I’ve run the Virginia 24 hour ultra-run against cancer SIX times, and NOTHING, no amount of miles, no time on my feet, and no conditioning could have gotten me ready for what we had to overcome. It was a wet, cold, and muddy mess!
During the course of the event and for 22 hours straight, it rained, the temperatures dropped, and the trails around Sandy Bottom Nature Park decayed into an overused, water soaked cattle path. For 75 miles I made my way around the 3.75 mile course working on my ultimate goal of logging 100 miles.
I was winning the war and everything was falling into place. I was ahead of my plan. My lap times were holding strong. My stomach and mental attitude were in a good place and the conditions as bad as they were, had not been a factor. My gear including my Running Buddy kept my phone dry, myself and my shoes that was another issue.
|The trails before||The trails after, and this was a good section early on in the day, trust me they got much worse|
PRE-RACE: 7 a.m. the traditional run brief was given by the Race Director. This year, George 60’s birthday and the 12thinstallment of the race saw the largest gathering of runners and teams competing for the 24 hour title. 215 runners came from states all over the union to rack up the miles. This would also be the third year I would captain the Run4Life team. We won this event the first time out (2013), came in second last year and although we had to make numerous substitutions leading up to the race, we felt good about our team chances.
Planning for this race I did an honest and complete review of my five previous starts. I reviewed aspect of my previous races and made sure I corrected each of my shortfalls. I was in the best shape of my running career, fully recovered from my 23 hour Graveyard 100 finish. I had gotten over the serious blister issues that had plagued me in previous 24 hour runs. Gear wise I had reviewed all of my running kit to ensure I selected only the best and most reliable components for this installment. The Hoka Rapa Nui shoes and Injinji toe socks fixed that isse. I examined my refuel/rehydrate plan and corrected all the time wasters. Toeing the line for this great event, I felt like my “A Game” had finally came all together.
Gray long sleeve technical shirt
Black Opedix compression shorts
Injinji performance black low rise toe socks
Hoka Rapa Nui trail shoes
Dirty Girl, puppy dog gaiters
Garmin 201 GPS watch
Nathan, quick shot hand held water bottle
Fenix HP30 LED headlamp
Apeara performance duffle bag
For some great race photos check out Sunsets, Oceans and Sports Photography
THE RACE: For 2 hours it was a near perfect day, for 2+ laps everything was falling into place. As I made my way along the back side of the trail rain drops began to fall. What started off as a slow and sporadic rain turned into a steady all day long soaking. Us endurance nuts hated it, but it was the type of rain farmers dream about. Hour after hour the trail conditions worsen. Lap after lap and into the night the majority of runners continued to battle the elements and themselves. Of my five prior attempts, today would be by far the hardest to remain out on the course. It took some guts and gits to choose to go out there lap after lap.
My race plan would follow much of the same plan that worked so well for my Graveyard 100 run. I would run/walk a 25/5 minute ratio for 50 miles then drop back to a 20/10 minute ratio and continue that as long as I could. From the very first segment I felt very strong, in control and working my way through the day. It is always tough during the opening stages of a long race when you begin counting the laps and realizing you have a long, long way to go.
Somewhere around lap four I remember thinking, “wow I have a long road ahead of me, many challenges are going to take place between now and lap 26 or 27.” The one thing for certain was that my legs were up to the task and my Opedix compression shorts kept everything together. My thighs, IT band and hamstrings, body parts that are always subject to constant strain during an endurance event were never an issue.
Early on many people found that their race did not start off on great terms, the real battle(s) would come in the dark hours. One thing that was consistent during the day was the pace of Steve S. and Megan S, the male and female winners of the event. These two rolled by me time and time again in the best of conditions and the worse and never lost a stride. These two ran 133 and 131 miles respectively and made it look if not easy, routine.
My course record at this event was 75 miles and my goal for the day would be 100 miles. I wanted to log another century race, just a scant month from my last. I was mentally and physically ready to do battle. With such a grand plan I was not ready for a relatively small body part to give up on me. Making the turn for 75 miles I felt a slight sensation at the base of my left heel, the point where my Achilles tendon connects to the heel. At first I thought it was just going to be a slight inconvenience, but as I closed out 75 miles…my tendon was angry and getting more and more out of hand.
As the night rolled on and it got dark, footing became a major issue. The trail was so torn up, pot-holed and water logged that at one point I thought the Park Rangers may cancel the race in fear of the damage being done to the trails. Thanks to my HP30 LED headlamp seeing where I was stepping was never an issue. At one point while trying to find some dry ground to run on it became apparent that it was easier and burned less energy to simply run straight ahead no matter the depth of the
puddle pond lake in front of me.
Working lap 22, when I was the greatest distance from the starting point the pain on the back of my left heel got to be nearly unbearable. I tried to ignore the pain. I tried all the pain management tricks that had worked in the past. I tried to separate the pain from my body, I tried to embrace the pain, and I tried to simply believe it did not hurt. Nothing worked, when I could no longer manage the pain I really feared my Achilles could rupture or tear. With each step/stride forward it felt like someone was pinching my Achilles, not with their fingers but with razor blades. I tried to adjust my stride, slow down my leg turnover, and or running faster. Those adjustments did nothing and in fact made my Achilles crankier.
At this point in the night I did not want to even consider dropping out of this race. For such a simple and flat course the race at Sandy Bottom always gets my goat. Even though I had reaffirmed my plans to never give in, to make the turn for lap 23, as I approached the turnaround point I paused to ask for a second opinion.
The door was open.
19 hours had ticked off the clock. It took me ten minutes to finally tell the volunteers at the scorers table I was done. In that ten minutes of deliberation my body temperature had dropped to the point that I began to shiver violently. I had to admit the obvious, I was done and it broke my competitive heart. I’ve toed the line at this race SIX times and I’ve never made it 24 hours. I wanted to continue, I wanted to reach 100 miles and yet my body gave out on me. I’m the team captain and I’m not out there with my runners. 48 hours later and I question my decision, maybe I could have been able to continue;. I can only tell you that at that moment, I made the right call.
Team Champions for 2015:
Steve S. a running machine and won the event out right with 133 miles
Paul. 89.25, another solid performance
Andrea. 88.25, she set a new state record, after a very bad race start
Shannon. 75, a new distance PR
David. 75, in his first 24 Hour run
Chris. 60, a week before his “Run for the Fallen” run
Ally. 57.25, a 24 hour PR
Steve J. 52.5, a distance PR
Hank. 50, a distance PR
Kim. 41.25, Always a smile!
Steve D. 30, Thanks for stepping in at last minute!
Team Run4Life = 834.25 miles
I will be back in 2016, I’ve totaled 406 miles at this race. George awards a special jacket for everyone who runs 500 miles at this event…I want that Jacket. I want to be there again with team Run4Life and I want to run my best at this race, my very first ultra. I honestly believe if I had continued to run, being back in 2016 may be in question.