A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 5; 39th Edition
1025.4 miles raced; 350 yards swam and 9 miles biked in 2010
Race: New Year's One Day Race
Place: San Francisco, CA
Miles from home: 741 miles
Weather: 40-50s; Intermittently rainy
In 2007, I wanted to end my year of running by doing a race which started prior to the New Year and ran over the 12 o'clock hour. However, I did not get into the race lottery. In 2008, I spent the New Year taking care of a drastically flu-stricken girlfriend. Last year, I wanted to do a fun race on a looped course in Wyoming but two weeks prior the race was canceled due to lack of funds. (I think that was the reason.) So, I decided to make my own adventure and ran for 6 hours around the park across the street from my house. I surprised myself with 43 miles. Given the fact I was merely running for fun, by myself, I was quite pleased with this total.
This year, I had originally planned to be in Florida to take on a 12 hour event but life intervened as it so often does. The race venue changed to San Francisco and the race changed to a 6 hour event, instead. With the month of December being one of the toughest months I have had to deal with in quite some time, the mere fact I showed up on race morning surprised me - especially when travel snafus made what was already going to be one of the most convoluted travel weekends I have ever had (long story) even more crazy. But, I arrived in San Francisco ready to take on the 6 hour challenge with extreme melancholy making me almost wish a few hours later that I had left my heart in San Francisco. However, I had a plan and a goal and that was to run 48 miles (a 7:30 minute mile pace) or potentially more.
I had previously ran this exact same course two years ago and found that even though there is probably only about 3 feet of elevation change per loop (at most), it seems to be a relatively tough course to do loops around. Perhaps it is the three 90 degree angle turns and the one even sharper in degrees that add to the level of difficulty. I know in 2008 it was the very unseasonably warm Halloween weather which took me from hoping to run close to 80 miles to barely eking out 68.3 miles. The weather for this race looked far more palatable but storms were looming. Regardless, the race needed to be run. I was as ready as I knew I would be.
1st Hour - 8:56, 7:52, 8:01, 7:58, 7:57, 8:00
The course loop is an uneven distance of 1.06 miles which doesn't sound like it will throw you off much from just a standard mile. However, it is just long enough that if you plan on running say, a 7:30 minute mile (as I was), the extra .06 means your per-loop time is actually almost exactly at 8 minutes. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I forgot to factor in that extra .06 in my calculations on this night.
When the race started for me the 24 Hour people had already been running for 9 hours and those in the 12 hour boat had 6 hours under their shoes. I get demoralized in races when a relay team passes me - I can't even begin to fathom how annoying fresh legs were to those already hours upon hours into their respective runs.
I spent the first loop running with a trail runner from the greater San Francisco area whom had never done such a timed race as this. Erik was his name and he seemed like he had a good battle plan. I obviously wanted to take the first lap a little conservative but when we went through right at 9 minutes, I realized I needed to pick it up some. There was no way I was going to average 8 minute loops at the end of the race without a few under that time in the first hour. I bid Erik adieu and picked up my pace.
As each loop went by I was a little concerned that, while not pushing too hard, these 8 minute loops did not feel as easy as I hoped they would be this early in the race. However, mentally, the first hour went by very fast. For that, I was quite pleased as I had a million thoughts going through my head.
2nd Hour: 8:06, 7:58, 8:32, 8:04, 8:21, 8:18, 8:32
This entire second hour was a blur. I could tell I was not going to be able to manage 8 minutes per loop today, period. So I spent the vast majority of this hour doing math. How many additional seconds per loop would add up to eventually subtract miles from what I could fit in during the 6 hours?
NUUN for electrolyte replacement during the race. Even though it was a bit on the chilly side, I could tell I was sweating greatly. I was wearing an awesome jacket from ROAD ID which kept me warm. Perhaps a little too warm, as I was sweating through my undershirt.
As I neared the end of the second hour, I stopped to look at what the aid station, positioned right after the end of each loop, had to offer. The race had provided on its website a place where people could email individual runners at the race itself. Those messages were printed out and given to the runners to read at their leisure. While I scarfed down a glass of Coke and downed a banana strawberry PowerGel, one volunteer mentioned I had a ton of messages already. This warmed my heart. I scanned them over and felt such happiness from those who took the time out of their NYE celebration to send me good luck wishes or a joke.
Time to get running again.
3rd Hour: 8:46, 8:00, 08:00, 8:18, 8:37, 8:05, 8:13
At the beginning of the third hour, it started to sprinkle just a bit. My jacket was entirely waterproof so the water never once touched my skin. Unfortunately, I could tell I would need to change shirts soon as I was drenched underneath from my sweat.
Somehow I ran identical exact 8:00 loops and thought perhaps maybe I could get them all close to that again and that I had just needed two hours to find my groove. Even when the next loop was a little slower, I was feeling pretty happy. I sped up on the next loop as I knew it would take me a few seconds to change shirts and I wanted to bank a few seconds of time.
I quickly changed shirts and took a handful of PowerBar GelBlasts (oh so yummy) and was on my way again. I had noticed that I was chafing around my thighs which I found surprising given I thought I had applied ample amounts of lubrication and I had not even run a marathon distance yet. My next loop through I grabbed two handfuls of Petroleum Jelly the race put out for runners to use and tried to remedy the situation.
4th Hour: 8:47, 8:48, 20:18, 10:07, 09:03, 9:39
As the fourth hour began, tons of "Happy New Year!" texts began to pour in from my friends on the East Coast. It reminded me of the first time in my life I had not celebrated NYE on the East Coast. I was in Springfield, Missouri, having just finished my 52nd marathon of 2006. It felt so odd to not be on "real" time. Since then, the past three NYEs have been spent on Pacific Time, Mountain time and soon to be Pacific Time again. When you are trying to keep your mind from thinking about what you are doing, thoughts like this take up a great deal in your head. How relative time is and how little control we actually have over things in our life. Thoughts which normally don't have time to work into our heads because we are thinking about more right-now thoughts like "What's for dinner?" or "Did I mail my rent check?"
I soon found myself getting quite chilled and decided I was going to spend a quick 10 minutes in my car trying to warm-up. Parked no more than 30 feet from the loop, I simply grabbed my keys and ran over to it. However, I realized it was probably going to take 5 minutes for the car to warm up and then the next 5 minutes would fly by. Nevertheless, I needed the break. Earlier in the day, I had received a call from my brother about the failing health of our father. Without going into detail, it simply did not look good and I needed to think about coming home very soon. Then, a few hours later I received another call telling me that there had simply been some medications mix up and he was doing a lot better (relatively speaking.) That is quite the emotional roller coaster to deal with on any day but on this day it almost was too much for me.
I jumped out of the car and immediately began shivering uncontrollably. By stopping I probably had done myself a disservice as my body cooled down and definitely was not ready to run again. The next loop shows as it was my only over 10 minute running loop of the entire race. I shook and shook and finally, almost one mile into it, got control of myself. The next loop felt good and then on the final loop of this hour, I once again stopped to apply some lubricant (the chafing was getting downright painful), read a few messages, and got ready for the friends from the Central time zone to experience their New Year.
5th Hour: 12:56, 9:09, 8:21, 15:32, 9:05, 9:20
At the start of the fifth hour I realized that in spite of being cold, I had sweat through another shirt. I had gone through nearly three bottles of NUUN, not counting what else I drank at the race's aid station. A not-so-quick change this time, more lubrication (I could tell this was going to be a major problem later) and just a minute to gather myself before getting underway was completely necessary. I then surprised myself with two fast loops including an unbelievable (for me and for that time) 8:21. However, I finished that loop and knew I needed to be in the car again, regardless of the consequences. I simply needed to be alone.
In the car I noticed the chafing had not gotten any better and now the transponder timing chip on my ankle had cut quite the gash as well. Nothing much to do about either with just an hour to go so I simply shrugged off the pain. (Later that night, I was absolutely shocked how much I had damaged my thighs and if I had the time or energy may have actually gone to the hospital to have them looked at. Luckily, they have healed quite nicely since then.)
After a much shorter rest this time (I had left the keys in the car and left it running so it would stay warm) I popped out. Two loops closed out this hour and had me ready to end 2010.
6th Hour: 9:28, 8:17, 8:41, 8:53, 8:48, 9:27, 9:40
With the end in sight I began to have energy ebbs and flows, but all feeling much better than I had throughout the day. Actually, that's not the truth. I felt awful but I knew the awfulness got to end in less than 60 minutes. I could tell I was going to be far below my original goal for the day but I was fine with that. One can only run with what they have and what they are given on any certain day and nothing more.
Throughout the evening, whenever I passed a runner I tried to give encouragement along the way. One fella named Tony was wearing a cape that said "Endorphin Dude" on it. I smiled every single time I passed him. Another runner, Erika, who competed in fitness competitions and looked like she could walk off the field and onto a stage, had one of the most economical strides I have seen. It never wavered. On some laps, I had a tough time actually overtaking Suzanna Bon, and she was running the 24 hour race. She was simply killing it.
There was a woman in a plaid runningskirt who I told the first time I passed her, some five hour previously, I had actually run in the same skirt. Every time we crossed paths from there on out she gave a little cheer. There was a woman whose face I never once saw but I recognized her long black ponytail every loop. We cheered each other on enthusiastically until the end. Catra and Andy were machines, simply churning out mile after mile, even later into the night, after my race was over and the skies opened and unleashed a heck of a storm.
There were a couple of older gentlemen whose names I never caught but who continued to move on throughout the night. Never fast and mostly just walking I thought about how few other 60-something people spend New Year's Eve this way and how wonderful that was. I saw families running together with one of the spouses obviously being the more competitive one on this day and the other shepherding the kids around the loop, well past what was probably their normal bedtime. Even when a little rug-rat would get underfoot (the path was often quite narrow) I thought about the examples of health and fitness being set for these children as such a young age and my slight annoyance passed.
Soon, my hour was ending. The way the race is run is that if you do not complete a full lap, you did not get credit for that lap. As such you wish to time it so you "waste" as little time as possible when you finish your last loop. As I came in on my 39th loop, I only had a little over 2 minutes to spare, quite obviously not enough time for another loop. Most of the 6 hour runners had called it a day and were already beginning to put on silly hats and get their noisemakers ready.
In the next 120 seconds, I came face-to-face with many of those whose back was all I had seen all night long. We thanked each other for pushing or pulling the other along and before we knew it a countdown had begun. The race director yelled "Happy New Year!" and almost immediately fireworks were set off around the bay, down by what I am guessing was the Embarcadero district. I heard them before I saw them and turned my head to look, as I was sitting down on a rock at the time with my back to the fireworks, I only looked for a second. I then put my head in my hands and breathed a sigh of relief.
It was over. Not just the race, but the year and really, a lot of things in general. In spite of a difficult month, for the time being, my father was doing better. That was the most important thing.
As the rain began to pour down, I felt so sorry for those still running, (many later would cut their 24 hour race efforts short and call it a day prior to it being a "day") I was happy to be here. It had been an extremely tough year. The turning of the clock and the ripping off of a page from the calendar was not going to make everything better or magically make any problems go away. But I was alive and healthy. I had many good friends from the past and many new ones from this night alone.
I ended up running 41.4 miles besting second place by over 6 miles (full results here). I looked over all the results and saw that many veterans of ultra running had run far less than they had in similar races. This helped lift the spirits a little, given my total was less than I had hoped. I drove back to where I was staying in a heavy rain, with my first place coffee mug on the seat beside me. The next day I would be traveling all over, through all different means of travel just to get home. The airline industry, which has so often aggravated me and kept me constantly flummoxed did me one solid favor to start the year. Somehow, the planets aligned and I was able to catch a flight home 9 hours earlier than I was supposed to, eliminating an overnight layover in the Vegas airport. This lifted my spirits so much, being able to put this weekend, this trip and this year behind me far earlier than expected, that I considered that moment to be "my" New Year.
It took longer than usual for me to write this recap. As much as I was not a fan of 2010, there were things I did not want to let go. Fortunately, some I do not have to. But some others needed to be done, regardless of my desires.
This year holds so much promise for all of us. Personally, I am excited to get my second book finished, to take on triathlons and continue to meet wonderful and interesting people from all over the planet. I plan to suck the absolute marrow out of life this year and do all I can to savor each day.
I only hope for the exact same for each and every one of you. Happy New Year.