2013 Crooked Road 24HR

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The 2013 Crooked Road 24HR Ultra was my first timed event, and after this weekend it will certainly not be my last!  When I registered for the event, I gladly snagged the last spot of the 120 competitors allowed on UltraSignup.com and put it on my calendar as a “fun run.”  In my lastpost, I mentioned I’ve had a pretty stellar year as far as setting new PR’s and having fun running and racing.  That being said, it has been a long year of running and racing, and I was mentally exhausted heading into Saturday.  As much as I would like an offseason (I can only blame myself here), I have Umstead 100 mile Endurance Run in April to build and train for and considered this event as an intermediary between 50 miles and the difficult to comprehend 100-mile mark.  At the outset of the day, I had the lofty goal of 100k (62 miles), but like most participants my goals were a function of the time of day, temperature, and how I was feeling at the moment and fluctuated between stopping at 50k and going for 100 miles.

We were treated to a gorgeous sunrise on our way to the race!

The race was held at Waid Park in Rocky Mount, VA a little over 1.5 hours from Blacksburg, which made for an easy commute the morning of the event.  We left the house (all three of us!) around 6 and arrived just before 7:30 giving me a half hour to complete packet pickup, hit the restroom, and meet up with the rest of the Virginia TechUltra group before the start at 8AM.  This is the first time I’ve participated in a race where I didn’t have to get out of my car for packet pickup.  This was AWESOME!  We literally pulled into the park and I rolled down my window and they handed me an envelope with bib, car sticker, and my race jacket.  Once parked, we hopped out and found the other Virginia Tech folks who had arrived earlier and staked out a nice viewing platform/deck for us to hang out at all day.  This was great because it made for a nice place for everyone to gather and chat throughout the day and kept everyone together adding to the overall enjoyment of the event.

Packet pickup as you enter the park! 
Frank Lilley, the photographer of a bunch of the photos in this post in the car ahead.

Subaru Outback: The car choice of ultra runners. Photo Credit: Frank Lilley

 Michelle and Matt (Jordan's crew) hanging out near the viewing platform/deck 
Photo Credit: Frank Lilley

Michelle and Gillie hanging out near the start area.  Photo Credit: Ricky Scott

About 10 minutes before the start, we noticed a crowd beginning to gather near the start line and decided we should probably head over to hear the pre-run announcements.  One of the participants had already logged 23 miles starting at midnight that morning and hoped to complete 100 miles by the end of the run Sunday morning.  It was awesome to have five of us together there at the start.  I feel privileged to run with such a fun and inspiring group.  After a prayer, the run started and we were off!

The pavilion and start line area. Photo Credit: Frank Lilley

VT Ultra hanging out at the start line! Photo Credit: Frank Lilley

The asphalt/gravel section of the course (i.e. section two).
One of the brief moments of blue sky on Saturday. Photo Credit: Frank Lilley
The course was a .95-mile loop consisting of three “sections” that we were all very familiar with by the end of the day.  The first section was a five-foot wide gravel/dirt path that began at the start line and ended at the bottom of the large “hill” on the course.  To say it was a hill is being generous.  They were more like little “risers” or undulations one of which was maybe ~10 feet and the other ~30 feet, the latter was considered the “hill/mountain” of the course with this funny little sign at the top of it (see below).  The second section was along a gravel, and at some points paved (right), road that served as the perimeter to a large grass field and followed along a creek near the park.  The last was from the end of the gravel/asphalt road where we crossed an asphalt cul-de-sac (packet pickup photo above), near the entrance of the park, onto a gravel road back to the start.  This section took the most out of me throughout the day because of the size of gravel on the road and feeling each and every rock boulder through my shoes.

The brutal gravel that destroyed my feet the first 32 laps.  Lesson learned.

This sign was at the top of the "hill" on the course.  
The fine print said "you'll soon agree, this IS a MOUNTAIN."

The back half of the "hill" on the course. Photo Credit: Ricky Scott

Jordan and I rocking out some laps early on! Photo Credit: Rudy Rutemiller

Guy, Joe, Jordan, Wyatt, and Rudy (L to R)

Early in the morning right before the course made a hard left onto asphalt/paved/gravel road above.

I run the risk of revealing myself too much here but I did make one minor misjudgment in preparing for the race, which was not using good Band-Aids for…erm…nip guards.  I had to stop about an hour in to ask for duct tape and additional Band-Aids.  This was a huge disaster because I was sweaty and nothing was sticking.  In the future, I think I’ll have to shave the region around to ensure that everything stays in place.  #RunnerProblems

Having a blast lap-after-lap! Photo Credit: Ricky Scott

Guy and Wyatt early on in the day when the temperature was nice.  Photo Credit: Ricky Scott

Jordan Chang (left) and Rudy Rutemiller (right) decided it was warm enough to lose the shirts.
Photo Credit: Ricky Scott

Aside from the above, the first few hours were really uneventful, which I suppose is a good thing in a 24-hour event.  The weather was gorgeous and the sun came out making for a nice morning to be out for a run.  I managed to knock off 13.1 right around the two-hour mark and continued on that pace not really stopping until I hit the marathon mark just over four hours.  I made a few friends along the way including Carol (below), Emily, and Joe who all seemed to be enjoying their time out on the course. 

Carol (left) and Emily & Carol (right).  Emily went on to complete 96 miles in 24 hours
Photo Credit: Frank Lilley

Heads up: Tangent Alert!!!  The ultra community is AWESOME!  It is such an inspiring and positive group of people to be around!  Seriously.  Age means nothing to these people and it was awesome to see folks of all abilities out there completing lap after lap.  The crowd at this event was slightly different than some of the other ultras I’ve done (Promise Land & Iron Mountain).  Do not mistake this as a complaint or insult but rather just an observation.  What I did find inspiring was that some of the participants didn’t “look like” runners but were out there having a blast and fostering a great sense of community and “anything is possible” attitude.  I’d eat their attitude for breakfast-lunch-and-dinner and have a hearty helping for dessert too!  It’s these positive individuals that make me love being around runners.  So cool!

Nutrition is a huge battle and one that I don’t think any athlete ever “really” figures out because our bodies are always changing and we are forced to fuel with different (even if the same) foods before races.  Perhaps some figure it out “more” than others but I think for most it is a process of trial and error and identifying what doesn’t work rather than what does.  I made sure to drink early and often as well as to grab a couple pretzels and a Fig Newton every couple laps.  I was fortunate to not have ANY cramping issues the entire day.  However, man-oh-man did my stomach slosh.  I heard someone describe it as the sound a Camelbak makes when someone runs with a hydration bladder.  I think other runners knew I was coming up on them from the noise my stomach was making.  Despite my stomach sloshing, I didn’t feel nauseous or have any other related GI issues…just lots and lots of noise.

I suppose I was in the zone but before I knew it I was quickly approaching the 50k mark and began to realize how much my feet hurt.  This was the first time I had done more than a marathon distance in a pair of Brooks Ghosts, which are road shoes and provide very little protection from gravel surface.  Around lap 32, I asked Michelle if she wanted to join me for a lap and her and Gillie came along where she prevented me from stopping for the day.  I was ready to hang it up and told her I wasn’t having much fun and that my body was hurting.  My legs had a sensation of aching and there was an underlying feeling of pain that was present from the waist down.  I decided to grab my Hoka’s out of the car to see if they would alleviate any of the pain I was experiencing.  What. A. Difference.  My feet felt so much better after making the change and I began picking up the pace over the next few miles eventually hitting 36 miles right at the 6-hour mark.  It was during this time I was thinking I would stay to complete 100k.  Talk about a rollercoster of highs and lows.

Cranking out some late laps in the upper 30's (headphones are in)! 
Photo Credit (right): Rudy Rutemiller

Truckin' Away Photo Credit: Ricky Scott
I told myself I would wait to listen to music until after the first 6 hours because I wanted to run on my own until then and then let the music take over and let my mind go blank.  Listening to music can be dangerous for longevity in an ultra because my pace instantly increased and I managed to crank out four sub-9 minute miles.  Around the same time, they put up the race leaders on a whiteboard at the start line and I noticed I was #9 as of 1PM.  I had just put in my ear buds when I noticed this and yelled to the counters “that’s a good bit of motivation to stay on the board.”  The next few miles flew by and at 42 laps (40 miles) I stopped to have Michelle and Gillie do another lap with me.  In hindsight, I probably should not have stopped here because I was making good time and cranking out laps and every time I stopped the pain in my legs increased.  The pain was non-existent while running, granted I was tired but it wasn’t painful, but if felt like my legs were on fire when I walked.  I managed to get going again but the laps were slow between 43-46 and I told everyone I would be stopping at 50 miles.  This is when I received the unfortunate news that 50 miles was actually 53 laps.  Bummer.  I headed out for another lap discouraged that I was not going to make my goal of 100k but moved forward knowing that I could complete my new goal of 50 miles and still have something left for San Francisco in two weeks.

When I came around the next time, Michelle was ready and waiting by the road to run with me.  She. IS.  AWESOME.  This was such a huge boost and she knew that I was obviously a little down.  We ran 3 laps together, perhaps begrudgingly on her part, and then walked the last loop, lap 53, with Gillie.  Having Michelle with me on those last three laps was awesome!  Those three laps MADE my day.  I love it when we get to run together but it doesn’t always work out.  When she first joined me after I completed lap 49, I was moving slow and joked that “we shouldn’t have any pace issues” but having her by my side gave me a second wind and before I knew it we were doing sub-10 minute miles.  I mentioned begrudgingly above because Michelle couldn’t really complain about the pace after I had already run 49 laps and she powered through like the trooper she is!  At the end, we grabbed Gillie and walked the last lap, catching up with Jordan and walking the rest of the final lap with him.  When I stopped, I was in fifth place, a couple laps down on the leader.

Michelle and I stopped and took a few pictures on our last running lap.  
I added the vest later in the day as the temperature dropped.

I was glad to be done and walked back to the deck where we had our stuff and immediately put on some dry clothes and extra layers.  I hung around there for a few minutes before receiving a text from Michelle that pizza had arrived.  Best. Slice. Ever.  Pretty much anything warm tastes good after 50 miles but pizza really hit the spot and they also had chicken broth that I enjoyed as well.  In addition, they had hot coffee and after two cups I was A LOT more enjoyable to be around…or so I’m told.  This meant there was only one thing left to do.  VUVUZELA!!!  I hooted and hollered as runners began completing laps in the dark.  It was pretty neat to see all of the headlights off in the distance forming a path around the course.  I think spectating in the dark at a 24-hour event forces you (aka the spectator) to get more creative because “you’re looking good” and “you’re almost there” doesn’t really apply.  I had a few good laughs because I would yell, “I can’t see you but you’re looking good” and got mostly positive responses and a few laughs…plus a vuvuzela is just awesome!

We hung around until about 7PM when we decided to call it a day and make the short drive home.  We packed and prepared for me to stay all night but both Michelle and I were happy to head back to a warm home and a comfortable bed.  Perhaps that is the downfall of a race being so close to home: the ability to call it a day and pack up when it gets dark and cold.  Maybe for my next 24-hour event I should pick one further from home or one that starts in the middle of the night and continues until midnight; that would be cool!

At the end of the day, I had run new 50K and 50 mile PRs by ~45 minutes and 2 hours respectively.  Both are pretty big chunks of time considering the distance and are reflective of the year I’ve been having.  However, I suppose it wasn’t too hard to improve on my first and only 50-mile performance at the DC North Face Endurance Challenge this past June where we ran in horrendous humidity and heat.  Also, the course this weekend was pretty much pancake-flat and thus much easier than other 50k efforts.

Not that it's interesting but the Garmin data from the day including the mile splits.  What is interesting is that the Strava preview isn't what it looks like when you click on the details.


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