Focusing on the USATF North California Mountain and Ultra Trail running Grand Prix, in which I won my age group again this year for the 8th time in a row, I don't race much outside of California. And, while I travel extensively around the globe for work, I'm not so used to traveling to races. Last time was for the US 50K road USATF Nationals where I won my brand new age group, the day after my birthday. I had passed on the 100K Nationals in April as I was still recovering from the nagging injury which bothered me through February and March plus, it was the weekend between American River 50-mile and Ruth Anderson 50-mile.
So, after 12 ultra races so far this year, including my first 24-hour event in June with 127 miles, I had 4 weeks to prepare for this 24-hour USATF Nationals in Cleveland, Ohio. I flew in on Thursday night to attend client meetings with 2 local financial institutions and get ready on Friday evening. I stopped by Edgewater Park to have a look at the course and parking lot and had the pleasure to meet a few other runners including elite Serge Arbona who already ran 156.5 miles on this course, had 6 24-hour events beyond 150 miles under his belt and was looking forward to add a new one.
The path is really smooth and mostly flat, a great race track, with gorgeous views of Lake Erie (so large that is looks like the Ocean...).
my Quicksilver Running Club buddies are used to drink in the Bay Area! ;-) I had never seen root beer used as an ultra drink before.
For once, as opposed to our local races in California, there wasn't a single runner whom I knew among the list of 170 participants, so it was great to get welcomed by them and a few others, experiencing the most welcomed ultra camaraderie. Serge arrived around 7:30 which surprised me as he was supposed to sleep in his car on the parking lot. He set his table on the other side of the course and told me that he actually had a rough night because the Police didn't allow him to stay last night so he had to find another parking lot and couldn't get a good sleep, stressed that he was of getting kicked again from the place he found. Not a good start for him... Yet, he was positive and optimistic, a key strength for this type of ultra running event.
With that, it was time to go to the start line, with a couple minutes to spare. Oh wait, all the runners were gathered 200 yards from the start line, that was weird. I started jogging toward the area when I heard Race Director, Dan Horvath, blowing the horn (Photo credit Cameron Dedrick).
the wind gusts we had in San Francisco in June for 17 straight hours!
I had to make conscious "efforts" to slow down and not pass Serge. We were clocking 7:30 laps (each lap is 0.90074) which I knew was already too fast, under the reasonable 9 min/mile pace. At some point, Serge made a quick pit stop and I slowed down even more so he can catch-up. But after a few more laps, I couldn't help myself and passed Serge who didn't seem to have a good day.
Deeper in the night, many runners had either left, such as my canopy hosts, or gotten into their tent for some rest or sleep. But a good number of "studs" kept going even it meant a lot of walking. I passed the 100-mile mark by 1 am, that is 16 hours in the race. At this point, I was running at about 10 min/mile and revised my goal to 140 miles. The chaffing was very painful but, more worrying, I discovered at 2 am that my urine had turned brownish. Darn, this never happened to me before and, based on previous accounts form others, I interpreted that as the symptom of blood in the urine. I did a few more laps but decided to stop at the medical tent to get my urine tested only to hear that they didn't take this responsibility. Disappointed, I went back on the course but decided to walk it to think about what to do next. 2/3 in the lap, Dan, the Race Director, was walking toward me, he was on the course to find me and walk with me based on the medical staff's concerns, what a dedication from a race director! An opportunity to mention how impressed by the calm and accessibility of Dan throughout the 30+ hours that he must have been up.
The rain actually started to pick-up as Dan and I were approaching the aid station. Dan was insistent that I go straight away to the medical tent but I told him that my stuff was not under a tent anymore and it was key that I get it protected from the rain. By the time we got to my bags, a storm and pouring rain were hitting us and I was completely soaked when we got into the race headquarters, so much that I was shivering pretty bad. Dan was even more insistent that I hurry to the medical tent but I had to change first, at least my top. It took at least 15 minutes before I stopped shaking. The MD in charge, Greg, examined me and, based on the fact that my kidneys didn't hurt, ruled the blood in urine issue out. Rather a good (as in very bad...) case of dehydration. He got me to drink some cranberry juice and a few cups of chicken broth. It took me an hour to get warmer, even though I was laying down under a heater. And 20 more minutes to decide to get back on the course. The chaffing of the first 17 hours was so bad that it made even walking excruciating. And there was still almost 6 hours to go...
Despite this pit stop of 1 hour and 20 minutes, I was still in second place which surprised me. For sure, I had missed much of the storm, which must have slowed others down too, Thankfully, it was only occasionally drizzling now. But my lead on 3rd place was down to only 3 laps. Surprisingly, I found myself running faster than before I stopped, about 9 min/mile. I even caught-up with Harvey and that upset him so much that he yelled in the dark and went on a crazy sprint. Sincerely, that looked weird but, like they say, don't take it personally... Here is Harvey's picture by Jen Goellnitz on Saturday afternoon (singlet):
The physical and mental fatigue was so big that couldn't even walk back to the finish area. Ted, from Harvey's crew, helped me but we barely covered 50 yards. He went to the medical tent to get Dr. Greg Hom and Katie who made me drink a cold chocolate milk which I liked very much but I didn't keep. As I was sitting on a bench, one of the Park Rangers passed by with his car and I suggested that he gets me to the finish line. Yes, again, a pathetic way to finish. I took me another hour to call Agnès at home and tell her the story which wasn't told in the results or the nice photo montage she had posted on Facebook to our friends.
As of this Friday the complete results aren't finalized yet but we pretty much got the right number of laps. For his first ultra (!!!) Isaiah logged a whopping 154-mile distance, I'm sure this must be unheard of!
From the timing to the setup of the single aid station, the organization was very professional. Family and friends really appreciated the live rankings on my end, although they got a shot of adrenaline when the results went off in the final hour on the website. The volunteers were amazingly dedicated to each of our needs; if they happened to be short of what you wanted, they had it for the next lap, made to order! Without a crew I really appreciated the possibility to leave my bottle which I'd found refilled at my next passage, very helpful to keep the momentum and save precious time. During the peak of the afternoon heat the poor volunteers had to fight wasps making their job even harder. It was also amazing seeing volunteers taking successive shifts with the same efficiency.
I'm extremely grateful to the medical crew for their recommendations, their patience to handle my disappointment and impatience, and for getting me back on my feet in the middle of the night. Here are some of them, after the award ceremony. From left to right: Katie, me, Dr. Greg Hom who flew all the way from Florida to lead the team composed of local students he had worked with before and Dr. Andrew Lovy, 79, who not only worked the medical tent but also logged 36 miles and placed in his age group! Dr. Lovy spent years on the front line in Vietnam so he certainly knows what both service and ultra endurance are!
In retrospective, I certainly made a big mistake not taking care of the chaffing early enough. As for the dehydration, I'm really not sure what I could have done differently as I did drink a lot of both electrolytes and iced water before it happened, as well as took one S!Cap every hour. I didn't get any cramping, so the pace seemed adequate and sustainable, although I should manage to slow down more in the first 6-12 hours... I used 10 pouches of Vespa which allowed me to eat very little compared to such a prolonged effort. No foot blister and the Brooks Launch were the perfect shoes. Overall, not too many rookie mistakes, but enough to jeopardize any chance of record. 2nd 24-hour, there will be more...
All week I debated if I was going to race both the Stevens Creek 50K and Trailblazer 10K this weekend as I did these past 3 years with much success (winning the 50K 3 times). I procrastinated until this morning and the registration was closed for the 50K so that's taking care of the decision. I'm in the 10K on Sunday, hope for a decent performance in my age group, short of much track and speed training this year.
Since it took me so long (5 days!) to post this race report, I can mention a few other participants' accounts who did beat me at this game:
- John Hnat (100 miles for a major come back from back surgery!)
- Lynn David Newton (a nostalgic ultra career end; maybe the last ultra but hopefully not the last run or shorter race!)
- Alene Nitzky (a few struggles too for a quadruple Badwater girl)
- Diana Martinez (a new ultra marathoner, whoot!)
- Angela Maraldo McKinstry (congrats on your 3rd NC24!)
- Mary Mathews Nabb (yes, you have an impressive and very consistent "energizer bunny" stride! ;-)
- And we still wait to hear from the winner and amazing ultra debut of Isaiah Janzen on his blog...
- Jen Goellnitz's album on Facebook
- Her high definitions pictures
- A few of Greg Murray's super pro pictures
- 2,700 pictures from "JohnnyDaJogger"
- The Race Director's album