An All Day Affair – The North Coast 24hr Endurance Run

Warning: This is going to be long. 24 hours takes quite a few words. Excuse the rambling. Here’s how I remember it: 

The journey started long before Saturday morning on September 21st, but you can read about that in prior posts.

I slept better than expected…a good 6 hours solid, plus another 2 hours resting, before my alarm went off at 4:30am. It was raining, and had been for hours. I didn’t bother checking the weather. It didn’t matter. I started the coffee and Andrea picked me up at 5:30. Off to Cleveland! We chatted through the drive and I tried to stay calm. It was going to be a long day…plenty of time to meet my goals. I kept reminding myself…just another long run.

Edgewater Park is located on the shore of Lake Erie, just west of Cleveland, Ohio. The 0.9 mile paved loop passes a beach area, rocky shore, a small marina at Whiskey Island, some train tracks, a grassy park, and back to the beach. The large pavilion located there housed the timing mat and Aid Station, with nearby bathrooms and (cold) showers. We arrived about 8am…I checked in, picked up my shirt and ankle chip. And there was Barry with coffee and 2 cans of Pringles for me. So sweet! He was running the race too, and we had met through the Facebook group for the event. Thanks Pops!

We set up the canopy we borrowed from Kate in Tent City, a tenth of a mile stretch along the west edge of the course, and I quickly pointed out how my stuff was organized: clothes, warmer clothes, socks, shoes, first aid, food. It was simple enough, but I wanted my crew to be able to find these things when I couldn’t remember my name later in the evening. We’d use the provided aid as much as possible…that’s what I paid for, right? (As it turns out, I barely touched our supplies save a few handfuls of Pringles and 2 bottles of Ensure!) It was still raining, so we left most of the gear in the car for the time being.

Andrea had a stack of cards for me…a few messages from friends, and a slew of the most awesome notes from her husband, and fellow runner, Goat. Best idea ever! I’d get more notes…as long as I kept going. I got the first one, from Goat’s coworker, as I put on my shoes.

goodluck

It means “Good Luck at the start of a journey.” I got goosebumps. It’s time.

If you’ve never seen the start of an ultra, you might be surprised. Until someone says “Go!” you might not even know you’re at a race. It’s pretty casual. This was no exception. The RD intentionally starts the race before the mat. Since the course is shy of a mile, runners need to complete exactly 111 laps to achieve 100 miles…and this makes up the difference. So runners make their way up the slight grade to the starting point, complete with ponchos and umbrellas. I’m still not sure how one runs with an umbrella. I quickly found Kelly…in her poncho…and turned around just in time for the start. Go.

nc24 start

We headed off together toward the mat. Beep. Beep. We’d hear that for a good while…every time we crossed the timing mat. Beep. Beep. One for each of us. Every time but one…I’ll get to that. Just to the right was a screen which would display our name, the number of laps, and the total distance (less the starting add-on). I thought this would get old, but it was great to see the numbers climb, especially when my watch died after 7 hours.

I only wore my watch for two reasons: first to time my run/walk intervals, and second to make sure I wasn’t running too fast. I took about two walk breaks per lap…one at the hill just beyond Tent City, and one on the long stretch along the south side of the loop. With few exceptions, I’d continue these breaks throughout. As far as speed, I stuck to a 12:30-13min pace including the walk breaks.

Beep. Beep. Still raining. Andrea had checked the weather and told us it would let up around 11am. And it did…almost exactly…but not before it got worse.

nc24 rain

Kelly was having foot issues, so we split up as she headed to the on-site podiatrist and I kept going. I had made a deal with myself…no music for the first 2 hours. Andrea remembered and was willing to fetch my iPod. I was alone at this point, and ready for a little distraction.

Beep. 20 miles. I stopped by the tent to update everyone back home. I got another card from Goat…I think this was the limerick that didn’t rhyme at the end. Or maybe the stick figure drawing of me running, proving why he was NOT an illustrator! I love that guy!

Beep. I finally met up with Kelly again…it felt like forever. Andrea kept me updated on her, but since she was just ahead, and we were running similar paces, I couldn’t catch her. We agreed to do a few more laps, putting us close to 50k, and change shoes. Most of the puddles were gone now, and I was ready for dry socks.

Beep. Beep. 50k. Time for another update. Close to 7 hours in at this point and feeling fine. I was eating and drinking regularly. Not even the slightest twinge. A quick tire change and we were off. We caught up to Jason on this lap, and the three of us chatted away.

Beep. Beep. B… Uh…three right? Screen check. Jason…Amanda…no Kelly. Jason made a joke about Kelly losing her chip and we look down. It’s gone! That’s when she realizes she didn’t put it back on after changing her socks! This is a mistake you only make once. We found it at the tent, completed another loop, and the timer thankfully advanced her a lap. From that point on…bib and chip check every time I left the tent!

My friends Stuart and Tory arrived shortly after. I thought I might need extra help getting through the night, and I didn’t want all that to fall on one person’s shoulders. Andrea had already done enough, between driving and checking on my every hour or so. So far, I was being rather responsible…eating and drinking before she asked. The three if them struggled to sit up our main tent in the already howling wind. I laughed about this for a few laps. Or maybe that’s the delirium setting in…I’m smiling, so that’s good. After setting up the tent, Tory was ready to accompany me for some miles. The one “hill” on the course was positioned perfectly…running right into the wind. We powered through.

nc24 tent city

Beep. I’ll be honest. I wasn’t worried about the first 50 miles (Goal #1). I didn’t really think about how long it would take, and knew as long as I was done by midnight, I’d have plenty of time to reach 100k (Goal #2). I had run my first 50miler back in June in 13:27. The sun was setting, and we were getting close to 50, but I didn’t have a working watch at this point and I wasn’t paying attention to the time.

Beep. 56 laps. 50.5 miles. Tory and I made our way back to the tent and picked up Andrea and Stuart. We ran to where the estimated 51 mile mark would be, and celebrated the mileage PR before grabbing food at the Aid Station and taking a break. On the way back I crunched the numbers in my head. 50 miles in…11:27? A 2hour PR? No way. My crew confirmed my math. Yup. 2 hours. I was shocked. And happy. And way ahead of schedule! Beep.

Here’s where my memory gets a little fuzzy. I’m happy to report I didn’t ever feel dizzy or nauseous (save one gagging incident…as the night gets later, I learned to stop moving while eating.). I kept my wits about me, and never felt like a zombie (Thanks ENERGYbits!). I didn’t feel tired, and forced myself to eat often enough. 

Follow the plan: Eat. I grabbed a cup of salty rice, and a vegan bean roll up. It didn’t have the same appeal as 2 hours prior. I hoped that second order of pizza was on the way soon. I needed to change clothes but there was no way I was going in the tent. Too tempting. I changed into clean dry clothes right there. I wasn’t planning on switching to my last pair of shoes until after 100k, but my feet were ready for more room. I still needed more calories, so I drank an Ensure. That did it. Time to warm up. And I needed my jacket for the wind now!

Beep. 55 miles. Beep. 60 miles. So close, but I needed to sit for a second.

That’s when Stuart let me in on a little secret. He asked if I had seen Angela’s post on Facebook. Uh…maybe he didn’t notice…I’m running here! No, I haven’t been on Facebook! My friend had offered to buy me a beer for every mile past 100k. I didn’t believe him. I made him show me the post. Bring it on!

Disclaimer: I am not condoning using alcohol as a motivator for exercise. I am perfectly fine with bargaining, however. Beer sounded horrible at that moment. It was more about the challenge for me…then. I’m completely enjoying the beer during my recovery time! 

I got up and took off before Stuart had the chance to join me! 3 laps to 100k!

Beep. I stopped to update everyone. Stuart made a game of updating Angela every time I ticked off another mile to let her know how many beers she owed me. It was funny at first, but then we got caught up in the stories he had planned to tell me.

nc24 stuart

Stuart had volunteered for the 2-5am shift. Good ultra-Sherpa. I’m sure I had mentioned this was going to be the hardest time for me. By 2am, it’s been dark for a while, and sunrise is a long way off. Luckily the full moon was a few days prior, and combined with the clouds it was pretty bright. I never asked him to carry anything, and he certainly wasn’t pacing me. It was more like “Follow me around and talk my ear off.” I was thankful. Someone’s tent was robbed earlier, and I didn’t want to be alone. It was around this time that I saw how few people were still on the course. Even Tent City was pretty quiet. Some people had left, some were sleeping, and some of us were slowly circling the loop. A few people were still lapping me on a regular basis…Harvey and Greg. Jill and Lecia. Machines. But that’s when I realized all the people I hadn’t seen in a long time. I hoped they were all right.

Beep. We walked most of these miles. Stuart’s stories were hysterical. These people he knows are real winners…of Darwin Awards. Or they should be. I had to stop a few times because I was laughing so hard. My abs hurt so badly, and the laughing didn’t help. It was totally worth it!

Beep. As we passed the aid station, volunteers would yell out new options they had…especially hot ones. “Hot chicken noodle soup!” Hot soup sounded good, but as many of you know, I’m a vegetarian, and chicken broth could destroy the good thing I had going. Not worth the risk. I had no GI issues, and I wasn’t taking any chances.

Beep. “Cheese sandwich.” I hadn’t had cheese yet, and it made me nervous. The she said “HOT!” and I turned right around. The BEST grilled cheese ever. Probably not, but it hit the spot.

At 5am, I could tell Stuart needed a break. I sat for a few minutes too, knowing I had plenty of time. I yawned for the first time. All my goals were met…every step was gravy from here on out. I asked if 80 miles was a possibility. We thought I could do it.  I wasn’t really tired, just needed a new distraction. And maybe another sip of Coke.  I flipped on my iPod, grabbed an Ensure, and drank it slowly on the next lap.

Beep. Time and miles ticked by. I saw Kelly occasionally, and she looked strong despite complaints about her blistered feet. Mine hurt too, but it was a nerve issue. This path was paved, but not like the tar-covered Olentangy Trail back home. This was rock and cement dust. Hard. Yikes. The grass along the path was “off-limits,” but I longed for the soft ground.

nc24 tory

Beep. It’s light now and the sun is almost up. Tory was awake and I was thankful to watch the sunrise with her. For the first time since noon on Saturday I was hungry. Hunger is a good sign! I was tired of forcing food when everything sounded terrible. The volunteers were making breakfast…egg sandwiches and I wanted one! All they had left was ham, and although I appreciated the offer, pulling the ham off a sandwich wouldn’t work for me. They were making more, and I agreed to stop by on my next lap. I waited for Tory to use the bathroom, and the volunteer noticed I was still there. She called me over, and put a whole egg and cheese sandwich wrapped in paper towel in my hands. It was still steaming. “Now get moving!” I could have kissed her! I tried not to inhale it.

Beep. I wanted to run at the end, but I didn’t know if I had anything left. At 8am, I ditched the pants. It was still cold, and the wind and spray from the lake was freezing! But it kept me awake and moving. Finishing in my sweat pants was NOT an option. We started running short bursts to get my legs moving again. It was tough. Gradually the segments were longer, but it took a lot of effort. I told Tory I was going to get my marker and walk it out. I had met all my goals for the race…and I was going to do the whole 24 hours! It wasn’t worth hurting myself.

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Beep. With 15 minutes to go, a volunteer put the block in my hand that would serve to mark my position when time was up. I walked up the hill, and thought “Screw it!” I took off running. I ran with everything I had left. I wonder what my crew was thinking when I came around the corner so soon.

nc24 laps

Beep. I said “Thought I’d log one more lap before I put this down.” They cheered. Five minutes left…I felt like I was flying at this point. Of course, most people still on the course are walking, so comparatively, I was. Except for the leaders, who whipped past me like I was standing still. I found out later I ran my last full lap at a 10:00 pace, and the last .62 sub-9:00. 23 hours and 45 minutes into the race and I could run? No way! Certainly the fastest I’d been all day…and night…and the last year! Isn’t adrenaline awesome. I didn’t feel pressure until the last 15 minutes. That’s when this became a race for me!

The alarm sounded, I placed my block and walked away…but not before I called Stuart over to take my finish picture!

nc24 finish

My crew broke down the camp site while I tried to choke down some breakfast, but for the first time, I felt lethargic. I listened while they announced the top 3, and then we had to go…before I couldn’t walk to the car. The drive home was uncomfortable, and I could barely comprehend what I had just done. By the time we got home 2.5 hours later, I had no choice but to stumble into the house, take a hot shower and curl up on the couch. And sleep.

Here’s my results:

83.542 miles completed

34/115 Starters

9/46 Women

4/18 Women 0-39 AG

Number of beers earned: 22 (we rounded up!)

A total of 8,516.47 miles were completed by all participants around the 0.9mi loop at  North Coast this fall. That’s a pretty awesome number!

nc24 bling

So the big question: Will I run a 24 hour race again? 

Yes! No doubt. I already have my eye on one next spring.

And the bigger question: Am I ready to start thinking about training for a 100 miler?

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6 thoughts on “An All Day Affair – The North Coast 24hr Endurance Run

  1. This report really inspired me to do everything in my power to get in shape for my first 24 Hour “Across the Years” at the end of the year.
    It really got me excited reading about the adventure that all of those hours had for you.
    Very cool that you had a full crew out there with you as well.
    I had some friends that really helped me when I did my first 12 Hour locally, but I don’t know if I will have anyone in Phoenix.
    They were very valuable without a doubt.
    I have never found much value in ponchos.. they just seem to weigh me down and get annoying quick… you are going to get wet no matter what so why not just get accept it J
    You used your Garmin exactly how I plan on it… for timing my walking/running intervals, to make sure I am not going too fast and to know my overall pace (maybe that is one aspect that you weren’t as concerned about).
    I really can’t believe that someone stole out of the tents.. that is despicable and so terrible!
    I shouldn’t have to worry about it, but will make sure that I have my tent locked. Just awful.
    That is awesome that you never went into Zombie mode.. I have a feeling that I will.
    And I love the buckle! That is a finishing reward that will look great on display!
    And how fantastic to be in the Top 10 of all women!! Woohoo!
     
    I really enjoyed this race recap and am so proud of you for doing so fantastically well!!

    Chris
    http://www.mavrocatstrength.com
     

  2. Great post and and even better result at the NC 24-Hour….This was my 2nd finishing in 68.5 miles but fell short of my first attempt of 80 miles. I think I need to be in better shape next time I try to tackle this and go for the Buckle!!

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