Initially, when planning my race schedule, this race, 24 Hours the Hard Way, was not part of my plans. It was the week before NYC Marathon, where I wanted to race strong, and it was pavement, and it was in Oklahoma.
Ray K. convinced me to do it, and I'm so glad I did. But really, I'm not sure what pushed me into going, now that you ask me. I think it's just Ray's persuasive and charming personality.
Going out to Oklahoma was a little insane. My life has been insane - Hinson 24 Hour in NC, followed by Ted Corbitt 24 Hour the weekend following, then visiting my bestie in Buffalo (wine! tea! fun!), then Toronto for work and the Toronto Waterfront Half. I came home on Wednesday from my work trip, unpacked and immediately repacked my suitcase. Then I took a nap, worked a day, then flew to Oklahoma. Ray K. and his son Jon picked me up from the airport, where I had shared a flight with the legendary John Geesler (who frightened one of my pacers at the VT100 two years ago when he was literally sleepwalking on the course...of course I was uber impressed).
The race was full of impressive runners - American 24 Hour Women's Record Holder Sabrina Little (who dropped out due to having a wretched cold/bronchitis/asthma), Connie Gardener, John Cash, plus a lot of of the older-but-super-fast-in-their-time runners. I met "Doc" aka Andrew who gave me advice on the damage that my frostbitten feet are STILL experiencing.
Race morning, Ray impressed many by arriving more than 4 minutes before race start. We put our chips on; they used the ankle strap but I have never loved those. I imitated Ray and strung it through my shoelace (which just meant I had to move it when I changed shoes, which I did three times).
The course is a loop just under a mile - something like .96 mile. It's pavement. The course winds a bit, so you have to take the tangents so you don't run way over, but it's not horrible. It's pretty. Since Oklahoma is warmer than NYC, there were more plants alive, and it was pretty. The sun set later, which was nice, though it also rose later, which wasn't as fun. There were some slight hills, which we all regarded as mountains later in the race. "Cherie, toss me your crampons," Ray would yell if we'd pass each other on a "hill." Really, they'd classify more as "rolling hills."
The organization was pretty good. Chisholm is super-duper friendly, and his wife was amazing too. There was a big problem with timing (The display wasn't working, some laps got missed, and everyone was confused about their mileage, which was irritating.), but hopefully things get solved soon. I still am unsure of my exact mileage - I believe around 115.4 miles, which is a PR. Sweet.I missed my goal of 120 miles but I also had some issues, and it was not the perfect day for me - so to get a PR on a less-than-perfect-day is great.
The aid stations were great. There's one water and Gatorade stop in the middle of the woods, which I only stopped at a few times, but was nice to know that it was there. (So if I wanted a gel mid-loop, I could get some hydration with it. Yay.) The main station included a separate section for beverages, which was great if you were blasting through and just wanted to grab some liquid - water, Gatorade sodas, red bulls of various kinds. They were lacking ginger ale early on, but after maybe 8 hours, they had some, which was nice that they listened to requests (I requested it; not sure if others did too?). The food - broth (chicken & vegetarian, yay, vegetarian!), standard ultra snacks of chips (but different kinds, how neat!), lots of hammergels, skittles, starburst, muffins (mmmm), frosted cake, grilled cheese, burgers, pulled pork, peanut butter, graham crackers, cookies, pretzels, and so many things. Basically, even a picky-in-ultras-eater like me was quite happy. I LOVED THIS AID STATION! I supplemented this with Delta cookies I hoarded from recent flights.
Also, people moved a Halloween costume hammer around the course, and several balls. It's just a thing you did; pick it up and hang it from a tree branch or put it on a bench...They hung white Christmas lights in two different dark spots on the course which were pretty and fun...and combined with that and the brightly-lit sky, you did NOT need a headlamp.
I started out feeling good. As I blazed through the start/finish/main aid station, I thought, "Oops, a little too fast." I was running with a super nice woman Carol, also wearing pink (whose two sons were also running, how neat!), and said, "Ray is going to kill me." I was running sub-9s for a while.
After two hours, my tummy told me it was in charge. Good thing there were plenty of port-a-potties (always with toilet paper, yay) along the course. I stopped eating gels, visited the potties, and took an Immodium. Sad face. I hate my tummy sometime.
I slowed down, and skipped on gels for four or six hours. I switched to pretzels, veggie broth, and blueberry muffins. I was sad when they ran out of blueberry muffins (possibly because I ate them all) and I was forced to eat the lovely-but-just-not-as-delicious banana nut muffins.
And then, somewhere around 40 miles, I ran into Jameelah, and she told me her insane journey of getting to the race (which involved sleeping in a Walgreens!), of recovering from a recent injury, and then she mentioned the medics had done some work on a blister of hers. I had already changed shoes back and forth to accommodate my blister pain that day, so figured, why not stop by?
As I watched John Cash and Sabrina Little and Connie Gardener blow by me, the medical staff were super awesome and attended to my needs. First they taped up my toes together, and then did some massage to help my stomach, and gave me Rolaids and a ginger root pill. I ran a lap and felt like I was going to fall over - my balance was totally off with my toes taped together. They tried to cushion it. I ran another lap. "This is still not helping," I told Jared and the medical director. "Run another lap - we'll get the scalpel and then try to scrape it off."
I ran another lap and saw Jon mid-way and told him what they'd be doing. "Scalpel? Can I take photos?" Sure, why not. So of course he ran over to the medical tent. He wasn't running, but was taking photos.
I spent a little too much time getting my toe scraped at. Basically, there is a callous that has grown, and the blister was underneath. Or something. I'm headed to George Morgano tomorrow, my awesome podiatrist, who will hopefully help. So they had to scrape it down, then put these cushion things on my toe, then tape it up. Then I put on my cut-apart sneakers, because every ultrarunner has shoes with the toes cut out, right?
And I felt better.
I ran on. I chatted with people, smiled, got lost in my head. I counted the laps, pushed up the hills, sipped broth. And I was feeling mostly good. It was an ultra. It was a 24 hour race, which is where you get to make friends with the fastest and the slowest of runners. I loved the people who set up some carports and hung their TV in the middle of the course, watching "the game" and updating everyone with the score. I laughed. I had fun. Even when it hurt, even when it sucked, I still had a lot of fun.
It rained. Silly Oklahoma. I wore a rain jacket, which normally would dissuade the rain, but the rain didn't listen. It wasn't heavy, but I wanted it to stop. It got a little muddy by one of the port-a-janes. It stopped before nightfall.
Night fell. I changed into a completely dry outfit in my new BFF Sherry's tent. (I was squatting with my plastic bags of supplies outside her tent and we became friends.) I felt amazing in dry clothes. I ran a lap and then ran into Chris Roman, a good friend of Tony's. We began running together....
...and we didn't stop until the end.
It was pretty awesome. I was pushing him, and he was pushing me. When I felt like crap, I thought, "I can't lose Chris now. He's pushed me so much already." And we were doing that thing, where I thought I had to run faster to keep up with him, and he thought he had to run faster to keep up with me. Basically, we spent over 12 hours running together, talking, laughing. I got a lot less sleepy and hallucinated a lot less than normal, mainly because Chris was keeping me focused and awake the whole time.
Don't worry, I did hallucinate though; I kept seeing headless runners (I'd see someone but see no head) or it would look like runners were running with their heads on backwards. Ummmmm....I have strange hallucinations.
Chris told me stories of running the Eerie Canal, the Brazil 135, races he had done, stories of mutual friends. He cursed when I convinced him to run up a hill. Sorry about that, Chris, but I figured that uphill was good for us. You know, good for you like cabbage.
I hit the 100 mile in 20:28! A PR by 30 minutes. I was SO excited. I believe I was screaming in the aid station. Everyone seemed amused. Oh well. Good for something.
One of the race timers told me, "You're third woman overall, 2nd USATF."
"What does that mean?"
"You're third woman. The second place woman isn't USATF. So you're second USATF."
"What do I get?"
"A shiny silver medal."
"I want a pony!"
But alas, I did not get a pony, but I do get a rather nice cheque.
The USATF thing...you have to be a member of USA Track & Field, or you won't be counted in this race as a USATF winner, and since this is the national championships, it makes sense to be a member. I'm a member. The 2nd place woman didn't realize this, was not a member, and was rather upset at the awards ceremony. I don't blame her, as she ran a stellar race, and it wasn't acknowledged in the awards ceremony officially.
Anyway, the last 3.5 hours were rough. Chris and I both felt pretty tired. He hit a wall around hour 23 and I am afraid he may have been cursing me frequently in his head. I believe I did the same at one point. Something along the lines of, "WTF, why are we running? OMG this hurts, UGH, I hate this." But we stuck together. We were at the point where we had run together so long, we were NOT going to lose each other. We'd coordinate our bathroom breaks or I'd walk while he'd go or vice versa and then we'd catch up with each other.
We finished. Chris ran more miles than me early on, for 127 miles total. WOW. I kick myself for my stupid blister problems, which I probably wasted about 45 minutes total on. (What can you do, though?) Possibly more. Ouch. And my stomach is always a challenge. Luckily, Immodium, pretzels, veggie broth, and muffins saved the day.
At the end of the day, I had something like 115.4 miles. A PR. I was very proud of myself. 2nd woman USATF, 3rd woman overall.
I was a little delirious. I ate food, then we left partway through the awards ceremony so I could throw myself into the shower, shove all my disgusting and stinky and wet running attire and supplies into my suitcase, and rush into the airport and onto my flight with wet hair and bags under my eyes.
And then it was all a dream...an amazing race...new friends made....those paths will never leave my head.
Next up....New York City Marathon! I don't think the aid stations will be anywhere near as good, but I always love a running party!