I chose North Coast 24 Hour Endurance Run (NC24) as a test of my ability to complete Burning River 100 in July. With a little over 3 months between the two races it seemed like a perfect test of my training and a confidence booster. Leading up to the race I was neglecting some of my training due to being overworked but I was still improving and training harder than ever before. I also managed to pull or pinch something in my back moving some heavy things around in our lab. I had no illusions that I would somehow do anything impressive. I just wanted to cover a minimum of 80 miles with an achievable goal of 90 miles. My stretch goal was to break 100. Being that this was a 24 hour race there's really no way to make this short so grab a coffee and pull up a chair.
I asked my boss for Friday off and he said I could only have it if I finished up all my work. I didn’t think that would happen so I asked for Monday off knowing I would probably be wrecked (this is important later). I ended up getting all my work done so I drove out to Cleveland Friday night after spending the day packing and frantically fighting with my bank over a hold on my direct deposit (who does that?!). I drove straight to the park and scoped out the course before heading to my hotel. One of the first things I noticed was the white caps and heavy winds along the breakwater. I really hoped it would calm down by morning. I arrived at my hotel just in time to watch the coverage of the second Boston suspect being pinned down in the boat and then taken into custody. I fell asleep quickly and slept pretty well.
Waves were crashing over the breakwater
I woke up before my 6am alarm. I checked the weather and saw cold temps predicted so I chose pants, a tank top, and a long sleeve over top. I also wore my trusty Altra Zero Drop Torins for the entire race. I was anxious and full of nervous energy so I headed out before the continental breakfast was laid out. I went over to the local Starbucks and got a decaf (I avoided caffeine for the week before the race). I sat and talked to some older gentleman until 7:30 and then headed to the park for packet pick up. I found my friend, Anne, almost immediately so I set up my little station next to hers. Most people had tents but I didn’t want the temptation. I had brought a sleeping bag and a camp chair, mostly so if I got hypothermic I could warm up or take a nap after the race before I drove home. I also had a duffel bag stuffed with running clothes, jackets, and gloves as well as a small cooler with two Red Bulls in it. That's it... no crew, no shelter, and no extras. Racing by the seat of my pants!
Tent City (and me in my pink hoody in the background)
I picked up my bib and chip, slipped on my hoody over my clothes, and then crawled into my sleeping bag to wait for the pre-race brief. The wind was howling and shortly after it started to snow. Then it began to pelt us with hail. I pulled my bag over my head and seriously considered just getting back in my car and going home. The hail and snow stopped just before 9am and the pre-race briefing went on as planned. So I sucked it up and lined up with everyone else despite the biting wind. The high was 41 degrees with a low of 33 and winds around 30MPH.
snow in my lap
Heidi, the RD, sent us off with a bullhorn at 9am on the dot. I was surprised at how many people took off like it was a shorter distance race. My plan was to run as evenly and consistently as possible for as long as I could maintain it. I didn’t wear a watch so I didn’t worry about pace or times. I just tried to keep my effort low and even. We were running the .90075 mile loop clockwise which meant a short incline along the edge of the lake and then running along the breakwater at the top before turning away from the lake and heading down to the line to start again. The wind was gusting diagonally across the park and the freezing spray from the waves crashing against the breakwater would mist us with every loop. The wind was from the side on the uphill, mostly behind us at the top of the loop, and directly in our faces as we returned along the sandy beach which meant the sand blew into our eyes, noses, mouths, and shoes relentlessly.
snow on the path
After the first few loops I could tell my back was going to be an issue. My right SI joint was sending shooting pains down my leg with every step. I told myself it was just nerve pain so there was no reason to pay any mind since there was nothing I could do about it. It did slow me down though. I decided to try to hold 5 loops per hour for as long as I could in order to get close to 100 miles. I began to walk the short incline from the start/finish up to the breakwater each lap so I could eat and drink and save my legs. Then I would run the remainder of the loop and do it again. I would walk an entire loop every 15th or 16th lap.
I was staying right on target and prettily easily keeping my 5 loops per hour average despite the wind and cold. After 25 or so miles I decided to change my socks to relieve the sand friction in my shoes. It helped immensely and I made a plan to change my socks every 25 miles thereafter. Around 30 miles my back pain suddenly disappeared which helped me stay on pace and even improve slightly. I whiled away the hours talking to other runners and watching in amazement as the men ran themselves into the ground trying to beat the wind. Johnny Cash (yes, his real name) was going for 135 miles and he was just blazing. Hearing him lap me again was better than a clock. He was ridiculously steady!
waiting to start
Around 40 miles in my coach stopped out to cheer me on for awhile and check in. I was so happy to see her. She got me some warm food and broth, walked with me for a minute and helped refine my plans. We felt confident 90 miles was in the bag. After a few laps she had to leave but it kept me going at a better rate for another hour or so. I began to notice that my right foot was getting tender along the ankle. I tried to shorten my stride and improve my form which helped a little so I kept chugging along, knowing a 50 mile PR was in the bag.
My coach and I
I should have hit 50 miles in 11:30 or less but the pain in my foot was becoming annoying. The balls of my feet were getting tender and I blamed sand so I stopped to change my socks again. I passed 50.5 miles in 11:4x. I set my focus on getting to the 100k mark but began to lose steam as the sun set and the temperatures plummeted.
Running some laps with Ronnie
I stopped around 55 miles to add layers. I had two pairs of tights, a tank top, a long sleeve tech tee, two jackets, a hoody, and gloves on and I was still shivering uncontrollably. The top 10 or 12 men were still plugging away and 3 or 4 women remained on the course but everyone else seemed to disappear as soon as the sun set. I renewed my focus on not leaving the course for anything short of a medical emergency and pressed on. I tried to run more to get my temperature up and it became a battle between the pain in my right ankle/foot and my need to stay moving and warm. Occasionally someone would be running at a pace I thought I could sustain so I would hang with them for a few laps until I either got too warm in all my layers or my foot began to protest. Pretty soon all of the women had disappeared and I gave in to the urge to check the leader board. I believe I was in 4th place at that point and around 21-23 overall. I wasn’t too far from Anne in third place so I decided to put in as many laps as I could while she was off the course.
I picked up a 3 hour marathoner in a Boston jacket named Bruce and we put in a blistering 3 or 4 laps before I fell off his pace. Every few laps he would grab my hand and pull me along for another couple laps until I was gasping or limping and then I’d walk. I hit the 100k mark in around 15:30 and I felt pretty confident that 90 miles was very doable. I walked some very brisk laps with another runner named Jason and ran a few with another named Ronnie. They were both on pace for well over 100 miles so I’d enjoy their company while it lasted and then walk again.
Cleveland skyline at twilight
Sometime in the middle of the night I began taking caffeine: coffee, Mountain Dew, Coke, whatever. The week without any caffeine made the effects potent and I was wide awake despite the darkness. I ran without a light using the light of the moon and my familiarity with the course to guide me instead. It felt like hours before any other women rejoined me on the course but they later told me they only left the course for about an hour. I had taken over third place and I was now running scared that Anne would find her second wind. The winds calmed down and changed direction overnight which was a nice change and helped keep my spirits up. The appearance of a fox raiding the park garbage cans for our leftovers also gave me a boost. Of course, no one else saw him so maybe it was just a hallucination?
My coach wanted me to try to catch second place and I got fairly close when she left the course again for a short time. She came back out and finished a loop right behind me. She got a look at my numbers and let out a curse and took off like a bat out of Hell. By this point I was more than happy to let the chips fall where they may. I had hoped the sun coming up would rejuvenate me but instead I was becoming a walking zombie. My only goal was to keep putting one foot in front of the other until the end.
I liked this tree when it wasn't blowing pollen in my face
Thankfully my friend, Glenn, showed up at 6am and took over caring for me when I could no longer care for myself. He forced oatmeal and coffee into me and walked several loops, taking pictures and calling out encouragements. I just blindly followed behind him and the doc (who ran the med tent but also put in 34 miles) and tried to give convincing smiles when other runners talked to me or encouraged me.
That tiny speck in the water is a surfer. The waves were that big!
Around 8am I realized my position of third place woman was in no danger with a 9 lap lead over 4th place Anne. I had moved up to 18th overall and I couldn’t change that with both Karen and Allene directly ahead of my by about 10 laps in 16th and 17th place. Knowing that there was nothing to do but cause further damage I allowed Glenn to hustle me into the med tent to have my foot tended to by a group of podiatry students all the way from St. Louis, MO.
Bruising just below my ankle
All three students took turns palpating and digging and nothing really hurt. Finally their teacher came over and pushed in just below my ankle and also from the bottom up on the outside. The searing pain almost knocked me out of the chair. Diagnosis: dislocated Navicular bone. It seems my Navicular fell in and my cuboid pushed out causing a bruise along the side of my food and the inability to run due to the impact jarring the bones. Once my foot was reset and all taped up I hobbled outside to watch the last couple laps. Doc decided he wanted to get one more in so I accompanied him on a slow hobble around the loop carrying our popsicle sticks. (You are given a popsicle stick with your number on it to put down on the ground when the horn blows signaling the end of the race.) We were rounding the last bend when someone said we had less than 2 minutes to the horn. I wanted to finish with one more complete loop and maybe a few more steps beyond so I ignored the pain and ran but it wasn’t enough. The horn sounded and I stuck my popsicle stick in the sand about 20 feet shy of the mat. Doc was a few feet back and Allene, now in first place, was a few more feet behind him. We all limped back to the pavilion and I climbed into my sleeping bag to await awards.
I huddled around with Anne, Glenn, Jason, and a few others as we collected our medals and the guys collected their 100 mile buckles. Shortly thereafter awards were announced with unofficial results (our extra incomplete lap was not measured or added yet). I was awarded a plaque for being first in the 0-39 age group, 3rd overall woman netted me $100, and I was 18th overall with an unofficial 84.7 miles. I officially ended up with 85.57 miles after my almost complete loop was added in.
As soon as awards were over I hugged everyone goodbye and loaded up my car. I made the 3.5 hour drive back to Pittsburgh uneventfully despite being awake and moving for 30+ hours. Once home I showered and fell into bed for a fitful 3 or 4 hour nap. I kept being awakened by my sunburn and windburn as well as sinuses that felt like half the beach was stuffed in them. After some aloe gel, an Advil, and blowing about a pound of sand out of my nose I began to feel more human. Aside from being stiff and a little sore I don’t seem to have any damage besides the bruised foot. Of course, I expect I’ll feel more tomorrow since my boss revoked that Monday off deal! I’m going to be the most useless body in the plant for sure. (Side note: I actually was fairly productive for about 5 hours today!)
This was tough but for all the reasons I didn’t expect. I didn’t expect snow, hail, and gale force winds in April. I didn’t expect to be alone for long stretches of time overnight. I didn’t expect to be wet from freezing spray blowing off the lake. I expected to be tempted to go too fast but I wasn’t. I expected to be exposed to sun and heat but there was little sun and no high temps. I expected to be the one who fell apart overnight but I was one of the very few who held it together for the entire time.
I know that it was a ‘disappointing’ race to many of those tracking the event because not a single woman broke 100 miles and the winning male had ‘only’ 130 miles but, really, with the conditions and weather I’m absolutely amazed at what every single person at NC24 accomplished. Running a 10 or 11 minute mile pace for hours is one thing, running that for hours against a 30 MPH headwind is completely different. Every runner out there for the entire 24 hours absolutely put in a 100+ mile effort even without the results to show for it.
In the end, I didn’t get my 90 mile goal and I definitely missed 100 by a pretty good margin. But I’m thrilled with the results. I couldn’t have asked for better proof of my mental toughness than being the only woman that never stepped off the course for a nap or to hide from the weather. I wouldn’t have dreamed of placing in my age group let alone getting onto the podium in my first 24 hour race. And I have no doubt that I will collect my first hundred mile buckle at Burning River so long as I don’t suffer any serious setbacks. I guess it turned out to be a perfect day!