BOMF 20in24 Lone Ranger ultra 24 hour race report
A little over a week ago (July 14th-15th), I ran that 24 hour race in Philly. As I had previously mentioned, I had been looking forward to the 20in24 Lone Ranger for a long while. And now it’s over and I’m writing a recap of it…
The first time I sat down to write my race report, it was Wednesday night after the race. I managed to type out a sentence or two (barely intelligible) and pass out. Then I just didn’t feel like it. And it’s not that I don’t feel like talking about what an epic failure everything was, because I certainly don’t mind talking about how much I suck. I just haven’t had the desire to sit down and write anything about anything. Or do much of anything else for that matter, short of sit on my ass and watch tv. But now I’m sitting in a Hyundai service waiting area with no definite end in sight, I’ve already finished the crossword and crypotquote, so what else am I gonna do?
This report shouldn’t be as long as other races, despite taking significantly longer than any other race I’ve ever done. There’s not a whole lot to say really. Saturday morning I woke up after a decent but not great night’s sleep. A 10am start allows for a relatively leisurely morning of prep. My parents and I got breakfast at the hotel, I went to the bathroom, I got my stuff together, we drove the half mile over to Lloyd Hall, and with about an hour or so to go before the race I found Johnny and his friends already set up a few feet from the start/finish area. There wasn’t much to do before the start except wait and that’s mostly what I did. I found Serge and talked to him for a bit about the race and whatnot. I said hi to Christian and Megan. More bathroom trips, setting up some of the coolers and stuff, the usual. My aunt and uncle were there for the start too and I said hi to them. With about five minutes to go I made my way over to the start and we listened to the national anthem. I lined up next to Serge a few rows from the front so as not to get sucked into a fast pace by all the relay runners who wouldn’t be running for an entire day. And then, just like that, we were off.
The start of this race felt different in a way I’m not quite sure I can describe. Obviously there was an indeterminate amount of running ahead of me, but beyond that, the AMOUNT of running was pretty incomprehensible. Even at Umstead, running for 100 miles, I had an idea of how long it was going to take and it seemed far away but finite. 24 hours seemed like a forever away. So I tried not to think about it and just focus on the immediate. I found myself running with a group that included Serge and Johnny early on. This was intentional. I didn’t know how far I could run, but I figured I was in about as good shape as when I ran Umstead and if that were the case, I could at least hang with Serge for a long while and that would take a big mental burden of pacing myself off of me. In theory, this seemed like good idea. And it worked reasonably well for a while. There was a group of about six or seven at any given point during the first loop, including newly minted female American Record holder at 24 hours, Sabrina Moran. I recognized John Dennis just up ahead too. It was kinda cool being at this spot, this was a big race with a whole bunch of really talented ultrarunners and I was right there with them.
First lap ended a bit quicker than it ought to have. As I came through the start/finish at the end of the first 8.45 mile circuit of the Schulykill, Christian was there waiting for Serge and told me, “too fast Mark.” To which I responded, ‘I know.” It was. But it felt fine. It had been drizzling for most of the morning and it felt really good; a lot like the start of Umstead actually. The second loop was basically the same as the first, only a little slower (by design). I was drinking a handheld of coconut water each lap, and carried some honey stinger chews along with either GUs or cliff shot blocks. I also popped some ednuralytes each loop. The aid stations left some to be desired. Not in terms of volunteers – they were fantastic, enthusiastic, helpful, [insert positive superlatives ad infinitum here] – but the contents were just ok. There were the usual potato chips, pretzels, bananas, and salt packets (which WERE helpful) but then there were plastic 500mL water bottles. This was great because I definitely needed more than one handheld for the loop (and was counting on filling up as I went along). But they were the kind you had to twist the cap on and off. This started off as just a nuisance but a couple hours in and I was full-on pissed off at the water bottles, to what was certainly an irrational degree.
For most of the first three loops I ran easy and relaxed, mostly with Serge who was talking about how he wanted to run 17 loops which would give him a chance to break his course record. I was content to just come along for the ride. The first inkling I got that things might not all go according to plan was midway through the 3rd loop. I ducked behind a tree to pee and noticed that my urine was not the clear/light yellow I would expect this early in the race and having been hydrating what felt like adequately. It was very, very dark, like an almost neon yellow mixed with brown. Uh oh. That is not the color you want to see, especially less than three hours in, with the vast majority of the race still to come. I panicked briefly and downed the rest of my coconut water as I came out from behind the tree. I filled up with water and salt at the next aid station and recommitted myself to hydrating even more at every aid station henceforth. I also downed a banana and some pretzels.
Coming in at the end of the third loop, I was feeling good, just a little unnerved about the urine color still. I mentioned this to my parents as I refueled before heading out again. I don’t remember a lot about the fourth loop. Maybe this was the one where I saw what felt like dozens of Asian people on the steps of the Art Museum and by the Rocky Statue who looked like they had just left or were about to go to a wedding. Throughout the day I’d see (and dodge) all sorts of interesting characters by the statue and steps. Early on I joked that the course loop should include going up and down the steps to make it an even 8.5 miles. Hours later I remember what I had said as I passed in front of the steps and was VERY glad that wasn’t the case. Anyway, that fourth loop… it was uneventful except that I stopped to pee at the same spot again and despite my efforts, the color of my urine wasn’t any better. Double uh oh. My legs still felt pretty good, the rain may or may not have stopped at this point. I had my shirt off and I guess it was kind of humid but I wasn’t dwelling on that; just focused on clicking off the loops comfortably and (hopefully) righting this potential hydration issue. I was still pretty much running with Serge at the end of the fourth loop, and after that loop, pacers were allowed out with runners. At the start of the fifth loop, Serge and I had the company of Christian too. I can’t remember when exactly but at some point during the loop I put some distance between the two of them and myself, running mostly alone. I wasn’t really concerning myself with position just yet, I knew there were a few people ahead of me – some Japanese guy who it turns out was a former world champion or something (and upon further post-race investigation, a MULTIPLE winner of the Spartathlon!), some guy who apparently hailed from Vancouver, Washington (although initially I was told he was from New Zealand or something and planned to run 170 miles… He didn’t.), John Dennis, and maybe some other people, I wasn’t positive. I also didn’t care, it was still early and I figured if I ran what I thought I could, I’d be competitive.
Five loops down and it felt like I was just getting into the race. I could see big placards in my head moving, five down, twelve(?) to go. It might have been this loop where my parents sprayed me down with that sunblock that can go right on wet skin. It might have been earlier. It happened, that’s the point. I attempted to be sun responsible. I still got pretty dark.
Number six was… forgettable? It put me over the 50 mile mark. In my head, I was 1/3rd of the way to the best possible outcome. I was 7:20ish in to the race, meaning I had a decent cushion to get another 90 miles. About midway through the seventh loop, I came up on Johnny who was on his sixth. We ran together for a little bit. He was still looking pretty good and I wasn’t feeling too much worse than the beginning. I continued to stop every loop and pee and it still wasn’t improving much which was the only thing that was bothering me. My legs, quads especially, were getting a little sore. I began seriously considering that my stomach wasn’t absorbing what I was putting into it. I think after this loop I chugged some pepto because I was getting nauseous. Nausea is not usually an issue I deal with when running. I can bonk and I can feel like shit and I can get sore and I’m used to all that, but nausea is a sign that something is Very Wrong, because generally my stomach can handle quite a bit. Still, it wasn’t THAT hot and I didn’t feel THAT bad. There were some brief walk breaks after aid stations and stuff like that but for the most part I figured this could just be a low I would have to weather. After the 8th loop (I think, maybe it was the 9th? Who knows), Serge went on as I started off a bit slower. I wasn’t particularly surprised but I was a little disheartened. I think at some point during loop nine I caught back up to Serge but maybe I’m misremembering this. According to the lap splits, he finished it about four minutes before me. I was starting to noticeably struggle. It was beginning to get dark and would be full on dark by the end of the loop. I guess my body was finally starting to realize the consequences of running so long when the fuel wasn’t really being processed so well.
As I began the tenth loop, I began readjusting my goals for the remainder of the race. Downward. I also began walking a significantly larger portion. Mentally I was game, mentally I wanted to GO but physically my legs were beginning to betray me. I began spending a bit more time at aid stations, eating, drinking, trying to rouse myself back. About three miles in another Lone Ranger comes up on me and starts saying some encouraging things. I’m almost twelve hours into what is quickly becoming a death march and any company is more than welcome, let alone in the form of a good looking woman. We talk intermittently as she encourages me to keep going with her, slow and steady, but definitely faster than a walk. When we get to the 4ish mile aid station I sprint to the port-a-potty where I take a much needed dump. I’m slightly encouraged by this for some reason, like it’s a sign the body is still functioning alright. I’m mostly just out of it though so who knows what I was really thinking. We continue on together the rest of the loop. I learn she’s looking to run twelve loops and then stop, that she’s from Colombia and her name is Jessica. (If you ever somehow end up reading this Jessica, THANK YOU so much for sticking with me on that loop, it was exactly what I needed then).
[ed note: I am now realizing how hilariously wrong I was about this being a shorter entry than normal. My bad. But it’s me after all. Are you really surprised?]
As we were coming in along boathouse row at the end of number ten, Scott met up with and ran in with us. I lingered a little longer with my crew. At this point, somehow I am still in 4th place overall. As I’m lingering, Sabrina Moran blows through the start/finish looking super strong and just keeps going. I’m now 5th and it’s not really close between me and anyone else. But I don’t really give a shit. I start walking with Scott. We walk/jog a bit of the beginning of the loop. He was attempting to be encouraging, prodding me into picking up the pace, not stopping, that sorta stuff. I was trying. I was getting increasingly frustrated with myself because I WANTED so badly to just run. To run and feel tired instead of drained and nauseous. My body felt like it was powering down. Still, I managed to jog some of the first half of the loop to the far aid station. It was there that I saw John Dennis lap me (not realizing at that point that Sekiya had passed him and gone into 1st). And then, as we got to the bridge just before the five mile mark, there comes Serge. I don’t know what happened at this point. Well, I do. I got really freakin pumped. I realized at this point, the way I was feeling, the time I was bleeding, I was not going to be a factor as far as winning the thing went. As such, Serge passing me so close to what I assumed to be the lead, I got really excited for him. The adrenaline dump was intense and immediate. Scott yelled at me to pick up the pace and stay with Serge. And somehow I did just that. I figured I had enough in the tank to catch up to Serge and tell him to go kick some ass. But then I caught up to him and I was feeling ok again. Better than ok, I was feeling great. I should have known better, really. I should have realized what was happening, internally. But I wasn’t thinking. I was 90 miles in and I was cheering on a hero of mine and then all of a sudden I was running down the path at sub-8:00 pace again. After the race Serge would tell me that at that point I looked so good that he was worried I’d go all the way around the loop and pass HIM again. Ha!
[ed note 2: I wrote all of this entry to this point on July 27-28, while things were still relatively fresh in my mind. I didn’t finish and obviously didn’t post it. And now it is late September and I have had a number of people ask me about this particular race so I figured I should at least finish it, although it’s not particularly interesting]
I came in at the end of that loop and I stopped by my family to refuel and all that. But first I just HAD to sit. I told myself because I ran so hard and so well the last half of the loop that I could take a short break to recuperate instead of trying to rush out. And that’s what I did. I sat on this bench and ate… something. Problem was, I could feel my legs tightening up with every second. And all of a sudden, as good as I had felt the last half hour cruising along the river, I felt equally awful sitting there. Light-headed, surly, disoriented, hungry, nauseous, all of it. Mom told me I should nap for a little like Johnny had been doing. I was worried if I laid down, I would never get back up. So I strained to get up and willed myself to keep moving. My cousin PJ started walking with me away as I slowly trudged toward the art museum again. It was nice having his company. I can’t honestly remember anything we talked about, I was just really out of it. I WANTED desperately to start running again, I had this clock or something in my head keeping downcycling how much I could feasibly expect to run before the end. But I was just walking. And I don’t think I was going particularly fast. Everything felt weak and awful and like I was floating above my body. I had to keep stopping to keep from collapsing. I tried to move without stopping to the next aid station. I’m pretty sure I apologized over and over to PJ for him just walking this with me in the middle of the night.
Finally we got to the far aid station, 4ish miles in. And just like at the end of the last lap, I just wanted to sit down. I kept saying, just for a minute, just til I get some calories and drink in me. I could stop writing here, because essentially, as soon as I did that my race was over. The medical people immediately noticed me and despite my best attempts at lies, they figured out I was in bad shape. My blood pressure had plummeted, my temperature was low, I was starting to shake and things were deteriorating. So they put me on a cot with a space blanket and an IV in my arm and I just laid there and was generally pissed off about what was happening. They REALLY tried to get me to go to the hospital but I refused. I signed a waiver saying basically that if I died I wouldn’t hold them responsible for it. Dad came and got me and we drove back to the start/finish and I had a cup of soup or something and felt bad for a while as I saw other people coming through. Hope showed up with a bunch of honey stingers. It was the middle of the night, or early morning or something and I really appreciated the gesture, despite it being totally pointless at that point.
Somewhere after the sun had started to come up, I felt eversoslightly better. I asked the RD if I returned to the spot where I left the course and completed my lap, would it still count. He said yes so I had dad drive me back as close as he could get. I had to walk the ~half mile (?) to the aid station, then I walked, slowly at times, very slowly the rest of the time, the remaining 4.5ish miles of the course. It was ugly and I felt much worse and still very lightheaded and out of it than I told anyone. I pretended to be feeling MUCH better and that’s why mom and dad let me continue. I was thinking how I wasn’t allowed to die here because then they’d know I lied to them. And about an hour or so after I started walking, and roughly seven and a half hours after starting my last lap, I was walking across the finish line for the 12th and final time. Officially 101.47 miles. Easily the worst performance in my burgeoning ultramarathon career and also the worst race I’ve run this year. It wasn’t until at least a day or two later that I even began to approach feeling something resembling normal (not good, just not about to die sort of normal). At least I got to see Serge win convincingly.
It wasn’t the race I expected or felt capable of running. But I knew that I couldn’t have an entire year of pretty good race results, it was a matter of time in races this long that one was not going to go so well. The good thing, I guess, is that I learned some things, and I didn’t die. Also, my family totally had a blast and my little cousin interviewed me for a school report of sorts. Let’s pretend I ended this too long report with some sort of witty, optimistic sentence about perseverance and redemption. Yeah.
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