Before this weekend I had completed four 100 milers, and while the times may have gotten better, I would have to say the execution and overall performance was worse with each year, culminating in this year's 28:58 grand fiasco at Western States. I feel like I should be good at 100 miles, as I generally get better as the distance goes up, I think strategy is one of my strengths, and I do pretty well eating on the run (ie. I am not a puker). But obviously, I still had a lot to learn. So I decided I needed an "easy" 100 miler to practice. I considered Javelina, but ultimately, I decided to run the Desert Solstice 24 hour race in Phoenix, AZ. I know even most of the passionate ultra-runners would view this as complete insanity, but to me, it was running at it's purest form - just me, the distance and the clock. No mountains, no technical footwork, no headlights, no altitude, no limits on food and water access...and no excuses! The track had the added bonus of being eligible for some non-standard distance records and I will admit my original goal was actually to go after the 200km American record.
One challenge that I was not anticipating was the weather. I would estimate it was wet for at least half the time I was running and some of it was serious down pours. At one point I had to change my (waterproof Gortex) rain jacket because I had water sloshing inside of the sleeves. And while I may not be the first to figure out the problem, I do learn from my mistakes. After my hypothermia at WS this year, I was super diligent about adding layers and keeping a jacket on. It may have taken a few extra seconds, but I know it was crucial, particularly after watching Ian Sharman struggle mightily with the cold and ultimately drop.
Desert Solstice is an "elite" invitational, with qualifying standards to get in. I got in with my 100k time, but everyone else qualified with a 100 mile or 24 hour result - I definitely felt like the only kid on the short bus on the starting line of this race. The gun went off and I quickly settled into 8:10-8:15 pace, despite a race plan that said I would NOT run any mile faster than 8:28. I kept trying to run behind some of the more practiced runners to keep my pace down, but invariably they would stop to use the bathroom or get something to eat, and then I'd be off on my own, cranking off laps too fast again. After 50 miles (6:59:17), I figured it was time to scrap my pre-race plans. So I concocted a new plan: Hold on as much as possible for 100 miles to aim for a sub-15, then drop down to a casual walk-jog 14 minute/mile pace for 24.5 miles, for a sub-21 hour 200k time, easily under the 21:07 record. Two birds, one stone - the plan was brilliant! Well, at least to my 200 lap dizzy and rain soaked brain, it was.
I was super fortunate to have my awesome sister-in-law Alessandra with me for this race. She is fun, a passionate sports fan, and in the service industry, so I knew she had lots of experience dealing with demanding and cranky customers. She and I worked out a great system where I would tell her what I would need on one lap and then get it from her on the next. Everyone else kept stopping at the food tables, but I never even broke stride. This definitely helped with my efficiency and I am so grateful to her for being there. Aside from port-a-pottie visits (3), I only stopped once the whole run. Unfortunately, that was a costly stop. Right after the 100k mark (8:44), I knew I had a bad hot spot on my left foot, not surprising since one of the curves was a sloppy mess when it was raining and my feet were soaked. So I told Al to get a bandage and a chair ready, I was coming in next lap.
She was all set up for me, and I started to take off my shoe and sock. But to get my ankle length sock off, I had to take off my timing chip, which I set next to me. Three types of bandages later, I had struck out trying to get anything to stick to my damp, raisinoid foot. A guy gave me some cream, but by that time my sock was practically off and I decided to change it to a dry one, so Alessandra got me a new one from my bag. Sock on, shoe on, ready to go, I just need my timing chip. Where the eff is my timing chip??
We start moving everything in the tent and we canot find it. We dump the food bags, look in every pocket - it is gone. WTF?? I tried to stay calm but I was internally freaking out, and I started saying things like, "I have to get out of here. I need to start running again. What am I going to do?", the pitch in my voice continually getting higher. Thankfully, Nick Coury's dad was there crewing for him and knowledgable enough to say they could manually record my laps or get me a new chip, so finally, I got out of there again. Lap split- 10:25! Ugg- are you kidding me?? (to be fair, 2:20 of that was run time and probably 3 minutes for the sock change, but that is still 5 minutes of waste, plus without the weather, no way would I be taking off my shoes!). The next lap, they got me a new chip. Five laps later, Alessandra found my original (black) chip, inside my clothing bag velcro-ed to a black hat that must have gotten tossed around when we looked for new socks. I switched back to my original chip so I could get TV screen updates on my laps again, and then just started ticking off the laps again, though noticeably slowing as time wore on.
People continually talk about hardening your quads for the mountain races. Why don't people say this for the road(track) races? I couldn't believe how sore my quads were getting, plus hamstring, hip, and IT band tightness - things that don't usually bother me too much in a trail race. No doubt about it, those hard surfaces are tough on the body and after 75 miles it added up, but I was still in the 9:30-9:40 range for almost all my miles and I was just counting down laps. If I stayed under 10 minute pace, I'd be under 14:54. I had this! 20 laps to go, 19, 18, 17, 16, 15. It was going so well! 14 laps to go...
"Pam, you need to pick it up a little bit if you want to break 15 hours," the timing tent informed me. "You need to be around 2:20 per lap." (9:20 pace)
WHAT!!?? I had 39 minutes to do 14 laps, and I hadn't run a single mile slower than 10 minutes yet. What kind of whacked out math was he doing?? This led to a very brief second stop to inquire (very politely, despite what was going on in my head) what he was talking about. "You have 17 laps left, so you need to average about 2:20's."
"But the screen says 14," I whined. He tried to explain something to me about changing chips adding laps but I took off running and sent Al up to work it out. The next lap she was still talking, and I kept running. The following lap she was waiting for me. I had to hear what was going on so I walked 300 meters with her while she explained, "When they logged the new chip in and out it crossed over the timing mat and registered three false laps. They went through all the split times and they are sure they got it right. You have to do three more laps." I shouldn't have been concerned with the problem, I shouldn't have walked that 300. I think I snapped back and finished my 4 miles fairly well, but I definitely had a mental break in there and that cost me, too -all going back to that stupid sock change.
Ultimately, I fully accept all responsibility for this. I took off the chip, it was my responsibility, and the timers did what they could to help me out. If they knew I had three extra laps, I do wonder why they waited 30 miles to tell me, but I know they had a lot going on and a lot of other runners to take care of, too.
There was a lot of cheering the last 5 laps, but ultimately I came up short on the 15 hour split, clocking 15:01:40 for the 100 mile distance. I completed the lap and stopped to talk a bit to Al again, get some more clothes on, regroup, and get going again. I walked a mile, but just got colder and stiffer and I was feeling pretty sick to my stomach. I got Mac on the phone, walked another mile. I tried to jog a couple steps and it was the most painful thing I have ever done. Maybe if I had just sucked it up for ten minutes or so to warm up again, I could have got going again. Even if I had walked the whole hour, I would only need something like 5.3 mph to get the record, but I couldn't fathom running at all. By that point I just think my body and my mind were done. 102.6 miles before the stroke of midnight - the longest distance I have ever covered, but quite short of my original goal.
Still, I am quite happy with the day. My running and fueling went really well and I feel like I learned a lot to make me a better 100 mile runner (too long to share here, but I hope to do so in the next couple days). I didn't go sub-15, but 15:01 is still not too shabby - a 4+ hour PR and almost 14 hours better than my last 100 miler! And given the chip snafu, I certainly believe I have a sub-15 in me (not sure if I'll ever try to prove that, for now, the belief is enough). I also believe I can run 200km faster than the current American record of 21:07, and that goal I do plan to go after, either next year at Desert Solstice or possibly a race earlier in the year if I can find a suitable track ultra.
Running on the track for that long was much better than I expected and much of it very enjoyable. Large chunks of time passed in the race without even noticing, so it wasn't like I was counting laps in my head all day long. Most runners would give at least a mini-greeting when I would pass or be passed and I felt connected to the other racers in a way I never have before. Jennifer Arati and I even had a little game going where we would give an "award" every time I saw her on the track: Best dressed, best hair, best legs, best shoulders, best matching outfit, etc. I had 8 hours of music loaded on my iPod and I never even though to get it out (maybe I should have for those last miles!). Plus there was lots of inspiration out there with Jon Olsen, Michael Arnstein, and Jay Smithberger running super fast 100 times and six bad-ass runners out for the whole 24 hours!
All in all it was good for me to do something different and I really enjoyed it. I am however, quite sore. As in more sore than I have ever been, period. And thanks to being sopping wet for 70 miles or so I have the worst chafing ever. Fortunately, I had the good sense to take a spoonful of Vaseline into the port-a-pottie with me early on and get my bra and "panty line", but everywhere else I had on clothes was raw. Just a heads up, I will NOT be wearing deodorant this week while my armpits heal, so don't get too close. And as I told my husband, "I got a Desert Solstice tramp stamp." He gave me a very concerned look, before I showed off my lovely back.
I also got this skull "trophy" with a hollow tube hat. Several people commented it looked like you could smoke something out of it. Maybe that'd make my aching body feel better! Is it terrible that I want to take a Sharpie and cross out the "16" in the date??
Thanks Nick and Jamil, for putting this on and for letting a "short bus" girl in to the race. It was a great way to end the season, plus now I can board the regular bus with my 100 mile time. The next few weeks will just be rest, recuperation, and figuring out how to get up from the toilet without pushing off with my hands!
If you need me, I'll be watching food network and drinking eggnog!