Sunday, May 20, 2012

NorthCoast 24 (U.S. National Championship) Race Report

What stands out to you in this race schedule?
Rocky Road 100 February 18th
Modesto Marathon March 18th
100k World Championships Italy April 22nd
NorthCoast 24 Hour May5th/6th (U.S. National Championship)
Western States Endurance Run April 24th

Is it the big name recognition of Western States? Is it the once in a lifetime trip to Italy running in the 100k World Championships for Team USA? Or is it, "why is he running a 24 Hour race 13 days after traveling and running the 100k in Italy?"

That would be a very good question and I have a very good answer for that.... Prior to getting the invitation(four weeks before the race) I had planned and paid for my trip to run the 24 hour race in Cleveland. When I got the call to go to Italy I could not turn it down. That meant I was going to run these two grueling races 13 days apart...OUCH! I was telling anyone that would listen that the 24 Hour race would be the hardest race I had ever run and did it ever live up to it's billing...well...sort of:)

I board my plan in Oakland for Columbus, Ohio (three hour lay over in Los Angeles) on Thursday night. It was a red-eye. Finances dictated I take this flight and make up for the lack of sleep at the hotel Friday afternoon with a nap. I arrived into Columbus at 6:30am. After picking up the rental car and getting a quick bite to eat at The Waffle House, I went back to the airport to pick up Charles Wickersham, the sucker who signed on to be my crew. In all reality, Charles became my 24 hour secret weapon.

The day consisted of a two and a half hour drive to Cleveland where the race was located and the usual pre-race jog, nap, grocery stop, dinner stop, and pre-race brief among Charles and I. The race strategy was in place and the race materials were packed or laid out ready for the morning.

Charles was up 7 and out the door to reserve our coveted spot for our personal aid station. He set up the tent and chairs and put all the necessary items on ice in the ice chest. The plan was to use the tent to take naps, but no one ever slept and there was a good reason why. We'll get to that later.

I on the other hand was just waking up and after going through the normal pre-race routine was ready to go at 8:15 (9:00 start) when Charles got back to the hotel. Now, it was time to check in at race headquarters and get to the start line. The weather was cloudy and breezy and Heidi Cuniff (RD) was ready to send us on our one day journey.

The gun goes off and we are on our way. I wanted to spend the first hour or so feeling out a comfortable pace I could run the entire race. The mistake I made in 2007(S.F. One Day) in my first attempt to run 24 hours was to mix in walking throughout the race. I felt it made me stiff and later in the race made it difficult to run at all. This time I was going to run as long as I could without walking, so I needed to really dial in a pace I could maintain for 20 plus hours. The Rocky Road 100 was a good barometer for that. I maintained a pretty even pace in that race (7:58) and felt I could do something around eight minutes for the majority of the race. Obviously, I would slow late but Rocky Road gave me the confidence that I could run a 100 plus miles without walking, so that is what I set out to do.

My single goal for the day was to run at least 141 miles. That would give me a chance to be selected for the U.S. National Team traveling to Poland for the World Championships in September. To make two National Teams in one year in two completely different events would be a huge accomplishment for me. There was no real thought of winning the race because of four distinct reasons 1.) Serge Arbona 2.) Valmir Nunes 3.) Howard Nippert and what was that fourth one?....oh ya...4.) I just ran a hard 100k thirteen days ago in Italy:)

For those of you that don't know, the course is comprised of a 0.9 mile almost entirely flat paved loop along Lake Erie. I will fast forward to the twelfth hour as I just reached 90 miles. My pace was pretty consistent all day and except for a few bathroom stops, a shoe change, and bid number change I was able to maintain an eight minute mile pace each lap. Moreover, I was in the lead, but it was still very early in the race and I knew this. The last four ours would determine the winner, however winning the race was not my focus. My focus switched to the night. I knew this would be the difference. Could I stay awake, mentally strong, and motivated during the night?

I got to 13 hours (13:40-100miles) and handed my watch to Charles. I didn't want the 100 miles to be my mental finish line, so I got rid of the watch and just ran on feel at that point. I got to 14, 15, and 16 hours pretty quickly only fading to about an 8:30 pace. A lot of my success was due to my crew Charles. Every lap he was ready with whatever I needed. Running to catch up to me in many cases when I changed my mind at the last minute:) He was my hero, not going to sleep all night. If he wasn't taking care of my nutritional needs, he was making runs to the car to send Twitter updates, and to record each lap time. These recorded lap splits proved to be very important as five of my laps were not recorded early in the race and with Charles' help they were recorded later.

As I approached the 17th hour, I called for Charles to run up next to me as I was finishing another lap, I whispered to him, "This feels so easy."  I didn't want anyone to hear me because it would have come off the wrong way. I just couldn't believe that I would feel this good so late in the race after running the World 100k thirteen days earlier. BUT, I was now starting to feel the mental fatigue as it approached 3 a.m. I could see the goal right in front of me. I was two laps from 140! Unfortunately, this would be the challenge. How could I continue to motivate myself to run further when I had already done what I set out to do? I know 141 miles wouldn't ensure me of making the team and with an 11 lap lead in the race over Serge Arbona...I wanted to finish off the race with a win.

I got to 144 and Charles tells me that I could walk it from here and start my rest for Western States. Then, I looked and him and said, "I want to win this thing." He replied, "Oh." I then told him to let me know when I could stop running and walk it in for the win. I ran to 152 miles and at that point I got the go ahead to walk it in. I finished with two hours or so of walking and a grand total of 158.5 miles. It was impressive to see how strong Serge and Sabrina were running the last two hours. I took note of this as I will need to do the same come September in Poland, but I won't let it damper my performance. There is no way I would have imagined running over 150 miles and to almost run 160 is CRAZY! Charles....thank you! You were like having a second pair of legs out there. Start packing your bags for Poland:)

Now it is on to the third leg of MY grand slam, this little race called.....Western States....Have you heard of it?

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