Run In The Country X 4.77
I reached a new level of insanity last Sunday, starting at 3:30 a.m. It was the morning that I attempted to run a road 100k in 8:40 or faster, in order to qualify for the USA Team to go to the World’s 100k Championship in Italy this November.
Brian and I arrived in Coburg at 5:30 a.m. for the ‘Run in the Country’ half-marathon, which I was to run 4.77 times. Coach Bob Latham was already there preparing to referee the event and measure the last section of the course. We discussed logistics and aid stations. I was able to pick aid up from aid stations, and provide my own aid for these stations, but no one was to hand aid to me otherwise. I was to run each half in opposite directions, and could aid myself at the start/finish area each time as well. Tom Riley showed up to run 100k as well, and I appreciated his support wholly. Bob had informed the race announcer what I was up to, and thus when we were ready to start at 6:00 with the half-marathon walkers, a big announcement was made about my attempt and the walkers and onlookers responded enthusiastically.
I wasn’t very nervous, given it wasn’t really a race, and I knew it wouldn’t painful in the way a marathon is. I was however, anxious to learn what the pain of running this same loop 4+ times, without a ‘destination’ would look like. I reminded myself that I can run 100k in the mountains, and I can run 100 miles – but what would it be like to run continuously for 8+ hours with no hiking and no balls-out downhill running?
The starter sent us off, and Tom and I took to running. We stayed together through the first mile, then Tom bid adieu to run his own pace. By the time I got to mile 2 I was on 7:00 minute pace, so I eased up a bit, not wanting to go faster than 7:30. I knew it was going to be hot, so I wanted as many miles as possible in the cooler weather, and the pace I settled into felt very comfortable. By mile 8, I was still under 7:30 pace. Brian and Bob followed me on their bikes. When I needed aid, Brian set my next bottle on the aid station table ahead for me to pick up. At mile 9, we turned back towards town to finish the first loop, and had a surprising headwind from the south. It was still cool, and a south wind is generally hospitable, so my pace didn’t slow. I finished lap one in 1:36 and change, well ahead of the 1:40 I had planned on. I felt relaxed, picked up another bottle, and headed back in the opposite direction. I soon met Tom finishing his first loop, looking very good.
Back out on the course, Jeff was directing traffic for the half-marathon runners, and encouraged me as I went by. We now had a tail wind for three miles, and soon enough the runners started coming towards me. Thanks to the announcer, most of them knew my name and what I was doing, so I felt like I was on parade. I told Brian that I wished they would be there for lap 4, because it was sure to be ugly by then. As the crowd thinned out, the wind and heat were starting to increase. As I turned south again I met and high-fived my mom, running the half as well. I finished the second loop again in 1:36 and change, including 3 porta-potty stops, and was surprised at my pace.
This time I drank some cold water, and some coke before heading out for lap 3. Most of the runners and walkers were done now, and a few cheered for me as I left. I let the flap of my hat down to shade my neck as the sun was a little more serious now. I had been fueling well with Power-gel every 45 minutes to one hour, plus my electrolyte drink, and S-caps whenever I felt either a little cramping or my stomach was off. I kept cruising along, and now the wind had changed to the evil north wind. I didn’t fight it, I kept my effort steady, and ran patiently. I noted that at 50k I was at 3:51, and thought – wow, I could run 4 hours for the second half and still have a very good time! However, the heat was building and my pace was slowing, and the crowd was down to Brian and Bob. I finally made it out of the wind and turned to the south where the tail wind made it feel like an oven. I kept drinking, gelling, and salting. Nearing the end of the lap 3, I came upon Tom, who had called it a day after hurting his quad. Finally, back for the end of the third, I clocked a 1:42. I grabbed ice and put it in my hat, I doused with cold water, drank more water, grabbed a bottle, and went on my way.
Lap 4 was a killer. Right away, I was running into a very stiff wind. It was getting hotter, and my drink was getting nastier by the minute. I knew I had to drink it anyway, so I kept sipping it down. For 3 miles I let the wind control my pace, and then we turned west. Now it was just plain hot. My bowels were complaining and I had to make a pit stop in a farmers field – the onlye moment I was glad everyone had gone home. Brian kept me going, encouraging me to drink and telling me I was doing well. We turned south, and had the hot tail wind again. I could not get cool. I fantasized about being able to lay down in Bright Angel Creek in the Grand Canyon to get my core temperature down. I pondered that this must be something like Badwater, and it didn’t make we want to do that race at all. I was discouraged and felt like quitting. I had taken some false pride in my ability to run in the heat. I believed it was only in the 80s, and that I really sucked at this! I felt hydrated, but hot. Finally I asked Brian to bike back and set up an aid station with ice water. He sped off, and soon Bob caught back up to me on his bike. I told him that the heat was really getting me. With 4 miles of the last loop to go, Brian’s aid station was in sight. I grabbed a bottle of ice water – ecstasy. I never thought it would taste so good or feel so great to hold in my hot hand. I drank, splashed, doused, and finally began to recover. I ran by the RD’s house, and he and some volunteers saw me and cheered wildly. No option to quit. I ambled into the finish area, somewhat revived, but in a very slow 1:56. Jeff, Laura, Bob, Tom, and Brian, all encouraged me to eat, drink, put ice in my clothes, douse. I did it all, then took off. I was now at 6:51, and had less than 10 miles to go.
I was surprised that I felt a little better. All I needed was 9 minute miles or even slower to get the time. I had hoped for something closer to 8 hours, but given the conditions, I was feeling good about just getting the time. Now I could click off the remaining miles. Bob and Brian were now driving to each aid station and setting up options of ice water, ice electrolytes, and S-caps. Jeff, Laura and Tom drove up next to me and encouraged me, having to shout above the wind. I shouted at Laura “It is hot out here, right?” The answer – “96!”. OH! Well, no wonder. And someone said the wind was 30 mph, and it felt like it. I trudged along, and soon RDs Brad and Mark drove by and said “Don’t go too fast – we need to set up a finish line!” Bob had repeatedly told me that none of them were going to let me go home until I finished this thing. At last, I turned out of the wind and stretched my legs. Three miles to go. My support group leap frogged ahead, bearing the heat with me. One final turn, less than one mile to go. I looked ahead to see the cars parked and my friends standing and waiting. I wanted to be done so badly that I actually picked up the pace. I crossed the finish line in 8:23!
One finds out who their friends are on a day like today (well, at least the heat-tolerant ones!). I really may have quit if Brian and Bob had not put so much effort into the day, and the support of Jeff, Laura, Tom, Brad and Mark really sweetened it up for me. The paper work is being submitted, and a selection committee will decide who gets to represent the US. The announcement will be made in August, so stay tuned!