Monday, May 15, 2017

Dawn to Dusk to Dawn 24 Hr

I wasn’t originally supposed to run this race at all.  Last December I signed up 3 Days at the Fair, scheduled for 5/19 through 5/21, which was going to be my first foray into multi-day races and my “A” race of the year.  In February, however, I found out that my daughter’s college graduation ceremony was scheduled smack in the middle of 3D.  For a while I tossed around the idea of starting 3D, running for 30 hours, hopping in a car and driving 5 hours to and from graduation and finishing the race – but that just didn’t seem the best way to either ensure the safety of the public OR experience my first multi-day race.  So when I found out my friend Mike Melton was heading up through my part of town just a week prior to 3D to time “Bill Shultz’s race”, I perked my ears up and said “what race is that?”  Mike told me about Dawn to Dusk to Dawn 24 ("D3").  He said it was full – but there had been some cancellations so I might be able to get in.  Sure enough – I contacted Bill and there was a spot for me.  I didn’t find out until AFTER I registered that it was a track race, which I had never done before.  Still – I’d done 30 miles on a cruise ship track less than a year ago – so the track didn’t intimidate.

I needed this race in a bad way.  My last race was Winter Beast in January – a great performance for me, but a long time ago.  Since that time, my life was occupied with job hunting, then apartment hunting, divorce proceedings, a move to the DC area, and a new job.  That plus being alone in a new place was making me feel really out of touch with the Ultrarunning community.  I was still running big mileage weeks, but the whole thing was feeling kind of empty.  I was excited to get a big race on my schedule and even happier to see that some folks I’ve run with before like Amy Dedic were going to be there.  Plus, I would have a chance to meet some of the folks from the Ultralist like John Price, Bill Shultz and Ray Krolewicz, whom I’ve only met by e-mail or Facebook previously. 

A couple of weeks prior the race, I was feeling great.  My (relative) speed had finally started to come back in a big way after a sluggish winter, and I was careful about my taper.  A week out, Bill posted the first weather forecast.  Didn’t look too bad – cloudy and cool with a chance of rain in the morning on Saturday.  Over the week, the forecast changed from 50% chance of rain in the morning, to 100% chance of rain including periods of soaking rain, up to an inch, plus 10-20 mile per hour winds per hour.  Looked like it was going to be a soaker.

I’m pretty generally crewless and family-less on my races, and this one was no exception.  However, I always meet new friends and this was ALSO no exception.  The night before the race I met rock star Tara Langdon, who generously offered me a place in her tent for my gear.  I also had an offer of support from Nicole Berglund who was going to be on site to crew legend Connie Gardner.  My friend Mike Melton was timing the race, and a buddy from Cooperstown, Kevin Bartow, was running as well.  Friends all around…

Race morning I optimistically checked the weather again, hoping for the best, but nope… the rain had already set in.  The temperature was about 49 and I was on the fence about shorts or running pants – so I decided to wear my shorts UNDER my running pants so I could shed them if necessary.  It was to prove a bad decision.  (The wet inside waistband of the shorts rubbed against my belly for 24 hours, producing the only real injury I sustained in the race – horrendous, ugly chafing all around my mid-section).

Arriving at the track it was already pouring.  I tried like crazy to keep my feet dry as I unloaded my gear and put it in Tara’s tent, to no avail.  This was the first time I ever STARTED a race with feet that were soaking wet.  My other big logistical issue with the rain was trying to figure out how to keep my iPod dry – I ended up wrapping a baggie around it under my armband.

I was one of the few runners that appeared to not own a waterproof outer jacket.  Normally in the rain I will just opt for getting wet and letting my clothes wick it away – but it was cool out and I was afraid if I did that for too long I’d get hypothermic – so I donned a fashionable big black Hefty bag – my $1.99 solution to a waterproof jacket.  I was at least the height of fashion – if nothing else.  (I did have someone say it gave me kind of an 80’s “Devo” look with the square shoulders!).

Donning the garbage bag

Given the weather conditions the pre-race briefing was particularly brief.  There were several comments about “switching to the 5K” – and then suddenly the gun went off and it was time to run.

As always – running was WAY better than waiting.  I had started to get pretty cold waiting around in the rain, and was relieved to see that I warmed up quickly as I started to move.  And somehow, ACTUALLY running in the rain is never as bad as the IDEA of running in the rain.
There are always moments of self doubt and “why the hell am I doing this” in long races – at least for me.  I’d say at D3, these thoughts came relatively early.  It was raining when we started, but the rain intensified and then the winds gusted up and the conditions were truly pretty miserable.  My hands are always the first part of my body to get cold and because my gloves were soaked pretty early on, that happened sooner rather than later.  Also, a couple of weeks prior to the race I had developed a Morton’s neuroma in my right foot which often resulted in searing pain under my right small toes when walking barefoot.  Normally it didn’t bother me running – but as I got further in to my first 25 miles, I could feel first tingling and then a burning sensation where the neuroma was.  I had also taken off my garbage back after I’d started to warm up – and once my upper body was soaked, my core started to get cold.  The voices that said “just stop this madness now” came early and came loud.  The idea of another 16 hours of this almost more than I could contemplate and I was feeling more than a little bit of despair.

Running in the Rain

After I hit the 25 mile mark I decided that a clothing and shoe change was necessary if I had any chance of continuing on.  I hated to give up the time – but I was afraid if I didn’t, the foot pain would progress and I’d get so chilled I’d have to drop out.  It felt so good to sit down; my fingers were numb and clumsy as I peeled off my sopping wet shoes, socks, and upper body gear and proceeded to pull on dry clothes.  I didn’t bother with the pants because I didn’t think that was as critical as the top.  I’d changed from my Hokas into my zero drop Altras in the hopes that this would alleviate some of the neuroma issues. I decided that I really needed to try to keep my core as dry as possible, so I got out a fresh garbage bag, re-set my bib and ankle strap and headed back out into the wet.  I cringed to see that the change took me 15 minutes.

The first lap or 2 around the track I was worried I’d made a bad call on the shoes.  They were rubbing the top of my foot in a different place, and everything just felt strange each time I landed.  But pretty quickly I realized that it was a good call after all.  Some of the aches associated with repetitive motion started to ease up, and the neuroma pain was gone – never to return for the rest of the race – even when I changed back into my Hokas again later.  And without question, the change into dry clothes was a game changer.  Although my feet and gloves were soaked again pretty instantly, warmth in my core gave me the strength and energy I’d been lacking, and gradually the negative voices began to fade.

Although there are many things I love about looped courses, the very best thing is the chance to be able to make new friends.  Tara of course I’d met early on in the race and we were tent buddies.  It was kind of hard to talk to Tara DURING the race, though, because she just kept lapping me.  And lapping me.  And lapping me.  Her running form was exquisite and I’d say she didn’t slow down until maybe the last couple hours of the race.  She was at thing of beauty to watch.  Another runner nicknamed her “The Hummingbird” because of the quick, constant lightness of her step.  I DID get to make friends with Dave Weiss - my ray of sunshine on the rainy track.  We got to talking during a number of laps early on where we ran together – and so had quick conversations every time one of us passed the other until well into the night when he packed it in.  There was Dave Johnston – one of the race leaders, but who still had an encouraging word and smile every time one of us passed the other.  Bill Shultz – race director extraordinaire – at the end, as we were putting in our final miles, calling out “steady as a rock!”  And of course – I can’t say enough good things about Josh Irvan’s cadets who hung out in the pouring rain to give us all aid for 24 hours.  Plus the folks in the kitchen.

Not much unique to say about hours 6 to 18 – except for a couple of PRs; I PR’d 50 miles by over 5 minutes and my 100K by 20-30 minutes, hitting 61 miles a bit before the 12 hour mark.  And… somewhere in that timeframe – closer to the 18 hour mark… the rain finally stopped.  Leaderboard results had been posted by that point and I could see I was in the top 6 for the 24 hour.  I was RIGHT on the tail of my buddy Amy Dedic – we were within just a couple of laps of each other.  The other magical thing that happened between 6 and 18 was… I found my groove, which had been missing during the first 6 hours.  It’s a funny thing with ultrarunners – sometimes it can take you a good 25 miles to even warm up.  But there it is.  Once you find that groove – that spot where you can keep running and you find yourself getting stronger and steadier?  It’s magic. 

Another thing that was different for me about this race was my ability to take in food.  On several previous races, I’ve really had a hard time with eating any of the heaver stuff, relying largely on Coke until my stomach eases up.  I didn’t seem to have that problem this time, so could take advantage of pizza, chicken burrito, hard boiled egg, coffee and a scrambled egg and bacon tortilla sandwiches along with a couple of cookies.  Also, at one point, volunteers were walking around with trays of fresh hot potato soup.  That soup….  It was to die for. 
Last 6 hours of the race.  It was dry now and the moon was out.  At some point I saw I had edged into 5th place, and then, somewhere in the last couple of hours, into 4th.  There was, at this point, absolutely no question about why I was doing this.  I was doing this because this is what I love.  These are the people that I love… the people that dig deep within themselves… who search for the next new adventure and who celebrate each other’s strengths and triumphs.  These fun loving, often OCD, addictive and intensely driven and friendly people. 

At 21 hours and 8 minutes, I didn’t just PR my 100 mile time – I crushed it by an hour and 27 minutes.  It felt amazing.  I was taking walk breaks strategically by this point and I think that was a smarter way to go than the all-run approach I took at Winter Beast.  I was astounded that every time I went from a walk back to a run, I was still running pretty steady with no pain to speak of. 

My goal for this race was to exceed 100 in 24 hours, and my REAL goal was to beat my previous 24 hour record of 104 miles in 24 hours.  I was the 3rd female in, and the 4th overall runner.  My super stretch goal was 110 miles.  I finished with 109.6. 

Race finish - with 1st place woman Tara Langdon