Sunday, May 4, 2014
2014 Cornbelt 24 Hour Race: Adventures in Iowa
It was a long pre-race day. I left Omaha Friday morning around 9:30 after doing some grocery shopping at Target there. I slept great in Omaha though I didn't plan the hotel location very well. It was out of the way of I-80 so I got a scenic tour of Omaha strip malls and suburbia.
It was windy as hell all the way across Nebraska and Iowa. I got great gas mileage.
It was a 4 1/2 hour drive east on I-80 across Iowa, after 7 1/2 hours on the road across Nebraska the day before. I stayed hydrated so I had to stop a lot, and finally, finally, finally got to Eldridge around 2:30 pm.
People drive slow in Iowa and there were a lot more semi trucks on the road, along with roadwork and the 70 mph speed limit. I kept seeing all these "Maid Rite" signs along the highway and I texted Rachel when I was close to Des Moines, just to see if there was a chance she wasn't at work that day. I asked her about Maid Rite. I was thinking it was like Home Depot.
She told me it's "loose meat sandwiches like Sloppy Joes" which already sounds really gross to me. But okay. I know what that is. It's just that Maid Rite doesn't sound like a restaurant. Sloppy Joes sounds a lot better than "loose meat"- that sort of makes my skin crawl. Is that a porn star's name?
Anyway, I arrived in Eldridge, the room wasn't ready, but at the front desk there were a couple of scruffy-looking characters fresh off the road asking questions. They turned around and one was Andy Lovy! Andy is the team physician for the U.S. National 24 Hour team and many other races, including Across The Years. He was trying to figure out how to get to the armory in Moline with a friend of his, John Surdyk, another ultrarunner who has been around for years but I've never met before.
Andy told me I should go for 127 to make the women's national team. One thing at a time, I told him, 110 was my goal for now. I needed to see if I could make it through that before setting my sights on that far out goal. Actually I'm not even sure 127 would qualify at this point, there have been so many women in the 130s or better. John started asking me questions and I didn't want to talk about it, so I changed the subject. They soon took off for their sightseeing, Andy offered to let me hang out in their room until my room was ready but I told him I had plenty of stuff to do.
I went out in the parking lot while I was waiting for my room, and started making my PBJs and portioning out my race food into bags. As I was making PBJs a big truck from Minnesota pulled up next to me and I was so involved in spreading the peanut butter I didn't notice the guy walked up behind me until he said something. It was Ed Rousseau, longtime ultrarunner from Minnesota. He's 74.
When we left there was a little sprinkling outside- some clouds, but the wind calmed down. The sunset from my room window was pretty. The weather forecast looked good, as long as the wind didn't get too bad.
I did not sleep well the night before the race this time. This is unusual because ever since last fall since I quit work I have been sleeping great, including before races. The walls of this hotel are paper-thin and there were kids bouncing up and down on the floors somewhere, probably not anywhere close to my room, maybe upstairs. It took me forever to fall asleep, I got up and did things for a while, and then I probably got 4 hours of sleep. I woke up maybe half an hour before my alarm went off at 5.
I was glad I had my stash of chocolate cherry crack Clif Shots. I had coffee and ate a ham and cheese sandwich and some oatmeal. I left at 6 and went over to the track to finish setting up my table. There is so much to do to get things organized and set up right so you don't end up wasting time looking for things at each table stop.
Before the race, we met our first lap counters who work in 3 hour shifts. Then it was the national anthem, and at 7 am it was time to start.
My plan was to run 6:1 (run 6 laps, walk 1 lap) for the first 12 hours, keeping a comfortable pace for both. I was shooting for 3 minute laps average, but leaving time for screwing around. Bathroom breaks, a night clothes change, and table stops. That would put me in 12 hrs at 58 miles with lots of wiggle room. The plan was 110, 58/52. I was going to drop back to 4:1 for the second half, but if it was hot in the afternoon, I could drop back to 4:1 during the heat of the day, from about 1 to 5 pm. I could always make it up later.
The race is run in lane 2 of the track, which allows runners to set up their tables and gear in lane 1 instead of on the infield, where it is usually wet and muddy. That also makes it nice because the measurements result in 396 laps being 100 miles, or 99 laps per 25 miles. It's just nice to know you have the "bonus" miles already built in.
I got through 50K at 5:55 a little ahead of schedule, but it was cool outside. The wind was strong from the west, whichever direction we were going we would have the north or south side of the track into the wind, with a tailwind on the opposite side. I reached 50 miles in 9:43, again ahead of schedule, but I wasn't pushing it and I was actually holding back. At 12 hours I was at 60.5 miles. Then I took a 20 minute break to change clothes and get ready for night. I texted Wheaties Boy and told him how I was feeling. I told him I was trying to figure out at what point to bust it wide open- if I should wait for 100 miles to do that. He agreed.
I did great with hydration and eating all day, until about 9 pm. I ate 2 ham and cheese sandwiches, six of the 10 PBJs I made, ate 8 of the 12 yogurts, and just a few handfuls of potato chips. I also ate a baked potato at night, had about 4 bananas, half a bag of chocolate covered donuts, drank iced tea, lots of coke, a ton of vitamin water zeros, I like those with S caps in them, they taste better than water, and give some variety. I also did maybe half a dozen gels all night, just the caffeinated ones.
I hit 70 miles in 14:15, and 80 miles in about 16:30. Around 16 to 20 hours I was really struggling with getting the calories in. I was still running a lot more than I was walking, but I did dial it back to more like 2:2 for a while so I could find a way to get my stomach to cooperate. Finally I tried a banana and that did the trick, then I was able to eat donuts too. I did well most of the day so that saved me. I was peeing once an hour, the entire time, even toward the end when my fluid intake was down to a couple of cups of coke each hour.
I stayed on 6:1 through about 70 miles, but I noticed it was making it more difficult to eat and digest food at that point. I knew I would have to keep a balance between pushing it, being able to take in enough fluids and food, and not burning myself out before the end. I would have to say I managed it all pretty well and got a great result.
I wasn't swelling, didn't have blisters, and I never bothered with my feet at all- same shoes, socks, gaiters, compression sleeves the entire race. I did have a hot spot in the usual spot under my left foot, but I haven't been taking care of the calluses there the way John Vonhof always warns about. But it wasn't bad and in 24 hours it wasn't even uncomfortable enough to distract me, I just knew it was there.
One thing I was concerned about before the race was my left ankle. A few times, after the last few races, I had terrible swelling in front of the lateral malleolus. When I did my 30 miler on the track a few weeks ago, my ankle did that again. This time there was nothing. Whatever it is, it didn't cause a problem.
Bonnie is an incredibly strong runner. Going into the race I figured she would be my main competition and we could push each other. She wasn't having her best day though.
I had no idea but there was this young runner named Trista who is a marathoner, and for a while she was ahead of me. The only way I found out was that at one point we passed by the lap counters at the same time and it surprised me to hear that she was one lap ahead of me. She was running with two of her friends who came to the track. It looked like she was hanging in there, but fading.
My walk is a lot faster than just about anyone's, except for this one racewalker who was out there. Every time Trista started walking, I knew that I could gain on her by walking myself. So that kept me occupied for a while when my stomach wasn't cooperating and I didn't feel like pushing it yet.
When I got to 100 miles, it was at 21:16, which was a 2 1/2 hour PR for me. While having nearly 2 hours and 45 minutes seems like plenty to reach my goal of 110, but it's not as easy as it sounds. Averaging 4 miles an hour at this point in a race can be a challenge, especially when you're running low on fuel and fluids. If you're doing a lot of walking, unless you stay on top of a decent pace and get sub-4 minute laps, that's still 16 minute miles, which is slower than 4 mph.
I picked it up a little, but I decided to wait to really turn the afterburners on until we did our last direction switch at 22 hours. At that point I was at about 103 miles and I knew 110 was doable if I stayed with it, but maybe more if I had it in me. Doug was my lap counter and I told him I was going for at least 110, and I got lots of support from the lap counting tent. I can't wait to see the splits because I wonder how fast I went those last two miles. I think I had about 23 minutes left on the clock at 110 miles. I got through 111, and then started on 112. My final distance with the last partial lap was 112.29 miles.
There were so many moments during the race that I would observe the track and the sky and the people and for a moment realize that this was what I would rather be doing more than anything. running this type of event, where you truly get to share it with all the other runners, is my favorite thing of all. When the sun set in the evening and rose again in the morning, and we were all still out there, circling, more slowly but just as determined, to push through until the very last second when the finish gun went off.
I spoke to a young runner named Josh for a while, he was fascinated with Fort Collins and all things Colorado, and he is an admirer of Nick Clark. There were quite a few people doing their first 24 hour races. Amy was one of them, she was running well but she kept taking breaks and sitting down. I told her not to stop- to keep moving and do things while walking, because it takes longer to get your muscles moving again after you stop.
The Midwestern runners always are impressed when you tell them you're from Colorado. They love to visit Colorado. They always ask me why I come there for races when we have so many great trail races at home. I don't race trails anymore, and Colorado doesn't have enough road ultras and almost no track ultras, either.
Ed was doing well all day, he was trying to get at least 84 miles so he could finish his 1000th Cornbelt mile. He ended up going beyond his goal, and notably, won the men's race! At age 74!
Andy's friend John was plugging along, he said he had a headache, and he was starting to lurch to the right. Andy was having foot pain so he went as far as an ultra- 26.5 miles, and called it a day. The whole time he was out there it was fun hearing him cheer for me each time I went by.
There were several other runners I remembered from last time who I talked with, and their encouragement helped. And Bonnie, especially, she was cheering me on to my goal the whole time, and beyond it. At night on the track some of the runners had their spouses walking with them. In a small race like this it's nice that it's an uncrowded track. There were only 30 runners this time.
Between miles 90 and 100 I controlled my pace and spent time trying to force calories in. I knew I needed to have enough fuel to last through the two hours without wasting time to stop and eat and drink too often. I finally got bananas and chocolate donuts, along with iced coke, to work. Bob is one of the volunteers I remembered from last time, he runs the refreshment table at night. If no one comes by the table for a while, he sits on a cooler and nods off occasionally but if you let him know you need something, he is on top of it. He must have gotten me half a dozen cups of iced coke, and he cut up bananas for me, and brought everything to my table before I finished the next lap.
I was at absolute top speed for the last 3 or 4 miles. My legs felt like they were going to burn off. I doubt I was going much faster than 10 minute miles but that's fast enough at the end of 112 miles. When you see Karl walk out to the track with the gun, you are in an all-out sprint to get every last meter before you come to a dead stop when he shoots the gun.
I ended up with an 11 mile PR at 24 hours. I placed first overall, 10 miles ahead of the next runner. The top 3 spots were women, me, Trista and Bonnie, and 4th place was Ed.
The lap counters at this race are amazing. Totally on top of it. They let you know where you are each lap and make eye contact. Out of the nearly 445 laps I did, there were probably half a dozen times when the lap counter was distracted or had more than one runner going through and I had to yell their name to make sure they saw me. Every other time they were on it. It's the human touch, and they cheer for you, there's lots of support for the runners. Karl is the RD and he does a great job, along with the help of Bonnie Busch and her husband, and several other local runners.
I had enough time after the race to grab about half my stuff and put it in the car, then go to the hotel and shower before the post-race breakfast and awards. My last lap counter, Doug, helped me carry my heavy stuff to the car and Ed and I agreed to go back to the track after breakfast to help each other get the last of our stuff. While carrying my milk crate to the car, Doug remarked, "I see you have crack..."
My gels were organized by regular gels and "crack"- the super caffeine ones.
While undressing and taking a shower I had horrible foot cramps, leg cramps, back cramps, side stitches, and everything was seizing up. I figured I didn't take in enough fluids the last few hours when I picked up the pace but my stomach was not happy. I drank a bottle of water before the breakfast, but that was all I had time for.
I had an interesting experience at the post-race breakfast. I was sitting down at the table and started to eat a few small bites of food, when all of a sudden I started feeling funny. I felt the blood drain from my head and felt nauseated, so I got up to go over to the restroom. On my way to the door I don't know what happened, it happened so fast all I remember is that it felt like I tripped, hit the wall, and slid down, and suddenly I was on the floor, all I could see were some shoes and I heard some voices talking to me. "Are you all right?"
It was Bonnie and another woman from the group. I must have gotten up too fast and I bet my blood pressure tanked because I was so dehydrated from those last few hours on the track when I couldn't take in enough fluids.
Anyway I told them I felt nauseated and they helped me get up and took me into the bathroom, where I got down on the floor and sat there, waiting for it to pass. I had a few dry heaves but there was nothing coming up. Bonnie brought me some ice water and a wet towel, and hung out on the floor with me until I started to feel better. We started laughing about it. I said, this is too funny. She told me she's done it lots of times.
I was starting to feel better and she got me a chair from the other room. I told her to let everyone know I was okay, because the entire group saw me do this. Quite dramatic!
When Bonnie brought the chair in the bathroom, she told me I looked like the wicked witch, she pointed at my shoes and legs that were sticking out under the stall.
Soon we were giggling hysterically. I said, I need pictures of this, this is blogworthy material. So she took pictures of me on the floor of the bathroom.
Finally I felt good enough to go back in the room, and I drank my orange juice and diluted it with water and shook some salt in it. That was my old cure for when I got lightheaded at work- it was so hard to drink or eat enough, I always found myself lightheaded or having muscle cramps there.
I'm planning to take it easy the month of May. I can feel that this race took more out of my body than the 24 hour races have in the past. I did a lot of running and my mileage going into it, while decent, was not particularly high. I think the key to improving at the 24 hour event now is going to be more high mileage weeks with more intensity, not all the time, but more than I've been doing.
The results are here. I'll be back again.