Scatter my ashes here...

Scatter my ashes here...
scatter my ashes in the desert...

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Gone With the Wind: North Coast 24 Hour Race Report

I finally made it home to cold snowy Colorado, I apologize for the delay in getting this blogpost out. I have been tired and sore, still haven't caught up on my sleep so I'm having a hard time thinking, plus didn't get home from Ohio until late in the day yesterday. Now I'm back to the woman cave where I can relax and collect my thoughts, plus I can do a little soaking in the hot tub outside.

My feelings from this race are mixed, I loved the event, I enjoyed the venue and the race itself. There were great volunteers who braved horrible conditions and had to be miserably cold. It was well-organized and the aid station had everything. There was extra security in the park at night from the rangers. They delivered on everything I'd heard about, it was extremely well-done.

As far as Cleveland goes, not so sure. I didn't get a chance to do any real tourist activity while I was there so maybe I missed the good stuff. I'm really not into cities, but there were a few things I would liked to have seen, like the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. I would definitely consider going back to run this event in the future. It was even better because I got to see Lynn and Suzy and spend some time with them.

There was the disappointment, of course, of not getting anywhere close to the mileage I wanted, which was 110. Most of all, to win a 24 hour race with not even 100 miles is sort of embarrassing. But this was not my goal race, I certainly hadn't anticipated winning it, and the weather and conditions made it a survival event. Which, like it or not, seems to be my forte.

In the late hours of the race, I honestly was not even thinking about the fact that another mile or two would have improved my overall ranking dramatically. I was just over it, and wanting the time to pass so I could be done. I had completely lost sight of numbers. I'll reflect on that a bit later in this post. However, it's just more fuel for the fire next time.

Pre-Race: Just Shoot, And Walk Away

I'd spent a relaxing two days at my friends Lynn David and Suzy Newton's home in Columbus, where I got plenty of great sleep and food. On Thursday the weather forecast looked like this:

Friday evening, the race day forecast looked like this:

Friday it was raining hard all morning as I drove north toward Cleveland on I-71. I made two brief stops for food and supplies outside Cleveland and then proceeded into the downtown area to find my hotel and figure out where the race course was.

The rain stopped before I got to downtown, and I found the hotel easily. I was able to check in early and got a room on the 10th floor with a city view and some views of Lake Erie. The hotel was okay, could have been a little cleaner, but at least there was no bat guano or leftover human hairs this time.

I dumped all my stuff in the room and looked at the map and directions I had to Edgewater Park. About a 10 minute drive from the hotel, shouldn't be bad, right?

I got in the car and started going toward the park, I drove across a bridge and then into the downtown area, made the correct turns, until suddenly there were detour signs for the road I needed to take. I attempted to follow the signs but ended up getting hopelessly and completely lost, and I ended up seeing some scenic parts of downtown Cleveland that I hadn't anticipated. There was NO WAY IN HELL I was stopping the car to ask for directions in this neighborhood.

My mind immediately went to the advice I'd received from a patient at work a week or so ago. He has a background in law enforcement and was familiar with Cleveland, and his exact words to me were, "When you're in Cleveland, just shoot, and walk away." I would have to agree...

I continued driving and trying to follow my gut on directions to get back to another part of town where it looked a little safer. Somehow I ended up at the dog pound, which seemed to me to be as good a place as any, since there was no other building that looked like it might house someone who could actually give directions without risking my life.

They were very nice at the pound, they printed out directions for me on Google maps so I could find both the park and the way back to the hotel. Once I left there, it took less than 5 minutes to find Edgewater Park, but it had taken an hour to get there!!!

I felt a bit frazzled when I got there, and stepped out of the car. It was hard to open the door against the stiff, biting wind coming across the lake. It was also freezing cold! I walked around near the pavilions, where the aid station would be set up, and a little on the path we'd be running. The wind was a killer! All I could do was hope that tomorrow it wasn't as bad, otherwise it was going to be an interesting race.

The trees were being whipped and huge waves were crashing against the shore. You could go surfing out there, on a lake! I could feel the mist from the waves, standing there about 20 feet from the water, and I was on the race course. It could be hard to stay dry, too.

I'd seen enough. I was freezing my butt off, and now I was glad I'd brought two huge bags full of winter clothing, because I was going to need it. I'd had my little urban adventure, now it was time to get ready for race day. There was hope though, the clouds were moving fast overhead and there were actually two little spots of blue sky visible.

I wrote to Lynn to tell him I'd arrived safely and was at Edgewater. I also told him about the blue hole in the sky.

His words back to me were, "Don't be deceived. The hole is to pour water through."

Driving back to the hotel took 10 minutes. I saw where I had made the wrong turn, so I felt relieved that on race morning it would be much easier.

Back at the hotel, I finished organizing what little I had left to do. I mostly thought about it. Stepping out into that wind was a hard thing to do the day before a race, knowing it could easily be just like that. I do not like cold weather. But I had to psych myself up, I came all this way, and there was no way I was going to wimp out. I told myself, a little wind and cold isn't going to stop me. I have run across Death Valley several times and endured heat. I can do this for 24 hours. All I needed to do was stick to my plan and stay warm and I'd be fine.

I didn't feel like going out again for food, I had bought some soup, bread, salad, and pasta at Whole Foods and warmed them up in the microwave in the room. It was a little spicy, but not bad. I watched the sunset over the city from my window. I had a hard time falling asleep but once I did, I slept a solid 7 hours.

Race Morning

I drank my coffee, took a shower and got dressed. There was a nice sunrise over the city, but I could see the trees in the cemetery across the street from the hotel that were swaying, and a flag on the Progressive Field stadium building was blown straight out in the wind.

Going out to the car it was cold, but the sky didn't look too bad.

I drove over to the park and got my stuff set up on a picnic table and picked up my race packet and timing chip. The wind was fierce, my hands were frozen, and I tied my stuff down with bungee cords to the picnic table so it wouldn't blow away. It started snowing, horizontally. I had time to kill so I sat in the car to stay warm. People were huddled behind a building trying to stay out of the wind, waiting for the pre-race briefing to start.

I had to get out of the car for the briefing under the pavilions, and everything was being whipped by the wind. People's tents were flapping and lifting off the ground, there was sand blowing across the race course and into everything, and it was bitter cold. I grabbed some extra layers of warm clothes to start out in.

I found Beth McCurdy and Andy Lovy, and talked with both of them. I first met Beth at the Keys 100. She's been running awesome performances and was planning to get a national team qualifying performance at this race, which would probably take about 130 miles. She was definitely the favorite going into the women's race. There were several other strong women runners out there too, Liz Bondar was one of them, I had never met her before, but she has done over 110 in the 24 hour. Debra Horn was running in the 12 hour event, as she has the World 24 Hour championships coming up in May. I was hoping to talk with her and some of the other runners to get some tips and ideas on strategy in these races while I was there.

Andy is nothing short of incredible. He was the medical director for this race, and he has served in that role many times at this and other races, including Across the Years. That's where I've gotten to know him over the years. He is now 78 years old, and despite some health problems over the past several years he has managed to come back. He had a goal of 26 miles, and then he was planning to be done. He was also taking care of the runners in his medical director capacity, and had a crew of podiatry students on site with him. I found out that he will be running medical at the 24 hour national championships in Oklahoma City this fall, so it will be great to see him again there.

As we all stood there huddled together and shivering, Heidi Finniff, the race director, started the briefing, talked about the course and the start, which was a little ways back on the course from the timing mats, so that we would end up at exactly 100 miles at the timing mats when we hit our 111th lap. We had a 26 second moment of silence to think about what happened at Boston last week, and then we walked over to the starting line. The snow had stopped, but not the wind. We were starting going directly into the blast, on the corner of the course that faced directly into the water and blowing sand off the beach.

The Start

My plan going into the race was to run a steady pace of 13 minute miles over the most of the event, which would yield a total of 110 miles, and that was my goal. I allowed myself a few hours of carefully regulated adrenaline laps but didn't want to go too fast in the beginning, so I was careful not to get caught up in Beth and Debra's paces. Liz was moving along at a fast pace, too. I was there for my goal miles, not to place competitively, so I completely ignored my place as I went through the day. As much as I wanted to talk with them, I only allowed myself a couple of laps at a time with them and then I made myself walk or slow way down to keep from tiring myself out.

After a few laps it became obvious that this was not going to be a predictable day, and the wind was making it hard to focus on pace anyway, because one half of the course had a stiff headwind or cross wind, and the other half the wind was at our backs. There was one little corner of the course, near where we had started, where the wind was so strong that it blew you back. It was a struggle to figure out how to deal with it. I tried running into it, walking into it, leaning forward, and various other strategies. Finally I decided I would approach it by not trying to fight it, but just letting it roll over me. Running into it seemed easier than walking, but I didn't push the pace. I just kept turning my legs over at a painfully slow pace and getting through the hard wind with a minimum of energy expenditure.

It was also hard to regulate your clothing layers because it was so cold in the headwind, but then you'd get hot with the wind at your back. I opted to stay warm, as always. I had my oldest pair of warm Pearl Izumi tights on with my knee-high compression sleeves underneath, a long sleeved PI shirt, followed by a fleece jacket and then my PI jacket on top. Then I grabbed a windbreaker to put on top of that, for a total of 4 layers. Later on I added a 5th layer when it got cold. I also had a windproof pair of gloves on under a pair of thick fleece gloves, a fleece hat and a headband to hold the hat on over my ears, and two neck gaiters: one for my neck, the other to pull over my face when running into the wind.

The wind was so strong in that one corner of the course that the wind was forming sand dunes across the path, which the race volunteers had to keep shoveling of every hour or so. If they didn't do that, it would have been running through sand dunes to add an extra challenge.

I talked a bit with Debra, she told me about it being an exercise in patience, running the 24 hour event. She suggested that I try qualifying for the national team. I told her, I feel so far from that at this point, I have a long way to go, and already being 49, it would be really hard. Debra told me she is 54. She runs a lot of marathons to help with her speed and strength. I have been working on the speed and it's been a hard year, I feel like I've made some progress but it's been minimal. I do plan to work on it on an ongoing basis, though.

I need to get some much better performances before I could even think about going to qualify. I'm planning on doing some marathons this summer and fall. What I also need is more experience running these competitive events, which is why I wanted to run North Coast, and plan on going to the national championships this fall.

Beth introduced me to a number of runners on the course. I ended up meeting a lot of great people in this event. We were all struggling together, talking helped to take my mind off the wind. I thought about Joe Fejes and his advice to me: staying out of the portapotties, aid stations, and staying on the course as much as possible. I did that. I ran the tangents carefully, something I've always been good at. Beth said that was one of her weak areas, she needed to pay more attention to the curves. She introduced me to Karen Heitner from South Carolina, who was running strong all day in the 24 hour.

By mid-afternoon Beth was struggling to keep on pace for her goal. She caught up to me on one lap and asked if I could talk. She said she was having a hard time staying warm and fighting the wind. We talked about revising goals, I had already been thinking that in my head, that I didn't feel 110 was going to happen for me. Beth was afraid of getting hypothermic at night. She had a hard goal set and these conditions were clearly not going to bring her 130 miles.

I told her how I approached the wind, by not fighting it, but I understood about trying to go for a fast pace in this weather. She definitely could still win it easily if she stayed. But it was more important for her to get a high mileage performance. I hoped she would stay for my own selfish reasons, I wanted someone to push me. Still, I understood and there are times when it is smarter to call it a day than to try to push through.

She decided to hang in there and see if she could get her head back in the right place. We ran together for a while, and tried to stick to talking about things that helped distract us. Like food! It seemed like she was starting to feel better after an hour or so of this, and she took off at a faster pace again. Meanwhile as the hours went on, I realized that I would have to revise my goal downward, but I still thought 105 might be possible.

The wind was gradually dying down, from howling to a moderately strong headwind. It was still a hard wind but not so bad that it prevented forward progress like in the morning. It had the effect of making it seem a little warmer, at least when the wind was at our backs. It was also shifting direction, so it was cold on different parts of the course than earlier.

Somewhere around 6 pm Beth decided to call it a day. I felt bad for her, but she was doing the right thing given her goals. Liz was struggling with an injury and left at some point. Debra had called it a day early, understandably.

Hung Ng, whom I knew from Badwater, was thinking about quitting too, around 50 miles he looked at the standings, and saw he was doing well, and decided to stick with it. There were several men who had been running fast earlier in the race, but fizzled out and were barely moving by late in the day.

The sun started sinking and the temperature started to drop by 7 pm, and I changed clothes for the evening. I changed into my windproof PI tights, changed my socks, cleaned my feet off, and poured sand out of my shoes. I had no blisters, just a few minor hot spots from the pile of sand I'd dumped out. I had more layers ready for late night, when I'd need them. I took a few sunset pictures while my hands were warm, then dropped the phone back in the box. I didn't want the temptation of texting anyone or checking Facebook when I was feeling crappy.

I had no stomach problems all day, I was eating tons of grilled cheese and PBJs, and drinking surprisingly little water compared to what I normally do. I wasn't thirsty, I was peeing once an hour, and not cramping. I had no swelling in my hands or feet so I knew my hydration was perfect. I had only taken two S caps all day. I drank a Starbucks doubleshot when I changed clothes.

Night Time

I reached 53.5 miles at 12 hours, and I was tired, but not dead on my feet. I knew keeping the same pace through night was going to be tough. I started to use some of the caffeine gels Wheaties Boy swears by. They helped me stay awake, but they give you a boost for only a short time, and then you start to crash. I tried to keep eating PBJs in between the gels to avoid the sugar crash, and it worked well. I had some broth and soup during the night, too.

I realized by midnight that even 100 miles might be too ambitious of a goal. I was doing some fast walking, but lamenting the fact that my training has consisted of 99.99% running, so my walking skill is not what it has been in the past. I hooked up with a couple who were racewalking, and they were moving well. I stayed with them for a couple of laps and talked. I tried to talk to as many people as possible to stay awake and moving.

Hung was running a very strong and consistent pace the whole way. We talked and ran together a bit at night. He kept talking about the fog. It was hard to see very far on the water, and the clouds were low, but it didn't seem foggy to me. I figured I just didn't notice the fog due to my fatigue. I was watching him run through the whole race, and watching him take frequent stops at his table. He was amazing, he was stopping often, but his running pace was solid. I hardly ever saw him walk.

I talked with Andy throughout the night. He had surpassed his 26 mile goal 12 hours ahead of schedule and continued on to 30, and then 35 miles in the race. He cheered me on every time I passed him.

It got noticeably colder between the hours of 2 am and 4 am. I was shivering, no matter how much clothing I wore. I added a fifth layer again. I tried warm drinks but they didn't last long. I needed to stay awake and do something. I tried running a little and was making better progress walking. I walked a lot during the hours of 2 am to 5 am.

I started to wonder where I was place-wise anong the women. I didn't see very many women out of the course, maybe a half dozen. People had dropped like flies earlier. Beth and Liz had both left early. Karen was still on the course, along with Anne McClain, and Sara Brunazzi. I didn't have a clue where I was in relation to any of them.

I decided to try to figure that out, to give myself a mental task to focus on, maybe it would help me stay awake and motivated. I'd downsized my goal again to 150 km, which frustrated the hell out of me but I felt completely beaten by the cold and wind. I talked with Karen a little, she told me she was over it, too.

I figured out at some point that Anne was ahead of me by 3 laps, so I decided to focus on making up that gap, simply because it was something to concentrate on. Eventually she must have gone off the course, because I made up the gap and then kept gaining on her. I saw that Sara was behind me, but racking up the miles well. Karen was 4 laps ahead of me, so I decided to focus on catching her next. I must have been moving for 3 hours trying to make headway on that and couldn't. She was a beast.

Karen kept crossing the timing mats somewhere ahead of me, but I couldn't see her, I just saw her name and mileage on the screen. Finally I saw her ahead of me. She was moving at a decent pace. We started up the gradual incline toward the lake, and I ran by her. I said, "good job Karen" and continued on by. Once I leveled out at the top of the hill something kicked in, in my brain. I grabbed some packets of chocolate cherry "crack" (that's what Wheaties Boy calls those Clif Shots) and stuffed them in my pockets so I could avoid crashing.

I took off and before long I had made up two laps on her. That motivated me enough that I started pushing myself to a run/walk pattern. It felt better to run, so I didn't even walk much from that point on. I ran with Hung again, who was still complaining about the fog. I was too out of it to converse and ask him questions about it, though. It amazed me how much I had left in my legs. It also made me feel really stupid for not having used more of it earlier, but it was too late now. I had to use what I had left with the time remaining on the clock.

Light was coming back in the sky, and I was coming back to life. I focused on getting to 150K, and then 95 miles, and whatever time I had left until 9 am. It never occurred to me that I was going to be close to 100 miles, or I would have somehow tried to do it. I simply spaced out from running during those 3 hours in the middle of the night, feeling defeated by the long day, and being in survival mode.

By the time 7 am came around it had warmed up somewhat and I had been able to shed two of my jackets. The wind was the calmest it had been the whole time. I was in the lead for the women, and was in no danger of being caught. At some point my hands warmed up enough to grab my phone to take sunrise pictures as I took a quick break to eat some yogurt, and I quickly posted one to Facebook, and no sooner did I do that than I got a message back from Joe who said, "Quit texting! Keep running!"

Yes, sir!

I didn't let up, I figured I could get as many miles as possible, but for some reason, trying for 100 never even crossed my mind again. I must have been experiencing late-race dementia. The difficulty of changing my goals and adjusting my pace, and figuring out the wind all day must have blown my brain out my ears.

I was nearing 98 miles, so I focused on that. I grabbed my popsicle stick to mark my final spot when the horn went off at 9 am. I was with Andy Lovy at the final moment, just before another full lap at the timing mats.

They had delicious breakfast burritos and some fresh fruit at the finish, I ate some and then started taking my stuff back to the car. Karen helped me carry things, which was much appreciated. Then we had the awards. I ended up with 99 miles, actually, which makes me want to kick myself in the butt even more!

Karen had finished second, about 4 or 5 miles behind me, and Sara was third. Among the men, John Cash ran an amazing 135 miles in his first 24 hour. I told him he needs to go to the national championships. Hung finished second with 120 miles. Those two were running the whole time. I learned a lot from watching both of them, and it convinces me even more to give up the walking for the most part, I am going to work on running a steady pace in these things from now on.

Hung was having a hard time seeing, something had happened, possibly hyponatremia or some other weird thing, and he suffered some temporary blindness. That's why he kept talking about the fog. Andy checked him out, fortunately I heard he recovered from that quickly after the race. I've never heard of that before. Note to myself for working races on medical teams in the future. I have no idea how that could happen, unless he had some cerebral edema that could put pressure on his optic nerve? I might be way wrong on that, so don't quote me. I will look it up as soon as time allows.

I got my finisher's medal and a plaque. There was also prize money, which is a nice thing, as this was an expensive trip for me and will help to offset those costs.

After thanking Heidi, Andy, and some of the volunteers, and saying goodbye to a lot of the runners, I took off for the hotel to get showered, fed, and rested. I limped into the hotel, disheveled and looking like the bag lady. But when I got to the room, I had no blisters and no heat rash. Not even any chafing.

I took a 2 hour nap, went downstairs and got a HUGE burger, fries and a beer, then went back to the room to try to sleep, but I made some phone calls and texts to Dennis, Wheaties Boy and a few Facebook posts before I actually fell asleep. I was sore, swollen, and uncomfortable and tossed and turned all night.

Monday morning I drove back to Columbus, spent the day with Lynn and Suzy, and did laundry so I cold fit everything back in my bags. I flew back to Colorado on Tuesday morning. It had snowed another 5 inches.

What I Learned

I need to have a lot more confidence in my ability to sustain a running gait for 24 hours. I can do it. I've relied entirely too much on my walking in the past. It's time to put that behind me. Walking is good for short breaks to relieve muscle fatigue, but it's not something I can continue to do if I want to rack up the miles.

Having a crew will be helpful in keeping track of my place in the standings, and to help me be consistent on food and fluid intake. I did just fine all by myself at this race, but it was cold and damp, and I didn't need as much fluid. It would have helped to have someone dig through my stuff occasionally and hand me what I needed as I ran by, instead of having to stop and rummage through a box.

Sticking to a goal pace was right, even though the conditions screwed things up here. I will use that strategy again next time. And everything Joe told me is good advice.

As far as pacing myself went, I obviously had a good bit of reserve in my legs in the last 4 hours. That tells me I did a good job of pacing in the first half, but a really crappy job of pacing myself in the second half, but I felt pretty clueless on how to handle the conditions. There is still so much to learn! Also, mentally I needed to be stronger in the second half. I felt more mentally exhausted than physically.

It's a little embarrassing to say I won a 24 hour race, especially North Coast, with less than 100 miles, but it just gets me that much more determined to blow it all out of the water next time. 6 months to Oklahoma City!

Yes I am on Team Pearl Izumi, so I do have financial interest in saying this, but I wouldn't say it if it weren't true. One thing I need to mention, was that while I had 5 layers on top during the cold night, I never wore more than one pair of tights the whole time, and at night I wore my Pearl Izumi Fly Evo tights, they have windproof panels and are breathable. I never needed more than these in those extreme conditions, so I was really impressed with how they performed for me. My legs never got cold. I did have a pair of compression sleeves on underneath up to my knees, but my thighs stayed warm even in the coldest hours of the night and the wind with just the Fly Evo tights. Highly recommend them.

What I'll do now, and a few parting thoughts

I finally wrapped up the longest racing season I can ever remember. I am so glad to be done. I am taking the rest of April and most of May off from training, I'll get on the bike, do a little running once I feel rested, and then will resume racing in June.

I do feel like I made significant gains in fitness. In better conditions, I know I could have reached my 110 mile goal, and it would have helped immensely to have more competition if Beth and a few others had been there, given a better day. I am only disappointed with the number, but then, it's only a number. There are more races and better days ahead.

I am really proud of myself for overcoming my cold aversion in this race. I trained for heat for so long, that last year I was a complete wimp in the cold. Over the past year I feel like I've gotten so much better at dealing with it. Could it be the hot flashes? Maybe. But I didn't have any in this race. It would have been a nice thing...but I'm also glad they left me alone during this trip so I could sleep!

I'm ready to get on with my rest time because I am totally psyched to go into training for Oklahoma City. This whole experience makes me want even more to get out there and blow out all the carbon!


giraffy said...

It's amazing to me that you even left the car in those conditions. How do you even MOVE in so many layers?! :D


Alene Gone Bad said...

Thanks Heather! Fortunately I only had one layer on my legs so I could still run. I probably looked like a linebacker out there in all my other layers.