Why would anyone run up and down the same gravel road for 6/12/24/48 or 72 HOURS in all kinds of weather and pay for the privilege? Well, if you sign up for the race, you’ll have plenty of time to contemplate the answer to that question like I did. As a student of human nature, I had plenty to think about and question while I made 47 trips on the gravel road along with a few hundred others, some who had been at it since Day 1 which started with rain and then high winds and then got into freezing temps that night. Those 40 or so runners were definitely the most interesting to ponder. The top three winners of that distance are amazing outliers of the human race who spent three days trying to beat each other to first place and nearly tied, with the winner squeezing in one last mile at a sprint pace after three days of running. These three people, who I know personally, each exhibit extraordinary mental strength, endurance, and the ability to persevere through pain in races and life. One is a military wife of a large family, one is a paramedic and father, and one has pushed through barriers in his life to accomplish many 100 and 200 mile events. What is it that drives runners to do it?
The other several hundred runners brought similar traits with them to the timed race that is as much a test of mental endurance as physical ability. What is so hard about it, a non-runner might ask? Imagine that you could quit the race at any time. You are never more than 3/4 of a mile from your warm car or tent. No one is making you continue lap after lap, mile after mile, when your legs are aching, you’re looking at the same people and scenery hour after hour, running through sand and gravel and cow patties, feet getting blisters, back in pain, sunburned, nausea, you name it. What would keep you going? A little medal on a ribbon? The joy of telling your mom and friends what you did , even though only your mom really cares? The prize of a belt buckle for the 100k and 100 milers is a pretty big goal, but it’s really not that great looking. Will you actually wear it?
None of that stuff is really enough to keep you going. Even in a shorter, scenic, perfect race, it’s what’s going on inside your head that matters. I think the reasons can vary for everyone, but the need to finish the chosen task seems to be a common denominator in every case. Whether running for a good cause, for a memory, to help a friend finish, or to prove something to yourself, you need to be driven by that inner voice that says you must do this. For me at least, what motivates me is the desire to see how far I can push myself. Can I do one more lap? Can I run a little faster? Can I move up in the rankings if I try harder? Competitiveness plays a part, but most of the runners I know are good sports and yes, they want to win, but they want to win by pushing themselves. So the winning is secondary. I know that if I win something but didn’t try that hard, it is not nearly as satisfying. Yes, I want to get an award for my efforts, but I want to earn it. But the thing is you are really the one who knows if you earned it or not. Sometimes other people may not realize just how hard you worked during training and in the race to get to the finish, even if you came dead last. Most runners I know celebrate ALL finishers because we know running is not easy. That little voice in your head saying “you’re too slow, you’re not a real runner, just quit, just walk, this is stupid, it doesn’t matter”, can be hard to overcome! The victory is sweet.
So how was my latest race? Here are the quick stats:
- 70 miles completed in 24 hours
- First Female Masters (Over 50 age group)
- 11th Overall
- 4th Female overall
- Out of 44 runners in the 24 hour class.
A big highlight of the race was that my husband reached his first marathon distance plus a little extra, 27.5 miles! This was on very low training mileage with his longest being a half marathon back in December and a few 8-9 milers in January and February. I’m so proud of him! He was ready to quit due to blisters, but he didn’t give up. Here is his own story.
As for me, I am very happy about my race. I realized later why this race felt a lot different than most of my ultras. I had ZERO anxiety. I have to thank menopause for that, I think. I just don’t get so uptight anymore like I used to and that is awesome! I was able to show up, run and have fun with some enthusiasm, but not too much fear over failure or anything else. Getting older sucks in many ways, but I really do enjoy not being so concerned about things that I have no control over or things that are really not important in the grand scheme of life. The race was full of great people that I’ve met over the past 7 or 8 years of trail running and everyone was very encouraging, friendly, and happy to be out there. The volunteers and spectators also seem to be enjoying themselves. TROT races are a fun place to be!
I had some goals, but really I was very casual about the whole thing. I wanted to see what I could do, and as long as I was feeling fairly good I would keep going. If my body began to break down, I’d call it good. I started off with my friend Robin doing an 8/2 minute run/walk interval. We had a good time chatting and kept up the intervals for about 18 miles. Then I took a short break to grab a snack and let her go on ahead. She ended up deciding to leave the race after 36 miles due to not wanting to hurt her previous knee injury. I had multiple goals and I took them one at a time. I wanted to hit 20 miles, then 27, then 31, then 40, 50, and was hoping to get a minimum of 62 so that I could get the buckle. But my other goals were to just keep moving. I have never run a 24 hour before and I was actually excited to see how late I could keep running, maybe all night or would I need a nap?
I made it to around 4 AM until I got very sleepy and decided to take a nap because I was going super slow and taking a break between each 1.5 mile lap. (I had to charge my watch twice during the race so it didn’t get every step but it got most of it. ) I took off my shoes and zipped up into my sleeping bag on a lounge chair in our tent. It was not very comfortable. When I woke up I was sweating like a pig and stiff and aching. I had barely slept , just a few minutes of dozing at a time, but somehow about 2 hours had passed. During the ‘sleep’ I could hear the other runners going past my tent just a few feet away. I was cold and hot at the same time in my ‘tent’ that was only enclosed on three sides. Thankfully the temps stayed fairly comfortable that night.
I didn’t know if I would be able to keep running after sleeping. I put on my flip flops and walked up to the porta-potties then back to my tent. I felt okay so I put on my running shoes and headed back out for more laps. But after the first lap I was so sweaty in the humid morning air that I had to stop at my tent again and shed some clothes which meant re-pinning my bib number, which I hate doing because my hands don’t work well when I am exhausted. But I felt so much better out of those stuffy clothes! I drank a V8 energy drink and suddenly I was RUNNING again! I could hardly believe it, but I tried to run as much of each lap as possible. The slight incline on the return trip of the out and back set me to walking a bit. At this point we had two hours left until the end of the race and many people were working hard to reach their goals. The aforementioned 72 hour runners were duking it out for the podium and some others were pushing to get to 100 miles. Many of those who had been out there for two or three days were slogging to the finish looking like refugees, but not quitting until the timer ran out. I was watching my watch closely and trying to get as many laps as possible. I just had enough time to fit in the 47th one, no partial laps allowed, which brought me to 70 miles. I was thrilled with that because I had miscounted in my head and thought it was only going to be 68.5.
I was standing around the finish watching the last runners rush in and waiting for the awards to be given out. Then things went wonky. A runner needed an ambulance. She had finished but then went into severe cramps that were causing her to scream in pain and throw up. They didn’t know what was wrong, so they took her to the hospital. She is going to be okay. But due to the emergency, awards were not given out. I did get my buckle , though. After that I called my husband to come get me (we live close by) because he had left after he finished his race the night before. It started to rain just as we were packing up and driving home. I was very thankful the race was over before the rain came! Despite the sunburned lips, sore knees, blisters, and missed sleep, we are already thinking about doing this race again next year. I think I want to try the 48 hour next. 🙂
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