Sunday, September 28, 2014

2014 North Coast 24: My Ultramarathon Racing Debut

Hahaha, I'm laughing as I lie here on the couch. Most people probably didn't see this coming or expect this. Sorry guys, I didn't mean to keep it from everyone. I've just had so many "disappointments" that I would rather try something alone quietly and fail at a goal no one knew about than publicly fail. A recent example of course would be not climbing a step above base camp on Mt. Everest this spring. A more distant example would have been unemployment. Failure hurts.

I've mentioned before but by the time I announce something, I'm usually feeling 80% of the way there. It takes a lot of nerve for me to announce a goal when I am any farther away. So I didn't tell anyone, besides my dad, what my goal was. Well, the secret is out, the goal was 160 miles. I didn't quite make it. I'm laughing again, having run over 154 miles, winning a USATF national championship, and probably headed to Italy for the 2015 IAU 24 hour world championship, it is a pretty good ultramarathon debut. Hopefully it puts my 2010 Wonderland Trail and and July Sawatch (Nolan's 14) runs in context. Here is the thing, I have known for years I would be really good at the truly longer distances. Maybe it was the backpacking in high school, maybe it was the fact that I have always, always been better at long runs than anyone else on my track or cross country teams. Unfortunately, the ability to run 16 miles the day after racing an 8k cross country run, doesn't translate directly into running a 25 minute 8k. So I moved up after college ran some marathons and basically the opportunity finally came up to race an ultra, while still really aiming for a late fall 2014 marathon, so I registered. I picked it because the 24 hour run is one of the few ways to qualify for a team USA spot at a world championship, and that's one of my three old running goals. The other two are the olympic marathon trials and a sub 30 10k. Plus, ultra running I think will make marathons easier the same way I've set PRs from the 800 to the 10k after running a couple marathons. What is the pain the last two laps in a 10k compared to the pain the last two miles of a marathon?

Well, let's get into the backstory, starting from Friday. If you want my training logs the last eight years they are on RunningAhead, the last two years are on Strava (my GPS and Strava seem to not be talking right now), and last 13 years are on Million Mile Ultra run. I will say, the day before the first backpacking trip I led, as a 17 year old in 2003, in a hotel in Leadville, I caught half of a documentary about the Leadville 100 and realized that there were races farther than 26.2 miles. I was stunned. Yes, I plan to run the Leadville 100 some day (and I would of course like to win). Anyway, Friday afternoon I left Dubuque and headed west, I had Thai food at Cambodian something in South Bend, Indiana then from looking at the map Lakewood, OH looked like the perfect place with dense residential streets to sleep in my van. Low density residential means the neighbors know each other and might call out a strange van, cities and parking lots are too noisy, but a dense residential street, or trailhead, are the perfect places to sleep in your vehicle. I had a great, solid 6 hours of sleep! Which was much better than I expected.

I had breakfast of three blueberry pancakes and two scrambled eggs with orange juice at the Gray Dog Diner. I mention that for two reasons, the waitress was wearing running shorts, odd at 7 AM on a Saturday in a diner if you ask me. Second, more than one person at the race asked what I had for breakfast that inspired me to run so many miles. Then I drove over to Edgewater park just a few miles away. I arrived just after 8 AM. I walked over to registration, there was no line, so I picked up my two bibs and timing chip just like any other race. Then I walked the path to find a spot for my cooler and spare shoes and found a tree between two tents and with enough grass space for my stuff. Carrying my very full cooler over was a hassle. I was thinking, 'great, I'm wasting all my energy carrying this heavy cooler full of stuff 200 meters across a field.' After I had my cooler, my dry food, some spare socks, tights, shorts, and shirts, and about eight pairs of shoes wrapped up in a blanket, I changed into my warrior uniform.

With maybe 10 minutes until the start of the race I walked over to the start. I did some leg swings, like always, they are such a great stretch. It was strange to not do any warmup. I easily do two miles before a marathon, but I knew this was different. We were herded over maybe 100 meters behind the start line, for purposes of the timing mat I think. Then the race director said, "40 seconds until start time!" At which point everyone was still pretty disbursed and unaware that we were starting so soon. I ended up in about the second row, trying hard not to be in the front, because I didn't want to go out really hard and fall apart. Someone blew a horn, or shot a gun, I don't remember, and we were off!

Talk about anticlimactic. There were a couple people that were out at sub 8 minute mile pace, but I wore my GPS and was determined that I was not going to run faster than 8 minute pace, because that's 180 mile pace, and while I think I am fit enough to do that, I knew I didn't have the experience to run something like 180 miles. I think I was in ninth after a lap or two. Such a contrast to something like the Chicago Marathon last year when I started in the third row about, and 30 seconds into the race I was in 200th place despite being on 6 minute pace.

How did I decide on a 160 mile goal? Well, Yiannis Kouros, the world record holder for most everything really long, has the 24 hour record at about 188.5 miles and he ran a 2:24 marathon. That's roughly a mile before I finished my 2:30 PR marathon. So I extrapolated one mile behind for about 7.5 marathons, means I'm probably fit enough to do a 181 mile 24 hour run. Also, back in 2010 Scott Jurek ran a former American record of 165.7 miles. I have his book Eat and Run, it inspired me to be vegan for 73.5 days last year until my Chicago Marathon debacle, and I realized, Scott is slower than me. At the marathon and shorter I've got better PRs. So the fact that he ran a 165 means that I am clearly capable of a 165 mile run. Third, there are 1440 minutes in a day, I never knew that or cared until maybe two months ago when I had the idea to try this. Well, it's pretty basic, but 160 miles is exactly 9 minute mile pace. I figured even with walking and eating, that's very reasonable. Plus it's slower than Yiannis and Scott would each have me believe I can run by comparing marathon times. However, I figure that experience in ultras counts for a lot, so I planned to be conservative in my first ultra outing.

The first few hours were uneventful. Quickly HL lapped me twice and only an hour and a half in I was 1.8 miles behind. I don't even remember him lapping me the first time. It was strange, I was drinking a little gatorade here and there, but the first two hours I maybe had a total of 10 ounces of fluids and 50 calories. I routinely go on two hour runs without eating or drinking. However the day started to heat up and I managed to drink more gatorade. I would run maybe an hour or ten miles drinking some water occasionally then pick up one of my 20 ounce bottles and it would take two to three laps to drink. Then I would have gatorade sloshing around inside of me. Another runner in the race mentioned that it sloshed in his belly as well, and I think there is an opportunity for a better drink.  I drank some POM pomegranate juice too and that stuff seemed to evaporate into the sides of my mouth, although it is very sweet. I managed to eat some tortilla chips too, the small rounds ones, surprisingly I could eat them while I ran because they would stick to the insides of my mouth. In between all of these sweet things I would stop at the aid station and take a half cup of water. Since drinking out of a cup while running is very difficult I would walk for 20 seconds or whatever it took to drink it, throw the cup away and then keep running. With a bottle I could keep running. Another food combination that I quickly found to work well was about a one inch long slice of banana with half a cup of water, I probably did that 15 to 20 times. When things were going well I would skip any aid on a lap, when I was hurting a little more I would take some calories and fluids and walk every lap.
Early in the Race
I saw this as really an experiment in eating and drinking and running, while continuously monitoring my body. I never felt competitive with anyone else, I was just running against the clock, monitoring my body, fueling the machine.

Muscles, at least for me, can often feel three different states of not good, there is lacking electrolytes (salts), lacking glycogen (sugar and carbs), and finally damage, which is lack of protein. Maybe I am being arrogant or naive that I can feel the difference between those three different situations, but numerous times through the run I would crave salt (thankfully they had a giant jar of Morton's Salt), or Ecaps (still not sure what those things were, I've never had them otherwise) or protein. I was prepared for all of those situations, and my tortilla chips, pickles, mango protein shake, and of course lots of fruits and juices for the sugars helped. I'm rambling, the nutrition side is just really interesting.

I passed 26.1 miles, in 3:37 or something. It was funny, I realized at the time what to me was "a little fast" for 24 hour pace was more than most people can do for a marathon. I started catching back up to the leaders. In the 40s I was struggling a little. 40 miles is a long day. We were a long long way from the end and I hadn't fueled as well as I should over the first 5 hours. However, HL ran with me a bit and helped motivate me and I just kept going because I did feel okay, just not fueled well. I crossed six hours at I think 43.6 miles. At 50 miles, crossed in about seven hours exactly, I took a long walking break, maybe five minutes, to celebrate a new 50 mile PR and I downed a Thai 500 mL coconut water (way cheaper than US coconut water). It was like a rocket to my legs! I never saw the leader board, so I really had no idea who was in what place, expect that HL seemed to be the likely leader. Well, he struggled in the heat of the day before I did and by 55 miles we crossed the timing mat together step for step. So I assumed we were tired for the lead and when he faltered I assumed I was in the lead, but didn't really know.

I crossed 100k in 8:4X I think and took another celebratory break to drink and eat. Unfortunately, the temperature went up to about 80F for in the afternoon and I was not taking in enough liquid so I was dehydrating slowly over the course of the day. Not terribly bad, but I was not in a good state of hydration.

Fortunately the sun went down and it cooled off. I was able to start rebuilding my hydration. It was a little windy much of the day and the wind backed off at night too. Funny thing is, when I am racing a half or full marathon flying along at 11 miles an hour, a 10 mph wind gust to the face feels terrible, but jogging along at 7 miles an hour there is hardly any effect. I mean 8:30 pace per mile is not fast, and I might as well run into a 20 mph wind.

People have asked about going to the bathroom, well there were port-a-potties and every couple hours I would have to go, so I went. I actually looked forward to it because I could stop for 20 seconds, lean up against the wall, and have more feedback on my hydration status. Fortunately I never had to sit down to go, I was not looking forward to that, and fortunately it just never happened.

At 12 hours I think I was at 83 miles and change. Still head of pace. Around this time I told M, I think his name started with M, that my goal was 160 miles. At the start of the race, and for hours into it, no one knew my name, but as the day and night wore on, people began to recognize me, talk to me and cheer me on. I've never been in a race where it takes so long to develop that there is a whole character development aspect just to the race.

Somehow or other I never really grew bored. There was always something to think about, food, what type of food, fruits, PB&J, pizza, grapes, Larabar (I didn't have any energy bars the whole time despite bringing a dozen), gel, gatorade, or my hydration status, did I need more water, did I need some caffeine because I was tired, how did my legs feel, did I need to change shoe, what about changing shorts because of chaffing… I brought an iPod Shuffle to listen to music, but never grew bored enough to pull it out and listen to music.

I crossed 100 miles around 14:44 feeling pretty good. I had a little pizza (maybe 3 in.^2) and walked for a bit to finish off my mango protein shake (one of those off the shelf bottled things from Hy-Vee). I still felt like I had a long way to go and strangely I didn't feel that tired despite nearly 15 hours of running, and almost three hours past when I go to bed. I did put my headlamp on when darkness fell because I know from experience that I run slower in the dark, and more light means I am more likely to perceive how fast I am running, and thus run faster. I was surprised more people didn't wear headlamps. You didn't need it, there was enough light, but I felt not enough ambient light to run my best. I had a Five Hour Energy and two Starbucks double shot espressos, the latter were just fantastic! I was a little afraid how the milk and cream would affect my stomach running, I had never tried it before on a run, but they are only about six ounces and worked like a charm. Plus at 140 calories one of the more calorie packed things I consumed. Those caffeine doses kept me going through the night. Again, surprisingly I never really felt tired, or at least as tired as I expected.

After 100 miles I was in no man's land. Here I just PR'd at 50 miles, 100k, 12 hours, and 100 miles. The next significant man made milestone was 135 miles to provisionally qualify for team USA in Italy in April next year. Yet that was a good six hours away. I definitely slowed down in the night because of the dark and that sort of loss of short term motivation. I was still moving plenty fine, but I was certainly being conservative and trying to stay on top of my nutrition and hydration rather than attack the miles. When I finally crossed 135 miles, I had over three hours to go, I knew I would get 150, but my original goal of 160 was out of reach, and that was a disappointment. That kind of further reduces the motivation. Fortunately the sun came up and it was nice to see everything again. By this time I felt half famous, people knew who I was, and every lap people would turn after I crossed the timing mat to see this "freak". It was always funny, given this was an open park, when people would wander through and wonder what was going on, and to hear their reactions! More than one we were called "freak" and I'm thought of myself as crazy for some time, but I had never really thought of myself as a physical anomaly, like Michael Phelps. Yet maybe we are unique. I don't know, it's amusing regardless.

Armpit Chaffing
Shortly before the sun came up it started to run, and for maybe 15-20 minute down poured. After well over 100 miles of running I was chaffing in my armpits and between my legs. The dried on sweat ran into the raw skin, and wow it hurt! Pain in my muscles and joints was insignificant compared to the feeling of 20 hours of sweat running into my chaffed armpits. Ironically, that's really motivational to me, the fact that after 130 miles of running, some skin irritation felt worse than my muscles or joints.

In the 140s I was struggling some. My quads were a little tired just above the knees, and I was ready for it to be over. Fortunately, CY ran with me for a few laps in the penultimate hour as I was struggling and she talked as I just tried to follow along. Definitely a big help. I ran with quite a few people over the course of the day, HL (2014 Badwater 135 winner), J, M, CY, JP and A. Thank you everyone for running with me it was a huge help!

Harvey was unlapping me and when we got to an hour to go I think it was Howard Nippet, the USATF guy, that said, "Isaiah, you're going to need every mile to qualify!" It was like a rocket to my motivation! As Harvey came past I joined up with him and we flew, I'm serious like 8:15 pace, I put down at least one 7:30 lap, after getting into 9 minute and change laps for hours on end. I felt great! I was thinking, 'I seriously cannot believe how well I feel 150 miles into this thing!' Yet it was happening. I don't even really feel like my form fell apart much.

With 15 minutes to go I realized that I would only run one more full lap. Maybe it was mental, or maybe I had not taken in enough calories the last two hours, but I hit the wall soon after hitting the timing mat. I did my last full lap slowly, similarly to the last few miles at Chicago last year, yet far more relaxed, because I had 153 miles, that's not a bad total. They gave me a block with my number on and it and I trudged around on my final fraction of a lap. I didn't know if we had one minute left or six, so I kept looking over, ready for the horn to blow and the pain to stop. Just before I reached the road crossing the horn blew, I set the block down, walked about five steps and fell over in the grass.

I wore the same shoes and socks the whole race.
The police officer and I talked a bit, and I'm not sure how long I laid there, maybe five minutes, maybe 20. I was done! I finished in 24 hours! Finally, no one from medical or anything came to get me, and since I didn't have a support crew, I was pretty much stranded on the ground. I could feel my legs starting to burn with inflammation. The police officer was great! He helped me up, put me in the back of the car, gave me some of his personal granola, while saying how amazing it was I did 154 miles, and then drove me right up to the medical tent. Two people helped me limp my way to a folding chair where I ate an egg. Then after a few minutes of sitting there they wanted to get me up on one of the medical tables, so I acquiesced. Once they had me up on the table, I felt like my legs exploded with inflammation. L, the doctor/student/physical therapist/athletic trainer or whoever she was was was great! She twisted and pulled and pushed to try and help me loosen up. The whole medical staff was nice getting me to sit up and drink a couple protein shakes, packing me in mylar and fleece blankets. They handed out awards, but I was in the medical tent for the whole thing, it felt strange to hear people clap for me as I laid on a table behind a tarp hidden from view. At one point I was so comfortable, I just wanted to cry, so I said, "I just want to cry." The two attractive young women helping me were very nice and for about ten long seconds there was silence as I lowered my emotional barrier a notch. However, soon enough I couldn't cry, and I realized that two attractive young women standing over me were going to make it about impossible for any tears to come out. I told them I wasn't going to cry because they were looking at me, but the moment was over, I was smiling about it. I felt safe, and I had a smile on my face!
Inflammed feet
As they packed up, my original plan of sleep a few hours in my van then drive home, was not going to work. I couldn't walk. So they offered to take me to a hotel. Dan, the race director and his family were nice enough to call ahead to Holiday Inn, then drive my van there, and drop me off! I had to pay for the hotel room of course, but there was no way I was driving home Sunday. I slept for about three hours, then managed to walk to the bathtub and take a bath to wash off the grime. I ordered a pizza (buffalo chicken and blue cheese) and after eating a good portion of it, while drinking water and gatorade, and watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (loosely based on my life). I slept for another ten hours.
Awards Addition: A 100+ Mile Belt Buckle and USA National Champion
The next morning I woke up and had breakfast, and got on the road for the nine hour drive home. The first few hours I drove with my left foot because my right foot hurt so bad. However, I must be a genetic monster at inflammation and recovery because throughout the day I continued to recover and walk better and finally drive with my right foot. (Side note, my family has a history of heart disease and inflammation has been linked to heart disease, so being "good" at acute inflammation response to a traumatic event, my in fact be a genetic thing.) Oh to see me walk! Every day was better, and now, a week later I'm almost fine. I even ran a 5k on Friday, went for a 13 mile bicycling ride on Thursday and  rock climbing on Saturday. I am recovering so well!

What does the future hold? Hopefully the April IAU World 24 hour championships. If not I'm registered for the Boston Marathon. What do I think I could do in ultras? Well, I'd like to take a crack at the 100km and a spot on team USA. I think that based on my marathon times, and Yiannis and Scott's marathon and 24 hour times, I am at a fitness level now of 172-181 miles for a 24 hour race. I feel I have a lot more left in the tank. Also, I would like to race the usual suspect trail races, Leadville 100, Western States, Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, Badwater 135, and Vermont 100. Plus go after from trail FKTs. That being said, I'm thinking a marathon in a few months, time to become a 2:2X guy.

1 comment:

  1. Congrats on your win! Love that your a trail/ track/ FKT guy and not specific to one or the other :) Hope things go well for you at Desert Solstice!


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