What can I say, I really didn't feel well prepared for this one, or maybe I just didn't uberprepare like I normally do. It had been a very busy week at work and I didn't get to bed until late both Thursday and Friday night. As a result, I wasn't as well rested as I usually am nor was I properly hydrated. I got up at 4AM, got dressed, had my coffee and headed to Decatur. I wanted to arrive in time to set up at a convenient location near the start of the race to place a chair with my gels and other race gear. I also still needed to pick up my race packet.
After arriving around 5:30AM, setting up my chair, grabbing my race packet and chatting with some of the volunteers, I retreated back into my truck to stay warm until the start of the race. Next to me, local speedster Eric Charette was getting ready in his car. Talking to Jon Elmore, one of the Delano Park RDs, at a local 10K race the weekend before, I also knew that Jamie Donaldson was back to possibly challenge the course record she herself tied just two years earlier. Add "speedgoat" Robert Youngren and his wife Kathy, Blake Thompson, Dink Taylor as well as Liz Bauer and quite a few competitive GUTS ultra runners into the mix and you have a recipe for a couse record.
"I Got Loopy For 12 Hours At Delano Park"
After a brief countdown, the race got under way at 6AM sharp. I assume that due to the large field of runners, the race start had been moved to an open area in the center of the park near the timing mat. While I briefly hung our with Margaret Curcio and Candy Findley prior to the race, I quickly lost track of them on the course. I know that seemsimpossible on a 1 mileloop course, but I dont think I saw Margaret fora couple of hou rs. Candy used the run walk method right from the start and it really paid off for her. Honestly, I was a little frustrated because I didn't follow my own strategy from last year that involved some walking every hour right from the start. Instead, I was rather clueless, running almost 30 seconds faster per mile early on without a real game plan for the day other than my usual fluid, gel and salt intake plan.
Temperatures were in the low 40s when the race got underway, but the weather forecast predicted 60s for most of the day. This was much better than last year's "race of four seasons". I decided to bundle up nice and warm and to drop layers as needed every time I'd pass my chair. 12 hour timed races on shorter loop courses are unique in that they allow runners much more flixibility in their race planning and logistics. On my second loop, I overheard one runner jokingly ask his buddy if he would write a race report about this race, which would sound something like "turn left, turn left and turn left again". While I disagree with his comment that the course isn't worth describing in a race report, he did have one point: a Delano race report is not about the difficulty of the terrain or the climbs or the wildlife you spot along the way.
Don't get me wrong, I think it's a beautiful course, but this race is about something else than the picturesque landscape. It's about running, plain and simple. For some it's about ultra running and cranking out some serious distance, for others it's about getting a few miles in among friends in a fun environment. This course is flat with firm gravel. It allows for speed and is easy on the joints. If you do your homework, you can really crank out the miles and chase some PRs. However, if you have a race day like I did, you stop worrying about any goals and just try to enjoy the moment and the atmosphere. You just keep running for running's sake and to prove to yourself you can keep running even on a bad day. At least that's what I did. This race gave me the opportunity to see how my mind works, what keeps me going mentally and what could cause me to quit.
My Race Plan
Well, I didn't really have one other than trying to run 100K (61ish miles). And I only set that goal after RD Jon reminded me that that would be a good goal to have after running 52 miles in 10 hours last year. I had no pace plan other than staying under 10 minute per mile pace for as long as I could and to slow down when needed, but not before noon. Unfortunately, my body had other plans. While I was on track for the first 2 1/2 hours, I started to have issues with my ciatic nerve which quickly led to a changed gait and limping. I took two Aleve (or was it Advil) that I bummed from a fellow runner (thanks again), slowed to a walk and started my own little "mind games". Unfortunately, I was not in control of them at this point.
I "realized" that with only 20 miles in the books and a lot more miles to go to reach my goal, it could be a long and miserable day (at least that's how my mind expressed it). I started to think that I would be better off just calling it a day, go home, lay on the couch and watch soccer. It really sounded like a great idea. My mind kepot going..."why be out here?", "it's not in you today", "who cares if you keep running or not". I was in a bad place and my body didn't start to feel any better. Then I started to try to convince myself that I should just keep walking for a bit, "CFM" you know. I can always change my mind and quit later, just keep walking for now, see what happens. After all, I had three friends and my fiancee show scheduled to show up in the afternoon to pace me. Well, wouldn't be much "pacing" going on if they had shown up at that point.
Again, I reminded myself that if I can keep walking, maybe I will start feeling better. If my buddies were showing up to pace me, at least I should make an effort to still be moving by the time they'd show up. For the first time in any race of any distance, I grabbed my phone/music player to take my mind off everything. I just wanted to listen to the music and get motivated to start running again, no matter the pace. I had actually created a playlist of my favorite songs from the late 70s to today. It was quite an eclectic mix (Jimmy Hendrix, Green Day, INXS, ACDC, etc.)...150 of my favorite songs;-) I hit the shuffle button and off I went. At this point, I was reduced to walking about a quarter mile and running three quarters of a mile.
When my first pacer arrived, I was still in that mode. However, my gait had straigthened out again and my physical pain was minimal, I just felt exhausted. I dropped my music player and started chatting with Richard, who was the first one to show up. James was next and they started sharing pacing duties between me and Candy. My effort at running still wasn't pretty, but I was still moving. By now, the temperatures had risen to the 70s. Yet, I still ended up getting cold at the back end of the loop. That was definitely related to my slow pace. After a couple of hours of listening to me moan and keeping me entertained with grand ideas and goals for next year's Delano Park relay race, James and Richard left to enjoy the rest of the day.
I picked up my music player again to keep at it, run some, walk some, run some, walk some. Before I knew it, Ryan came out to get his first taste of an ultra marathon. I think I actually convinced him to try it for himself next year, so I can have looked that bad;-) Ryan hung in there for about an hour before being relieved by my fiancee, who just like last year, was ready to push me to the finish. And push me to the finish she did. I cranked out a couple of sub 11 minute miles in the last hour in addition to running almost exclusively without many walk breaks. I had stopped eating pretty much for the last two hours and was struggling to get in enough fluids, not because I cound't stomach it, but becasue I wanted to drink too much, I felt. At one point, it felt like I was drinking a bottle of half and half (Gatorade/water) an hour, which seemed excessive. Yet, I hadn't gone to the bathroon until 10 hours into the run.
I completed my final lap with 4 minutes to spare. 58 miles in total, not quite 100K but good enough for 6th male and 14th overall. I wouldn't have been able to without Anya, who kept encouraging me to keep going, but always kept an eye on my physical well being as well. While I was spent, I really felt pretty good mentally. I decided to take a quick shower at the rec center before heading to the post race dinner and awards ceremony. I wasn't about to head home without getting that mileage plaque for my finishing award and without hearing first hand, if a new course record was established;-) Congratulations to 29 year old Drew Burnett, who did just that, logging 82 miles in 11 hours and 54 minutes. As a matter of fact, the top five finishers ran more than 72 miles or more this year, very impressive.
RDs Eric Schotz, Jon Elmore and their excellent team of volunteers did an outstanding job from start to finish taking care of runners' needs all day long, refilling bottles, providing food and sharing words of encouragement every and each time a runner crossed the timing mat. These cheerful comments are certainly what kept me going during one of my more difficult races. Thanks also to Candy and Margaret (pictured above with fellow GUTS runners and myself) for their encouragement throughout the day.
To all my pacers for the day, Richard Trice, James Duncan, Ryan Ezell, thank you very much for hanging in there with me and keeping me going on a beautiful, yet personally challenging day. Finally, thanks to my fiancee Anya, who keep me going and finishing strong just like she did last year and who continues to support me and let me be "crazy" weekend after weekend.
I had a wonderful time yet again and I am sure I will be back again next year with new hopes and goals in mind.
Final note to self: Wear gaiters when the course is dry. Last year, the course was wet and gravel pebbles were not a problem. This year, I needed to empty my shoes a few times to remove bothersome gravel bits. Also, I want to give credit to the author of the book "Fixing Your Feet". I got a pedicure (yes, I am secure enough in my manhood to admit it;-) after Rocky Raccoon 100 to get rid of severe calluses and to prevent more serious blisteres in the future. I also did some other preventative measures. It worked at Delano, not a single blister or hotspot. I know there is no permanent solution because every race is different, but it is the first time I ran an ultra without ANY blisters.