2012/08/31: Once in a Blue Moon 12-Hour (race report)

Yesterday morning, I completed the Once in a Blue Moon 12-hour race. This was the 11th ultramarathon (17th race that was marathon distance or longer) I’d run. This year, I’d run 3 marathons and 2 other ultras prior to this race.

This race fit perfectly into my training for North Coast 24, which is a 24-hour race in 3 weeks.

Once in a Blue Moon is a limited edition race that literally only happens once in a blue moon, so the next one won’t be until 2015, assuming that there is a race in conjunction with the next blue moon. (For the record, the moon was not actually blue; a blue moon is a reference to the occurrence of two full moons in a single month.) There were 4 race options: 12 hours, 6 hours, 3 hours, and 1 hour; the goal of all races was to cover the most distance possible in the specified time. The race took place in Henderson, Nevada at a park. The course was a 1.22-mile paved loop that was the shape of a peanut (or “8”). The first half of the course is a gradual uphill section with a few flatter portions, and the second half is a gradual downhill. The elevation change of every loop had roughly 75 feet of climb and 75 feet of descent, which doesn’t seem like much at all, but after many laps, it adds up! 😉

The weather was warm but not as hot as it usually is here in the Las Vegas area. I think it was in the 90s at the start and got down to the low 80s or so at the coolest. It was also more humid than usual as there have been some thunderstorms nearby in the last couple weeks.

I got to the park at 6pm for a 7pm start, and the very first person I saw was Joel, who was the other pacer for the lady I paced at Badwater. I didn’t know he was going to be there, so it was a pleasant surprise. He was only doing the 6-hour option since he’d run a 50-miler the week prior (and he also got into a minor accident on the way to the race on Friday). All of the runners checked in and dropped off their drop bags and whatever else they had before driving to another parking lot; the walk from the parking lot back to the race start was a little over a half mile. I always bring way more stuff than I need, but I like to be prepared. I had 2 gym bags, a small ice chest, and a lawn chair. There was one official aid station that runners passed on every lap.

I chose to run with my water bottle because I didn’t want to feel obligated to stop at the aid station every lap. I’m used to running with my water bottle, so I really didn’t notice the weight. My nutrition strategy going into the race was to drink water and/or Heed (which was at the aid station) when I was thirsty and to take a gel every 45 minutes, supplementing gels with real food as I felt appropriate. I also expected to get to a point where my body wouldn’t tolerate gels anymore, which tend to happen somewhere between 4 and 9 hours into a race; at this point, I planned to eat more real foods.

For a pacing strategy, I was pretty conflicted. I used to use a run-walk strategy almost exclusively, but for the last year, I have switched to only running (with the exception of steep hills, through aid stations, and other times when I felt that running was overly effortful given all other factors). In other words, walking was done only when I felt it was necessary, not as a proactive strategy. My coach had recommended that I try running 9 minutes and walking 1 minute indefinitely; he also said that ideally this walk break would be in conjunction with the aid station or my drop bag if I were grabbing anything.

From the very first lap, I had a feeling the pacing strategy wouldn’t work. When I got to 9 minutes, I was on the downhill section and I couldn’t justify walking on a downhill portion of a course that’s runnable and felt good. My drop bag was on the downhill section, and the aid station was at the bottom of the downhill section but followed by a slightly flat section, making this whole area undesirable to walk. By the time I convinced myself to take a walk break, on the uphill section, it was 19 minutes into the race. By the time I got to an hour, I’d only managed to take 3 walk breaks. Mentally, it was bothering me because the course gave good cues of the best places to walk, which did not line up with the walk breaks based on time. I continued trying to take walk breaks based on time for another half hour or so, but then I decided to revise my strategy. I started running the entire lap except the steepest portion at the top of the uphill section, but I didn’t like this one either. So I revised my strategy again.

I continued to run the whole downhill section and decided to run this section every single lap without exceptions for as long as I could. On the uphill portion, I walked most of it, but on the slightly flatter sections of it, I would run, even if it was for only 20-60 seconds. I did a lot of I’m-going-to-start-running-at-that-bush-and-stop-at-the-glow-bracelet-tree running. (Yes, there was a tree that some kids had decorated with about 15 glow bracelets, which looked so neat at night.) This strategy worked well for me.

I met a handful of people during the race who were fun to interact with. One of them was named Tony (Endorphin Dude as he is known among Marathon Maniacs); I’m a Maniac, but I’m not very “involved” with the club. However, I knew who he was; he was extremely friendly and recounted tales from his 100-miler 2 weeks prior. He was also hallucinating, which was interesting to me. I also met and walked with Yolanda Holder, who is a walker who holds the Guinness World Record for the most marathons completed in one year (101!). She was very kind. I also ran for a bit with a guy who is in the Army who said he races every weekend or so since he’s not married and can do whatever he wants. He was at the 51k I did at the beginning of August and I took some pride in the fact that I finished the race 12 minutes faster than him. 😉 I interacted with other people along the way, but I ran and walked by myself mostly.

One thing I found annoying was that I evidently have a decent walking pace, so even when other people were walking too, I was quicker than them. You might ask why this was annoying. It’s because I heard people involved in conversations I would have liked to have joined and saw people I would have liked spending more time talking with, but I couldn’t justify slowing down my comfortable walking pace to do this.

The hardest period of the race mentally was from a little over two hours to about four hours. I didn’t think about quitting, but my mind was thinking, “How are you going to do this for over 9 more HOURS? That’s more than you work or sleep on a given day!” I’d run 12 hours before (when I was deployed about 2 years ago), and I’d also run a 24-hour race a year ago, so I knew it was possible; I just had to remind myself of this. There was a distinct difference between my previous 12-hour race an 24-hour race, though, in my opinion. In the previous 12-hour race, I spent the entire time running/walking unless I was taking a potty break or refilling my water bottle/grabbing some food. During the 24-hour race, however, I’d taken a lot of breaks and even a nap in the middle of the night. In my mind, this meant that the 12-hour had been a single effort while the 24-hour was not a continuous effort, which also explained why I’d covered 51.88 miles in 12 hours and less than 15 miles more in 24 hours.

Another thing to note is that my previous 12-hour race was based only on Garmin distance as I was deployed and the stateside race director agreed to this.

Around the 4-hour point, I felt quite good and just kept moving forward. As each of the other timed races ended, the number of people on the course dwindled. But it wasn’t bad. I chose to run without a light the entire time, which was peaceful to me. Since it was a full moon and the course was paved without any really sharp turns, I didn’t think a light was necessary.

The volunteers at the race were great. After many hours, I didn’t even need to tell them what I wanted; if I asked for a bottle refill, I needed water, and if I reached for a cup, I wanted Heed. I felt very pampered! Also, after the first couple hours, the race was manually timed, so each time through the start/finish area, I told them my time and they’d repeat it. I was surprised at the number of runners who had family members and friends out there crewing for them. My husband was working and I don’t have any other local family or close friends who I’d want to recruit to help out, but I really didn’t think I needed a crew in a race like that.

I continued to run every downhill section, and even though my running pace slowed over time, it was nice to still feel good running. Over the course of the run, my lower back got sore at a few points, so I’d take a few seconds to stop, bend over, and stretch out. I only took one potty break during the race, and that was only because mother nature chose to grace me with my “time of month” 4 hours before the race started. 😉

I listened to podcasts and music when I wasn’t chatting with people. It kept my mind occupied and made the time go by quickly. Before I knew it, there was only an hour and a half left and the sun was coming up. Even though I was wearing a Garmin, for the majority of the race, I really didn’t know what my “official” mileage was. From the very first lap, I knew I’d get some “bonus” mileage since the 1.22-mile loop registered as 1.25 miles on my Garmin; .03 miles is practically nothing, until you add that up many many times!

With a little under an hour and a half remaining, the race director, Joyce, who had been helping with tallying mileage the last few hours, told me how many laps I had and then mentioned I was currently the 3rd place female. What? This was good and bad. It was good because I had no idea where I was with regard to the other runners, but it was “bad” because I now felt some pressure and I knew I had to do whatever I could to not lose that ranking in the last 80ish minutes of a 12-hour race. Luckily, due to my steady pace throughout the night, I still had some energy to push it at the end. There were two girls who passed me in the next couple laps, but I determined that the two of them had to be the first and second girls so I wasn’t really concerned with catching them; their pace was much faster than mine at that point. However, surprisingly, it seemed like almost everyone else was JUST walking at that point, including all of the males. I felt strong to still be running, and I was STILL running the entire downhill section without exception.

After my final full lap, I was given a glow stick to run with. I sped up even more on the final lap and was able to make it almost an entire other full lap (shy by less than a tenth of a mile). The last .93 miles according to my Garmin was my fastest pace of the whole race (10:50 avg).  I then tore off the bottom tab of my bib, slipped the glow stick through the hole, and put it on the outer edge of the course in the dirt. This was an ingenious idea, especially for the other races that ended in the dark; it enabled volunteers to easily find the glow sticks to annotate the partial lap, and it also warned other runners to avoid the glow sticks on the ground as there would be non-runners (stationary people) on the course around them in the near future.

As it turned out, I finished with a total official distance of 53.6 miles. In contrast, my Garmin distance read 55.02 miles. I was happy with this. I “officially” beat my previous 12-hour PR by 1.72 miles, but I *really* beat it by 3.14 miles since my previous PR was based solely on Garmin distance (in other words, Garmin compared to Garmin was 3.14 miles difference). I wish I could have gone a little farther, but considering the non-flat course and the non-cool temperature, I was satisfied. I’ve also realized over the last year or so that secondary to competing against my own times in the same distance in similar conditions, if I choose to compare myself to others, I should only do it in the context of that particular race. In other words, comparing my performance to others’ distances in 12-hour events on different courses in different weather really doesn’t tell me much of anything. And for the people who turned out at the Once in a Blue Moon 12-hour race, I did well. I was the 3rd place female overall, and I actually beat all but 1 of the men; yes, women scored 3 of the top 4 positions. Yes, the men evidently brought it weak. 😉  There were 23 people running the 12-hour option.  (Also, based on the distance I had at the 6-hour point, if I had done the 6-hour option, I would have been the 1st place female, lol.)

And a few other random stats: The total elevation gain was close to 3,500 feet (with the same amount of elevation loss).  I never sat down (except to use the porta potty). The only things I used out of EVERYthing I brought were: gels, a carbonated energy drink, and a bandaid (for chafing a tag in my running skirt caused). I only consumed a total of 12 gels. The only “solid” food I ate consisted of 5 gummy bears. Fluid intake was a combo of mostly water, some Heed, half a Starbucks Refresher energy drink, and some sweetened iced tea. I also consumed a total of 3 salt pills over the course of the race; at one point, I reached up to wipe off my face and it felt like it was covered with wet sand, but it was actually salt, and another time, I noticed a ton of salt all over my chest. It was pretty excessive. Everything I consumed seemed to work pretty well since I never bonked and actually had a relatively strong finish. I emailed the race director, Joyce, after the race and even she made the comment, “You looked so strong and consistent—way to go!” Coming from her, that means a lot.

Getting back to the post-race happenings, the race director gave me my overall award which was a little hourglass, symbolic of the fixed-time race. When it’s flipped one way, it says “3rd Woman Overall, 8.31.12” and when it’s flipped the other way, “Once in a Blue Moon, 12 Hour Run” can be read.

I also earned my “Calico Mega Slam” award at this race. When a person does 4 Calico ultra races in a year, they get one of these hand-painted mementos. There are typically only 4 races that have ultra distances, and the hot Devil race in the middle of summer can be subbed with a marathon; I didn’t do the Devil ultra or the Angel Ultra, so I shouldn’t have been eligible. However, there was a special edition Blue Moon race where I did an ultra distance, so I was able to combine this 12-hour race with my 51k and 50-miler and include my marathon as my one sub for Devil. Sort of a loophole, but still think this is way neat and a nice personal touch (no cost associated with this “award”). In looking at the list of other people who have gotten this award in this past 4.5 years it’s been offered, there were 11 people total prior to this race, with 4 added yesterday (including me). And of the 15 total people who have gotten it, 3 are Badwater finishers! I also feel better about subbing a marathon for one of the ultras as that is how over half of the people qualified.

I LOVE how all of Calico Racing’s races have unique awards and are just unique experiences overall. They really remind me what I love about racing and how I hate the commercialized and corporate feel of many of the larger racing events (like the entire Rock N Roll series).

After the race, I realized that not only did I need to somehow get back to my car, but I had to get all of my stuff back to my car. Joyce asked if I needed help. I responded, “Uhhh, yes…” She picked up half of my stuff and I picked up the other half, and we started walking toward the stairs to the nearby parking lot. There was another runner, actually the male winner, up ahead a little bit with his family, and Joyce asked if he could give me a ride back to the other parking lot. He initially said, “There are already 5 of us,” but then said, “Yeah, we can take her.” Then, about 30 seconds later, two of his kids, a girl who was about 13 and a boy who was about 10 ran toward me and grabbed my stuff from Joyce and me. The girl exclaimed, “You can’t be carrying stuff, you just ran for 12 hours!” Then she started talking really fast about how awesome it is and asking a bunch of questions. She was so sweet! When we pulled up to my car, the male runner asked his wife, who was driving, to pull up as close to my car as possible so I could easily move my stuff from their trunk to my trunk. However, before I could even get out of the car, his kids had already gotten out, grabbed my stuff, and were waiting by my trunk. They were so kind!

I seriously love ultramarathons, especially due to the people associated with them; I’m not just talking about the runners themselves but their families, volunteers, race directors, everyone. These people give me faith in humanity.

It’s been a little over a day since the race ended, and I’m feeling pretty good considering I just ran over 50 miles yesterday. I’m sore, but that’s to be expected. Also, in spite of using Body Glide, I had quite a bit of chafing, which I’m blaming on the slightly elevated humidity. Chafing areas included: thighs, lower back, arm, and ALL around my sports bra. I had a small blister on one foot, but it’s already been absorbed back into my skin. I also noticed some weird red splotches on my feet/ankles and thighs that didn’t hurt or anything, but those are gone too. The only lasting thing that’s weird is that my voice is practically gone; it’s very hoarse. It’s normally like this a little bit after I run long distances, which I attribute to all of the coughing I do when I run, but it normally goes away by the end of the day. However, nothing hurts, so I’m not really too concerned.

Also, my breathing during the race was a non-issue, so my asthma meds seem to be working. However, I still cough a lot when I run, which remains unchanged with the asthma meds; I’m used to it, though, so it’s not too bad.

I plan on taking it easy for a few days and just walking, then run some before tapering for North Coast 24 on 22 Sep. 🙂

Here are some photos:

Me during the race (taken toward the beginning):
Blue Moon 1

My 3rd place award:

Blue Moon 3

My Calico Mega Slam award:

Blue Moon 2

Shirt (that fits perfectly!) and medal:

Blue Moon 4

Katrina

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