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.

Ultra running is definitely a head game

Deb Bosilevac, an ultra runner from Portland, wrote a really cool guest post on Loving the Run today about what her experience has been with motivation and the mental aspects of running in 24 hour events. It’s refreshing to hear from someone who has similar experiences as I’ve had with thoughts, both negative and positive, during multi-hour/overnight events.

This weekend, I’m running in my first ultra of the season, and I hope to draw from ideas posted by Deb and others about how to stay motivated, entertained, and even awake during a 24-hour ultra run. If anyone has any tricks or techniques to share that either work (or don’t) for you, please leave a comment or send me a reply via Twitter.

My 2011 Endurance Goals

As another year comes to a close, it’s time for me to reflect on 2010 and look ahead to 2011. I want to set a few key goals to work toward in the coming year—ones that will keep me active and allow me to expand my strength and overall endurance.

2010 in Review

This year was eventful on many levels. I finished several key races with modest improvements in performance—yet no definitive end to my cramping issues. I completed four triathlons and one ultra marathon with a couple of smaller races sprinkled in that mix for good measure. Two of my races were 70.3 (half ironman) triathlons. The other two triathlons were Olympic distance, and, in each of those, I set personal best times. The ultra marathon was a mess for me (read more about it), but I managed to eek out a 50-mile effort. Cramping remained an issue for me this year with the exception of the final 70.3 triathlon of the season. Chaffing was my nemesis during that final race. At least it wasn’t cramping, and Band-Aids solved that issue rather easily.

Pro Tip: Never forget to apply body glide to your nipples before a multi-hour endurance event!

Surfing in KauaiIn October I married an amazing, beautiful woman who supports my athletic endeavors—even the most outlandish ones. While on our honeymoon in Hawaii, I rediscovered my love for surfing. And, I’m returning to school full-time in 2011 to focus on healthcare studies. All of this, I’m hoping, will assist and improve my focus on my athletic training and conditioning.

While remaining injury-free for the 2010 active season, I came up short of making it out of the year unscathed. Just prior to Thanksgiving, I suffered a rather serious neck injury. I herniated a disc between C6 and C7 in my neck, causing some severe pain and spams radiating into my shoulder-blade. This has sidelined me for a few weeks until my physician and physical therapist give me the all clear to resume training. Fortunately, I’m feeling much better right now and anticipate a return to full activity within a couple weeks of writing this.

My 2011 Goals

  • Become a Certified Personal Trainer.
  • Figure out my cramping issue during training to avoid race meltdowns.
  • Run between 50 and 100 miles in a fat ass ultra this Spring.
  • Do a few Olympic and 70.3 distance triathlons (events TBD).
  • Run 100 miles in the BoMF 20in24 in July.
  • Complete a 140.6 triathlon in late Summer or early Fall (event TBD).
  • Improve my surfing quality and quantity on multiple coasts.
  • Log more miles via foot and/or bike for local trips than via cars.

That’s enough to keep me focused and busy for the foreseeable future with the time and effort invested yielding both health and fitness dividends along the way. I’ll be posting here with updates on event decisions, training progress, and any milestones reached. What are your 2011 endurance goals?

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 fiancée 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.

Whatchoo running for?

While running the other night, I passed by a young boy who was riding a big wheel on the sidewalk. He must have been only four years old or so, and he had a truly puzzled look on his face. He asked me, “whatchoo running for?” He said this in all seriousness. His question took me off-guard, as I was expecting more of a comment or jeer instead of pure curiosity.

I wanted to give him an answer as I passed, so I quickly said “to stay in shape!” He replied, “What???” and I had to look over my shoulder behind me and yell my answer this time, “TO STAY IN SHAPE!”

He looked confused as I kept running. I wonder what he was thinking and if it meant anything to him.