12 November 2012

Croatan 24 Hour Race Report!

You can't always get what you want...especially in ultrarunning.

What I wanted: to run 120 miles or more (preferably more, a lot more!) in 24 hours. My real goal: qualify for the USA Women's 24 Hour Team. How amazing.
Post-race with my super neat award

I found about Croatan 24 Hour Race - a great-sounding 24 hour race that Ray K. was doing - and close enough to my little sister and her adorable baby that I love to visit. After emailing with the super nice RD Brandon several times and determining the course was indeed certified and should I run 120 miles +, it would qualify me for World Championships. Because it will be held in the Netherlands next year, and Wayne's never been, and because he loves me, he flew down to pace and crew me to try to help me qualify for the championships.

Unfortunately – I had a bad race. I still managed to squeak out a respectable 104.87 miles, and was the first woman – and second overall (5 miles from the winner!). Pretty decent considering I battled dizziness, nausea, deliriousness, and horrific hallucinations. If the federal government knew about the hallucinations in ultrarunning, they’d make the sport illegal.

The race was held on a 1.36975 mile loop that had lots of quick turns, but was mostly flat with some nice bridges and one small hill that could barely be called a hill, but come nighttime, I used it as my walk break. The course was pretty – lovely swamps, nice grass, great sunset, lots of birds, bird feeders, nice sunset and sunrise. A lovely place to run for 24 hours!

The RDs were WONDERFUL. Brandon told me at the start if I needed anything during the race, they'd try to help me however they could b/c they knew I was trying for that 120 miles. It was so well-organized and everyone was so friendly and it was so fun, I definitely would love to go back.

The start/finish/aid station was always full of lots of cheery people and a great assortment of food – including vegetarian food, which can often be a rarity. In fact, I had packed my own bouillon to make broth for myself, as vegetarian broth usually isn’t available. It was really nice to have vegetarian choices. They had all the usual ultra snacks, plus fruit punch which everyone’s hero Mike Morton loves, hot pizza, grits, waffles, burgers, grilled cheeses, and more. Really a wonderful spread and Heather, who was the aid station captain (and Brandon’s wife, I believe) was so absolutely friendly and wonderful I loved seeing her smiling face, even if I didn’t grab anything to eat. Plus they had orange Gatorade, which I actually like so I stopped by a bit so enjoy. Also, a bathroom was RIGHT off the course so you didn’t have to squat in the bush and hope a birdwatcher wasn’t coming by (which has happened at other ultras).

Being the birthday of the Marines, and Veteran’s Day being Monday, the race had a marine ceremony before. Especially interesting was how they sliced cake with their swords, cake they later served at the aid station. I was really nervous beforehand as I watched the ceremony. The first loop started with everyone running together with one colonel running with a flag – but the RD knew of my intentions to qualify for World Championships and told me if I wanted to run ahead on my own I could. He announced that I was doing that and everyone was SUPER nice to me, really encouraging me and offering their help in completing my goal. Not sure if it was a Southerner thing or an ultrarunner thing or just a nice person thing – I was really impressed.

I started out feeling okay. I pounded out a decent pace – as I tried to not get lost (using those informational signs about oak trees and inchworms and something with eternal in the title of the board) – but the course was well-marked with white signs with arrows and lots of glow sticks at night. (Woooohoo it’s like I’m at a rave!) My Garmin tells me I ran 8 and 9 minute miles for much of the beginning. My marathon was 4:20, not bad considering that was my marathon split in a 6 hour a few weeks ago. And tummy troubles led to a bit of a slow down but I still managed a 5:20 50k. Not bad.

My boyfriend was crewing me – his first time crewing me, but he had a lot of love. At times, I just stopped in his arms as he held me, “I know it’s hard, baby, keep going, I love you.” And that was something to push me forward into the land of loops of pain.

50 miles was sub 10 hours – so I wasn’t terribly off but I was landing in a whole giant sufferfest. I knew I couldn’t continue as fast as I had started. I felt so terribly dizzy – my hands were tingling at times – and just like I could not control. I think my caloric intake was low  - maybe I didn’t have enough endurolytes? Also I battled with nausea and a general feeling similar to a piece of crap.

As night fell, I knew Wayne was sleeping in my sister’s tent and some of the saner people were leaving the course for hot showers and nice warm comfy beds. I was running. I was tired and I began hallucinating and it got worse and worse. I asked Heather about animals and she said there were just bobcats and they only went after small children. Apparently she was joking but I spent the next few laps peering around with my headlamp to illuminate the night, terrified I would have to battle it out with a bobcat (who would probably have won, given my state).

Certain logs and trees began different items I hallucinated – they were giant flashlights or bombs or vibrators or tent bags. I can’t remember what else, but everything, every little log and drop in the bushes became something else. It was rather terrifying.

I was running alone when I ran into Ray K. He was peering over the water. I had been hallucinating horribly and it was nice to see a good friend.

“Cherie, the stars…they fell in the water.”

“Oh no,” I replied, not sure if he was hallucinating this or completely out of it. I barely knew my own name.

“Do you think we should go in and get them?”

“No, Ray. We might fall in and drown. We need a lifeguard to do that.”

“Okay, Cherie.”

I ran on as he peered over in the water. I later found out he was lucid but it would have made a very funny story if neither of us were.

I passed someone late in the night, who told me, “I’m so glad you are here. Last time I had to go up this hill, someone tapped me on my shoulder and I saw a ghost.” Hallucinations are scary. (Note, no one was there. He imagined he was tapped on his shoulder.)

I remember friends in college doing acid, how ridiculous they acted and how bizarre their stories were – this was similar. They never made me want to do acid (and I haven’t, so perhaps I should tell you them another time?) but hopefully I am not deterring you from your lifelong dream of becoming a ridiculous ultrarunner? It’s really cool! Honest!

Wayne woke up and approached the aid station as I was scarfing down a winning combination – grilled cheese sandwiches with fruit punch. I mumbled something incomprehensible and he waved and I ran off, stumbling back into the woods over the bridges.

Wayne joined me for some time, cheering me up. He tried pushing me but sometimes, he just couldn’t. At one point, it was in the late eighties or early nineties when I began crying. “I just want to go to sleep. I’m so tired. It hurts so bad. I keep hallucinating. I hate this. I’m delirious.” I wanted to collapse on the trail and refused to move until Wayne promised me I could sit down for five minutes and nap once we got back to the start/finish/aid station.

There, I saw down on the camping chairs my lovely sister had lent me and tried to sleep. And couldn’t. My body was seized up, in excruciating agony. I just wanted to cry. I was cramping up. I was cold. How did people like Ray nap during ultras? I don’t know if I could ever do a multi-day – how could I sleep?

I got up quicker than Wayne expected. “I’m cold. This sucks. I can’t sleep. I’m going.”

But I couldn’t exactly sprint off into the darkness. My legs had cramped. My groin muscles were hurting and I couldn’t stretch them right. All I knew was, everything sucked. It was worse than before. I will never sit in a race for that long again. Bad idea.

But you know what? You push past it and then it’s great. Eventually. You get a second wind, a third wind, a fourth wind. The stagnant painful parts in the middle, just try to push past them.

I’d run up and someone would chat with me. Paula, who was the second place woman, was SO friendly and would always chat with me or have a kind word whenever we saw each other. I’d chat with everyone – I ran with JJ, first place guy for a lap, and we chatted about running, Boulder, life. Ultras are a place where you might run for hours with someone, sharing your intimate life story – but of course neglecting to get their name.

The sun began to rise. I tried to push it. It hurt, yes, but in light, I tend to hallucinate less. The birds began to chirp. People crawled out of tents to do a little bit more running.

The last hour. I ran into Ray and we spent the last bit together, sharing stories of our night, talking like we always do, catching up. We finished together, and then slowed down the pace as we walked in from our “Sucker” lap. Before you go out on your last lap, they give you a “sucker” (or lollypop as I grew up calling them) with your number written on it. When you hear the quacking noise, you stop wherever you are, drop your sucker, and then they measure your distance.

1st woman, 2nd overall.

I changed and had no appetite. I was really excited to win a really neat bird sculpture. Second and third place won owl and duck houses. Everyone was hanging out, smiling, laughing. Race goodies were nice long-sleeved tech shirts and “redneck wine glasses” for everyone.
The "redneck wine glass" - aka a mason jar glued to a candlestick!

We got in the car and I slept for 15 minutes. Wayne got too tired to drive, so I got  in behind the wheel after running almost 105 miles and drove, listening to Martha Stewart on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. And then I proceeded to spend the rest of the day eating, hanging out with my sister and her super-cute baby, and eating.

I still want to get that 120+ mile 24 hour. That goal is still in my vision.

Now where should I go pursue that? I think I’ll eat some roasted banana ice cream and let my legs rest before I run that!


gene said...

Great job Cherie! Way to hang in there and tough it out. You'll get that 120!

Peter Menderson said...

Congratulations Cherie! You continue to inspire and amaze us.

V said...

That is a super rad trophy! First Woman, yeah!

Shannon D said...

Sorry you didn't reach 120, but 104+ is pretty impressive! For what it's worth, you didn't seem anything but nice, pleasant and non-hallucinatory the whole race!

Anonymous said...

Cherie, I am a local runner that participated in the C24. I'm glad you enjoyed the run and the local hospitality. Folks are really this nice down here. I'm a transplanted Yankee who stayed here after retiring from the Marines. Your attempt was inspirational. I hit my goal of 50, and plan to attempt 75 next year. Good luck on your 120. Hope to see ya all next year

Anonymous said...

Your blog was a fun read. I did the Croatan this past weekend. My friend and I got 51.29 miles and slept through the night, I wanted to wake up and run some more, but at 4 am I was cold and decided to stick with our accomplishment. It was our first Ultra.