My long overdue 2011 20in24 Ultramarathon recap

The author in the medical tent during the 2011 20in24 Ultramarathon
The author in the medical tent during the 2011 20in24 Ultramarathon
I'm happy to be out of the sun and getting some fluids back in me.

Note: The following is a recap of my race and mistakes at the 20in24 Lone Ranger 24-hour ultramarathon in July, 2011. This contains very little about the event itself (maybe I should post a full race report) although it’s a lovely urban ultra with fantastic support for runners both new and experienced.

Miserable.

That’s how I felt about 18 miles into this year’s 20in24 Lone Ranger Ultramarathon. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was getting very dehydrated. I wasn’t drinking enough fluids and I was about to reach my breaking point. Although I’m smiling in this post’s accompanying photo, it’s not because I was happy with my performance that day. Rather, my lovely wife and two of my three kids were there to lift my spirits while the friendly and capable medical staff at the 20in24 took care of my physical needs.

What Happened?

On the first two 8.4 mile laps, I felt great. It was hot out, but not as oppressive as last two years’ 20in24 events. So, this day should be a piece of cake, right?!? My pace was purposefully slow with a 5:1 ratio of minutes for running and walking, and I thought I should be able to enjoy a 100+ mile finish for the planned 24 hours. I was sipping my water + electrolyte mixture from my hydration pack at regular intervals. In hindsight, it was entirely too little fluid intake for the effort I was expending. My muscles locked up, I got dizzy and nauseated, and my day was over with only a little more than 20 miles completed. I think I made it 21 or 22 miles in total, but I trashed my body doing it.

Warning Signs

The main things I missed during the event were obvious. But, I was so keyed up on keeping the run/walk momentum that I didn’t listen to and quench my thirst on the first two laps. At the end of the first and second loops each, I only needed to add 500ml of water to the hydration bladder to refill it. I failed to recognize that 500ml (16oz) per 8.4 mile loop in 90+ degree heat wasn’t enough. Proper hydration is just common sense, but I seemed to have very little of that when I was feeling good!

On that third loop, my 15 year old daughter accompanied me as my pacer. I was pouring cold water from the aid stations over my head to cool off instead of drinking it all down. I was still sipping like a miser from the hydration pack as if it were the last potable water on earth. So, after a couple of miles into the loop, I felt the dreaded twinges of cramping in my legs and a pretty rapid onset of dizziness. I slowed to a walk, and we tried to make it back around to the start/finish area about 5 miles away. The cramping and dizziness only worsened, and nausea joined the party to make it clear I was in trouble.

Calling it a Day

I didn’t feel like fighting for a 50 or more mile finish, so we flagged down a couple of race volunteers and they called for someone to pick us up. We returned to the medical tent at the start/finish area, where I was quickly evaluated by the staff. My blood pressure was really low and I had lost 11 pounds during the event. I drank a liter of electrolyte solution and still didn’t feel as if I needed to urinate. I was also still cramping, although less so than when I was on the course. The medical director hinted to me that he may want to start an IV for my dehydration, and we agreed that we’d make that decision together based on what kind of urine output I had. I went to check on that, and there was very little (only about 10ml), and it was dark orange in color, nearly brown, in fact.

I agreed that an IV was a good idea, and I took on 1500ml of fluids while chatting with my family, the medical staff and a few other runners coming in for various ailments. I was relieved to be feeling better, but disappointed about my DNF due to my own inattention to detail. My training quantity and quality was more than adequate leading up to the race, so this added to the frustration I felt. However, I do consider this a valuable lesson that the most basic, common sense details can be overlooked during a race that can later become a major problem. If nothing else, I’m alive to run another day! And, you can bet I’ll be more in tune with my hydration from now on!

After Effects

I had lower back pain for about a week after the event, and I wondered if it was pain from my kidneys or just muscle soreness from dehydration and how I was sitting around in the med tent and back at home. With 20in24 as my major goal race coupled with my earlier decision to drop my entry from the iron-distance triathlon later this year, I’ve just been taking it easy and running and cycling for fun over the past few weeks.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” – T.S. Eliot

I’m now contemplating what my endurance goals are for the end of 2011 and into 2012, with ultrarunning being the activity I want to focus on. I feel that I’m more committed than ever to understand exercise physiology, nutrition, and how my own body works to continue to reach for and, hopefully, have more success in future events.