24 hours at Laramie… The Run
"Do not run the entire 24 hours… DO NOT run 24 hours…Remember, this is JUST A TRAINING RUN….Save yourself for Lean Horse!"
I repeated this to myself over and over during the five hour drive down to Laramie and later during the run.
After running 41 miles at Kettle-Moraine 100k before being forced to stop due to severe storms a few weeks ago, I've been considering my options. I decided to register for the Lean Horse Hundred on August 23/24 here in the Black Hills.
Since Kettle-Moraine, I've done some moderate trail runs. However, if I am to succeed in completing the Lean Hose Hundred, I will need some more extra-long training runs. Logistically, running more than 20 or 30 miles is challenging. I can only carry about 18 to 24 miles worth of fluids and food in my Camelback, depending on the weather and other conditions. Hiding drop bags in the bushes is an option, which I have done many times before, but it is a pain to have to pick them up later.
Plus, I wonder what I would say to a bystander who observed me making a drop:
"No, I'm not making a drug deal if that's what you're thinking."
I looked into upcoming races and decided to try the 24 hours Laramie… The Run. This event is organized by Gemini Adventures. They also do other trail running events including 24hrs at Moab and 24 hrs at Boulder. In addition, they put on the six day Desert R.A.T.S. (Race Across the Sand) as well as the 4 day Mountain R.A.T.S. (Race Across the Summits) multi-day adventure runs.
I had never run a 24 hour race before and was not intending to do the entire 24 hours. Rather than doing a self-supported training run, I could make use of the aid stations as well as the support of the volunteers and the other runners. I had no specific expections for how far or how long I would go, my only intent was to have a good training run.
And what might that be?
At the minimum, I wanted to run enough to make it worthwhile for me to spend the time and fuel to drive down here. Anything less than that, and I might as well have stayed in South Dakota and run by myself in the Black Hills.
I tenatively thought that going either 40 or 50 miles or running until at least 1AM would be reasonable goals, subject to change of course depending on how my body responded. I purchased a new Black Diamond Headlight and wanted to test it out and get some experience this year running a night on trails. I hadn't done any recent overnight long training runs since I did the 38 mile all-night fun run in 2007.
The absolute last thing I wanted to do was injure myself or overtrain resulting in a DNS or DNF at Lean Horse.
Success for me today would be feeling "used but not used up" after the run.
The race was to begin at 9AM. I unpacked my gear including clothing, running shoes and foot care box. I had already taped my feet earlier that morning.
The 24 hours at Laramie is done on a 5.8 mile course on the hiking trails of the Medicine Bow National Forest in south east Wyoming at between 8,300 to 8,800 feet. The format is "go as you please." There are no cut-offs, other than 9AM the following morning. You can stop and eat (or simply BS with the aid station volunteers) for as long as you wish. There is no pressure to keep moving forward, you go as however feels best for you.
One nice thing is about a loop course is that with the completion of every loop, you will come back to your car so there is no need for drop bags.
Of course, the greatest challenge is to not drop every time I pass by my vehicle.
Another gentleman parked in front of me with Colorado plates. It turns out he is an acupuncturist/chiropractor who works in New Jersey who lives in Colorado (or visits often? W. if you read this please correct me) . Of course, we had much in common so we talked at length about the health care crisis and other topics during the day.
We agreed that a more accurate term than "health care"crisis would be "health" crisis. So many of the health problems in our society stem directly from humans having a stone-age physiology in a modern sedentary and high caloric intake world. Obesity, type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, osteoporosis, certain forms of cancer and many other diseases common to Western civilized world simply do not exist or are extremely rare in hunter-gatherer societies.
The sad and ironic thing is that most "normal" people nowadays consider runners, and most particularly ultrarunners, to be eccentrics on the fringe. Yet, if you look at just about any hunter-gatherer society, the average person is ambulating an average of 5 to 10+ miles a day, at times much much more.
No, we are not the insane people… the sedentary couch potatoes are,…. at least when considering the last 250,000+ years of human evolution.
For more info, see article about humans as long distance runners: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=256348&page=1
Link to original article in the journal "Nature": http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v432/n7015/pdf/nature03052.pdf
We were so engrossed in our conversation that we missed getting to the starting line in time. Suddenly, we heard the air horn. The race had begun and everyone was off!
No big deal… we had 24 hours to run, starting a minute or two late did not matter.
One concern I had was about the potential boredom from doing a loop course. After the first loop, the scenery would be repetitive and all would be familiar to us. Would we get bored? I absolutely despised high school track precisely because of this reason.
We ended up missing one of the first turns and took a side track. Before we discovered our mistake, many of us ran around an extra 5 miles total. That was also no concern for me; my purpose today was time on my feet. I wasn't racing so it mattered not where exactly those miles were run.
We missed our turn because some individual had purposely removed the trail markers before the race began and a few times afterwards. He or she was never caught but we agreed that a reasonable punishment would have been making he or she run with us.
Afterwards, I joked with the other runners and the race organizers about us getting turned around.
I told them: "Come to think of it, if I do get bored later from the doing the loop over and over, I think I will purposely go off course and do an extra few miles!"
Once we were back on track, we passed by some beaver ponds and then up a rocky hill. We would walk and eventually trudge up this hill many times during the day and through the night.
I met at least one runner who was in his own words, "a Western States refugee." This year the WS100 was cancelled because of wildfires. It is one of the few times that this race, the original of the 100 mile trail ultramarathons, has been cancelled. That must really suck for entrants, not only because of the months of training, but also because of how difficult WS100 is to get in to. Upon meeting the entry requirements, one must apply by a lottery. Only about 16% get in each year.
The cancellation of WS100 has created a stir of controversy in the ultramarathon world because the organizers have declined to refund the entry fee. This possibility is expressly stated in the contract so it should not be a surprise. I understand the expense of organizing an event, even if it doesn't get run.
But I also understand the frustration and anger expressed by many of the entrants.
There is talk about having all of the 2008 accepted entrants being offered a spot in 2009 without having to go through the lottery. That would be good but the situation still sucks for everyone this year, organizers and runners alike.
Like all other trail ultramarathoners, I would love to some day be able to run and complete the WS100. It is really is the "Boston marathon" of trail ultras. It has an almost mythical reputation. But I have other ultras to run before I could ever think of being prepared for this. With all of the current controversy as well as the low probability of getting in based on the lottery, there are many other races better for me to try first.
The wildflowers were in full bloom. On loops 2 and 3, I took some time to appreciate the scenery and take a few photos.
I was told that even last week, most of these were not flowering.
I took quite a few photos. I needed to pace myself slowly for this run. Rather than only walking, why not spend some time quite literally stopping to "smell the flowers?"
Ultrarunning is about the journey, not the finish line nor how quickly you get there.
I met a gal with a perfect British accent. She had a dark complexion and I was curious as to where she was from. She said that she currently lives in Kuwait.
Knowing how difficult it is for a female to participate in any form of athletics an Islamic country, I asked "How do you train for this?"
She said she does most of her training inside on a treadmill. Although she could go outside,as long as all of her skin is covered, it is obviously too hot to do that and she would still be frowned upon anyway. Plus, there are the daily sandstorms to contend with.
I thought she was absolutely incredible and told her so. To train inside on a treadmill and at sea level for a race in the mountains of Wyoming is amazing. I was impressed, no matter how well she did or how far she went.
Running on rocky trails is a technical skill that can only be mastered by running on trails. She was here to attempt to run 100 miles. Besides the 24 hour run, the organizers had also offered a 100 mile option with a standard 30 hour cut-off for those who were interested.
At around 4.5 miles on the loop, I was surprised to see a wickiup. This shelter was traditionally built out of branches by the Native American tribes of the Great Basin and south-western US. Apparently, someone had been doing some survival training or they simply preferred to experience the outdoors in a more primitive way. I've built and slept in primitive lean-tos and brush shelters in my youth and was intrigued.
I wondered who the builders of this shelter were and what other primitive skills they might practice?
Even though we passed the same scenery every few hours, as the sun past through the sky, each lap was unique. I noticed things that I had not seen before, new flowers opening up, different rock formations and other things.
On a high point, I finally had some cell phone reception so I called Jeanne who is still in Wisconsin.
She asked me: "How far are you going?"
I replied that I had no expectations, I am going to go as far as my legs are willing to carry me but without pushing it too hard.
At that moment, I was feeling very good, though I was pacing myself slowly, especially going up the hills. Even though I felt much better than I did at the Greenland Trail 50 k this spring, the effects of altitude were still present. My heart rate increased much higher than it should have, given how long I was hoping to run.
Not wanting to "bonk," I took it easy going up the hills and spent extra time at the aid stations.
As I said, today was only a training run, not a race.
The temperatures heated up later in the day. Many of the runners who had gone out ahead of me were now walking and I was able to pass several people. I slowed and walked with them for a while to offer support as they would later offer me.
They asked,"Isn't this heat getting to you?"
I said, "Sure, but at least it isn't as bad as it was at Kettle Moraine three weeks ago. At least it isn't so humid. Hey its a 'dry' heat, right?"
Everything depends on your perspective.
By 5 PM, the heat and altitude had finally gotten to me.
My head throbbed in pain. I was almost but not quite nauseated. Not wanting to bonk as I did at Greenland 50k, I walked almost an entire 5.8 mile loop. Coming down off those hills, I really wanted to run and make up some lost time. My legs were willing but my head was not. Whenever I stepped downhill, my brain felt as if it were painfully bouncing back and forth in my skull. It was hard to walk with legs feeling strong but I had no choice. I lost my taste for fluids or food. The idea of consuming any gel made me think of vomiting.
I stopped at the second aid station (at 2.8 miles on the 5.8 mile loop) for about 15 minutes. I forced myself to take a few sips of water as well as an extra SUCCEED! electrolyte cap.
Fortunately, my pee was not too dark or scant, so I was hydrating properly, even despite how awful I felt.
Having been in this predicament before, I knew what I must do. I must slow down, get back to the main aid station and my car, then eat some real food and rest for a bit.
When I got back to the main aid station, instead of the bananas and potato chips they had been serving all day, they finally had something more substantial. They had hot dogs and chili with beans. These weren't exactly my first choices for ulramarathon food. However, I knew I needed to get something in my stomach no matter what. So I violated one of my rules of ultrarunning: never eat anything that would taste worse coming up than it would going down. Beggars cannot be choosers.
I ate two hot dogs with relish and a large bowl of chili. My stomach was still unsettled so I went back to my car and laid down. I took two Naproxen and drank a Red Bull.
I set the alarm timer to go off in 30 minutes.
After a half hour I felt better. I changed my socks and put on a new long sleeve tech shirt. I got out my headlamp and put it on. I would be needing it by the end of the next loop.
The cooler temperatures and food in my belly did wonders. I felt like a new person and took off at a jog with a renewed sense of purpose. About a mile from the aid station, I burped and tasted chili. I swallowed quickly and drank some water. If my gag reflex started now, I might not be able to turn it off. I slowed down for a half hour to make sure my stomach would tolerate running again. When I was sure that it would, I increased my pace.
One thing that I have realized is that I am beginning to develop an aversion for sports drinks and energy gels. I don't know if it is physiological or psychological; the reason probably does not matter. They seem to be OK for moderate runs, such as those out to 30 miles, but anything longer than that and my stomach rebels.
For extra-long runs, I do better by simply consuming water and real food (OK, I admit that hot dogs are definitely NOT real food). I'd rather control my electolytes by taking in electrolyte caps as needed based on the conditions instead of relying on the highly marketed sports beverages with little science behind them. The less-flavored beverages including SUCCEED! Ultra and Hammer HEED are much better than many of the alternatives, but still, there is something to be said for drinking good-old ice-cold water.
From my conversations with others, I am not alone. There are other ultrarunners who prefer to stick with solid food and water instead of the various popular gels and sports drinks. Humans have been involved in extreme endurance activities for generations before these products were available; and they did just fine.
At least one ultrarunner has come up with a creative solution for the aversion towards sugar-filled sweet gel products that so many of us develop over the miles: Endurance Meat Gel: T-bone Flavor…check it out.
Mmmm….my mouth is watering!
Slowly the sun began to set and the light fade away. Finally, we were able to turn on our head lamps.
The crescent moon had not yet risen, the trail was lit only by our headlamps and starlight. On top of one hill, I stopped and asked another runner to put out his headlamp as I shut off mine.
"Is everything OK? What's wrong?"
He obliged and I told him to look up. For a few moments we both stared at the stars and constellations in awe. We were here not only to run. We felt blessed to be one of the privileged few experiencing this specific place and moment in time.
What is the point of working so hard to be here if we ignored our surroundings?
After a few inspiring moments, we ran on.
Soon, I was alone again in the darkness. The forest was quiet and without a sound. All I heard was my footsteps, my deep breathing and my heart beating.
I looked ahead and saw something small spiraling in the air towards me. As it approached, it spiraled faster and faster.
"What in the hell is that?!" I wondered, "It's much too early for me to begin hallucinating! That shouldn't happen for another few hours!"
Then, as I gawked in wonder….WHAP!…..It smacked me hard on the forehead!
It was a large sphinx moth, about three inches across. It's bottom wings were a pastel-purple swirled with delicate black lines. I know this because I had a brief but excellent view the instant before it hit. The impact felt like a small bird.
He tried to fly into me at least two more times but I ducked each time. Several other moths were attracted to my light throughout the night. I soon learned to swerve to the side at the last second to avoid them. This headlamp is much brighter than anything I've used before. It's awesome for lighting up the trail but one consequence seems to be that moths are attracted to it.
Oh well, at least their intermittent dive bombing kept me alert and awake.
Around mile 40, I came upon Steve. I had met him briefly much earlier in the run when we had missed the turn and had gotten sidetracked. He had originally been hoping to do the full 100 miles but now his thighs were cramping and his feet were in pain, presumably from his plantar fascia. He had dropped at the 24 hour Moab Run at 69 miles earlier this year (S. Let me know if this is not correct and I'll fix it) and now was going to drop at this race. I was feeling good but slowed and walked with him. We ultrarunners always watch out for each other.
I told him that there is no shame in DNF'ing… we've all been there. Every run is training for the next run. Sometimes the best training comes from our tougest run experiences. I reminded him of the 5 miles extra that we had done earlier. Even though that might not be listed on the final race results, if he stuck it out to the end of the next loop, he will have gone 46 miles… which is something to be proud of rather than ashamed. His body wouldn't care if those extra miles were published on the race results or not, he had truly run them. They would still count for training.
I started getting chilled and had to pick up the pace. I wished him well and went on my way.
By 2AM, I was alone and started feeling very very sleepy. I looked at a bowl shaped rock and started dreaming of how comfortable it might be to stop for a minute and take a nap. I felt OK, I wasn't pain or discomfort. I just wanted to go to sleep.
And that was the precise moment that I decided that it was time to stop. I had exceeded all of my tenative goals: I had run over 40 miles and past 1AM.
If this was an actual race, I would have simply eaten something, taken some caffiene and pushed on. From previous experience, I know that this sleepiness was only temporary and what I call the middle-of-the-night doldrums that every ultrarunner experiences. In another hour or two, as dawn approached, there would be a positive change in attitude and increase in energy.
There always is.
However, I knew that for tonight I had run far enough. Because I had driven myself down here, I thought it would be wise to go back to my hotel and sleep for a few hours before heading back to Rapid City. I did not want to fall asleep or have an accident on the drive home.
I was slightly sore for two days but nothing like I felt after the Chicago Lakefront 50m or even all-night 38 mile fun run last year. "Used but not used up," that was how I felt. I had been out there for 17 hours 22 minutes and had gone almost 52 miles. That's about two regular marathons back to back- all on the rocky hiking trails of the mountains of Wyoming. An excellent training run.
This week, I forced myself to do no running at all. That was difficult, as I feel great. I am eager to get out on those trails again. Thought I feel good right now, the possibility of overtraining is in the back of my mind. A week off would do wonders at allowing micro-injuries that I am unaware of to heal. When I start running again, I will have a renewed sense of purpose during the final weeks of hard training before Lean Horse.
Regarding 24 hour runs… this will not be the last time I do one. The low key "go as you please" attitude without stringent cutoffs make for a great training experience. Also, for those who must run without a crew, it is nice being able to pass your gear every few miles.
I am now confident that I have the endurance to potentially go 100 miles. The challenge will be to pace myself properly and not bonk during the race. I must also be cautious to avoid injury these next few weeks. A poorly timed overuse injury could ruin everything.
I also realize that I must now focus on increasing my leg turnover and cruising speed. Though I believe 100 miles within the realm of possibility for me, I could still DNF if I go too slow and miss a cut-off, even though I might be able to go the entire 100 mile distance from an endurance perspective.
Between the 41 miles at the Kettle-Moraine 100k three weeks ago and this 52 mile run, I've neglected my "speed training" and need to fix that. I probably only need to do a couple of more 20 or 30 miles long runs between now and race day on August 23/24. Thus, my training plan in the near future will be modified to include tempo runs as well as long intervals of 1 or 2 miles over a total of 10 to 15 miles.
One great thing about endurance… although it may take a long time to develop, it also takes a while to disappear.
Training for and running one hundred miles is new and completely unknown territory for me. I know that this will be a grand adventure and a wonderful learning experience, no matter what happens. I'll be sure to keep y'all posted on how this all goes.
Be safe and enjoy yourselves out there on the trails!