North Coast 24 Hour Endurance Run (take 3!)
"You're going to run 100 miles in 24 hours?! Are you insane?" That was the question that I answered countless times in the last few months. Yes, I think I am a little crazy but I also really, really wanted that buckle. Let me back up a little bit.
So, the North Coast 24 Hour Endurance Run or NC24 for short, is the USATF 24 hour championship race held in Cleveland in mid-September. It's pretty simple, you run around a 0.88 mile bike path as many times as you can in 24 hours. You have restrooms, food, medical aid and constant company so that was very appealing to me. My first attempt at this race was in 2013, reaching 62 miles but learning an immeasurable amount along the way (what do you mean you have to eat consistently to avoid getting sick?) 2014 and I reached 78 miles, just short of my 80 mile goal. Apparently being angry at the thunderstorm the struck in the middle of the night and refusing to run, only stomp through puddles, will not help you reach your mileage goal. LOL
I took 2 years off from NC24 but still maintained a good base mileage of 1800 per year (good for me, not for everyone). But the thought of reaching 100 miles in 24 hours never escaped me. I knew my best chance would be at NC24, I had a solid set of friends that I had made as well as some locals who could crew me. And I knew the course so knew exactly what to expect. The day the sign-ups opened, I entered within minutes (earning a free Camelback water bottle for the fast signup effort too, thanks Race Director Brian!)
Training: Well....I found a few 100 mile training plans and mashed some stuff together. I work in the school system so I knew my best time for long runs would be during the summer. But, I'm also a married mom of two so I needed to balance running with family life, which is a struggle. I'm very, very fortunate that Brett and the kids are supportive of my goals. My long runs consisted of a 50k around a 1 mile loop for Relay for Life in May, numerous 18-20 milers, a DNF at 23 miles at Eagle Creek Trail marathon and a 25.5 mile training run 3 weeks ago. I did have 167 and 157 miles for July and August. I was trying to go with the idea that consistent miles per week would help make up for lack of really long runs. I also started cross training in an intense circuit class 2-3 times a week which made a big difference in my core strength. And, not to be overlooked, I work a lot of weekends at concession stands, earning money for my daughter's dance account and those shifts can be standing for 12 hours. So my training wasn't fancy but it was real life. Mentally I wasn't going to allow myself to not get the 100 miles. I had some nagging doubts but I would just push them away, knowing that I had to believe in myself, that I was the only one who could run these miles.
Crew: So Brett had been my main crew the previous years but due to his busy schedule at work, he couldn't come. My parents offered to take his place and I explained crewing for 24 hours was no picnic and they still wanted to be there! My runner friend, Brad, also expressed interest and I knew he would be a big help being an Army guy and very accomplished runner himself. Five other runners and another experienced crew memeber that I knew from the Runner's World Forums and had previously met at NC24 were running as well so we would have a great group of people.
Supplies: So for 24 hours you really need to plan on a variety of weather and temps. I planned on 6" running shorts from InknBurn to keep the thigh chafing away. I chose a light colored tank because there is no shade and temps were expected to be in the low 80's. I also grabbed a tech shirt, arm warmers, a long sleeved shirt, thicker pullover, capris and another shorts/tank outfit. Yeah, I'm a bit of a running clothes fashionista which is so easy when InknBurn makes such amazing and ultra tested clothes. I also pack a bag of Bio-Freeze, KT Tape, Leukotape, moleskin, scissors, needles for popping blisters, Tums and ibuprofen. More pairs of Feetures socks than I could count, compression calf sleeves, 4 pairs of Saucony shoes ( brand new ISO Freedoms) and my Oofos recovery sandles. Oh and my favorite hoodie in case I needed a warm hug to cry in if I needed it. I also wrote out a few pages of info for my parents with what I would need and when.
Race: We drove up from Indianapolis on Friday afternoon, arriving in Cleveland in time for dinner. We found the closest Italian restaurant, carbed up on bread and linguine and went to bed early. We were up at 7:00, hit a gas station for a case of water and ice and drove to the park, arriving at 9:00. Team member, Michael, was already there with two large canopies set up so we carried our supplies there and got things set up. I had all my supplies in plastic tubs to protect from rain and to keep things organzied. All clothes were labeled and bagged by outfit. We set up the table and I showed mom the food and explained that I had to eat 100-200 calories an hour and that her main focus would be making sure that happened. I got my timing band (a velcro band that fits around your ankle, you would think it's awkward but you honestly don't even realize it's there), bib, USATF age group bib and swag 1/4 zipped pullover (love it!!)
I eat a bagel with PB and a banana at 11:30. I put a strip of Leukotape on my forefoot under my big toe which is where I'm prone to blisters (I'm a heavy forefoot striker). I apply a silicon wipe around my sports bra area to reduce chafing as well. Then, time to line up for the start! 131 runners and walkers from every age group lined up at the start line, they play the National Anthem and we start at exactly 12 noon. I'm so excited!! And it was so hot!!! UGH!!! I asked for a ice water soaked towel during my second lap, knowing that I had to keep my core temp down to stay running in the first 6 hours. Here is my race strategy, put together by Brett:
12-6pm: 30 miles running most miles with 1 lap walk breaks every 5 laps
6pm-Midnight: repeat above to reach 60 miles by midnight
Midnight -6am: 22 miles, increase walk laps but continue running
6am-noon: 18 miles, all walking
Having an easy to remember and easy to break down strategy was key for me. I could break it down into smaller hour goals and see my progress, mentally checking off each set of miles. We had learned in the past that the mental game was just as tough as the physical side so I had to stay clear and focused.
First 6 hours: It's hot. Really hot. But I'm switching my ice water towel out each lap, my parents were on it, having the fresh one ready as soon as I came up to the tent. I started off with the run 5 laps, walk a lap idea that Brett came up with. My first walk lap seemed very long and I fell into step with Fredrick Davis III, a world-class ultra runner. I mentioned that I was trying this new plan of walking a lap when my normal training is running a mile, walking a minute. He suggested that I stick with what I'm used to as long as I can. I thought that made sense so I decided to change things a little. They had the course marked every 10th of a mile with small signs. So I decided to run from the end of "tent city" (about 0.2 from the start line) to 0.6, walk to 0.7, run through the finish and start my walk break at 0.1 which was right at the start of tent city. I was able to stay with this plan for along, long time. I hit 25 miles at 3 hours and stopped for the first time at the tent. My dad changed my socks and checked for blisters. I noticed a small one forming and put some tape on it. I asked Brad to torture me with The Stick so he rubbed my quads which felt great but then he had me stand for the IT bands and I had to hold on to my dad, calling out in pain, as Brad quickly and efficiently worked out the muscles. Then I was off again. I was doing great with food and hydration, using Cliff Bars, Stroople Waffles and crackers, drinking plenty of Nuun water in my handheld. I was urinating every hour so I knew I was on track to stay healthy in the heat. 6:00 pm rolls around and I'm at 31 miles on the dot!
Second 6 hours: Ok so the sun is setting. But someone opened the humidity door and there was no shutting it. It was so, so humid. I don't have any idea dew point or heat index but I do know that everyone was miserable. The medical tent, which was right at the start of tent city, was gaining patients, one a teammate who was experiencing severe dehydration. I stayed focused though and kept up with the running plan I set up earlier. Sock and shoe change at mile 45, 2 ibuprofen, another torturous round of The Stick with Brad, this time my cries of pain were much louder as I clung on to my dad (sidenote, I'm so glad Brad was there as my parents would never have been able to rub hard enough for fear of hurting me but I knew Brad would do whatever was necessary to keep me going) . I also changed my shirt and wiped down with some baby wipes. Amazing how putting on a clean shirt and wiping the grim and sweat off can mentally help you. It was about this time that I switched from Nuun to Tailwind which was caffeinated. This was not good for me as I felt nausea within minutes of drinking some. I don't know if it was the sudden hit of caffeine, the change in sugar content or what but my stomach felt terrible. I drank some ginger ale from the aide station (my first stop as I was using all my own stuff until now, with the exception of pizza at 4:00.) This did nothing for my belly. I started to panic. I wasn't even half way yet! I noticed a team mate walking after seeing him earlier in the medical tent so I asked if he was ok. He mentioned stomach issues and that the med tent used acupressure to relieve it. So I decided on a quick stop there. I explained to the worker what was going on, informed him that I was urinating so he wouldn't worry about dehydration. He pressed on two pressure points and gave me some ginger candy. This did help some. I continued to walk to settle my stomach down. To my delight, I walked by the USATF 24 hour head doctor and experienced ultra marathoner himself (229 total!!), Dr. Lovy. I quickly fell instep with him and told him what was going on. He told me to go back to medical and ask for a ginger pill, which is 8x's stronger than the candy. He said I would be back to normal within 15 minutes! Ok, that sounds good to me! Well, he was right, I took that pill and was running again within 10 minutes. It was like a miracle. Truly helped save my race. Brett texted and told my dad to head to Chipolte to get me a chicken and rice burrito for me. I also asked for a venti iced coffee with a double shot of espresso. I didn't eat it as the thought made my stomach turn but I knew it was good to have on tap for later. I was at 52.9 miles at midnight, off what I needed to be but I was feeling great with legs that still felt amazing.
Midnight to 6am: Legs are good. Laps are finishing. Brad joins me for a walk lap about 2:00 and he tells me that my timing is good, my form is excellent and that I was really in line to reach 100 but that I couldn't slack off. We crossed the lap mat at 2:00 and saw the large timing clock flicker off and the TV with your total milage and laps flicker off as well! I freaked out, thinking my last lap didn't count but Brad assured me that he heard the loud beep of my timing piece. The timing guy assured us that they have a battery back up for the computer and timing mat so I relaxed and headed out for another walk lap. As I cross the timing mat the next time, I see my name but my miles/laps were down by one. Now I'm going on 14+ hours of running but I did remember that I crossed the mat when it flickered at 60 miles because I was so eager to see that number. I asked the timer guy and he said that the computer had me at 63.9 miles, 71 laps and to disregard the 63 miles, 70 laps that was showing on the TV. He said this was happening for plenty of runners and they were working to fix it. I felt much better about this. I did check with him after nearly every lap for the next hour or two until I saw the numbers sync up. I know I annoyed him but when you're out there for 16 hours, you can't remember what lap you're on!! I did apologize for being annoying later. Stopped at 70 miles for a sock change, some bites of the burrito and Stick rub down which was more excruciating then I could imagine. Dad also sprayed some Max-Freeze on my quads and sent me away. I depended on bland food now for fuel: bananas, salted potatoes, potato chips. Each time I ate, I told my mom so she could keep track. Coke became my friend as well, the sugar and caffeine are lifesavers. Around 4am or so, I walked up to one of the last tents, one covered in Texas flags and saw a runner, Kevin, that I had spend a few laps talking to earlier. I hadn't seen him since it had gotten dark so it was nice to find a friendly face at my own pace. We set out to walking and we were really moving! We were going at 13 min lap paces, enough to really be working. He was also reaching for 100 miles and was about 7 laps ahead of me. We walked and talked and listened for hours. This also saved my race, having a friendly person to keep me moving during the very lonely, very taxing hours. In the past I had always gone to sleep for a few hours but I knew I couldn't do that this year. I don't remember exact lap times or miles but I do remember realizing that Kevin was going to hit his goal with no problem but that I needed to get moving a little faster to hit mine. I think I was at about 78 or 80 miles at 6am, off pace with little time to waste and sunrise (and heat) on it's way.
6am-noon: Sun rose and the camp woke up. The lonely path was getting busier, mainly with walkers but still some strong runners. I started running again myself, I don't remember when but I knew that I had to get moving. My goal was to reach 9:00 with only 10 miles left. I went back to running 2 laps and walking 2 laps. I would get so nervous to start running again, worried about the pain that I would feel. But I couldn't let my goal slip away and every additional walk break was pushing my buckle further away. Nearly everyone I passed commented on how good my form was still looking, how great it was that I was still running, that I was going to reach 100 miles. There was so much encouragement from runners, crew members and volunteers alike. The running community is terrific but the ultra running community is unbelievable. The last 3 hours blend together. The laps go by but the miles don't seem to go up. I'm getting nervous as I see the clock go below 3 hours and I still have 12 miles to go. Run. Walk. Potty. Repeat. Keep head down, don't talk, stay focused. Dad stops me and sprays sunblock on my shoulders. Run. Walk. Run again. Dad grabs me again and sprays more Max-Freeze on my quads. Mom tells me to eat and I walk away without a word, too zoned to reply. I feel a squishy-ness in the toe box of my right foot at 90 miles but know if I take my shoe off to check that I'll never get it back on. I also know not to tell my crew so I keep my mouth shut and push on, knowing that my sock could be filling with blood or puss or a mixture of both. I cross the lap mat and see 1:11:00, just over 70 minutes to go and I have 4 laps to go. I feel ok about this until my math challenged mind thinks that there are only 3 sets of 15 minutes in an hour instead of 4 (yes, I'm an instructional assistant in a 5th grade math class but I'm going on no sleep now!!!!) I still think it's ok until Brad informs me that he timed my last lap at 15 minutes. I start to really panic as I'm thinking I only have 3 sets of 15 minute laps and somehow now needed to pull out an 11 minute one too!! Brad must have seen the panic in my eyes because he hopped up and joined me for a few minutes, explaining the math and reassuring me that I was fine but I couldn't slack off. Ok, no more potty breaks, no more food, straight running for as long as possible. I actually ran the next lap with only 0.1 walk break. The next lap was two short walk breaks. I crossed the lap mat with 97.7 miles to go with 45ish minutes left. Ok, I can walk 2 laps in that time so I'm pretty safe. I pass my crew tent and everyone is cheering my on, my parents had made signs for the last 10 laps. I can feel everyone's support and it means so much to me. My mom tears up but I tell her "No, hold it for when it's official!" I decide that I've run too much to walk the last lap so I start running again and it felt amazing. I cross the timing mat for the 113th time, which was 99.7 miles, knowing that I just have to walk through tent city and a little bit more to the 0.3 mile marker. I'm all smiles as I walk up to the
Post race: FOOD! Pancakes, sausage and OJ. Clean clothes and a wash cloth to clean up with. A beautiful medal and an AMAZING BELT BUCKLE!! New and old friends to swap stories and congratulations with. The awards ceremony was special. The winner, Harvey Lewis, finished with 142 miles. The 1st place female, Tara Langdon finished with 131 miles. The race director, Brian, started awarding the top 10 overall female finishers without listing miles to keep us in suspense. I hadn't checked any of the stats, I was just too focused on my 100 miles. So I was stunned to hear "7th overall female, Mary Nabb." I jumped up as quickly as you could imagine someone can move after 100 miles to get my additional medal. Then they started with the Age Group awards and I was flabbergasted to hear "3rd place in Females 40-44, Mary Nabb." I was so shocked that I even asked Brian if he was sure and he told me he was positive. First place in my AG finished 119 and 2nd was 107. But 4th place was 100.9 so that extra lap to drop my block at the end got me 3rd place. And, I even won a raffle prize, jeez it was my lucky day!!! And I was told by Brian that I had the best hair in the race (I had the back shaved with a random design, figuring lots of people would see the back of my head this weekend, got tons of comments!)
Recovery: I'm tired. My lower body is swollen. I laid in the back seat for part of the 6 hour drive home. I did take a Epson Salt bath that evening, I'm sure that helped my legs. My poor feet. I have a huge blister where I put the tape, it's the biggest blister I've ever had. Multiple blisters other places, I think 10 in total. I stupidly didn't use anything on my feet to prevent this. Oh and I forgot to trim my toenails before the race so I'm guessing I'll lose 3 of them. My legs were sore on Monday but today (Tuesday) are doing ok. My left knee feels sore but not in an injury way. I think if the blisters would heal quickly, I could run a recovery run on Wednesday.
Final thoughts: Sorry this is a book but so much happens in those 24 long but short hours. I can't thank my parents enough for all their help. They offered to join me without having any idea what they were getting into and I honestly was nervous if they could keep up with the physicality of crewing. But they did an AH-MAZING job helping me, the others in my group and every other runner who needed a kind word or sugar boost from some Swedish Fish. Brad was instrumental as well, I know my legs were working for over 60+ miles without pain because of him. His support for me and the other runners in our group can not be overstated. Next fancy craft beer is on me, Brad. So many others....Kevin, Don, Fast Eddie, Dr. Lovy, Fredrick, Lorilei, Naomi, George, Michael, Diane, Susan, Chris, Dave, Kelly.......you all played a part in this dream coming true. Thank you to Brian and USATF for putting on a world-class event. Thank you.
But biggest thanks go to my husband Brett for his unfailing love and support. Knowing that you were tracking me and offering help and support to Dad was very encouraging as I did really miss having you there. I'll get the house clean after the blisters heal.
And to Kylie and Matthew for understanding that sometimes, Mom just needs to run.