Last week I ran my second ultra marathon, the Bear Blaster 50k (details here) which technically entailed running 34 miles instead of 32 miles. That race was added at the last-minute as I was supporting my friend who was running his first. My goal race for this month though occurred this weekend the Operation Endurance 6/12/24 hour race, 12 hour option.
Most ultra marathon races often come in two basic flavors (though there are some outlier races that have other variations) distance or time. So far the races I have participated were distance based races where the participant runs for a specific distance in the shortest time possible. The other variation, the time race, involves running for a specific time logging as many miles as possible. The Operation Endurance Race belonged in the latter, a timed race.
This race was my first timed event so I decided to settle for the middle distance and go for twelve hours. I have signed up for two other timed events this year, the longest being a 24 hour race. The goal of this race for me was to push past my personal best distance of 34 miles in an ultra race and to get familiar with the format of running timed races.
Timed races are setup with a fixed central location for the start line and aide station. From this fixed location the runner then completes a fixed distance loop course til the end of their race time, or they decide they are done for the day.The Operation Endurance race involved a one mile dirt track Fort Benning Georgia, hence the military sounding name.
Runners who chose the twelve-hour option were given the choice of starting in the morning when the race started or at night when the last twelve hours started. I opted for the night run so I did not have to get up too early to travel to the race, also I do better with night races and figured it would mimic the twenty-four hour race later in the year.
I got to the race about an hour early and setup my chair and my personal aide station items. Since the course was a mile loop I figured I would just carry a water bottle filled with my nutrition powder instead of using my hydration vest. Also, I made sure I had other shirts to put on top of my base layer shirt as well as another pair of socks and shoes in case I needed or desired to change mid race. The basic idea was to provide myself my own personal space where I could roll out any kinks in my muscles, refill my nutrition, change clothes and/or dig into my personal stash of comfort foods, Oreos and peanut M&M’s. The race aide station was a fully stocked affair though and rarely did I need to dig into my special stash.
At eight o’ clock at night it was time to start my twelve-hour run. Right away I knew I would struggle to get over forty miles as my legs had no extra push in them, a side effect of running a 34 mile race just seven days before. I settled in and figured I would shoot to extend my mileage as far as I could past my personal record (PR) of 34 miles and just enjoy the experience of running one mile loops and accumulating mileage.
The one thing bothering me going into this run, more than running back to back ultras, involved the act of running in circles for hours. I do not handle monotony very easily and worried that would cause major issues as the night wore on. For the first couple of hours I just ran slowly easing myself into a five minute run to one minute walk pushing a steady three and a half-minute per mile pace. I was glad I chose the night option because I could not see much of the distance across the field or the surrounding area and I was able to mentally disconnect from the sameness of each one mile loop, somewhat.
At the six hour point I started to slow down, a direct effect of fatigue from the previous weeks 34 mile race which effected my recovery times. At this point I knew forty to fifty miles would be hard and I just settled to get as far as possible. As I finished my 19th lap I called out to the person at the aide station that I would like a cheese grilled sandwich for the end of the next lap. I then decided for fun I would push it and see if I could also get a beer with that order. The race aide station volunteers were great and allowed us to request food items as we came around. As I finished my twentieth mile I came to the aide tent and a grilled cheese sandwich with bacon and a beer were waiting for me. I wolfed them down and then pushed on with the running, I was slowing way down and knew I was going to need any extra time I had.
At this point I added another minute to my walk breaks and fell into a rhythm. The hours began to tick by. As I passed the marathon distance into the ultra distance my muscles and my feet began to ache. This was early for me, but again I had just ran another ultra race seven days before. But I pushed on, continuing my running in circles.
The weirdest point in the night for me involved my gloves. It was cold out so I had on my gloves and hat I often use. At one point late in the night I started to wonder where I put my left hand glove, yet I was still wearing it. For hours I had never taken the glove off, always the right for things needing fingers, yet my mind started to constantly hit me with panic that the left glove was missing.
After eleven hours I was down to my final hour. I knew I would easily get 35 miles in for my PR night, but I wanted a bit more. So I continued to push, even though my legs and feet hurt at this point, I was on new ground distance wise. With thirteen minutes remaining I finally pulled the plug on the night with 37 miles completed in 11:47. New distance and time PRs. In the end it was a great race and a lot of fun. The difficulty for me was adding a 50k/34 mile race seven days before this one and running both all out.
In seven days I managed to complete a 34 mile 50k in 10:57:00 and a 12 hour ultra endurance race with 37 miles. I came up three miles short of the 40 I wanted but with two ultra races in seven days I’ll take both races and their awesome achievements any day. How many people can say they ran back to back 34+ mile ultra races seven days apart?
Til next time.