After several months of contemplating it, 1 semi-serious ankle injury, 6 solid weeks of mileage increases that took me far beyond anything I have ever been close to before, and a nice rewarding 2 week taper, the weekend of the Stroehmann Back on My Feet 20in24 Lone Ranger Ultra Marathon (hence force to be referred to as the 20in24 Lone Ranger run) finally came.
To break that name down a bit, Back on My Feet is a great charity that “promotes the self-sufficiency of homeless populations by engaging them in running as a means to build confidence, strength and self-esteem.” Each year, BOMF puts on the 20in24 series of races as a fund-raising event. The event consists of a number of relays and races in addition to the 24 Hour Lone Ranger Ultra Marathon. Stroehmann was the official sponsor this year. Here’s the recap of the event and how I did in the Lone Ranger Ultra Marathon.
In a previous post, I touched a bit on what my training looked like for the 20in24 Lone Ranger, but I’ll rehash it. I signed up for the run at the start of the year with a goal of running 50 miles. At the time, I was mid way through training for the Yuengling Shamrock Marathon in late March. The plan then was to complete the marathon, take a little bit of rest and then begin a slow ramp-up of mileage to get me prepared for the longer distance. That plan was thrown out the window when I twisted my ankle a week after the marathon. After the ankle injury, I couldn’t run for close to a month. I finally got back in the swing of things at the start of May and spent most of the month getting back in shape enough to run a half-marathon.
After completing the half-marathon, I regrouped around a 6 week plan (including taper) to see how long and by how much I could increase my weekly mileage. My plan was to run twice a day Monday-Friday, 3 times on Sunday, and use Saturday to finish off any runs I missed during the week. I wanted to have a two week taper, and increase mileage every week over the 4 week period if possible. If I felt over-trained, I would back off on mileage for one week, and then return to regular mileage increases.
As it turned out, I was able to do 4 solid weeks of mileage increases, which you can see below.
- 6/7-6/12 – 15 Miles Long Day, 6′s and 4′s = 65 Miles Total
- 6/13-6/19 – 20 Miles Long Day, 7′s and 4′s = 75 Miles Total
- 6/20-6/26 – 25 Miles Long Day, 7′s and 5′s = 85 Miles Total
- 6/27-7/3 – 30 Miles Long Day, 9′s and 5′s, Extra 5 = 100 Miles Total
Then I did my taper, still running up to 3 times on the weekend, but falling back to single runs during the week.
- 7/4-7/10 – 20 Miles Long Day, 8′s = 60 Miles Total
- 7/11-7/14 – 15 Miles Long Day, 5′s, Thur/Fri off = 30 Miles Total
The mileage build up wen surprisingly well. I can’t say that I wasn’t sore most of the time, but after pushing through the first two weeks, I felt pretty comfortable at 85 miles and 100 miles. My legs seemed to bounce back fine on short rest, and any fatigue I felt throughout the day usually disappeared a mile or two into each run.
The taper went smoothly. I was a little bit antsy after cutting the number of runs per week almost in half, but it was a welcome rest. Overall, I would’ve liked to have had more weeks of training leading up to the race, and likely, if I do the run next year, I’ll start incorporating the two-a-day runs as early as the start of May. I would also consider trying to do more than 30 in a day during my peak week. I feel like that would simulate the actual race conditions a bit better.
The Check In and Pre-Race
Before running the 20in24 Lone Ranger Run, all participants had to have their vitals checked. I headed down on Friday evening to get checked out, and also to pick up all my race gear. Gear pickup was first, and that was quick and easy. Amongst the typical race papers and information guides, runners also received a running hat, an extremely nice Under Armor shirt, and a metallic water bottle. Overall, a pretty good haul for any race, even some of the more expensive marathons.
As quick and easy as check-in was, vitals were not. Each runner had to get weight, heart rate/bp/respiration rate, and temperature checked. To help with the ever growing line, each measurement was broken up into stations. Weight and temperature went quick, and had almost no line. Pulse, bp, and respiration rate took forever, even with two stations going, and everyone eventually ended up in those lines. If I had one complaint about the race, it would have been the time it took waiting for these measurements. We were all outside in the sun, and it was well above 90 degrees. The last thing I wanted to do before the race the next day was stand around in the heat for an hour. I passed the time chatting with other runners though, and all in all, it wasn’t too bad. Given the choice between waiting for the vitals, and not having the excellent medical attention that they had at this race, I’m willing to live with the wait.
After I had my vitals recorded, I headed home and made sure I had all my gear packed. In hind-sight, I waaaay over-packed, as evident in my pile-o’-stuff in the photo. Dinner was a nice bowl of pasta, and I was in bed by 10. The next morning, I recruited my mom to drive me down to the start. The 20in24 races are headquarted at Lloyd Hall Recreation Center on Boat House Row. The Lloyd Hall facilities are open to the race participants, and the indoor basketball court is opened up so all Lone Ranger and Platinum relay participants can set up their stuff and have a place to store gear and sleep. In addition to this, all participants are welcome to set up a tent outdoors for the duration of the event. I opted for both routes. Knowing I would have some fans and pacers coming down throughout the event, I set up my tent outside, but also brought most of my food and a towel inside to claim some of the cooler, air-conditioned space in Lloyd Hall.
While I was getting my stuff set up, I was immediately struck by how different this felt from a normal race. You could tell this wasn’t going to be your typical 5k where you’re in and out in under an hour. Everyone was busy setting up their stuff, and it appeared almost routine for them to show up somewhere at 8:00 Saturday morning, tents, cots, sleeping bags, and food in tow, and set up a second home for the weekend. There also seemed to be more of a sense of community. After getting set up, most people were relaxing, stretching, and discussing strategies with other participants. Outside, Tent City quickly formed. Tents of all shapes and sizes ran up and down the green areas next to Lloyd hall. A tip for anyone doing the race: don’t set up your tent to close to Lloyd Hall. Once the race starts, they’ll be playing music fairly loudly all day and all night. It makes for a great atmosphere for the race, but not so great a time when you want to relax in between laps. I made that mistake, and if I’m back next year, I’ll set up a little further away from Lloyd hall.
Once I had all my gear set up and settled in, I headed over to the starting line for the Lone Ranger pre-race meeting. The race director outlined all of the rules and regulations, including how to get each lap counted, and heat-related race restrictions that could potentially go into effect. The meeting was short, sweet, and to the point. I got all the information I needed and got out of there. It seemed like everything about the race (minus the previous nights check-in) was organized and extremely well planned, which is pretty amazing giving the complexity of the event (multiple relays, 24-hour races, etc.)
A little before 10:00 I headed back towards the start line. There was some final race announcements before getting lined up. The race director asked that Lone Ranger’s start well behind the relayers, a fair request I’d say given the pace most of us Lone Rangers would be going out in. I settled in towards the back of the pack and waited for the gun.
Lap 1: The course starts at Lloyd hall, and then continues up to and around the front of the art museum before crossing the Schuykill and following Martin Luther King Drive. I settled in to a nice pace slightly below 10:00 min/mi pace. It was already starting to warm up, but things weren’t to bad yet. It felt really good to be out and running after so much preparation, but I resisted the urge to even push the pace at all. I was happy to see that each water stop had buckets of ice-soaked towels which really cooled me off when rolled up and tucked on my neck.
For the first lap, I really concentrated on a slow, controlled pace, as well as taking ample amounts of water and Gatorade in the rest stops. Before I knew it I was already at the turn at Falls Bridge and was headed back towards the start. There were roughly 3 rest stops going out to the bridge (including a big one with a fully equipped medical staff), and another 3 on the way back home. All had ample food/drink (though I didn’t really notice the food until my last few laps) and amazing volunteers. I finished up my first lap in 1:22, a little bit below 10:00 min/mi pace. My plan was to take a short rest after every lap, so I checked out from the race after finishing the first lap, and headed out to say hi to my “crew” (currently my Mom was volunteering at the medical tent) and get some food from my food stash (PB&J sandwiches and Cliff Bars).
Lap 2: My initial plan was to finish a lap, then rest for a duration of 2 hours before starting the next lap. I’d do this as long as I could hold it, with a goal of getting through 50 miles. I felt pretty good and decided to adjust. Instead, I grouped laps in sets of 2. In between the first and second, I’d take a shorter rest, and then after the second lap, take a longer rest. So after about 15 minutes of rest, I headed out for lap #2.
Lap #2 still felt really good, so I kept with much the same focus. Keep a controlled pace, and drink a whole lot. By the second lap, the race had really thinned out, and somewhere around the half-way point, I started thinking it would be really nice to have more music on the course. It was about that time that I realized my iPod was in my back pocket. After a good 5 minutes untangling the ear buds, I had some music to keep me rolling along. Again I came in right around 10:00 min/mi pace for the lap.
Lap 3: I took my longer rest after lap 2, and then headed out for lap #3 a little before 2:00. I decided to walk until 2:00 to get a little extra mileage while I was still “resting” and then get back on my plan. The hottest part of the day was quickly coming up, and I was taking the cold towels at almost every stop.
I still felt really good, and I came in at 1:25 for the lap, even with the walking. About now I started to work out in my head what would be possible. After lap 4, my sister would be coming down to pace me for 2 laps, which would put me past 50 miles. Also, I knew my wife would be down the next morning to pace me through at least one lap. 50 was in the bag, and if during the night I could get another lap in, I’d be well on my way to breaking 100K, and if I managed to get 2 in, I would be looking at something like 75 miles. 100 miles still seemed completely insane, but the 75 mile goal looked promising.
Also, on this lap, it started to become more and more difficult to eat. I was drinking a lot of Gatorade and water, but the PB&J and Cliff bars just started to feel too dry. I was still feeling good, but was really only nibbling between laps. This would eventually catch up with me.
Lap 4: I again had my short rest. Lap 4 was the point in the race where I would be passing the 30 mile threshold. The furthest I have ever run in 24-hours was 30 miles, so that meant I would be entering territory I had never been in before. I felt good, but my legs were starting to tire on continuous 8-mile run segments. For this lap, I decided to introduce 1/4 mile walk breaks every 3 miles.
The run-walk strategy got me through no problem, and I headed into the finish of the 4th lap well before 6:00, but at a slightly slower pace of 10:51 min/mi. At the end of Lap 3, I had ordered out, asking my sister to pick me up a Wawa Italian Hoagie on her way down to pacing me. I was getting really hungry, and something resembling a real dinner started sounding really good. The food I had brought for the race was no longer appetizing at all.
Lap 5: My sister was a bit late getting down to the race, but got there never-the-less. I quickly wolfed down half of my hoagie whlie she got into her running gear. We set out a bit after 6:00, so I was no longer on my 1 lap / 2 hr average, but the extra break was a welcome one.
It was great to have a pacer, and I really don’t think I would’ve made it as far as I did without my wife and sister helping me along. For lap 5, I switched my run/walk strategy to 2 mile run / 1/4 mile walk. My legs, while tired were holding up fine, but the lack of food had finally caught me. Prior to “dinner”, I had started to feel nauseous and had a headache. The extended break and food helped me to bounce back pretty quick, but by the half-way point of Lap 5 the feeling was back. We trudged on in and finished the lap at a 10:48 pace. I was now 1 lap away from hitting my goal with a good 13 hours in the race to go. The only problem was, I just felt like crap.
Lap 6: After finishing up the last lap, I sat down for a bit to rest. I tried alternately sipping Gatorade and water to bounce back from that sick feeling, but neither seemed to help. I tried laying down in my tent for a while, but I just sat there staring up at the (slightly spinning) top of the tent feeling worse. Just a few laps ago, I was thinking 75 miles sounded good, and now I was questioning 50. Finally I got up, and my mom basically force-fed me a soft-pretzel. It took a good 20-minutes to eat the thing. My mouth kept drying out, and I was chewing for what felt like hours. It really did help though. Once I had it down, the nauseous feeling subsided. My sister and I switched into our night gear (reflective vests and a head-lamp for me), and I checked back in.
On the way out on the lap, I had a bit of a cramp, likely from running while trying to digest the fgood I just ate. It wasn’t too bad though, and it certainly felt better than the alternative of not eating. The run-walk ratio was now 1 mile / 1/4 mile. My GPS watch battery died after the last lap, and I wasn’t checking pace. Plus, I was mostly beyond caring about pace at that point too.
Everything else aside, it was actually really nice running at night. We would occasionally run past other Lone Rangers and offer some words of encouragement, and more frequently, the relayers would blow past up, still keeping up amazing paces throughout the night. The night lap was nice and cool, and pretty peaceful, except for the rest stops. The volunteers at the stops were better than ever, still being attentive to every runner, and still cheering everyone on.
We finished the lap, putting my mileage total over the 50 mile hump, and my cumulative time was just over 13 hours. As I crossed the lap, the race volunteers gave me my 50-miler finisher’s award knowing I probably wouldn’t be making it to the 100-mile mark with 11 hours left.
The Midnight Madness run would be starting soon, a single lap run in the opposite direction of the Lone Ranger’s that goes off at midnight. Many of the participants were gathering, decked out in just about every piece of glow-in-the-dark material imaginable.
I was initially really looking forward to this, hoping the extra energy from the runners would make for a fun lap. I was still feeling pretty bad, however, and I decided to call it quits for the night. The new plan was to get down as much food as I could, get a few hours of sleep, and see what I can do in the morning when my wife would come down to pace me. I happily munched on the remaining half of my hoagie while I watched the start of the Midnight Madness run. After the runners were off, I set my alarm for 5:30 and headed off to the tent for some sleep.
Lap 7: I slept reasonably well for a few hours. The PA system was announcing relay legs all night, so that kept me up a bit, but not enough to rouse me before my alarm. I got up around 5:30, and amazingly, felt pretty good. My legs were a bit sore, but manageable, and I felt 100% better than when I finished the sixth lap. My wife, in typical fashion, was way early, but this allowed us to get out on the course around 7:00 AM, giving us 3 hours before the end of the race.
I basically picked up right where I left off with the run a mile, walk a quarter mile plan. Again, it was great to have a pacer. We passed quite a few Lone Ranger’s who were still at it. Pretty much all of them were walking and looking like they were in some serious suffering, so I felt a little bit guilty feeling as good as I was. I was happy to provide some encouragement though. The leader, Serge Arbona blew right past us about a mile in, and he still looked great. Also during our seventh lap, we caught the tail end of the pajama loop (goes off at 5:30 am). There were quite a few runners really decked out in pajama costumes, and again, everyone was very supportive. Its a nice boost to have that when you’ve got 50 miles+ on your legs. Other than that though, my wife and I finished up a mostly uneventful lap in time unknown. It was roughly 9 hours after I finished my previous lap.
We both felt pretty good, and I was only a half lap short of the 100K mark, so after a brief rest, we decided to get out there again and go after 100K as the final goal.
Lap 7 and 3/4: With an end in site, it was a lot easier to keep moving. The run-walk plan stayed the same, and before we knew it, we had passed the 3rd water stop, where I picked up a partial-lap wrist band, officially getting me past 100K for results purposes. We were about 3/4 of a mile short of a half-marathon for my wife, so we decided to keep on running up till that point, and then really call it quits… or at least start walking.
As we continued on, I was amazed to see familiar faces at the rest stops. It seemed like some of the volunteers had been out all night. According to the latest plan, we started walking after covering the half-marathon. We still had a good 20-30 minutes left in the race, and we actually passed two additional rest stops while walking, further adding to my partial lap total.
At the last stop, we were informed that there were roughly 7 minutes left in the race, and another mile to the next partial lap checkpoint. We decided to call it a day and wait for the pickup van. We came across another runner, who amazingly enough had run the exact same distance as me, and had arrived only a minute or two earlier. We both chatted about the race while we waited for our rescue vehicle. The van swung by about 15 minutes after the official end of the race and brought us back to Lloyd Hall. We picked up some other runners along the way, including the female winner (2nd overall), who ran an astounding 122 miles. To top it all off, she still looked pretty fresh when we picked her up, like she would’ve kept going if the race got extended.
After a few minutes we were back at Lloyd Hall, and I got my official results. 24:00:00 duration and 65.222 miles. Well past my goal of 50 miles.
My GPS watch data is below. And no, I was not delirious enough to take a short-cut through the Schuylkill. That was just a blip in GPS reception during one of my laps.
The experience I had at the Back on My Feet 20in24 Lone Ranger race was simply amazing. Its hard to sum up how impressed I was with the event, the volunteers, the athletes, and everyone that came out to give support. There’s so much that went on throughout the day, so I’m just going to list a couple random thoughts and moments that stick out in my mind.
- The volunteers were absolutely amazing. Some of them were out there just as long as the runners, and their energy level never dropped. On top of that, there was a constant flow of medical and emergency staff riding bikes in the opposite direction of the run. Should anything have happened to me, even while alone, I’m confident medical staff would have been there within 5 minutes, even on the most remote parts of the course. While its amazing what the athletes did, the volunteers were just as incredible.
- Support crews are the best. At various times throughout the race, I had my members of my family and friends down at the race volunteering, pacing me, and in general just giving support. It really does a lot to keep you going when you have that much support.
- The race seems like a logistical nightmare. There are 4 different relays, an ultra marathon, and two 8.4 mile races all being run simultaneously. Somehow though, everything went off without a hitch. I’m simply in awe of the Back on my Feet team and what they managed to pull off.
- Coverage of this race was great. There was a twitter page, facebook page, and official blog posts, in addition to the results on the official site. Part of the fun was following up on the coverage after the race was done.
- My wife and I made the intro of the local news segment finishing up Lap #7. Pretty cool.
- The winners are just insane. Serge Arbona and Sabrina Moran ran 146 and 122 miles respectively, each setting course records.
- Ultra-runners are a different breed, but the races they participate in just seem to have a different level of camaraderie than local 5ks. Its like everyone knows the suffering they’re about to endure, and that brings everyone closer together.
- Ron Horn, who runs Pretzel City Sports, and was in charge of the timing had this to say at the start of the Midnight Madness run. (fairly liberal paraphrasing) “There will be runners running the opposite direction of you on the course. They have been running for 14 hours and will be going until dawn. Cheer them on and tell them they look great. They look like crap, but don’t tell them that.” I’ll keep that in mind next time I’m out there and want to know what people really think.
- Each quarter mile was marked on the course. While this was helpful for measuring walk breaks, it also is its own type of torture. Thinking at the start, “ok, one quarter-mile down, 199 to go”, just doesn’t seem fair.
- You know you’ve run far when you completely outlast your fully charged GPS watch that usually lasts through the week on a single charge.
- Next year (yup, I’m already planning on next year), I’ll be shooting for 75 miles. The big fatal flaw I need to fix is food. I’ll be experimenting with eating on the run a lot more during training, and I’ll be force-feeding myself along the way if I have to next year.
- And I’ll need to remember for next year, I still had more in the tank. I was back to running on Tuesday, and by Sunday was starting up a long run as training for a marathon in October. I’ve felt worse after most marathons I’ve done, so maybe there’s something to the high-mileage weeks.