A last minute change in race plans(I was going to run ATY 24 Hours December 29th.) landed me in Phoenix for the Desert Solstice 24 Hour at the Central High School all weather track. The race is called a 24 hour race, but the race was created to go any distance you want. The done rive of the two race directors Jamil and Nick Coury is to design a race for top level runners to attempt at World/National records. The race was comprised of about twenty runners with varying goals. Mine was simple. I wanted to run a fast hundred whatever that meant. I threw out the number 12:30 but running a 7:30 mile pace for 100 miles seemed mind boggling. Breaking 13 hours would have been nice.
Jamil had set me up with a place to stay while I was in town. Rich and Erin McKnight, newlyweds, and ultra runners of there own opened there house to me and took care of my every need and they were going to also double as my crew. This was going to be a tough task because I'm a high maintenance runner:) After a medium steak and baked potato dinner and a good night sleep, I was ready to go and off to the Central High School track and the start of the race. A cup of coffee and two Vespas would fuel me prior to the race.
I would be lying if I didn't say I wasn't a little intimidated by the field in the race. David James, Ian Sharman, Michael Arnstein....just to name few, were runners I looked up to and followed in the sport. BUT I knew what race strategy worked for me, so I planned to stick to it and where the chips fell, they fell.
The race called for some showers off and on throughout the day and that became the biggest understatement of the day! The gun went off right at 8 am local time and the runners began to make there way around the hamster wheel. We would start the race running counter clockwise, and we would change directions on the track every four hours. That is exactly how I planned to break up the race, three separate four hour races. The first four hours would be a warm up. I would concentrate on running a comfortable pace and working on calorie consumption and staying hydrated.
In the first hour David James and Ian Sharman lapped me three times. They're sights were set for sub 12 and a World Record! I didn't even entertain the thought of running with them. I got a chance to talk to Ian before the race and he wanted to aIso run a fast 100, then jog the rest of the 24 Hour. He would reconsider this strategy later in the race. I had my strategy and was sticking to it. As my wife had said the night before,"Run your race like you did in Italy." She was so right. By the second hour, I had gone from 7:30 pace to a consistent 7:15. It felt comfortable. By the end of the second hour, Ian and James had at least five laps on me, however you could see David slowing and soon he would drop. It wasn't his day, but it didn't stop him from providing motivational support throughout the entire race. He is a class act.
We hit the four mark and the first turnaround without much drama. At this point Ian was 8 laps up on me, but I was now running a solid 7:10 pace and feeling good. The stomach was also strong. I was consistently rotating gels, V8, chicken noodle soup, potato chips, gummy bears, and M&Ms the whole day. I would take a caffeinated gel every two hours and also a Vespa every two hours. Moreover, I would wash this down with water. Rich took care of my every need. Every couple of laps I would be shouting out requests and Rich was on it. His job would soon become more difficult as Mother Nature would make her presence felt in the 4-8 hour section of the race.
My plan for the second part of the race was to maintain my 7:10-7:15 pace with an occasional faster mile at the beginning of each hour. This seemed to wake the legs up and help reduce some of the lactic acid build-up. I noticed Joe Fejes, the eventual 24 hour champ and National 24 Hour team member, work this to perfection on his way to running 156.5 miles! However, it became difficult to stick to the race strategy when the Heavens opened and the wind picked up. With temps in the 40's and a bone chilling breeze/shower on the back stretch, the race strategy had to be altered. I ended up changing in and out of two shirts, three hats, one beanie, and a jacket during a three hour window in the 4-8 hour stretch. Unfortunately this put a heavy burden on my crew to keep me dry. Then on again, off again, and off again, rain showers played tricks on the runners and made the runner's crews work like NASCAR Pit Crews. You could see Ian was starting to slow a little and after increasing his lap lead to nine, I was able to chip away a get one back. It seemed as though he had fought through a tough stretch and was back to his old self quickly after the pass.
Then, all of a sudden the rain shower became a steady rain. Lakes were forming on the track every inch of me was soaked. Ian and I tried to work together as we made the turn at eight hours but the cold was starting to get to us. Luckily enough, Rich persuaded me to change the completely saturated shirt I was wearing under my jacket into a long sleeve shirt. I then requested a beanie. This was HUGE! Within a couple of laps I felt warm and rejuvenated. However, I noticed Ian didn't make any clothing changes and was beginning to feel the effects.
I was able to make up one more lap on Ian, but the guy is as tough as nails and I knew he wouldn't go down
without a fight. Unfortunately within a few laps, Ian was reduced to a walk after having a leg issue. And with the weather the way it was, it didn't take long before he was hypothermic and had to drop.
We were now nine hours into the race and I was now in the lead. My strategy needed to change. I originally had planned to use the third part of the race to try to run down the leaders, but since I was in the lead, a change was in order. I went through a body diagnostic test and determined I felt good, stomach and all. The legs were tight but that was to be expected. I now determined that I would run a comfortable pace that I could maintain for the duration of the race...easier said then done, especially with the weather the way it was. It was hard to get in any rhythm. This would be the longest 3+ hours of my life.
I concentrated mile to mile. Trying to hit each desired split. Also, I tried to keep my spirits up and converse with other runners as we passed each other on the track. Anything to distract me from the overall distance/time. Erin had arrived to help crew and with their combined help, I didn't have to pause or think much other than about my running.
Between the 10th and 11th hour the lights came on over the track but my pace had slowed to about 7:55 per mile. Then, out of nowhere Michael Arnstein comes flying by me running a low six minute pace and he says to me as he runs by, "I'm comin for you Jon!" Needless to say, this woke me up! I knew it was said tongue and cheek, but I felt the need to refocus.
The rain had finally subsided and with about two hours left to run, I was on pace to break 12:40 and I wanted to make sure that happened. That 7:55 pace became a 7:40 pace. My eyes were focused on Michael. Trying to keep him at bay, but even with my increased pace, he continued to lap me. Mathematically, it may have been a long shot that he make up the seven mile deficit, but I didn't want to give up this race after working so hard and steady all day. With less than two hours remaining in the race, it came to the attention of the Jamil Coury the American Record for 100 miles on track was 12 hours 27 minutes and 2 seconds. This information was relayed through my crew Rich. He told me that I would have to run 1:52 laps(7:28 mile pace) to break the record. I quickened the pace for a mile but it was short lived as I noticed this pace was too much with so much time left in the race.
I was reserved to the thought that 12:27 was not going to happen, but I continued to plug away. At this point, I found a pace I felt comfortable with for the rest of the race and was clicking away laps. BUT the race staff and my crew weren't going to stop encouraging me to pursue the record. I told Rich to let me know when it was eight miles to go. I thought I could push my body to the edge with one hour to go, and with eight miles to go, I started my pursuit towards history. 1:48's were the target with 32 laps to go. It seems crazy to have to real off 7:10 miles from mile 93-100 in the race, but that was the situation I put myself in. Jamil asked the runners to give me the inside of lane one as I was on pace to break the American Record. It was electric feeling on the track. All the runners were very encouraging as I passed them. And with their help, I was able to stick close to this target for the first five miles, then the clock struck twelve hours. That meant another change of direction on the track. It seems so simple to have to turn around a cone and run the other way, but it was anything but that. The legs got a little tighter, and my left hamstring was starting to twinge. What was I to do? Do I keep pushing until I couldn't push any longer? or Did I make sure I finished running? The later was more important. To me, nothing would have been more demoralizing than crossing the finish line walking. So after crunching the numbers, I could break 12:30 with the 8 minute pace I was running. And on that last lap, a sense of accomplishment fell over me. I couldn't believe I was just about run under 12:30 for 100 miles, but at the same time, I was a little disappointed that I didn't break the American Record after being so close.........I guess that means I will have to come back in 2013:)