I don't run very many of these timed events because I don't envision myself as a "timed event runner". I like to see myself as an ultra trail runner...or a mountain runner. Running across ridge lines at high altitude is much sexier than turning loops for 24 or 48 hours.
This comment is not meant to disparage the timed event aficionados of the world, but rather to highlight my own delusional opinion of myself. I want to do epic things and amazing mountain venues, and do it well. But I rarely do.
The fact is...I love running in the mountains, but I'll never find the level of success that I do on those little loops. I need to find a way to accept my lot in life.
That point was driven home with force while running the Jackpot Ultra Running Festival 24 Hour Race in Las Vegas over the weekend.
I had no idea what to expect from this race and I didn't really look at the website and study the course. I knew a lot of my friends would be there, so I accepted that as a testament to the quality of the event and decided to run it.
My intention was to run Jackpot as a training run to prepare for the Pickled Feet 48 hour in March. I didn't have a goal going in, but I did give some consideration to a possible spot on the podium if all went well.
Vegas was having record breaking heat at the time of the race, so I spent a lot of time refining my nutrition and hydration plan. Hammer Nutrition is the race sponsor, so I had some comfort and a tremendous amount of experience with the fueling products that would be available at the aid stations. I planned to run with a bottle of HEED and Jo would always have another bottle available to swap with me whenever I needed it. The rest of my calories were going to come from Hammer gels for as long as I could tolerate it.
Jackpot is a 2.38 mile course, mixed with every fathomable running surface. There's absolutely NO shade and you can see the entire course from anywhere you're standing. It's a sea of sweltering bodies and hard running surfaces.
There was a bit of confusion at the race start. Nobody was really clear when they started the race and we all stood there staring at each other for a moment before I decided to run. It was never my intention to lead the pack, but somebody had to take charge.
Typical View of the Course
There were multiple races running at the same time, and there was no visual indication of which race a runner might be in. So as I began to get passed in that first loop, I simply assumed they were running the marathon or 6 hour event. If I hadn't done that, I would have felt the uncontrollable urge to battle for the lead...and that never ends well for me.
The first couple of laps felt comfortable, but it didn't take long for the heat to rise and my temperature to follow. The heat was going to be the deciding factor for a lot of runners and within the first 5 laps, some people were already fading.
Asphalt. The Enemy of the Ultra Runner
As the heat rose, I gave serious consideration to jumping in the lake. That was before I gave it a good look. I'm not 100% sure, but I think this is runoff from the Las Vegas strip, which means it's primarily vomit and spilled beer because it doesn't rain in Vegas.
That's a LOT of Vomit and Stale Beer
Because we all wore the same bibs, I didn't know what my position was for several laps. Around the 50k mark, I asked Jo to find out. She grabbed me on the next lap and told me I was in the lead. I told her not to tell me again until after nightfall because I didn't want to dwell on it so early in the race. Those things can get into my head and begin to dictate how I race. It was too early and way too hot to be worried about it.
My pace was comfortable, but solid. I focused on keeping my heart rate low while managing my hydration. I was taking a Hammer gel every other lap and drinking a bottle of HEED on almost every lap. That seemed risky, and I worried about my nutrition and electrolyte balance, but I kept it well monitored and it was working.
At the 6 hour mark, the course freed up a bit as the 6 hour runners were finishing. I also noticed a lot of other runners began to take breaks to cool off, hydrate and eat.
The attrition was beginning.
The 100 mile leader was running at a blistering pace and lapped me a few times by the 50 mile mark. I knew I was running at a sub 16 hour pace and figured he was well under a 15 hour pace. We chatted a few times as he lapped me and he looked solid. Then I began to reel him in as he faded. I passed him twice while he sat on the side of the trail trying to recover from stomach issues.
The heat was destroying the field.
I kept drinking and fueling, checking my physical condition for issues but there were none. I was patiently waiting for the sun to set so I could really begin to let go.
The runners and the crowd were all very supportive and I could hear my name being called from all over the course. People were shouting encouragement constantly. I loved the energy and feel of this event and it kept me focused. I felt like there were people invested in my success and I wanted to do well for all of them.
The Setting Sun...Now the Race Will Get Interesting
The Best Crew Chief in the Business! I Love This Woman!!
Photo Cred: Danielle Zemola
Jo and I needed to drive home right after the race, so I asked her to go to the hotel and get a full nights sleep so she could drive while I slept. We almost never do this because we work together and she keeps me moving like I need to. We got prepared for her departure by discussing our plan whenever I saw her at each lap. She got all my things together and organized her crew area, adding a Valentines Day balloon so I could find my things in my depleted and delirious state late at night. When she was satisfied, she headed to the hotel for some sleep.
After the sun fully faded, I began to push the pace even harder. It was cool and comfortable and running came easy. I was feeling fresh again and my lap times dropped.
Near midnight, I realized I was closing in on the 100 mile mark quickly. I ran the numbers in my head and discovered that I was going to have a 100 mile PR. I picked up the pace and burned my way around the course. I crossed the 100 mile mark in 15:22:52, a PR by 43 minutes!
When I hit 100 miles, the timer slowly looked up at me with a blank stare and told me I was the first person to hit 100 miles. I also beat the current course record by 18 minutes.
Hitting 100 Miles
At this point, I was about 17 miles ahead of the 2nd place 24 hour runner and I felt confident that I could win this race if I stayed smart, fueled correctly and simply kept moving forward for the next 8 hours. At times like this I keep repeating "Hurry every chance you get" in my head and it keeps me focused on moving with a purpose. I kept moving forward...
Late into the night, my quads began to ache and my shoulder was burning from carrying a water bottle for so many hours. 22 ounces feels like a ton if you carry it long enough. My body was beginning to betray me and I was fading.
As the sky began to lighten to the east, I saw my bride as I came to my crew area. I was elated to see her again, after a night of fighting off the demons all by myself. I got a fresh bottle, a gel and the sweetest kiss ever. Then I ran some more.
Jo is BACK!
As the sun rose, I was cycling through periods of high energy and total fatigue. I always felt "good" but I was having a hard time staying focused. I really just wanted the time to burn off so I could quit running.
By now, everybody knew I was going to put up a high number and they were pushing me and cheering all over the course. I really needed that support because without it, I would have simply walked until the clock stopped.
At the 22 hour mark, I realized I could hit 140 miles if I just maintained my pace, but it was going to be close. I needed 4 more laps at 30 minutes each to get it done.
I turned the first lap in 27 minutes. That was an 11:20 pace and it felt like 6 minute miles.
With three laps to go, I was staring at my watch constantly. As I ran around the course, it became obvious that I would get to 140 miles, but I had no desire to try for anything more. My body just wasn't willing.
Flying High! One Lap to Go!
With only 1 lap to go, I still had 55 minutes on the clock. I told Jo I was going to walk the entire thing. That comment was met with opposition. She insisted that I RUN every step!
I ran the last lap easy and chatted with every runner I passed. I gave encouragement and thanked them for the support through the night. The best thing about timed events is the camaraderie that develops on the course. We all see each other for hours, and sometimes for days. It's a unique experience.
My brain had told my body that we were almost done, so my body began to totally shut itself down. I was barely able to keep moving as every muscle started to seize up and prepare for its rest and recovery. The final quarter mile was excruciating.
As I made it to the finish line, the crowd was cheering and I was feeling elated. When I crossed the timing mat at 140.42 miles, they told me to head out and get as far as I could because I still had 28 minutes on the clock.
I declined more.
That was it. I didn't have another step left in me and couldn't run if I was being chased by a bear. Thankfully there aren't any bears in Vegas.
A Much Needed Chair
Winning the race was an incredible feeling, but I also set a 24 hour PR, a 100 mile PR, set both of those course records and ran a qualifying race for the Mens US 24 Hour Team. That's a long list of accomplishments for a single day of racing and I felt overwhelmed by all of it.
The Race Director Presenting my Trophy
I was thrilled with my fueling strategy and I know that it had a lot to do with my success in this race. I had blown up during my race in Brazil the previous month because I had made mental errors with fueling, but I corrected my mistakes and it paid off. I owe a lot to Hammer Nutrition for their support and patience.
I ran the entire race in a new pair of Topo Athletic Fli-Lytes. They're super lightweight and felt great. I had never run more than 12 miles in them and was thrilled with how they performed over the long distance. Awesome shoe!
What started as a training run turned into a lot more. I may not be the mountain runner that I want to be, but I'm enjoying my experiences in these timed events. At some point, I may just have to face reality and come to terms with the kind of runner I am, versus the kind of runner I wish I was. I can live with that.
Next stop...Eagle Idaho for the Pickled Feet 48 Hour Race. I think I'm ready!