The Jackpot 24 Hour Race is held in Las Vegas and is put on by Beyond Limits Running. In addition to the 24 hour event, they include a 100 miler, a marathon, as well as a 6, 12 and 48 hour race. They also host several other races, so it's worth checking out.
I had run Jackpot the previous year, so I knew what to expect. A fast course, great support, good food, a bunch of cool ultra runners, and a fair bit of Vegas tomfoolery. I also knew it would be much hotter that northern Utah in February.
I'm acutely aware that running in the heat is something that I struggle with. But given a choice between that, or nothing at all, I can be found running in the heat.
Some of that Vegas Tomfoolery I Mentioned...
When we arrived at the race venue around 8:00 AM, it was already warming up. The race was scheduled to start at 9:00, and by then, it had become uncomfortable.
I saw a lot of familiar faces and looked forward to sharing 24 hours of solid running and heaps of pain with each and every one of them. After announcements and group photos, we started the race.
Me and Patrick Sweeney, testing our 5k Pace
People often ask me about strategy for running 24 and 48 hour timed events. It's easy. Just follow these simple guidelines:
1. Drink plenty of beer the night before. Maybe even a few in the morning after brushing your teeth.
2. Don't lube up! Chafing keeps your competitive edge alive and keeps you focused!
3. Go out at a suicide pace. The other runners will likely get scared and just go home.
4. Don't eat much. It'll just slow you down.
5. Bathroom breaks are for losers! You're wearing shorts, so just let it flow!
If you can master those steps, I can pretty much guarantee success.
Jackpot has a 2.38 mile loop that snakes through Cornerstone Park, in a meandering sort of way. The surface is a mixture of concrete, asphalt, gravel road, and a tiny bit of rocky trail. The park is completely exposed which allows you to see the entire race unfold, and it also lets the sun beat down on you in relentless fashion, as if it's mocking runners in a torturous manner.
Aside from the aid station at the start/finish area, the park has a great spot for setting up tents and personal aid station, immediately adjacent to the course. This area is near the mid point of the course, so it's a perfect place to grab a quick Hammer gel, beer, or whatever a normal ultra runner may need.
I ran my first lap in 17:50, my second in 19:45, then finally settled in to laps in the 22:00-24:00 minute range. When I looked behind me, I was surprised to see that the rest of the runners hadn't already gone home, feeling completely defeated. I could see this was going to be a tough bunch.
While I was racing, Jo (Wife/Manager/Crew Chief Extraordinaire) was busy training our newest crew member. Timp the Trail Dog will eventually be trained to deliver my Hammer gels on command, but she's not quite there yet.
The Amazing Timp!
By early afternoon, I deliberately slowed my pace in hopes of having good legs to carry me quickly through the night. I just kept repeating "Just live long enough to see the sunset and we'll survive". By 3:00 PM, the sun began to dip lower into the sky and the temps began to gradually fall. A very welcomed condition.
Suspicious Dog Looking Suspiciously at Suspicious Neighbors
Much Needed Shade and Cold Beer to Celebrate 6 Hours
The sun began to set in earnest around 6:00. After battling the intense heat and direct sun all day, it was a joyous experience. And naturally, as soon as the sun dropped below the horizon, it got way too cold! This always happens in the desert, yet, I always seem surprised and irritated by it.
While I try to use Hammer products exclusively when I train and race, I've found that timed races have some of the most irresistible aid station fare in the ultra running scene. A slice of pumpkin pie, a brownie, maybe a pancake? Or maybe some pumpkin pie and a brownie rolled up in a pancake? Why not?! Race day is better than cheat day! Jackpot had plenty to offer.
At the 12 hour mark, I had hit 71 miles and my lead had grown to 12 miles. That was a fair bit of cushion, but I was still nervous. The race was only half over and it could easily slip away if I began to fall apart.
It was at this point where I began to realize how much better I had run the year before. In 2015, I finished with 141 miles and there was no chance of that happening this time. I didn't "need" it to happen, but I also didn't need to be suddenly filled with doubt. Getting old is a bitch!
Coming Through at 12 Hours, 71 Miles
Shortly after 9:00, my crew departed for the hotel for some rest. We were planning to drive back to Utah right after the race, so at least one of us needed to get some sleep. While I really wanted that to be me, it wasn't an option.
As the night wore on, the temperatures kept dropping. According to the thermometer, it was never truly cold, but after being so overheated all day, it felt miserable. I made several wardrobe changes, but nothing was quite right. I was too cold, then too warm, then I was sweating which led to getting even colder...it was awful! A big part of ultra running is the ability to suffer through the misery. I need to really work on that part.
Somewhere around 2:00 AM, I hit the 100 mile mark. This is normally the time I stop running and celebrate. Instead, I was heading out for more laps. Never ending laps...
At this point, my stomach was rolling and I wanted to puke...but not really. For a lot of people, "getting it out" is their fix-it trick. I'm not like other people. Vomiting is a whole body experience for me and it requires 6 hours of immediate bed rest for recovery. I would rather fight the urge to purge than get it out.
Jo and I agreed that she should return to the race at 6:00 in the morning. That's three hours before the finish, which is plenty of time for her to witness my total degradation.
Shortly before her arrival, I began to look at the race standings so I could run some numbers. I wasn't doing this to determine split times for myself, or to anticipate my finish mileage. I was trying to figure out if I had a big enough lead to quit running. I was tired, sick, cold and miserable. I had deliberately avoided paying attention to the standings, because I didn't want the worry or distraction. But the notion of quitting early was just too damn tempting.
Timp Wanted to Stay at the Hotel and Had to be Coaxed to Return to the Race. Poor Form For a Crew Member!
When Jo got back to the park, I was almost 21 hours into the race and had a 26 mile lead. I finally had the amount of cushion that I like. For me to lose the race, the 2nd place runner would need to throw down a sub 3:00 marathon after 21 hours of running. It seemed unlikely to happen.
With that realization, I called it quits. Continuing to run just didn't make any sense to me. The course record was out of reach so I struggled to find a compelling argument to keep moving. So I elected to climb into my WARM truck, put my feet up and rest. I did keep my running gear on, just in case!
Finally Warm, Watching the Sun Rise Over the Desert
On a side note, the shoes I wore were the exact same pair of Topo Fli-Lyte's that I had been wearing when I won this race last year. I also wore them when I won the Pickled Feet 24 hour and the Across the Years 48 hour. I can't guess how many miles I've put on them, but they are definitely the winningest shoes I've ever owned. They should probably have their own blog or Twitter account. I'm sad to be retiring them. I may have them bronzed so I can hang them from my rear view mirror.
A Vegas race deserves Vegas style swag. My new buckle and GIANT poker card winners trophy definitely deliver!
Jackpot is a fun race, with cool people and I'll keep coming down to run this race every year. I can't say enough about the RD's and their volunteers. It's a really cool vibe and a well run event. I hope more runners come to join in and help grow the race scene in Nevada.
This was my second win of 2016 and I have my eye on a couple of other opportunities this season, plus a bunch of other cool races that I'll run for all the right reasons. I hope to see many of you out there! Thanks for reading!