|200K American Record for over 50. Pic by Maggie Guterl|
BackgroundSome background is necessary, to compare this performance to. You'll see why. In December 2015, I ran Desert Solstice track 24-hour. My long-shot goal was 159 miles, though really I thought I had to break 150, for a decent shot at making the 24-hour National Team. Also I wanted the 24-hour American Record for over 50, which meant breaking 144.6, and also beating Ed Ettinghausen and Joe Fejes, who were in the same race. Had I hit 159, it would have been evenly paced: 2:12 laps, with a one-minute walk every 8 laps. Well, I held that pacing plan for about 8.5 hours, as everybody else slowed, and I started catching up and passing people. Then, I blew up. I could tell the effort was increasing, but before I could decide that I'd really better back off, my body made the decision for me; an adductor cramped badly. I walked several laps, and almost dropped, but was finally able to start running again, albeit at a slower pace. Something like 2:23 laps, with 1:10 walk breaks every 8 laps. Surprisingly, I was able to hold this pace for the entire rest of the race, and even increase back to my original pace for about an hour when I was challenged by Joe late in the race. I finished with 149.23 miles, missing 150, but setting the age-group AR. This put me in the #4 spot on the National Team qualifying list, with, unfortunately, over a year left in the qualifying window for 2017 Worlds. (The top six make the team.) I would have to try again. Immediately after Desert Solstice, I had a minor Achilles surgery (Tenex procedure, or more technically, percutaneous tenotomy). This meant six weeks off, the first two or three in a boot. I thought I was being smart here; I planned to take several weeks off anyway – I was overdue for a break. Might as well kill two birds with one stone. Unfortunately I gained 15 pounds in the first four weeks; more unfortunately, I developed a blood clot in my calf towards the end. (This was scary, as it could easily detach and become a pulmonary embolism. That would at the least be excruciatingly painful, and could potentially kill me without warning. Fortunately, I caught it in time, and escaped the PE.) Recovery and weight loss were much slower than I had hoped for; several times, I just about decided that it was unreasonable to try again at D3 on May 14th. Ultimately I didn't hit the training volume or paces I had hoped for, but the final several weeks did go well; I peaked at 100 mpw, my highest-mileage week ever. I still really had no idea whether I was in shape to improve on Desert Solstice, but I was willing to try. So, D3. Like Desert Solstice, it's a track 24-hour. I had scaled back my ambitions somewhat, and tweaked my pacing plan. This time I would run 2:15 laps, with 1:00 walk breaks every 7 laps. If I could hold that, that would be 154.5 miles, putting me in third place on the qualifying list (likely good enough to make the team), and also beating the 24-hour track World Record for over 50 (though I think that wouldn't have counted anyway... to be discussed in my next blog post). I didn't really have a B goal, other than to PR, and break 150, which is admittedly kind of an arbitrary number. I'd say maybe it's like breaking 3 hours for a marathon, except that far more people can do that. (Joe says you aren't shit if you haven't broken 150.) Along the way, I would almost necessarily also set the 200K AR for over 50 if I made even my B goal: I'd missed it by just 5 minutes at Desert Solstice.
|Race hasn't even started, and I'm already checking my Garmin. Pic by Jeremy Fountain|
|So far, so good. With legend Connie Gardner. Pic by Jeremy Fountain|
|Pam and Josh killing it. Pic by Jeremy Fountain|
Remarkably, D3 started almost exactly like Desert Solstice. I held pace for 8.5 hours, beginning to catch those that had been way ahead early, and then blew up and walked 15 laps. When I restarted running, I was behind where I had been at a comparable point in Desert Solstice, because my running pace had been slower, also I'd walked longer. Again, I almost dropped; I came closer than I'd ever come to dropping from a race early. Thanks to everyone who helped talk me out of it. My prospects were not good. I did the math (with help from Maggie and Mike), checked it three times, and concluded that I could still hit the 200K record if I could get back to exactly my original pace, and hold it for 10 hours. (My brain stubbornly refused to think about anything beyond that.) Given that I hadn't even held it for 9 hours, starting fresh, that seemed extremely unlikely. It would be a big negative split. But I had to do my due diligence and try. And lo and behold, I managed it, setting the record by just two minutes, at 19:44:20 (sorry, Ed!). And then... without even consciously deciding to, I stopped. I had my record, and I also had the (men's) win, as all of my competition who could possibly catch me had already dropped. I walked a few more laps, and called it a day at 126 miles. (In the end, three women finished ahead of me, leading to a lot of Internet discussion on how the women had dominated this race.)
|Awesome handmade awards! Pic by Israel Archuletta|
|Chicked! Pic stolen from Pam Smith|
|Laps splits in seconds, start to 19:44.|
1. The crashThis was clearly something physical, certainly at Desert Solstice, and almost certainly at D3. Am I crazy for trying to run even splits for a 24-hour? I start slower than almost everyone, hold pace, and start picking them off... then, boom. What happened? Well, in both races, I crashed in the worst heat of the day. It wasn't actually very hot at Desert Solstice; Weather Underground says the high was 66. At D3, it was high 70s. We started in with the ice bandanas early. I'd actually done some sauna training to prepare for the heat and humidity. Still, denial of actual weather conditions is not smart. You'd think I'd know that by now (I learned it the hard way at my first Boston, in 2005). But I had a kind of macho mentality that I could just hold the line. Really, I could tell I was not drinking to thirst, or dumping water on myself often enough, or using enough ice. But somehow it wasn't bothering me. Stupid. Also my pacing plan basically required that I hold pace, and I wasn't going to let a little heat get in the way of my goal. Clearly, what would have been better than walking 15 laps, costing me about half an hour, would be just SLOWING DOWN while it was hot. OK, I would have been short of 154.5. So maybe I should have factored in slowing down in the heat of the day when I made my pacing plan. Also, the #3 spot on the qualifying list is currently 153.2, so I had a little margin anyway.
|Heat? What heat? La, la, la... Pic by Ray Krolewicz|
2. The mental game from 9.5 hours to 200KAs I mentioned, this was a striking contrast from Desert Solstice. There, in my race report, I said that after I'd crashed and restarted,
Having this happen was like a free pass, in an interesting way. This type of event is mostly mind over body. You want to find the pace your body is capable of running basically indefinitely, but the real challenge is making your mind hold it for 24 hours. It's hard. But here, I mostly escaped that hard work after the first 8-9 hours. It just made no sense to try to hold something that was any kind of challenge. I had to go by what my body said was comfortable, or risk taking myself out of the race. I was now playing a different, easier, game.Well, this time, I didn't have that option. If I ran "what my body said was comfortable" – more on that shortly – I would have missed the 200K record, and also come up short of my previous performance. In terms of race goals, there would be no point in continuing. It was conceivable I could still have won the race, but at the time both Joshua Finger and John Cash were well ahead of me and looking strong; they would both have to falter. That's not at all unlikely in a 24-hour race, and in fact they did both falter, later on. Still, I was there to improve my standing on the qualifier list. I let myself get into such a bad mental space that I was really ready to just say screw it, and be done with it. I didn't care about all the months of training and sacrifice. I did, however, care about how I would feel afterward. I knew that I would not be able to call myself a runner if I quit when I was uninjured, capable of running, and still had some shot at a meaningful result. So I eventually concluded, reluctantly, that I would have to try to hit the 200K record. I had every expectation that I would suffer for hours, and then eventually fail. I also had a ready excuse to quit early: I was registered for the San Diego 100, three weeks after D3. Why not cut my losses here and save it? The net result was that, though I pushed back to my original pace, and began to hold it, I was praying for a cramp to take me out. I really, really wanted a legitimate excuse to quit. This is not the right way to run, willing your body to fail.
|Cooling rain! Pic by Jeremy Fountain|
Fortunately, my body had its own ideas of what was possible. It didn't cooperate at all in my mental efforts to make it give out. In fact, as it cooled off, I could tell that the physical effort was decreasing; the pace was getting easier. This was extremely frustrating; I would have to continue. Those 10 hours were among the hardest I have endured as a runner. I wish I could understand why, or what to do about it. I just had the wrong attitude. Gradually, very gradually, as I got closer to 200K, my attitude changed, until with maybe two hours to go I was actually rooting for rather than against my body. I began to feel a sense of optimism and accomplishment. No doubt this was aided by the fact that I was catching Josh Finger and John Cash. Somewhere in there they both stopped. As fellow runners, I wished them both the best; nonetheless, it is empowering to outlast your competition, especially competition of that caliber. So now I had the potential of winning the race, and setting the 200K record. But, what then? My brain still refused to think about it. It took every ounce of willpower I had just to continue to 200K... so I told myself. More about willpower later.
|With legend Frank Bozanich. Pic by Jeremy Fountain|
|Hanging in there... Pic by Israel Archuletta|
|OK, now I'm tired. Pic by Israel Archuletta|