Let's start my adventure with the drive down to Paducah from central Illinois. It was uneventful, but a bit tiring, to drive almost 4 hours solo to a race where I knew I'd be tired even at the start. Oh well. Time to recruit friends for next year so we can carpool. I arrived at the Luther Carson Park just before 7pm. One hour to the race start! Plenty of time to set up my personal aid station and chair next to the horse track. My stuff was just a few feet from the actual track. My car was a bit further away, but still within 50 feet if I needed extra supplies from my trunk. The race logistics were sweet. Chip timing on each 1/2 mile loop, one big aid station, and room to have your own supplies right on the course. Easy access to everything you'd need...and easy access to "wasting time" and sitting in a chair or messing with your own gear. Imagine if you spent one minute each loop grabbing supplies--that would be almost 100 minutes of wasted time over 10 hours! I tried to avoid any pit stops (rest room, aid station, lap counter, etc). My goal was 50 miles (100 loops). I'd be happy with 40+ miles and no injuries. This was a training run, nothing more, nothing less. Still, I wanted to test my self in an all-night run in case I did the Tunnel Hill 100 miler in November (also directed by Steve Durbin).
Just before 8pm, the race director had us line up at the start, gave us a few directions, and sent us off right at 8pm. Some young guys really took off fast. I figured they'd "come back to me" later in then race. I was mostly right. The weather was OK, humid, but no rain, with a slight breeze. The sun was setting, but with the overcast day, it was hard to tell when it actually was dark. We had bright lights all around the horse track (until about midnight when they shut half of them off so we could "run under the stars"). I began jogging and planned on running 2 loops (1 mile) and partially walking the third loop. Repeat until tired. I did pretty well until I ate pizza around 11pm. It didn't sit well in my stomach. Pizza and sports drink is not ideal when running. I prefer pizza/beer. I walked for about an hour to let the food settle.
By the halfway point (5 hours) I had about 27 miles completed. I was also ready to quit. I started a more frequent walk/jog pattern, but still felt really tired. If this kept up, I would definitely not reach my goal...and I'd certainly consider dropping out...maybe 31 miles would be enough? In a desperate attempt to recover, I tossed back a big cup of coffee and a Hammer gel. Within 15 minutes, I was feeling alive again. Carbs and coffee...a good combination. The loops kept going by one by one. I fell into cycles of alertness/fatigue/desperation, but kept chugging along. No blisters, no real pain, just lots of soreness and fatigue. When I hit 8 hours, I had 40 miles completed. If I could maintain 5 miles/hour (12 minutes/mile), I'd have my goal of 50 miles after 10 hours. Seems easy, but after 8 hours of running, nothing is easy. I knew I couldn't walk much so I started an "ultra shuffle" and kept that going for almost the entire 2 hours that remained. Once or twice I really picked up the pace, but then calmed down again. At 9 hours I had my 45 miles done. One hour and 5 miles to go! Shuffled more and more and more. I knocked out 50 miles and still had 15 minutes to go. I walked the last loop with Lazarus Lake (Gary Cantrell, Barkley 100 race director). It was nice knowing I could walk an entire loop and still be fine. We finished that loop at 9:54. I had 50.5 miles after 101 loops. Six more minutes to go! Could I do one more loop? Probably, but I didn't. I was pooped. I had exceeded my goal and was done. Final results showed me as 13th out of 191 runners. Not too shabby.
After the race, I washed up, changed clothes, packed my gear, and drove back to Illinois. It was a LOOOOONG drive home. I was extremely tired and drowsy. Stopped 4 times for "breakfast" and gas to keep myself awake. Borderline dangerous. Another reason to carpool. Driving 4 hours, racing 10 hours, and driving back 4 hours makes for a very long day/night. But no hotel needed! I'm recovering well and feeling optimistic about future ultras. Not sure if I'm going to do the Tunnel Hill 100 or 50 mile event in November. But first, it's Howl at the Moon 8-Hour. My absolute favorite race of the year!
A few insights from this 10-hour night running experience on a 1/2 mile horse track in KY:
- Wear trail gaitors. I used them all night and never had dirt/rocks get into my shoes or socks. They worked well. Others seemed to have problems with track shit getting into their shoes.
- Start walking from the beginning. It's a long haul and you can't bank miles. Devise, and stick to, a walk-run strategy from start to finish. I should have walked even a little more during the first 4 hours.
- Caffeine is a life-saver on night runs. Practice drinking tea, coffee, or soda. Utilize gels with caffeine. Calories alone are not enough. You need extra stimulation!
- Be careful of pizza! Or any significant food. Better to nibble all night than gorge once or twice. I should have eaten 1/2 slice pizza three or four times (rather than 2 huge pieces at once).
- Drink when you are thirsty. Take an electrolyte pill occasionally. You'll sweat a lot during these events, especially in the summer in KY. No need to push extra fluids, just have access to water/sports drink and consume when thirsty.
- Hug the inside of the track the best you can (without getting in faster people's way). Remember the formula for circumference of a circle (ovalish track)? C=2Πr (big radius = big number). When you stay farther outside on turns, you are covering more ground then needed. Stay tight inside! Why run farther than you will get credit for?
- Kentucky is humid! Fortunately we ran at night, so no sun, but it was moist. My race bib pins were rusting by the time 10 hours was up. That's a lot of humidity and sweat.
- Young runners just might maintain a fast pace. The 24-year old guy that took off at the start finished with 72 miles! Damn, that's a lot of miles...and a lot of loops. Not this old dude. I was happy with 101 loops. Maybe 104 loops next time.
- And the biggest lesson learned? Running for 10 hours straight is tiring. Especially running all night. You already believe this, but you don't KNOW IT until you've actually tried it. Perfect training for a 100 miler. It'll help you set realistic expectations for future ultra events.