I have been to Phoenix three times. Each time, it has rained… a lot. This year the Desert Solstice 24-hour track race was no different, defying the weather forecast. Predictions were for cool weather and some light showers between the hours of 10:00 AM-1:00 PM. I was very impressed with this precise forecast wondering, how in the world could it be so accurate? I now know that it was hogwash, as light rain started at 10:00 AM, followed by steady rain, followed by hard rain, etc. finally stopping around 8:00 PM…. OK, so they were off by a few hours……
|Flooded infield, although track stayed "mostly" dry|
|Yes, it DOES rain in Phoenix - a few puddles from the rain|
So I was back at the Desert Solstice, which is billed as an elite invitational 100 mile and 24-hour track event. I didn’t exactly feel elite as I was merely attempting to qualify for the US National team, since my last two 24-hour efforts were not that impressive. Going into the race, I had all sorts of excuses not to train, so I didn’t. I ran one marathon in early November as my long training run. I was hoping my training from the World 24-hour race in September would be good enough.
The race was “full” with 20 runners, many of them friends but also amazing shorter distance runners trying their skill at a track event. And yes, the race was on a 400 meter high school track. When I tell people this, they think that’s crazy and must be awful. Having now run two track timed events, I can say that it actually has many advantages (you get aid every two-plus minutes!) and you really don’t notice that you are running on something so short - REALLY. You constantly see runners so that keeps it interesting if you’re paying attention (many times I’m not – hours go by that I’m not even aware of). The downside is that there are lots of turns, although not sharp ones and the direction of the race does change every four hours to balance out your body.
My lofty pre-race plan was to run 71/63 12-hour splits for 134 miles. The start of the race was cool, mid-50s and perfect. Everything was uneventful except the computer was not displaying times so I didn’t know what lap splits I was running since I decided not to wear a watch. After chatting with Carolyn Johnson for the first hour, I retreated into my own world and didn’t talk to anyone much the rest of the race. As with all of these races, much of it was a blur, lots of rain and people bundled up like it was cold outside. One of the benefits of menopause – hot flashes – yes, I was actually warm for much of the race although the temperature did dip into the mid-40s overnight. When the rain was heaviest, Carolyn’s husband, Tim, insisted that I put on my rain jacket. Note to self – replace 20-year old rain jacket as there is no Gortex left in it. So I ran for awhile in a sopping wet rain jacket just waiting for the rain to stop so I could peal it off. Around 8:00 PM, I was able to change into a long-sleeve t-shirt and vest and get on dry clothes. What a relief.
|Soaking wet but in the zone|
In the middle of the rain, I became aware that there were fewer runners passing me…. They were dropping like crazy. Then, it was announced that Jon Olson was going for a 100-mile American track record and would everyone please give him the inside lane when he passed? This kept my mind occupied for an hour or two trying to figure out where he was on the track. He was flying and unfortunately just missed the record by minutes but an amazing performance of 12:29. Mike Arnstein also was unbelievable, running faster at the end of the 100 miles than when he started and getting a sub-13 hour 100. Pam Smith was also smoking the course, finishing with a 100 mile time of 15:01.
I hit the 100-mile mark at 16:52, which was about 20 minutes faster than I ran last year at this race and was a new age group American Record. I was pretty happy with that but I really started slowing down after hitting 100 miles. Around 18 hours in, I had to switch shoes. Both Joe Fejes and Suzanna Bon, US National teammates, swear by Hokas and so I thought I would give them a try. As I was running I vaguely recalled them both mentioning something about the toe box of the shoe that became more obvious the longer I ran. By hour 18, my toes were smashing against the tops of the Hokas. It was such agony that I was forced to stop to change into my normal Brooks running shoes. Things did not look so good when I saw blood on the outside of my shoes. When I gingerly peeled off my socks, I had blisters under most of my toenails from the constant pounding from the shoes. My boyfriend, Roger, hunted down a medical person who popped the blisters. This took awhile and I started shaking because of the cold. One of the aid station workers lent me his wind pants to wear since I hadn’t bothered to bring any (that’s a full service aid station!) and after awhile I gritted my teeth, put on my other shoes and trudged off. There was a huge difference in the spring of the Brooks shoes compared to the Hokas. The Brooks shoes felt like I was running on cement. For my next 24-hour race, I am definitely going to take Joe Fejes’ advice and cut off the toe box on my Hokas.
At some point I got another age group record for 200K and then came the final few hours before the end. The sun actually peaked out from behind the clouds with an hour to go but I was reduced to walking at that point. I knew though that if I just kept walking "quickly" I could hit 130. I ended up with a little over 131 miles. Joe Fejes had a fantastic performance with 156-plus miles while Nick Coury was 2nd with 139 miles. Connie Gardner won the women's race with 132 miles. Not her best performance but she is inspiring nonetheless. Jenn Aradi stayed strong the entire race and had a PR of 128. I'm expecting her to break into the national team arena any time!
Three of my national teammates had to drop out, Carilyn Johnson, Phil McCarthy and Mike Henze. Sometimes when you’re not having a good day, best to drop out and regroup for another race. Mike and his wife Jill were very kind to stick around and crew, which really helped, especially Mike's encouragement at the bitter end. Carilyn was a life-saver to lend us her hotel room for a quick shower before racing to the airport to catch our flight on Sunday. Thanks, guys!!
I’m now waiting around to find out if I’ve made the US team for the 2013 World race in The Netherlands. The qualification period ends mid-February…. Stay tuned.