I had a race this past weekend, a six hour race. I wasn’t sure what to expect from it because up until that point, I had only ever run races that were a set amount of distance to cover as quickly as possible. This was exactly the reverse; cover as much distance as possible in the set amount of time.
The six hour event that I ran began at 2pm. There were two course options and a number of other race options, including two other six hour races, two 12 hours events, a 24 hour event, and a 100 mile event. My course was on the Brownlow Trail of Pioneer Park in Prescott, AZ. The Brownlow is a 3.15 mile loop. For this race, the idea was to run this entire loop as many times as possible in the given amount of time. All of the spectators congregated at the start line, and this is also where the main aid station was. There was one more aid station with just water that was about half way through the Brownlow loop.
The name of the event, “Cool Your Ass” (put on by Solemates Ultra Running Events) shows the expectation that the temperatures in Prescott (‘Preskitt’) are cooler than in the Phoenix valley. And while this is generally true, the temperatures on this day were still fairly brutal. On the drive from the valley, Matt and I watched the temperature gauge drop about 10 degrees to land in the high 90’s. When we opened our car doors, the heat was stifling. We found a spot to set up our chairs and cooler, and then tried to hide in the shade, knowing that we would soon be running in this heat, completely exposed to the sun. There were some clouds in the distance, and we hoped that they would quickly head our way.
Our friend Dawn came through the aid station as we were waiting to start and we chatted with her for a bit. She was running the 12 hour race that started at 7 that morning. She said she was struggling. The heat was getting to her and she was dealing with some nausea. She said the course was just gentle rolling hills, but when you’re seeing those hills for the ninth time, they don’t seem so gentle anymore. With a smile and a wave, she pressed on again before it was time for us to start.
The race director, Mark, gave the three of us who were running this race (me, one other girl, and my friend Matt) a brief rundown of the course. He then counted down and we were off!
As with any race, I started a little bit faster than I cared to, but in this instance, I wasn’t too far off. My main thought was to settle into a steady pace and just keep moving. I would walk any hills that were big, but otherwise keep running. The first lap was exploratory, of course. I got to know the course and its climbs, and I enjoyed the smells of the pines. I believe that there must have been rain recently because the dust on the trail was extremely minimal. The sun was beating down on me, but I could feel my mid-day heat training runs of the past few months doing their job. I was warm, but not bothered by the heat. To give myself a little bit of an edge, I’d actually loaded my sports bra with ice and this helped to cool me further (an upside to being a girl!). After that first lap, I settled into a comfortable pace.
Things went really well and I have nothing interesting to discuss until lap 5. During that lap I experienced some nausea. I have never had nausea during a run before. I’m guessing it was the heat. By the time I felt it, I was about 14 miles in and the temperature was probably still in the 90’s. Thankfully the nausea was very minimal, just a hint. I backed off on my pace a bit and made sure I was drinking. This helped and it went away. Unfortunately, this was also the lap where I lost Matt. A couple of weeks prior he suffered a major sprained ankle. It was moving pretty well, but, likely due to some compensation, some of his other muscles started having issues. He told me to go and he’d catch me, but I didn’t get to run with him again.
When I finished my fifth lap, I saw that I was two minutes ahead of the time I wanted to be at, so I stopped at the aid station and took a quick break, hoping to see Matt. When my two minutes were up, I took off again.
Lap 6 was good and it was somewhere around this lap that the clouds finally made their way over, providing some shade and a few raindrops. On lap 7 I started to feel the beginnings of fatigue, especially in my quads. However, I was still moving pretty well and feeling okay. Periodically I felt the hint of nausea and continued to manage it as before, without any major issues. Upon completing lap 8, I saw Matt at the aid station. He said he couldn’t go anymore and was done. I took off for lap 9 and I struggled, fully understanding what Dawn meant about the rolling hills on the ninth lap. I felt like I was moving as fast as I could, but I was very tired, and I didn’t want to see the loop anymore. My hope was to get back to the start line no later than 7:25 because that would give me a chance to finish one more loop, for a total of 10 loops, in the allotted time. When I came back in it was 7:30 and I knew I was done.
I sat down and Matt grabbed a coke for me to guzzle (mmmm… coke). I was disappointed I hadn’t made 10 loops, but I felt good about my effort and knew I’d done my best. Plus, and most importantly, I’d enjoyed myself!
As I rested for a bit before getting ready to leave, I enjoyed getting to watch some other runners come through, including Rich, who ended up winning the 100 mile race. He’d already been running for 12 hours when he came in through the aid station looking strong.
My total distance was 28.3 miles in about 5 ½ hours. As I thought back to my last race of this magnitude, I could see some major differences. I felt so much better this time than that time, and I think a huge part of that is that this time I knew how to pace myself better. During the race, I knew what fatigue to expect and how to mentally deal with it. I understood the value of walking the major up-hills, and speed walking periodically as needed. I also stayed on top of my fluid and food intake.
Running long distance is, of course, not easy and because of that, it is not something that I can do all by myself. During training, I know myself well enough to understand that it is highly unlikely that I will go out for a long run by myself. I NEED people who are willing to push with me. During those training runs I learn little bits about myself and my physical needs, and I learn from the experiences of others. I think the person I have learned the most from is Dawn. Dawn is an amazing runner. She has been running her whole adult life, has finished innumerable ultras, and is a wealth of practical running knowledge. Quite often on long runs and races I think of her and her steady pace. She begins a race at a good pace for her, and then she just keeps going. Whether she feels great or miserable doesn’t matter, there is always a smile on her face and a kind word of encouragement. She also knows when her body has had enough and it’s time to quit. For my first ultra-race, I ran with Dawn. Staring at the back of her heels was what kept me going. For this race, I just kept thinking of her and again, though she wasn’t physically with me, the wisdom she has imparted to me kept me going. Thank you Dawn.
I also need to say thank you to the spectators and resting runners at the start line. Every time a runner came around the corner to cross the lap line, they cheered. Somewhere along the way they found a cowbell and rang that as well. Having people cheering and encouraging you when you are running (and especially if you’re feeling crappy) is wonderful! They buoyed my spirits every time I came through.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this race! This was an inaugural race, but it was very well done. The aid station had plenty of food and drinks to choose from. The race directors were exceedingly kind and helpful as were the volunteers. There were small glitches here and there, but nothing that was a big deal, and glitches happen even at races that have been around for years. The people and the atmosphere were fun, and everyone was so happy for each other’s accomplishments. I think a great thing about a race that is hour based rather than distance based is that it gives anyone, regardless of their fitness level, a chance to go out and see what they can do. I look forward to running this race and other Solemates races in the future!
On a side note…
I’d say I did okay!