Ray K’s South Carolina Last Chance 24 Hour Race
I have another race report to write but I never wrote anything about this so I am going to quick write a recap of this and then move on with my life. I’m talking about Ray Krolewicz’s 24 hour track race down in Florence, SC. He put it on last minute to give some ultrarunners an opportunity to run a distance that would qualify them for selection to the US team for the 24 hour world championships. While I would have loved to try to do just that, I knew realistically I’m not ready to make the attempt but it was so close and I’d never run a long race on a track so I wanted to experience it. I didn’t actually run 24 hours, so I feel kind of like a poser writing this. I went down to South Carolina figuring on running a quick 50k and then stopping and spending the rest of my time down there helping out other runners,
I got on the road around 5 and except for a brief traffic stop due to an accident on 95, I got down to Florence very uneventfully. By the time I got there, there was maybe a half hour to go before the race.I saw Shannon Johnstone and Anthony Corriveau (great friends from the Triangle area, more on that later) and set up my stuff next to theirs. I got my number and eventually made my way to the start line as they were getting ready to send us on our way. The talent accumulated at the start was ridiculous. Zach Bitter, the American Record holder for 100 miles, a handful of women who all hand a realistic shot of making the World Championship team, a handful of men in the same boat. Go.
I jump out with two others, Zach Bitter and Harvey Lewis. We are going around the track quickly, like it’s a 10k or something, not like anyone is about to run for an entire day. After a few laps, I caught up to Zach and we ran together for a little while. He’s an amazing person — American Record holder at 100 miles and now 200km too. I think initially he was surprised to see anyone else up there keeping pace with him (we were running about 6:20-6:30s after all, not exactly 24 hour pace) but once I mentioned that I was only going for 50k it made more sense. I was impressed because he was running so effortlessly, and while I felt like I was running pretty easy too, I knew I didn’t have nearly as far to travel.
And so it went for the next hour or so. Totally uneventful. Lap after lap clicking along, Ray’s high school cross country runners keeping track for all of us, and doing a damn fine job of it! I went through 10 miles in about 65ish I think and remember hearing a half marathon yelled out in right around 85 minutes. Too fast for what I was going for, for sure. Around this time, the gentle breeze started to die down and the sun started to make itself more known. There was no cloud cover and the sun began to rapidly heat the black track we were all circling. I definitely hadn’t drank enough to that point, it’s easy to keep telling myself, ‘I’ll grab something on the next lap, it’s only about 2 minutes more.’ Those 2 minutes turn into 10, into 20 and yeah… I first felt off right around the half marathon mark, and probably stopped to grab some Gatorade. A few miles later I had to make a beeline to the port-a-potty to relieve what was a rapidly distressed stomach. That took some time and my legs felt much stiffer getting back to a run. At this point Zach had caught back up and went by me. There I was, intent on stopping after 125 laps and this guy, who is running all day, is already past me. Puts into perspective HOW good he is. Around this point I had put on my hat which helped keep the sun off (thanks for the suggestion Harvey Lewis!). Later on, in my final miles, Joe Fejes let me wear his bandana which had been dunked in ice water and that felt just lovely (thanks Joe!)
I started telling myself, well just get to 20 miles and stop. Then I got to 20 and had basically settled in. Uncomfortable but stable, I trundled on. I hit the marathon mark in about 3:13, two minutes slower than I ran at Umstead, a much more difficult course than a 400m track, a few weeks earlier. It was kind of demoralizing, realizing I had totally failed, realizing I probably hadn’t run smart or well. I stopped for a few minutes and mulled over just being done at that point. But then I figured, if I get going I could probably still manage to break 4 hours which would be an official PR. So I ran again and started to feel a little better. I was consistently running something just under 8:00 miles. I tried to give encouragement to all the other runners out there, many of whom looked like they were also beginning to suffer from the sun and the heat. Each lap as I got closer to being done became easier than the last. Finally, I had one lap to go and pushed it a bit. Being done felt so satisfying. 3:56 and change which was a PR by a considerable margin, but ultimately a disappointing result. I quickly got some shade and some fluids in me and talked to Ray K about what I might be able to do to help. Ray told me to take it easy for the rest of the day, get some sleep later and then push out another 20 Sunday morning. So I did. I relaxed for a while, tried to help out where I could but the race was running like a well oiled machine. Ray’s high school runner volunteers were amazing, many staying all day and night and the next morning tracking each runner’s every lap.
The best part of the whole experience had nothing to do with me running. I did go run another 21 miles the next morning and felt significantly better and stronger but whatever. The best part was watching my friend and amazing ultrarunner Shannon Johnstone absolutely friggin kill it. She started very conservatively and I believe was DFL after the first hour or two. She slowly worked her way up, running consistently and patiently. In the middle of the night, I was sitting near our tables and she came in and sat down and was not feeling very good. I did some quick mental math and basically told her that she definitely still had a shot at 120+ miles and a spot on the team. But she had to get up and go NOW and she had to keep going. And that is exactly what she did. It was an privilege to watch her gut it out the last few hours and, in the end, finish with 123+ miles and the last spot on the women’s US team! Woot!
I came away from the race weekend inspired by some incredible performances (Zach Bitter and Katy Nagy’s American Records for 200k, Harvey Lewis also making the US team with 154+ miles, Shannon’s race to name a few) and even more incredible people. The rest of this year is dedicated to putting in the work required to have a special kind of performance like theirs this fall.
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