South Carolina 24 Hour

After a 3-month layoff from racing, it was time to jump back into things. I ended 2013 at the Desert Solstice Track Meet, so I thought: Why not pick up where I left off? On a track, that is.

My original goal for South Carolina 24 Hour (SC24) was to rack up enough miles to qualify for Team USA's 24 Hour team (5th spot 153 miles, 6th spot 151 miles). A few weeks before the event, however, it was announced that the original date for the World Championships was cancelled, and it'd likely be moved from late June to December. At the same time, it was announced that the World 100k Championships were back on! This time with a projected date in November.

My 100k split from Desert Solstice was fast enough to qualify me for one of the spots on the 100k team, but I couldn't bank on standing up against someone who wanted to grab a spot by running a fast 100k before the qualifying window ends. With the 24 Hour Worlds and 100k Worlds appearing to be in part conflicting with one another (both in terms of recovery and scheduling time off from work), it appeared that, assuming I could qualify for both, I would have to make a decision. This flood of new information encouraged me to test the 24 Hour waters and go for some big miles. However, before the day would end, my plans would change.

SC24 was a great event and a lot of fun to be at. The folks competing, volunteering, crewing, and directing were all class act individuals. They ranged from some of the coolest high school kids a runner could ever meet, right down to timed event phenoms Joe Fejes and Ray Krolewicz. Ray K had an old school system of lap counting and recording: pen and paper in the hands of his dedicated high school track and cross country gang. At first, I was a bit skeptical about how well this would work, but Ray assured me that it worked great in the 80's, so there was no reason for it not to work now. The kids doing the recording were amazing, staving off the fatigue of an all nighter to monotonously tally lap after lap for a growingly fatigued and smelly group of ultrarunners. In an age of short attention spans and "me first" mentalities, it was a pretty cool sight to see some of these kids really get into the "endurance volunteering."

The race started at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning and promised to be quite warm and windy. My philosophy for the day was to go with whatever pace felt comfortable. I wasn't going to back off to an artificially slow pace, or push to a pace that didn't feel comfortable. My pace definitely "settled in" after a fairly aggressive start of sub-7-minute miling the first couple of hours.

The first 8-hour block of the day was by far the most uncomfortable, environmentally speaking. Temps which I believe reached 82 degrees and a steady 15 mph wind the early stages of the race, made it difficult for many of the runners to fuel adequately. Between coming off a frigid winter and the heat radiating off the black track surface, the 82 degrees felt substantially warmer to me then what I had expected that number would feel like. Soaking singlets in ice water and the occasional cold, wet towel was the name of the game in the early stages. I managed to reach sundown with a pretty steady pace in the books (I believe I hit the 50-mile mark around 6 hours). At this point, by continuing my pre-race plan of going with what felt comfortable, I found somewhere around a 8:00/mi pace to be the sustainable effort. I began to fuel a bit more aggressively and felt pretty smooth going around the track, racking up 2 minute splits one after another.

The atmosphere was incredibly positive as the high school kids began to look for ways to kill some time. A combination of squats, pushups, and planks in response to completed laps by the runners they were recording was a very entertaining sight.

When the wind subsided and the cool night air set in, a new sense of energy fell upon the track. I began to run numbers in my head. Something occurred to me: What is the 200k (125 miles) American Record? A relatively obscure record that, due to the structure of most timed events, has few recorded attempts, began to intrigue me. I asked Joe Fejes what the record was, and he looked it up for me: 16:55, set by Rae Clark. I was familiar with Rae Clark and his accomplishments, so I got a bit excited about using his performance as a new benchmark for the day. One thing I am learning about these longer efforts is that if you can focus on smaller goals, the overall mental hurdle becomes much less overwhelming. I thought if I could focus on the beating the 200k AR first, I'd have less than 8 hours to wrap my head around in order to finish the event. The pace I was going was sufficient enough, so I pretty much kept the majority of my splits at 2:00 per lap with the occasional planned slower lap or bathroom break. After all, the overall goal was still covering as many miles in 24 hours as possible.

Somewhere between hours 12 and 13, I was met with a bit of a surprise. My right Achilles tendon got that familiar twinge that scares any seasoned runner. At first I wasn't too worried, because after 12 or 13 hours pretty much everything begins to hurt or feel a bit out of place. By hour 14 the pain had progressed and begun to spread up my right calf. Now I was worried. I began to think about all the races I have planned for this Spring and year. A substantial injury to my Achilles could potentially sideline me long enough to be down and out for all of 2014. At this point, I was still fixated enough on the 200k AR that my thoughts moved to getting to 200k quickly and then stopping to stretch and work on the Achilles tendon a bit.

As the early portions of Sunday morning crept by, my pace began to average between 7 and 7.5 mph. I would watch my pace just close enough to try to get into the 7 mph range. I figured if I could maintain an effort of just over 7 mph, I would be able to afford a drop down to 6 mph in the final hours of the event.

As I got closer and closer to 200k I began to think about what I would do to assess my Achilles tendon. I thought I would walk a lap and focus on some re-fueling, then follow that up with some stretching before ultimately jumping back into a pace similar to what I had been doing. I crossed the 200k mark with a time of 16:23:11, roughly 32 minutes under Rae Clark's previous AR. I stopped to a walk, and my right Achilles immediately began to tighten. Likely a combination of cooler temps and less blood flow caused my Achilles to begin to warn me that it wasn't up to par. I tried walking around the turn, but I was met with a severe limp. Joe Fejes and Ray K were incredibly encouraging, suggesting different remedies that might help me get back out on the track: everything ranging from a calf sleeve to a hot shower to try to loosen things up. With only needing approximately another marathon to obtain the final spot on the 24 Hour Team, it was very difficult to give up hope. After all, a steady walk for the remaining time would likely cover the distance.

A lot of thoughts came to mind during the next hour. Long-term damage? If I was hurt, would I be able to make it to Worlds anyway? Mad City 100k is in four weeks, and I would really like to try to solidify my spot on the 100k team! Ultimately, I decided it wasn't worth the risk. The mere thought of spending the summer months rehabbing a bum Achilles and watching all my good friends and fierce competitors tear it up was unbearable. With the softening blow of the new 200k AR, I made the decision to call it. Harvey Lewis went on to run an incredibly steady 154 miles, solidifying his spot on Team USA, and hopefully raising his confidence in his abilities at the distance. I know Harvey will represent the USA well when it comes time to race, and I am encredibly happy to call him a friend.

Pre-Race Fuel

  • Coffee with heavy whipping cream
  • Vespa Junior

Race Fuel

  • Vespa Ultra concentrate (every 2 hours)
  • Vespa Junior (2 in the final 3 hours)
  • Banana chips with unsweetened coconut flakes (first six hours of race)
  • Nuun with water
  • Plain water
  • One slushy
  • Approximately 32 oz of Mountain Dew/Mello Yello
  • Approximately 3 handfuls of M&M's
  • One protein bar (not sure what the brand was)

Race Gear