Monday, November 11, 2013

2013 Croatan 24

Connie Gardner, former American 24-hour record holder (149 miles),
 placing 2nd in the world championships in 2012.

On Saturday, Shannon and I ran the Croatan 24 hour race in Croatan national Forest, just a few miles from the NC coast. (A few of Shannon's photos are here.)

Or I should say I attempted to run it. I could use the excuse that I wasn't fully recovered from the Detroit marathon 3 weeks ago, or that I hadn't done any ultra training. But really my failure was due to impatience, stubbornness, and not listening to experienced advice. 

I thought I could just wing it. Just run slow, and take walk breaks. Easy, right? 
I finished 116th out of 122 participants. Oh man, my UltraSignup runner rank is going to take a hit.

Frank "The Tank" Lilley powered to 57 miles on his 64th birthday.
Which is almost what Shannon and I ran combined.
The Race
The Croatan24 event benefits the MARSOC Foundation which supports Marines and their families. Before the race was a ceremony for the birthday of the United States Marine Corps, and the first lap was led by active and retired military members.  

Veteran Dan "The Man" Lenz represents Army on the flag lap.
The race was organized and executed with military precision. The timing, aid stations, course markings and volunteers were all flawless, leaving nothing to be desired. The participants just had to show up and run the 1.37 mile loop all day.

The course was an almost perfectly flat, non-technical trail looping around a salt marsh and through the forest. It was a fine dirt surface, with many metal and wood walkways and bridges. It was somewhat narrow in parts, but there wasn't really a big problem with crowding or passing.

Shannon with her hero, Connie Gardner.

Elite Imposter
I vaguely remember Shannon asking me many months ago if she could sign us up for this race. I was focussed on trying to run a marathon in October, so I just shrugged and said, "Yeah, whatever."

Next thing I know I am wearing a yellow "elite" bib in a tent bumping elbows with world class athletes. 
Shannon had requested that we both be assigned to the "competitive" group. I think she mistook the word "competitive" to mean a personality type instead of actual athletic ability. 

The yellow competitive group consisted of just 9 of the almost 200 entrants. We had our own dedicated tent for drop bags, our own porta potty, and our own timing table and assigned volunteers. 

Connie was giving us strategy tips assuming we would putting in at least 120 miles. I just nodded and smiled and didn't mention that a long run for me was anything over 10. 
I didn't even belong in this race at all, let alone in the elite tent.

The aid station/ timing

It's Like, All Frickin Day
A 24 hour race is an oxymoron. A "Race" implies expeditiousness; a hasty advancement to the finish line. But there is no finish line, and hastiness is failure. 
Instead it is a contest of patience. Like the Colorado River forming the Grand Canyon kind of patience. 

Oh sure, the world class, freak of nature elites can run the whole 24 hours. But the rest of us have to move a glacial pace, slower than the line at the DMV, to make it the whole way. 

Jonathan Savage showing how to pace yourself

This concept was foreign to me. I had spent the whole summer training myself to run 7 minute miles (not successfully), so a 10 minute mile felt like it was slow enough. I had a nice "Ultra shuffle" going on, barely lifting my feet. It was almost a power walk, really. 

I wore my "Boston" shirt. Absolutely no one was impressed. 
But still, I was up running with the elites of Connie GardnerCheryl Yanek, and Jonathan Savage. It was like starting a marathon and finding yourself running past the Ethiopians and Kenyans. 
"Well this can't be good", I said to myself. 

On the other hand, I did have a yellow bib. I started dreaming. Maybe I have some untapped hidden talent for ultra running. Maybe I could run all day! 

My inevitable failure came even sooner than expected, with a pain developing in my hips after just 10 miles.
But I had the burden of the yellow bib to bear, so I ignored the pain, hoping it would go away.

Around mile 20 Shannon passed me at the aid station as I fumbled with my water bottle. I tried to catch up to her, seeing her across the salt marsh ahead of me, moving very fast. I tried to shift into all out run, but suddenly my hips gave out completely. My first attempt to keep up with my ultra-running wife had failed miserably.

I tried to walk slowly a couple laps, but the hip pain continued. Not wanting to cause any lingering damage, I called it quits.

The amazing Cheryl Yanek

The Unmotivator
I went and slept in the tent, disappointed with my conspicuously non-elite legs.
After a couple hours of laying around, I went to check on Shannon, who was still running her steady 10 minute pace after 40 miles. "Come on! Run with me", she called. 

Shannon was excited to be on the leader board,
right between "Gardner" and "Yanek"
I put my shoes and bib back on and jumped back in on her next lap. But I still could not run. So we walked a lap. Shannon was having a strange pain in her knee which worried her.
I managed to talk her into dropping out by tempting her with Korean sizzling rice soup and a nice warm bed. I might be the worst pacer ever.

The Croatan24 is great race, at least from the 16% of it that I experienced.
I am long, long way from being an ultra runner, and trying to keep up with Shannon. 
The Umstead 100 in April seems a little bit more impossible, and 5Ks a little more appealing. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Croatan 24 Hour Live Blog!

So my attempt at running under 3 hours in the Detroit Marathon was sort of a success:
I was completely done running in less than 3 hours.

Unfortunately I only made it 18 miles, and had to walk/limp/shuffle the rest of the way.
So now my last 7 marathons I have signed up for were failures: 4 of them my legs fell apart and had to walk it in, and the other 3 I hurt myself in training and didn't even start.

So clearly it is time to start running Ultras!

I haven't been running much. Instead I've been assisting my wife
 with her photography project, which involves her taking
 photos of me being assaulted by shelter dogs.

In the three weeks since the marathon, I've mostly done very short, slow runs. I run to work and back, which is 1.25 miles each way. Or I run the dogs for a mile. Still these short distances feel hard on my old, crumbling, arthritic legs.

So the Croatan24 race is a perfect introductory Ultra for me.
The course is only 1.37 miles long! And you have an entire 24 hours to finish it!
It seems really short for an ultra, but I am not complaining. I doubt I could finish a 5K right now, so 1.37 miles is a sufficient challenge for me.

I figure I should be able to finish it in not more than an hour. I can then spend the rest of the time lounging around, napping, eating grilled veggie burgers, and blogging about it.

Thats why I have created a blog to brag about my inevitably amazing achievements in real time:

At the very least I should be able to outrun that utra running wife of mine. Sure, I have no chance against her in a marathon or a 50 miler. But I bet I can beat her in 1.37 miles!

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