Friday, June 5, 2015

Dawn2Dusk2Dawn 24HR - Race Report

When January rolled around this past winter, I hadn't run a step in 9+ months. No time. Too many obligations elsewhere. Wrapping my head around squeezing any feasible training plan into my weekly schedule seemed an impossible task. Then one day at work I sat down and saw 173 new emails in my box (I had taken the previous day off...sigh...such is my work life). Immediately the stress meter hit 11 and started rubbing my forehead. A couple deep breaths later I said, "Ok, this is just like when you've already run 100 miles and need to run 50 more. Just start picking them off one at a time and let the momentum build." One step at a time is a valuable lesson for anyone to learn, and having learned it over and over in its most literal sense during the past 8 years of running ultras, I truly appreciate its figurative value in relation to other walks of life.

After digging through all the emails, I felt a little pride, but then much more frustration/anger with myself. It used to be I was proud of myself when I ran some crazy adventure. Now I've replaced that with lame pride of clearing out my In Box?  Screw that. I was mad at myself for letting life get the jump on me. It was time to hit the War Room and draft up an attack plan on Life Lameness. One way or another I wanted to get back in the running game. From there, a plan was hatched, and one run at a time, I started grinding myself back into shape through the winter.

Initially, the treadmill got my legs moving late at night after I put the family to bed. The arrival of nicer weather mercifully allowed me to hit the trails after work with Sammy as my (heavy) co-pilot in the running stroller. I may not have adult running partners to motivate me, but when we get home from a long day and my little guy says, "Daddy, let's go running!", it's tough to turn that offer down. I may not be able to run as fast or far with him, but our loop of about 7.5 miles includes some serious hills, and pushing a combined weight of about 55 lbs of stroller/3 year-old is an honest workout. I know I'm getting my effort in when Sammy responds to my shift from conversation to Grunt n' Gasp mode with a motivational, "Go, Go, Daddy! You can do it!". He usually saves this for the final super-steep climb up from the riverbed to our street. Sure, he only has a little high-pitched voice, but it gives me the rush of a stadium full of people cheering me on. He's a good training partner!

Those Sammy runs cover the 3-4 days a week when life allows me to get out and run after work. The next step in advancing my training, however, proved a tough puzzle to solve. How could I find the time for a long run each week? After considering all options, I had to face reality: When there's nothing left to burn, you set yourself on fire. For the few weeks of peak training, I needed to pick one night a week and simply run through it. Sure, skipping sleep isn't sustainable in the long-term, but for a handful of weeks this spring, that's what I did. I tried it a couple different ways, preferring the "head out at 11pm" route over the "get up at 1am" plan. I also found that Thursday/Friday was the best time to do it. In the end, like all crazy running adventures, I had plenty of fun out there, but I definitely appreciated the weeks when Lizzy took on solo Sammy duties and let me head out for some Saturday daylight hour runs. It only took me a few of those runs to readjust to having other people outside running with me instead of deer and foxes. In the end I was able to string together 6 weeks of 30-35 mile long runs each week. Not huge miles, but really all I need to get my rig ready for long race efforts.

So what was all this training for? Well, I have but one goal left in my running career, and that's to make the U.S. 24HR Team again. I need to avenge my medical DNF from last time I was on the squad at the World Championship. Plain and simple. The next World Championship will be held in 2017. The qualifying window for that team opens in October of this year. I picked the Dawn2Dusk2Dawn 24HR race as a first test to see how my current training level (only about 45-50 mpw) needed to be augmented in order to make a run at 150 miles during qualifying time (150 is about what I assume I'll need to do to get on the team).  Having not raced in 13 months, and training on 60% of the miles I've done in the past before these races, I set 130 miles as my goal for D2D2D. I would run without a crew, and run with my head more than my legs all day/night. Sure, I hadn't trained a ton of miles, but I have Belichickian-level confidence in my game-planning abilities for 24HR races. These suckers are defeated with confidence in, and execution of, the plan you draw up in the War Room of your head prior to the race.

Last Friday night I found myself in Philly on the eve of the race. I made the only logical choice for a pre-race meal in said city: I found the dirtiest-looking cheesesteak place in the area and ordered a large:
I regret nothing!
The race program shown above featured the bios of the competition friends I'd be sharing the track with the following day/night. It seems a bit odd, but I've never cared about winning a 24HR race. My only care is about my mileage total. If I reach my goal, I'm proud of myself. If I was to run less than I hoped and win the race, I really wouldn't be happy. I don't need any more ribbons or plaques in my basement. In the race program, I saw a ton of talented runners, but had no concern about where I'd place among them. I was out to run 130 miles and enjoy smiling and reuniting with friends in the process.

The next morning, this was our playground...

About an hour before the race, I set up my aid table and canopy next to a nice guy named Eric. He was out to walk as many miles as he could in 24HR. Some of the best walkers in the sport can cover 100 miles in 24 hours. This seems insane to me. There's no way I could walk 100 miles in 24 hours. I enjoyed meeting Eric and cheering on his insanity all day and night.

The race had fancy chip timing and video screens (more on that later), but also had an old-school leader board they updated every hour. I LOVED the leader board. After the race they let me take my name plate home. FYI, Virginia has a pretty bad-ass flag to race under!

Seriously, that lady is stepping on the throat of the dude she just killed. Take that, every other state flag with bird and flowers on it!
The race began as planned for me. Running mid-9s and nowhere to be found on the leader board. For the first hour I treasured the opportunity to catch up with the Knight of Nottingham, old friend Keith Straw. There's no better man in the sport than he. The wisdom and motivation one can gain from Sir Straw in 60 minutes can better a runner/person for a lifetime!
Always an honor to run with Sir Keith! Photo: Jeremy Fountain
Right around hour 4, the D.ROSE name plate popped into the last spot on the board, and the game was a foot! The biggest challenge for everyone after the first couple morning hours (the race started at 7a.m.) was our good ol' friend the Sun Beast. Simply put, it was a shadeless bake-fest in 90+ degree temps all day. I went into my proven heat survival mode: Hat down, glasses on, mouth closed, eyes open about 10% of the way. Fool the brain by obstructing its visual input sensors, that's my game. For me, this works like magic.

Me in Sun Mode. That little kid behind me was in Super Adorable Mode all day. Loved passing him every time! Photo: Jeremy Fountain
Round and Round we went like an 80's Ratt song. Lots of casualties during the heat of the day thinned out the traffic a bit. Daytime highlights include the wind breaking my canopy badly enough that I had to stop 3 times (about 10 mins total) to try and fix it (I needed to keep shade over my fuel table), and eventually tear it completely down when it was beyond repair. I don't need a crew when I run, but I will admit I wished I had one when I was on the sideline with duct tape and sticks trying to rig up a support system to keep that stupid thing in the air all day!

Dear Santa: I need one of THOSE professional canopy tents back there. My old one received its proper burial in a Philly dumpster after the race. Photo: Jeremy Fountain

Mercifully, sometime around 7 p.m. the shadows started to stretch and an audible sigh could be heard from the track itself as the Sun Beast receded. For me, as usual, the end of daylight marked "Go Time" for my race plan. Sure, I'd intentionally try to keep things under control pace-wise this time, but I still allowed myself a couple hours of turbo booster running with my headphones on. It's too much fun to resist...besides, you try running slowly with the playlist I crank into my ears. Not possible.

Weeeeee!   Photo: Jeremy Fountain
The night, as always, was a treat. The miles clicked by, my legs felt 100% the whole time, and best of all, I met a couple really great guys on the track. First up was Padraig Mullins, just a killer Irish dude currently living my hometown of Boston. We probably ran about 4 or 5 hours together overnight. He kept me motivated with his strong running, and I did my best to get him out of his chair when he'd pause for a break. There's strength in numbers out there in these races, and it's fun when you meet a guy like Padraig who you can laugh and shoot the shit with all night while traveling around in little circles.  The other guy I met was Dave Johnston. It took me about half a lap of talking with him to realize I love Dave Johnston. You know he's awesome because I just linked his name to a random Google hit that came up for him, and I'm 100% sure your mind melted upon reading it. Dave, much like Padraig, was more than willing to kick my ass all night and laugh with me while doing it.

As the race wound down to the final few hours, I realized my goal of 130 miles was a certainty, so I started being lazy and walking some laps chatting with people. I was sitting in 3rd place with a 25-ish lap lead over Dave in 4th. The problem was, Dave is so friggin' talented and tough, he kept running and running trying to catch me. I'd run with him for a while and say "Dave, it's OK, you can stop now, I'm not going to let you catch me!". Then he'd laugh the kind of laugh that makes you nervous because you're not 100% sure you can hold off a running beast like Dave Johnston.

Because Dave was such a jerk all night, we ended up dragging each other for about 6 or 7 miles more than we probably would have otherwise. The absolute highlight of my race was, with about 90 minutes left, Dave grabbed a couple ice cold beers from his cooler and we toasted each other while walking a lap and enjoying a brew. I assumed this meant he wasn't going to keep running, but of course I was wrong. After the beer lap, he started running again. Such...a...Bastard! ...and so I followed him as best I could. He was flying. In the end, I could say I held him off by a handful of laps, but the reality is that he just ran out of time. Dave Johnston is a beast. I'm just glad he's from Alaska so I don't have to worry about running into him on the street at home and having him kick my ass again.  After the gun when everyone was hanging around the finish line, I walked up to him shaking my head and smiling. He just smiled back and said "We had fun, didn't we?". Yes, Dave, you sick SOB, we did. Thanks, buddy!

In the end we all received the official results that showed I ran 137.9 miles. Encouraging for many reasons, especially since my legs felt great and I know I had more miles in them if needed. A couple days after the race, the RD said there was a timing issue and the timing company revised the totals. The new totals had me listed at 15 miles less. A quick look at the split times proved to me that the "corrected" results were totally bogus too (the split times were hilariously incorrect). There's been plenty of back-n-forth on Facebook between everyone involved (many of whom ran with GPS watches, etc and have hard evidence that their totals are incorrect). For me, it's not my first time at this 24HR rodeo. I know *something* happened for a couple hours overnight with the timing system as my live split times on the screen would vary from :30 to 4:00 when reality was I was running steady 2:20s.  Unfortunately, I don't think anyone will ever know exactly how far they ran at this race, but I'm actually OK with that. My goal was to run 130 miles, and I'm 100% certain I did that, at least...and with plenty in the tank if needed. It was a success all around, plain and simple. I feel bad for the top two guys (Ian McIlvenna and Josh Finger) who thought they were in the 150s (with Ian breaking a Canadian record), but now have no solid record of what they ran.

Oddly enough, recovery went extremely fast for me as well. I was at work the night after the race and was walking back to the office from Subway when I saw the crosswalk ahead was counting down quickly. I had no hesitation in saying to my colleague "We got this!", and immediately started running across Independence Ave.. The legs felt perfectly fine. I think running on a controlled, smooth, flat surface at a steady pace really helped in that regard. Also, the Hoka Clifton is as amazing a shoe as Dave Johnston is a pain in the ass.  Oh, and I should also note I think my speedy recovery and lack of leg pain during the race itself was partly due to the fact that I drank an obscene amount of fluid during the daylight hours of this race. Normally I'm a 20oz. bottle/hour in these races, but with the sun/heat, I was drinking as many as 3 bottles/hour to stay cooled internally. I adjusted my electrolyte intake each hour to fall in step with the water consumption, and I honestly think I nailed this part of the race perfectly. It felt great to not feel overwhelmed by the heat when it was obviously such a huge negative for so many out there all day.

The honor roll of Thanks goes out to the great RDs Josh Irvan and Bill Shultz for putting on "a race for runners, by runners". Both Josh and Bill are super accomplished ultra runners themselves, so we were all in great hands all day and night. Big high-fives to all the volunteers, especially Josh's students at Valley Forge Military Academy who not only worked all day and night, but helped make the awards, name plates, etc to give the event a special non-prefab touch that makes races like this so special. Hugs and fist-bumps to my brothers in legs out there all day and night, in no particular order: Phil McCarthy, Johnny Geesler, Dave Johnston, Padraig Mullins, Keith Straw, Tom Dekornfeld, Israel Hernandez...and everyone else who was brave enough to be out there, I'm inspired and impressed by you all!

Last night at work a colleague came up to me the following conversation ensued:

Him: "Hey! I guess congratulations are in order!"

Me: "Thank you, we're really excited to have another little Rose running around (Lizzy and I are having another baby this Fall, and I figured he'd either seen her or heard the news otherwise)."

Him: "Oh, I didn't know that, I was congratulating you on the other thing!"

Me: "Ah, yes, sorry. I'm looking forward to being the boss for sure (I was recently promoted at work)."

Him: "Wait, what are you talking about? I'm congratulating you on your great race over the weekend!"

Me: "Ah! Yes, thank you!"

As stupid as I may have seemed to him during that chat, in reflection it made me happy that my natural reaction to his congrats was to apply them to what I'm actually most proud of in my life. Family first, work stuff second (it pays the bills, after all!), and then this silly little hobby of running around like a kid all day.  After putting my running plan on track this spring and achieving my "first step" goal of 130 miles in a 24HR race, I couldn't be more encouraged for the next step of tweaking a few things to put in an honest effort at 150 miles in the next 18 months. I'm not sure if I'll have the chance to race again this year, but I don't seem to have any issues racing once a year and reaching my goals. Sure, the goals aren't world-class lofty, but they do make me proud of my effort, and in the end that's all that matters!