In the final hours, there is nothing to do but wait. A deep inner strength awakens and something becomes that once never was known.
I had a deep sense of frustration following my spring race at Outrun 24. I felt like I was being toyed with. I was absolutely certain there was no reason now that I couldn’t reach 120 miles and probably more on a flat paved course. Even though I’d convinced myself I was trail-only, I signed up to NC24 to find out what the possibilities were.
Spring and summer was an incredibly busy this year and distracted me a lot from following a very strict training regimen. Life was also waxing and waning with various doses of stress, and several times throughout training, I considered not even doing this race. Following Outrun 24 in early May, through mid-July, my mileage was relatively low and inconsistent compared to my usual training. During this time, most of my runs were under 10 miles and many were doubles or triples.
I started pushing the miles up by the end of July and banked regular 70 and 100-mile weeks up to two weeks before Northcoast. I had completed a decent share of 20-30 mile long runs during this time, but much less than usual. I made sure the majority of my training occurred during the warmest part of the day.
Almost 3 weeks out from the race, I grew concerned about the little training that I had completed on pavement. Minus some of my long runs, nearly all my training had been completed on the dirt trail at home. During my taper, I drove to town to spend every mile running the roads to hopefully mitigate my uneasiness. All the runs were combinations of speedwork and inevitably hilly, and I was seeing some leg turnover that I hadn’t in some time. I was unsure how well my body would handle 24 hours of pavement.
I was quite apprehensive about my training or what I felt was a lack thereof and didn’t really know what to expect. I decided that I would basically wing things at Northcoast, hoping I could hit 120-130 miles, and didn’t bring a pacing plan. I told myself I was going to have fun and relieve some of the stress I had been carrying all summer.
We arrived the day before the race, and my husband and I walked the race course. It was actually a much nicer and more scenic course than I anticipated. The 0.9-mile paved loop path circles Edgewater Park with the Cleveland city skyline looming overhead with part of the course running along Lake Erie. I checked the weather that night and things looked pretty bad. They were predicting pretty bad storms the afternoon of the race. I was fine with all the rain it could dish out, but I’m scared to death of lightning and was worried about how I’d handle that!
Race morning we set up the tent, and I proceeded to waterproof everything. I had chosen to wear only compression clothing to avoid chafing from the predicted rain. Donning my trustworthy Skechers Ultra, I made my way to the start line. The final seconds before the race started, I said my little mantra, “Let’s run for just one day. It’s only a day. Then… then, you can rest.”
The first hours of the race blew by quickly, as usual, but it took me a good 20 miles to really feel locked into a comfortable pace. It was way too easy to over-pace on the pavement, and I felt like I was checking off miles way too fast. My husband came and went throughout the day, returning to our hotel to take care of our special little boy.
I ran the first 4 or 5 hours without stopping and then decided to take a short break, visit with my husband, eat, and drink, and then proceeded in this fashion every 10-20 miles thereafter. After all, I thought, I had come to have fun. I wasn’t trying to run any particular pace or make any particular splits, but as the mileage went by, it became apparent that I could be set for 120-130 miles if things went right, and things were going very right.
During the afternoon, clouds moved in and things started looking nasty, but the rain was mostly light and refreshing. It was pretty windy running along the lake, taunting you for being crazy enough to run for 24 hours. Every time I looped back around I expected to see my tent gone as it was being assaulted by hurricane force winds and is probably 30 years old! But the weather never became a real problem, and the rain had cleared up before sundown. Things remained extremely uneventful. I was having a great time, talking to runners and goofing off at my tent and eating ice cream my husband brought me.
Night fell and the course was bright enough that I ended up ditching my headlamp. It was a little chilly running past the lake with the cold wind gusting and blowing cool water off the little waves as I ran by. Eventually, my stepson came out to take night shift crewing while my husband went back to the hotel to get a nap. I began waiting for the “hour of hell” to sink in, and around mile 80, the low I was waiting for finally worked its way in and the challenge began.
I ran quite a bit during the night with Laurie Dymond who is an incredibly amazing and inspirational runner as well as Jenny Hoffman. The three of us were in the lead female positions. I knew at this point there was no way I could catch up to them. They were both still running phenomenally strong races, and I was struggling. They knew that, and they both were very kind and tried to pick up my spirits and offer great advice. That’s one of the most beautiful things about ultrarunning… the comradeship no matter how you lie in the pack, everyone is there for you.
It wasn’t long before I found myself finding excuses to stop longer than required. The porta-potty became a hideout! (That’s pretty bad!) I began texting on and off with my mom and husband, both of which where trying to keep me moving. At 90-something, I had retreated to my tent, sat down, and almost cried. My legs were screaming and felt like I had snakes crawling through them. I texted my husband and said, “There’s no words made that can describe the pain I’m in…,” and he asked me if I wanted to quit. I said, “No. I’m running again.” He said that he would do whatever it took to keep me on that course then. My mother stayed up all night, watching my splits, asking me what was wrong if I didn’t lap after a while, and sending me photos of her holding homemade signs of encouragement! It was so unbelievably moving.
I finally crossed through hell and hit 100. I was completely renewed and refocused on my goals. I started suddenly getting chafed from all the dried salt on my clothing. I tried to change, but I was too sore to get out of my compression clothes or take my shoes off. My husband came and helped me change! I realized by then that I was at a crossroad. It was going to be really hard to hit 120 now, and by 110, I started to lose hope and settle for less. Then, it hit me. “Not today. Today is my day I get what I came for.”
I had 5 miles left to 120 and only a mere 45 minutes… there was no way after running for nearly 24 hours I could check off 9s or 8s! But I had too! Somehow, I had to! I thought, “Just go all out. Less than one hour. You can find it. Go.”
There it was. I was running at an incredible pace, and the splits kept dropping every mile, all the way down to a sub 7 the last split. By the last loop, I was sprinting all out. I had tears running down my cheeks; I had given it all I had at the end, and I knew that I had given it my best shot. The question still remained, did I get it? The course is 0.9 miles, so I still was on edge whether or not I had hit that 120. I would have to wait until they released the final measured distances.
I was nearly sobbing when the race finally ended. My husband threw warm clothes on me, and we made our way to the post-race breakfast and awards ceremony. I landed 3rd female with 120 miles and even got some money. Yeah, wow, I forgot about the money part. Jenny took first place and Laurie came second. Laurie and I ate brekkie together and shared some great laughs.
It was amazing. All of it. But I knew, there was more left in me. I had to go find it.