Running. 12 hours. One day.
5k (3.1 mile) loop. Longest distance wins.
Ben signed us up for the Hawthorn Half Day ultra last week. He planned to run up to 50 miles to prepare for the Western States 100, while I decided to run up to the full 12 hours to push myself and see if I could. Since Dances With Dirt, we hadn’t completed many long runs; Ben bruised/displaced a rib and had been struggling to let it heal, and I was just relaxing for a few weeks! You know that feeling of low motivation you get after a race? Well, with the warmer weather and post-race-itis, I couldn’t get my butt out the door… I was still getting out 5 times (maybe 6) per week thanks to group runs – so not really relaxing – but typically kept my mileage between 5-7 miles each run. Coming from super high-mileage 60-90 mile weeks earlier this year, that was quite a break.
On Saturday before the HHD, I started feeling kind of funny – sinuses dried out, general tiredness. When Monday rolled around, I was positive I’d caught some kind of cold. Coughing. Lots of coughing. This wouldn’t be a big deal, but I was pretty worried about the rattling in my chest when I’d cough. UNfortunately, it turned out to be bronchitis, so I went home with a z-pak and a hope that I’d kick this thing within a few days. [I didn’t start feeling any better until Thursday.] By Friday I felt about 90%. My cough sounded much worse than I felt. I wasn’t sure how Saturday would go, but I felt well enough to run and didn’t really sweat it.
If you’ve read any of my other ultra race reports, you know I don’t do a lot of pre-race planning. This time was a little different! I’m doing the Whole30, a 30-day jump-start to change the way I choose and think about food. And because this is a new way of eating for me, most of my race prep was about planning and packing nutrition. Gone are the days of PB&Js and super-sugary energy gels, which were good for a quick boost and then a slight crash (then rinse and repeat). I really had to get my nutrition plan ready before the beginning of the race this time.
I’ll probably put together another post outlining how I made it through the race on a completely different eating regimen than my usual run-gel-run-pbj-run-pbj-run-pbj-run-gel/salted potato routine. Here’s the gang of food I actually packed and ready in a cooler:
- Ignite Naturals Reload energy gel.
- Sweet potatoes – pureed with applesauce in a gel flask.
- Apple juice
- Baby food – not an intentional Whole30 move. I’ve been experimenting with this for a while.
- Larabars and homemade “Larabars” – I made some key lime homemade larabars the night before the race. Cashews, walnuts, dates, lime! Delicious!
- Sweet potato, in chunks, with a container of salt.
- Aidell’s Chicken & Apple sausage (Kroger) – cut into chunks
- Recovery/Post-WO Food Plan -
As far as other things I had ready for race day:
- I put a good Rhapsody playlist on my (borrowed) mp3 player.
- Flip Belt! Because of the way the race is set up, I never had to go longer than 3 miles before an aid station, so I figured I’d pack light. I don’t usually carry water or hydration packs anyway.
- Change of clothes – including a full change of clothes for after the race, and an extra tank top for if it got hot enough to ditch sleeves. I usually pack extra socks, underwear, calf sleeves, shoes, and sports bra. I never know what I’ll be running in/through (especially if on horse trails…)
- Garmin – 910 I borrowed from Rick! My 610 doesn’t have enough battery life to make it, but the 910 can last up to 20 hours.
- The usual – sunglasses, running hat, sunblock, extra shoes, compression tights, calf sleeves
TIP: Bring a backpack and label the contents of the pockets to save time searching for things mid-race. (Same could apply to your food containers/cooler)
We left Bloomington around 5:30am, expecting an hour drive (it was more like 1:15). Not surprisingly, we got there a little late, but had enough time to set up our camp (coolers on/under a folding table and a case of water), put on the right clothes, pick up timing chips, and hit the bathroom with – literally – 10 seconds to spare before the gun went off. The morning weather was so perfect! Cool, but not uncomfortable.
The first loop was all about getting familiar with the course. I was really surprised that there was so much non-traditional trail (~40%) on the course – we ran through a small parking lot, hit a few segments of paved path, and ran on some big gravel. Other than that, the other ~60% consisted of dirt and grass trails. Hills: There was one big hill on the course that had to be walked, and another little one that could’ve been run, but the grade was so awkward that I decided early on to walk it as well. Mixing in the paved trail/roads helped make me feel like I could get moving a little faster than on grass. The big gravel was just rough in general – oy! The course itself was extremely well-marked with arrows and tape for directional markings, and nearly every single root and rock was painted to help us tired fall-prone runners. The race directors did an excellent job with this!
I don’t have a lot of photos, but you can find a fellow runner’s video summary of the race – including some shots of the course and runners village (aid station) – in Charles Moman’s videos here and here.
A 5k loop? Mind-numbing, you say? Think about it: running about 3 miles max before you hit an aid station. The aid station, fully stocked with whatever you choose (to bring). Predictable course. Mostly flat loops (minus 2-ish still-small walkable hills). You never end up in no-man’s land because it’s only 3 miles. Easy for spectators. C’mon, it’s a great setup! [In all fairness, my first marathon was a 26 x 1-mile loop]
I’ll recap everything that I can recall, but no guarantees – it’s all going to be pretty approximate… the loops and miles just start to blend together after a while! I put together a map so you can follow along in the spots I’m about to mention. [And if you do this race, use this for reference!]
First reaction: “No one told me there were hills on this course!” Running the first few loops, I didn’t feel a thing. Pace felt maybe a little bit fast for 50+ miles since I was running with Jesse for a lap or so. Everyone was really cheerful and energetic so it was good meeting and talking to people on the trail. Ben stayed back and chatted with some people so I went ahead and lost him temporarily. Jesse makes me laugh – he checked our speed and, doing the math, he saw that we were on pace for 83 miles. Honestly, I never really thought about it like that… I just thought about it like I was going out for a long run and I’d see where I ended up! Jesse was running as a fundraiser benefit for a friend
, and he received plenty of pledge donations per-mile. More miles, more dollars raised.
In one of the early parts of the third loop, a bird flew out of a tree and didn’t see me – I got smacked in the forehead by a wing or a tail feather as it flew by. [What are the odds: this is the second bird-related running incident I’ve had in the past month?!] I was really surprised when I finished the third loop, because it didn’t seem like 9ish miles had gone by yet.
Ben caught up with me and we ran together. From the very beginning, I’d been wearing my New Balance 1010 trail shoes, except I blew out part of the outer at DWD; since they were a safe bet and also because we didn’t have my size/width at the store, I didn’t want to run in a brand new pair of shoes. So, I started with the old ones…. which turned out to be a bad idea. The blowout let in a bunch of debris and little rocks in my shoes, which aggravated my feet. On top of that, the gravel was just too big to run on and I felt like I needed something more underfoot. I switched to my Newton Distance after loop 3 or 4 and it made a huge difference. Much softer! I wore those until the end. I also changed from my t-shirt into a tank top because it was already starting to get a little toasty out.
At the end of the 5th loop, my legs started feeling a little beat up. We commented on how it was starting to get warm on the lake stretch… I made a conscious decision to walk up the big hill (the one labeled “I love this hill”) and up the little incline that was labeled “Bear left.” The thing that got me through not stopping to walk for extended periods of time was giving myself a point, like the next arrow, at which I’d start running again.
These miles blended together. Legs didn’t feel any worse as the miles went on, but the one major change was that it was definitely much much warmer out on the lake stretch with the sun getting higher and hotter. (Earlier we talked about how it was bearable there primarily because of a breeze, and hoped it would continue throughout the day.) It was a clear day – not a cloud in sight. There was a moment during which I started feeling not-so-great, and I remember telling Ben, “I think I’m gonna have to stop and walk soon.” The great part about these loops being 5k is that it’s not too far until the aid station/runner camp, a good spot to relax, regroup, and reset. Mentally, I was starting to get exhausted and really relieved to reach our aid station table. I kept repeating to Ben: “I just want to hit 70. It would be so great if I could hit 70 miles.”
We pulled out our mp3 players at the 60k mark. It was such a good change of pace to have something to take my mind off of running for a bit. So Ben and I ran together while listening to music, and I felt like the mental distraction was really good for “tricking” me into running faster than I would have otherwise. Ben was such a good crew, even while running, helping by running ahead sometimes when we needed to have stuff prepared at the aid table – like ripping open a gel packet or pulling out my change of shoes.
I realized after hearing the same songs multiple times that I must’ve downloaded only part of a playlist, or synced the wrong one. Argh! It’s worse that this is the second time I’ve made this mistake. Sometime during the later part of these miles that I was finally able to un-pop my ears. With the bronchitis-related sinus issues I was having (I’ll spare you the details), my right ear had been plugged up since I woke up. Finally got it and suddenly I could hear better! Little victories!!
Speaking of wins, we noticed the water spigots near the campsites for the first time in the later parts of our run together, just as it was getting hot. We stopped and I splashed my face, arms, and calf sleeves with water each time we came to this spot. It was a good chance to stop and feel refreshed!
Ben pulled off, finishing his 50 miles after lap 16. He continued to be a good crew and moved our camp table to a shady spot so I wouldn’t have to hit the rest spot in the blinding sun. And, he’d been talking to our new friend, Lindsay, who had been set up at her runner’s (Justin’s) aid table next to us; around this time she let us have a bag of ice and cooler she’d brought…
It was around this point that I noticed the countdown clock for the first time, at around 4:30 to go. I’d run a loop and try to guess where the clock would be the next time I came through, somewhere around 32-38 minutes. I did a quick how-am-I-feeling check — and strangely enough, my legs felt just the same amount of beat up at 20 miles, 30, 40, 50, 60, and 70 miles. No issues besides a little tightness in the hamstrings.
Nothing super notable here, besides seeing a big black snake on the trail. That was not so fun. I got a jolt of adrenaline after almost stepping on it.
6 laps left to go:
As I finished a lap, Ben started telling me that all I needed was to run 3 laps and I could walk 3 (at <14 min/mi pace) to match the course record. I was getting really mentally tired of going around and around for still another 3+ hours, so to break it down into “sets” of three laps like this was tremendously helpful in being able to…. chew it all. Knowing that I could walk?? Awesome! It was somewhere around this time that Ben recommended trying the running hat, since my head was getting hot! I headed off for the sixth-to-last lap to go.
As I started running, I started feeling a slight twinge in my foot. Minor concern… this is what put me in a boot after the Chicago Marathon! I kept running, paying attention to my running form, and – fortunately – it went away about a half mile later without ever coming back. I pressed on. Of course, it always seemed like the sky would cloud over as I was at my aid “table” and then the sun would come out full force when I got to the long sunny stretch around the lake.
5 laps to go:
We discovered that the running hat was a good idea. Ben helped by putting ice in my hat AND in the back of my sports bra on every lap from here on out — it was a lifesaver. It would still be a few hours before the sun would lay off, so this was so incredibly good at helping stay cool. In fact, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have finished or run like I did without the ice (THANK YOU, JUSTIN & LINDSAY!!!). The ice pack that Ben helped me with each lap would be perfectly melted by the time I returned back for the next lap.
As I ran with this lap, I started imagining walking or run-walking the remaining laps. So tempting!! I got excited at the idea of possibly walking the next lap, then running the one after that, and walking the last two. Or, running parts and walking parts within laps. The possibilities!!! Whatever I ended up doing, I couldn’t do it until after this lap if I wanted to be safe. So, I kept going.
My mp3 player died at the end of this lap. I was really tired of listening to the same 10 songs, but since I’m such a creature of habit, felt kind of thrown off when the routine and rhythm I had gotten into was slightly disrupted. I was over it about a minute later.
4 laps to go:
Even though I had wanted to walk most of this lap, I decided it was smart to keep running through this – sun and all – so I could get far ahead enough to walk comfortably later. In other words, I didn’t want to put myself in a time-crunch situation. So, I ran this lap too, and felt pretty good. In fact… I felt like I was going faster on this lap, because (like I mentioned earlier), sets of 3 laps were so much easier to digest than thinking about running 9 miles at a time. Again, little victories.
3 laps to go:
I really had a lot of intentions to walk these laps, but I wanted to keep the momentum I had from the last lap and I kept on running. This continued on… and I kept on feeling ok with the ice on my head and on my back, despite still plenty of sun.
People suddenly got so much friendlier! Because we were so close to the finish, I think everyone was ready to be done and could taste the end of the 12 hours. A few people asked how many miles or laps I was at, and truthfully, I had no idea. I knew I was past 100k!
2 laps to go:
I headed off on my second-to-last lap. Partway into the lap, I met a very aggressive goose. I stopped, walked, didn’t make eye contact… all those things. One bird-related incident for the day is enough, right? Let’s not make it two. I snuck past the goose, and it chased me for a little ways. As I panicked a little, my mind started to devise ways to defend myself; kicking it was the best I could come up with. I continued on running pretty quickly with the adrenaline rush from my goose encounter.
After this lap, Ben told me I was at a decision point. I could:
a) run the very last 5k lap in 40 minutes and then hang out for 5-10 minutes before I started on the half mile road loop in the last half hour of the race. The lap I’d just finished was somewhere around 36-38 minutes (I’d totally forgotten about the pit stop I made at the campground).
b) run two more 5k laps in ~35 minutes. Kind of faster, but doable.
I chose to run one last lap in 40 minutes (mostly because I didn’t want to face off with the goose again).
1 lap to go (last lap):
I headed off for this lap, almost on a high from the excitement of being so close to done…. with the 5k loop, at least! I really didn’t feel like I needed or wanted to walk, so I kept going. Legs still felt surprisingly good, even up the hills. I must’ve returned back to the aid station/base camp way before Ben expected me, because he was still lounging in the lawn chair. He hopped up and looked at his watch. I finished that lap in less than 35 minutes. Nice!
Since I was way ahead of time, I decided to head out for a very last – bonus – lap.
* Warning: Lots of excitement and exclamation marks ahead.
The bonus lap:
It was almost kind of eerie being out on this lap, since I encountered only two other runners on this loop. By this time, even though the sun was still out (and I still had a good amount of ice in the back of my sports bra), the sun was getting a little less strong. Finally! I did just as I did on every other lap, walking up the big hill. When I got to the “Bear Left” hill, I felt good enough to run up it. So close! The finish is near! (At least, the end of the 5k loops is done!)
Half Mile Loops:
The half mile loop was wonderful!! Like the groups of 3 5k loops, it was so much easier to bite off each half-mile loop at a time, as opposed to thinking about running 2 more miles. I thought I’d have time for only 2 or 3 laps, so I headed out. People were rolling (fast!) out on the half-mile road/parking lot loop! Caught up in the final moments of the entire 12 hours, I followed suit. It was crazy how short the half miles seemed compared to the 5ks! This was absolutely a-mazing. On such a short loop, I felt like I was flying! I saw Troy
(who Ben had run with earlier in the day) through the trees a few times, and he
was flying too!
I ran the three half-mile loops I knew I could get in without a problem. When I passed the time clock, I saw I had 7:39 (minutes-seconds) left to run a possibly fourth loop, so I headed out once more but with the intention of trying to run two more loops to make five. I took off, with my GPS pace reading at around <7 minutes per mile. After doing this for a few feet, my legs felt tired… and then they got really heavy… and didn’t want to move this fast. I thought, “Hey, this kinda hurts. I think I’ll stop running like this now,” so I did. I trotted slowly and comfortably toward the finish of the fourth lap, not before seeing Ben. Ben who was standing on the side of the half-mile course, gave me grief for giving up on not squeezing out another full mile. I argued that I didn’t have time left. He told me, “I bet you’ll have four minutes left to do it. You can do that, easy.”
Well, I got back to the timing clock. As much as I hated to admit it, he was right. I had 3:58 left to do another half mile. Possible? Ok, let’s give it a shot.
I kept on going as fast as I could (given the circumstances of the past 11 hours and 56 minutes), made the turn as quickly as possible, and with probably 500 feet left of the loop, a car started awkwardly backing out of a parking spot, blocking the entire road we were running on! Me and another guy next to me both muttered, “Are you serious?!” and got around it as best we could. A quick glance at my pace told me I was sitting right on 7-minute pace.
Finishing was such a cool experience! There were tons of spectators, and so much clapping and cheering. What an amazing reminder of how joyous and inspiring race finish lines can be – whether you’re running a 5k, marathon, half marathon, or an ultra… the crowd is what gets you through to the end! I used the energy and excitement from everyone to take me through to the finish, seeing Ben on the sideline about 20 yards of the end. With 15 seconds remaining on the clock when I crossed the finish line, I can confidently say that I squeezed as much mileage out of these 12 hours as I possibly could. (and Ben was right that I had time for a last lap)
|The last steps – ignore that heel strike!
I was sopping wet from all of the melted ice and just realized it. Carefully, I changed into my compression tights to help recovery and grabbed a (recovery) bite to eat. We sat down with everyone in the picnic shelter, where the awards ceremony was held. It was so fun to be able to meet all of the people I’d seen on the course earlier! Maybe it’s just me: I recognized each person best by seeing the back of his/her shirt. Ben and I had a good time sharing war stories with everyone and hearing theirs. It’s sometimes really easy to just go home after a race, so this was a really good part of the event – the chance to hang out, have fun, and celebrate.
Ben won his age group, running 49.6 miles in 7 hours, 37 minutes!
I won the female overall award! We each went home with a medal and a trophy. Bartley win!
Ran 76.9 miles on the day
Broke the women’s course record. Previous record: 71.2 mi set in 2012.
Third place overall finish. (By the way: Jesse won – running 78.4 mi!)
Average 9:02 min/mi while running
Average 9:39/mile including breaks between loops.
Projected 16:08 finish at this pace if I was insane enough to go 100 mi
The immediate damage:
Everything was minor. Hooray!
- Sacro-iliac (SI) joint was stuck. This just caused some tightness in my back. Huge shout to Dr. Mandy Smith at Indiana Spine & Sports for “fixing me” with ART & some minor adjustments (and to Ben for preemptively scheduling the appointment knowing what was to come!)
- Tiny blister on foot – but that’s it!
- Tight hamstrings & hip flexors
- Minor bruised toenail
- Sore biceps, on the inside of my elbow. It must take more effort to keep my arms ~90º while running than I thought.
- 1 horse fly bite
- Roof of mouth torn up until two days after. I’ll admit, this one’s weird. There’s a “scientific” reason why, and since the internet says it, it must be true. Everything I ate – in particular, acidic things like tomato sauce or vinegar, would burn and make the roof of my mouth feel like it was on fire! This is something so minor, but the second time I’ve experienced it — it lasted 2 days this time.
- No plantar issues. I’ve been dealing with plantar fasciitis for months until a few weeks ago!
- No foot metatarsal issues, besides the minor twinge I felt toward the end.
- I’m not sunburned. Unbelievably. I ran Boston and got sunburned. Yet 12 hours in this and I’m not? Hmmm.
- IT bands ok. Sometimes I get really horrible IT band pulling, causing pain on the knee (resulting in hobbling/limping because of this at Boston 2011)
- Mostly stuck to Whole30. Besides small amounts of rice flour in the Endurolytes, honey in the Vespa, everything Whole30 went great! Energy levels stayed consistent throughout the day and I never once felt hungry.
I want to eat… ALL the things! Can’t…. stop… eating…! So… so… hungry…! And of the things I want to eat, I really want sugar. I’m not sure if this has to do with needing more sleep, but I’m craving something sugary and sweet.
And last, although this is my fourth ultra, I still can’t get over the struggle with a good night’s sleep after the race. I’m always so achy and uncomfortable, it just hurts to move! So I try to put a positive spin on this: Yes, yes, surely that’s accomplishment that I’m feeling.
This has clearly been my longest race to date, and one that’s pushed me beyond what I imagined I was capable of achieving. None of this would have happened without a few very important people (in no particular order):
- Ben – for being my crew, semi-unexpectedly. Best crew ever. And also for making important calculations and decisions late in the day when my brain was in no condition for critical thinking. And for signing us up! (In addition: loaning me his mp3 player, driving to/from Terre Haute, cheering for me, for adding ice… the list goes on)
- Bill & Mickey (Mama and Papa B) – for coming over to grill us a celebratory steak dinner… after 10pm.
- Rick – for loaning me your Garmin 910 so I could see my splits after my own watch would have died. And for a good laugh (and compliment) on Facebook. Never say never…..!
- Maria & Erin – for helping me figure out what food I was going to bring!
- The BARA gang – for getting me out the door and a reason to run, even when I sometimes didn’t feel like it.
- Christy – for loaning me some Ignite Gels (while we wait for them to arrive on backorder). Huge help!
- Justin & Lindsay – I’ll say it again. I would not have finished this well without your generous “donation” and willingness to share the cooler of ice you had! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
- Hawthorn Half Day Race Directors & staff – for hanging on, hanging out, and making this long day a spectacular one!
- And to YOU – For reading this far and this long, you deserve a medal.