Short version: This was my first 24-hour race. My longest race previously was a 12-hour, with a distance PR of 51.88 miles. I foolishly did a 9-hour race last weekend 6 days before NC24 (38 miles) but recovered okay. Final mileage at NC24 was 66.48 miles.
Longer version (with pics):
I registered for this race almost 6 months ago. I had great visions for how I’d train, but life happened and things didn’t turn out as planned. Then, as if I wasn’t already tempting disaster enough, I signed up for a 9-hour ultra 6 days prior (during which I completed 38 miles). My expectations for NC24, which was my first 24-hour race, were pretty low. I really just wanted to meet a bunch of people from RWOL and have fun.
I arrived in Cleveland on Friday, Jenny picked me up (she’s even sweeter in person), and I shared a hotel with Lori and Sue. There was also a get-together at the park that night for our little group (runners and crew) for whoever was already in town. I slept pretty well that night; Sue didn’t get in until almost midnight, but after chatting a few minutes when she came in (since we’d never met), I went back to sleep. I didn’t have my usual problems sleeping, and I think it was because there were three of us, there were multiple alarms set, and I also figures that someone would call one of us if we didn’t show up around our planned time, which was an hour and a half before the race start.
The course is a .9-mile certified loop right by the lake. The path is wide, which is nice, but it’s paved, which isn’t so nice. There was very little elevation change, but I was very aware of where the slight uphill and downhill sections were. There were tents and aid stations set up all along the side by the timing mat. Our aid station was the largest and best by far. We had everything imaginable to eat/drink and medical-wise. Our crew, headed by Laura, was totally awesome.
At 9am, after some very short remarks and Susan singing the national anthem, we were off. A bunch of us decided to walk the first loop. After that, I started running; I ran the downhills and flats, and I walked the uphills (although they didn’t seem very noticeable at all at the beginning). By the three-hour mark, I was just under 15 miles. Over the next few miles, I developed an ache on the inside of my left knee. I didn’t really want to waste time to get it looked at, but after deliberating, I stopped in at around mile 19 (4 hours). The people there were extremely knowledgeable, and although I had low expectations for what they would do, particularly for a non-USATF member who was nowhere on the rankings. However, a few of them discussed it, asked lots of questions, and poked and prodded a bit. I felt better after that. However, over the next hour, while my knee pain went away, I developed tenderness in my left Achilles, which I’ve never had before. I was stretched, prodded, massaged, and iced a bit. Also, while I was there, an older man, who had been in the race (walking at an extremely slow pace), came up and said he wanted to to a “tune-up” on me because he noticed I was leaning as I ran. He did some stuff to my back, I heard a few pops, and I felt incredibly renewed. Little did I know that he was in charge of the medical team there, and his name is Dr. Lovy, ultramarathoner and world renowned sports physician. Wow! Anyway, I was told to come back if it didn’t feel better in a few laps.
I continued to walk and run. I ran when I felt like it and walked when I felt like it. This seemed to work well. It was also partially dictated by who happened to be around me on the course at the time. At times, early on, if someone I knew was passing me, I may speed up for a half mile or so to chat a bit; I also didn’t have a problem walking a bit to talk to someone else. I loved seeing everyone repeatedly, even if it was typically only when they blew past me.
There was a lady I came upon at one point with flowers in her hair, and from the back, she looked like someone who I’d just seen a photo of in Ultrarunning magazine on the airline flight to Cleveland. When I looked back at her, I noticed it was her. I mentioned it to her, and she nonchalantly said, “Oh, yeah, that must have been Western States,” which is a 100-miler. A few laps later, she was quite a bit faster than me the majority of the time, we ran together for a lap and talked. From then on, whenever she saw me, she always said hi and had something encouraging to say. Even when I put on layers (I never actually changed clothes, except shoes once at the guidance of the med people), she still recognized me from behind.
My Achilles issue seemed to be getting worse, so I stopped in again, for the third time, about 2 hours after the initial time (and an hour after the previous time). This time, I ended up getting a heel lift put into my left shoe to help. From then on, I opted to ice my Achilles for 5 minutes each hour. I felt like I was wasting time a bit, but I also saw it as an investment. Once of the med students even came out onto the course one time to ask me as I went by how I was doing; now that’s service!
As time went on, I continued to run, walk, and chat with lots of people. I also discovered the wonderful world of aid station food: pizza, ramen noodles, potato soup, hotdogs, rice, mashed potatoes, etc. Yummy!
My miles were getting slower as my right ankle began to hurt, in addition to my Achilles. I really didn’t want to go back to the medical people again, but around mile 39, I decided to do it. This time, a heel lift was also put in my right shoe, and the med team spoke in foreign terms about what was going on with my ankles. I was then sent on my way, after more poking and prodding and massage/pressure. I was told to come back in 2 loops. It took me a few minutes for my muscled to warm back up, but I felt better and even began running again, which I hadn’t been doing. After two laps, I did stop by the med area again, but only long enough to say that whatever they’d done had worked and that I felt better and didn’t want to try to fix what no longer seemed broken. It was around this time that I got a second wind. I was excited to feel better again be able to run.
As the night wore on, the north side of the lake got increasingly colder. All of my previous pains from the night gradually came back too along with feeling of blisters that made me not even want to take off my shoes to look. I had resorted to solely walking, and very slow walking at that, as in 25-minute miles! Something kind of funny happened in the middle of the night. My husband called me to say goodnight (ha!), and I realized how much effort it took just to hold the phone to my ear. I tried to tell him I was almost at 45 mile, but he was silent, and when I asked if he’s heard me, he admitted he hadn’t been listening. I was frustrated, not necessarily directly at him but at the whole situation, so I repeated myself in a louder more direct tone. Then, a guy walking right next to me, who I never met and whose name I don’t even know told me to give him the phone. I hesitated and then gave it to him. He then said very clearly into the phone, “She said she is almost at 45 miles. This is extremely important and you need to listen. She’s doing great and still smiling. You should be thankful to have her in your life. Here’s your wife back.” And he handed the phone back to me; the mystery man and I never spoke again. Wow.
One of the weirdest things I experienced happened so fast I didn’t even have time to react to it. At one point, I’d seen a rat or something scurry across the path near the main aid station and didn’t think anything of it. Then a few laps later, I feel a sensation like something is trying to latch on to my cloth calf sleeve. I look down just in time to see this ball of fur scurry back down my leg and disappear into the shadows. Interesting… I took it as a sign I was moving way too slow, haha.
Later on, I ran into Susan who was slowing down too and just wanted to do a couple more laps to get over 65 miles. I was about 10 miles behind her but was happy to have some company. As it got cooler, people left the course to to to their tents/hotel rooms/etc. After two laps with her, I ended up coming across Lori who was unsure she’d be able to get the last couple laps to get her to her goal of 60 loops. I never doubted she had the ability to meet that. Two more laps sounded about right to me too, as that’d push me over 60 miles; my previous distance PR (which I got during a 12-hour race) was 51.88 miles. We sat for a while, then went for a slow loop, sat for a while, and then did our “final” one. At that point, my body wasn’t feeling good, and I opted not to go back to the med team as I viewed my current issues as “normal wear and tear” after going that distance. Also, by that time, people who were actually in contention for national championship titles were coming down with issues, and I didn’t want to take anything away from them.
Some people mentioned maybe going out for another lap once the sun came up, but at that point in time, I had no goal of doing that. I opted to try to get some sleep as it was then 4:30am. I could have maybe kept going, but it just didn’t seem like the 25-minute miles I was painfully putting in were worth much, and I didn’t want to seriously hurt myself.
I tried to curl up in a lawn chair with my arms tucked in an oversized sweatshirt Jenny had lent to me prior to the race. I think I dozed off a bit, but it wasn’t good sleep. When I heard rustling around once the sun came up, I could hear people talking about doing a “victory lap.” At that point, I was unsure I was even going to be able to unfold myself from the chair.
I got out of the chair and took a few steps. Surprisingly, I felt quite alright! There was just under an hour and a half left in the race. After transitioning from a slow walk to a brisker one, I decided to try running, and I found out that running didn’t feel any worse! From there, I had a ton of energy and I wanted to get in as many miles as I could in the remaining time. As it turned out, I fit in just over 6 miles in. The last .72-mile segment (my partial lap) was done in 8:25, which is a “blazing” 11:41-minute/mile pace (my Garmin was long dead by then)! Of course, as soon as I stopped running, my body resorted to feeling broken. But I was so excited! My final distance was 66.48 miles, and I had shared the experience with so many other people.
To all of the other runners from here who I met, thank you for your support and positive attitude. You all are amazing people. And to everyone on the crew, thank you for going above and beyond, not sitting there passively, but actively ensuring that everyone was taken care of. Also, thanks to all the local people, runners/crew/families, who took time out of their own schedules to make things a bit easier (i.e. travel-wise) around Cleveland. And of course I’m grateful for all of the people “stalking” us online and sending positive vibes our way. I was overwhelmed by all of the compassion and generosity I experienced this weekend.
Jenny took tons of photos. She has a way of showing people’s character in the photos she takes. She has a true gift. Here are a few of my favorite pics from the event:
Yesterday when I woke up, my left knee was hurting a lot and my right ankle was swollen but didn’t hurt. However, I was constantly moving around from the time I got back last night through today (no sleep since I left Cleveland) I was readying my apartment for the overs to come. After rushing up and down the stairs on multiple occasions, I remembered I was supposed to be hurt. Right now, I feel almost back to normal. My knee is a little stiff at times, but the rest of me in fine, and my blisters have somehow began to resorb back into the skin. All is good!