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.|
|Running early with women's winner Connie Gardner|
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|
|Day 1 lap splits (noon to noon). Lap time is on a log scale, to show long breaks.|
|Pam knows how to stay warm|
|Day 2 lap splits|
|Day 3 lap splits. Foot injury at 55 hours.|
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.|
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.
|Day 5 lap splits. Crew took over driving at 102 hours.|
|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|
|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|
- I have to train faster than race pace! This is obvious to most people. I'm a slow learner.
- 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.
- 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.