20in24 Race Recap

Running across the Falls Bridge, mile 13

It’s been about a week and a half since I participated in the Back on My Feet (20in24) Lone Ranger Ultramarathon on July 17-18, 2010. I suppose that’s enough time to have my psychic wounds heal a bit and allow a somewhat objective look at my performance and the event as a whole. My goal was to run 100 miles within the 24 hour event and to raise money for Back on My Feet (BoMF).

There’s good, bad, and ugly. I’ll cover those, but in a slightly different order.

The Bad

The sun and heat was an enemy to many for the event. While I was cautious to start the run at a snail’s pace and carry electrolyte drink with me, the heat was unfailingly oppressive. The first and second of my 8.4 mile laps around the Schuylkill River Running Loop went well enough, though, and as mid-afternoon (and the hottest part of the day) approached, I went out on my third loop. I knew the running would be slow, so I told my fiancĂ©e and other family members that I’d be back around in about two hours—queue the theme song for Gilligan’s Island.

Between mile three and four on my third lap (20 miles in on this day of Hell’s heat), my calves and the muscles on the front of my shins began to cramp simultaneously. I slowed, then I stopped. That was a big mistake, and, as I tried to stretch my legs unsuccessfully, my plans for the day started to unravel. I was standing on some dirt atop the running path, and fortunately a fence was there to provide some support while I tried to stretch the cramps out of my legs. To make matters worse, I was mid-way between aid stations, of which one was a medical station.

The Ugly

My second mistake was attempting to sit on the lower rail of the fencing. The cramping in my left leg kicked into high gear, and my foot curled under in such a painful, weird way that I could no longer put weight on it. I attempted to sit down on the path, only I couldn’t keep my legs bent. At this point, I abandoned pride and put myself in a supine position in the dirt. A few runners passed, all asking if I needed any help. I answered that I had some cramps, but just needed to let them subside then stretch again. HA!

Another Lone Ranger came by, slowed, and asked if I needed help. I said yes. A relay runner assisted in getting me up out of the dirt, and they helped me over to a shady spot under a tree. As they helped me walk through the grass, about 25 yards, I felt dizzy. I thought, “Damn, my race is over.” I was bummed, but lucid enough to know I was nearing some big trouble due to the heat.

At the tree, I felt a little better, especially after throwing up a couple of times! Someone flagged down a cyclist on West River Drive and sent them up the road to get medical help. When the ambulance arrived, I hopped hobbled slowly into the back and onto the stretcher. During the short ride to the medical tent my vitals were normal, and I was able to leave the “bus” under my own power to hang out with the event’s medical staff for a while.

A little over an hour after arriving at the medical tent, my cramping had subsided entirely, my vitals were still well within normal limits, and I was feeling ready to go again. I ate some boiled potatoes, refilled on fluids, and began to walk the remaining four miles around to the starting area where my family was waiting for me. I made it around without incident and checked in at the main medical tent after reassuring my loved ones that I was OK. At my better half’s urging (thank you, honey), I took a long break and had a neuromuscular massage to work through the trigger points in my calves, shins, and also my ITB. I felt much better after the medical attention, rest, and massage, so I decided I would try to put together another three laps, at least, to salvage 50 miles out of the planned 100.

Vitals check after my heat incident

I later saw several other runners needing medical attention and having really rough days, so I wasn’t alone in this situation. The 2009 women’s Lone Range winner was sick from the heat, too, and we were able to talk about it for a bit on my fourth lap (her sixth and final for the event) around. I took comfort (not joy) in knowing that even the toughest out there were feeling the effects of the intense heat and humidity.

The Good

Running at dusk with Boathouse Row in background

The next three laps were cramp-free, and I approached them with mixture of running and walking (at that point I wasn’t on a tight time schedule to complete 12 laps/100 miles). For lap four, I donned my Princeton Tec Remix headlamp (pictured above) and hit the trail with the sun setting over the course. While the running path was lit sporadically by street lamps and strategically placed event lighting systems, many areas are pretty dark. Having a lightweight, powerful light was great for not only navigation and safety, but also camaraderie. A few other Lone Ranger runners without lights stayed with me due to the light and allowed us to talk and keep moving through the humid night.

I took a brief break between laps five and six to stretch, eat a slice of pizza, change clothes, and otherwise freshen up. I left the start line for the last lap of the event just before midnight, when the Midnight Madness race was about to begin. My feet were pretty swollen and painful by then. Fortunately the leg-crushing cramps were held at bay, and I trudged along to finish 50 miles at around 2:15am. At that point, I didn’t feel the need to continue pushing on for more miles after what I had been through during the heat of the day. I just rested until around 6:00am, then started packing up for the ride home to recover and get back to work the next day.

Personal Highlights

  • I helped raise over $1,200 in donations raised for Back on My Feet (over $300,000 total event-wide).
  • Learned more about myself and how limits can be flexed.
  • Completed 50 miles on a brutally hot and humid day.
  • Met and talked with some fantastic runners, volunteers, and BoMF staff members during the event.