It’s only two hours before race time. Sitting in the hotel bathroom, I page through music on my phone. Where is that track? My nerves are revved up and my mind is racing, thinking of everything unimportant to the task ahead. There it is! I put my headphones on, close my eyes, and dissolve while I play the race out in my mind. In this moment. Right here, right now. Whatever I must do, whatever I will encounter in the next 24 hours, I will fight.
Northcoast 24, which takes place at Edgewater Park in Cleveland, Ohio, was yet again selected to be the USATF 24-Hour National Championship race, and this would be my third running of the event. This year, a win did not equate to automatic team selection for the 2019 IAU 24-Hour race which was something I didn’t realize until about a month before the race. Admittedly, I was a little dismayed, but that was my fault for not doing my homework. The fact of the matter still remained. I was here for a bigger purpose. I was here for self redemption and to run as far as I could.
I felt very confident going into NC24 this year. Not only was my training phenomenal in the months leading up to the race, but the crew members and friends who had stepped forward to help me in the final weeks were extraordinary. My husband, Glenn, who always goes to great lengths to support my racing habits, and our little boy came with me to Cleveland so they could support me as best they could and so that they could be at the awards ceremony afterwards. I had an amazing supportive network going into this race, and I am so thankful for it, because walking into the belly of the beast was much, much more psychologically daunting than I thought it would be.
CREW & FRIENDS
For the next 24 hours, my crew, Christen McKenna and David Christy would tend to all my needs, lift my spirits, patch me up, and keep me moving forward. Both of them were also crewing other runners as well. David was assisting our tent neighbor, Jimmie Barnes, who was accompanied by his wife. Christen had to additionally manage the needs of her husband and friend, Kristin Anderson. There was my friend, Bob Mohr, who was being crewed by Larry Marsh who both spent a great deal of time with our crew. By the end of the race, this unique combination of friends and strangers with varying levels of knowledge and experience had all contributed to one another, and lasting bonds were made. If these guys weren’t making me laugh, then they were melting my heart with their kindness. When all was said and done, everyone left this race feeling as a family.
After arriving onsite, the crew already had everything set up. My job was to sit and wait for the start. Much easier said than done… never done such a thing! Before long, I was headed to the start line along with Bob. I was feeling increasingly uneasy. I had to do this, but my mind was fighting me.
I started out fast, faster than I promised myself I would. It didn’t take but a few laps before I breezed by our crew site again and I heard a stern, “Slow down,” from David who was timing each lap as I passed by. I backed off the pace and tried to find patience. I finally felt locked into the planned pace and settled in. Follow the plan, I reminded myself, the words my husband would coach to me again and again during the days prior to the race. It was hot and humid – much more so than I had anticipated for, but it never concerned me. Christen was constantly changing out cooling towels as I passed by, and we were keeping fluids moving as best we could. The first 4 hours came and went, and I found myself back at our site for chafing issues much earlier than expected. The damage already done indicated that this was going to be a rough ride, but we had some good laughs over it nonetheless.
After a few hours, I felt like my shoes were heavy. They had become drenched with water dripping from my cooling towels, and we were forced to change out my shoes. After passing 8 hours, David told me I had hit the planned targets perfectly. Everything seemed to be going as planned. It was early, but I was more than pleased with just how good I felt especially now that the sun was going down. It was beginning to cool off; now it was time to move. But things would play out entirely differently. The aftereffects of the excessive warmth of the day were silently lurking in the background.
Just short of the halfway point, around 10 pm, the first major low point set in. This was much sooner than I anticipated. I was struggling to stay focused. My crew had a planned break for me at 12:00am, and I kept that as my driving goal. But my form was deteriorating and careless, and before I knew what was happening, I caught the front of my shoe on a rumble strip bump at the road crossing. I tripped. I panicked. I managed to catch myself with my hands and attempted to roll to protect my knees, but as I went down, I still hit both knees pretty good. Before I even had time to process what had happened, Elizabeth Kelly rushed over to help me up. We walked together for a bit while assessing the situation, and then I started running again.
My right knee was a bit painful. Suddenly, my toes were absolutely killing me. I believed that I must have knocked a toenail completely off. I considered for a moment waiting to stop at my aid site until the planned break at midnight, but I was in exquisite pain. Liz was so sweet that she had actually run ahead of me to let my crew know what had happened, and they were already waiting for me to come in as was Bob and Larry.
The crew immediately sat me down and fed me soup. Everyone was holding phones and flashlights so we could assess the damage. Christen went straight to work cleaning my knees up which were scraped up but not an issue. My toes were what was killing me. Christen pulled both my shoes off to discover that I had large toenail blisters on both feet. She released the pressure and wrapped them in lambswool. Meanwhile, David was updating me on my pacing and trying to keep me motivated. Then they sent me back out into the night.
Only steps from the tent, things took a dramatic turn for the worse. Severe, unrelenting nausea washed over me. I eventually had to stop and throw up twice. I would fight this for hours, unable to stomach hardly anything at all. My crew tried everything to help me, and though it improved slowly over time, the battle with nausea would throw me dramatically off track for the remainder of the race. Being unable to consume adequate nutrition, I began to feel as if I had lost all muscle power, and forward motion became a monumental effort. Hours of struggling ensued that were accompanied by hallucinations, dizziness, and fatigue. It seemed endless, pointless at times, but I just kept hearing that powerful word, Redemption.
Once the nausea finally abated, and I was able to start eating again, things started to turn around, but the damage was done, and my original goal was nowhere in sight. Somehow, I had yet again managed to hold onto my lead from the beginning, and at this point, our attention now turned to maintaining 1st place and hitting at least 130 miles to meet the minimum qualifications for the USA 24-Hour Team.
As the sun rose higher in the sky, it began to heat up very quickly. We were back to alternating cooling towels, icy drinks, and making sure to keep fluids moving. I was so thirsty from already feeling partially dehydrated from the previous day that I could not quench my thirst. I was having to stop to pee every few laps, wasting huge amounts of time. Most of the field still out on the course was down to a death march, pretty much everyone having suffered various consequences through the night from the heat of the previous day.
With an hour left on the clock, Christen and David urged me to pick up the pace, and I began my final push, hoping by some chance I’d be able to at least PR. But with the heat of the new day and the ravages of the previous day, I had already fallen too short, and there wasn’t enough time left. I ran with what I did have left. The final laps brought back flashbacks of being here only a year ago when I tried to throw it all away, and I could have. No, not today. Not, ever. Never ever, ever again. I’m a leaf on the wind.
On the final lap, the thought going through my head was, We did it. We won. So many people were a part of my race directly and indirectly and leading up to this race over the last year. It felt like a joint effort between myself and so many others – my husband, my crew, my numerous friends here at home and spread out across the country who have lifted me up, supported me, and given me a place in their hearts and lives. There are so many people to name, it would be unfair to try to name them all as I would surely miss someone and I would never want to do that. So, yah, the way I see it, we did it.
I missed a PR at this race, but I did meet the minimum qualifications for the USA 24-Hour Team, however, it will be a continued battle to keep it that way until 2019. I won the women’s race and placed 3rd overall with 131.4 miles.
But what I really won? My dignity, my honor, my pride, and I feel like this race was a thank you to everyone who was a part of my journey in the last year. Belief in a person is hard to earn, destroying it is easy. I am blessed with the best friends and family on the face of Earth, and I am honored by them all to stand by my side. Thank you.