Last November I ran my first Ultramarathon, a race longer than a 26.2 marathon, at the Tortoise and the Hare 50k. At the start of the year I set my major goal for the first half of my year to push beyond my 50k boundary. I figured the best way to push my distance further would involve a couple of timed ultra events instead of distance based ultra events. With this goal in mind I decided to designate the Tortoise and the Hare Midsummer Nights Dream Ultra 3/6/12/24 hour race to act as my mid-year endcap, selecting the 24 hour option.
In preperation for this race I planned to run two twelve hour races to figure out how to manage a timed race instead of a distance race, Operation Endurance 12 hour race (details here) and Rogue Dusk To Dawn 12 hour race. Operation Endurance simulated the environment with a small one mile course on flat terrain while Rogue Dusk To Dawn involved rugged, hilly 6 mile trails and gave me an opportunity to work on my night running and nutritional needs. During my run at Operation Endurance I managed to shoot past my previous distance PR of 34 miles by hitting 37 miles in twelve hours. Besides these two shake down timed races I managed to add two 50k races (Bear Blaster 50k+ and Double Top 50K). Leading into this 24 hour race I definately understood the demands of ultra running and its related logistics.
The Mid Summer Night’s Dream Ultra race was a timed event which meant that runners would run til their alloted time ran out, accumulating as many miles as possible. The race directors offered numerous time options for the race including 3,6, 12 and 24 hour options with all runners starting at 9 PM at the same time. The course navigated a mostly wide, flat and winding 1.25 mile dirt path. There was a small section that was less a path and had a few roots but overall the running path provided a fairly smooth surface. The elevation change was minimal except for a small quick uphill that felt more moutainous as the hours added up. Because the theme of the race centered around Shakespear’s Midsummer Nights Dream play, the race directors had decorated the path with different lights and signs, creating a fun envornment that trancended the seriousness that these races often produce.
One thing I discovered during my 12 hour experiments was that I preferred to know what food was available. My wife agreed to crew for me and to cook food for me and any runners that wanted something beyond aid station food. During my 24 hours of running my crew(wife/chef) cooked quesidillas, turkey burgers and pacakes and suasages for breakfast as well as refilled my water bottles and took care of me when I became belligerent late in the race. While the race directors had an amazing spread of food and beverages it was great knowing exactly what food would be avaible.
(Story Continues after the pictures)
At nine at night the race began with all the runners of different time lengths starting concurrently. I ignored the speed push other runners of smaller timed races ran and focused on getting my three miles per hour as I had planned. I eased myself into a 3:1 run to walk ratio and used that from start to finish without too much difficulty. As the hours ticked down and the three and six hour races concluded the number of runners on the course drastically dropped, it was just the nine or so of us 24 hour runners and the 12 hour runners left. I hoped the night would cool down a bit and I could then try to speed up, but the night never really dropped enough in temperature to provide relief.
As I wrapped up the first 12 hours of my race I began to brace myself for the second 12 hours that would come in some of the hottest parts of the day. At this time the course only contained eight runners, four men (there were five but one did not make it past the twelve hour mark) and four women. The sun came up and the roasting began. I at a hearty breakfast of coffee, pancakes and sausages and got on my feet and continued to move. With the increase in heat I began to sponge myself down after every lap and tossed a cool wet bandanna under my head to try and keep cool. The day only got hotter and more humid.
After fifteen hours I crossed a new mile mark, forty miles and later fifty miles. As the hours passed the day just got hotter and more humid and my body just got more exhausted. I found I had a difficult time with hunger as I just did not want to eat anything yet I was starving. I drank electrolytes and work to keep cool. Every lap became a struggle and a battle as my muscles grew tired from the continued pushing. I was the slowest runner on the course but I was out there running non-stop with the higher mileage seeking runners getting my miles and pushing myself, I was in pretty elite company and felt happy to be surrounded by such amazing endurance runners. I found myself exhausted but having fun and in good spirits.
By the midpoint of the day there were only three men left, one of the four had dropped out at 50 miles. As I completed my first ever 50 mile run into my 51st mile I was informed i had taken third place… I would get my first podium finish in an ultra marathon. This only partially registered as I now had my sights set on one last goal, a 100k or 62 mile finish. I pushed myself for an hour and pulled off an outstanding three miles in that hour, compared to the slow two miles an hour pace I was mantaining. When I went out for my 55th mile I had three hours left and only a bit over seven miles to go to get my 100k. At this point I was exhausted, tired and the heat and humidity raised the temperature to an unbearable level. I found myself walking that lap and with half a mile to go my legs quit, I fought myself to finish the lap and then collapsed into my chair. My day was over, just seven miles shy of my first 100k and a little bit less than three hours left I knew my body could not take any more, I finally gave into the exhaustion I had held off all day. I had fought hard but came up short of my first 100k.
After the initial exhaustion wore off I reflected on the day. I had completed my first 50 mile distance in a race and I had ran for over 22 hours. Those two feats were monsterously huge and filled me with pride. I had techinally ran further than two marathons in a day in blistering heat and humidity. I had beaten my previous distance PR of 37 miles with a whoppping 55 miles, 18 miles more than my previous PR. On top of all that I had also lasted long enough to pass the existing 3rd place male runner who had stopped at 50 miles, giving me my first podium in an ultra marathon race.
In reflection and after the hours of exhaustion washed away, I had hung with the titans of distance in this race, I was one of nine people who attempted the 24 hour run, I had ran over 22 hours with 55 miles completed and I got a 3rd place finish. Tortoise and the Hare racing provided another great race. I loved the theme, the venue and their love of runners which showed in all the details. Some of my best racing memories have come from these guys and their awesome races.
Til next time.