This past Saturday the time had finally come: 24 Hours Of Palmer Lake Fun Run. The recent emails and Facebook posts from the race director had used the term "Death Race" instead of "Fun Run." I was understandably concerned that the tone of this event may have taken a not-so-subtle turn towards the sadistic! As it turned out, both phrases would be pretty accurate definitions of portions of my race.
But first off, my training. I had really begun training for this event back in the fall by trying to get out every day if possible for at least two or three miles. I have never been an every day runner but I felt this was a big step if I really decided to do this race. I had a couple of pretty decent streaks over the fall and winter, one just over 40 days in a row around October and November and one well over 60 closer to the race date. In my typical fashion, I didn't have a real detailed training plan. With about two months out I set weekly mileage goals and that was about it. I also tried to mimic the race by running mostly flat-ish. Some trails in the foothills with minimal elevation gains and a LOT of miles on the grass and dirt trails alongside the Ralston Creek bike trail. Let me tell ya, I got pretty damned sick of that trail by the time race day rolled around.
I had a couple rough weeks in there where I was supposed to be running 55-60 miles and only got in around 40-45 but all in all it went well. Got a couple good training runs of about 20 miles and some nice weekends with 30 miles or more. The last two weeks went particularly well so I had some good confidence going into the "Death Race" that I could pull off my goal of 50 miles in less than 12 hours. As an added bonus, my wife Gina had decided to not only crew me but to enter and run a half marathon distance since she had planned on doing three of those this year anyway. So I would have some company for at least a little while.
A generous 8 o'clock start time meant we had plenty of time to get up and make the hour drive to Palmer Lake without having to stay overnight anywhere. We pulled in around around seven and got set up. Tents were going up all over the place by people planning on running/crewing/hanging out for the whole 24. I expected a cool, laid back vibe and that's exactly what we got. Most of the runners milled around casually, setting up their areas and exuding confidence.
Gina and I got our little spot right by the trail set up and at we were soon off and running. My general plan was to try to cover at least 20 laps of the .82 mile trail every four hours since I would need 61 laps to top the 50 mile mark. Gina was already altering her plan after I informed her that anything over 26.2 would make her an official ultra runner. She was planning on taking the occasional lap off wile I was planning on doing some walking every once in a while to try to save and much energy as possible. And boy, would I do some walking brothers and sisters.
The first sign of trouble was about four miles in when I could feel my quads were already a little sore. This made absolutely zero freaking sense since the loop is about and flat as it could be and I had no problems with my quads during training. I checked with Gina a few times to make sure we weren't going a lot faster than I thought (since I dislike the GPS she was wearing it). Nope, just a shade under 12 minute per mile pace, perfect. Logically there was no reason for the steadily worsening ache in the front of my thighs. But there it was.
By around mile twelve or fifteen (hard to remember when one is trotting around in circles) I was inexplicably in as much pain as I have ever been in while running. I had an especially worrisome pain running from my left hip all the way down to the inside of my knee. I was soon reduced to an ugly shuffle/walk, and even that was difficult. It got bad enough at one point I was sitting in the dirt on the side of the trail trying in vain to stretch out. I could not understand what was happening. This was looking to be an embarrassingly short ass day! I was very close to what would amount in my mind as a DNF. A total flame-out. A ridiculous friggin' farce!
I will easily admit I was in a bit of a panic and the "Pauley" in me was starting to come out, which is a cute was of saying I was getting super pissed. I may not like following real detailed training plans and I imagine I do a pretty good job of making it appear like I have this totally laid back approach to my running, but make no mistake: I do not like to fail and I hate to lose. However, I was losing a mental battle with myself, already envisioning wasting months of training by slinking home humiliated from a 24 hour race with a measly twenty sad, pitiful miles or so. The prospect of that looking more and more to be the likely result literally brought tears to my eyes.
Gina to the rescue! Even though she was surely tired of listening to me slowly work myself up into a tantrum of defeat she kept making suggestions until my negative, idiot mind could fend them off no longer. She also left me alone for a couple laps, which helped in two ways. For one, it forced me to quit audibly bitching to her and try to focus and relax. And secondly, I fell into conversation with an experienced ultra runner named Jamie that listened to the short version of my tale of woe and shrugged it off with a "shit happens during ultras!" type thing and gave me some kind words of encouragement. Soon after I just sat down for a good while, put some Hot Pepper Sha-Bang muscle rub on my traitorous quads and chilled out.
Somehow through this all I had found myself with about 24 laps (just short of 20 miles) in at the four hour mark, when we had to reverse our direction to clockwise. This was four laps more than the bare minimum I had planned on completing during that time. It was a nice buffer to have since I was now doing very little in the way of actual running, but I WAS feeling a bit better. Gina was in pursuit of her first ultra distance which she would need 34 laps to complete. She reached that mark right at the time I finished my 40th lap, about 2/3 of the way to my goal. I was so incredibly proud of her. Not only had she covered an ultra distance with not even close to proper training (one tough cookie!) but she had helped me salvage my wreckage of a race at the same time. She truly is the best!
Now I was on my own. I can't recall where I was time-wise at this point but I had lost my buffer and then some. I still had hope to cover 50 miles but it was not looking that good to be honest. I would be there until midnight walking the rest of this at 3 1/2 mph! I was not going to make Gina sit shivering in a lawn chair until then, waiting for my hobbling ass to stroll my way to my goal. But hey, as I stated in my last blog post, what would Gary Robbins do? So I got to business and started running. And holy Hell, wouldn't you know it? I actually felt pretty good! I could achieve a fairly comfortable shuffle.
I chatted with a few great people the rest of the way, sympathized internally when I saw others that were struggling like I had earlier, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I probably ran about 60% of the distance the rest of the way. Things got pretty rough with a few laps to go, I was getting a bit loopy and, excruciatingly, kept thinking I had fewer left than I had. Weirdly, I often thought I could hear somebody running up behind me when there was nobody there. I don't know if this was a crazy echo effect or an auditory hallucination and I never had the guts to ask any other runners if they were experiencing the same thing! I also saw the most beautiful star filled sky since I lived in the Midwest!. But I made it, sucking it up and running most of that final lap. I finished my 50 miles in about 13 hours and 15 minutes or so I guess, at that point I wasn't paying a whole lot of attention to the time at that point. I was just happy and sore and glad to be done.
Because it was run around one short loop and everybody's camp was right by the trail, this race was a great opportunity to observe and learn from other runner since you saw everybody over and over and over. I was surprised how often the top runners, those clearly gunning for 100 miles, took breaks. I assumed they would just make super quick pit stops and keep moving. But most seemed to be smartly pacing themselves, taking time to sit down (except Jaime, who incredibly had not yet sat down when I left!), cook something, change shoes, etc. Some also did a fair amount of walking as a way to try to recover a bit while on the move.
I do believe this is the most impressive bunch of athletes I've ever been around. Persistence and perseverance personified! Eleven of them completed 100 miles. Eleven! I did 50 miles, to some a unfathomable number to run in a day, but 48 people did more, including an 11-year-old girl that did 50.8 miles! Two siblings, one eleven and the other ten, completed 42.2 and 29.5 miles respectively. Two runners over sixty ran their age or over and a 71-year-old woman covered 53.3. It's absolutely incredible and inspiring what those people did that day and night. Gina and I are already penciling ourselves in next year if Claire's track schedule doesn't conflict with it.
Until next time...