Saturday, March 26, 2016

If you think running for 6/12/24 hours around a track is hard…

… you are right. But that's only because running for 6/12/24 hours is hard, no matter where it is. Going in loops around a track is just a different experience - one that just might surprise you.

Running the 6 hour version of the Riverbank One Day was not on my radar at all.

Then Lynnard, at the wildly muddy Brazen Badger Cove (my pictures here) put a bug in my ear while watching me slog along: "There's nobody signed up for the 6 hour; you will win it!"

After I made it home and cleaned most of the mud out of my body, I started looking into the race. This was the first year of the race on a brand new high school track in Riverbank CA, which is just outside of Modesto. With the 6 hour starting at 8AM, that meant I wouldn't have to get up horrifically early to drive over. Also, the forecast looked very promising for no rain.

And Lynnard was right - there was nobody singed up for the 6 hour. And there were some friends signed up for the longer times, plus a few very notable elites that would be gunning for records.

So I did it - I signed up (the $50 race fee was very reasonable for all you got) and then started to get others to sign up.

Mrs Notthat just laughed - there was no chance of getting her to do this. Others responding to my Facebook post also laughed; I mostly hang out with trail runners, and the only thing to most of them that would be worse than a road race would be wandering around a track for 6 hours.

But then one person jumped in. And another. In the end, there were 6 of us in the 6 hour. My win was no longer guaranteed (or even possible, given who some of those people were), but the event entertainment level had risen dramatically.

Simplified course map. Double-click to see the detail.
While no course map was provided, it turned out to be well marked and not very confusing. (I was actually planning to make a joke about the course not being well marked, but it turned out to be extremely well marked, as you will see later.) The direction switched every 6 hours - at the time I started, we were going counter-clockwise, with a switch at my 4 hour point.

A slightly distorted panoramic view of the course at sunrise.
I arrived just as the sun was coming up. At that point, the 24 hour runners had been going for about 13 hours. Many of the 12 hour runners had finished and headed home already, with a second shift of 12 hour runners just getting started. (There ended up being 31 runners total in the event.)

The 6 hour is a sprint compared to the other races. (It's entirely possible I will never be invited back.)
Our start was fairly uneventful. I tried really hard not to go out too fast (in spite of that picture), and did OK with that.

Peter, the eventual 6 hour winner, had started at 6AM and, even with more time on his legs, consistently passed me like I was a turtle. Note the cones - no chance of getting lost. At all.
Having never done this sort of event before, there were some etiquette issues I needed to get comfortable with. Those mostly involved when to cede the first lane to a faster runner.

Our official distance was going to be based on the assumption that we stayed in the inner lane. If you stayed in the second lane, you would add about 7.7 meters distance each lap. That's not a lot, but over 100 laps, that's 770 meters of bonus distance that you are not getting credit for.

Early on, Jesse E. (who ended up with a bit over 50 miles and second overall in the 12 hour) and I finishing a lap. Picture by a "done" Jesse J. who, it turned out, has a very inaccurate idea of what "done" means.
Officially, as long as you were moving forward, even if you were walking, you were entitled to the first lane. Unofficially, if a runner was coming up behind you, you really should move a bit over towards the second lane and let them pass you on the inside. This was my intent, and it worked out that way, with very few times that a runner had to pass me on the outside. And this turned out to be much easier than expected, mostly due to the fact that, even on a track, the runners spread out quite a bit.

(There were some walkers that clung to that inner lane no matter what, and I was fine with that too - it really was no big deal to move out a bit to pass them, although my Garmin showed that this did add a bit of unofficial distance.)

Finishing a lap. I loved that wooden scoreboard on the right. The aid station was just beyond it, with the runner area for tents and drop bags and such on the left.
How cool is that! Bacon!
There were a lot of amazing volunteers catering to our every need. The smell of bacon cooking in the morning and pizza showing up later in the day was pretty amazing motivation.

Note that the volunteers are lined up along the inside lane - anything to make a lap go faster! If you asked for something, they would have it for you on the next lap. Except my horse. They never got me my horse.
ACK!!! Sweepers! Timed races aren't supposed to have sweepers!
Coming into this race, I had done very little actual running. I had finished the Badger Cove 10K the previous weekend, but I had done a lot of walking on the hills and the sloppier sections. I really had no idea how much running I would be able to do at this event, but hoped to at least run a 10K without taking a walk break. Anything after that would be gravy.

As it turned out, I really like gravy, and I ended up doing something I'd never done before - I ran for a whole Half Marathon without a walk break. My achilles gave me no trouble at all, which was a huge relief. The leg muscles, however, were openly rebelling against this sudden onslaught of activity. So after the Half distance was covered, I switched to a run/walk strategy which quickly devolved into a walk/walk strategy. I was still moving well though, and was passing others consistently (and getting passed consistently), so I just kept on going.

The Jester, on his way to winning the 24 hour event. That guy was ridiculously consistent.
Another interesting bit - I had assumed that I would get really bored running/walking in circles and would need a distraction. I rarely run races with music, but had brought a bunch of podcasts and music to help me get through this. And I never once thought of breaking any of it out.

Peter posing by the scoreboard when he was done. He ended up winning the 6 hour with 34 miles!
There was one person that gave me the most grief about running circles around a track. Then she signed up. (Seriously, trail runners are complicated. Or at least a bit odd.)

Diane got her four hours in and was happy with the result, going much further and running a lot more than expected.
Jose with Natalie. Jose ended up starting late, but still managed 75.8 miles in the 24 hour. Natalie won the 24 hour with an astonishing 92.9 miles!  
Ageless Bill setting one of the 3 or 4 records he managed that day.
I spent very little time actually staying with anyone - maybe a quarter of a lap here or there, but constantly seeing people worked just fine at keeping my mind occupied. (That and trying to do math along the lines of "how many laps do I need to break 100" or "how many to get to a 50K" and such. To be clear, this math often turned out to be significantly flawed.)

Also, I really didn't want to stop for anything. I brought four bottles of Tailwind, and so had four very quick stops to change out my bottles. I would leave the bottle at the aid station and grab it every 6-8 laps, carry it for a lap, then drop it back off. This worked very well until my Tailwind ran out. I had more, and intended to just mix up more, but when it came down to it, I wasn't willing to spend the time to do that, so I switched over to drinking the race-supplied electrolytes (which ended up not working out as well, but good enough to get me to the finish).

That's Jon Olsen with a handful of "pacers" - a group of boys that were just out enjoying the afternoon and joined in for a lap. I believe Jon was the first American to run 100 miles in less than 12 hours a few years ago. He was also the brains behind this race.
At the end of each lap, we got to see how long that lap took, how many laps you had run, and the total distance (in KM). I was thrilled to have gotten to 100 laps!
That guy's done!
My goal coming into this was at least 20 miles, and if all went well, 25 miles. I hadn't realized that 25 miles equalled a triple-digit number of laps, so that became my real goal - 100 laps. I ended up with 101 laps, which officially worked out to 25.1 miles.

Yeah, I was tired. This bit of grass in the shade was amazingly comfortable.
I got up off the grass long enough to pose with Carly, who beat me by a couple of laps (and was first woman!), and John who ended up a close second to Peter.
According to my GPS, I nailed an ultra! (By 0.01 miles.)
This was really funny - somehow my GPS was convinced I had climbed nearly 1000 feet while circling that track. There was a small bump at the timing mat, but, wow! (When I uploaded this, the ascent was corrected to 25 ft, which is still high, but possible. I guess.)
An example of why GPS isn't always trustworthy. I promise I did not cut the course like this shows!
My splits. No real surprise, although you can really see where I swapped my bottles and that my lap 101 was definitely a "victory" lap. You should be able to click this and see a larger version, if you are curious.
Once I was done, the race wasn't over. There was still 4 hours to go for the 12/24 hour runners. And pizza to be eaten (by me).

The amazing Bill setting yet another record.
Lynnard, who gets the blame for me being here, near the end of his race. He ended up with 84.5 miles!
Ha ha ha - I love the "STOP" sign in the background!
With just a couple of minutes left in the race, these two decided to try to get one more lap in. This is a bit risky because you have to cross the mat before 6PM or else that last lap doesn't count. I suspect this was one of the faster laps either of these 24 hour runners did the whole race.

Ed finishing his last lap with about 5 seconds to spare. No worries. He ended up with a bit over 500 laps and 124.5 miles!

One of the reasons I wanted to run this was the chance to see Jenni and Jesse. They both ran the 24 hour. When I showed up at a bit after 7AM, Jesse was in jeans and had called it a race due to injury issues. Jenni had just gotten up from a nap and decided she would push to get to 100K and be happy with that.


It wasn't long before Jesse had changed out of his jeans and was with Jenni, putting in lap after lap.

This was near the end. I was starting to worry that we were going to have to tackle them to get them to stop.
Jenni ended up being second in the 24 hour with 76.5 miles (WAY over a 100K).

The haul. There is a coaster still to come - it will be engraved with our name and distance! And Ed the Jester gave me an updated wrist band!
This event was a blast - I'm so glad I did it and am already planning to be a 24 hour runner next year (100K or bust!).

I was totally amazed at how fast each lap went by. I was actually a bit sad when we reached the 3 hour mark since it meant we were already half done. (I will say though, by the 5 hour mark, I was very ready to be done - that last hour was tough!) I was also surprised at how reluctant I was to stop at the aid station - I just really wanted to keep going. No toilet breaks, no sitting breaks - just go!

Also, I was concerned about the constant left turns. Looping races with sharp turns are notorious for causing odd pains since you are very repetitively putting strains on the same parts of your body. But it turns out that, on a track, the turns are so gentle that you really have very little to do to make them. We switched directions in an effort to reduce any issues the turns caused, but all this really did was make the course look entirely different (for a few laps, in any case).

Things I would do different next time:

  • I would either have more bottles already made up or would have taken a few minutes and got more Tailwind ready to go. I really think that would have helped me in that last hour.
  • Leaving the bottle at the aid station worked out well, but next time I'll come up with a way to make it easier to grab and drop off - after a bit it was challenging to bend over and grab it.
  • I should have put on sunscreen. It got pretty warm and the sun really beat on you. I figured since we were not spending much time going in any one direction, we would not really get much of a sunburn, but that was wrong thinking - it was a very even sunburn though.

For a first time race, this went exceptionally smooth. If I could suggest anything, it would be to have some way to more easily work out which runners were running which race. Maybe bib numbers, or colored dots on the bibs, or something on the scoreboard would have worked nicely. The food and volunteer support was amazing! A HUGE thanks to Jon and John from PCTR for all you and your people did to make this so much fun!

And I can now find the city of Riverbank on a map!

That's it - move along…

PS: Here is a link to more of my pictures.

PPS: Here is a link to all of my pictures, in an easy to download format.

PPPS: Here is a link to a movie I put together that shows me running an early lap, for those of you that might want to get a feel for what it was really like. It also includes a fun bit at the end showing the awesome volunteers giving Jenni her cheer overtime she went by (and Jenni giving a jump each time).


Lia said...

Whoa, congrats on your run!! I heard about this race, and it totally sounded up my alley but didn't fit into my schedule. I actually kind of love timed events and am amazed that you finished your 101 laps without any music or anything! What an accomplishment. Sounds like you are officially back in action :)

Fun Size said...

You had me at "simplified course map." LOL I so want to do this next year! Thanks for doing a write up.

Beth said...

Congrats on running a whole half w/o walking!
I've not spent time on a track, but am wondering if you felt as sore as normal the day/days after, or maybe if you had a quicker recovery? I've heard the track surface is gentler on the body. Of course I doubt that you've done many pancake flat 6 hr that could have helped w/recovery time as much as the track surface....anyway...make a chart or something and plug some data in (we know how much you hate making charts : )
Actually, that's something I've not seen you chart yet...I pain scale for the races you do in 1 yr.
Glad to hear you are on the mend!