Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Across The Years - 48 Hours of Rain, Wind & Mud

“If you can’t change fate, change your attitude.” That phrase kept going through my head the week before the ATY 48-hour race. Each day, as I checked the local weather reports, the forecast kept getting worse and worse. Well, I guess I had to get used to the idea that conditions might not be ideal for the race. This I could handle but I was feeling very sorry for my crew…

Speaking of which, I had two wonderful crew members for the race. First, my boyfriend Roger – a nonrunner who absolutely hates sitting around watching these races. Can’t say that I blame him…. But he tolerates going (especially to cool places like Italy and France) and his favorite part of crewing is going on treasure hunts to find whatever is needed… he was able to track down asparagus soup in France and corn juice in Korea. He can find anything! My other crew member was Courtney. She is a runner but not an ultrarunner. She claims to have gotten “hooked” on these loop races when she helped out at the North Coast 24 in 2009. This year, she took control of everything at the North Coast race, doing a fantastic job, and then insisted that she really wanted to come and help at ATY. I still remain skeptical. I think this must be like watching a bad train wreck…. It’s an awful experience but you just can’t stay away…..

Roger & Courtney trying to stay warm
We were only delayed about three hours on December 28th, the night before the race, due to bad weather on the East Coast and got to our hotel about 10:30 pm. Plenty of time to get some rest. We arrived at Nardini Manor about 8:00 am on Wednesday, December 29th, and began scouting around for a good location for our tent/aid station. We ended up under a eucalyptus tree that in hindsight turned out to be a rather sheltered spot. Jamie and David Donaldson were signed up for the 24-hour run that day and we offered them a spot under our tent.

My goal before the race was to hit 200 miles. To do that, I planned to run about 120 miles for the first 24 hours and then get whatever I could during the second 24-hour. I had heard from many people that it is very difficult to get 100 miles the second day and that your miles really diminish…. I figured that if I hit 120 miles on Day One I should be in pretty good shape for the second day. The weather at the start was cool and overcast; I would dare to say almost perfect. I started out running 9:45 minute miles and planned to go a little bit slower in 2-hour increments (which was when we switch directions on the course). In spite of being the smallest loop course I have run, I found it to be a great course and not boring at all. There was a lot of vegetation and things to see on the small loop. Changing directions also gave a new perspective and kept everything fresh. Just when you were getting sick of looking at something, you got to turn the other way.

One of many statues lining the course.
I had started the race in shorts and a t-shirt. After a few hours, there were sprinkles but nothing serious. I then had to take a few work calls and e-mails so I walked for awhile. Once I was finished with those, I was totally chilled to the bone and this is where the race began to feel like a fashion show…. I have never changed clothes so many times in a race! I was putting on a long-sleeve shirt, then a vest, then a jacket, then switching to a short-sleeve shirt with jacket, then a hat, etc, etc, etc. It was crazy! For some reason I really couldn’t figure out the right thing to be wearing…. I was either too hot or too cold!

As usually happens in these timed races, I really don’t have a very good memory of exactly what was going on. I think about 9 hours into the race, I had to stop and change socks because my socks were so mud-encrusted and uncomfortable… What this means is that the sprinkles turned to rain and the nice smooth track turned to mud. At points it was raining quite hard and so the course could not properly drain. The volunteers were working hard to dig ditches and trenches to divert water off of the track but they could not keep up. I guess the good news was that the mud was not the shoe-sucking kind that grabs your shoe and pulls it off. The mud was not terribly deep but it was quite slippery. And, of course, it was sloppy and did get in my shoes and socks. Coupled with the mud and rain, there were fairly high winds making everything cold and I expended a lot of energy trying to make some headway against the wind. Then the course lights shorted out due to the rain so that the muddiest area of the course had very low light. I can’t see that well in the dark (must be old age) so going through this section at night every 4-5 minutes was not a lot of fun. I felt like I was slowing way down and also expending too much energy slipping around.

I plodded along however and at the 12-hour mark was around 66 miles. This was below my goal and things did not look good at this early time for hitting 200 miles. Around 2:00 am, the heavens let loose and I ducked for cover in our tent. It felt like a monsoon! David had also taken cover but we watched with amazement as Jamie ran by. We yelled at her to come in and get out of the storm but she was on a mission for 140 miles and said she wanted to keep running. After about 20 minutes, the worst of the storm had passed, so I set out again in the rain, this time having changed into Gortex pants.

At the 24-hour mark, I had reached about 110 miles. Based on that mileage, I was fairly certain that 200 miles was now beyond my grasp, especially since I had tapped so much energy to get to that point. I now started thinking about getting as many miles as I could and refocused on a new goal of 180. Jamie had finished her 24-hour race with 123.6 miles (well below her goal but good for a first-place overall finish!) and David with 74 miles.  They yelled to me as they were having a beer after their run and asked if I wanted one. Tempting…. But on I trudged!

Courtney had been sleeping during the worst of the storm and now, in the early morning, had changed places and Roger had gone back to the room to sleep. I patiently waited for him to return to the course (OK, not really, I kept asking Courtney, “Is Roger back yet?”) and then, once he returned about 11:00 am, we borrowed Dr. Andy’s table and Roger gave me an excellent leg massage. That was definitely heaven and worth the wait! Once that was over, back on the course I went.

The sun makes a brief appearance on Day Two.
With the start of Day Two, the rain had stopped. Nonetheless, the wind continued to howl making the temperature still pretty cold and a battle when running against the wind. The track did dry out by mid-day and I used that opportunity to change my shoes and socks. When I took off my socks, to my surprise, I noticed large bruises on the tops of both feet. That has never happened before. I suspect it may have been caused from running in the mud for so long as Jamie told me later that she also had bruises on the tops of her feet! After observing that, I hunted down Dr. Andy (who was registered for the 72-hour and was also getting in laps on the course). I followed him into the medical tent and he relaced my shoes to get the pressure off those spots and also put foam between my socks and feet to also provide more cushioning. That seemed to do the trick. After a quick stretch from Andy, I was on the track again.

Day Two, taking a stretching break
Around noon of Day Two, a high school friend of Roger’s, Doug, came to visit with his son. Doug is a transplant from Cleveland and Roger had hung out at Doug’s for a few hours during Day One. It was fun to get visitors but I probably didn’t make a good first impression as I think by then I looked like a crazy lady.

Around 7:00 pm, I had another surprise as Carolyn Johnson (US national teammate) and her family swung by on their way to LA from Texas. I only go to talk to them for a few minutes but it was very fun to see them. Once they left, I decided to take a little 15 minute nap. The race had a huge unheated tent with a small heated tent inside that had cots. I went in the heated tent, peeled off my jackets (at this point I was wearing two) and lowered myself for a little rest. I would repeat this “15” minute nap strategy three more times…. Although by the time I walked into the tent, took off my jackets, got settled, etc, it probably was closer to 30 minute breaks.

Throughout the night, the air temperature kept getting colder so in addition to two jackets, I also added long tights to my arsenal and changed into larger shoes. To make this last change, Courtney and I went into the heated bathroom, which was stocked which such toiletries as Scope. As weird as it sounds, I used the Scope and felt like a new woman!

By the middle of the night, there was heavy frost on the car windows, a beautiful starry night and a sliver of a moon. This was the calmest time of the last two days with virtually no wind. Unfortunately I wasn’t running very fast so I did not capitalize on the good conditions but it was just nice to not be battling the weather for a change.

While I was falling short of my goals, I still had my eye on what other 48-hour women runners were doing. Liz Bauer, who has run 200-plus miles in a 48-hour race this year, looked very strong early on. We were neck and neck for a long time. I think at some point she was having some ankle problems and ended up sitting out for a period of time so I ended up pulling away from her. The course had very good computer screens that detailed your mileage and pace per lap. There was a small computer that had the standings. I couldn’t really see the computer that had the standings on it (yes, I guess I should have been wearing glasses), so I would periodically ask Courtney if there were any other women who looked like they were mounting a charge as I had to look not only at the women I started with but also at the women who started the 48-hour race a day later. Based on her calculations, though, she didn’t see anyone who could catch me if I kept moving at a decent pace. This was somewhat comforting as I really did not have to focus as much on my competitors but only my own mileage goal of 180…. So, I just kept plodding. It seemed like I was stuck in the 130s for an eternity…

Not too tired to give the "peace" sign!
Somewhere in the middle of the night, Courtney told me that I was in 2nd place and that the 1st place runner, Davy Crockett, was off the course and not running. He had around 160 miles. I really didn’t think too much of this because Phil McCarthy, who started his 48-hour race a day later, was running strong and was hoping to reach about 240 miles. He has previously run 234 miles at a 48-hour race in France. There were also a few other 48-hour males who started the 2nd day that appeared strong. So I my mind 160 miles was not going to win any race. When I actually surpassed Davy's miles and held the “No. 1” spot, I found it pretty amusing since I have never held that spot before but really didn’t place any significance to it.

I had been eating pretty healthy the entire race - oatmeal and rice cereal were just a few of my delicacies -but John Geesler put it in my head that I wanted a milkshake. Yes, he had mentioned that he wanted one earlier in the day so Courtney went out and got him one. Once I saw that milkshake, I thought, that looks pretty good. As the hours ticked away, I asked Roger if he could get me one too. Maybe around 2-3:00 am, he came back with a vanilla and a strawberry milkshake. I had some of the vanilla and Roger donated the strawberry one to the aid station (and they said it was surprisingly popular). I then started thinking what I needed to do in order to hit 180 miles. I had really been lagging and was tired. Maybe it was the sugar in the milkshake but all the sudden I felt like I had a “burst” of energy and started running good. I kept thinking about how many miles I needed for the 180 goal. I didn’t want to be short! Every time I looped Dr. Andy, he’d give me words of encouragement, it was very fun. In this time frame, Davy had reentered the course and was moving fast. I knew if he kept that up he would take over the “lead” no problem but I was not concerned because I didn’t think our miles would end up being the top miles for the race (who would have thought?) It seemed like there weren’t a lot of runners on the course running at that time so it was good to see him running as it helped to keep me running too. Once everyone is walking, it’s easy to get sucked into walking…

Dawn finally broke even though roosters had been crowing since 3:00 am (don't they know how to tell time?)   With an hour to go, I hit 180. Relief! At that point, I was fairly sure that none of the woman would reach my miles and I decided to walk it in with Ray K. I was getting very drowsy in the last minutes but he convinced me that we could walk one more lap before I was done (he of course still had another day since he was running the 72-hour). Once I crossed the timing mat for the last time, Courtney turned in my chip, I hugged a few people, said some quick goodbyes and then we were off for showers and the airport. Roger and Courtney were worried that there would be a lot of traffic and the car return at the airport is just plain ridiculously slow…. We did make it to the airport with enough time to have a celebratory beer before boarding. Courtney, a frequent flyer, was super kind to give up her first-class seat so I had a wonderful nap on the plane before touching down in Cleveland to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

After arriving home, Roger and I managed to stay up until midnight and then went to bed until 2:00 pm New Years Day. After waking, I did check to make sure I was still in first place. I was surprised to learn that not only was I first place woman but also 2nd place overall! Davy had managed a first place win with 187 miles. I was just short of 183 miles. A huge congrats to Davy. There were definitely tough weather conditions on the course and he conquered the course. Way to go!!

As a postscript, I must say that, with the wet weather and mud, I changed my socks often.  At the end of the race, my Drymax socks came through with flying colors - no blisters!  THANKS DRYMAX!!
* Photos courtesy of Ray K and Tammy M.


  1. Nicely done! Isn't it funny how, in just wanting to finish, you can not notice how well you're doing?

    I'm thinking of compiling an aid station recipe book. I'd ask you what you'd most want, but... asparagus soup and corn juice???

  2. What a wonderful effort and accomplishment. Congratulations on your race!

  3. Amazing. I will keep all of this close to heart in Jackson this weekend!

  4. Great job out there in challenging conditions. It will be an experience we will all remember forever. You are a terrific runner.

  5. Congratulations on a great accomplishment!