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


  1. Great report on a great performance! Dr. Andy helped me got to 243.43 and eventually developed a maneuver to straighten the "lean". Dr. Andy and his crew have helped save many of us from ending our day, or tow days etc., early. Keep shooting for the records Bob and best of luck! See you in a few miles...roy

  2. Wow. I don't know how you can remember so many details about your run. You should really think about writing a book about your past running experiences as well as your future ones. I would definitely buy it. Congratulations on the record. I was one of the runners who volunteered for the research project that Doc Lovy was directing and was in the tent when you came in for the last time with only 10 laps to go. It was fun watching you run as you lapped most of the field, and showing us how it is done.

  3. Thank you so much for taking the time to share this. It was fascinating and so great to gain a better understanding of what records take to achieve. To a turtle like me, who gets lapped every 20-30 minutes for the whole race, you make it look so effortless. I always wonder how anyone can keep moving at such a pace for so long when I am struggling to hold a 12 minute mile.

    I think you have to give yourself full credit for doing the best you could. Hopefully you can get some of the mechanical issues resolved that will allow you to keep going without the injuries. I was so thrilled to get to meet you and get your autograph. I hope I will get to do another race with you in the future.

  4. Bob, this is an inspiring read that's full of useful information. I've cut and pasted several things that I think will be useful in my next multi-day event.