52? Hahahaha! I couldn't help suspecting this was just Joe's way of getting a bit of revenge. Let's make Bob suffer! (He did say, "You can do it, but it will be a world of pain".) But I did begin to think. Joe told me 48-hour was actually harder than six-day, at least on the sleep deprivation front. To do well at 48 you have to get by on little or no sleep, but at a six-day race you will have to sleep a lot more. Some do well with a couple of hours per day, others with much more. Joe slept (or at least took sleep/nap breaks, which is really not the same thing) for almost 32 hours during his record run, really quite a lot! So... hmm. Well, it's at least worth playing with the numbers, right? Now it was a game, a challenge. There's a reason this blog is called "The Puzzle of Running". I love puzzles, and there's a big aspect of running for me that is solving puzzles. I've explored all the parameters for 24-hour; the challenge left for me there now is mostly execution. But for multiday races so many more things enter the equation, with sleep being the biggest. The main reason I am competitive, I believe, is all the analysis and planning I put into my racing and especially pacing. The greater the scope for analysis, and the less it's about pure speed, the better I do. Which generally means the longer the race, the better I do. An ounce of planning is worth a pound of VO2Max-optimized muscle. Or something like that. So I began to put together a pacing spreadsheet, just for the sake of the game. It's hard to know what is reasonable in terms of sleep and other down time without much multiday experience, but by reading lots of race reports and looking at comparative results I could at least get some plausible starting points. And it was possible to convince myself that 644 was, theoretically, doable... on paper. Everything would have to go right. Right from the beginning, that's a very tall order; the longer the race, the more you can expect that everything will NOT go right, and you will have to roll with the punches and adapt. So I worked out pacing plans for a number of goals. First, the WR. There was a narrow set of parameters there that worked at all. The next big mark would be 1,000 km; there were a few different ways to approach that, trading speed for sleep. No American in the modern era had run that; Joe's 606 = 975 km. But in the 19th century, James Albert Cathcart had run 1,000.61 km. (This mark is not on the modern record books, due to lack of certification, etc.) After that, Joe's 606. Then the over-50 American Record, 551 (also Joe's). All in all I made a table with no less than 30 relevant marks, the lowest being 800 km, which I felt sure was within my capabilities, and would be at least a podium-competitive mark in any race. If, as expected, I had to adjust my goals during the race, I had no shortage of candidates! One thing was clear: I couldn't sleep nearly as much as Joe did, because I would not be moving as fast. Joe ran essentially every lap. I would be doing a run/walk every lap. Tradeoffs! But so far this was just idle playing with numbers. Actually running a six-day race was something else. I asked around, and the consensus was that the EMU Six-Day Race World Trophy in Hungary was the place to go if you wanted a big number. That's where Joe ran his 606 (and later his 551). It's a flat loop, a little under a kilometer, with everything optimized for the runner. Everyone gets a cabin right on the course, with beds, kitchen, bathroom, etc. The timing is top-notch. The support is excellent, with constant ultra food and supplies at the aid station, real meals provided every six hours, and a 24-hour medical staff. But... the timing was not great for me, in early May. My wife Liz's spring adventure was being a National Park Service volunteer in Colorado during the month of April. So I also looked at Sri Chinmoy Six-Day, in late April, in New York. But (1) to put the required effort into a six-day, I really wanted the optimal venue, and (2) that would mean missing the Boston Marathon. Again. I'd run it 11 years in a row, but then missed the last two. I'd begin to feel like a bit of an idiot if I registered and then didn't run three years in a row. Then things changed when the Park Service revised Liz's schedule, pushing everything back a couple of weeks. All of a sudden EMU made sense. (Relatively speaking! With Badwater in July and Spartathlon in September on my calendar, I was still setting myself up for a pretty challenging gauntlet.) So... I was in! Exciting!!! And certainly intimidating.

Now it was down to logistics, with crew being the top priority. I was extremely fortunate to line up Mike Dobies, who crewed Joe to his 606, and my best friend Scott Holdaway, who's crewed me at many races. Mike is the consummate numbers guy and race analyst, and Scott knows my mental states better than anyone except Liz. Mike also gave me tons of intel on the race, as he's crewed there several times. The next aspect of logistics is nutrition. When I had thought about six-day in the past, which was not often, I'd thought of it as outside my wheelhouse nutritionally. I train low-carb so that I can fuel races mostly with body fat and require less calorie intake during the race. I think this is a big advantage for me at 24-hour, Spartathlon, and 48-hour. But six-day is a different regime. Marathons are about carbs, ultras are about fat; you can't store enough carbs. But for very long ultras it changes again, because you can't store enough fat either, or else you have to fat load, taking a weight penalty. So it's about getting the calories in. But this is exactly what I am not trained for. On balance, though, I decided my body fat-based fueling was still an advantage. It would last me at least a few days, and the slower overall pace, plus sleep breaks, meant that getting more calories in would not be the challenge it would be for say a 24-hour. Even so, with plausible numbers filled in it looked like I might burn ~12 pounds of body fat and another ~6 of muscle mass. I didn't have that fat to lose. So I would have to try hard to get in extra calories. And there are so many more aspects of logistics! My experience in 24-hour and longer races would help, but 48 to six-day is a huge leap. Perhaps foot care was next on my list of concerns. My blister-management "strategy" is generally to get blisters and run through them. That is painful but works, sort of, up to 48-hour. It wouldn't work for six days. But I ran out of time to fully do my homework here, and blisters were indeed an issue. My training leading up to the race went reasonably well, though I didn't hit my original mileage goals. I have chronic issues with left Achilles and right peroneal tendons, and the Achilles was limiting me. After having issues with leaning in a few races, I'd worked with my physiotherapist and was diligent with my core and glute exercises. Another concern was anterior calf muscle/tendon tears, which I had experienced three times after long loop ultras – and in the case of Snowdrop, during the race, limiting my performance the last several hours. Here I was crossing my fingers that the past bouts of injury had battle-hardened the tissue. These injuries were always in slightly different places, supporting this view, and Joe had had similar experiences. By this point I'd hit every major muscle on each side. Also I expected that the slower pace, with more walking and more sleep, would help. Nonetheless more eccentric anterior calf exercises would have been wise. Joe even pointed me to some. I didn't do them. There was just too much to focus on; I couldn't do everything. Unfortunately this oversight would turn out to be consequential. For the first time I did some focused walk training, after observing in my spreadsheet the huge difference that a fast walk would make. Here I would walk on a treadmill, typically starting it at 15:00/mile pace and gradually speeding up to 13:00. I think this helped quite a bit; I had perhaps the fastest walking pace at the race except for the actual, accomplished, race walker, Ivo Majetic. (Thanks to David Holmen for the suggestion!) As long training runs I did a local trail marathon, then Umstead 100 four weeks before EMU, with Boston the following week. I ran all of them at an appropriately low effort level, and felt that the effort and recovery were pretty positive indicators. I did have a brief scare with the Achilles during Umstead, but a little topical Voltaren gel took care of it nicely. On balance I felt well poised for a solid result. As race day approached, I wound up with a nasty cold after my long SFO -> North Carolina (Umstead) -> Nashville -> Atlanta -> Boston -> SFO trip. Not unexpected after so much travel, but annoying nonetheless. But it should be resolved just in time. The final week was spent perfecting my custom drink mix. I've had good luck with Maurten 160 in recent races; also Maurten was very kind in rushing me some mix gratis before Snowdrop as I had mis-planned delivery. But I'd decided I wanted something a little more concentrated, and with a little less salt. You have to mix Maurten at the right concentration, or it doesn't work correctly. My kitchen looked like a mad scientist's lab for several days as I adjusted concentrations of maltodextrin, sucrose, fructose, pectin, sodium alginate, BCAA powder, and salt until I got something that worked right, testing the magic hydrogel property with a bit of squirted lemon juice to simulate the pH change of the stomach. It was fun, but a lot more work than I'd expected. I tested it on a 20-mile track run with my planned EMU pacing and drink frequency. 20 miles isn't six days, but so far so good anyway. Then, there was the tedious work of preparing 94 drink-mix packets in little ziploc bags, each good for four 4-ounce drinks! Half my large suitcase was filled with shoes, and most of the other half with mountains of drink packets. Fearing TSA, I stuck an ingredient list in each large bag.

Hopefully I have enough shoes

I got into Budapest on Monday evening; race start was Thursday noon. Scott and Mike were already there. This gave us a day and a half to play tourist before taking the train to Balatonfüred on Wednesday afternoon. I wished I'd had more time, but as it turned out I had more time to be a tourist after the race than I'd expected. In our day plus Scott and I visited the Chain Bridge, Buda Castle and the surrounding complex, the labyrinth where Count Dracula was imprisoned (really), the Terror Museum, and the shoes along the Danube. Mike clued us in to the excellent public transit system and the local food scene.
The view from the top of Buda Castle
Finally it was time, and we took the two-hour afternoon train ride to Lake Balaton, with several other runners on board. The race is held at Balatonfüred Camping, a campground on the shore of the lake. We were shuttled there from the train station. As we arrived, I met Jenő Horváth and Zoltan Ispanki, two of the race organizers. Zoltan told me "Joe says you can run one hundred kilometers!". Haha. A bit of a language issue there. But I appreciated the vote of confidence. The competitive landscape at EMU was pretty substantial and exciting. I would get to meet several legends. The men's favorites looked to be Australian Mick Thwaites, German legend Wolfgang Schwerk, Japanese runners Shuhei Odani and Hori Tatsumaro, Hungarian Peter Molnar (2nd last year), and myself, with a few very talented French runners in the mix as well. Johan Steene (the 2017 winner) would have been the overall favorite, but he'd withdrawn because European 24-hour Championships were too close. With the exception of Schwerk, Molnar, and the Frenchmen, all of us were new to six-day. Going by just 24-hour and 48-hour performances, Thwaites would be the favorite, followed by me and Tatsumaro. Schwerk had run an incredible 1,010 km at age 52, the third-best all-time six-day (behind Kouros and Boussiquet), showing that it could be done. At 62, though, it might be a challenge for him to still compete at that level. He did run a 48-hour age-group World Record here as a split two years ago; he was not to be counted out. Joe did an extensive pre-race analysis, picking Mick to win with me not far behind. Also exciting would be legend Don Winkley's attempt at the 80+ World Record. Supposedly this would be his final race. On the women's side, Sumie Inagaki was a legend, having held the 48-hour World Record until just a few months ago. Among her many other accomplishments were multiple Badwater wins, Spartathlon wins, and 24-hour World Championship wins. My friend Charlotte Vasarhelyi, who won EMU in 2014, was also a favorite. Swedes Kristina Paltén, Lena Jensen, and Yudith Hernandez rounded out the favorites. Joe's women's analysis is here. After we got our cabin keys, I went two cabins down to introduce myself to Mick. His coach and crew was none other than Martin Fryer, a legend in his own right, who I'd finally gotten to meet at Spartathlon a couple of years ago. That fact alone spoke very well for Mick's prospects. In between us was Don Winkley's cabin; Mike would also be helping crew him. On the other side were Americans Brad Compton and Bill Heldenbrand. Mike, Scott, and I then did our big shopping trip at the local Tesco, stocking up on everything we thought we'd need for the upcoming week. Cooler, food, water, various bits of clothing. More trips would be required (especially for ice), but this would get us started, and Mike got a good idea of what kinds of food I'd want later, to supplement my drinks and the provided food. I demonstrated the fine art of mixing and bottling my drink powder. We had a bit of a scare as all the bottled water appeared to have too much calcium, per Maurten's mixing instructions anyway. But the lemon-juice test showed that we were good. The weather was already a bit scary. The forecast had been getting steadily worse, and now, a day before the race, it was supposed to be over 80 with thunderstorms for the first three days, and merely hot for the rest. I found it uncomfortable to be outside at all, and the thought of running in that for six days was really not appealling. However, I had done my sauna training, and that had served me well in the past at Spartathlon. But the forecast led me once again to reconsider my goals and starting pace. I was still tentatively planning on starting with my World Record pacing plan. But the weather made it very, very tempting to back that down and shoot for 1,000 km or 606 miles. It's a risk-reward thing. But the function was unknown, and the potential reward of beating a Kouros record was enough, just, to overcome my trepidation. Even if the chance was small, the possibility was enough to make it worthwhile to attempt. It would be the running accomplishment of a lifetime. I should say that even pacing for the WR, I would be starting at a pretty conservative pace by normal six-day standards. Joe ran 137 miles on day one on the way to 606. That was a little high but not too far out of the ordinary for big performances. My plan had me at 116.4 miles on day one pacing for 644, which if anything most would say is way too low to run a big number. (The infamous Ray Krolewicz remarked of Pete Kostelnick's 117 on day one at another six-day, "it's too bad he's given up so early on 600+".) It's certainly not aggressive. Compared to my 24-hour PR of 152, it should be a very easy effort. But my plan was to pace as evenly as possible, trying to run the same lap splits on day six as day one. I did expect there would be more overhead (medical etc.) per day as the week progressed, also I would sleep less on day one than the rest of the week. Otherwise, even. Almost all multiday runners would laugh at that, and say you can't run even. But what are the consequences of that attitude? Most start too fast because they think they need a big number on day one when they are fresh (or because they just start easy, where easy is really way too fast). Then the "inevitable slowdown" becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. My reasoning, as at shorter races, is that the easier I make it early the better I will feel late. And failure is very nonlinear: going out a little too fast can cost a huge amount later. That's why I planned a run/walk from the very first lap. I can't comfortably run slow enough to hit my planned lap splits. In the end I didn't really expect I would run even. But trying to do so gave me a way to take a theoretical shot at the WR while still going out at a sensible pace. If I had to back off, at least I wouldn't be too overcooked. Compare that to trying to run say a marathon World Record. There, you would need to start at 4:41/mile pace. The vast majority of marathon runners would not make it even half a mile. It's a very, very different world in this regime. But back to the story. I got everything unpacked and sorted into compartments in the cabin, US flag hung out front. Evening arrived quickly, and we all tucked in to get as much sleep as possible on the final night. Race morning, there was a meeting at 10:00 to go over rules and pick up bibs. I was told this was a waste of my time and I should sleep in and send my crew to get my stuff, so I did. But I regret this now, as this is when all the runner introductions happened. Anyway I had a leisurely breakfast.

The Race – Day One
A word about nomenclature. The race consists of six 24-hour periods, "days", but those are exactly out of phase with solar / calendar days. During the race it was easy to get confused about what "day" it was, as the third morning was still part of the second race day. Anyway I'll label time here with race (noon to noon) days. Finally, noon, and we were off! I was really doing it: starting a run that would, if all went well, last for SIX DAYS. What the hell was I thinking.

For the first few laps I calibrated my walking stretch to keep the laps at 6:20. Each lap was 0.5759 miles, or 926.82 m. That's an average moving pace of 11:00/mile, but my estimated running pace was 9:20, with 2:32 walk breaks. My execution strategy was simply to run as slowly as comfortable, and walk enough to keep the laps at 6:20. The course is asphalt, pretty flat, but with some small variations that would become more noticeable as the race wore on. There was one very short hill that already counted as such even from the beginning, next to the bathrooms. That was a walk spot. Unfortunately my cabin, where Scott and Mike were set up, was near the start of a long straightaway on a very slight downgrade, the ideal spot to be running. But I'd planned to be walking when I passed the cabin, for crew communication and for drinking. Ah well. I played with the balance here throughout the race.
Our cabin was right where it says "Joe Fejes"

From the beginning, it was hot. Frustratingly, I'd been unable to find my arm sleeves as I packed. I'd planned to put ice in them. And somehow I had not packed my desert hat with the sun flap, ideal for putting ice in. Though I'd seen the forecast, I think I'd had a bit of weather denial. I was going to run a big number, therefore it wouldn't be that hot. Oops. The same mentality led me to not pack a cotton t-shirt. This is ideal for hot if it's not too humid: you keep it soaked, and it cools you very effectively. Here, it was humid (t-storms supposedly coming), but it still would have worked. I started in a singlet, but soon switched to short-sleeve as it held more water. I tried ice under the hat but it didn't work that well. Fortunately there was a sponge station on the course (right where it says "Julia"). You grab a sponge (I often grabbed two), soak yourself, and toss it in a bucket around the corner. Once I got into a groove here I actually stayed pretty comfortable, though it was frustrating when occasionally the station would be unmanned for a while and I'd go several laps with no sponges available. The afternoon unwound at a leisurely pace. Every third lap I'd grab a bottle of drink mix, giving me about 160 calories per hour. That's more than I usually get, but with the new drink mix I could tolerate it well. Other laps I'd grab a bottle of water to thirst. The 6:20 laps made tracking easy. I just kept the cumulative laps at multiples of 6:20, a whole minute every three laps, just when it was time to drink. Any time I stopped I stopped my watch. This way, it's easy to keep average moving pace calibrated to within a fraction of a second of goal pace. Overkill to be sure, but reassuring. The system is nice for as long as it lasts. But as I learned at Snowdrop, when it doesn't, you have to adapt and not mentally fall apart just because things aren't neat and tidy anymore. Other programmed tasks: every three hours, supplements; every 12, weight check. You can't win a six-day race on day one, but you can certainly lose it. I had my eye on who was lapping me frequently. Odani, as expected. Molnar. Thwaites occasionally, but not too often. Joe had predicted that Odani would go out fast and lead after the first day, and falter after that. I don't wish my competitors ill, but I do feel much more comfortable when I am several places back well into the race. That means that if I'm running even for a good mark, my competitors are either running faster than necessary and will pay for it later, my advantage, or they will do better than I could do anyway. Given that I was pacing for the WR, the latter was not a big risk. Others have a different attitude. Joe is very type-A, and likes to lead throughout. It's easy for me to see this as bad strategy, but the fact is, the mental game is everything in these races, and anything you can do to keep yourself engaged and positive is good. Nonetheless I think I'm fortunate that I get a visceral feel of comfort when others are ahead early. I'm where I want to be. Let my competitors have the pressure of holding on to their leads, while I hang back, take it easy, and wait patiently. For several hours I was looking for Schwerk; I had yet to identify him. In addition to having a large pile of incredible results, he's famed as a very tactical runner. He'd been in a tight race with Joe two years earlier. Eventually I saw him, I guess running a similar pace to me. But it wasn't long before he slowed quite a bit and acquired a large rightward lean, and was running with his arm in a sling! Mike would say he was playing possum, poor slow me, I'm no threat. I didn't see how he could last long running like that. But he kept going, and going, and going, rarely stopping at all. He's one of those who get by on very little sleep, catching you while you are down. I was shocked at one point to discover he was ahead of me. Sometime the first afternoon I got some walking form tips from Ivo Majetic, who was walking the entire race, at a good clip, going for an unofficial walking World Record (there were no walking form judges present). Using my arms more effectively, my walk got a bit better. (Charlotte later told me, "your walk is f-ing awesome", as I fretted about my pace.) At 7:00 pm, it was time for "dinner", and my first scheduled break. I planned major breaks (an hour and 40 minutes) every noon and midnight, except of course for noon at race start, and minor breaks (20 minutes) every six hours, or actually spaced about five hours between the major breaks. That way I'd have a break every meal time. The first day was special, because lunch was at 2:00 and dinner at 7:00 to accommodate the late breakfast and noon start. Anyway the provided meal didn't look that appealling, so I asked Mike to make me a grilled cheese sandwich, which was delicious. 20 minutes down was a nice respite. At some point in here it began to rain a bit, but it was never more than a light drizzle; the forecast thunderstorms never materialized. Otherwise, the evening progressed without incident. It was a bit of a relief when the sun went down, but it stayed warm and humid for quite a while longer. As it got dark I took my first NoDoz (200 mg caffeine), then another half of one a couple hours later. The effect of the caffeine was very noticeable. The loop got a lot shorter! I had to walk much more of it to keep the laps at 6:20. Finally it was midnight, another "meal", and my first chance to try to actually get significant sleep. For this I took my shoes off, and put my eye mask on and my earplugs in. I don't think I got much if any sleep. There's inevitable overhead, and it takes a while to get to sleep; it's hard to get comfortable as your body starts to let through those pain signals that are masked while you're running. It wasn't long before Scott was shaking me awake. Ugh. Time to rotate shoes (I had three primary pairs of Hoka Clayton 2s, and four backup pairs of different shoes). Another NoDoz. And... now, finally, at 2:00 am, it was perfect conditions. Back to my thin singlet. I found it almost impossible to run as slow as 6:20; I'd be walking a huge amount. I hemmed and hawed, consulted with Mike. Should I take advantage of the conditions, run 6:15s for a while, then make it up with slower laps in the heat of the day? I was determined not to get ahead of my pacing plan. But there was a problem. I can't easily count off three-lap blocks while adding multiples of 6:15. So I ran 6:10 laps, still very easy, for several hours. Then when the sum was X:30 or X:00 I knew it was time to drink. At 7:00 am it was time for breakfast and my next 20-minute break. Mike made me some bacon and eggs. Up again, more NoDoz, back at it, 6:20s again. The day warmed up quickly, back to short-sleeve to hold more water, lots of sponges. So far so good. As the race progressed I met and chatted with several runners on the course. The atmosphere was very supportive and energizing, from the other runners as well as their crews. Diana Kämpe saw my Spartathlon shirt: she'd run it last year, and would be running again this year. See you there! I eventually worked up the nerve to try to chat with Wolfgang Schwerk. I asked him about two of his records that are somehow not on the official IAU records list, most notably his 1,010-km 6-day at 52. That was significantly better than the recorded age-group World Record of 981 (609 miles). Which put me in an awkward spot. If I somehow managed to run 609, should I submit it to IAU as a record? This needs to get resolved. He was very frustrated at all of the "bullshit" he blamed "them" for, but I couldn't quite figure out who "they" were, race organizers, IAU, or someone else.

Day Two

Noon arrived, lunch, major break. I'd done well on overhead on day one, budgeting 20 minutes but only using 10, and I'd run those 6:10s. So I was a bit ahead of plan, at 117.5 miles, a number still well within reason. If I was able to keep the overhead low (I factored in more each day) eventually I would start to use that time for more breaks.
This time I took an Advil before going down, expecting that otherwise it would be difficult to lie comfortably. Again, I don't think I got much sleep. The idea behind the 1:40 breaks is that you really need about an hour and a half of good sleep to get much benefit, one sleep cycle. But with overhead, plus time to get to sleep, I really wasn't getting that. Scott wanted me to shorten the midnight breaks and lengthen the noon breaks, to run less in the heat of the day, but I was reluctant to make it even harder to get enough sleep during one of my major breaks. And really the heat wasn't bothering me that much as long as I stayed wet, at least perceptually. But no doubt it was taking an additional physical toll. On being roused, now I was feeling pretty beat up, and not very refreshed. It was time to switch socks as well as rotate shoes, and I could tell my feet weren't in great shape. I drained some blisters, but thought maybe I'd better let medical treat them and tape the problem spots (mostly the little toes). I'd taped them before the race but had done a lousy job. I also gave the New Balances a try to change things up from the Hokas. So, right away, I took a 20-minute overhead hit for foot care and massage. Boom. Most of my day-two budget. Well, I knew that the overhead in my pacing plan was optimistic. I would not worry unduly if I had to back off my WR goal. I'd just wanted to give myself the chance.


Still, I think that set the tone for the day; I was in a bit more of a negative space. The NBs weren't feeling great and I switched back to Hokas. It's pretty silly to be in day one of a six-day race and think "things are great; I'm going to run a World Record!". Like the bowler who was so excited about his perfect game that he blew the second frame. Yet, that's the state of mind I'd been in, and losing it was a change. Also, I've run several 24-hour races; my body and brain know what to expect there. Spartathlon takes a bit longer, but not much. But at Snowdrop, I'd had a dramatic change at the start of the second day. My Garmin died. I tried to actually speed up to try to hit the American Record. My head was very fuzzy and I just couldn't think straight. Day one, everything had been very regimented, and gone off like clockwork. Day two was a totally different world. Here I would have SIX days. And already I could sense the same kind of change. I was out of my comfort zone. Also by now I was beginning to second-guess my caffeine strategy. Was it really doing me any good? Or just keeping me from getting decent sleep, by borrowing time that would just have to be repaid shortly anyway? The caffeine lows were bad. I got back into a good groove and held it together through the afternoon, still on comfortable 6:20s, staying wet and cool in the heat. I'm not sure whether I forgot I had those 6:10s to make up for with 6:30s, or what; maybe I just lumped that together with the unused overhead from day one. Somewhere in here Odani had begun to have problems, just as Joe had predicted, and was gone from the course. Molnar had slowed quite a bit. I'm not sure exactly when, but Thwaites and I took over solid 1-2 positions. This wasn't really where I expected or wanted to be so early in the race. But from here on, I got more and more supportive comments about how strong I looked and how inspiring I was, which certainly helped my attitude. There is of course a certain amount of "renormalization" one has to apply here – I know my running form looks slightly silly, for example – and I'm sure everyone else received many compliments as well. As well they should have. They were running for six days! The 7:00 pm break was again a nice respite, and I did feel it helped. But things would very shortly go south. I started the next lap without my chip. Fortunately someone pointed it out before I'd gone too far; I went back to get it. Then on the very next lap, I happened to see an older gentleman take a bad fall by the side of the course, and stopped to help him up. I didn't think to stop my watch to count it as overhead. Which meant that I then had to hurry to catch up to pace. The lap was only 20 seconds slow, but I'd run too fast, and when I ran the next one at 5:46, I was working too hard. Somehow from there things quickly spiraled out of control. This was a price I was paying for being a slave to my watch; my careful pacing is a double-edged sword. I tried running 6:30 laps; that was no longer easy. What could I do??? This was ridiculous. I was not even halfway through day two. I'd been much farther ahead at this point at Snowdrop with no problem, running faster. But the difference is, I didn't have four more days ahead of me at Snowdrop, and my brain knew that. Endurance is enormously about anticipatory regulation. If you think you can't hold pace, then you can't. I was getting into a bad mental space, and it was having a huge impact on my sense of effort. I could recognize this fact, but do little about it. I found myself walking, asking Charlotte for advice. She told me what I knew: I just had to get hold of myself; it was just a bad emotional state that would pass. I knew that. But I didn't "know" that. Mike walked with me as well for a bit, and the three of us decided it would be wise to reset my goal back two steps, to the 606 American Record, skipping over 1,000 km. I don't recall now why that skip seemed reasonable, but it did, to all of us. 1,000 km still seemed too intimidating to me. A lap or so later I dove into the cabin to select a new pacing plan from my list on my spreadsheet and plug it in, on Mike's laptop. Now I would run 6:30 laps, take 25-minute and an hour 50-minute breaks, and get much more allocated overhead time per day. That decided, running was easy again. My brain could relax, with all that extra room. (As an aside, I think I understand a little better now what happened to me at 24-hour Worlds in Belfast last summer. I was pacing aggressively for a big PR. Everything was great, until 15 hours in, I began to sense I was using a bit too much effort. I backed off my pace, which didn't help; I backed off again, still it was no easier. Eventually I was walking, to try to get a reset. But for the first time in a 24-hour, I never really recovered. I think now that this was much more about my lack of confidence once I felt a bit tired becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy than it was anything physical. The brain is by far the most important organ involved in ultrarunning.) Then things were OK... for a while. As the second evening wore on I found myself more challenged. This was just like at Snowdrop. I just could not face the impending second night. All the little problems seemed to happen at once and add up. Adding 6:30s while keeping track of which laps to drink took more effort. I was constipated. The bathroom was swarmed with little bugs at night. I grabbed my MP3 player to get an energy boost, but it had the opposite effect. It was a new one I'd bought just before the race, and while it was very light and had lots of memory, the interface SUCKED. I could not use it at all in the dark, and the bone-conduction headphones cut out too much sound from the environment. Again, just like Snowdrop, when I'd gotten frustrated with my iPod shuffle the second night because it would only play stuff I wasn't in the mood for, or stuff I'd already heard. Thus the larger memory on the new player. But eventually I just tossed it in frustration. Not only was it not working; it was making the cognitive task of tracking lap splits plus drink times impossible. Finally, at 10:30, I just couldn't take it anymore. This was a much bigger meltdown. I stopped and told Mike and Scott what was up. Something had to change. I wasn't getting any quality sleep, maybe because of the caffeine, maybe because the breaks were too short. It was too early for my midnight break, but we decided I should go down for a few hours anyway. We could sort things out after that. Again, just like Snowdrop, where I had to take an unplanned hour-long nap – a huge hit relative to my goals there – before I could face the second night. It's funny. Navigating these mental and emotional spaces is really, to me, what ultrarunning is all about. You experience reality in ways you never do otherwise; you learn things about yourself you wouldn't otherwise. I've experienced the lows firsthand several times; generally, the knowledge that they will pass is enough to keep me going until they do. And every time this happens adds more confidence for the next time. It's much easier to keep going if you can trust your future self to keep going as well. Yet, here I was failing to do so in exactly the same way, in my second multi-day race. Knowledge wasn't doing me any good. The thing is, the brain is a physical thing too; it has physical needs, and I think they just weren't being met. Plus, the second-night sleep deficit is something I just don't have a lot of experience handling yet, and the thought that I might not be able to handle it adds in to the self-sabotaging expectation of failure on succeeding nights. The "sleep" break this time was one of the most bizarre, dissociative, and unpleasant experiences I've ever had, perhaps like a bad drug trip. First, I began to convince myself that I was done, that I was giving up and just couldn't continue. I felt enormous shame at this, especially in light of everything Mike and Scott were doing for me. But even more, I had totally lost my sense of identity and reality. I imagined conversations with Scott and Mike where I was trying to explain that I just couldn't reconnect to my brain or to reality; I couldn't figure out how. Who, what was I? There was a piece of existence I just couldn't get a handle on. Was I sleeping? How would I know? How does one sleep? In hindsight, I find this very fascinating, and perhaps a positive development. It reminds me very much of states I'd get into in college when I would be learning a new programming language and pulling lots of all-nighters. I'd begin to think in that language, badly, and for example be unable to sleep because I couldn't figure out how to evaluate the sleep function. This always indicated some kind of learning and consolidation taking place. This time, if I was learning more about how to handle these tough mental states, that's good news going forward. It's been a very long time since I've had such an episode. In a way it makes me feel more alive, to still be learning like that, in a way that fundamentally affects my brain. At the time, though, it was pretty horrible. When I "awoke", I was slow getting started. My feet hurt quite a bit; while I'd been "sleeping" I was thinking one reason my race was over was extreme plantar fasciitis. I applied some Voltaren gel, but already they didn't hurt quite so much. I had some food, and got going again. I'd been down for about three and a half hours. And... whether it felt like I'd slept or not, I'd definitely gotten a good reset. I realized that I felt fine; my mind and my body were back in the game. Of course it was the cool part of the night again, and it was hard not to run fast. I think this time I'd also forgone the NoDoz, feeling that it was just sabotaging my sleep. Mike had to slow me down as I was logging laps in the 5:40s. I guess at this point I was running without a plan, having already fallen off the sleep schedule for 606, but I don't recall now what I was thinking beyond just keep moving forward. I did actually have a buffer on 606, because the first day was run at 644 pace, so maybe I was thinking I was still on track for 606 here? I wish I could remember. I do remember that starting this morning, Mike and Scott kept track of my drink lap parity for me. So I wasn't tracking or counting; I was just running, and drinking when told to. That was a lot easier, though normally I'm much more comfortable when I know exactly where I am – I prefer to be mentally engaged with my pacing. Not this time. Around 5:00 am my left popliteus, or maybe hamstrings, anyway something behind the left knee that had been bugging me, became a big enough issue to try to get massaged out. It was tight and painful. But I don't think the work helped any. After that I ran 6:30ish laps for a couple more hours, until it was time for my midmorning break. I can see all the lap split data, but I don't remember anything about this break now. It was 50 minutes, not sure where that came from, certainly longer than it should have been. Maybe a leisurely breakfast. Alas, I didn't make notes soon enough after the race, traveling without my laptop. But right after this break was when my race ended, though that played out in slow motion. Just one lap after the break, I noticed an all-too-familiar pain in my left anterior calf. I stopped to look at the area with Mike, and uh-oh, there was a red patch there, just above the ankle timing band. I'd had this kind of thing too many times, but I'd never seen that bruising/discoloration during a race before, only the day after. To me this indicated a muscle tear, probably lower tibialis anterior. It wasn't something I could run through, with four days left, and trying to do so would just increase the damage and risk complete rupture. I walked to medical, expecting they would likely pull me. But they didn't. First they applied some cream and gave me some kind of anti-inflammatory cocktail. Then I was told I had to have it iced for 15 minutes. I tried to explain that I was in second place, and I couldn't afford that. There was a language barrier, but the response was clear: "If you go out like that, race ended. 15 minutes is nothing in this kind of race." Well OK then, 15 more minutes it was. Total cost, though, 38 minutes.
Not good
And sure enough, 15 minutes later, the pain was mostly gone. But I had to come back in two hours for them to look again. In the meantime, running was easy again. After an hour I was chatting with Charlotte – she was getting close to a 48-hour Canadian age-group record, but she was very tired, on almost no sleep, and was also operating without a crew! She didn't even know how many more laps she needed. I ran ahead to recruit Mike to help her out on the tracking front. Somehow in here I ran six sub-6 laps in a row, with Mike asking what the hell was up after a 5:36. I think at this point I had a pretty care-free mentality – part of my brain knew that medical advice aside, my leg would not last the rest of the race, and I didn't have that much longer to run. Also it was energizing encouraging Charlotte. Part of that I think was seeing how hard she was working, how much worse shape she was in than I was, and SHE was still going. So of course I could too. Eventually I dialed it back. 9:00 am rolled around, time to go back to medical. This time it was more cream, five minutes of icing, and instructions to come back again in two hours. Wait, what? EVERY two hours, for the rest of the race? I can't do that. Well, it was do that or quit, so medical every two hours it was. And this time, the medical overhead was 23 minutes. Ouch. Easy running for another two hours, trying to help keep Charlotte moving. It sounded to me like she had a big cushion, but she still thought she might come up short. But eventually we were counting down a small number of laps, and she hit the mark, 173 miles, with an hour and a half to spare. Yes! Still, this was energizing my own race. I had just set the American 48-hour age-group record at Snowdrop a few months prior, so this was very close to home for me. 11:30, back to medical. The treatments were still working, miraculously. One of these times, Charlotte came in at the same time; she helped translate. I had not realized she's actually Hungarian. This time the hit was only 14 minutes, getting a little more streamlined.

Day Three

Noon again, time for a major break. Since the long, contorted break, this day had been quite different. No caffeine, and I felt fine, not tired at all. I think the forced medical breaks were giving me some useful rest, as I just lay on my back on the table. I napped for an hour 50, still on my sleep schedule for 606, though the medical breaks pretty clearly were taking that off the table. When I woke, I checked the numbers. Day one, 117.5 miles; day two, 82.5. Ugh. If I wanted to hit even 551, the age-group American Record, I'd have to average 88 miles for the remaining four days. Or for 900 km, 90 miles per day. It seemed unlikely. Yet, there'd been two big medical hits on day two, plus the extra-long sleep. If I could avoid any more major problems maybe it was still possible. It's not uncommon to see big day ones, low day twos, and then some recovery. Back to medical, more cream and icing, but now the cost was only eight and a half minutes. It was becoming routine. And as the afternoon wore on, miraculously, I stayed in great shape. No caffeine, and I wasn't tired at all. I had Mike run some numbers for me to catch up to the new reality. What do I have to do to hit 551 miles, or to hit 900 km (559)? A few laps later he handed me several options on a sheet of paper. The numbers were encouraging. If I averaged 6:43 laps while moving I'd have six and a half hours of down time per day. That broke down to about two hours mandatory in medical to treat the leg, three hours of sleep per night (as that seemed to work better than two shorter breaks), an hour of unknown medical overhead for new issues, and half an hour for miscellaneous overhead (bathroom etc.). Total down time on my initial plan was only about four and a half hours per day. Given that the medical breaks were double-duty, as I got useful rest then, this seemed eminently reasonable, downright luxurious. OK, 900 km it was. That would still be an age-group record, and likely competitive for the win. By day three the strain was showing on Mick Thwaites as well. I observed a pattern, which Mike confirmed. (Mike had sophisticated tracking spreadsheets set up, that did much more analysis than just who was ahead by how much.) When Mick would restart after a nap, he'd run very fast, sub-6 laps. These would gradually slow, to the point where I'd be catching up. Then he'd go down for a break again. At one point during the afternoon I lapped him four times in a single hour! And evidently at one point I caught up to just four laps down, in spite of my issues and slowing. So yes, if I could hang on, I was still very much in contention. I was somewhat dumbstruck by my newfound energy and attitude. Joe says day three is the toughest in a six-day, but for me it was the easiest (so far!), except for my injury. Mentally and emotionally I felt great, still not at all tired. 4:00 pm, back to medical. By this point, towards the end of my two-hour run periods the leg was beginning to hurt again. Kati, who treated me, asked what the pain level was on a scale of 1-10. 3-4, I said. I was supposed to go back at 5:00 for my next anti-inflammatory cocktail. OK, done, but no icing this time, so no real break... and now she didn't want me back for another two hours? Hmmm. I'd wanted that break! But I was still not very tired, feeling pretty good, apart from the gradually worsening leg. 7:00 pm, and now the process was too streamlined, in and out with cream and ice in only six minutes. And the pain level was greater. Here I began to try to get my laps a little more consistent, to get a feel for what 6:43 looked like. I walked exactly the same stretches for four laps, then asked Mike to average the splits. 6:52, that's what I'd been afraid of. OK, let's try running some of that... a few more laps... what, 6:22s? That couldn't be right; I'd only walked slightly less. Unfortunately those few faster laps had hurt quite a bit. So I had to go back to medical a little early, before 9:00 pm. This time, after the treatment, it was no better, and I stopped back in on the very next lap. What more could she do? Nothing. What do I do if I can't run? Rest. Will that help? Yes. I was doubtful, knowing how this kind of injury progresses. Resting just accelerates the inflammation as fluid is allowed to build up. But I had no other options at this point, so I took an hour and 15-minute nap. Back to medical on the next lap, more treatment, no effect. I tried to run, and was immediately hopping on one leg, the pain was so intense. It was painful just to walk the rest of the loop back to my cabin. Mike and I deliberated. What more could I do? One question remained: if I had to walk the rest of the race, was 800 km on the table? I walked a lap and timed it, just under 10 minutes. To hit 800 km at that pace I'd have only about three hours of down time per day total, including the required medical overhead. Not realistic. Plus, even walking was getting progressively more painful. It looked like my race was over. Trying to move through that injury would almost certainly increase the damage, putting Badwater and Spartathlon at risk, and would still not even let me reach my minimum goal. But I might as well sleep on it and see what it felt like in the morning. There was nothing more to be accomplished now. As I went to bed I updated Facebook to let people following know what was up, and that I was likely done. I slept all night, and when I woke up, I had a few Facebook suggestions. Why had I not tried taping? Why indeed. I had some Kinesio tape with me. After a little YouTube research Mike and I tried one taping method and I walked another lap. Still very painful. I thought about it a little more and realized that that taping was actually designed to enhance tibialis anterior activation, which was exactly the wrong thing. After poking around a little more we found a more appropriate taping, and tried that. There was an immediate effect as I walked around the cabin. But walking another lap was still just as painful, if not more so. That was basically that. I didn't hand in my chip yet, but I saw no effective way to continue. I went back to bed for a bit, then got up to watch the race go by.

Day Four Mostly I just sat by the side of the course and watched, taking some photographs. Around 3:30 I tried walking another lap, just in case. Nope, hurt even worse.
Mike says Wolfgang is smiling because he knows he's beaten me
Scott and I decided to go back to Budapest a couple of days early, taking the train back the next afternoon. I could enjoy being a spectator for the the rest of the race, but it would be pretty boring for Scott; there was plenty to see in Budapest. I do regret missing the awards ceremony, though. I enjoyed meeting and chatting with the other runners quite a bit, but there's only so much of that you can do during the race, as you're generally moving at different paces.

Congratulations to Mick and Kristina. Pic by Szilvia Őszi
Aftermath And that's the end, as far as my race goes. With my withdrawal, Mick was pretty much guaranteed the win as long as he didn't completely blow up. When I left, the walker, Ivo Majetic, was actually in second! But Didier Sessegolo was close behind, and as Mike pointed out, if he was close at the end he could run, and Ivo couldn't. Eventually Sessegolo closed the gap and finished second, with Ivo a very impressive third. Schwerk hung on for fifth. Mick's total was 837.6 km. Who knows what he could have done if he'd been challenged towards the end. The women's race was getting very interesting as I left. Charlotte and Sumie Inagaki had been trading the lead for the entire race, but now both were slowing, and the Swedes Lena Jensen and Kristina Paltén were catching up. At one point all four of them were within a few laps. Ultimately the Swedes pulled ahead, with Paltén winning. Mike was happy, as he'd given her some pacing and scheduling advice after last year's race. After hitting not just the 48-hour but also the 72-hour Canadian age-group record (something that does not, alas, exist in the US), Charlotte was suffering and reduced to a walk due to a quad issue. So she fell behind, and Inagaki took third. She still managed to better her own six-day age-group record, though.

Kristina Paltén showing how you win a six-day race. Pic by Szilvia Őszi
Back in Budapest, Scott and I tracked down an ankle brace, which let me at least walk slowly without too much pain. Over the next few days we saw many more sights. But I probably walked more than I should have; the leg was not getting any better, maybe worse. 

At Memento Park, the world's only cubist statue of Marx and Engels
Before the race was even over, I was already applying what I'd learned to look at pacing plans for next time. I wanted a do-over! I understood so much more now. I had actually expected that for me six-day would be one and done. But, well, this one wasn't done. Besides, I'm kind of hooked now. Unfortunately scheduling will not allow another six-day for at least another year. Back home, I started consulting anatomy charts, and realized that it would have to be the tibialis anterior tendon, not muscle. I didn't realize torn tendon would bruise the same as torn muscle. But if so, that would mean a much longer healing process. A few days later I got in to see my foot doctor. He confirmed tibialis anterior tendon, but the damage is actually to the tendon sheath (and the adjacent retinaculum), not the tendon itself. That should heal much faster. Whew! Not that the knowledge would have helped during the race. By then there was nothing I could do. And my doc did confirm that continuing would have done more damage. Probably I should have stopped when I discovered the injury. But I’m glad I didn’t, because I got to experience most of that third day. One thing I've realized is that these anterior calf injuries (which only ever happen to me on flat, hard surfaces, where the eccentric stress of landing is strong and very repetitive) are exacerbated by high-drop shoes, which make the muscle and tendon have to stretch a greater distance. But I have heel lifts in my Hokas because of my Achilles problems, catch-22. What makes me really shake my head is the possibility that the injury was enhanced or even caused by a too-tight timing band on my left ankle. The first day I wore it on the right, the second on the left. But I wore it a little tighter on the left, because it had been sliding around a little. Did that create extra pressure and friction for the tendon as it passed under the retinaculum? To end a race over something so trivial is just sad. But the reality is that there are a million things that can go wrong in a six-day race, and finishing is never guaranteed. You have to roll with the punches, but sometimes by the time you realize you've been punched it's already too late.
Takeaway Of course I didn’t plan on my race ending less than halfway through. And of course I feel angry and frustrated after so much time, effort, and expense. But I don't feel it was a waste, at all. I learned an enormous amount. The amazing thing about six-day is that you have time not only to learn during the race, but even to apply what you have learned – in the same race! In only two and a half days, my strategy (mental, pacing, nutritional, sleep...) evolved significantly. I went through a very rough patch on the second night, but by the third day I was in a much better place, with execution that felt sustainable. I wasn't a bit tired all day. I was solidly in second, with prospects of competing for the win, and hitting some records. I felt like I'd been tested and passed, giving me more confidence for next time. The real disappointment is not that I didn't reach my goals, but that I didn't get to experience how sustainable my new attitude and plan actually were. Possibly every day is a totally different world? I will have to wait 'til next time to find out.

I was gratified that so many potential problem areas were non-issues. Nutrition. Chafing. Cramping. Overall muscle fatigue. Leaning. Achilles. Peroneals. But it just takes one thing...

I did come away with a much better appreciation for what these numbers mean. On paper they are just numbers, but after running they become real. 644 miles, that's just another planet. 900 km seems to me like it should be within reach barring this type of catastrophic injury; there's a ton of room there for easy pacing and lots of down time (easy to say for someone who didn't even make it halfway this time, true!). But there is HUGE daylight between that and 606 miles. Of course it's the American Record, it should be tough, but I am now much more impressed with it. Kudos, Joe.
Back to my original question: why would anyone want to run for six days straight? I'm a little ashamed to have presented a picture where I tried it only for a shot at records and glory. The reality is a little more complicated. I love running, I love meeting new and interesting people, and I love exploring reality from new and challenging perspectives. But to take on something of this magnitude, I needed a little more, a little push. The goals, the records, are part of the meta-game for me. I use them to motivate my training and frame my races, but the payoff is actually the experience itself, not the prizes.
Thank You I’m incredibly thankful and indebted for the support of Scott Holdaway and Mike Dobies in traveling halfway around the world to crew me for so long. Anything I needed, it materialized. Any calculation I required, it was done and in my hands on a slip of paper. I must say we made a formidable team. Thank you to Liz for allowing this crazy adventure, and more generally all the training and focus these races require. Thank you to Joe Fejes for all the encouragement and advice, and for pushing me kicking and screaming into this new world. Maybe next time I'll live up to your predictions. Thank you to Mark Dorion for pre-race advice and a care package of backup shoes! And thank you to everyone else who offered advice and tips for moving up to six-day. I appreciate it. Thank you to Jenő Horváth, Zoltan Ispanki, and the rest of the EMU team for an incredible race experience. Thank you to Katalin Kiss and the rest of the medical staff for holding things together for a bit longer as I started to fall apart. Experiencing that third day was very valuable to me. EMU is truly the place to be for six-day. I'll be back.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Snowdrop 55-Hour 2017-2018

The usual disclaimer applies: I write these reports mostly for myself, to get down everything relevant I can remember, for future reference. Sometimes they are useful or entertaining to others as well; that's a bonus.
This was the longest race I've ever run, and I learned a lot entering a new regime, so the report is long. So, feel free to skim! No seriously. It maybe gets interesting on day two. My first Spartathlon report clocked in at a massive 5,000 words... this one is twice as long. Technically that would make it "novelette" length, though it's not fiction. I don't know why anyone would want to read this. I just had to write it. Background I came into Snowdrop with my two previous major races, 24-hour Worlds and Desert Solstice 24-hour, being disappointing failures. I thought I'd had 24-hour figured out, but I was wrong. I do believe I have the mental game working pretty well now – though every race is different – but there are endless complications your body can throw at you, especially as you get older. I stopped at Desert Solstice after only 93 miles, with a backwards lean that would not go away. The next day I was kicking myself for giving up so easily. What was I thinking? I'd put in all the training and 15 hours of race-day effort, but I had not collected the payoff: the experience of completing the 24 hours to the best of my ability, to learn more. Those are hard-earned data points, and here I'd failed to claim them. What's more, the same thing had happened last year, and I had finally recovered and come back to win the men's race. Yet, it was really the right decision. I have to take a step back from 24-hour and figure out this lean. I'm working with a physiotherapist. Also, for quite a while I had wanted to try 48-hour, and this gave me the chance. I know that sounds crazy – 24 is too hard, why not try 48? – but I thought getting a different, larger, perspective on what happens to my body running for a very long time could be useful. Also, for quite a while I'd thought I had an outside chance at Phil McCarthy's 48-hour overall American Record of 257 miles. On paper it looked easy. I knew that was deceptive. Still, it would be the only overall record I would have any shot at at all, and everything I have learned at 24-hour tells me my strengths as a runner should improve relative to my competition the longer the race. However, Olivier Leblond raised the bar, running 262 miles in November. That moved my chances from slim to pretty nearly nil. Yet, there was still the over-50 record of 230.41, and plenty of room in between those two numbers for intermediate goals.
The spectrum of 48-hour goals
There were two options for 48-hour in the immediate future, three weeks out, over New Years: Across the Years (24, 48, 72, and 6-day), in Phoenix, and Snowdrop 55-hour, in Houston. ATY is an Aravaipa race (as is Desert Solstice), excellently organized, and a huge New Year's party that dozens of my friends would be attending. But I have rarely seen big numbers from ATY (even counting Kelly Agnew's recently vacated wins), and I've heard stories of unrelenting, shoe-begriming dust and freezing conditions. I had seen big numbers at Snowdrop from Joe Fejes, Connie Gardner, and Jon Olsen. Snowdrop had filled 8 hours after opening, but Kevin Kline, the organizer, had let me know earlier that he'd love to have me there. So after waiting a week to gauge my recovery from my aborted effort – pretty good, I judged – I reached out, and Kevin not only gave me a spot, but comped my entry and hotel, and brought me in as an elite, joining Joe, Connie, and Adrian Stanciu. (Phil McCarthy had had to pull out earlier.) Wow! Snowdrop 55 The first thing that must be said about Snowdrop is that it's much more than just a race. The Snowdrop Foundation exists to fund pediatric cancer research and scholarships for pediatric cancer patients and survivors. The race (one of many the foundation sponsors) is a fundraiser, with most participants helping to raise thousands of dollars that will be put to vital use. The unusual length of 55 hours honors Chelsey Campbell's record-setting surgery at Texas Children's Cancer Center, that inspired the formation of the Snowdrop Foundation. So I felt a little guilty showing up at Snowdrop "just" to race. But I was welcomed with open arms. I flew in late Wednesday, giving me a couple of days before the Saturday morning start. Thursday afternoon I went out for an easy run, and when I got back to the hotel there was Adrian checking in. He reminded me of the mental training seminar that evening, that I'd totally forgotten. It started in an hour, but was a 40-minute drive away! I arranged to meet back in the lobby after a quick shower to ride with Adrian. As I got in the elevator I heard him tell his daughters "that's my nemesis!". At the seminar I finally met Kevin Kline; he introduced us to the attendees. I even signed an autograph! I was gratified to have a lot of resonance and familiarity with most of what was said about mental training; I might have taken away a few new tidbits. After that was a pizza dinner organized by Snowdrop. I met Patty Godfrey (the race director), Brian Anderson (who wore many hats in the race), and several participants. No pizza for me, though – I had learned that I had to maintain my strict low-carb training diet up until race start, or pay the price when I had to slowly transition back to fat-burning mid-race. So I settled for a salad. Friday disappeared in a blur, as I made final preparations. I had hemmed and hawed over my pacing spreadsheet since long before I'd signed up for Snowdrop, but I had still not made my final decision. I thought the 50+ record of 230.41 was soft. In fact Joe Fejes had set that mark as a 48-hour split in a 6-day race! So it was almost soft by definition. But of course this was my first time out, and Joe is the master of US multi-day running. So caution was warranted. On the other hand, how many chances would I get to put up a big number at 48-hour? This might be my best chance for a long time, and certainly I'd be at my youngest. If I had any chance at all at the overall record, shouldn't I take my shot? I tried to have my cake and eat it too. 186 laps, or 128.42 miles, on day one would mean 7:30 laps, after subtracting 45 minutes of time stopped for nap, portapotty, gear, medical, etc. That should be an easy effort, and would be easy to track. Then if I happened to feel great after 24 hours (ha!), I left myself a shot at 262: I'd have to speed up to 7:10 laps on day two, putting me at 262.371. Or, I could slow to 8:00 laps on day two and still run over John Geesler's 400 km (248.5 miles), which would put me at #3 all-time US, behind Olivier and Phil. That seemed legitimately feasible – on paper! Finally I could slow all the way to 9:15 laps on day two and still run over 232. Of course, if I wanted that record, I was going to have to also beat Joe, not just his existing mark. That might mean some tactical racing, but not until at least halfway through day two. Yet, having to beat Joe did support not starting too slow, i.e. even pacing for 232, and potentially having to run much farther with a big negative split to catch him. So on balance I was happy with this plan. Note that running pace didn't enter my calculations anywhere above. I had penciled in estimated running paces, and walking times per lap, but the execution strategy would be to run as slowly as comfortable, and walk just enough to keep the laps the right duration.

The estimated nap time and stopped time were a real shot in the dark, however. How much sleep did I need? I planned for 15-minute naps every 10 hours. I'd asked Phil how to run 48 hours; he said "it's just like 24!". Well, maybe for him! From his race report it appears he spent a total of about half an hour for rest stops, with no sleep, in his record-setting run. I thought I would need more, but I didn't know how much more. Likewise the stopped time was a guess. I usually budget 5 minutes of stopped time for a 24-hour. Here I gave myself a generous 15 minutes per day, expecting more issues to be dealt with. It turned out that both of these guesses were underestimates. I needed more sleep, and spent more time in medical, portapotties, etc., than I'd allowed. Live and learn. Friday afternoon I toured the race course, ran a couple of easy laps, and picked up my bib. Then I finalized my crew instructions back at the hotel. I didn't have Liz and Scott with me this time, as I had at Worlds and Desert Solstice. They had done plenty of crew duty lately already! Plus this was a last-minute race decision. Instead this was another perk of being an invited elite: we had our own crew tent, near the timing mat, with a dedicated crew team, and a side tent with heater and cot. Couldn't ask for more. Friday evening we had an elite panel session, featuring Joe, Adrian, me, and Doc Lovy. Doc Lovy has been the team doctor for the national teams at World Championships forever. He is 82. His knowledge and experience are invaluable. He and his hand-picked team would man the medical tent for the duration of the race; we couldn't be in better hands. Connie Gardner was supposed to join us, but she'd had to withdraw at the last minute. I would certainly miss her presence out on the course (though she found a way to join me anyway...).
Joe, Doc Lovy, me, and Adrian

Snowdrop founder Kevin Kline and some crazy runners

Kevin was an excellent MC for the session, which was no surprise, as he is a popular Houston radio host on the 93Q Morning Zoo show (and no ultrarunning slouch himself, having completed the 175-mile UltraMilano-Sanremo). After flattering introductions, he engaged us all well, and we also took plenty of questions from the audience. Joe, Adrian, and I all judged ourselves to be fairly evenly matched for the race, and I think we all learned a lot from each other, as I hope the audience did. It was great to hear Joe and Adrian's thoughtful responses. You don't (with rare exceptions) get to this level by talent alone. It takes the right mindset and attitude, and respect for the distance, and I think we all had it. And the stories and advice from Doc Lovy were priceless. There was one area of disagreement: frequency of racing. Joe and Adrian are big proponents of using races as training runs. I am too, but at training-run effort. Not Joe and Adrian. Witness Adrian's 18:01 Javelina Jundred six weeks before winning Desert Solstice, or more obviously, his big PR effort at Desert Solstice to win (150+), and being here three weeks later for his first multiday?! That's just crazy to me. A 24-hour PR-level effort would take me months to recover from to be at full fitness. Granted Adrian is younger, but just by 4 years. And Joe had run three 24-hours since late October, plus a 16:24 100 three weeks before Snowdrop! I get that it seems to work for some people. But I don't see the logic. Final question for me: "Who's going to be first to 100 miles?" "Not me!" I was there for 48. Well 55, in the end, but the 48 split was the focus. I was certainly not going to race anyone out of the gate. I'm never first to 100 in a 24-hour, let alone 48. Well, I had missed the small fact that there's a $500 prize for first to 100. Interesting. This was advantage Bob, insofar as it motivated Joe and Adrian, which in fact it did. There was also a $500 prize for the overall winner. Finally we had a group dinner after the panel. Adrian wisely skipped this and went to bed early; Joe, his wife Kelley, and I were lamenting the late (after 9) bedtime when we got back to the hotel. I slept poorly, though of course was sound asleep when my alarm went off at 4:45. Day One – Day I woke groggy, but got myself in gear quickly enough, and was in the lobby to ride to the start with Joe and Kelley at 6:00. Everything seemed hectic... it always seems like there should be plenty of time before race start, but there never is. The portapotties were a hike away from our crew tent. There was a timing chip to be picked up. Warmup exercises to do. Lacing to be adjusted to perfection. The National Anthem to be observed. Group photos to be taken. The most important thing for me was getting on the same page with my crew. But my crew contact, Nicole Berglund, was going to arrive later. So I hastily described my plans to the people in the crew tent, and showed them the printed instructions. A surprise participant was Scott Rabb, who said he was going for 200 miles. I hadn't seen his name on the entry list. I'd run with his wife Melanie many times at 24-hour. It would be good to see another familiar face out there. We wound up running pretty close together for quite a while. As the sky lightened enough to see, we were off, at 7:00. Within 20 feet I called out "Adrian, you're going too fast", as he edged ahead, and got a few laughs. Yet, he did pull ahead, and was out of sight before long.
Pic by Don Davis

The course is a certified 0.69045-mile loop, about 40% concrete, the rest dirt. The timing mat was near the middle of the concrete section. After a bit we turned left onto the dirt to circle a lake. This one turn was the only slight blemish in an otherwise nearly perfect, flat course; you had to accept a little right downward camber, and a very slight hill, if you wanted to run the tangent. That would add up quickly for my poor right peroneal tendons if I wasn't careful. (I had torn them at Run4Water last spring, as well as the anterior talo-fibular ligament, and been told by two doctors they would never heal without surgery. But they had not limited my training.) As I reached the concrete again later in the loop, I started walking, as I planned to walk the stretch by the crew tent every time, for ease of communication and access. First lap: 7:05. OK, too fast, walk more. I adjusted quickly, keeping my cumulative splits near 7:30, 15:00, 22:30, 30:00, 37:30, 45:00, 52:30, and on the hour. It was an easy pattern to keep in sync with. I timed the walks... and was shocked to see that I had to walk about 2:30 per lap to keep them the right length. I had figured half that, 1:15, in my spreadsheet, which meant a 10:08 running pace. But it appeared I couldn't run that slowly. Over the last few years of 24-hour focus I have dialed 9ish-minute miles into my brain and legs pretty well, it seems. I expected the walk breaks to shorten the farther we got into the race as I naturally slowed, but surprisingly that never happened. It was a side benefit that my pattern had me walking the majority of the concrete, which would be harder on my feet to run on. Starting on the second lap, and every other lap, I did my fueling and hydration. I grabbed a 4-ounce bottle of Maurten, the new sports drink used for the Nike 2-hour marathon attempt. Previously I would fuel mostly with Coke or Dr. Pepper, but I think Maurten is better, because it has more glucose and less fructose, and also because of the special property it has of forming a hydrogel when it hits your stomach, which is supposed to make absorption easier. And it had worked well for me at Javelina and Desert Solstice. Here I would be getting 16 oz. of fluid and 151 calories per hour (using the Maurten 160 mix), more calories than I'm accustomed to (typically 100-125), but made easier by the special mixture. I could supplement with water if it got warm. Maurten does have a lot of sodium, though, more than I would be losing to sweat on a cool day like this. I wish they made a lower-sodium blend. Speaking of Maurten, I had ordered more of it before the race, but when I realized it wouldn't get to my house in time, I frantically tried to change shipping to Houston, explaining the situation. It was too late, but Maurten sent two more packages on to Houston, gratis. Thank you!

Pic by Deborah Scharpff Sexton

The day unfolded quickly as I settled into an easy rhythm. I actually thought the race might be over within the first hour, as Joe and Adrian had both already lapped me! I saw no reason to go out that fast, unless they were going for the $500 prize for first to 100, or perhaps were going for a 24-hour team qualifier with the first-day split. Joe in particular pulled well ahead, and after a few hours I judged his pace to be on track for mid-150s at 24 hours. I had wondered if he might try this. It made some sense: conditions were good, cool and overcast, and the course was pretty fast. Why not try? It's rare to get really good conditions for a 24-hour. If it looked good, great, a mid-150s qualifier would be gold (and would also eclipse my 50+ 24-hour record!). If not, there would be plenty of time to back off and still run a decent 48, and 55. It was very tempting to try this myself. But I held back, because I was here for 48. I had consciously decided to step back from 24-hour and take my best shot at 48. Had I wanted to try again soon at 24-hour I'd have run FASTtrack in Florida. So, be consistent.
One of many times Adrian lapped me. Pic by Don Davis.

After a few hours, Kelley Fejes came up behind me – about to lap me. She had also run all those recent 24-hours along with Joe. She'd been looking forward to challenging Connie for the win; with Connie gone, she was the women's favorite. But she looked sheepish: "Joe told me no matter what, DO NOT PASS BOB HEARN." Hahaha! It was a struggle for her not to for several laps, I think, especially on my walk breaks. She might have briefly pulled ahead, actually, when I dived into a portapotty, but eventually I crept back ahead and accumulated a lead.
Joe and Kelley moving well. Pic by Don Davis.

I began to develop quite a familiarity with the course, and with the other runners. The most prominent aspect of the course is that it was lined with photos of children, most of them cancer victims, a few survivors. It was hard not to be motivated by thinking of what they and their families had gone through, so much in comparison to a little race pain. I got to know most of them by name and location. In particular I latched onto Sean, wearing a Superman outfit, who happened to be right where I would switch from walking to running every lap. He became my anchor in more ways than one. I drew strength from him every lap. Along the long concrete straightaway were a very large number of crosses. I didn't learn until after the race that these represented the number of children who would die from cancer during 55 hours. That knowledge would have added a huge emotional impact to this stretch.
My anchor

With Doc Lovy and John Surdyk

In terms of the other runners, Joe, Adrian, and I were treated like celebrities. Many of the runners were familiar with our previous races, had watched them live, and read our race reports. And they were all incredibly supportive. It was kind of surreal to be treated as such royalty. I tried to be supportive in return, learning as many names as I could, but no doubt I got some wrong; my apologies if I called you by the wrong name. (John Surdyk, I'm pretty sure I repeatedly called you Brian. Sorry!) A few I could not mess up. Becky Cunningham, from Oklahoma, has the same name as my sister. And I grew up in Tulsa. Her husband Mark was on the course and super supportive the entire time, and also posted photos with live updates during the race. Thank you! Becky went on to run over 163 miles, a PR. Robert Key ("grandpa"), like Becky, had run in every Snowdrop. He was also a solid and motivating presence. And it's hard to forget your own name. Sam Benjamin (representing the Wisconsin branch of the Snowdrop Foundation) had never gone over 100, so was taking a big step up. He looked smooth and strong the whole way, and was always encouraging – including pointing out later in the race when my right arm was flapping uselessly. Sam ran 152 miles, an excellent multi-day debut. Deborah, Susan, Chisolm, and several others I knew from Facebook but had not met in person; it was great to put names to actual faces and cheer each other on. Adrian's wife Brenda was also a big supporter throughout, as were their daughters Kirstyn and Amy. I got a "Go Bob!" from them almost every lap. Time passed. After 4 hours I decided I was needing too many portapotty stops. Even 16 oz. per hour of fluid was more than I needed in these cool conditions. But with the Maurten, I couldn't drop that without also losing planned calories. So for hour 5 I ate a donut instead, and drank little water. And again at 8 hours. Later in the afternoon I switched to Coke for a while, as it was more calorie dense, and I could get enough calories with less fluid.
After a few hours, I could only read this sign as BAD PORG

I should say a word about accounting. Time management and accounting are critical skills for fixed-time, short-loop courses, but they are underappreciated and underused. They are very easy for me, and reap huge rewards. Which is kind of strange, because in the real world I am lousy at both skills. But in the simple, restricted world of a race, it's different. I allocated 45 minutes of stop time per day, including naps and potty stops, but I wanted to hit 7:30 laps while moving. So all I did is stop my Garmin whenever I stopped. That might sound sacrilegious – you can't stop your clock in a race, it keeps going! – but the Garmin is just a tool, to be used however is best. Doing it this way, I could keep the cumulative laps at very easy to figure times on my Garmin, and additionally I could compare time of day to Garmin elapsed time to see exactly how much time I'd spent stopped. And I wouldn't be sprinting to catch up to planned splits after a potty stop. Now, this only works if you are planning to run even splits, or at least it's more complicated if you don't. Most runners will not try to run even for 24 hours, let alone 48, figuring that they will naturally slow, and will have to account for that by "building a cushion". I'm in the opposite philosophical camp, which says that starting easier means you have more left over when the going gets hard and you need it. If you run "by effort" or "by feel" that might work up to say a marathon. But much longer, and "very easy" might still be way too fast to start. You only know this by thinking about it beforehand, and doing the math. If your easy starting pace would put you over the World Record for your event if you held it, you might want to rethink. Run a 24-hour by feel, let alone a 48-hour, and you are guaranteed to have an unpleasant day. As the day wore on, my right foot began to bother me. Actually it had bothered me almost from the start, with too much pressure on top of the foot. I had already stopped and relaced twice. This was the same symptom as at Run4Water, when I had begrudged the time to stop and relace, and wound up with all that damage in the right foot. But relacing didn't help. So I was keeping a careful eye on it. Otherwise I had remained pretty comfortable so far. No leaning, yay! Right glutes a little sore but not bad. At 6 hours, and every 6 hours thereafter, I took my supplements: one Endurolyte, one Endurance Amino, and two HMB pills (supposed to help preserve muscle tissue). Did they help? I have no idea. But they probably couldn't hurt. Endurolytes are low in sodium, but I was getting more than enough sodium from the Maurten, especially as I normally take little to none. Sometime in the afternoon I tried to grab a bottle of water at the crew tent, but there wasn't one ready. No problem, I said, I'll get it next lap. Well, about three-quarters of the way around I hear huffing and puffing and approaching footsteps. One of the kids in the crew tent, Marcus (who I would later learn was Sam Benjamin's son), had run behind me with a water bottle to try to catch me! "Do you still want this?" Thank you Marcus! "I was going to go back, but I think I'll just keep going." 5 pm came, 10 hours, time for my first 15-minute nap. I'd thought I'd be ahead of the game here, going down for a nap so early, but lo and behold Joe and Adrian were already asleep in the tent! And they were still there after my nap. (Maybe that should have told me something about reasonable sleep time.) The only problem with the nap was that being so close to the timing mat, we were also close to the live entertainment. An excellent mariachi band was playing. Wonderful, but hard to sleep through! Fortunately Nicole had managed to procure some earplugs for me (I think courtesy of Kelley Fejes). Not something I had thought to pack! Next time I will know. Earlier entertainment included Irish dancers, and a live rock band with all-around incredibly useful person Brain Anderson performing.
Pic by Don Davis

My legs had been great so far, but after the nap everything was super stiff and tight. Fortunately it didn't take long to loosen up again. By this point Joe had begun to fade. He told me later he'd thought it would take 16:00 for the 100-mile prize, and had gone through 50 miles at 8 hours, but paid for it after that. At 6 pm, 11 hours in, I was in 4th, behind Adrian (by 6 miles), Joe, and Scott Rabb. Gradually I caught up to and passed Scott and Joe.
Scott and Joe. Pic by Don Davis.

There was pasta for dinner. I grabbed a plate, nibbled some, and left the rest at the crew tent to nibble more later.

Day One – Night

At 7 pm, 12 hours in, we switched directions. I stopped briefly to record my weight. Still Sean was my anchor, but now I would start walking at his photo, rather than start running. As the evening wore on and things quieted down I pulled out the big guns: i.e., my iPod shuffle. OK, Liz's iPod shuffle. I never run with music. I'd tried a couple of years ago at Desert Solstice, but it was too annoying, as I couldn't hear anyone, especially my crew. But this loop was much longer, and I could just hit pause whenever I came by my crew. It reenergized me, and worked well. I should say there was also loud, energizing music at the timing mats, still a lively scene. We had been spared rain so far, at least anything worse than light drizzle, but throughout most of the night the drizzle / mist made vision challenging on the dirt, especially heading into the glare of some of the brighter lamps on the far turn. My rain hat helped little, and I had to wipe my glasses frequently. I'd ordered a fancy new headlamp, the Black Diamond ReVolt, based on an Ultrarunning Mag review that said it would last 30 hours on full power, 300 lumens. Shipped straight to the hotel. Imagine my annoyance when it began to fade after a few hours, when the misting was bad. I could tell everyone else's headlamps were much brighter. Argh. I switched batteries, but had not brought enough to get me through the race at this rate. Somewhere in here I decided I was spending too long stopped. Too many potty stops, too much overhead around the nap, whatever. But it looked like I'd go over my allotted stopped time the first day, meaning I'd be short on mileage. What to do? I changed my accounting procedure, and started charging potty stops to moving time instead of stopped time. So I did have a little time to make up for each stop, but with such long walk breaks it was easy to just walk a little less. The next race milestone would be the 100-mile mark. I'd said I would not sacrifice my 48-hour pacing for it, but naturally I was curious how we stood. It might be worth just a little surge! The closer we got, the more Adrian's lead shrank. By this point, the only runners who ever passed me were relayers. I passed Adrian repeatedly as he walked, which I hadn't seen him do earlier. Kevin kept a whiteboard updated with distances. But Adrian wisely stayed just far enough ahead to make it never worth my while to try to catch him. Later he thanked me for pushing him to 100. Maybe from his point of view! I was still bang on 7:30 laps. He hit it around 18:10, I think, two miles ahead of me. And then went down for a looooong nap, which I didn't realize for a while. After this it was not long 'til 20 hours, 3 am, and my second nap. Woohoo! I was trepidatious about how I would feel afterward, given how stiff I'd been after the 10-hour nap. But this time somehow I was less stiff, and got right back to it. Over the next hour, though, the right foot got worse. The pain moved from the top towards the lateral side, and was very sensitive to any unevenness, anything that made the peroneal tendons work. Eventually it reached the point where I thought I'd better have medical look at it. I wasn't sure what they could do, but with my background of torn tendons and ligament, I did not want to be heading towards a rupture. I hoped my race was not over. I was out of stopped time to spare, but so be it. Chris took a look, and a feel, and mostly noted that my foot was super tight. After a good massage and loosening, he sent me on my way. Not much concern about the tendons. Well, OK then. And indeed, after a lap or so, it was much better. Thank you Chris! Kelley caught up to me, wanting help with a math problem: how fast did she have to run to claim the women's $500 prize for first to 100? She was a few miles behind the leader. Alas, by this point, it was mathematically impossible. I reminded her that she was here for 55 hours; that should be the goal. But she'd wanted both prizes.

With Kelley Fejes. Pic by Don Davis.

As dawn, and the 24-hour mark, approached, I was short on laps due to the extra stopped time. I was still going to have to decide whether to speed up and try to run 7:10s for the second day for the American Record. I thought at this point that was pretty unlikely, given that I was already behind, and I'd get 45 seconds less of walking every lap (what the math required to keep the running pace constant), or I'd have to run faster. Well, I might as well speed up a little early, see what it felt like, and try to squeeze in one more lap in the first 24. I closed out the first day with a 6:48 and a 6:23. Felt fine. Wow. This put me at 185 laps, just one short of my planned 186. I wasn't paying attention, but I'd now pulled to 13 miles ahead of Joe, 15 ahead of Scott, and 25 ahead of Adrian, who had I think just started running again.
Day one stats: Laps: 185 Miles: 127.7 Time napping: 36:03 (counting overhead) Time in medical: 8:09 Other time stopped: 9:02 Total time stopped: 53:14 Average moving pace: 10:52 / mile
Snowdrop lap splits. Green = naps, pink = medical.

Day Two – Day

There goes my Garmin. Pic by Don Davis.

24 hours, turn around again, record my weight. And... boom. The Garmin battery died. What??? I had GPS and Bluetooth turned off. It was just a dumb running watch with lap-split history. It should have lasted forever. Well, this threw a wrench into my accounting. So much for stopping my Garmin when I wasn't moving. I had no choice now but to do all the accounting in my head. And 7:10 laps aren't as easy to add as 7:30 laps, exactly 8 per hour. You get distracted, it's harder to remember where you were supposed to be, as the numbers don't repeat. And by now my brain was getting pretty fuzzy. Not the time you want your support tools to fail, when you haven't thought about backup. So... I picked a reference time on the race clock, started adding 7:10s to it every lap, and tracked my progress. I was careful at first to walk less. But the clock time kept drifting earlier and earlier relative to my reference time. Meaning I was running too fast. I walked more... and more... and finally got it to stabilize. A few minutes cumulative ahead. But looking back at the official splits now, for the first two hours they were all sub-7. Too fast. And I was walking little if any less than I'd been walking on day one! This means I was somehow running around 8:30 / mile pace instead of the 9:10ish from day one. Way too fast. Why, how? But as the hours ticked off and I was holding faster than my reference 7:10s with not a lot of effort, I began to get drunk with excitement. Or maybe it was the real food, bacon and eggs, for breakfast. I was on the path to an American Record! Yes, it was still a long way away, but I was doing it! It was possible! This still felt easy. I thought ahead to what it would mean, redemption not just from Desert Solstice but from EVERYTHING, from missing the team, from my lousy performance at Worlds. An overall AR, at age 52... but whoa now, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Gradually the excitement was replaced by intimidation at the time remaining, and especially the feeling that I had no margin for error, that I was now on the razor's edge and would stay that way for as long as I could hold it. After a few hours I asked Nicole to walk with me, tried to fill her in on the situation. I had an American Record at risk here! I needed help! But I had neglected to share my pacing spreadsheet with my crew, as I generally try to do. Well, she could access it on my phone. I began to tell her what I needed... then slowly realized that it was just too complicated to try to explain midrace. Especially since this pacing spreadsheet actually had four separate sections, for day one and three possible day twos, all with parameters that had to be set right for anything to make sense. It was disorienting and a little terrifying for a while to be running in such an out-of-control fashion, with so much of the race left. I couldn't keep exact track of where I was supposed to be, and worse, as I thought ahead to my next nap, I couldn't figure out how to deal with the time I was now ahead of reference time after the nap... simple math, but beginning to be beyond me. It was like when I'd learn a new programming language in college, then enter very weird mental states when trying to sleep, being unable to without solving some simple yet impossible problem using the new language concepts. Very gradually I came to accept my new mental state and not be intimidated by it. It didn't matter if I couldn't figure out the new accounting. I knew that I was running at least as fast as I needed to, and that every hour that passed put me that much closer to the end. So I would just ride this wave. I could take my phone and enter the parameters into my spreadsheet myself later if need be and recalibrate. I'd been gripped by the fear that I just didn't have the couple of minutes that would take to spare, thus my thought to get Nicole managing the spreadsheet. If you don't jealously guard your minutes of stopped time, they will add up quickly. But here it would be worth it.
As the day wore on I began to realize I was tired. I decided to take my 30-hour nap an hour early. How would I make up for that down the road? I didn't know. But I needed sleep. I was afraid that after the nap I'd have lost my mojo, and all of a sudden it would take a lot of effort to run 7:10s instead of being easy. But I needed that nap NOW. Maybe this is a problem with having a heated tent with cot and gravity chair available every lap? It's just too tempting. Somewhere in here Traci Duck seemed to take over for Nicole as my primary crewperson, though I was seeing both of them throughout (as Nicole also ran some relay legs). Their service was incredible and invaluable; I would have been adrift, not just logistically but psychologically, without their steady support. Never a hint of tiredness or any need on their part, though they must have been very tired.

Elite crew tents, with Traci Duck (center). Pic by Deborah Scharpff Sexton.

Nicole Berglund. Pic by Don Davis.

After the nap, it was around noon. I ran 7:10s for another hour and a half, but I was beginning to get incredibly intimidated by the sheer weight of remaining time. It was all too clear to me now how multi-day differs from 24-hour. It's all about ability to suffer endlessly with not enough sleep. Screw that. This was not for me. Now I knew. I would get my result, whatever it was, and never do this again. Or maybe it would cap my career and I could call myself done with running. I'd have moved up to my limit and found it, nothing left to do. I couldn't take it anymore. I pulled into the crew tent planning to go down for a much longer nap, recalibrate afterwards, and run what I could from there. I was going to give up on 262. But as I explained myself to Traci I was clearly in agony about the decision. Was I giving up because I was mentally weak? Physically I was still pretty good, though my foot was hurting again. Or was I being rational? Time to ditch the unreasonable goal and save the very good goal? It was just too hard to know. It wasn't the goal itself that mattered most to me; it was doing my best, not giving up when I was capable of actually reaching my goal. I would hate myself afterward for that; it would make the entire endeavor pointless. Traci handed me her phone. Connie was on the other end. Uh oh. I was not going to get off easy. I don't usually swear, but I explained to Connie that 24-hour was one thing, but 48-hour was some bullshit (sorry Mom). There was simply no way I could hold this for the rest of the race. Yes, you can, and WILL. My foot still hurts. Well get it looked at. But that takes more time that I don't have! Am I getting enough calories? I think so... It took about 15 minutes (that's the one big spike on the pace chart that's not pink or green), but she talked me down from immediately giving up on 262 and taking a long nap. Which of course meant that now, it would be 15 minutes harder. We reached a compromise. I would run a few laps now on pace for a backup goal, see how it felt. If it felt good, keep going, maybe speed up. Just think about now, not the long night ahead. Mental skills I am supposed to be good at, but that had gotten much harder to execute on day two. I handed the phone back to Traci and headed out. I ran three more laps at an easy pace, then decided to let medical have another go at my foot. Another 13 minutes spent, but it was worth it; it felt better again. After another hour of uncalibrated running I grabbed my phone and stopped at the timing stand to enter my elapsed laps and elapsed time into my spreadsheet, making the appropriate corrections for expected stopped time. That was the part that would have been too hard to communicate to someone else. The verdict was that even now, 262 was still possible, but I would have to run 7:00s, not 7:10s. Ha! OK whatever. Let's do it. I ran another hour and a half of sub-7s. Then Traci flagged me down. I was leaning left. Oh crap. Well, Doc Lovy said he knew how to fix it, so back to the medical tent. You realize, Traci, this means the end of any chance at 262, right? Yeah right, let's just fix this. OK. Paige, I think, with Doc Lovy's commentary, fixed it with a skilled application of elbow to right glutes, plus some stretching. Doc asked how I was doing... stupidly I replied that I was on the edge of the American Record for 48-hour, but didn't think I could hold it. Not only can you hold it, you WILL hold it, he said. There are are 212 people out there, and 211 of them are running for YOU. You are #212. Don't you let them all down. Well crap. What can you say to that?

Oh, and Doc was getting his laps in too. 48.3 miles over the course of the race. Yes, at 82. While spending most of his time in the med tent helping runners. Did I mention that he also has a Purple Heart? Amazingly this trip to the med tent only cost 4 minutes. Back out there, keep running, can't let Connie and Doc Lovy down. And indeed the lean was gone. However, just 6 laps later, I was no longer holding sub-7s. As I came into the crew tent, tired, Adrian and Traci suggested maybe it was time for a nap. At 34 hours, it was much too early for my 40-hour nap. I tried to explain to Adrian that I didn't have time if I wanted to hit the AR... he seemed shocked that I was still considering it. Why would you sacrifice a potential 250+ 48-hour for an unreasonable goal? I did not protest. In fact I was gratified that I'd essentially been given permission, via an outside voice of reason, to step back, regroup, and refocus on something more reachable. But as I went down for the nap I was thinking "Traci is going to be pissed at Adrian for messing up Connie's motivation". After the nap it took me a while to get back into a good groove. But over the next two-and-a-half hours I gradually sped up, until I was running sub-7s again.
Approaching the second evening. Pic by Mark Cunningham.

Day Two – Night At 36 hours (7 pm) we turned around again, and it got dark. I pulled out the iPod, but it seemed to be stuck on one playlist, 3/4 of which was not good for running, and the rest I'd already heard. I gave up and took it off. Not long after I was at a sufficiently low point (no Garmin, no iPod, no specific pace plan, getting cold and windy, still very tired, speakers out at the timing mat so no music there) that I felt completely unable to face the long night. I decided I could not continue without a much longer nap. By this point the race had completely broken me down. So I went down for a full hour. It felt like 10 minutes, and was filled with very strange dreams, and pulsing pain in my soles from relentless pounding. When I woke, Brian Anderson checked in with me, "so your goal now is the age-group record, right?". Uh... I guess so, right. That was my minimum goal. I hadn't figured what it would take for any intermediate goals since abandoning 262. But clearly the extra hour of sleep had cost a lot. At this point I would just run until I hit the age-group record, and then see what else I could do. At 48 hours I'd take another hour nap, then walk it in, if need be, to 250 miles in 55 hours, for the exclusive 250-mile buckle (of which Joe Fejes had the only one to date). Brian did some math and told me I needed 52 more laps. It was now very cold and windy, sub-freezing. As I headed out I had on my warmup pants, two shirts, three jackets, hat, and gloves. Oh, and a magically revitalized ReVolt headlamp. Turns out with only the main light on, and not the secondary one as well, it did last essentially forever on three batteries. And without the mist, vision was much better the second night. OK then. 52 laps, 10 hours left... nothing to it. I'd have plenty of time to pad the record. Let's count them off in chunks of 10. Before the first 10 I hit 200 miles, to much fanfare, at 38:50 on the clock. The hour nap seemed to have done the trick. I was no longer daunted, and felt I could last through the night. During the next chunk of 10 Traci stopped me... leaning left again. OK, back to medical. Fixed again. And on.
Standings late Sunday night. Pic by Don Davis.

Approaching 41 hours, during the third chunk, there were lots of fireworks. Slowly my tired brain made a connection. Oh right. It was New Year's Eve, and almost midnight. Huh! I stopped and sat in the crew tent for a few minutes as midnight struck to drink Champagne with Traci and Cindy Waylon, assistant executive director of Snowdrop. At 42 hours I was at 214 miles, to Joe's 175. Scott Rabb was at 160, working towards that 200. And Adrian had stopped at 151 (for the 150 buckle), but he stuck around to cheer on the other runners. In my mind, and I think everyone else's, I had long since taken over this race... that's a dangerous attitude, when you think it's a done deal. You have to have a challenge to motivate you. I lacked a concrete goal beyond the age-group record plus whatever I could run, and had already "won the race" – at least I'd come away with that $500 overall prize. Totally the wrong mindset to perform well. You want running to be a positive, rather than lack of running being a negative. A little later I decided I had plenty of cushion for another 10-minute nap. After that I double checked my spreadsheet. I actually wanted to beat Roy Pirrung's 231.44 track record, not just Joe's 230.41 road record. Why? This would after all be a road record. But I wanted to have the best overall 48-hour by anyone over 50. That extra mile meant two more laps. OK, no big deal. Reset the count... 22 laps to go. As I counted down, I looked forward to taking another nap with 10 laps to go. Plenty of time! But then wham, with 14 laps left, all of a sudden I could not run. The left leg had pain in the tib. anterior or maybe extensor digitorum longus, the right in the peroneal muscles. I walked a lap. Man, that lap took forever, with no running. Here I decided I'd better take that nap early, and hope my legs would recover a bit. But, no such luck. I just could not run. I needed to go back to medical, but if I might to have to walk the rest of the way, I wasn't sure I could afford the time and still hit even the age-group record. So I took an Advil instead. But the next lap I paid attention to the time: 12 minutes. Wow, felt more like half an hour. But that meant I had plenty of time for medical. Paige took a look, tried some things, asked how many laps I needed, sent me back out with instructions to come back if it wasn't better. And, it wasn't better. Even walking I was afraid I was doing some permanent damage. The cold and wind were really no fun at all when I couldn't even run. Joe was now powering through, running strong, lapping me as I limped along. I was pretty sure he was just trying to hit 200, to get the buckle, since obviously I could not be caught. Two laps later, back to medical, Chris was there and tried some different stuff. But again no dice. I was just going to have to grit this out and walk it in. Nine more slow laps, and I'd done it: I was at 231.9912 miles, with 47:03 on the clock. Brian announced that I'd set the record, asked if I was ready for my buckle – uh, yeah – and led me to the big banner and handed me my 200-mile buckle. Which by the way is the most beautiful, and rare, buckle I've ever received. Only a handful of these have ever been issued. Patty took my timing chip. Kelley came through just then and gave me a big hug and congratulated me. Traci had packed up all my stuff, so I was ready to go. In the back of my mind I had wondered whether if Joe really, really wanted it, and was willing to work hard for another 8 hours, he might catch me within the overall 55 hours. It kind of didn't matter, because my legs were shot.

But as Patty and Brian helped me to her car, I asked Brian if he thought Joe would keep going once he hit 200. "Oh yes, he's going to keep going." I should have asked for my chip back, and announced that I was going down for a nap and would continue later. But I didn't. I could probably have limped in a few more laps if need be, and surely motivation for Joe would have been tougher in the first place without the knowledge that I was done. But it felt more honest, not to mention a hell of a lot easier, to call it a race. Joe kept going, all morning and into the afternoon, and eventually hit 236 miles to take the overall win and the $500 prize. And Scott stuck it out for his 200 mile buckle. Once again we see why Joe is the master of multi-day. Congratulations, Joe. And also congratulations Kelley, who did hold on to take the overall women's win. Day two stats (through 47:03): Laps: 151 Miles: 104.26 Time napping: 2:00:52 Time in medical: 0:44:35 Other time stopped: 0:34:10 Total time stopped: 3:19:37 Average moving pace: 11:21 / mile Total stats (through 47:03): Laps: 336 Miles: 231.9912 Time napping: 2:36:55 Time in medical: 0:52:44 Other time stopped: 0:46:30 Total time stopped: 4:16:09 Average moving pace: 11:04 / mile Aftermath I'd left myself a day to recover before flying home, but come Tuesday morning, the leg pain was so severe I needed help packing and getting to the airport, and had to take wheelchairs through the airports. That's a first on both counts. Thank you Traci for dealing with my call for help, and Mark and Becky Cunningham and Cynthia Lowery for all the assistance. My legs were already turning interesting colors. Definitely some tearing in the left anterior compartment. I'd had that before, but only on the right. And only after running longer (first 24 hour) or faster (best 24 hour) than ever before. It should be no surprise I was so beat up here, after my first 48.

Recovery was far worse than I'd ever had before. I couldn't make it through the night without Advil for a solid week. Finally the DOMS and swelling faded, eventually the left anterior and Achilles pain went away, and it was down to the right extensor digitorum longus tendons, where I'd had pain on top of my foot the whole race, and the peroneals. Which after all I had been told would need surgery. Now, two weeks later, it's still hard to evaluate the damage. It will take another week or two. If it doesn't resolve it's probably time for another MRI, and maybe I will have to bite the bullet with that surgery. We'll see. Takeaway So – wow. What an experience. Overall I achieved my primary goal of breaking the over-50 American Record for 48-hour, and I have to be happy with my planning and execution for my first multi-day. My 232 also earns me #7 on the All-Time North American Top-10 List for 48-hour; I had wanted to make one of these lists for a long time. I'm not sure how to feel about the mental struggles I went through deciding whether to try to hang on for the overall American Record. Clearly it was in fact well beyond my physical capabilities, at least on this weekend, as I was reduced to a walk at the end even after falling far behind that goal. Still, it's not clear whether there was a proximal mental failure, or whether I was accurately gauging my inability to hang on. I get the sense that this is a harder thing to know in a multi-day than it is in shorter races. I was convinced during the race, and for a while afterwards, that I'd satisfied my curiosity about multi-day, and had no need to try again. Now I am not so sure. Joe says I can challenge his 6-day overall American Record of 606 miles and even potentially Kouros' World Record of 644 miles. On the one hand this sounds crazy, especially as I feel I need more sleep than most successful multiday runners. On the other hand, I showed that I can hang with Joe at multi-day, and I think I have the edge on pace management. So... I'm going to have to think about this. Anyway it's very flattering to hear. But then Joe and Connie are crazy enablers! On the other side of this equation is the cost not just during the event, but after it. I'm not comfortable being an invalid for a week, and it's not fair to my wife. Is it really worth what we do to our bodies and our lives? Not to mention, for multi-day, the cumulative damage to our brains of sleep deprivation, which in recent years has been shown to be a far more serious health issue than previously recognized. All that said, I did learn a lot that I could carry forward to improve next time, at 48-hour and more broadly. Most obviously, I need to sleep more. This means I have to run faster (or walk less) to compensate, but I did not really feel physically challenged, as opposed to mentally tired, until very late in the race. And I think there I have specific issues to work on with my physical therapist. More focused glute med. work for the lean (plus, per Doc Lovy, pre-race potassium supplements). The lower-leg issues I think ultimately are down to poor ankle flexibility and Achilles tightness; this forces the anterior muscles to work harder. Again, stuff I can work on. Remove a roadblock, and who knows how much farther you can go. Certainly I was nowhere near aerobically challenged at any point, nor did I ever have anything like the massive whole-body fatigue one gets by the end of a 24-hour, which I must say surprised me. So it seems possible to sleep more and run faster. Much of that is relevant for 24-hour as well. Which is what I wanted: a broader perspective on my physical hindrances. I think I got that. So I can now move forward again there as well. Thank You Beyond the race itself as such, the Snowdrop experience as a whole was incredible, from the much larger purpose of the event, to the way I was so warmly welcomed into the Snowdrop family and supported in my effort. I'm sure Joe and Adrian feel the same way. Enormous thanks are due to Kevin Kline for the invitation and handling as an elite, and to Traci Duck and Nicole Berglund for invaluable primary crew support, and Bob Mulligan, Stefanie Benjamin, Julie Stoffel, Autumn Farmer, and Marcus Benjamin for additional crew support – and I regret that I am likely missing some names there. Huge thanks also to Patty Godfrey for directing the race, to Brian Anderson for all of the many hats he wore before, during, and after the race, and to everyone else involved with the Snowdrop Foundation that I've left out, and to all the volunteers. Finally Doc Lovy, Paige, Chris, and the rest of his team definitely saved my race several times as it veered off course. I'm not sure how I would cope at a multiday without them there. Thank you for reading! I hope you found something useful to take away, or were at least more entertained than not. THE END