Thursday, September 26, 2019

Pemberton 24 Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 13; 9th Edition 
74.55 miles run and 12.75 miles biked and 6409 meters swam in races in 2019 races
Race: Pemberton 24
Place: Salisbury, MD
Miles from home: 1625
Weather: 55-85 degrees; sunny

I found myself in Washington, D.C. area for the first time in 3 years and one month last weekend.  Giving a speech to bankers about ignoring the impossible, I also had to find time to et my last longish run in before I head to run a marathon that traverses Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. I hopped on the old interwebs and look at the options nearby. There was both a half-marathon in Virginia and 20 mile race in Maryland which caught my eye. Then I stumbled upon a first-year race called the Pemberton 24 - a Festival of 5Ks.

Held in a park in Salisbury, Maryland, this race was a series of 5K trail races which started promptly, on the hour ever hour for one full day beginning at 7 p.m. at night. Now, this sort of race wasn't exactly I should be doing just two weeks before a marathon but it wasn't NOT what I should be dong either. So I signed up for it.

I wrote an article on timed races for Runner's World magazine a few years ago. Those are races which, instead of a set distance, you have a set time to run as far as you can.  This race, however, was different than that. While race directors are constantly looking for ways to attract runners with new formats and new gimmicks, races akin to this are becoming more popular.  The race director of the infamous Barkley Marathons has a race wherein both runners run the same 4-ish mile loop every hour until no one can run any more This can take days sometimes. With this race, however, the twist was a point system.

Each runner received one point for each 5K completed (an additional point for the race from midnight to 5 a.m.). Then the top five finishers of both genders received an additional 4, 3, 2, 1 and 1 points respectively.  As such, if you wanted to win this race, you simply had to score the most points. This was going to be quite unique for sure.

I go to the race right when registration opened and began setting up my small tent. A little pink number I had bought for a friend for her usage in a 100 miler a few years back, I forgot it had little prancing foxes on it. That's me- striking fear in the heart of competitors everywhere. While I would not have the most minimal set up in the field (that would go to the fella who ended up setting up shop adjacent to me who had basically a reclining chair and a blanket) it was definitely dwarfed by some of the REI-salivations of other competitors. But Fort Awesome was enough for what I felt I would be doing this day. made a quick trip to the dollar store, bought a pillow and a camouflage cooler, a few provisions tin case the race didn't have them
and then was back to wait out the clock before the race started.

First 5K (7 p.m.): 23:51
My primary goal for this %K which would be run in rapidly fading light, was to simply see what the course was like and maybe figure out who a few of my top competitors would be for the race.  It appeared that many of the runners knew each other, were local, and maybe even had some sort of Survivor-esque alliances planned out for point-gaining strategies.

Midway through the first loop I heard two runners talking about how they planned to sti out a few of the early-morning races to get some rest. Puzzled, I inquired how they could do so.  This is here I learned, for the first time ,that runners did not have to complete every single 5k to continue. If you didn't run or finish a loop, you simply didn't get credit for it. This changed my entire strategy for running and racing completely!

I wore a headlamp for this first 5K and quickly realized one needs to replace these every quarter of a century or so. The elastic band had all but lost all elastic and made the headlight rather useless.  Upon finishing the loop I had to do some quick repair using athletic tape to even keep it together. I finished like 9th overall or something on this loop so I only got my one point for finishing.

Second 5K (8 p.m.): 21:20
Now that I had sussed out some of the competition, I wanted to see if I could win an early lap to jump to the lead.  I ended up running virtually this entire loop with my minimalist neighbor, Aaron who was a rather accomplished ultraunner.  He mentioned how his foot had been aching him and he would likely not come close to running all 24 loops. I long ago learned not to listen to the aches and pains of ultrarunners as hey often downplay their fitness and upplay(?) the tragedy which has befallen them lately.

This loop we would be running was not hard. But it was far from easy.  There were more than few roots, more than few twists and turns and more than a few branches those of us that are a bit taller would be taking to the face.  There was a section of dark black mud which would definitely not be improving as three hundred feet ran through it every hour. But there were also a few straight very runnable sections that I was always happy to hit. One was the last kilometer which was when runners burst out of the forest and onto a white rock road with the finish line in the distance.  Here Aaron and I popped out together and began running stride for stride. I ratcheted up the speed a touch and he stayed with me. We turned onto the last grass straightaway and I took off.  Aaron responded and stayed right with me. Having no desire to kill myself on Loop Two, I backed off a touch and Aaron went through with first place points.

So it was clear that on top of endurance, he had, at least right now, some kick!

Third 5K (9 p.m.): 22:16

By now my headlight was a bust. Aaron kindly offered me his spare which I thought was beyond nice.  This time I took off in the lead for the first 2 kilometers until a ever-smiling chap named Christopher (who wrote an ever-changing amount of Jesus-themed shirts) passed me.  I had heard that he had never run more than a marathon so I figured I would go right ahead and let him burn himself out on this loop and hold steady to my second place finish.

While the temperature was now squarely in the high-5, I was finishing each loop absolutely drenched in sweat. I could see the biggest challenge for this event was going to be staying warm and dry in between running. Once I stopped I quickly shed my shirt, toweled of and put on a long sleeved fleece. I knew eventually I was going to need more calories than the regular Mountain Dew I was drinking but right now, as it has so man times, it served me very well.

I was now second place overall in the standings. This early into the event I had no designs on how the rest of the race was going to go but I liked where I was right now.

Fourth 5K (10 p.m.): 22:15

This was the first race where it became clear to me that runners definitely have a varied amount of
different strategies. Right out of the gate a slew of runners took off at a great clip. I didn't feel like following them as I could see it was going to be a battle I wasn't interesting in participating in. When I finished fifth overall in virtually he exact same time as my second place finish from he previous loop, it was obvious each 5k was going to be it's own entity.

Fifth 5K (11 p.m.): 23:27

Beginning the fifth hour saw a slight drop in the number of participants. Or, perhaps more accurately, there were less people milling around ten minutes before the race started as there were on previous loops. I was doing my best to utilize every second of rest possible.  I had gone to also wearing a long sleeve shirt under my fleece when I was resting an climbing into Fort awesome to stay maybe a touch warmer doing my breaks. I found I was shiver a great deal and that would mean lots of wasted energy.

Even though I could have changed shirts every time I ran this was the first time I put on a new clean and dry shirt since we started. It felt wonderful.

I took third overall on this loop in a minute slower than the previous loop where I took fifth. Each loop was definitely a crapshot when it came to knowing who was going to run had and why.

Sixth 5K (12 a.m.): 25:26

The first loop to give us double points for the day also had me taking my first fall. I didn't feel like I hurt anything too badly and there was only a slight bit of scraping on my arm. But falling always takes a lot out of me mentally. When you trip one over roots you begin to wonder how much more often you will continue to do so as your feet aren't going to get any lighter as the hours march on. It begins to play with your mind and it is harder to use those resources for things you need.

Seventh 5K (1 a.m.): 26:43

My second double points loop had me making an executive decision.  I was hungry, tired and beginning to stumble. I obviously needed calories and a break.  I grabbed two doughnuts from the well-stocked aid station at the finish and headed to my tent. After lying down for a bit I realized I was wasting too much energy shivering and decided to go to my car. There I cranked the heat and tried to get comfortable. I am not sure how the hours passed so quickly because I was rarely sleeping. Something about not being able to fully recline and have my feet elevated kept me from enjoy sleep. But I was resting and warm which was good.

I could hear the beginning of each new loop. The announcer, Gabriel, was doing a bang up job of playing fun and invigorating music as well as entertaining all with facts and trivia. I am not sure he changed his hat every single hour but I never saw him wear the same one twice. From Captain's hats to astronaut helmets to everything in between, it was quite a hoot.

Eighth 5K (6 a.m.): 24:12

The last loop we would run with headlights was my first one back after my break. I told myself if I couldn't win this loop, I had no business being here any further. Fortunately, this was also the loop many of the fasties had decided to take it a little easy.

The loop provided one section where runners going one way could see the others going out on lollipop portion.  It was with about a kilometer to go when this happened and it always was a big energy lift for me.  

This win was a nice confidence booster. I saw I had given up a ton of ground/points by taking the rest I took but y goal was not to win as many points as possible. I was sitting in fourth place overall and it looked unlikely I would gain much on anyone in front of me. I was ok with that.

Ninth 5K (7 a.m.): 22:59

I started this loop as I did most of them: by leading the first quarter of a mile or so.  Then, like most of them, someone would pass me.  It was rarely the same people in the same order but always someone had a little bit more than me on that loop.  On this loop, I had one fella who had been wearing long sleeved button-up shirts most of the night. I am sure they were the wicking material and well-suited for his needs (as I have seen many ultra-marathoners wear them) but they always look so out of place.  Like someone left their lumberyard and decided to go for a 50k trot.

With the leader long gone, I was basically shadowing this second place runner after he passed me around the 2 kilometer.  He would invariably put more distance between us as we weaved through the darkness of the forest but when we entered one of the longer straight portions, I narrowed the gap.

When we excited the forest for the final half of a kilometer, I picked up the pace. I left him behind me and eased off the throttle just a bit. Turning onto the grass straightaway I saw the overall leader had been much closer than I expected. He was actually walking backward or something similarly to show how much of a lead he had or something to the race director (who was there to shake everyone's hands every loop - super cool.)  As I finished the last ten yards, I reached out to shake his hand and the guy behind me slipped right by, beating me by one second.

I begrudge him nothing as racing is racing and you have to go to the finish. I was just irked at myself for being distracted by what was going in in front of me and not making one last look over my shoulder when I slowed. I learned my lesson.

Sun was coming up now over tent city.

Tenth 5K (8 a.m.): 24:29

I would be lying if I wasn't still a little blood boiling about getting beat at the end of the last loop. 

What was most interesting now that the sun was out was how the course was far more technical than I thought it had been. There were way more roots, greater unevenness of terrain and lots of things which could have tripped me in the night  How I only fell once is a bit of a miracle.
With the sun fully ahead, the trail entirely visible, and me still feeling excellent, I vowed I would win this loop.  Like the other time I had said so, this was almost a breeze.  From the get go, I had virtually no competition and  led the loop wire to wire.

I knew the next loop would give me 34 miles and would be the longest I had ran since my buddy Mosi and I had split the 80 mile River to River Relay into a two-person team back in 2016.  in other words, this was the longest I hand run in over 2.5 years. That blew my mind for a moment.

Eleventh 5K (9 a.m.): 34:18

I decided to see if I could win two in a row and three out of four to put me in third place overall.  If so, and I continued to feel good, maybe I would run the remaining races at a conservative pace, busting out a victory here and there.

At the 3km portion of this loop, that decision was rendered unnecessary.  I came to a walk for the first time in the whole event and could not have cared less. I had gotten passed for fifth place a kilometer earlier and now I knew I was only getting one point no matter how slow I went.  I'd like to say that I made the decision to slow but my body made it for me. I was completely spent.

I walked the entire last 1.2 miles at what could only be classified as a saunter.  I knew I was not starting the next loop but I had to decide what I was going to do for the remainder of the day.  With it now being 11 a.m. I knew the McDonald's nearby would be serving lunch. 

So I hopped into my car and went and purchased a triple cheeseburger and large Dr. Pepper. The food was marvelous at the aid stations but sometimes you have to eat what your body wants.  I finished the entire food and drink before I event drove halfway back from the 2 mile excursion. With half an hour to go before hte next loop, I knew it would be my last.

Twelfth 5K (12 p.m.): 25:15

 I saw Aaron in his usual spot next to my tent and told him that this was my last lap. I said if he was still racing for the top spot and wanted a win, this might not be the lap to get it. It was said in half-hubris half-respect for him. In other words, I was done, there was 6 more hours to go for him and I was going to make anyone who challenged me on this loop hurt a WHOLE bunch.

As luck would have it, just like my other two victories, this loop was a breeze. I can't say I jogged but I definitely didn't have to push hard at all. I finished and immediately began packing up all my gear.

I knew I had a 2.5 hour drive back to the greater D.C area where I was staying with my friend Diana and her husband Charles. My original plan was to do all the loops and drive back, likely not getting back any earlier than 11 p.m. This was a much better idea.

I packed up Fort Awesome and said good luck or congrats to the variety of people whom I had gotten a chance to meet and talk with throughout the night. There was Claudia who had never run over a marathon who traversed over 50 miles.  There was a group of young kids who had done a relay and were just so polite and nice. There was another group of ladies, one of whom went gaga for Ed Sheeran. ("That ginger hobbit?" I said.) Big thanks to Aaron for he use of his headlight and Matt Bergren for his athletic tape. (Also, Matt you still have the Strava CR for the loop.  Mine is only second fastest.  plus I feel if I got it, since you lived down the street, I wouldn't have it for long.)

While this was a first year race, it was put together by an experienced  crew and that shows. From a logistical standpoint it was extremely well-run. Having a base of operations in one place and the runners right there helps. Thanks to Trent and Chuck and everyone else involved.

I very much liked the idea of the points system as well, even though it definitely skewed more towards a woman being able to win it outright.  But it also rewarded those with varying skill levels which was very fun.

My tent neighbor Aaron ended up winning the overall men's position rather handily. I slipped a notch by not running the last 6 races to fall to 5th place by basically just one 3rd place loop. But I was happy as this provided me with everything I needed for my training.

Of course, two days later, while out on a routine trail run I tripped, fell, scrapped up my knee, ribs, shoulder, elbow and hand with some really painful contusions from all of them. Not at all what I wanted with a marathon ten days later but I laugh how that didn't happen in the middle of the night 48 hour earlier.

I then went to a Chicago Bears game at the team who plays in Landover, Maryland and they won. My lifetime Bears record is 2-0. I think the team needs to fly me to important games. In case you don't know, the metro near the stadium closes at 11:01 p.m. when most Monday Night Football games go to at least midnight. Then, well, good luck finding a taxi or Uber. My college buddy Grant and I had to split a $100 fare and that was AFTER we walked two miles away from the stadium to even find one. 

But check out my mask!

Oh yea, my speech, the reason I was even there, went smashingly. Thank you for asking. Now book me for your next event.

My newest book will be out in October and you will love it.

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