Thursday, March 14, 2013

Race # 29 - Lapper's Delight 24 hour Endurance Run

Lapper's Delight 24 hour Endurance Run
9:00 AM
Pinnacle, NC
Official Distance:  56 laps / 84 miles
Garmin Distance:  85.7 miles with ~10,135 ft. of elevation gain
Time: 24:00:00
Place: 3rd out of 18 finishers

When a friend asked me if I was doing Lapper's Delight back in January, I had no idea what he was talking about.  A quick search and I had found a race that fit perfectly in my training schedule for the Massanutten 100.  Just over two months out, this would end up providing so much experience for MMT100.

I was able to convince Summer to let me do this race quite easily.  It would give me the opportunity to be up and moving for 24 hours, as well as some experience running from sunset into darkness, through the night, and most importantly, into the sunrise and a new day.  All of this (and more) will be in store for me at MMT100.

The race was held at Jomeokee Campground in Pinnacle, NC.  Pilot Mountain sits in the background so we had great scenery.  The course was a 1.5 mile trail loop that was mowed down grass.  We would soon wear down a path with all the laps we'd put in.  Each lap was said to have 150 ft. of elevation gain, essentially 100 feet per mile.  In trail running terms, this is 'flat'.  Compared to some courses I've ran, it was.  But the hills it did have, were deceiving enough to make us all pay come night time.

There was an individual race, as well as team relays.  It was always easy to identify who was doing what.  The relay team members were always running fast while the rest of us slowed considerably as the day turned in to night.  Runners could come and go as you pleased.  We could sleep.  Stop.  Eat.  Go home.  Whatever.  Not me though.  I was there for the full time.

Gemma and I before the race

Summer, Gemma and I all headed out to the course early Saturday morning so I could get set up with my drop bag and catch the prerace briefing.  I met Jon there, who will end up being my pacer for MMT100.   He is a local ultrarunner that I've seen at a few races.  We ran UROC together and finished within seconds of each other.  Jon is one of the nicest people I've ever met and a very experienced endurance athlete.

No worries about exceeding this speed limit!

The War Board

As we prepared for the start, I was excited.  One of those 'I get to run ALL DAY' feelings.  Most people would call this crazy.  I can see why.  Endurance athletes are a rare breed and ultrarunning is a sport that is extremely hard to master.  Even the best in the sport can have an off day.  It's like any other sport.  You have good days, and bad days.  Every race and every course is different.  You will hit highs and you will hit lows.  What you have to figure out is how to dig out of the depths of the lows and how to ride the highs as long as you can.  Failure to do this can result in the always dreaded DNF.

Jon and I starting our day (photo courtesy Phil Ponder)

At 9am, we lined up and took off on a day of adventure.  Jon and I took off with the rest of the group and began chatting away.  The first mile consisted of a gentle up, followed by an easy down, then another gentle up, a short flat, a long gentle up, and then a sort of flat/up.  The last half mile was mostly downhill and then uphill to the finish.  At first, no one wanted to walk the uphills and it was easy to see why.  They weren't huge hills.  They were very runnable.  But in a 24 hour race, everyone would soon have to swallow their pride and walk unless they wanted to be sitting on the sidelines when it came nightfall.

Beautiful scenery (photo courtesy Phil Ponder)

The first few hours were great.  We were blessed with a wonderful weather forecast of sunshine and low 60's for the high and mid 30's for the lows that night.  Soon I had ditched the long sleeve shirt and gloves and was in my traditional shorts attire.  After a few laps, Jon and I separated and ran our own pace.  We both train alone mostly so this was no surprise.  We both had different goals, but with a 1.5 mile loop course, we would see each other often throughout the race.

(photo courtesy Phil Ponder)

 (photo courtesy Phil Ponder)

My strategy was simple.  Keep moving.  Do whatever I can to be out there for 24 hours covering ground.  The distance of the loop course was great.  At first I was running 16-18 minute laps.  It felt comfortable, so that's what I ran.  At the end of each loop, I passed by the aid station and either ate some of the supplied food or stopped by my personal drop bag and got something from it.  I took some good advice from a very knowledgeable ultrarunner and instead of going with gels at the beginning, I went with real food as long as I could until late in the day/night where I started going for the easy/liquid calories.  This was a perfect routine.

Coming through the start/finish line, early in the race

Pretzels, bananas, oranges, peanut butter.  That was breakfast.  I bet I ate at least a dozen bananas throughout the course of the event.  I tried to stay hydrated as the temps started to go up.  I alternated carrying a handheld of water and a handheld of accelerade.  I made routine bathroom breaks in the woods until around 12-1:00 pm. It was then I couldn't remember the last time I went.  I started to think I was getting dehydrated so I increased fluids.  At 2:34 pm I was back on schedule.  But soon thereafter, I hit a low point.

I hit the marathon mark in 5:02.  Probably a little fast for a 24 hour race.  Once I hit the 6 hour mark though, fatigue was settling in on my legs.  This aggravated me.  Here I was with 18 hours remaining and I'm tired.  I was extremely discouraged.  I thought about MMT100 a lot during this race and I just kept questioning myself.  "If you're this tired after 6 hours, how are you going to do a race that could take up to 36 hours with tons of more elevation???"  Thoughts like this rummaged through my head.  I was honestly ready to quit, go home, withdraw my name from the MMT100 entrant list, and not run for a while.  It was that serious.  But I spent so much time questioning myself that eventually, I started feeling better.  That's how it goes in this crazy sport.  Keep moving forward and eventually, you'll get out of the depths.

The gentle uphill that was so tempting to run

I reached the 50k mark in 6:16 and was coming out of the low points.  The next six hours  actually went pretty well.  Daytime soon converted to night and I was walking and running at decent paces.  By this point I had made enough laps that I was in a rhythm and knew when to walk and when to run on the course.  I felt good and was hoping that the second half would be good to me and maybe, just maybe, I could hit 100 miles.  This was not my intention going in.  I wanted to get to 80 miles but more importantly, be there the entire 24 hours and moving forward as much as possible.

Pilot Mountain

The sun had set, and night was upon us.  Pilot Mountain in the distance

Once it was dark, I felt great.  I was still moving at a good pace, and I felt confident about the near future.  Summer came back out to support me and I was grateful for that.  My 50 mile split was 11:11 and at the 12 hour mark I had covered 53.33 miles.  I was nearing my personal best for time on feet which was the 14:36 that I achieved at UROC last year.  As the clock drew closer to midnight, fatigue really started to set in.  My legs hurt.  My feet were starting to hurt.  And I was getting discouraged.  I wore the same Hoka Stinson B's I've wore for each of my last handful of races.  I've never had any issues and never even thought about changing shoes in those races.  So I didn't understand why my feet were hurting so bad.  It was the beginning of another low point and not exactly the best time for that to happen.  
I was walking a lot at this point and there were points on the course that seemed to be much colder than others.  I came into the start/finish area and stopped for a few minutes to eat and drink.  Summer convinced me to put on my tights and that was a great move.  I don't know if it was the warmth or the compression that helped by my legs felt a little better.  I was still in the dumps though.  The thought of eight more hours walking in circles in the dark and cold was, in my own words, 'stupid'.  Why would I want to do that.  I could be in a warm bed with my family, but instead I'm out here suffering through something I signed up and paid money for.

Since I was walking, Summer said she would walk a lap with me.  So we headed out into the cold together.  I don't remember what we talked about.  I'm sure I complained, and I'm sure that she kept being positive, as she always is, and kept telling me that I was going to be fine and reminding me what I would feel like the following day if I did quit.  I do remember telling her one thing.  In any other race, there is always motivation there for continuing to move forward.  Every step you take, or the faster you run, the closer you are getting to the finish line.  Not here.  Not tonight.  In a 24 hour race, it doesn't matter how fast you run or how slow you walk, the finish line does not get any closer.  You can't speed up time.  You just have to endure.  That was a tough pill to swallow.

After we completed the lap, I headed out again by myself.  I decided to check the score of the Duke/UNC game.  I was hoping it would provide a lift.  It did when I noticed Duke won by 16 points.  I got a short burst of energy and started running.  It didn't last long and I was back to walking.  Once I completed that lap, it was midnight and I told Summer to go home and get some rest.  At this point, it was up to me to get through the night.

The minutes kept ticking by, and I kept telling myself how long it was until daylight, trying to stay positive.  I was getting really cold since I was mostly walking.  Running the downhills hurt not only the legs but my feet.  I don't know if the ground was frozen that and contributed to it more or what.

As time neared 2 AM, I pulled out my phone to watch the Daylight Savings Time change.  I had always wondered what really happens at that moment.  My assumption was right.  At 1:59 AM, the clocks then automatically change to 3 AM.  That was the highlight of the night.  Pretty lame huh?

At 4 AM, I started to sway back and forth and my eyes were starting to close as I became very sleepy.  It hadn't hit me until then.  I felt like a zombie.  While earlier in the race I was completing laps in ~20 minutes, it seemed like they were now taking twice as long.  I decided I was going to finish the lap and then I would stop and sit by the camp fire for a little while and try to gather myself.  Up until this point, I had stayed on top of nutrition.  Just like early in the race, I was eating and drinking each time I passed through the start finish line.  That wasn't enough to keep me going and so I parked in front of the camp fire somewhere around 5 AM.

I sat and talked to the race director, Glenn, and his wife Sheryl, as well as a few other runners who were taking a break.  I explained my story to them about how bad I felt and how I just didn't know if I could continue.  Glenn told me to take a break and wait for daylight as that may change how I felt.  I dozed off for a few minutes but never fell asleep.  I didn't have a tent, or a sleeping bag, or a car.  I couldn't quit.  So I just sat there.  Waiting.  Watching the clock.

Sometime after 6 AM I decided to change shoes and see if that would make any difference.  Of course, they felt frozen when I picked them up so I took them to the campfire and tried to warm them up before putting them on.  Once I got them on, it was around 6:40, and the sky was just starting to get light in the east.  I stood up, and headed out on another lap.

The break that I took did some good.  My legs felt a little better, but not my feet.  I was now wearing a new pair of La Sportiva Electrons that only had 20 miles on them from the previous weekend.  The change in cushion from the Hokas was hard to get used to at first.  But I started to change mentally.  I just kept telling myself to keep moving.  Every step I took, while it didn't get me closer to the finish line, it did get me closer to the sun coming up.  That would mean warmth and hopefully a change in how my body felt.

As the minutes ticked by, and it became lighter, I started to run a little bit more.  My legs hurt running the downhills at first so I walked them.  But then I ran the uphills because it didn't hurt as bad.  Strange how that works.  Eventually, I was running a good bit.  One lap.  Then two laps.  I was getting stronger.  I was rebounding.  Four laps in to this last segment, I was feeling great.  I was running almost the entire lap.  I couldn't help but peak at the leaderboard when I passed by.  By my calculations, which could have been wrong because at this point I wasn't calculating much of anything properly in my head, I was in a battle for third.  Most runners were out on the course covering miles at this point so I had to keep going.  The leader was walking laps with his wife (no one was going to catch him).  I didn't even know who was in second place but I knew I couldn't catch him.  But I did know that I was flirting with either a 3rd or 4th place finish and if I just kept going, I may end up on the podium.  At the end of the day (literally and figuratively), I know I didn't enter this race to compete.  I entered it for the experience.  But we're all runners and we're all competitive to a certain degree so of course I wanted to finish strong.

Taken at the bottom of the long hill.  The sun had yet to light this part of the course but the thin clouds were burning pink and orange.

My Dad had arrived by this point to see me finish.  It was great to see a familiar face and get some encouragement.  I had surpassed the 50 lap mark which mean I was officially over 75 miles.  Even though it wasn't set in stone, my mental goal for the race was at least 80 miles.  I was nearing that, but I wanted more.  After 52 laps, I told my Dad I would do two more.  After the first, I just said might as well do an additional and get to an even 55 laps.  But with each lap, I was running stronger and stronger.  Sheryl, the RD's wife, was out walking a lap in the early morning sunshine and I passed her as I started the long downhill and she shouted encouragement to me remarking how great I looked.  I just yelled back to her "I have no idea how I'm doing this".  I remember looking down at times and I was running 12-ish minute miles.  No that's not fast, but after 23 hours, it's pretty darn good in my book.  I think I even squeezed out a sub-12 minute mile somewhere in there too.

Once I finished my 55th lap, there was somewhere around 25 minutes left.  Summer and Gemma had arrived to see me finish and I had time for one more lap, but not two.  I told Summer "one more" and then I would stop.

I took this last lap to reflect.  Reflect on what I was accomplishing.  On where I came from throughout the last 24 hours.  I had reached depths I'd never been to.  At UROC, I experienced some lows, but nothing like today.  I thanked God for getting me through this and for my family being so supportive of me doing such a stupid thing.  I slowed down to take a look at the sun beaming on the front of Pilot Mountain.  I was just in awe at how beautiful the morning was.  As a trail runner, I get to see sights that not many people do.  My favorite being the sun peaking over the horizon at the beginning of a new day.  That's when I feel alive.  Today I felt extra-alive.

As I headed into the final downhill, the numbers finally hit me.  I was descending this hill for the 56th time.  That's pretty.......ridiculous?  Stupid?  Crazy?  Awesome?  Yes.  Yes it is.  But I had made it.  No I didn't keep moving for the full 24 hours.  But I learned that sometimes, things happen that prevent that sort of thing.  This was a training run, not a goal race.  I ran a 60-mile week the week before so I wasn't as fresh as I will be for MMT100.  Who cares that I had to sit down for over an hour?  I may have to do that at MMT.  It's all a learning experience, and I'm still a noob when it comes to ultrarunning but I'm learning more and more with each long run and race I complete.

I ran the entire last lap.  As I came in to the finish line, Summer was there with Gemma and once again, I grabbed her and carried her across the finish line with me.  There was 10 minutes left, but I was done.

Final Results!

I had completed 56 laps, officially 84 miles, in 24 hours.  My Garmin said 85.7 miles.  I'll compromise and call it 85 miles for simplicity purposes.  The 56 laps was enough for 3rd place.

Garmin data after the race

We stayed for a little while and watched the final runners finish their laps and then gathered around for the awards.  Everyone there at that moment received a finisher medal.  If you weren't there, you didn't finish.  And by this point, Glenn knew just about everyone by name and presented us with the medal.  The winner completed 67 laps for 100.5 miles.  Second place completed 60 laps for 90 miles.  And I came in third with 56 laps for 84 miles.

Finisher's medal

Gemma always enjoys my medals

3rd Place Award

Jon and I with our awards.  He got first place Master's division.

After the race, I had numerous thoughts going through my head.  While I was pleased with my accomplishment, I knew what it took to get there.  Massanutten is going to be hard.  And it's going to take every single bit of mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional energy I have to make it through that race.  But I believe I can do it, and that's what it takes.