So a radical leftist ultrarunner heads to an army base to run a .995 mile loop course for 24 hours. What could be more fun?
It was an absolute blast.
GUTS put on an awesome race, Operation Endurance 24 hour (with 12 and 6 hour options too). The aid was amazing – some of the best I’ve had at an ultra. Aid stations featured water and powerade (which I mixed with water) and it was really nice to not have to carry a bottle. The food included pizza, grilled cheese, quesadillas, soups, mashed potatoes, Easter treats, the usual snacks, cookies, chips, pretzels, gummy bears, Moon pies, hamburgers, and so much more. It really was really a fantastic selection and I never felt like they didn’t have what I wanted or needed at any given moment.
The course is flat, almost a mile. It’s soft dirt with some small crushed gravel (not really gravel but those tiny little rocks) and was really nice to run on. Some people complained of slippage, but I thought it was a soft surface and my feet under the toes on the ball did not hurt one tiny bit. Wooooh!
It’s also completely lit up so you don’t need to wear a headlamp which is wonderful. There are port-a-potties RIGHT next to the course (which was great so you didn’t waste time going to the bathroom, unless you were having kidney issues which are another thing). There were cots to nap on under a tent, rows of tables under tents (so your stuff wouldn’t get wet) with seats, seats, glorious seats. There was plenty of spot to set up a table, a tent, arrange your stuff. The course had trees and bushes around part of it, with a little creek/water area. I saw an armadillo, several deer, tadpoles, and saw some other animal I couldn’t identify.
Interesting, fun, and a great race.
The only negative I’d say is that it is completely exposed so you will get very sunburned if you’re not careful/a Northerner. I could really feel the heat – it got into the 70s.
I started the race a little fast. Um, a lot fast. Wait, wtf am I running sub 8s? I slowed down and ended up getting in a groove with a nice guy, Hong. We ran 8:30s. STILL too fast.
My tummy felt off from the start – never a good thing. I ran with Hong for a few hours and then decided to slow things down. I kept running, but slowed the pace. And began feeling even crappier way too soon.
So I backed off. I began drinking more – a mixture of powerade and water. I felt like hell, my legs felt like crap, and I just felt exhausted.
Now, please note – from Monday – Friday before the race, I had been sick with what I realize was some sort of virus or minor flu – exhaustion, sore throat, headaches, achiness. I went home from work early Monday and Thursday, took a half sick day from Tuesday (and worked a few sporadic hours from bed) and worked at home Wednesday. Thursday I felt like utter crap. (Don't tell Ray K this - he'll say, "I've changed lots of babies' diapers and you don't feel like crap.") I was feeling a lot better by Friday but was still taking medicine and feeling pretty wiped out. Friday night before the race I slept over eight and a half hours and slept an hour and a half in the car – and I was STILL tired. So I definitely was not in top shape to run a race. I should have taken a more conservative approach, incorporating more walk breaks early on. With a flat course, it’s hard to find an excuse to walk. Later in the race, I’d stop by the aid table, grab a quick snack and walk on through, munching. Or walk and sip a drink. Or just walk right by there to give my legs something different to feel.
I felt progressively worse. Tears in my eyes worse. I definitely was not running 120+ miles today. My lead was gone and I was now feeling death march-ish.
Enter Ray K to the rescue. He was doing a fast shuffle around the track (The Ray K shuffle is a pace in between a very fast walk and a run.) and would run hard-ish at the mile mark to the quarter mile mark. I joined him and a really nice funny guy Keith for a while, and the combo of walking/running was a lot of fun. We laughed, told stories, and Keith and I developed a rapport of eye and facial expressions about Ray’s stories. Ray told us stories abt Gary Cantrell (aka Lazarus Lake), Barkley Marathons, Fred Lebow, Ted Corbitt, Jimmy Carter, duct tape on socks and ER visits, and other interesting ultrarunning tales. It was a lot of fun and I was honestly sad when Keith finished the 12 hour. I missed him.
I began running again more. I felt like utter crap and talked to Ray. I was thinking I’d just tell Scott I was done and go back to his house and sleep. Scott had come out to do the 12 hour as a Keys 100 Test Race and realized he wasn’t trained enough and ready enough for Keys – so he dropped shortly after 6 hours and was chilling with friends, waiting for me. Scott was actually the reason I was there. He kept nudging me with Facebook messages about what a great PR course it was, how I could go 120 miles there, how it was so much fun. And once my Umstead 100 plans were thwarted by my cousin’s wedding, it would be a substitute race. And when I found out Vikena was putting it on and Ray K would be there, icing on the cake.
But I wasn’t feeling good. My whole body was aching. My feet were especially swollen. I was hallucinating like crazy – whenever I looked at the track, instead of footprints I would see fossils and hieroglyphics and Mayan carvings and sea shells and sea creatures. When I’d close my eyes (even as early in the race as a few hours in), I would see black with neon-glowing lines. When I went into the port-a-potty, the walls felt like they were closing in on me. I’ve never done acid, but from the descriptions from friends, this is probably what it is like. (And honestly, it FREAKED me out and why would you want to feel that?)
Ray said, “Why don’t you use this as a test run? Test out different methods and shoes and foods and stuff. Why don’t you try to lay down for a few hours and see if you feel better? If you don’t, you can just leave.”
That sounded smart. I was feeling like hell and I didn’t see how things could change. I put in another few laps and settled down on one of the cots with a sleeping bag provided by Scott at 14 hours.
I was cold. My body hurt. My mind was too awake. I kept seeing images. I shifted, tossed and turned. I had taken off my shoes and had my feet slightly elevated. I heard the slam-slam-slam of the port-a-potty doors, heard chatter. I couldn’t sleep. I realized I can never do a multiday b/c I just can’t fall asleep during a race. I even have trouble after. When my body is in that much pain, it is hard for me to shut off.
After less than an hour (and Ray’s suggestion was 2hrs-3.5 hrs), I decided, “Screw this. I cannot sleep.” And I felt a burst of energy. Afraid Ray would dissuade me, I quickly pulled on my socks and sneakers. And then I grabbed a grilled cheese. Mmmmmmm. One of many delicious grilled cheeses I would eat. I grabbed my headphones, which I never run with except at night during 24 hours. (It gives me energy when I’m falling asleep. I do pull off an ear bud whenever I pass a runner to say hi but many of the army dudes in the race didn’t do the same thing so you’d be talking to them and they wouldn’t hear you.)
And BOOM, I was GONE. I took off. People were staring at me. “Wasn’t she just sleeping?” “She has been in terrible shape for a while and now, wow!” (Well, that’s what I assume they were thinking.)
When I passed Ray, he was a little shocked.
I put in some good mileage. Ray told me that the 2nd place woman was dropping with 75 miles. “You just gotta keep putting in miles and you’ll move up there.” And a little while later, the first place woman left the track, feeling hellish. (At the start she had said, “I hear we have similar time goals. We should run together.” And I thought that sounded great. Too bad our high and low points were not coordinated or we could have cheered each other on.)
The hours somehow passed. I divided 24 hour races up into four six-hour segments which helps me mentally handle it better. The last 8 hours – “This is less than a regular workday!” And the time flew.
I walked with Ray K. I realized walking hurt more than running, so I ran. I ran and walked. I finally came in an hour before, with Scott who went out on the course to find me.
“Yes, you’re first place woman. 86 laps. Second place is 84.”
Scott and I set out for two more laps. My feet were so swollen and spotted with heat rash and covered with blisters that I changed into socks and Birkenstocks. We chatted and it was so cheering to finish a race with a friend.
I finished and ran through the finish line with hands in the air, huge smile on my face. Vikena gave me a dog tag instead of a medal (Nice concept for a race on a military base.) and being 1st woman, I got an awesome North Face backpack embroidered with “Operation Endurance 24 Hour.”
I was so happy. Scott drove up his car onto the track and we packed things up and we found an IHOP. It was one of the best meals I have ever had – it tasted wonderful. I was starving of course. As I will be for the next two days.
Overall – a fantastic race. Well-organized, great support, super friendly people, free butt slaps during the race, big clocks to countdown. I highly recommend it and yeah, I’ll probably be back.