Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Blessing and the Curse - 72 Hours at the Fair 2018

3 Days at the Fair was supposed to be my first attempt at a multi-day in 2017.  Instead, after signing up, I found out that my daughter’s college graduation was going to be falling smack in the middle of that weekend, which changed my plans from being a runner to being crew to David Christy.  I deferred my entry for a year, and instead, ARFTA (A Race for the Ages) became my first multi-day at 48 hours last Labor Day Weekend, with my first attempt at a 72 at Across the Years over New Years 2017/18.  Thus it was that this race, 2018 3DATF was actually going to be my third multi-day, and my second attempt at 72.
It is both a blessing and a curse that multi-days appear to be the events at which I perform most strongly.  I am a slow runner – I always have been, and until several years ago, I thought that meant that I just wasn’t a “good” runner.  I have since learned that there is a place for slow.  The curse of a multi-day is obvious.  It is a long, long time to run.  In order to do really well at an event, I need to prepare to be on my feet for a very.  Long.  Time. 
The blessing?  Ahhhhh – well, that’s where things really get good.
With each multi-day event, I’ve learned a little bit more, and tried to apply it all to this race. 


Big mileage.  I’ve jumped from 80 miles per week to 100 miles per week, to my highest training week of 130.  I’ve had folks caution me against this… there are those who say it’s not needed, but for me, the big mileage does many good things.  First – time on my feet.  Running as much as I do mean my feet are hardened to being out there for many miles.  Secondly, mental training…  since often lately my weekday morning run is 14 miles, that has turned 14-15 miles into a run that no longer feels “long” but just feels normal.  That’s a big plus when you are running hundreds of miles at a shot.  Third – I get used to running tired.  Even my “recovery” weeks are generally at least 90 miles – so my body is used to not getting what others would consider solid rest, and then going out and doing it all again.  Also a bonus in multi-days.  Fourth – recovery.  Running big training miles means I bounce back pretty quickly – so far, anyway.  I move around pretty easily even after really long events.


Bill Schultz has educated me on the importance of a good crew at a multi-day.  Several months prior to the event, I asked David Christy to be my primary crew member and he graciously agreed.  My daughter Patricia was supposed to be on the team as well, but ended up not being able to make it.  Fortunately, Bill Schultz was also at the race and provided relief when Dave slept, as well as several much needed trips to the grocery store.   I’d actually headed down to Alabama a few weeks ago to meet up with Dave and go over race plans, hang out and see the sights.


During a multi-day, the runner will need a place to re-group.  More importantly, the crew needs a place to hang out and be comfortable.  Once again, Bill educated me on a way to do this in luxury – which is, to rent an RV.  3DATF has a relationship with 84RV nearby, who will actually deliver and set up an RV for runners, so you don’t even have to drive the beast!  I decided that was the way to go…  I rented my home away from home a couple weeks prior to the race, and at multiple times found myself incredibly grateful that I’d decided to make that investment.  It was invaluable to have a place to organize my gear, keep my food cold, allow me and my crew to rest in a temperature controlled environment.  I was never as grateful for the shelter as I was when I saw the rainy forecast – this meant that Dave wouldn’t have to freeze his ass off trying to help me.  He also came up with the brilliant idea of bringing a clothesline which he set up in the RV where we constantly had wet clothes drying. 




In the past, I’ve followed the Francis Kwok method of preparation, in that I’ll generally pack the night before.  This time I did better.  I started making lists and laying things out at least week before.  I was aided immeasurably by Dave Christy and his planning details – he made out a spreadsheet of everything he thought I needed to bring, including a number of things I had totally forgotten about.  Like… cookware, towels and bedding for the RV.  His planning allowed me to make some key purchases ahead of time, like inexpensive sleeping bags, blow up pillows, a camp coffeepot for the stove, a clothesline and clothespins.  Dave gave me a bunch of shit when he saw the clothespins, saying “who uses these anymore?”  But, he realized how handy they were for hanging up wet gloves.

Sunday before the race found me at REI trying on waterproof jackets...  I found a beautiful Cobalt one and with a gift card and my REI dividend, I got it down from $80 to $3.  Bonus!!   Because there were going to be weather extremes (anything from heat/humidity to cold rain), I had to pack a lot of everything.  Fortunately my car is roomy. 

The Lead-up

Dave arrived in DC on Monday night…  I’d flown him up a little early in order to give him time to explore DC a little, and to chill before the race.   Monday was rainy.  Very, very rainy.  Dave and I had a nice dinner on Monday, but spent the night getting not very good sleep due to the tremendous thunderstorm and downpour that resulting in water leaking through my bathroom ceiling fan, on to my head.  I woke up to driving rain on Tuesday morning, but it cleared enough for me to get in an easy 6 mile shake-out run, and for Dave to go to meet a running friend at the National Gallery on Tuesday that he’d never met before.  Tuesday night I was starting to get a little squirrely – went out to eat, and then Dave went to bed while I finished packing.  And Wednesday morning arrived… once again to the sound of raindrops.

The drive up was wet but otherwise uneventful.  The closer we got, the wetter it got, until it was absolutely pouring by the time we reached the Fairgrounds.  The 6 day runners, of course, had already been running for 2 days at this point.  The first thing Dave and I had to deal with was the fact that the door to my rented RV was right in the middle of what was effectively a little pond.  There was a good 3-4 inches of pooled water from the pavement to the door – about a 15 foot walk… and it was clear there would no way to traverse that distance without getting feet and shoes totally sopping unless we came up with a solution.  Of course… Dave did.  First order of business was a trip to Lowes to pick up cinderblocks and build a walkway.  Also a trip to Walmart to get groceries, towels, and some last minute essentials.  Then, back to the fairgrounds where I got to walk a lap with Bill Gentry before heading off to a pre-race dinner with Bill Schultz.  We arrived back to find Dave in the RV chatting with none other than the famous Pete Kostelnik – (fastest known transcon run 2 years ago), who was here for his first 6 day.  Had lots of fun chatting with Pete and warming up with some hot chocolate.  I was trying to ignore the fact that after one more sleep, I’d be running for 72 hours.  And… it was still raining.
Chez Mower.  Note cinderblock path.

Race morning

Race started at 9, so I set my alarm for 6:15 in order to give me time to have coffee, eat, and mentally prepare.  It was pouring.  Normally I might choose to go out and get something eggy- but in the rain I didn’t want to go anywhere.  I rummaged around in the RV fridge to check out my options and chose that classic breakfast of running champions everywhere – a naked pre-fab “Everything” bagel and a cheese stuffed weenie, with a side of coffee.  It was delicious.

At 8:00 I was able to register, and I went and picked up my timing chip and got my swag.  Rick and Jennifer always have the best race swag anywhere, and this year was no exception.  I received a fabulous attractive and waterproof light blue jacket which would turn out to be perfect for the race.  8:15-9 was a blur.  8:55 found me standing at the race start again just trying to ignore the fact that I was about to be on my feet for something close to forever.  Rick’s son gave us the race instructions, 5 minutes passed, and…. GO.

I have learned that it is IMPOSSIBLE to go too slow at the beginning.  My general mantra is… if it feels like you are doing ANY work at all, you are going too fast.  My first lap was slow and super easy – clocked it somewhere around 11:30 – which was perfect for early pacing.  It was pouring for the first lap, but gradually started to lighten up in terms of intensity, and within a few laps the steady rain had stopped.  I was running pretty consistent mile splits – within seconds of each other in the high elevens, so I was right on target.

Hard to remember a lot of day 1 except that… it did not feel good.  Knowing it was supposed to rain for a few hours and then stop, I started out wearing shoes I didn’t plan on wearing a lot during the race, with the assumption that they’d be getting wet and that I’d be changing out of them in a few hours.  Normally I wear custom inserts in my shoes, but for my early miles I wore the Hokas without inserts, and was definitely feeling it.  Feet felt off… hips felt tired and like they were working too much.  Instead of my joyful smooth easy, this felt a bit uncomfortable – which, early in Day 1, worried me a bit.

Because of the hip tiredness and some wonkiness in my right foot, I changed out of the Hokas and into my Altra (zero drop) new Lone Peaks with new inserts earlier than I might normally have done a shoe change.  I immediately noticed a difference.  Hips loosened up, stride felt more comfortable and even, and for the first time my body started to feel good.  I was please with this decision and soldiered on.

It’s only been a few days, but that first night feels so long ago now.  I believe it was actually the only dry night.  I think I pretty much enjoyed it.  I was still running strong…  I still had my music…  I just don’t remember much about it.  I know I stopped into the RV at least once to sleep.  My goal with sleep breaks is to try to do 20 minute power naps only when necessary.  I get a lot of rest in a short 20 minutes, and because I’m so slow, I need more time on my feet and less lying down.

My previous 2 multi-days I had 95 mile days on day 1, so that’s what I was aiming for.  I ended up with 94.  Not sure where that other mile went except that as noted above, this race just didn’t feel as strong and smooth to me as ATY – for no reason that I could identify.


Day 2

Day 2 started with fair weather and quickly turned partly sunny and quite warm.  I got hot relatively quickly but since my crew was asleep I just pulled off my Tee and ran in my jog bra until I could have Dave get me a singlet.  I’m pretty sure that’s when I started to burn. 
Once he woke up, I got an application of sunscreen and a little more cover up than what I was wearing, but there was a lot of sun exposure going on.  I know some runners like to wear long sleeved white shirts when it’s sunny and hot – I, on the other hand, do better with as little clothing as I can get away with.  Day 2 was mentally better than day 1, since at this point I had over 100 miles in and was running on pace, and also because the sunshine made for a more cheerful course – however, the heat and humidity took a toll on energy and pace.  I know I spent a good portion of Day 2 feeling thirsty, and for the first time in a race I started craving different drinks than I have generally relied on.   Drinks that felt REALLY good were really cold caffeine free diet coke (which is non-intuitive, because the reason Coke is such a good ultra food is because of the caffeine and calories, and I was choosing a brand without either), and also Perrier.  I think that’s because any ingestion of pure sugar, similar to ingestion of salt, somehow added to my thirstiness, so at that point I needed drinks without salt or sugar.  The other thing I tried, because my body told me it would be good, was a squirt of pure lemon juice in my water bottle.  The extra tartness without any sugar whet my saliva glands a bit and somehow quenched the thirst better than plain water was doing.
101 miles in. Time for a donut.

Want to take a moment to talk about goals.  So – the woman who had been identified as one of my stronger competitors in the field had actually run the race early – the talented and lovely Ms. Eliza Hamm.  She had logged 154 miles in her race, and it was relatively likely that I just needed to exceed that number in order to win the women’s race.  It seemed do-able to me, since I had run 220 at Across the Years, barring any accidents or injuries.  I thought it was highly possible I could hit the 154 and the women’s win within the first 48 hours, as I’d previously logged 160 at ARFTA in 48 hours, so that was my first real “landmark” mile post after I hit the 101 mile buckle point.  What was going to be rough mentally was trying to have the fortitude of reaching a random goal in my head once I already had the women’s win, if there wasn’t any chance of an overall win against the men in the field.  Although I knew I was one of the top 5 racers overall, there were a couple of men consistently ahead of me or near me (rock stars Pablo Espinosa, John Brown and Ryan Jones).  I was pretty sure I didn’t have a shot at the overall win.  My super stretch (A+) goal going in was 240, which would give me 20 more miles than ATY.  My next goal (A-) was any sort of a PR – 221 would get me there.  Even though I’d done 220, I’d done it under some competitive race conditions, so I knew it would be hard for me to have the motivation to even go 220+ unless there was something external pushing me.  Pure B goal was getting the 200 mile buckle, and C goal was winning the women’s race. 

One of the things I’ve had to struggle with most was holding on to my A goal until the end.  At D3 last year, my superstretch goal was 110 miles in 24 hours.  I ended up with 109.4 – not because I couldn’t have gotten that extra .6, but because, by the end of the race, I just didn’t give a shit anymore.  Watching Nica Shields at that race just killing it – dying, panting hard, in SO MUCH PAIN at the end to reach her record setting goal was really eye opening in terms of what it takes to reach hard goals.  So – those were my goals. 

Day 2, as noted, was hot, humid and sunny.  At one point Bill Schultz showed me the forecast.  Sometime around 1 in the morning it went up to 40% chance of rain.  By 2 in the morning, it went up to 100%, and pretty much stayed at 90-100% until at least 5:00 pm the next day.  And…  the temp was dropping into the 40’s.  This…  was bad.  Or, at least, disheartening.  To know that I was going from cheerful running conditions to at least 12 hours of miserable… Well, time to gird the loins and mentally prepare.
A new thing at this race was ditching my electronics.  There came a time early on when I realized there was no reason at all to wear my Garmin.  It just rubbed on my wrist and was heavy, and really was not giving me any information that the timing board wasn't giving me.  I also ditched my phone, which was REALLY unusual.  I always always run with music, and this time, for the last 2 out of the total 3 days, it was just me in my head.  Unique - but freeing.  And, for much of day 2 I ran holding my water bottle rather than having it in a belt around my waist, so I could avoid chafing. 

A highlight of day 2 was spending a little bit of time on the course with the legendary Ann Trason, who actually did a video interview of me.  It’s out there on FB somewhere and I need to figure out how to get it on my Facebook page.

Night 2 fell…  and, sometime in the middle of the night, as predicted, the rain started.  And intensified.  And it got colder.  I had pulled on my lightest running tights in anticipation of the temperature drop, and it became pretty immediately clear that I was going to need to take aggressive steps all night to stay warm.  I switched from a light long sleeved top and light tights to a “cold gear” long sleeved top, layered with a tech short sleeve shirt, layered with the vest portion of a windbreaker, with a long sleeved fleece hoodie over that, finally topped with my new waterproof running jacket.  I switched my bottom layer from my light tights to my thermal tights.  Also wore gloves, and a brimmed running hat with the waterproof hood over that.  And… hand warmers.  Every couple of hours, I’d stop in to the RV for a shoe change – I’d take off the old wet stuff, dry my feet, slather on a fresh coat of RunGoo to prevent blisters, and put on dry socks and shoes.  I’d also switch out my sopping wet gloves for ones that were only damp.  (None were dry).  Dave would immediately stuff newspaper into my shoes to dry them out for future use.  The switch into dry shoes always made a huge difference in warmth and running comfort – at least until the next pair got drenched.

So went night 2. 

I thought I’d end up with a lower 48 hour split than ARFTA or ATY (ARFTA was 160, ATY was 161), but I got to 160 with 2 hours to spare, took an hour long nap, and logged another 6 miles to get in 166 in 48 hours - a 48 hour PR by 5 miles.

Day 3

Dawn.  Wet.  Day 3.  

I had really been hoping my daughter would be coming to crew – but she felt ill on the trip down the day before, and although she’d expressed willingness to come down early on day 3, I had told her not to bother due to the miserable weather…  I thought she’d just have an awful time.  I did have a visit from another friend in the area, so that was a mood lifter.  As was the fact that I was on my last day.

Day 3 turned out to be the really good day.  Day 1 and Day 2 both never felt great, though day 2 was better than day 1.  Day 3… was transcendental.  I’d learned at the end of my first 72 hour that even when you thought your run was gone gone gone, you could find it if you looked really hard.  It was just a mental game of telling your body to run when your body was telling you “F you”.  It also helped to strategically pick WHERE you were going to run – like anything resembling a downhill or a flat.  So, unlike my first 72 hour, I spent all of day 3 mixing up run with my walk. 

There were so many unexpected moments of strong on Day 3.  My body was tired… but my mind was strong, and I was on an emotional high of knowing that I’d been able to take lessons from my earlier multi-days and apply them.  And… it was getting warmer and the rain was lightening up.  It really felt like coming out of a dark night into a clear dawn.  And… I felt like a for-real multi-day runner. 

A bright star on day 3 was the ongoing encouragement from Stephen Bandfield, who was on site crewing Robert Kootz for his 24 hour.  Stephen gave me upbeat words of encouragement EVERY time I passed by.  He gave me cookies and he joked with me.  He was there for my most emotional moment on the course.  Another constant source of encouragement was my new friend Linda Kenny - always cheerful.

I hit 200 miles with 12 hours left on the clock, and with enough energy that it would be a crime not to go for my A- goal.  230 it is.  Get ready.  Get set.  Let’s go for 230.

Night 3….  Was… perfection.

I am not a religious person…  except when I run.  When I run, (and run and run and run….), I am transformed.  I am in awe of this universe and its beauty.  I am in awe of the incredible stories of all of the beautiful people out here on the course.  I am struck dumb by the eerie beauty of the streetlights shining through the fog, with a background of lightly pattering rain and the chirping of spring peepers and the crow of an occasional rooster.  Of passing a really tired runner, singing quietly to himself and, by accident, to me.  I am in awe that this nerdy, overweight, former drinker and smoker has transformed into some kind of a runner.  I amazed by what I can push my body to do, and I am ever so grateful for my body for doing it.  Out here, in the warmish foggy solitude of night I find my God and I am humbled.

Sometime in the very early morning hours, I have a burst of energy and find myself running amazingly well.  It appears I might hit 230 and have time to spare.  I am hungry hungry hungry and at 4:00 am I pass by the aid station and ask what time breakfast is.  For the past 2 days, my mornings were considerably brightened by eggs, pancakes and bacon.  The volunteer said breakfast should be out by 5.  Fine… I can keep moving until 5 with the thought of eggs and pancakes.

5:00 comes.  I swing by the aid station…  no breakfast.  Another lap… 5:18.  I swing by again.  Nothing.  One more lap and still nothing except cold pizza and chicken nuggets.  I ask “when is breakfast?.”  They said “Oh, on the last day, breakfast isn’t served until the end of the race and everyone eats together”.

What?  WTF?  No eggsies?  No pancakes?  No bacon?  I almost start to cry, and say to the volunteer in a wavering voice…. “But I needed that breakfast to get me through the last 7 miles!”.  They cheerfully reply their confidence that I can do it. 

I am not so sure.

I am so very, very crushed.

And, worse, I am slowing down.  I do another lap… and instead of my steady 18’s, it has deteriorated somewhere into the 20’s.  I am wavering, starting to get delirious… staggering.  I need to sleep so badly that I am afraid I might fall down in the middle of the course.  At this point, it is approaching 6 am and I am very afraid if my miles deteriorate into 30 min miles, I might not make my 130.  I have 6 laps to go.  I stagger through one more and make a strategic decision to go in for a 20 minute power nap.  It seemed the only way I could possibly get my speed back enough to get to 130.  I stumble into the RV, set my alarm and sleep hard for 20 minutes.  I didn’t take off my shoes, socks, or anything – just fell on the bed and was out.  As soon as the alarm went off, I was out the door and back on the course.  It was 6:42.  I had 2 hours and 18 minutes to go 5 miles.

Despite my not being sure at the time that I’d be able to get up again, that nap was probably a goal saver.  Back out on the course, I felt rested again and started picking up my run walk.  I was back to 18 minute miles, and pounded out another 3.  2 miles to go to get to 230.  I was going to make it.  My run went away, but it didn’t matter.  I was going to make it. 

Lap 229, I am power walking, I am moving through pain and exhaustion and what I feel is impossible to describe.  I pass Stephen and start sobbing, out of elation and pain.  “I am SO.  FUCKING.  TIRED.”   I am laughing and crying at the same time.  He know it’s OK, and keeps me going. 

The sobbing stops, though the tears keep streaming for a while.  They are very happy tears.

Last lap.  There is over an hour on the clock.  I just take it easy and enjoy it.  I poke my head in the RV asking Dave to be there at the finish.  I grab my phone and start calling and texting people on my way around.  I call my buddy Ed Rudman – because he gets it.  I call my mom, who asks “Are you OK?  Your voice sounds wavery”.  This is so very funny.  I call my sister in law.  And then there is a quarter of a mile to go… it is almost over.  I see the finish and I start my last bit of run up the hill.  I cross the timing mat, and Dave is there taking pictures, and I am done.

Thanks and special moments:

I'm hoping I don't forget anyone here, but I'm sure I will.  Thanks to Rick and Jenn McNulty for putting on a class race with great volunteers, a lovely course, good amenities, and fabulous swag, causing lots of the same great folks to come back year after year.  Thanks to the volunteers - particularly Eliza, Adam, Francis Kwok and Helen Clark.
My undying gratitude and love to Dave Christy who made the trek from Alabama and put up with my OCD for almost a week to get me to my goal.
To Bill Schultz, who made countless trips to the grocery store to meet my thirst whims.  And who can do a sports massage like nobody's business.
To Linda Kenny, to Ray ("Ray of Sunshine") whose last name I don't know, to Darlene Kresse and Annabel Hepworth, to Pablo Espinosa, Phil Ebert, Suzanne Wightman, Bill Gentry, Fred Murolo, Robert Kootz ("son"), Pete Kostelnick, and John Fegyveresi, all of whom gave me cheerful words of encouragement out on the course. 
To Stephen Bandfield for being there when I cried.


I just signed up for my first 6 day race at Across the Years in Phoenix.  Stay tuned...
Getting my award from RD Rick McNulty

Me, with the gracious Ms. Eliza Hamm
Amy & Adam Schalit, RD and volunteer extraordinaire


Me and my pal Helen Clark.  She calls me "baby".  I love that.


Coin for 100 miles on course
200 mile buckle

My amazing trophy, hand made by "Super" Dave Lettieri
Crew member extraordinaire - Dave Christy