Tuesday, November 15, 2016

24 Hours of Kicking Asphalt - NJ One Day 2016

So this weekend I just completed my last "big" race for 2016 - 24 hours at "One Day at the Fair" - a 24 hour race which is part of the New Jersey Trail Series.  My goal was to hit 100 miles in less than 24 hours.  Given that I had completed 100 miles at Summer Beast of Burden in 25:23 in brutally hot conditions, I thought this was a realistic goal for a cooler time of year, with just a bit more conditioning under my belt.

As with every one of these events that I've run so far, there is the running part... and there are the people.  And the beauty and joy in this sport is how both aspects are incredibly special by themselves, and when they come together, make for a transcendent experience.

Let's start with the people.  So...  I'm pretty used to going to races alone.  The only times I've really had a "crew" were Summer Beast (and what a crew!!!  Allyson, Russell, Sen, my parents and my daughter Patty...  There is a whole other report about that effort of love)... and, my first 50 miler, where, although my daughter Patty didn't "crew" me per se - she was THERE, at every single aid station, cheering me on.

So... I didn't bring anyone.  But... I HAD someone.  I had people.  Running people.  First:  Aubrey.  So I met Aubrey just a few months ago - first via Facebook, and then in person.  I had posted to the CanLakes 50 FB group asking for a woman to share a hotel room for the race and cut down on costs, and Aubrey responded.  I could tell pretty quickly from FB that she was my kind of people... and it was confirmed within minutes of her entering the hotel room in October.  We had lots to talk about and had a good weekend.  So, when I realized she lived in NJ and my One Day race was in NJ, I contacted her to ask if she was doing it and whether she could suggest someplace to stay.  She immediately invited NOT ONLY to let me stay at her house the night before AND after the race, but to drive me to and from the venue an hour away from her house). 

People.  Damn.

About a week out, I started checking out the forecast for the race.  It was supposed to be relatively cold.  I've heard from a number of people that it is key to stay in dry layers, so the day before the race found me pulling together 4 full separate base layers, anticipating a possible need to change at each 25 mile mark or so...  I also had 4 pairs of gloves/mittens, several hats, a variety of layers of outerwear, 3 pairs of shoes (different widths and heel/toe drops), and 2 pairs of shoe inserts.  Salt tabs, and medicines:  Pepto/Bismol, Gelucil, Tylenol, being key...  My bag was as full as it could possibly be.

I left work a little early on Friday to head down to NJ, and got to Aubrey's shortly after 6.  She was making a salad and had a great big pot of this fantastic Bolognese sauce that her husband Phil had made before he left to pick up their son Harry at school for the weekend.  We immediately started chattering away like long lost buddies (we shared strong views on the recent election), and as soon as it was ready I dug into the Rigatoni and Bolognese.  Heaven. 

Phil and Harry arrived home not too long after, so I got to hang with them a bit before it was time to go to bed and rest up for the race.  I felt immediately at home with this amazing family, and was so moved by their generosity and complete "adoption" of me.

Although for years I used to sleep poorly before races - particularly before big races, that seems to have largely gotten better.  I got a full night of good sleep and woke up well rested.

The race start was at 9 on Saturday morning and was about an hour from Aubrey's house, so we planned to leave by 6:45.  I woke up at 5:45 and started pulling on my race clothes.  Really, there wasn't much to do besides get dressed and drink coffee.  We headed out to the bagel shop and picked up about a dozen piping hot fresh NJ bagels.  I chowed down my "SuperEgg" bagel with lox cream cheese, OJ and coffee, we put the gear in the car and headed off.  Within about 5 minutes I already realized I'd forgotten my "meds" bag, so we quickly turned back to get it, since there was no traffic and it appeared we had time to spare.
Amy & Aubrey pre-race

 I went over to check in and then came to set up my gear on the table that Aubrey had lent me.  The sun was shining brilliantly, but it was cold and windy.  Whenever the wind stopped I was comfortable but otherwise I was chilly.  It didn't seem like much time passed before we gathered at the race start, and we were off!

Early into the race I was already feeling much better than I ever felt physically at my 100 miler in August.  I had no aches or pains, and my running was smooth, easy, and on pace.  On slow training runs, I normally hit the 25 mile mark somewhere close to 4:30.  (Contrasting with my 95 degree Beast of Burden where I didn't hit it until 5).  I hit 25 miles at 4:22 or so, and was feeling just fine.  I was hooked into good tunes; the course was smooth and easy - and mostly consisted of my favorite surface - pavement (with the exception of a short section before the timing mat which was sort of crushed gravel).     Even better - I hit the 50 mile mark at 9 hours and 21 minutes - which was an hour and 40 minutes faster than my summer race.  And, in my summer race, I think I took a 5-10 minute break at the aid station at 50, whereas here I just kept going.  So, at this point in the race, I was about an hour and 50 minutes ahead of my previous 100 attempt.  And... was feeling good.

During the day I met a couple of folks out on the course... there was Helen Clark, from England.  There was the other Amy - a trail runner who I had met briefly online prior to the race.  There was also a young lady (Sydney, I was later to find out), who, at age 10 ran her first marathon in 5 hours 58 minutes and 23 seconds, with her dad Bryan at her side.  How amazing!!!  There was Sheryl Wheeler, to whom I had talked briefly before the race - super strong runner.  In addition to the folks on the course, I also got to meet Matt Beyer, who was there to support a runner named Mark.  Matt now falls into my category of "amazing ultra peeps".  He essentially adopted me, and waved to me at every lap, asking if I needed anything - pulling stuff out of my bag, and even picking me up some coconut water when he went out to the store.  There was Francis Kwok - a Facebook friend from Trail and Ultra Running who was volunteering in the kitchen.  I can't tell you the number of times he called out "need anything Amy?  Can we get you some food?"  Later, after the 12 hour race started, I also got to meet Royce Brenner in person - I had also met him and chatted briefly online before the race.  He was running his first ultra and did a great job.  He looked so strong out there every time I saw him.  There was another woman who I definitely noticed - but, I doubt she noticed me.  Because.  She was going FAST.  The WHOLE time.  She lapped me many times - steady as a rock.  I found out later her name was Megan - she was the female winner of the course (coming very close, I think, to the overall course record), racking up an unbelievable total of 140 miles.  Her pace stayed steady and under the 10 minute mile mark up until mile 100 and even then she didn't slow down much.  She was a machine.  I was in awe.

What amazed me about this race, and what was so different from my 100 over the summer, was just how long I felt strong, and just how long I could keep running. At Summer Beast of Burden, I started doing a real heavy mix of walking with my running starting at mile 50.  At mile 75, I'd say I was doing a lot more walking than running. 

Not so, at One Day.  I hit the 60's, and felt incredibly strong.  It FELT like I was running 10 minute miles.  (Looking at the pace sheet, they were 11's and 12's...).  But, everything FELT great.  Sometime a bit later, I'm not exactly sure when, I started walking the section from the timing belt to my gear - which was probably close to a quarter of a mile, and then running the rest of each lap.  I did that into the 90's.

The moon was incredibly bright, and it got cold, cold, cold.  I mentioned earlier I had brought a whole bunch of dry clothes with the thought of changing during the race.  I realized, as I ran, that there was really not a logistically easy way to do this, for a couple of reasons.  First, I hadn't brought a tent - so if I wanted to change in private, I'd have to cart my clothes to the bathroom - which wasn't all that close to my gear table.  So, I'd either have to take breaks and walk off and back on to the course, or carry my gear with me for 3/4 of a mile until I REACHED the bathroom.  Then, I'd have to take off several layers of clothes in order to get the dry stuff on.  I figured I'd easily lose 10-15 minutes changing, and I just wasn't sure that it was worth it.  So, instead of getting dry, my strategy became "just put on more clothing".  As night fell, I donned a hat and fleece gloves.  It got colder and I put on my purple lined running jacket over my running shirt.  It got even colder and I put on the wonderful down vest we got as race swag.  Colder still, and I changed into the fleece running hat that my friend Jessie made for me a couple of years ago - it has a fleece strap that buttons around your chin which is sort of like adding on a scarf.  Swapped out my damp fleece gloves for some dry warm gloves.  Picked up hand warmers from the aid station.  Finally, somewhere around 10-15 miles before the end, when my running was getting weak enough that I couldn't reliably run to keep warm, I donned my lined camoflouge parka, just completing the ridiculous look. 
It was COLD!!!

 This was my 3rd overnight race, and my second that went for over 24 hours.  As with the 2 previous races, there was never, ever, any feeling of sleepiness.  There were a couple of odd moments when morning approached when I closed my eyes to blink, and it sort of felt like a flash went off.   But... it was momentary, and went away. 

At 4:30 I started actively looking forward to morning... not because I minded running in the dark (I don't), but because I really wanted the sun to come up and start warming up the course.  I was SO cold.  And then, around 6, the sky DID start to brighten... it did it slowly, and brilliantly, with incredible pale blues and stunning pinks.  It took an hour more for the sun to actually be over the horizon, and another 30-60 minutes after THAT for the sun to start to warm things up to any meaningful level.  So, all things considered, it was still pretty damn cold for most of the morning.

As I approached 100 miles, I saw Amy Dedic each lap.  I was amazed that she was still managing a run... (my ankle was bothering me at this point, so pretty much all running had ceased).  She was a couple of laps behind me, but looked like she'd hit her 100 before 24 hours as well.    I was even more impressed when we chatted afterwards on Facebook and I learned she really doesn't like pavement and had been in pain for many hours.

Around mile 98, I met Robert... a marine who was running the 12 hour.  It was wonderful to have his company for those last couple of laps before 100.  As I approached the timing mat on my 100 mile lap, I started singing that Rocky theme (Flying High now)...  I crossed the timing mat and Rick McNulty called out "22:31!", meaning I'd hit 100 miles at 22 hours and 31 minutes.  which was... 89 minutes faster than my goal, and almost 3 hours faster than my last 100.  And, to show just how freaking cold and uncomfortable I was, I yelled "Shit!  That means I have 90 minutes left!!".  (Again - my goal for this was the 100 - not "to run as far as I could for 24 hours").  But, of course, I wasn't going to waste that time.  I did, however, stop at the aid station (which I had pretty much bypassed for the last 20 miles in my quest to get to 100 as quickly as possible), and enjoyed the BEST bacon, eggs and coffee of my life.  I'm pretty sure that bacon and eggs cost me mile 105, since there were only 10 minutes left on the clock when I hit 104... without the food there might have been time for me to get that extra mile.  But... I didn't care.  I had done what I set out to do - I had reached my goal.  Hell, I SMASHED my goal.  And I felt awesome.

Walked it out for the last 4 miles - tried once or twice for a run, but the way my ankle felt, I didn't want to risk injury - so I didn't.  I hit 104 at about 23:49:31, which made me the 4th woman, and the 8th runner in the 24 hour race.  It was a good day.
After the race, with my finisher's license plate