Sunday, July 19, 2020

Last Annual Vol State 500K 2020

I often tell people, I can count on zero fingers the times I've finished a race and said to myself "gee, I wish I'd started faster". Well... I can now make that one finger.

I have always wanted to run the Last Annual Vol State 500K (LAVS — note that "last annual" is an inside joke), but it never works out. It's a Lazarus Lake special, like Barkley, or Big's Backyard, and I had yet to ever do a Laz race. Well, this year, 6 Days in the Dome was canceled, freeing me up. LAVS was actually happening — in one week! — but surely, getting in at the last minute would be impossible? The race sells out instantly, and has a huge wait list. However, this year so many withdrew that it was possible, provided I entered "crewed" and not "screwed". I didn't have time to assemble a crew, but that didn't matter. These somewhat confusing terms refer technically to whether you are included on the bus ride from the finish to the start, and have a hotel provided the night before the race. These are only for screwed runners. Fortunately, Ray Krolewicz stepped up with a spare hotel room, so I just had to get to the start. I worked it out so that I'd visit my parents in Nashville, then rent a car and drive down to the finish, pick up Ray and BJ Timoner, and drive together to Union City, near the start, returning the car there. So, I was in. I was incredibly intimidated. This race is 314 miles of Tennessee heat, humidity, and hills, and I had trained for 55 degrees, super dry, and pancake flat. It was far too late to do any sauna training, nor were the saunas open anyway. So I had to immediately do my homework on how I could possibly survive this. Detailed conversations with course-record holder Greg Armstrong and former course-record holder Sue Scholl helped enormously here. Yet, I still had to deal with the logistics of running without crew, meaning I'd need to carry everything I might need, and know in advance where to get food and water along the route. But as I began assembling this information, Regina Sooey stepped up, eager to crew along with Bill Page. She had run LAVS a couple of years ago in less than 5 days, a very solid time, with Bill crewing her. I was getting comfortable and excited with the idea of doing it as a solo adventure, but I realized that given the circumstances I should gratefully accept this generous offer. Also it would let me think about performance, rather than just finishing. The winner of LAVS is declared "King of the Road" (KOR) in an official proclamation of the Tennessee State Legislature. This kind of recognition is unique in ultrarunning, as far as I know. I wanted that KOR! Greg Armstrong was not running this year, and I looked to be potentially competitive. I would have to worry about Francesca Muccini, who had won overall in 2017, with a women's course-record time of 4 days 4 hours. (At the last minute, Josh Holmes and David Jones also entered, on the heels of Badwater's cancellation; they would definitely also be competition.) Francesca was reportedly looking to go under 4 days this year. So what was my goal? Some were telling me I should shoot for Greg's men's course record of 3 days 7 hours, but I saw that as ridiculous. Greg has studied and optimized the hell out of this course. It's his backyard. I am a comparable runner to Greg at 24-hour, and I do have some solid multi-days under my belt, but this time, I was coming in with no relevant training and no course experience, from relatively cool and dry California. Pacing for that would be arrogant and foolish. But I did gather that sub-4-days should be doable, if nothing went really wrong. Of course, a lot could go really wrong. I was most worried about my feet, but also about recurrent hamstring issues (I'd just had shockwave treatment for that last week) and torn peroneal tendons, that would never full heal without surgery. Both had impacted my training in recent weeks. However, typically the specific issues that worry me going into a race don't prove to be a factor in the race, so I wasn't deterred. I decided that my main goal was to win, also I would like to go sub-4, and ideally go for Grant Maughan's over-50 record of 3 days 22 hours. I worked up a pacing spreadsheet, broken down by stretches between towns. For each segment I could specify average MPH, and time spent resting once I got to the town. Regina and Bill suggested that it was best to rest at hotels in the worst heat of the afternoon, around 2-6 pm, and that made sense to me. There is a problem in that hotels are not necessarily where you want them, so getting your plan right requires a bit of fiddling. I also added up to 2 hours' rest every night, knowing from my experience at the Dome last year that putting all my daily down time in one chunk makes it difficult to move continuously for the remainder. 20 hours is a really long stretch, day after day. So, I played with the pacing and the breaks until I got something that looked reasonable, and had a predicted finish time of about 3 days 20 hours. If I had to slow from that I would probably have some room. I thought surely Francesca would be at best just under 4 days (many women had tried for that over the years and failed), and anyway if she were somehow faster I could adjust my plan when we got there. Oops!

Day One

The screwed runners took the bus the 15 miles to the race start; Ray and I got a lift from Becca Joyner and her crew Scott. This would be her first race over 100 miles, and she had a plan for running 5 days. Ray and I gave her some tips and wished her well. It was an aggressive goal, but she seemed to have approached the planning wisely.
The race starts at Dorena Landing, MO, with the lighting of Laz's cigarette. This year that happened slightly early, at 7:24, relative to a nominal 7:30 start. Then we boarded the ferry, crossed the Mississippi to Hickman, KY, and started running.

I finally met Laz!

My plan called for averaging 4.5 MPH over most of the stretches. That's really very slow, 13:20 / mile pace, but included all overhead that might be required. Still, I could not move that slowly to start. I planned to alternate walking and running. My fast walk is one of my strengths at multi-day races. Greg had advised me that it might not be such a good idea here, because that meant more contact time with hot asphalt, increasing foot issues. That was disconcerting, but in the end I just had to go with it. Yet, by 8 miles, taking it very easy with a 50/50 run / walk, I was way too far ahead. I walked the next 7 miles without running a step, and got my average MPH down to 5.0. It would have to do. Meanwhile Francesca, Josh Holmes, and several others had pulled well ahead.

The last I would see of Francesca (left)

Mile 20, the "stinky bridge". The smell is indescribably bad, and stayed with me quite a while.

As the day wore on and heated up, my crew and I got into a groove. Well, on my end it was a groove. In reality, what I was asking from them was unsustainable. To mitigate my lack of heat training, I needed Badwater-style support, meeting them about once every mile in the hottest part of the day, for a change of ice and soaked towel around the neck. This not only incurred overhead; it gave them very little time to do anything but scramble. There's a reason you typically have four-person crews at Badwater. Also Badwater lasts at most 48 hours, not four days. But the impending crisis was not yet apparent to me. On the nutrition front, we were OK. Every hour I'd get ~150 calories, from Coke, Maurten, or Sword. We'd supplement this with real food at breaks. This is another of my strengths at long races: training keto means I don't need as many calories; I can burn stored fat at a higher rate than most runners. Basically this takes GI issues off the table for me, a huge win.

My incomparable crew, Regina Sooey and Bill Page.
Bonus crew member: Patty
We stopped in Martin for three hours, from about 1:30 - 4:30, crashing in their hotel room from the night before. McDonald's for lunch went down well. During this afternoon break time Bill would normally re-tape my feet, but this was early, and we left the taping he'd applied the night before. Stopping here was strategic. It was too early to be really tired, but we wanted to bank some down time to run well through the night and next morning. Leaving Martin, many had passed us. And it was still HOT! Well over 90. And humid. Gradually, it cooled off. As the sun set and I prepared to breathe a sigh of relief, it got super muggy. The cotton shirt I was wearing had worked well enough in the daytime, absorbing a ton of cold water. But now it was unbearable. Only gradually did I realize that this was because as the temperature dropped, duh, the relative humidity rose, 'til the air became super-saturated. I could not look forward to as much relief running at night as I'd hoped. Yep, ignorant westerner from a dry climate here. Sometime during the afternoon, I'd begun to have delusions of grandeur. The early pacing was soooo easy. Those fast times Greg had run, he'd done with almost all running, and short breaks. I saw my run / walk, if my feet could handle it, as offering a distinct advantage. I asked my crew to update all the 4.5 MPHs in the spreadsheet to 5.0 (12:00 / mile). If things went really well, and I decided to try to crank it in on the last day, who knows what I might manage? I even began to think that sub-3-days really ought to be possible on this course. Not for me, not this year. But for someone, sometime. Turns out that's been a hot topic of discussion between Greg and Joe Fejes (who has the second-best time, 3 days 8 hours). Well, this new plan did not last long. By the first evening, already the day's effort had begun to catch up with me. I could hold 12:00 pace with a very easy run / walk. However, crew stops always threw the average segment pace out of whack, and I had to run more and walk less to get the pace back down. I realized how foolish I'd been to second-guess my reasonable initial plan. I should be very happy to hold that, for 3 days 20 hours. There had only been 10 total LAVS performances under 4 days, ever. Who did I think I was? The first night was a bit rough. I backed off the pace, but began to have chafing issues. Since I switched to compression shorts + SportShield, after Spartathlon 2015's chafing disaster, I've never had chafing. But I had never before challenged Tennessee heat and humidity in July. I gradually tried all the different lubricants we had, to no avail. This was one thing that could shut my race down, the most obvious other one being foot issues. There, I was relying on Bill's taping and foot-care skills. I'm the kind of guy whose blister "strategy" is normally to get blisters and run through them. That works for 24-hour, but no way would it work for LAVS. So, by this point I was probably at maximum intimidation. There was a huge amount of the race left, and already I was having issues we might not be able to manage. This fed into a negative attitude, and I wound up needing an hour downtime in the back of the car earlier than planned. I was OK for a while after that, but needed another I think 15 minutes later when I was spacing out and weaving. As dawn approached, things improved. Daylight makes an enormous difference. And the morning, for a while, was overcast. I used this to maximum advantage, and closed out the day with 92 miles. This is also where Josh Holmes was, but in contrast he was really hurting, and would stop here in Lexington for a very long time. Francesca was far ahead with 101 miles, and everyone else who might have been competition had already dropped.

Day Two

I started day two in good spirits, still running well. But as we lost the cloud cover and the day heated up, it got harder to manage. It appeared that our hotel alignment was not going to be great: we'd likely hit Parsons around 11:30, really too early to stop, but the next option was Linden, which might be after 3:30, too late. Plus, apparently there were no rooms available in Parsons! Running got harder and harder, both for me and for Regina and Bill, as they tried to keep up with my increasing needs for cooling. We slowed, and a room was found in Parsons. It was noon by the time we got there. We were all frazzled, and decided to stop for a full 6 hours to reset. This was huge, and probably where I ultimately lost the time I'd have needed to catch Francesca at the end. But it's where we were. (Note: Francesca's one hotel stop the entire race was 75 minutes in Linden this afternoon. Note 2: sleep deprivation is NOT one of my strengths at multi-day. It's probably my biggest weakness.)
After an ice bath, a shower, and more McDonald's (which this time did not want to go down), I got 4 hours' restless sleep. Then I carefully slathered on a ton of Squirrel's Nut Butter (Greg's recommendation for how he manages chafing here) and put on clean compression shorts. Well, I'd see. Then we had a crew powwow to sort out how we could all proceed sustainably. We made a few changes here and there, but we wouldn't have much more heat to run in today. Bill treated some blisters and re-taped my feet, and we were back on the road. At LAVS, mileages are reported every 12 hours. That's when you see where your competition is. With the slow morning and the long break, I had managed a measly 26 miles since 7:30 am. Francesca had run 36, and was now a whopping 19 miles ahead, 137 to 118. When was she going to sleep? We still didn't really see how this could be sustainable for her. Well, the race was early yet. I wouldn't let myself think tactically 'til at least 48 hours.

Gearing down for the night

As the day turned to evening, I stripped to just shorts, as I'd determined the previous night that maximizing bare skin was most comfortable. My crew was eager to get more calories in me. In Linden, the options were: Sonic. Turns out I was hungry, and due to limited places to pull over, I was getting tired and cranky by the time we managed an opportunity, well past Linden. I sat in the front seat with the AC on and ate some burger and fries. 

Sonic. It's what's for dinner.
The next town on the course is Hohenwald, but it's 19 miles from Linden. There's an 8-mile stretch with a very gradual climb, only 400' overall, but it's enough to notice. Apparently this is called "8-mile hill", though I didn't know that then. I was running this in the dark, waiting for the shallow "hill" to end. Or was it a hill? Perception can be wonky in the dark. I've run in places that were absolutely flat, yet I would swear they were uphill. Well, this got really tedious, so eventually I pulled up my pacing spreadsheet on my iPhone. I had made elevation notes. Sure enough! OK, not my imagination. I now had real food in me, and was pretty comfortable temperature-wise; moreover, the chafing had not reappeared. But I was having unaccountable trouble focusing. My head was just not in the game tonight, though nominally things were going fine. I decided to call Liz and brainstorm. That helped a lot. It always does, to hear her voice. Then I realized it: we had not updated our pacing plan since the morning's issues; we’d had neither Wifi nor cell service in Parsons. My running style is always to focus on how I am running relative to my current plan. Actions have to have meaning relative to something. I tried to explain this to Regina — her attitude was "no, you can't think like that!". But I knew I was right, for me. I made a reasonable estimate on arrival in Hohenwald, plugged in the new numbers, got an answer that looked good, and then click, I'm in the game again. Problem solved. This is, I think, a good point at which to stop and reflect. You can get through a race like this by always having a strong attitude, having the mental discipline to always "run the mile you're in", as Regina puts it. This is undeniably a critical skill. But for me, it's not something I can keep up non-stop over any long race. There will be emotional ups and downs. The one skill that IS critical in this kind of race is to identify dispassionately when something is not right and take steps to correct it. This includes mental state. If you want to quit when there is no reason, you need to fix your head, somehow. That might mean slowing down for a while, taking a nap, taking caffeine, taking calories, whatever. Or, sometimes, pushing through it a bit to give it a chance to go away on its own. In this case it meant syncing up my mind to my plan again. 

Somewhere near Hohenwald

But as we got close to Hohenwald, I did begin to get very tired. I asked for some Red Bull. Two miles later, entering Hohenwald, I had begun to hallucinate and weave. I informed Bill that at the next stop it would be time to go down for an hour in the back of the car. When I next met them, the car was ready. But by then, somehow, I was alert. I think maybe it was a combination of the lights in Hohenwald, the turns to navigate engaging my mind, and the Red Bull finally kicking in. For the first time all night I felt 100% engaged, not intimidated by the remaining hours, ready to crank. So, we kept going. The 18 miles between Hohenwald and Hampshire are mostly long, smooth descents and climbs. It was a nice, comfortable night, and I was moving well. Still, in another hour or so the hallucinations and mental wandering began to come back, so it was time for a stop. Nominally an hour, but I woke early and got back on the road. As dawn approached, running got easier. Dusk and dawn are the magic hours at LAVS. Daytime is hell, and and at night the sleep demons come after you. At 7:30, I'd managed 48 miles overnight, matching my first night. I'd finally gained a bit on Francesca, who'd run 43. Now she was up 14 miles, 180 to 166. I'm the faster runner, so this race was going to come down to her ability to rest less and run more in the heat vs. my speed. I still trusted I would catch up. By this point all the other runners, including Josh, were far enough behind to be out of the picture if I held pace.

Day Three

The day heated up quickly, and it wasn't long before we were challenged again by the logistics of keeping me cool. Regina and Bill I think couldn't quite grasp what it felt like to me; they're from Florida. And there's a big difference between existing in this weather, as they were doing, and running in it. Regina wanted me to push while it was still "cool"; I was already cooking and needed to gear up to full daytime mode, covered head-to-toe in white, with plenty of ice stops.
The next "stop" was Columbia, by far the largest city on the course. It went on and on. The downtown was pretty. Somewhere in here Regina handed me a ham, egg, and cheese sandwich. Here I was visited for the second time by Greg, who'd also stopped to chat during the first night. He asked if I needed anything — I was actually thirsty, and not sure how far crew was ahead, so I said sure, I could use water. He popped into the convenience store that was right there to get me one. And then there was my crew! Ah well. Greg chatted with me a while as I power-walked. He was actually crewing for Francesca, along with her husband, but was also going up and down the course to chat with other runners. He gave me a heads-up on the upcoming sections.

Laz routes the course by every courthouse. I think this is Columbia?
Somewhere in here, we finally settled on what would work pretty well in the heat for the rest of the race: long-sleeve compression top, with ice dumped in front, in back, and in each sleeve, as well as in the hat. So treated, I could run a lot farther between stops than with the cotton shirt and the ice towel around my neck (which had worked very well at Badwater). That gave Regina and Bill more time to rest and recover. The challenge now was that, once again, the hotel spacing was far from ideal. There was no hotel opportunity before Lewisburg, but it would be very late by the time we got there. Well, so be it. This stretch features two iconic parts of the course: first, the infamous "Bench of Despair" in Glendale, which it is considered appropriate to sign with a marker that's been helpfully left for that purpose. That's mile 184. And second, three miles later, the Nutt House. One of the special features of LAVS is that, though there is no official on-course support, "road angels" sprinkle the course, locals who are aware of the race and come out to help the runners with water, chairs, etc. By far the most elaborate road angel setup is that of Jimbo and Kim Nutt — the "Nutt House". I did not plan to stop there long, but could not decline a chair, meeting Kim, and chatting more with Greg, who was hanging out there. There was a fan pointed at the chair, and a Coke placed in my hand. I knew Francesca was getting away from me, but it was going to be a hot 15 miles to Lewisburg, and this was a welcome oasis. 15 minutes and several photos later we were on our way again.

The Bench of Despair

At the Nutt House, with Regina, Greg Armstrong, and Kim Nutt

In the worst heat of the day, this was maybe the most brutal part of my race so far. But I managed to hold a decent pace over the rolling hills, and we eventually pulled into Lewisburg about 3:45 pm. We were at a critical juncture now. Stopping for the planned 4 hours would sacrifice some good conditions; also, we had not expected Francesca to be so far ahead. Again the ice bath and shower were critical. Then, the Subway sandwich Regina had procured was the most delicious thing I had ever eaten. We decided I needed two hours' sleep at a minimum, so we would go from there and see how it looked. I set my alarm and was immediately in a very strange mental landscape, the moment my head hit the pillow. It was somewhat similar to my very disturbing ego-dissociation episode during EMU 6-day a couple of years ago, perhaps. Not as unpleasant, but equally confusing. When my alarm went off, I had the wherewithal to re-apply Squirrel's Nut Butter, put on fresh shorts, and let Bill in to work on my feet. But from there it was harder. I had to ask Bill to explain again just what it was we were doing here. This "race" thing... I have a body, and I have to move that body along a particular trajectory? And bodies need food and water... OK... I knew it was supposed to be simple, but I just couldn't snap my mind back into the right space. These were challenging concepts from where I sat. Bill called in Regina to help, and she told me to just breathe; they would do the rest to get me ready. Breathe. I could do that. I've done a lot of meditation over the past few years, and breathing is the way to get back to my body. Good call, Regina. It's easy to dismiss this strange mental state as "just not quite awake", but the idea that our normal state of waking consciousness is a simple thing I think is badly mistaken. The realm of possible states of consciousness is vast, and we normally only scratch the tiniest part of the surface, as our physiology works to constrain our brain processes to a small subdomain that is effective for desirable behavior. I was slightly elsewhere in this space. Gradually, I am gaining a bit of an appreciation for its wider textures, and it's incredibly fascinating. I'll have more to say here in the post-race analysis. By the time I was dressed and geared up, it was clear enough what I needed to do, get back to the road and start going that-a-way. Once moving, things gradually returned to normal. I was out a bit before 7:30, giving me just enough time to reach mile 203 for check in. Again, I lost a little ground, as Francesca had run 40 miles to my 37; she was now at 220. Tonight was going to have to be big. From here it's 20 miles to Shelbyville, a very long, dark, boring stretch at night. It was a little muggier than the night before, but not too bad, and I got back into a good rhythm. As my mind started to wander, I thought another call with Liz might help. The first thing she said was "are you hunting down poor Francesca?". Poor Francesca! What about poor me?! Here I am smack in HER turf, where she has a KOR and the CR, with no training and no course experience. She seems invincible; I need all the support I can get. Still, the call helped, as communicating where I was mentally and physically helped ground me, and reconnecting with Liz always does. Interestingly, I learned later from Francesca that beginning around here, for the rest of the race, she felt me as a pack of wolves breathing down her neck. She dared not rest. She couldn't even walk, because then she would space out and fall over. It was just run, run, run, until I catch her, or she breaks, or she holds on.

Still later, she had this to say:
There is a beautiful description in Dante’s Inferno of the damned who “ran (naked), goaded sore by wasps and hornets.” Tennessee in July may very well display the traditional god-awful traits we commonly attribute to hell. Plenty of heat, abundance of chiggers and pestering insects. And at the end, I felt like a lost soul (my eyes were void as Greg said) hunted down by what, in my fatigued mind, I perceived as a relentless war machine (Bob).
Shelbyville came and went. Passing through, the moon was just rising in the east, dead ahead, waning gibbous and blood red. It was very striking. Oddly, though the course goes basically due east from here, and the moon stayed straight ahead, in my mind I was running different directions at different times. Normally I have an absolutely perfect, or at least definite, sense of direction. This was an early sign I was starting to lose it again. Wartrace was another 10 miles, at mile 233, and this would be a difficult stretch for me mentally. It wasn't long before I needed more Red Bull. Based on last night I figured it might take a while to kick in, so I didn't sweat the beginnings of hallucinations and meandering over the next couple of miles. But then, it didn't get any better. I frantically tried to communicate this to Regina and Bill, but through a series of misunderstandings it was a while before I could get some more Red Bull. (Earlier in the race I'd mostly been wearing a light vest that held my phone, but now I was running shirtless at night, and didn't want to risk chafing from the vest, so mostly I was running with no phone and no way to contact crew other than at the next stop.) Eventually it became clear that I needed a break. I couldn't afford an hour, so we decided on 15 minutes, in Wartrace. As I put on my mask and earplugs, Greg showed up again to chat with Regina. He was saying something about Francesca not stopping. So about spacing out and falling over — this was definitely the problem. And like Francesca, it was an issue mostly when I was walking. Unfortunately, a core part of my multi-day race strategy is to do a lot of fast walking. That's what I was trained for, and what was comfortable. It's now clear to me that this strength can be a double-edged sword, something I am going to have to ponder on before my next multi-day. It's a long 16 miles to Manchester. Much of this stretch, east of Wartrace, seems to be, for lack of a better word, haunted. This seems to be THE place for hallucinations, for those who come through at night. I was no exception. It was kind of confusing countryside, dark and dense and tangled. The break helped, but it wasn't long before I was hallucinating again. I don't remember whether I had more Red Bull. I do remember that my perception of the space between crew stops was very different from Regina's, and I got increasingly worried that I was going to completely lose touch with reality in here. Dawn could not come soon enough. One hallucination was vivid and striking. I can't quite describe it, but it was a very large sculpture, maybe some kind of crouching animal or person, behind some trees. I thought, "that can't be real. What would something like that be doing here?". But I stared straight at it, and there it was, plain as day. Huh. I came around the corner, and there it wasn't. Just trees. Somewhere in here, Regina gave me a 5-hour Energy. I had never had one before. Perhaps it helped, or perhaps it was the approaching dawn — it wasn't long before the horizon began to lighten. I woke up, and stayed alert through the end of the race. Like Francesca, there was no more time for breaks. I didn't rest for a single minute after Wartrace. At this point in the race, one of the pieces of magic happened that contributed to Francesca's mind-boggling performance: it began to rain. Just a few drops at first; the important thing was that it was cool and overcast. I picked up the pace and stopped alternating walking. The rain grew harder. I was now in my element for the first time in the race; it was MY turn to do some running. I'd lived in Vancouver for 10 years; this was very familiar. I'd run Spartathlon 2018 in a literal hurricane, and PRed. Bill pulled up and asked if I wanted a jacket. I was still running in just shorts. "Nope! This is as good as it gets!" I just wanted to crank. The rain grew harder; there was lightning. I kept running. The harder it rained, the harder I ran. I finally had the cooling I needed. Maybe I couldn't catch Francesca, but I was going to at least scare the hell out of her with this 12-hour split. And if she wanted to hold on to the win she was going to have to fight for it. As 7:30 approached, I was almost treating it like the end of the race. Maybe that would work well in terms of putting up a big split, but... what then? If I was completely spent, I'd have to slow way down to recover, and then I would start freezing. I had a light rain jacket, but nothing appropriate for this weather. Most runners were huddled in whatever shelter they could find. I could not afford that. At 7:30 on the dot, I pulled under a canopy where my crew was parked. 55 miles, YES!!! I pulled on my Spartathlon t-shirt and jacket, grabbed an Egg McMuffin Bill handed me, and got moving again. I was able to actually get back to my normal run / walk comfortably, whew.

Day Four

I awaited the update with bated breath. When it came, I couldn't believe it. Francesca had run 48 miles, her best 12-hour split since the first day. But... how? Is she human?? I had gained 7 miles, but I had expected a lot more. I had only stopped for 15 minutes, and had hammered the last few hours. At the start of the fourth day, she was up 268 to 258. I now had to run 56 miles to her 46. It was beginning to look like I had run out of room to catch her.
From here it's a long, flat, open 21 miles to the first of the two big climbs on the course, up Monteagle. I kept up solid pacing, but was no longer cranking. I can't crank for 56 miles at the end of 314. The thunderstorm continued to worsen. I was slightly afraid that the lightning would necessitate taking cover for safety, which would end any chance I had, but none ever struck close by. As we approached Pelham, a few miles to the climb, the highway became completely flooded. It was impossible to run without trudging through standing water. I thought back to the Quarantine Backyard Ultra, a few months ago, where I had to withdraw after 34 hours due to badly macerated feet from running through standing water for too long. Fortunately here my entire soles were taped, which I hoped would be enough. (Thank you Bill.) Finally, Monteagle. A 950-foot gain over three-and-a-half miles. Bill insisted on gearing me up with full night-time lighting, for safety. There were blind turns around the switchbacks. My original pacing plan had called for 3 MPH here, 20-minute miles. I was gratified to find that walking at about 15:00 pace was sustainable. Not that the plan was at all relevant anymore. I was now far ahead of it, and it was just a matter of doing the best I could do from here on in. At the top, we meander a bit through the town of Monteagle, and the next 6 miles take us to Tracy City. I was in a bit of a strange mental space now, not spaced-out like earlier, just not exactly dialed in to race mode. It was no longer open highway, but little resort towns and complexes. Like we'd taken a time-out from the race for a while. Not good. Regina handed me another Subway sandwich and I ate it slowly as I progressed. Then, perhaps, we made a mistake. I sent Bill and Regina ahead to see how far away Francesca was. It took them a loooong time to return, and the news wasn't good. "I drove forward 12 miles to get to her, and then 9 miles back to get to you." (This makes sense because were were both moving forward.) So, still about 10 miles ahead. It seemed to be all over. Here I lost heart for a while, and just trudged forward, through the long kind of no-man's-land past Tracy City. I didn't even really have a good picture in my head anymore of where we were, which is bad. I have to have a context in terms of location and plan. My reaction was natural, but my meta-cognitive racing skills should have alerted me that this was a bad mental state that needed to be fixed. Maybe something about three days and 280+ miles on my legs and my brain. Logically, there was every reason to keep pushing. Francesca would very likely be near the breaking point. If I push her all the way to the finish and she survives, well, she earned it. But if I give up 25 miles early? That's just crazy; it makes it 25 miles easier for her. But that's what I was doing. Fortunately, this state did not last too long. I knew I would still have a very good finish. But how good? I pulled up my spreadsheet on my phone, which also had a list of the top-10 LAVS finishes of all time. It appeared that, just maybe, I could come in ahead of #3 John Cash, with 3 days 13 hours. Wow — 7 hours ahead of plan (largely due to not breaking at all on the fourth day). I plugged in some numbers, adjusted some planned paces. Hmm. It might be possible, but I was going to have to start pushing, and it was going to hurt. I texted Bill and Regina: "Please come back. New plan." They were fully on board, and Regina started texting with Liz to make sure my spreadsheet was setup correctly for what we would have to do. Confident that the plan was now in capable hands, this late in the race, I was comfortable saying "OK, you're driving now; tell me what to do". Shortly ahead was the long, steep descent into Jasper. I hadn't even been aware we weren't already through that; that's how out of touch I'd gotten. The original plan, which would still work, had me doing that at 10-minute miles. Holding that average for several miles at this point was a big ask, but Regina assured me it would be doable. One problem, though, was that the clouds had finally burned off, and the sun was coming back out. As I started the descent, I'd shed the jacket, but was not really geared up for heat again, lacking even a hat. Man, this downhill was STEEP. I could really only run it effectively at one pace, about 8:30 / mile. My feet hurt like hell. Already, the night before, I'd had to start taking Advil for the foot pain in order to endure the pounding of running. Regina had said, I think, 5 miles, but I could see on the elevation profile on Bill's Fenix 6 I was wearing that this downgrade lasted 5.8 miles. That was a long way to push. But I held it. I hit Jasper and turned right, still descending. Finally, there was the car, at a gas station. I pulled up, out of breath, and began gearing up in my daytime heat clothes. I couldn't do it quickly enough. "We're wasting all that time I just earned!" I was almost frantic. But Bill got me good to go in short order, loaded with ice, and I was off. I breathed a sigh of relief. I should now be in a state where my original pacing of 4.5 MPH — 13:20 / mile — would be good enough. I was keeping it closer to 12:00, alternating running and walking, though really none of it from here to the finish was as flat as I'd imagined. The four miles to Kimball lasted a while, as now it was very hot. 300 miles! And onward. Another few miles, and it was time to make the somewhat confusing turn onto the famous Blue Bridge. I carefully followed the map display on Bill's Fenix to stay in the correct lanes.

At the Blue Bridge

This was now the end stage, and I was getting excited. I asked for my phone back, to double-check the timing. I wanted to make sure I knew what I had to do. In reality I think I could have pushed harder here, but in my mind it was just about safely breaking John's mark. There was nothing to shoot for beyond that. After 5 miles of meandering through New Hope (Regina gave me another 5-hour Energy somewhere in here), we finally made the turn onto the big hill up Sand Mountain. Apparently Francesca was also now on this hill, up ahead, but too far to reach. So, I had gained some after all. Of course, Laz would put the biggest hill at the very end — 1,000 feet over 3.5 miles. I was constantly re-doing the math, assuming 20:00 pace up the hill: yes, I was still good. I actually tried running up the hill to see what it felt like. It was maybe sustainable, but at 15:00 pace, it wasn't any faster than walking, and was a lot more effort, so I backed it down to a walk. After a mile, we entered Alabama, our fourth state of the journey. Finally, the last turnoff, towards Castle Rock ranch! There was now less than three miles to go, and the big hill was done. I looked at the numbers again and did a double take. If I could manage 10-minute miles to the finish, I could actually come in under 3 days 12 hours, a full hour ahead of John! 3-and-a-half days did seem like a meaningful mark to work for. My feet were done, so it took a goal of this magnitude to push me to keep running. Every step hurt. I started cranking again, probably for no apparent reason to my crew. I saw Karen Jackson and Bo Millwood, just leaving — alas, that meant they must have DNFed. I kept pushing. We entered Georgia, came to the field where the cars were parked, and turned left. At this point it was a mile to the finish. There were some hills here, so holding pace took effort, but I was doing it. Then I realized — DOH! — the race started at 7:24. Not 7:30. I was going to come in before 7:30, but I would not have 6 minutes to spare. I checked my Garmin. It looked impossible, but I couldn't quite tell. I cranked it up as hard as I could — and ran right into a giant mud patch. Uh... WTF??? 313 miles of road, and this in the final half mile. Thanks Laz. My white shoes had stayed pristine all race. No longer. Not that that mattered; I had to slog through, and all remaining hope was lost. I entered the final clearing, and there was Carl Laniak, waiting by The Rock. My crew were there, as was Sandra Cantrell. I reached The Rock, slowly bent down, and touched it. DONE! Final time: 3 days, 12 hours, 3 minutes, 12 seconds.


Francesca finished in 3 days, 10 hours, 49 minutes, 40 seconds. She shattered her own course record by a whopping 17 hours, or 17%. She ran the third-fastest Vol State ever, male or female. It's an almost inconceivably incredible performance. After talking with her over lunch a few days later, and reading Greg's race report from his perspective, it's clear that this resulted from Greg's recommended strategy of getting ahead of me early, and maintaining a lead, combined with Francesca's flawless execution. They were thinking (as I was planning) that I would try to run a bit under four days, so she would potentially have to run a bit more under four days. But doing it this way would tell her exactly by how much. As it happened, I underestimated my ability here and was able to push for much better, forcing Francesca to do likewise. The rain exaggerated this even more, giving me a burst of speed she was forced to counter. Greg's account of her performance is harrowing towards the end, as she was completely lost, disoriented, reduced to speaking Italian, yet managed to hold on. It was an absolute triumph of the human spirit, and I am enormously honored to have played a part in it. I helped her create something truly great. I did not get my KOR, but you cannot ask for a more meaningful experience than this. All hail King Francesca II.
I believe no woman will ever come close to this mark again at Vol State. It was the result of unique circumstances optimally driving a spirit that would not yield. Paul Kentor says I am being hyperbolic, which is fair enough, so I will moderate this: yes, it's conceivable that the right woman (there are not many) with the right conditions could run faster. But I see it as unlikely that such combination will ever occur at LAVS. Therefore, I stand by my assertion. Courtney, Camille, you are welcome to prove me wrong. Looking a little closer at the numbers... per Greg's report, Francesca spent a total of less than five hours stopped, with about 60-70 minutes of sleep. I spent over 15 hours stopped, with about 8 hours' sleep. She had to suffer a lot more than I did. Neither of us rested at all after Wartrace, for the final 81 miles of the course.

Here's a table comparing various stats, and a graph of our distance vs. time.

I ran the fourth fastest Vol State ever (behind Greg, Joe Fejes, and Francesca), which I am very proud of, especially since I entered at the last minute and had no specific training. This was only possible due to the amazing and tireless efforts of Regina and Bill. They worked as hard as I did, to counter my lack of heat training. I'm also pretty proud of my splits. I ran 111 miles in the final 24 hours, including the two big climbs. I am pretty sure no one has done that before. I substantially negative split the course (and Francesca ran very close to even splits). Obviously, in hindsight I wish I'd started faster, but I do believe I made the best decisions I could at every stage based on my knowledge. Looking over the entirety of the race, I can only point to my temporarily losing focus around Tracy City as a mistake. Had I managed to maintain focus and drive there I think I could have finished half an hour faster, maybe more, but probably still not enough to catch her. I improved on Grant Maughan's over-50 course record by 10 hours. However, Francesca is also over 50! I will technically have the men's age-group record here, but it will come with an asterisk. Looking ahead to next time (and how can there not be a next time?), I am very encouraged about my potential to challenge Greg's course record. Now I have a reference point in terms of this performance, and several things to optimize. The main challenge will be improving management of sleep deprivation.

Oh, one final number: I'm the 314th unique person to finish this 314-mile race. Ha!


I spent the next two nights at a hotel in Kimball recovering. After a huge brunch on Monday, I said farewell to Regina and Bill, as they headed back to Jacksonville.
Tuesday morning, I rented a car to drive back to Nashville for a couple more days before my return flight on Thursday. The timing was good here: I drove the course backwards from Kimball to Manchester, stopping to chat with and cheer on each of the approximately dozen runners over that stretch. Nobody else had yet finished since Francesca and me. First was Josh Holmes, who had recovered from his early issues and was continuing to push. He would wind up with a PR, in his fourth Vol State. Next, Becca Joyner. She'd had substantial ankle issues but was soldiering forward. She would not finish in under 5 days, but the time would start with a 5. An outstanding debut for her first 100+ race. Catching up with Ray Krolewicz, I walked with him quite a while, discussing a range of subjects. I could talk to Ray forever. But my feet were in agony, so eventually I let him go.

The infamous Ray K

One week after finishing, I am home, and still bemused at the impact on my body. My feet were absolutely destroyed. I still needed Advil last night to sleep. My lips were horribly burned and chapped; I forgot to treat them at all. Funnily enough, it was the same with Francesca when I had lunch with her, her husband Mark, and Trent Rosenbloom on Thursday. Her lips were cracked and bleeding, same as mine. And that's it. Muscle issues? Zero. My legs might as well not have run a step, for all I could tell. I can't understand it. But the most substantial impact by far was on my mind, or maybe my spirit. I will cover that in the next section.


I learned a lot of little things that will help me in my next Vol State, or other long, hot, humid, point-to-point race. Better patterns of heat management, foot-care logistics, ice baths, etc. The critical importance of good crew communications.
The most important big realization is that my run / walk multi-day strategy is in direct conflict with dealing effectively with sleep deprivation. That was a rude shock, and something I am going to have to think hard about. I can only improve substantially at any multi-day race by sleeping less, somehow. The sleep deprivation experience here was a bit different than at other races, maybe because of the long afternoon breaks. I was never tired during the day, even the last day. I was often tired at night, both in terms of needing sleep and in terms of mood and attitude. In the past I haven't noticed quite this distinction. In my first 48-hour race, it was the second day that was incredibly brutal. The second evening has been very challenging in every multi-day I've run, but I think less so in this one. I did have a rough patch, but got over it. But now we get to the heart of the matter. Why do we run? In particular, why do we seek out experiences such as Vol State, that so dramatically tax mind, body, and spirit? There are as many answers as there are runners, but there are common themes. I do these races to challenge myself, to put myself in places I would never otherwise reach, to probe the depths of my soul, learn who I am, and grow as a person. It's intensely rewarding. Throughout history all human societies have had spiritual rituals and journeys that served the same purpose. This is my way. Vol State is known to be transformative for almost all who do it, whether in four days or ten. I suspect a lot of that comes from the universal camaraderie exposed by shared suffering, the generous spirit of the road angels, the triumph over adversity to finish under taxing conditions after many days of living in a very circumscribed world. I didn't get most of that. I didn't see a single other runner after the first 12 hours, and while I appreciated the stop at the Nutt House, my crew met all of my physical needs. I did have the satisfaction of pushing myself to near the limit, and achieving a result I can be very proud of, if still coming up short of the win. This, I've had many times before. What I actually came away with was completely unexpected, and not fully apparent for a day or two after the race. And it was huge. I think I would call this experience transformative. This gets pretty personal, and is going to be hard to communicate. And it may sound a little weird. But it's the most important part of the whole experience. It goes back to that strange, dissociative sleep in Lewisburg, and my slow return to ordinary consciousness. I've had this kind of non-ordinary-consciousness experience before. To a certain extent, my meditation practice represents an effort to develop my consciousness beyond ordinary bounds, in particular to increase mindfulness, that is, non-judgmental awareness of my thoughts, emotions, and feelings, also separation from ego. I've had limited success there. For the two or three days after the race, though the awareness dawned on me slowly, my mind was in a very different state from normal. I was thinking differently, perceiving differently. I was able to connect, a bit, to the dissociative mental landscape of Lewisburg (and of EMU two years earlier), and perceive the vastness of the potential range of human consciousness. I have studied consciousness. In my time as an AI and neuroscience researcher, I learned a lot about the mechanisms of consciousness. But the subjective aspects are something else entirely. There is an enormous world there I was barely aware of; it's incredibly exciting. Lest this get too airy-fairy, I was also able to connect, in the other direction, to ordinary consciousness, in a way I never had before. I had sought mindfulness... now, I simply had it. My thoughts and feelings were transparent. I could see clearly the little neuroses that shape my ordinary thoughts and behaviors. I was able to neatly sidestep them, and act and think in a way that is truly genuine, for lack of a better word. Most people who know me would agree that I'm a "nice" guy. It's a lot easier to be nice than to be genuine. But being genuine, living in a way that is in honest accord with your true feelings and values, with full respect for others' needs, that is priceless. I have to wonder whether this insight is maybe at the core of all religions. I could go on. I had many thoughts on the human experience which I wrote down, and still seem valid to me. But I will stop here. You could describe my state as a kind of mania, and that might not be inaccurate. Hardly surprising, after such a journey. But if so, it was the healthiest mania I've ever heard of. Our brains are wired to work within a very narrow operating range, different for all of us. The experience of LAVS somehow turned some dials to take me out of the normal range, into a very benificent regime. I don't know how. I would guess that I laid the groundwork with my study and mindfulness practice, and this experience unlocked the potential I was building up. Gradually, my mind returned to pretty normal. But I am able to hold on to memories of the experience, and they serve as a much better guidepost for my meditation goals than I have ever had before. And I am going to try as hard as I can to carry forward the habits of living genuinely. So... thank you, LAVS.

Thank You

Thank you to Lazarus Lake, Carl Laniak, Sandra Cantrell, Jan Redmond Walker, Mike Dobies, and anyone else I'm not aware of who contributed to putting on this amazing thing called LAVS.
Thank you to Ray Krolewicz for bringing the possibility of a last-minute entry to my attention, and for the hotel room in Union City that made it possible. Thank you to Greg Armstrong, Sue Scholl, Ray, BJ Timoner, and Huge Holstein for many helpful discussions about how to run LAVS. Thanks also to Greg for several on-course visits of support (though these did double duty gathering intel! 😆). Thank you to Liz Hearn for putting up with these crazy adventures, and for the very helpful mid-race conversations.

Thank you to Francesca Muccini for being such an incredible and inspiring competitor. Most especially, thank you to Regina Sooey and Bill Page for incomparable crew support. I would never have asked anyone for support at this level so close to the race, especially during the pandemic. It was a miracle that you not only stepped up, but were somehow up to the much higher demands I placed on you than you had any reason to expect. Your course knowledge and experience were also invaluable. There are a million details of race execution glossed over in my report, simply because I didn't have to worry about them; Bill and Regina had everything covered. Ice baths. Foot care. Gear alternatives. Electronics recharging. Even laundry, twice! Oh, and most of the above pics (finish pics are by Carl Laniak and Sandra Cantrell). You name it, they did it. It made my task much simpler. Actually, it made my task possible. I will never forget it.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Six Days in the Dome 2019

It's now been five months(!) since the Dome, and somehow I am still processing it (and also, in some ways, still recovering from it). This one race I think will be more consequential to my running future than any before it. I see at least three major changes in store for how I approach races of 24 hours or longer; I am rethinking everything. But I guess it's way past time for the blog post, so here is what I have to say. This is an expanded version of what I posted on Facebook two weeks after the race. Yes, it's long! Background Back in 2014, a six-day race was held on an indoor track in Alaska, organized by Joe Fejes — "Six Days in the Dome". Yes, it was actually an inflatable dome. The advantages are obvious: climate control, plus a perfect running surface. This apparently one-off event netted several records. Notably, Joe himself ran 580 miles, for a new modern American Record. Modern? Yes, six-day races have an illustrious history in ultrarunning, beginning in the 19th century. James Albert Cathcart's legendary 621.75 miles is not on the modern record books, due to lack of verification to modern USATF standards. Why six days? Well, naturally, in Victorian times, six days was as long as you could do any one thing continuously, because of course you would have to rest on Sunday! Now, 48-hour and six-day are the two multiday formats recognized by the International Association of Ultrarunners for record purposes. Fast forward to 2019, and Joe is at it again. This time the "dome" was the Pettit National Ice Center, in Milwaukee, WI — not an actual dome, but again, an ideal indoor track surface, with climate control. Steve Durbin was race directing, with Mike Melton and Brandon Wilson timing. Top-notch setup all around. THE place to be if you ever had any notion of putting up your best possible six-day performance. Which I did, thanks to Joe suckering me, telling me I could beat his record (which now stands at 606!). I tried at EMU in Hungary in 2018, but stopped halfway through with a tendon injury. This would be my chance to make amends. But there was a problem: 24-hour Worlds, in Albi, France, would be just two months after the Dome, not leaving enough time to fully recover, train, and represent my country at 100%. Bill Schultz finally convinced me of the reality of this unfortunate fact. Prelude To explain how I got to the Dome after all, I have to take a detour. I did not write a race report for Dawn to Dusk to Dawn 24-hour (D3), in May. I tried several times to start, but it was too painful, and always came out as just whining. But for completeness in my blog, I'll summarize here. Feel free to skip ahead. I entered the race in the 6th and final position for the 2019 US 24-hour team, with 154 miles. I expected that would not be good enough... someone else at D3 would beat that and bump me from the team. So I had to defend my spot. 155+ would put me in 4th; three guys would have to beat me. That wasn't going to happen. Well, the lap chart shows the story. Just as happened two years previously at Run4Water, I ran perfectly through 22 hours, but was unable to hold on and put it away. There, I came up 300 feet short and was bumped from the 2017 team. This time my collapse was larger. I managed to hold on for 150, but that's it. Rich Riopel and Harvey Lewis both ran big numbers, and once again, I was bumped from the team on the last day, my goals for the previous two years' effort slipping through my fingers. It was a surreal nightmare. Once was heartbreaking. Twice? There are no words.
Afterwards, I agonized about what had gone wrong. It seemed as if I had a death wish, some deep desire to fail as spectacularly as possible. (I've written about this previously: see "The Imp of the Perverse", in my Spartathlon 2018 report.) Those present swore I had given my all, but how could they know? However, when I saw on video that I was already leaning at 22 hours, I realized they were probably right. It was all over then.
So, no 24-hour Worlds for me. But that freed up August for the Dome. I would have to miss Burning Man (sniff), but I could not pass up this opportunity. Goals I went in, as did several others, with an aggressive plan. I would start by pacing even for Joe Fejes' American Record, 606.24 miles, running 101+ per day. I thought that goal was unlikely to be feasible, yet I left myself options to go higher. Because, I mean, there is no more seductive thought to a male ultrarunner than the possibility (even remote) of breaking a Kouros World Record. And the six-day is generally agreed to be his softest record. So, as long as I was running well with no issues, I would add a mile each day. 101 + 102 + ... + 106 = 1,000 km, a really big number. Only six men have done that in the modern era, and none since 2007. Finally, if I somehow miraculously felt good on the last day, forgoing my sleep break with lots of caffeine and holding pace would net the WR of 644.24 miles. (See, on paper, it's easy...) More realistically I expected I would have to slow, and I had my sights on 900 km (559.24 miles) or Joe's over-50 American Record of 551.47 (for which, however, I would also have to beat Joe!). At the low end of my goals, I thought that barring disaster I should be able to pull out 500 miles, a very respectable distance. But a million things could still go wrong, so I would have to roll with the expected punches to earn it. I was under no illusions that "just" 500 would be easy. Only a dozen Americans had ever done it. Of course, there were reasons to set aggressive goals here, with an oversized flat track surface (443 m), controlled temperature (50-55 °F), and world-class medical and foot care available. Add to that my world-class crew (six people, including a Western States winner, a Vol State finisher, a 453-mile female 6-day runner, and an Army captain, for a little discipline!) — opportunities like this don't come every day. I'm not sure what I did to rate such a crew, but I am not complaining. I always put a lot of work into my pacing plans, and this time I took it to the next level. I prepared a crew manual with instructions for every contingency, and details of my pacing strategy for all my different goals, from 644 miles down to 500. I wrote a custom app for my Garmin with all the pacing plans programmed into it, and facilities for adjusting on the fly in a few different ways. The new variable to play with at six-day is sleep. Don't sleep much, and run/walk slowly? Or sleep a lot, and run faster? Both ways can yield success (cf. Geesler, Fejes!). I know that I'm not great on the sleep deprivation front at multi-day races, so I preferred to err on the side of more sleep. But setting big mileage goals puts pretty tight constraints on things. At EMU I had planned an hour and a half sleep every 12 hours, with shorter breaks every six. That had not worked well; an hour and a half was just not enough time for me to get any solid sleep. This time I decided to put all of my sleep in one block, at night, sticking to my natural circadian rhythm (even though we'd have constant lighting in the dome). For my A plan, I would have 3 hours and 40 minutes of sleep per night, starting at 1 a.m., and 7-minute breaks every 3 hours in between. That was a total of 4:22 of break time per day, with an estimated 38 minutes of overhead (bathroom, medical, etc.), for 19 hours of moving time. I think that's probably in the typical range for big six-day performances. But I discovered that this plan was pretty challenging for me as well, and next time I will have to continue to adjust. It's worth mentioning that even- or (gasp) negative-splitting at 24-hour or longer races is definitely not the norm. For six-day, conventional wisdom would be that it's just not possible. Moving pace aside, it was certainly not realistic to think that daily medical and other overhead would not increase throughout the race. My thinking was that I would roll unused overhead time early in the race into extra break time, front-loading the sleep, rather than use it to put more miles in the bank. How well did this plan work? Read on to see... Day 1 After a stressful Saturday night, putting the final touches on my Garmin app, and nearly locking my phone in the rental car as I returned it to the airport after hours, Sunday morning finally arrived. Arriving at the Pettit Center, I greeted all the people I'd be sharing the next six days with. Many friends, many legends I hadn't yet met, and many friends-to-be. Among them, several rivals. This would be a hard-fought race for those looking to win or set records.

Listening to pre-race instructions. With William Sichel, Brad Compton, and Liz Bauer.
The race started at noon, with Pam Smith and BJ Timoner crewing. Pam was fresh off a sub-8 100K in the 24-hour race, and had graciously offered to stick around for a few days. We quickly got into a solid routine, and the laps started clicking off. I would run one, then speed-walk most of the next one. For nutrition/hydration, I rotated every couple of hours between my own drink mix (similar to Maurten), Coke, and SWORD (the sponsoring race drink), drinking a few ounces every 20 minutes. I would sit down for real food at meal times, during my 7-minute breaks.

Running early with women's winner Connie Gardner
As expected, many runners went out much faster than I did, and I settled into about 20th place out of the 66 starters. As the day turned into evening, Ray Krolewicz told me "anyone in the top 15 went out way too fast". I concurred. Later I chatted with Greg Salvesen, ultrarunner extraordinaire and all around nice guy, as well as professional astrophysicist — something I had wanted to be when I was younger. After the race Greg posted that he'd managed to have in-depth conversations with every single runner during the race. Wow! I did not come close to matching that feat. I think I'm doing it wrong.

Before I knew it it was after midnight, and time for my first sleep. Already, I had moved up to I think 8th. I felt so good I was tempted to push it longer, but I had sworn not to exceed my planned daily miles, minimizing early muscle damage as much as possible, so I could still run later. Many runners chose to run through the first night, to put up a big day 1. Though everything at the Pettit was near optimal, I never managed to make the sleep setup work well for me. You could sleep by the side of the track, but it was too bright and noisy. You could sleep in a quickly accessible upstairs room, but there wasn't enough space there for people to leave cots set up. Or you could have a permanent setup in a dark, quiet room (apart from the one guy snoring LOUDLY every night), but it was a several-minute walk to get there from the track. I opted for the latter, though it cost a lot of overhead. After a couple days I had my crew relocate my setup to trackside, but that didn't work well, so we moved back. I tried going to sleep in my Normatec compression boots the first night, but they kept me awake, so I mostly didn't use them the rest of the race. It wasn't worth taking my shoes off for them during the shorter breaks. (Connie Gardner, though, I think fell in love with the boots, spending a lot of the last day in them!) I hate to be such a princess about the sleep setup, but, well, I am. Effective sleep is so critical to maximizing performance. As expected, the first night I had a lot of unused overhead time, so I gave myself a full four-hour break. Then, up and at 'em again! Fresh shorts, socks, shirt, and rotate shoes (three pairs of New Balance Beacons). I got an early morning tune-up from Doc Lovy, loosening tight hamstrings and back muscles. Doc Lovy is 84. He's been the team doctor for the USA 24-hour team for many years. And he was here running for six days... while stopping to help all the runners. I don't know when he slept, if he ever did.

Doc Lovy gets his 100
Sometime the first afternoon I'd mentioned to Pam that I was having to stop too often to pee, so I wanted to cut back on fluids. She was a little concerned that even though it was cool, the air was very dry, so likely I was more dehydrated than I felt. But we cut back from 3 oz. per drink (9 oz. per hour) to I think 2.5. This morning it was still an issue, and she pointed out that likely my bladder was irritated because it was too empty, and rubbing together. Doh! So the solution was MORE fluid, not less. And yes, I think I had been dehydrated. She also insisted on weighing me more often. When your crew is an MD, you listen to her medical suggestions. The first race day wound down as noon approached; I hit 100 miles shortly before that. I didn't get to carry the 100-mile flag on my final lap, though: a volunteer was holding it out as I crossed the mat, but pulled it away from me?! Turns out it was for Yolanda Holder, who hit 100 on the same lap. I'm glad I didn't steal it from her: this was her first sub-24 completely walking, making her an official Centurion. Congratulations! At noon, Dave Proctor led the way with 134.4 miles. He was nominally chasing the Canadian Record of 540 miles, but no doubt had his sights set higher than that. Joe was not far behind with 127.1, followed by Mick Thwaites (123.1), Johnny Hällneby (116.2), Budjargal Byambaa (111.9), Connie Gardner (106.7), David Johnston (104.6), and me (101.2), with my unorthodox slow start. For comparison, Joe had run 137 on day 1 when he ran that 606. Of all of us, I believe only Johnny had publicly laid out a goal of running the WR. He had even detailed his plan. (He was described thus on the Ultralist last year: "Johnny approaches these things with Bob Hearn-like planning, but with more humor, experience, and flexibility. It's tremendous to watch." And... I can't disagree.)

Day 1 lap splits (noon to noon). Lap time is on a log scale, to show long breaks.
Day 2 As the second day got underway, Pam and BJ were joined by my friend Paul Erickson. Already I believe I had the largest crew! By the end of the race I would begin to feel a bit guilty here.
Pam knows how to stay warm
I still felt great, so I adjusted my pacing slightly to hit 102+. The run laps stayed at 2:40, but the walk/run laps sped up, with a bit more running. As the afternoon turned to evening, some of the early leaders began to fade. It's inevitable. The only question is, which ones will it be? And before I knew it, I was in a mini-emotional meltdown myself. It started with horrible autotune "music" blasting over the speakers. I don't know why, but anything with autotune makes me want to gouge my eyes out. However, the bigger problem was something I've experienced several times before: the second evening is always really rough for me. My sleep plan here did not help; I would be running 20+ hours between sleeps. I would not do it that way again. I had hoped that being indoors with constant lighting would help — no such luck. But finally it was time for bed, and in the morning I was back at it with renewed vigor. The rest of day 2 passed without incident. Joe clocked a 103, now leading the way with 230.1; Dave Proctor had had sleep issues and dropped to 90.7. Johnny ran a 100.7, now in third; meanwhile Mick, Budjargal, and Dave Johnson had dropped dramatically. Budjargal in particular had looked like a perfectly smooth, light, efficient machine until well into the second day; it was easy to see him running away with it. But not this time. I hit my planned 102.5, the only runner with a negative split. Also I counted my blessings that Joe had come up a mere two miles short of reclaiming the over-50 48-hour American Record of 232 that I'd taken from him a couple years ago!

Day 2 lap splits
Day 3 So far so good, so time to up the pacing a little more. The walk laps got a little more running. I made a mistake here: I was supposed to walk less, but often I found myself running 2:30s instead of 2:40s, so I could walk a whole lap in between. My walking was actually getting faster as the race wore on: in training, I wasn't walking anywhere near a whole lap, even at my first-day (101) pacing. One of the neat things about six-day is that you can actually learn and adapt during the race, instead of having to wait for next time. And it did feel good to be running faster, as I was now passing Joe, I must admit. I'm normally pretty immune from this typically male chest-thumping behavior (women are supposed to be better pacers than men because of this), but the race with Joe was heating up, and I was excited. There is definitely a mind game that goes on during short-loop ultras, as you see your competition over and over. In fact my negative-split strategy as a whole was playing into that. I was well aware of how it would look when people saw I was running 101, 102, 103... . It ought to be intimidating. Silly me, there is no point trying to out-game Joe in a six-day. It didn't take long for this mistake to cost me, as I hit the first real problem in my race around 6 p.m., a little before Amy Mower arrived to join the crew party. I started having pain on the top of my left foot. Pam relaced the shoe to relieve the pressure, but half an hour later I had to stop to have medical take a look at it. They did some massaging and stretching, and when my sock was off it was obvious I had some blister issues as well. John Vonhof (who literally wrote the book on foot care) had taped my little toes pre-race, but now he treated all the blisters and added some more tape. The total cost here was over half an hour, but it was worth it. However, back on the track, it became clear that I couldn't run 2:40 laps anymore without pain. I spent the rest of the evening experimenting. 2:50 run + 3:30 run/walk seemed doable, but significantly slower than my planned pacing. We had a few crew powwows to discuss it. The one good thing about the foot issue was that dealing with it kept me from the evening emotional low; my mind was occupied elsewhere. Finally, bedtime again. This time, Pam had to come wake me — I had a vibrating alarm on each wrist (so as not to disturb the other sleepers in the remote sleeping room), but I had slept through both of them. Oops. Pam and Paul had been scheduled to leave when I woke, but stuck with me 'til breakfast, as we refined my pacing to get back on track. 2:50 / 3:14 seemed sustainable, and left me still theoretically on plan for a possible WR. Paul kept me honest, standing by the timing mat, making sure I wasn't pushing the run laps too fast. In hindsight, here I should have scaled the goal back to 606, at most — to have any chance at the A+ and A++ goals, things would have had to go perfectly for much longer than this. You can't keep speeding up when things start breaking. At some point in here I developed a slight left lean, which Doc Lovy quickly corrected. I'm not sure what I would do in a long race without him. As noon approached, it became clear I had way overspent my budgeted daily overhead time. Oversleeping hadn't helped. So, I ended the day with 97 miles, well short of the 103+ I had been pacing for. Still, that was more than anyone else ran on day 3, and I was now in second place behind Joe (325.2) with 300.7 miles. I was pretty happy to hit 300 in under 72 hours! The biggest day-three casualty was Johnny Hällneby, with 56.4. I am still not sure what happened.


Day 3 lap splits. Foot injury at 55 hours.
Day 4 At this point I'd have to say my prospects looked good. My daily mileage trajectory was much more consistent than anyone else's. Joe was ahead but I was now moving faster than he was, having worked through my foot issue. I saw my slow-start strategy as beginning to pay off, as it generally does in shorter races. Somehow it did not occur to any of us to reset the pacing plan for day four: we left it at 2:50 / 3:14, which would be 103.61 miles. I held pace through the afternoon, but then the dreaded evening arrived again. Without the foot issue to distract me, the evening was emotionally tough. Brief exchanges with Amy on my walk laps helped a lot here. She had been through this, and had lots of great mental advice. Finally, bedtime. Then all too soon, morning again, time to run. Restarting after a sleep break can be a pretty brutal experience... your feet feel like hamburger, muscles do not want to move, mind does not want to think. The later in the race it gets, the harder it is to get yourself back out there. But miraculously (and I think it's pretty much like this for everyone), after a lap or two the pain fades, the fog clears, and you can get back to normal running. But I had not been running long at all when left hamstring tightness turned into significant pain. I couldn't run at all. The next several hours were filled with medical stops to try to diagnose and treat it. Finally Trishul Cherns' personal chiropractor, Craig Rubenstein, determined that it was likely a partial tear in the medial gastroc upper insertion, behind the knee. In fact, Dave Proctor had told me the day before that he'd seen some bruising there, so we'd been a little concerned. (I did not remember this at the time, but afterwards, rereading my EMU race report, I recalled that I'd had the same symptoms there, a year earlier. That race had ended for other reasons before it had gotten this bad. So, this is a recurring problem I will have to fix.)

Unfortunately, nothing we tried seemed to help a whole lot. Day four wound down with me still walking. I had only run 83.9 miles, well off my plan. However Joe had dropped to 76.9, so I was still gaining on him, and I maintained my lead over everyone else.
Day 4 lap splits. Calf injury at 89 hours.
Day 5 This is where it gets interesting. Eventually we settled on just icing the injury, taping on an instant-ice pack behind the knee. By this point Tiffany Kravec had actively joined the crew: she was assistant RD, but had volunteered in advance to be backup crew when my crew needed a break. Around here she'd decided she was needed and had stepped up in a big way, giving BJ and Amy a little breathing (and sleeping!) room. And after I'd been walking with the ice for a while, she convinced me to try running again. I was skeptical, but gave it a go. And what do you know, after running through some pain for a bit, it faded and I was able to run consistent 3:15s or so. However, I kept up the medical stops, trying anything I could to address the underlying problem. This kind of thing can get out of hand — medical breaks are very convenient excuses to rest. And after the breaks kind of jumped the shark here, Tiffany gave me a needed talking to. I was not going to hit my goals if I kept lollygagging around. That was not what I was here for. I was going to have to let my crew drive, something I had never really done before. She promised that though parts would suck, they would not break me. And... I gave up control. For many runners this is normal: they have not just crew, but "handlers", making all the decisions. That's not the way I do it. I feel like if I'm not driving, making the decisions, doing the math, then I'm not really participating. I don't want to be just the muscle. But there comes a point where you have to let go, and trust your crew. For me, that point was on the fifth day. I was physically, mentally, and emotionally beat. My crew knew what they were doing, and knew what was important to me, thanks in part to my detailed crew manual. So I was able to trust them and let go. The real turning point was when I TOOK OFF MY GARMIN (a good thing in more ways than one — I had developed an RSI from hitting the lap button so many times!). And, it was miraculously liberating! I began to synthesize in my head lessons from mindfulness meditation with the task at hand. My crew now had responsibility for all the decisions. My job was just to do what they told me, and report honestly on how my body and my mind were feeling. I had to adopt a mindful posture where my only concern was monitoring my state. When thoughts crept in that were not helpful I quickly learned to tag them as "incorrect" and reject them. It made no difference whether the thought might be logically correct: some speculation on when Joe might need to break, whether it might be better for me to get a little sleep now rather than later, concern about how much longer my calf had to hold out, whatever. Those thoughts were not correct, because thoughts are actions, and those thoughts were not the correct actions to take to advance my goals. (This is very similar to the Buddhist notion of "skillful" vs. "unskillful" thoughts.) Correct thoughts were to pay attention to how I was feeling, and in addition I developed three mantras: "Now is bliss" (because actually, running at the moment was pretty pleasant, if I let it be), "My crew loves me", and "Liz is coming". This was my emotional secret weapon: my wife Liz would be here soon, straight from Burning Man, after a long day of travel. The one downside to this state was that I completely cut myself off from the other runners; I was 100% inwardly focused. A few times someone would start to chat with me, and I would just say "I'm not here" and keep moving. I felt bad, but I didn't have the resources to spare. My self, literally, was not there. Later in the race, I apologized where I could. After a few hours of this, well, it was hard, but it was working. I could tangibly sense the magnitude of the burden that had been lifted from me. I felt like I had discovered the key to infinite power. I felt enormous gratitude for my crew: they were doing all the work of getting me to my goal. Also the mindfulness aspect I was executing resonated with my understanding of neuroscience, and with something Amy had told me the night before: you learn the skills you need for multiday racing by doing it. And I saw now how that was happening. This was like a very intense mindfulness retreat, where the stakes are so high you can't lose focus. In a flash I saw how my mindful running was being learned by my brain. It was skill memory, muscle memory, that you learn like learning to ride a bike, automatically in the basal ganglia, not cognitive learning that you have to consciously remember. I was not only executing the current race well; I was laying the foundation for even better races in the future. Win / win! However, the mental key to infinite power will still only take you as far as your body will go. That was none of my concern; it was for my crew to deal with. And as I began to fade and weave they made the call to put me down early for an hour and a half.

When I awoke and was back at it, it was easier: there had still been some intimidation at how long I was going to have to maintain this mindful posture. But now I could add "It's working!" to my set of mantras. And before too much longer... Liz was there! I gave her a huge hug, and began to describe my new enlightenment. I think maybe I freaked her out a little bit. Running for six days does certainly put you into an altered state of consciousness. In fact for many, myself included, that's kind of the point. Running long distances is a way of exploring aspects of yourself, ways of experiencing reality, that would otherwise be inaccessible. Somewhere in here running became too difficult, alas, not so much because of the calf pain as because of the aerobic cost. I realize now that my training did not support holding 101 miles for six days, and I have promising ideas on how to alter my training in the future, a step that I believe should help my 24-hour racing substantially as well. Thank you to Ray Krolewicz for an insightful conversation here. But for now, fortunately, my speed walk was still reasonably formidable. As night became morning, I had a few more short breaks, and I began to get very cold, now that there was not much running. I'd been comfortable in just a shortsleeve so far, but for the last day plus I was fully bundled up, with two shirts, two jackets, a vest, gloves, handwarmers, and two hats! I hit a fashion milestone with the outer layer, Amy's puffy jacket. This garnered some looks, but I didn't care. Not my most daring running attire, by far.

As day 5 wound down, there'd been no single large sleep break as with the first four days. My crew was executing more fine-grained control, giving me short breaks when I needed them. And we'd finally brought out the big guns, Red Bull and NoDoz. In spite of the injury, I'd run 77.8 miles on day five, well ahead of Joe's 68. Johnny, Budjargal, and Dave Johnston, to their credit, had mounted strong comebacks after their early problems, but were all still well behind. The question on everyone's mind now was, could I catch Joe? His lead was down to less than 8 miles.
Day 5 lap splits. Crew took over driving at 102 hours.
Day 6 Day 6 is a bit of a blur. Crew put me down for an hour and half around 3:30. After this, Dr. Carolyn Smith was available to help, and did some lymphatic drainage, increasing blood flow to my legs. I made some more attempts to run for short stretches, but it was a lot of work, and I mostly settled back into the speed walk. In the evening, my quads became very tight. Dave Proctor, who happens to be a massage therapist, was great company for many of us late in the race, after his own goals were long gone. He offered to work on me, and loosened things up nicely. He also contributed some tasty pecan pies! As the evening wore on the looming question was, when would Joe go down for a break? I was now within striking distance. But this is Joe's part of the race. He is a tactical master when it gets to anything like this point. Finally, around midnight, when he'd passed 500 miles, Joe took a break. But by that point I needed one too, and my crew was of the opinion that I had nothing to lose by breaking as well. If I pushed through, Joe would be able to start running again fresh by the time I caught him, and I'd need a break even more. So, I went down as well (as Joe assumed I would!). By 2 a.m. we are both back out there. To me it is clear it is all over — Joe has the cushion he needs to stay ahead. I shake his hand and we walk a lap together. But my crew is not too thrilled at this. They tell me I am moving better than Joe, and not only that, Johnny and Dave are gaining on me! I pick up the walk speed. After a few more laps it looks to me like I have a chance — Joe is moving very casually, stopping to chat with people, leaving the track to brush his teeth. He's down to 8 laps, just two miles, ahead. And Mike Dobies, his handler, is nowhere to be seen. I decide to go for it. I crank the walk laps up to 3:45, a few 3:30s in there (that's 12:42 / mile pace). I'm still not running, but I'm moving faster than many who are. Joe finally wakes up and moves alongside. I slap him on the back — "It's on!". But, this was just the way Joe wanted to play it. He was never in any danger. Once his big goals were gone he used just as much effort as needed to stay ahead of me. 

I gave chase for an hour and a half or so. It was hard work, but I could have kept it up longer. But I didn't. Joe convinced me he could easily counter whatever I had, and I basically conceded. Joe was thoroughly in his element; I was a novice playing his game. He had outmaneuvered me, even though I literally have a Ph.D. in game theory! But the race was not yet over. In psychology, there is a thing called the "endowment effect": we are a lot more motivated to hold on to what we already have than to acquire what we don't. Over the next few hours, I received a very strong lesson in how this manifests in racing. With about five hours to go, the most ridiculous and amazing thing happened. Dave Johnston started chasing me from 10 miles back. It looked impossible, yet he was flying. I did the math and realized that if I didn't work hard, his pace would be enough. I mean, it was a RIDICULOUS pace for the end of a 6-day. I saw laps (443m) as low as 2:08, most around 2:15. He made it look effortless, with a constant smile on his face. I was moving at a decent 4:30ish walk pace, and could no longer run. But I had to step it up. To catch me he would have to lap me 9 times an hour, quite a lot. I sped my walk laps up to 3:45, as fast as I could manage consistently, a pretty decent speedwalk. And... 7 minutes later, he flew by. "Good work, Bob." Damn. 6 minutes later, "good work, Bob". 7 minutes. 7. 8. 6. If we both held our paces to the end, it would be very, very close. And Joe had to keep up too! If by some chance he faltered, any of the three of us could win. Dave held what he needed for something like two and a half hours, while Joe stuck on me (as he had on Yiannis Kouros at the end of ATY, after getting a few laps up). Nobody there could believe it; it was like it was out of a dream. A nightmare for me, but Dave certainly made the finish exciting. Finally, he ran out of gas. WHEW! The point is that though it felt like I was going to rupture my Achilles, NO WAY was I going to yield second, not after all I had been through. And yet, the difference between first and second is infinitely more than that between second and third. If I could have channeled that kind of energy earlier when I was chasing Joe, who knows what might have happened? This is the endowment effect in action.
Men's podium and race director. Bob, Joe, Steve, Dave J.

With Johnny Hällneby and Trishul Cherns

And that's basically it. The last couple of hours, the race was effectively over. I walked it in to hit 530 miles, a number I would not have managed without Dave pushing me. It's not 606; it's not 551. But it's a number I have to be very happy with. It puts me at #7 on the all-time US six-day list. And more importantly, I now have a solid six-day finish, having worked through and survived several challenges, with the substantial help of my crew. I've learned an enormous amount. I have to be optimistic about the future.
Day 6 lap splits. Battle with Joe and Dave towards the end.

Tiffany, Amy, BJ, Bob, and Liz. Missing Pam and Paul.

It wouldn't be the same without Ken Michal

Summary Charts

My laps splits for all 6 days

For those who understand Mike Dobies' charts, this shows
the race among the lead men. Note: left axis is in miles, not km.

Mike Dobies' mileage chart for top men
Takeaway So what can I take away from this experience? A hell of a lot, I think. A million little things, experiences that will give me more grounding and confidence for next time. The knowledge that I can actually do this, and run with the big dogs. But the two big specific things are (1) the experience of handing over control to my crew on day 5, forcing me to run in a totally mindful state, and (2) that brief conversation with Ray Krolewicz about why it was so aerobically hard to run even very slowly late in the race. What was it Ray said? Simply this: "Well of course it's aerobically hard. Half your muscle fibers aren't working anymore; the other half need twice as much oxygen to do the same job." Doh! Why had that never occurred to me before?! I've always thought that 24-hour and longer races should be ultimately limited by cumulative muscle damage. That's why I start slow, to defer the inevitable collapse as long as possible. But somehow it had never clicked in my head that muscle damage could in turn cause oxygen delivery and utilization to be a limiting factor. Instantly, I understood that I was screwed. I've taken kind of a perverse pride in doing essentially no speedwork for very long, flat races. I figured any excess aerobic capacity, beyond what I need to run effortlessly at my goal pace, is wasted. There are no hills where I'd need energy bursts. Why put extra stress on my body training faster, and building a bigger, heavier engine than I would ever need? Mitochondria and capillaries make up about a third of muscle mass! I put my money instead on training specificity. So why was I screwed? Because now I needed that excess aerobic capacity after all. The fibers that were working had to do a job they were not aerobically equipped to do. Clearly, I had reached the point in the race where I was compromised by muscle damage. I explained this to my crew... they were not amused. Actually they were quite upset with Ray, because I now seemed unmotivated to even try running. But the fact is, while I was confident (perhaps overconfident) in my assessment of the situation, I DID continue to try running, though it was very painful with the calf injury. And I could never get more than about half a lap without getting out of breath. Now, I fully realize that the true story of what was going on in my body is not nearly as simple as the picture I've painted. The fact is, muscle damage due to overuse (aka long-lasting fatigue) is a very complex, incompletely understood phenomenon. For starters, there is both mechanical damage, due mainly to eccentric loading, and metabolic damage, due to activity beyond the muscle's capacity to sustain homeostasis. Since the race, I've done a ton of reading here, and some numerical modeling. But the basic logic still seems clear: when you have less functional muscle available, you need greater aerobic capacity to use it. At the beginning, I said "I see at least three major changes in store for how I approach races of 24 hours or longer; I am rethinking everything." So what are those changes?

  1. I have to train faster than race pace! This is obvious to most people. I'm a slow learner.
  2. Even pacing is not necessarily best! I will dive into this in more detail in my next blog post. But the basic point is this: using simple numerical models of cumulative muscle damage, treating it as the limiting factor, I've realized that my intuitions are completely wrong. Starting slow potentially wastes a lot of performance. Seeing this come out of the simulations absolutely floored me. Again, this seems obvious to most who run these kinds of races. Of COURSE you have to slow down later, so you'd better start faster. Again, I'm a slow learner. So, these two changes may be quite consequential to me, but I don't think I'm spilling any big secrets here for anyone else.
  3. This one is fuzzier, but I need to work much more on mindful running, allowing only "correct" or "skillful" thoughts. I always do this to some extent, but here I entered a qualitatively new zone on day 5. Everything clicked. The fuzzy part is that here, this coincided with handing over control to my crew, but in general the relation to who is in control is something I will have to think harder about.
Aftermath The cost in recovery time of a big six-day effort is not to be underestimated. I was warned, but still not really prepared. For starters, the first evening afterwards was very rough. Liz ran to the drugstore three times for bandages, ice packs, etc. By the next morning I actually felt decent, but by the time I got back to California that evening, well... you know cankles, right? We all get them after a hard 100. OK, but have you ever had cankles up to your waist? For a week? I was like the Michelin Man. I was carrying literally an extra 25 pounds of water weight. There were other unusual anatomical consequences I will spare you the details of. On the mental front, it took a solid two weeks before I could sleep through the night without being convinced I was still running laps. But the longer-term effects can be much more systemic and subtle. I was signed up for Big's Backyard, two months after the Dome. It was hard, but I took a DNS. I was nowhere near where I needed to be physically, and more importantly, mentally. It takes a LONG time to get your head back in the game. Several Dome runners did run Big's. None but Dave Proctor (who effectively dropped early at the dome) even made it to 24 hours — truly shocking. Even now, five-plus months later, I don't think I'm completely recovered mentally. So, caveat emptor. Or more pedantically, caveat cursor. Thank You Thank you to Joe for the impetus for putting this race together. It was a world-class venue and event that attracted world-class talent. Thank you to RD Steve Durbin, assistant RD Tiffany Kravec, and to Terri Durbin and Nation Kravec for additional help with organization and execution. Everything came off close to perfectly. Thank you to Mike Melton and Brandon Wilson for top-notch timing. Thank you to Doc Lovy and the rest of the medical staff for keeping me moving, and to John Vonhof for keeping my feet happy. Thank you to Trishul Cherns and Craig Rubinstein, and to Carolyn Smith, for additional work on my legs, and to Dave Proctor for that excellent massage (and pies!). Thank you to SWORD Nutrition for sponsoring the race. Most of all thank you to my fabulous crew of Pam Smith, Amy Mower, BJ Timoner, Paul Erickson, Tiffany Kravec, and Liz Hearn. I COULD NOT have done it without you. It was truly a team effort.