Monday, September 22, 2014

North Coast 24 Hour 2014

North Coast 24 Hour Endurance Challenge 2014 Race Report
The bullhorn sounded precisely at 9:00 am and 170+ runners started off on our individual journeys.  Some were here to win, some were here to set world or national records, most were here to push themselves to their limits and beyond.  Here is a long version of my journey.
Last year I ran this race as my first Ultra.  For those of you unfamiliar with this race, it’s a 24 hour timed ultra marathon (any race over 26.2 miles) on a paved bike path in a park in Cleveland, Ohio.  I did pretty well for my first time (62.2 miles or 100k) but I really, really struggled during large parts of it and just walked away feeling defeated, knowing that I could do better if I had another chance.  So when my main supporter, my husband Brett, suggested this spring that I give it another try, I jumped at the chance to sign up.  We spent a lot of time researching and hashing out plans to improve my performance (nutrition and training), but more on that later.
I started rebuilding my mileage base in January and started my official 18 week training plan in May.  Most weeks looked like this – three 8 mile runs, a 10 mile run, a long run between 18-26 miles and two rest days.  My training peaked at just over 60 miles, most weeks averaged 50ish miles, low for most ultra runners but what I felt comfortable with, avoiding the dreaded Mommy Guilt from taking too much time away from family.  I did train very consistently with only a few hiccups on long runs (getting locked in a park bathroom for 45 minutes and having to be rescued by the fire department comes to mind.)  Indianapolis had a very mild summer with only a handful of days reaching 90 degrees.   I had an 8 hour Ultra in August as a tune-up race and finished 38 miles so I was feeling healthy and confident going to my goal race.
Goals – 1. Stay out there for the whole 24 hours.  2. Reach 75 miles 3. Beat my performance from last year.
Brett and I drove up to Cleveland from Indy on Friday early afternoon.  We talked more about our nutrition plan and mileage plan.  I knew I wanted to take in more dense, protein packed calories this year to keep The Bonk away.  I also wanted to force the calories in, even when no foods looked good, something that I did not do last year.  I wanted to pay better attention to the foods offered by the volunteers as they probably have a good idea of what they are doing.  I also wanted to reach 30 miles by 6 hours and 50 miles by 11 hours.   I also wanted to run most of those first 50 miles as that did not happen for me last year.  I trusted Brett to keep all this info in his head as I knew I wouldn’t be able to do much math after a few hours!
Friday evening we checked into the Travelodge hotel near the park and drove over to meet up with some friends from the Runner’s World Beginners Forum that I have gotten to know well in the past 5 years or so.  I had meet up with most of them in 2013 so it was nice to see familiar faces and spend some time catching up over a few slices of pizza.  Everyone seemed nervous and excited and ready to go.  We left early because we were both tired from the drive.  Headed back to the hotel, plugged all our devises in to charge and went to sleep.
I slept well and was up, showered, fed and in the car by 7:45.  Brett, Diana (friend from RW) and I drove to Edgewater Park and found the rest of our group setting up camp under a large tree.  The park had transformed into a ¼ mile long campground with canopies, tables, chairs and tents on both sides of the bike path that we’d be running on.  Here is an overhead view of the route.  It’s 0.9 miles long, mostly flat and next to Lake Erie.  The start/finish line is at the southwest end of the park where the group of buildings is and Tent City lines the path just to the curve turning west.  We set up our canopy with some help and got our table and supplies set out as well.  Picked up my bib and said hi to some familiar faces (Dawn, Charles, Javier and Leo).  Before I knew it they were calling for us to line up!

We start exactly at 9am and are all crowded together for the first lap or so.  I’m feeling excited.  By lap 2, I’m feeling hot so I ask Brett to grab my tank top that I had thrown in when I saw the forecast was calling for a high of 80.  He had it ready on my next lap so I did a quick wardrobe change (I completely love and highly recommend Ink N Burn clothes!! I wore the same shorts the ENTIRE race without any problems, they are amazing.)   Anyways, the park already is busy with pedestrians of all types which made it a little tricky to dodge dog walkers, bikers, toddlers and wedding parties but nearly everyone was considerate of the runners/walkers. 

 See, I'm in front of a famous ultra runner!  For about 10 seconds!
 Tent city.
 Walking up the "hill" with Chris and Anya in the evening.
 Shortly after dawn.

The first few hours went by well.  I was running all my laps with a short walk break at the bottom of the small hill.  I hit 13 miles at 2:14, averaging 10:30 pace.  Brett and I were both happy with this.  I did some chatting with people as I saw them but for the most part, I kept to myself, just running my race.  The sun was bright but it was warming up.  This is going to be the hottest day that I’ve run in all summer.   I was eating peanut M&M’s and peanut butter filled pretzels.  I did feel a little tired so I grabbed some chocolate covered espresso beans (so happy to take in caffeine after purging it from my system for two weeks before this!).  I carried a water bottle filled with Gatorade but the sugar from that combined with the candy wasn’t mixing well.  The temps rose quickly and by 1pm, I was feeling nauseous.  Brett and I decided that it was from too much sugar so I switched to only water and non-sugary foods.  Brett went to Chipotle and got me a chicken burrito with extra rice and a large bag of ice.  I walked a lap and tried to eat as much of the burrito as I could.  It was really good but I felt like I could hurl if I ate it too fast.  Other runners were commenting on how good it looked though! 
I reached the marathon mark of 26.2 miles just after the 5 hour mark.  I’m hitting my target goals and happy with that considering the heat.  But I’m fading fast.  I was also concerned that I didn’t need to use the restroom much and when I forced myself to, there wasn’t much urine output.  I knew I was taking in plenty of fluids and was just sweating them out.  I was taking salt tablets as well.  Brett decided to soak a dry wicking towel and a golf towel that he grabbed at the last minute from home in our small cooler with the ice.  I alternated wearing these around my neck which made such a difference for me!!  I went from feeling like I was going to have to walk the rest of the afternoon to running again.  I would suck the cold water from the towel while keeping it tucked into my shirt.  That was my second wind.  I hit 30 miles about the 6 hour mark and really felt like I was in a groove so I decided to just ride it as long as I could.  I thought about how last year I was a crying, miserable mess from 35-45 miles and this year I was cruising along, giving and getting encouraging comments from all my new friends.  One even named me the Green Machine.  I talked with Eddie, who at 75 years old was looking to set some records.  I talked to Leo, who I think is in the 85+ age group and told him how much I enjoyed walking with him last year.  I thanked Dr. Lovely for being there, the USATF team doctor (also a purple heart Vietnam vet) who walks the entire 24 hours, checking on people, keeping a watchful eye out for tell-tale signs of runner distress.  I chatted with Angela, who at 13 years old was running her first ultra and having the time of her life (she finished with 58 miles).  I congratulated Harvey Lewis, the 2013 NC24 hour winner on his Badwater win this summer (I think he heard me as he tore past me!).  Chris, George, Eric, Angela, Angela, Dawn, Kelly, Lori, Charles, Eddie, Naomi and so many more were so friendly every time I saw them.  Several people complimented me on my “short but consistent gait” and how I was an “energizer bunny”.  I marveled and shook my head at the muscle bound guys who were cross-fitting on the pull-up bars for hours and hours.  I ate oranges and bananas and lots of ice cubes.  And I hit 50 miles in under 11 hours.  Yes!!

I stopped now to be stretched out by the medical staff (thanks Kate) and to have some spots on my feet looked at.  I was surprised to see a small blister on each foot but the podiatry students were happy to drain and bandage them.  I changed shoes and socks for the first time as well.
Sadly the heat proved to be too much for a few people.  Two runners had to be taken off course by ambulances.  It was a sobering reality to see but I was also very thankful that the medical staff was assisting them so quickly and made the right decisions to have them hospitalized.
Word on the street was that there was a large thunderstorm in Detroit that was going to be making its way to Cleveland about midnight.  I’ve run in a thunderstorm before and really wanted no part of it.  So after another 2 hours of running and realizing that I had unnecessarily just yelled at Brett for not getting me ice fast enough (although I did follow up my yelling of “Ice, Ice!!!” with a well timed “Baby”) I knew I needed a break.  So at 58 miles, I retired to the canopies with several others in our group and tried to get some sleep.  Although the hammock was very comfortable, the wind on the loose canopy tarp was too loud so I hoofed it to the minivan and dozed on the floor for a few hours. 
Brett woke up at 2:30 and suggested that I get back out so I did.  I put on a clean shirt and walked back to the canopy area.  It didn’t look like it had rained so I just figured that the storm had blown over.  What luck!  I started walking while drinking the iced coffee (black with extra turbo shot) Brett had gotten me a few hours earlier.  There were still some runners out there, amazingly looking like they never slowed down.  But most of the people were walking now.  The caffeine kicked in and I felt pretty good so I started running again as well.  I past the 100k point so every mile now was a personal record but I still had at least a half marathon to go.  I passed a canopy in Tent City and saw two men looking at a weather radar on their iPad that looked very yellow and red.  Huh, maybe that storm didn’t really blow over.  I asked a volunteer as I grabbed some salted potatoes if they knew the forecast and he said the thunderstorm would probably stay over the lake.  Good because I couldn’t rest anymore if I wanted to reach 75 miles by 9am.  And I was NOT going to NOT hit that goal.
So it came as a very unpleasant surprise when the little sprinkle I felt on the south side of the trail turned into a full on downpour a few minutes later!  I had just left Tent City so knew I was nearly a full lap from my rain jacket so I ran that lap as hard as I could.  And, since it’s very dark at 4:30am, I hit every single puddle out there.  My body was completely drenched, to the bone.  My socks and shoes were heavy from water.  I stopped at the canopy to dig out my rain jacket.  I kept going but walking now.  I’m needing the use the restroom about every other lap now, all my hydration was catching up to me and I wasn’t sweating any of it out.  The course really cleared out, it seemed that most people had retreated to their tents or canopies.  Except the elites, they really don’t ever stop.  It was so inspiring to be passed by them because they looked as fresh as they were 18 hours ago.  There is some real strategy going on though, I noticed several guys from Harvey’s crew, standing on the far side of the course, spotting for him.  I never bothered to look at the leader’s board but I knew others were paying close attention to the standings.  
I kept walking for the next few hours.  My shoes and socks were still wet but I didn’t want to change into my last pair of dry socks when I still couldn’t see well enough to avoid puddles.  My energy did perk up as it got lighter and lighter.  I changed into fresh shoes and socks at dawn and was lucky enough to be next to my phone when my 10 year old daughter called at 6:45.  I also got a well timed text from my BFF, Damaris.  Soon I saw Brett standing at the timing mat, waiting to see how I had been doing.  I finished 70 miles by 7am and knew 75 was going to happen.  I was running again at this point, running 2 laps and walking a lap.  Brett joined me for a few laps and discussed the plan for the next hour.  Part of me wanted to stop at 75 and get a massage but part wanted to go until the horn sounded at the end.  We were debating this and Brett said “You get up at 5am every morning to run and you will regret not finishing this out” and I said “No, I get up at 5:15.” Lol.  Right then we passed Dr. Lovely and overheard him say that this might be his last ultra so he wasn’t leaving the course until it was over so I had my answer.  Brett took pictures as I hit the 75 mile mark and I took a small wooden block from a volunteer that I would drop wherever I was at on the course when the horn sounded to end the race so they could measure my distance past the timing mat for an official finishing distance.  I had 25 minutes left.  We walked Tent Camp and up the little hill and I started running again, stopping for a walk break past the port-o-lets as usual.  I crossed the timing mat at 8:50.  Brett told me that I was NOT dropping that block on this next lap, that I was going to complete one more full lap before 9am. I stared at him and said I haven’t run that fast this entire race!! But then I had the biggest adrenaline surge and started running as hard as I could, through Tent City, past our canopy, up the hill that I had walked every single lap, ran hard past the lake and around “muscle beach”, passed the police officer who yelled for me to keep going.  Brett checked the time and said I needed to pick up the pace but that he thought we were about an 8 min mile pace.  I was feeling amazing so I ran faster, yelling for him to get his butt to the finish line to get my picture.  He sprinted away.  I ran and panted and ran harder, down the little hill, towards the timing mat that was surrounded by runners and spectators, hearing them yell as I sprinted across the mat with 20 seconds to spare so I kept running hard until I heard the horn and dropped my block.  Whew – THAT’S THE WAY TO FINISH A RACE!!!! 

I walked around to cool down, got some breakfast from the Boy Scouts, chatted with some people, and watched the awards.  I’m not sure of the winner’s name but this was his first ultra and he ran 154 miles!!!!  Harvey finished 2nd with 134 miles (I think).  The results aren’t posted yet but I saw many happy faces with new belt buckles, which are given to those finishing 100+ miles.  I ended up with 78.4 miles, not counting the probably .05-.08 miles after the timing mat that will be added to the official results, good enough for 48th place.  I ran/walked 20 out of 24 hours.  I’m sore but not injured in any way other than some blisters.  I feel tired but on top of the world at the same time.  I’m so thankful to have this opportunity, this race and race director (Dan!) who works tirelessly to take care of all of us.  I’m so thankful for the volunteers to made oranges appear when I wanted them, got me turkey breast slices when I didn’t want sandwiches because of the mustard (yuck!), and had the best ramen and chicken noodle soup ever.  I’m thankful for all the friends I made out there, the encouraging words, stories and jokes make the miles go by faster.  And I’m eternally grateful for Brett.  His coaching, crewing and ability to know me better than I know myself at times allowed me to reach and exceed my goal.  It really does take a village to make an event like this happen.  A village that I’m proud to be a part of!! 

Congratulations to all the finishers!!!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Howl at the Moon Race Report

So I’m training for my second North Coast 24 (24 hour ultra in Cleveland in September).  I ran it last year and finished with 62 miles, which was well under my goal but about as good as I could do that day.  This year the plan was to keep my miles consistent, and improve my race day nutrition, as I know that played a big part in my disappointing first NC24. 
I heard about Howl at the Moon, an 8 hour ultra about 90 mins from my house.  I had several friends who had done it previously and considering that it was celebrating it’s 24th year and was 6 weeks before my goal race and was relatively inexpensive, I had to do it.  Man, I’m glad my friend’s encouraged me to sign up right away because it was sold out in a week.  Another sign that this was going to be a good race.
So – training this summer has been going very well.  Miles are consistent and I’m getting all my long runs in with the exception of my last one that I had to cut short at 19 instead of 26 due to being stuck in a park bathroom for 45 minutes (no lie).   I also used a 1 mile run, 1 minute walk pattern that worked really well for me.
My A goal for Howl was 40 miles and B goal was 35.  Since it was a trail race vs road race like NC24 is, I knew the terrain would be more challenging so I was being flexible with my goals.  Also, running in early August vs mid September was bound to be hotter which would affect my miles.
Race Day – I get up at 5:15, dress, eat a breakfast burrito, wake up Brett (who was crewing me) and we are on the road by 6:15 eastern time.  The drive from Indianapolis to Danville, IL was uneventful.  The sky was completely overcast and the weather was on the cool side, low 60’s.  I couldn’t have asked for better weather and hoped it would continue.  We arrive at Kennekuk Park outside of Danville about 6:45 central time.  The area is already crowded with cars, tents and canopies, which were all line up along a ¼ mile stretch of a grassy field.  Brett and I run into our friend , Jeff, who offered to let us share his canopy so we drop our stuff off there and I head to the registration area to pickup my packet.  My packet was actually a small cooler and a race shirt.  I then head to the score tent and check in with my scorer who would be counting my laps throughout the race.  The laps only count if the score guy marks them off so it was very important to check in with him each time I passed the tent. 
Brett and I get our crew area set up with food (bagels, peanut butter, PB filled pretzels, Gu, Gatorade, Starbucks bottled frappachino, Coke, gingered ale and Nerds).  Brett had paid close attention to how Harvey Lewis’s (who won Badwater this year) crew had their table set up during NC24 (where he ran 150 miles!!) so he had an idea of what we should try out for ourselves.  It was different as I would only see him every 3.3 miles instead of every .9 mile but we would adjust.
The race started right at 7:30.  Weather was still perfect, overcast and 64*.  350 people were registered but I don’t know how many actually started but it was a lot.  I took off as well as I could but the first mile was very crowded.  We ran along a mowed grassy area that was basically about 10 feet wide.   So it was slow going for the first mile until we hit some pavement and could jostle around a little.  The first mile consisted of mowed grass (not a fan of running on that), dirt road, mowed grass again and about 200 yards of pavement.  The next mile was more mowed grass that had some small hills but also ruts, holes, low branches and some thicker grass (which is hard to run through as your feet get caught on it).   About 1.5 miles into the course, there is more pavement and the aid station.  This was set up very well with potatoes dipped in salt, M&M’s, granola bars, pop, and other items.  The volunteers were very friendly.  I skipped this station as I had a Gu Roctane at the start and was carrying a water bottle filled with Gatorade.  Next the road changed to dirt road with a nice little downhill that I enjoyed (ever since running down Leg 1 of Hood to Coast, I LOVE to fly down hills!)  The next mile or so was the most challenging for me as far as terrain.  The dirt road had lots of chunky rocks, ruts and holes that I had to avoid, there was no “tuning” out.  There was also parts that had recently been re-graveled with pea gravel that hadn’t really crushed down well enough to be stable.  So I’d step in gravel that shifted unexpectedly.  Yeah, not my favorite part.  Finally, I saw a road and turned when I hit it only to be greeted by a huge hill!  Everyone was walking it.  So I joined them as we all pushed up the hill to a very excited group of volunteers, handing out water.  Again I skipped this station.  We continued on this paved road for another ½ mile and then turned back into the woods for another rutty, rooted, grassy, holey path that brought us back to the canopy’s and the starting line. 
I stop at my canopy and check in with Brett.  First lap time for 3.3 miles was 34:36.  I pass the scoring tent and my scorer was looking for me, yelled my name and marked down my first lap.  I’m back out for the next lap.  So – laps 2, 3 and 4 were uneventful.  I ate some at the aid stations, took some salt tablets, drank water and Gatorade.  My times were 34:35, 34:39, 35:34.  Weirdly consistent!  I was feeling great.  Stopped for the restroom during lap 5 (37:10) and still felt very strong for 16.5 miles.  Lap 6, I started to notice that my hips were feeling a little sore from the uneven ground.  This lap was 37:21 (19.8 miles total).  Lap 7 was a longer restroom stop and longer aid station stops (38:49, 4:13:45 overall time for 23.1 miles).  Lap 8 was slower as well, I’m just getting tired and was having a harder time keeping my speed in the grass and gravel but I was staying under 10:00 min mile pace on the paved portions (43:29, 26.4 miles, 4:57:15 overall).  I was really happy to hit the marathon point under 5 hours and still feeling good.  Lap 9 - At this point, I was feeling a little tired so decided to drink a bottle of frappachino.  I had read in someone’s blog that the mixture of sugar and caffeine worked well for him so I thought I would give it a try.  BAD CHOICE!!  The full cup filled up my stomach to the point that I was very uncomfortable.  Maybe the dairy in it too.  Whatever it was, I felt full and sick for the next entire lap.  I was pretty pissed at myself too.  I took a long walk break in one of the grassy areas around mile 27, cursing the grass as I trudged through it.  An older man wearing a 50 marathon, 50 states TWICE shirt teased me, calling me a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle due to my green outfit.  I talked to him for a few minutes as I was having a private emotional battle – “I’ve run 27 miles well, I can walk the rest and be happy with that.  It will be easier to recover if I don’t go all out.  Damn grass!!  You didn’t drive here to phone it in, just try to run a little bit.  Make yourself puke so you don’t have the sloshing feeling anymore”.  It was around this point that I noticed the 100+ marathon runner with double knee replacement was now 20 yards in front of me!  Dang it – get yourself together!!!!!  So I started running again.  I came up to the next aid station and grabbed some potatoes and ran into two friends also at the station.  I was happy to see familiar faces and ran the next mile with Dave, discussing how outrageously expensive weddings are and how wonderful my kids are and about how the damn hill was growing and how I don’t like watermelon but that maybe it would help my yucky tummy and about how we didn’t like being passed by Western States runners who looked like they were running at our 5k effort.  We stayed together until we hit the grassy area again and Dave cramped up so I kept going.  Checked in with Brett, updating him on why I was so slow (50:46, 29.7 miles).  He offered to run with me for a little and take pictures so I welcomed the company.  It was very nice to have him there even when he was teasing me.  He agreed that the rocks, roots and ruts were challenging at times.  I told him when I wanted to walk and he kept those breaks short.  We actually ran most of this lap, even part of the hill as he wanted an “action” picture (yes, I wanted to punch him!!).  Finished the lap in 44:49 with a bathroom stop.  33 miles down in 6:32:45.  I knew my next lap would be my last as they shut down the course 30 mins prior to the end and have runners do a ¼ mile out and back trail to keep distances accurate and participants together.
I run most of the last lap but much slower.  More of a trudge than run.  But it was forward movement and I enjoyed it.  I tapped the sign for Scott Hathaway, the runner who passed away on this course a few years ago.  I said encouraging words to everyone I passed and to everyone who passed me.   I stopped that the aid station for a margarita and enjoyed drinking that strong cup for a long time!  A lady with a Scottish accent yelled that it was “too early to be walking, Greeny” as she ran effortlessly past me after I pulled myself up that damn hill.   I watched her run away and thought, she’s right, I’m running the rest of the way and I did.  I got to Brett, finishing my 11th lap, 36.3 miles with a lap time of 52:34. I timed it right as I only had about 2 minutes before they were starting the out and backs, my friend whose canopy we were sharing had 18 minutes to wait (he didn’t trust that he could finish another whole lap in 48 minutes).  I check in with my scorer and he explains that I would get a straw every lap and turn those in to him before the clock hit 8 hours.  If I didn’t get them into him by the buzzer, then none of those laps would count.  I line up with the rest of the runner (probably 50 of us) and took off running.  I felt like I was really pushing myself but man, some of the stronger runners were flying.   This route was very rutted and mole hills and thick grass so it wasn’t fast.  I was pushing myself though, I really wanted to get at least 3 laps in.   This was actually the longest straight running portion that I did all day!  I ran the first lap, grabbed my straw and went back out.  Another lap, another straw and 15 minutes to go.  Ok, let me get another lap in and then I’ll stop.  Got my 3rd straw and heard “8 minutes to go”.  I headed out for another lap as I knew I could get it in before time was up.  I swear I cried out loud when I hit a root and stumbled a bit but I kept running.  I grabbed my last straw and ran to the scoring table.  I turned them in at 7:55:42.  My Garmin said 37.85 but that must be off because 36.3 for 11 laps and 4 laps for another 2 miles puts me at 38.3.  I don’t have the official results yet.  Anyways, I was done!!!!
I got cleaned up, Brett bought me an elephant ear, we grabbed some beer and some of the post race meal.  We stayed for part of the awards, long enough for me to get the “I completed the Ultra at the Moon” medal and then headed home because we had to pick up our kids.  On the way home, my friend Christy texted to say that I had actually won an AG award too!!  I was stunned.   My AG was Open Women, the largest AG there.  She said they awarded the top 10 or 12 in each AG and she thought I was 4th or 5th place!  She took my medal for me and is mailing it.  What an awesome and unexpected surprise.

So – to recap – I need to stay away from dairy during and post race (yeah, threw up a strawberry shake I had when we got home).  My results proved that my training is on track for NC24.  And I’m feeling very confident about my goal race next month.  Howl at the Moon was a terrific, well organized race. Highly recommend.  I would do it again next year if my schedule allows.  Now, time for a nap!!!