Hinson Lake (sort of) 24 hour race report
Saturday was an interesting experience. I ran part of the Hinson Lake 24 hour race. I say part because I really only ran about half of it. Katie already talked about the race in her guest post but I figure I want to get my thoughts down about it.
Going into this race, I knew it would be different than most races I’ve done. Originally, I was supposed to work until noon on Saturday which meant that I probably wouldn’t get started running until around 3pm, seven hours after the race started. From a competitive standpoint, this would be a disaster. Fortunately, I was not concerned with this. Being honest with myself, since the 24 hour disaster in Philly, I spent about a month doing squadoosh. The past few weeks have been better. About two weeks ago I finally started to feel fully recovered and sorta back to normal. Regardless, I knew that there was no way on earth I was prepared to make a strong effort at running for 24 hours. The only thing that would do would be to wreck me for another month or longer. So only having 17ish hours to run was actually an appealing idea. It took the pressure off and allowed me to treat this as a fun, supported long run weekend.
Then Saturday morning rolled around and it was raining and work got cancelled. It didn’t get cancelled officially until almost 8:30 though so I was in Durham, picking up Shuriah who was going to come down and help Katie crew for me/hang out/learn about this other Very Important part of my life, I had to make phone calls to parents as I drove down to Rockingham, and we finally arrived a little before 11. I got myself changed and ready pretty quickly and headed over to the timing tent which was on the other side of this bridge. The weather was a little muggy but coolish and the rain had pretty much stopped but the skies still looked grey. I checked in and slightly after 11 I started my first loop. Now, instead of having only 17 hours to run, I had almost 21. This made everything a bit more interesting. Potentially I could actually run a respectable distance, although with two members of the 24 hour World Championship team (Jonathan Savage and Joe Fejes), plus some other strong runners, I figured cracking the leaderboard would be an accomplishment in itself.
Originally, I had set an upper limit somewhere around 60-70 miles but now we were talking about 100-120. Somewhere in my head I knew that while it sounded good and was almost certainly achievable, it was a Bad Idea. More on that later.
I started too fast. Of course. I hadn’t run much in the week leading up. I felt pretty good. I was excited. Blah blah blah. The laps were about a mile and a half and I ran the first one right around 11 minutes. Yeah. Too fast. Because of the humidity and the fact that it wasn’t THAT cool, my Bull City track club singlet lasted about one mile into that first lap before coming off. Second lap was slightly improved but I seemed to settle into a rhythm of running right about 12 minutes per lap, which included a brief stop at the ladies who were situated at the top of the very little uphill that took you out of the woods. From there it was a short gravel stretch back to the bridge and the timing tent. I walked a little of this almost every lap, though my impulse was to GO. I must have been a bit confusing or some runners who had been out there for three hours already. All of a sudden there was this guy running around looking way more fresh than he had any business looking. Obnoxious. So I tried my best to be courteous and encouraging of anyone I went by.
Everyone else was super nice and friendly and encouraging too. At times people picked it up as I ran by and I got to run some laps or at least partial laps with a number of awesome runners. First there was Jamar who somehow recognized me and said he had been waiting for me to get down there or something. Cool. Every time I ran by him throughout the day he gave me a nice shout out. I saw Ray K a few times, of course, but sadly I never really heard any singing. Next time. Early on some former college runner ran a lap with me saying he had never run more than about 8 miles or something and wanted to run 35. I didn’t see him the rest of the day and I don’t know if he was actually in the race though. Still, a nice diversion. Bill from Raleigh ran from the far side of the lake to the start with me “to feel what it was like to run with the fast guys” or something like that. Made me chuckle to think people saw me and thought that. I got to run a few laps with Barefoot Josh, who was out there with the goal of 42 miles (31 of which he did completely sans shoes, bad ass). Josh also so nicely allowed me to borrow his headlamp in the evening when he was done running, as mine was/is a POS. There were also a number of people I recognized or kinda knew, even if it was just from the internet, like Shannon and Amy and Cheryl (who ended up almost breaking the women’s CR) and probably a bunch I’m blanking on right now, and it was cool to say hi as I went by. The best encounter for me had to be with a little kid out walking a lap with his dad. He had to be no more than two years old or so. As I went by he got really excited and I heard him say, “Daddy, that one’s a pirate!!” When I heard that I briefly stopped (mentally, not physically, the legs are kind of on autopilot) to consider — shirtless, hairy, beard, bandana… yeah, makes sense.
What about the race? Well, there’s not much interesting to say about it. I ran probably a bit too fast for the first 30 miles. I hit 20 laps (~30 miles) in 4:05 exactly and didn’t stop as I came through, running straight to the bathroom. At least it was solid, I thought to myself. Hopefully that means I was just done digesting my big dinner and breakfast. After the bathroom, I decided to walk a lap with Katie and Shuriah. It was nice to be able to take the mental ‘racing’ edge off by breaking things up like this. Reminded me I was not supposed to be in competitive mode. It also gave my stomach a chance to get settled.
After the walking lap, I started running again, a little more under control, and made it another 4-5 loops before making a second pit stop. I was still feeling pretty good, some minor chafing, some minor hamstring tightness, but not major red flags anywhere. And it seemed that I was doing a good job of fueling for a change. While I still wasn’t doing much solid foods, I was getting some stuff down almost every lap. That second bathroom stop was my last of the race. The pepto I took after must have worked. I started running again and I was about 5:40 into my race. This stretch of running was the most consistent of the entire race. I was kind of surprised with myself that as I started going again here, I was in a pretty good mood. I was downright chipper really. I am not a particularly chipper person in general, and in races I have a tendency to get a bit grumpy as things go on. I wouldn’t say (and Katie, Johnny, mom, dad, etc would be slightly more authoritative on the matter) that I get mean or anything but I don’t say much, I can be disagreeable about things like fueling, and I get sort of negative. None of that happened here. Instead I felt like I was almost bouncing down the trail, still making a point to acknowledge people I saw out there. When I came to the end of a loop, I wasn’t dreading it, knowing I’d be forced to consume some calories and fluids. Instead I was smiling and greeting the two lovely ladies with a smile. I know this is all true because they told me after the race.
While all this was going on, just clicking off lap after lap, most of them somewhere between 13 and 14 minutes, I was slowly inching closer to the leaderboard. Finally, it appeared I was on the same lap as 10th place on the leaderboard and was veryclose to winning the silly little game I came up with for myself. I know I hit the 50 mile mark in about 7:20ish, for what it’s worth. If I had stopped right there, I’m certain I could have woken up Sunday and pretty much gone about everything business as usual. But I didn’t. It started to get dark and I was trying to squeeze in as many laps as possible before I had to break out the headlamp. Many of these laps blur together during this part of the race, I know I was hopeful that things would cool off some after the sun went down (however the humidity never really dissipated, frown).
About 50 feet into my first lap with the headlamp, I broke the damn thing. URRRGH. I ended up running that lap with it in my hand and I could hardly see anything. Fortunately Shuriah and Katie fixed it and got it around my chest for the next few laps. And then as I mentioned before, Josh loaned me his after that as he had hit 42 miles and was done. I have to give Shuriah a particular thank you here for helping me get Josh’s light around my chest. I had the strap all rolled up and uncomfortable and she helped even it out despite the fact that I was sweating like I had just spent hours in a sauna and probably didn’t smell particularly fresh. That is first class crewing right there. I ran a few more loops and then when I got to around 10 hours I stopped to walk again. Not because I was struggling exceptionally, I just felt like a break. I had started to get a little too into my competitive mode with my name finally making it’s way onto the leaderboard and the top of that board was not TOO too far ahead anymore. I figured a walking lap would help cool my jets. Shuriah was nice enough to keep me company in the dark. It was a lovely half hour.
At this point, our goal had become ~90 miles and stop. I was right around 70 when I started running again. First loop was still right around 14ish but I could tell my legs were starting to tighten up. My little toe blister also began to make itself known. My medial left ankle started feeling the miles too, as it always does. In general, my feet started to feel the effects of running so far in my Green Silences. The lack of support starts taking a toll somewhere after 50 miles it seems, but I didn’t want to change them out when I was so close to being done. I knew I was rapidly approaching the upper limit of what I could do without requiring some significant recovery time afterward. 50 laps seemed like a nice logical number to stop at. As I set out on my 51st lap (because after half a day of running, counting was slightly difficult) I told the ladies I was going to run this one and then walk a lap and we’ll re-evaluate. And that’s what I did. I ran it harder than the previous couple because I knew it was the last one. I managed to finish it slightly under 13 minutes, getting back to the tent at 11:54 on my watch, having covered a little more than 77 miles.
The three of us walked another lap at this point. If there’s one thing I could use some work on in my ultra training (and there is A LOT I can use some work on!), it’s walking during races. I am slow slow slow. I can keep a decent pace when running but as soon as I go to a walk, I might very well be the slowest person out there. Other people were walking and they were zooming past us. Granted, I was feeling pretty leisurely but still. I digress. We walked a lap and I told them that I was done running and I felt zero bad about that decision. Of course then we got back to the timing tent to tell them I had finished another lap and I was probably done and saw the leaderboard. Somehow I had jumped to 4th place overall, 3 loops behind 3rd place and only 8 loops behind the two leaders, with 9 hours to go. Add to that the fact that when I was out there I still seemed to be moving quicker than anyone else and it became briefly, but mightily tempting to press on. If I’m being honest with myself, I certainly COULD have pressed on. Physically I have felt much much worse during races and mentally I was still very much engaged. Fortunately, I had some people to talk me from jumping off that cliff. Eyes on the prize and all those cliches about long term goals. With that, I headed back to our little spot and had a beer and just sat for a while talking. A little later it occurred to us that if I had done one more lap, I would have a little over 80 miles. So Shuriah and I headed back out to walk the loop one more time. Too bad the sky was cloudy, I’m sure the stars would have looked quite beautiful considering there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of civilization around. I came back to the start/finish for the last time, checked in, thanked everyone profusely, grabbed some water and headed back.
I got my upper body a massage (it had been tensing up in the last few hours) and washed myself off as best I could in the sink, talking to Jonathan who was doing the same thing. Congrats to him on going on to win despite not completely having the race he was hoping for. Seriously impressive runner. Had another beer and we headed back to the Triangle. I’ll officially get credit for 80.56 miles, but that’s whatever. More importantly, I got 77 miles of quality running in without absolutely wrecking myself. It is little secret to anyone who has talked to me about running in the past month or so what my Next Big Race is, and that race is still 27 weeks away and comes with the sort of goals that will probably need the next 27 weeks to go relatively according to plan (albeit a plan I am totally making up as I go along, but a plan nonetheless). As I sit here writing this Monday afternoon, I have already been beaten in a race by a very quick 1st grader, but the key thing is I did race him and I didn’t feel anything particularly bad while doing it.
To recap: I ran 77 miles. When I stopped, I was in 4th place despite a 3 hour handicap. I didn’t injure myself. It seems like recovery won’t take that long (I figure about or week or so to feel 100% normal). Shuriah took a bunch of notes and learned a t so that she could potentially crew by herself considering Katie will not be at every race. Everyone seemed to have a pretty good time. No one had to deal with Grumpy Mark (and I have my own hypothesis on what factors caused that, but this is long enough already). This race was a complete success.
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