Nov 12, 2013

Race Report: NJ 24 Hour - 77 Miles

Was very pleased to run the first annual New Jersey One Day this past weekend. Finished with 77 miles, 19th place overall out of 61 starters.
Personalized finisher's awards. What a neat idea from the RDs.
A friend wrote on Sunday afternoon, shortly after the race ended:
  Outstanding race. You are the best example of big man* in the sport.
  This one deserves a race report. 77 miles beat a lot of very good runners.
My report would be pretty typical, except that I was motivated by the fact that I had to follow my own advice.

You see, an odd thing occurred this past weekend at the NJ 24 hour race. I found myself a veteran of timed loop racing. Several times over the weekend, I was giving advice to people - encouraging the discouraged, rebuking those considering quitting.

In particular, there are two insights that I learned over the eight previous timed loop ultras I've done (NJ 24-hour was my ninth), and I repeated them often to any rookie who would listen and to any vets to see if they agreed (they all did.)

1.) The 24-hour race is won and lost at night. If you can make it through the night without stopping, you'll put up a good result regardless of how fast or slow you are.

2.) Every participant has to take their licks and pay their dues. Once those dues are paid and those licks are taken, the dues are paid and those licks are yours forever. But they have to be paid and taken. You will struggle in that first 24-hour race. It doesn't matter who you are. It doesn't matter if the loop is short or long. It doesn't matter if the competition is hard or easy. It doesn't matter if the weather is cold or hot. It will suck. You will want, more than anything, to quit and go home. Since the consequence of quitting is not a DNF, it'll be all that much easier. But if you don't persevere, then you're just kicking the can. Pay those dues. Take those licks. If you do, you will be rewarded - both with a strong finish, and with a future of this race never being that hard again.

24-hour racing is never easy. But it also is never has hard as your first time.

A friend wrote me on Monday morning and said,
The taking your licks thing is good advice and speaks to a knowledge of how to get things done in these timed races. And you were able to follow your own advice, which isn't always easy.
Naturally, since I was giving out this advice, I would be a hypocrite to not follow it myself.  By following my own advice, I moved from 49th place on Saturday afternoon to 19th place on Sunday morning. I did not catch all those runners by speeding up. All I did was not stop - and they did.

I started out slow and spent a lot of time chatting and catching up with old and new friends on the loop. I added walk breaks after 2 or 3 miles. Felt strong most of the day. Dusk came early, about 5:00, and the night was about 14 hours long - that's a long night. It was cold - probably upper 30sºF. It hurt like hell. After 10pm the course started to get quiet, and after 1AM the number of people out there was noticeably lower. By 2am I had completely bundled up to stay warm, and was marching along at 18-22 minutes per mile. I spent a lot of time with walking with people which helped a lot. There were several runners who seemed to be doing really well, passing (lapping) me every 3-5 laps. Several times I was staggering due to sleep deprivation but those episodes tended not to last very long. For some reason the hours from 3-5am didn't seem as cold as earlier in the night. When twilight started to appear at 5:30 or so I became elated. "I made it."

All night long, I was pushing for my goal of 75 miles. But as dawn happened, I was doing math and it occurred to me that 76 miles was possible. By 8:00am, I knew I'd hit 76 - but if I really pushed in the last hour, maybe I can hit 77. I put on some very loud music (my 5K playlist) and threw down a 40-minute long finishing kick that got me to 76 at 8:36AM. That kick was so dramatic that I had made 78 miles a possibility.  I opted not to knock out two consecutive 12-minute miles that late in the race, and decided that, with 24 minutes to go, I would reward myself with a leisurely-walked victory lap which brought me to 77 miles.

On the back of the award, a personal note from the RDs. Everyone got one!
Mistakes and mental notes:
* It did occur to me that by spending so much time chatting with runners who weren't as fast as I, I was probably going slower than I should have. That wasn't a big deal, but might have made a 2-3 mile difference. Better to chat with them on the second and third day of a multi-day, when everyone is going slow.
* By not bringing a water bottle (accidentally left it at home), I was filling paper cups on every loop. That probably made a 2-3 mile difference.
* Over the last several months I have run a couple hundred miles, all in runs of 5 miles or less, in a pair of minimalist zero-drop shoes. I really like them for short runs, and thought I'd start this race in them. I made it about 8 miles before I changed into traditional shoes. The cushioning was obvious and I was fine again, but I really felt that drop, too. It was borderline unnerving. Would like to look for zero-drop cushioned shoes. (Hokas aren't available in my size..)
* Still have to think about this one. At night when it was really hard I would go about 5 miles at a time and take a 5-minute break, which helped with the pain tremendously. Starting back up after taking 5 felt almost fresh.

I am one of those who thinks that timed-loop racing is underrated and unappreciated by the majority of ultrarunners, particularly trail-oriented ultrarunners. One of the most encouraging things about this race was how happy all the participants were. People from all sorts of backgrounds were there - in addition to time-loop veterans, there were people with trail backgrounds, people with triathlon backgrounds, and people with no backgrounds at all (their first ultra.) Everyone I talked to, regardless of their background or how their day went, had a positive experience. Most said they were coming back for the May race, which has 48 and 72 hour options. I think that's fantastic. The May race (Three Days at the Fair) is probably my favorite thing on the calendar. I have done it every year they've held it - twice in the 48 hour, and twice in the 72 - and it's a foregone conclusion that I'll always return to the event. Each time I've gone home wanting more. Until now, ThreeDays has been the only race on the calendar which I can't imagine not running every year. I think now NJOneDay will join it.

*I am 6'6" 292lbs.