Hinson Lake 24 hour ultra classic. I loved it, and would recommend the race to anyone. There was a good mix of seasoned ultra runners, fun runners, families, dogs and people who just came to "Run as you please" - there were about 160 registrants.
For $24 I got a great T-shirt, a travel coffee mug, and the number 28 to pin to my shorts. In addition, it bought great company, a fabulously stocked aid station, encouragement from the race volunteers, and for me, a great experience.
It seemed there were two types of runners, those who really set out to get as many miles as possible in 24 hours (at whatever pace they were comfortable at), and those who came for a good time - run a little, rest, cook out, hang with friends, and then maybe run another lap, or walk a lap, volunteer some, or just pass on encouragement to the former type of runners. I was definitely going to "get as many miles as possible in 24 hours". I had goals, a PR to break, a 100 miler to train for. Next year, I may just go to hang out with friends, run a few laps, cook out etc. Whatever fashion I choose to run the race next year, I will be there, I am absolutely certain of that.
My heartfelt thanks go out to the Race Director Tom, his wife Donna and his family and friends who were manning the aid station, and counting and recording laps.
Before signing up for this race, the thought of running small 1.52 mile loops for 24 hours was a fear of mine, surely, you would end up going nuts seeing the same sights 50+ times? That fear was unfounded, because I really enjoyed the course, every foot of it for each of the 53+ times that I went round it. It was scenic, runnable, not dead flat, but flat enough that the hills weren't an obstacle.
Once we were off, I walked probably for the first mile - I mean, what's the hurry? It's a good way for me to warm up, because I don't do the stretching thing; the last time I stretched before a race, I ended up ripping my calf muscle 18 miles later, and had a horrible time for the last 8 miles. I have not stretched since, and also not ripped any calf muscles - coincidence? I think not :-)
Round to the aid station for the first time, its never too early to eat, especially M&M's. "Number 28", I shouted for the first of 53 times. "We have you down as one lap" was the reply. And so it went. It didn't take long to get to know the course, where to jog, where to walk.
I spent some time talking to people, Joe Lugiano (Umstead assistant RD), also "Captain" Sally, who runs one of the aid stations at Umstead, Fred Dummar who I have seen at many Mangum events but not really spoke to, Christian Griffth who posts regularly on the Yahoo Ultralist - I introduced myself by mentioning that his race report on the Cascade Crest 100, and specifically his problems with "front chafe", and my actions in preventing it by applying Glide, could have had me arrested for lewd behaviour.
The early miles went by quite quickly, it wasn't too hot, it was fairly humid, but lower than it has been lately, and I was enjoying my running.
By about mile 25, I noticed a hot spot in my right foot. I've never really suffered from blisters before, and the one time I had a couple, it didn't really effect my race. I decided to make some "repairs" early. I applied some moleskin on three blisters, and carried on. One lap later, the moleskin on two of them had come off. So I applied some tape instead. I have no idea if this is the case, but it as good of a theory as any. My shoes took a real beating on the down hill sections in the Tetons a couple of weeks ago, I think it is possible that the cushioning was trashed. Also, since then, the only running I have done has been on pine needles, so I didn't notice, but on the day, it seemed as if I could feel every stone and lump in the trail through my shoes, that changed my form slightly and hence the blisters. Whether that is the case or not, it is a good excuse to get new shoes.
I put on my road shoes, and for a time they felt more comfortable, but although I was still running most of the time, I did notice that the blisters were making me limp slightly, which caused more blisters. Ho hum.
When I hit 40 miles or so, I made an error of judgement. I had visions of my PR for 50 miles (11:48). If not my PR, certainly a sub 12 hr 50. So I pushed for that. This beat up my feet even more, and increased the fatigue I was already feeling. Ultimately, I didn't get my PR, I crossed the 50 mile mark at 12:18. I promised myself a break and some more foot repair at 50 miles, so I sat for 15 minutes or so, to refuel and apply some tape.
After 50, I slowed down a fair bit, and I could feel my pace slowing each lap. "Just keep moving" was the only thought I had.
When I crossed 65 miles, I announced to the folks at the aid station that I now had a 24 hr PR - and I still had over 6 hours to go. I really appreciated the round of applause I received!
The night rolled on, and I kept moving, the blisters kept hurting. The course was much emptier in the dark hours, and I was on my own most of the time, occasionally I would pass someone, and occasionally I would be lapped too. The laps kept piling up.
It took forever to get to 75 miles once I had passed the PR. I had entered a whole new world of hurt - and I had beeen warned to expect it, but I had no idea it would be this bad. Blisters and fatigue were really taking their toll. Caffiene pills and coke had little effect by now. I finally hit 75 miles, and 50 laps, and thoughts of quitting overpowered every other thought I had. It was about 5 or 6 in the morning. I hit 50 laps, and as I was leaving the aid station on the start of lap 51, I slumped into the chair next to my tent, a beaten man. I was done. I sat there for 10-15 minutes trying to talk myself into trying one more lap. Eventually, I got up and trudged round the lap. My last, I knew it for certain, and with that decision made, I was happy. I would be in a sleeping bag within 30 minutes.
"Number 28". "We have you at lap 51". "I'm done, thanks for everything". A few minutes later I was trying to sleep in my tent, devestated that I couldn't make 80 miles, and I couldn't make 24 hours. I was upset with myself, and it would be a lie to suggest that there weren't a few tears.
I couldn't sleep, so I got up, got changed into "street clothes", and my pair of trusty immitation WalMart crocs, and started packing my tent, and loading up the car just a couple of hundred feet away. It occured to me that I was actually feeling quite mobile. At the same time, I saw Christian hobbling in, also wearing crocs. I looked at the clock, it said 23:15. I can do this, I can get one more lap. If I get one more, I can say when people ask how I did, "nearly 80 miles".
"Number 28 going out for one more", I reported to the volunteers, and so off I went. As I was moving, I started to loosen up, YES, I can do this. I WILL get another lap done. "Number 28", "we have you at 52 laps". The time was 23:35. They gave me a banana with my number on it, which I was to drop on the trail at exactly 24:00 hours, so they could measure my exact mileage.
I started to run. I have 25 minutes to make it to 53 laps, and 80.5 miles. I was running the fastest I had ran the whole race. I knew the course well enough to know where the one mile point was on the loop, and had a quiet celebration to myself when I passed 80 miles. With the clock at 23:50, I was back at the base. "Number 28", "We have you at lap 53". "I kept running, still the fastest I had ran for the whole 24 hours. When the clocked hit 8am, I dropped my banana. It was over.
Official results are yet to be published, but I believe I made a total of around 81.5 miles. I'm very happy with that.
There will be more posts in coming days about the lessons learnt and the mistakes made, and some final thoughts plus one or two photos. This will do for now though.