Sunday, December 23, 2012

Race Report: Desert Solstice 24 Hour/100 Mile Run

Phoenix doesn't like me. I just have to come to terms with that. Two years ago I ran the 48 hour race at Across the Years, and although I missed the typhoon of the first night of the 3-day running festival, during my first night the temperatures in the 20's and my strained achilles made me drop out after about 24 hours.

Despite vowing never again to run a winter 24 or 48 hour race, I signed up for the 2012 Desert Solstice 24 Hour Run (which also has a 100-mile option) for a few reasons. 1. The Coury brothers of Aravaipa Running always put on top-notch events with the runners' needs and desires as top priority (as I experienced at Across The Years). 2. I was looking forward to running a 24-hour race on a track. 3. Most importantly, I was trying to qualify for the 2013 US team to the 24 hour world championships in the Netherlands, having run poorly at the 2012 championships in Poland. Besides, I figured what would the chances be of bad weather again? The weather forecast for race day looked good, with light rain in the morning and good temps.

I came into the race feeling undertrained, without a race plan, and with a slight pain in my lower back that I got from lifting heavy boxes the wrong way. The pain had mostly gone away in the days before the race, and I arrogantly assumed that if I ran a smart and not-too-ambitious race I should have no problem running 150 miles and qualifying for the team.

There was a limit of 20 runners on the track at the start, a few of whom were shooting for a good 100-mile time, including Ian Sharmin, Jon Olsen, Dave James and Mike Arnstein. I had many friends in the 24-hour race, including US teammates Connie Gardner, Deb Horn, Carilyn Johnson, Joe Fejes and Mike Henze. All on the track were experienced runners and a pleasure to share time with.

Shortly after the start I felt twinges of pain in my back. I pushed the pace a little, more than I expected to, in an attempt to bank distance in case I crashed later on. Ian and Dave took off like a flash, with Jon not far behind. Mike Arnstein started fast, but relatively conservatively by design, in an attempt to negative-split the 100. Dave Carver also had a fast start, going after a Canadian age-group 50-mile record.

Shortly after the start of the race also it started to drizzle. Then the drizzle turned to light rain, which became occasional downpours. Naturally, it hadn't rained in Phoenix in months, I was told. The temperature I don’t think ever got out of the 40’s. I also had a bad sign when runners I would pass said they knew by the sound of my feet that I was coming. My feet aren’t supposed to make any sound, but I was scraping the surface of the track. I couldn’t get my legs to lift my feet properly. After about 4 ½ hours the pain in my back forced me to longer walking breaks and attempts at self-massage. The walking in combination with the rain meant chills. I added clothes but soon those layers were soaked through as well. Mike A. gave me a heating pad to put on my back, but I couldn’t feel it at all. However, after a long rough patch I tried something close to a race-walking pace, which led finally to proper form and the pain in my back subsiding enough that I could run 10-minute miles.

I had hoped to hit 50 miles in seven hours, but I felt it no small victory to have reached that distance this day in eight hours, and I thought I still had a chance at 140 miles. But sure enough, the pain comes back, the rain keeps pouring and the chill gets deeper. The Courys had put up a long tent under which were tables where runners could keep their stuff, with room for crews. I was being helped by Mike Henze’s wife Jill and Carilyn Johnson’s husband Tim and sons Spencer and Grant. (Sidebar – I can’t say enough positive things about this family, I can’t even begin to say what great people they all are!) I sat down under the tent to try to find some dry clothes and regroup but my first lap out again brought on hypothermia. The hot and plentiful food at the aid station didn’t help enough, and I vowed that I wouldn't go back out as long as it was raining. Although I’d be able to walk and jog the rest of the way, it was still only 9 ½ hours into the race and I knew I wouldn’t get a good total, not enough to qualify for the team, and with no desire to do further damage to my back, my race was over after just 58 miles.

As for others’ races, the big news was Jon Olsen and Mike Arnstein both running 100 miles in under 13 hours! Jon ran 12:29, missing the American 100-mile track record by just two minutes, and Mike ran his negative splits, including a sub-3-hour final marathon to finish in 12:57. Mike had been aiming for a sub-13 100 for a long time, so I’m very happy he achieved that major career goal! Dave James had to stop fairly early, and Ian Sharmin got hypothermia and stopped after 70 miles. Pam Smith won the women’s 100 in 15:01, the 2nd-best American ever on the track, behind only the legendary Ann Trason. Jay Smithberger also had a great time of 13:49.

Joe Fejes, my roommate in Poland, won the 24 hour race with 156 miles, making him one more person to beat my PR! Nick Coury got 2nd with 139. Connie Gardner won the women’s race with 132, and Deb Horn close behind with just under 131. Deb never ceases to impress me with her strength and consistency. Joe and Connie already had qualifying performance for next year’s team, but Nick and Deb made the list of top six qualifiers (so far) with their runs. I was sorry to see Carilyn pull out, as well as Mike Henze.
As for me, my streak of being on the US team every year since 2007 will come to an end. But I’ll be back! Big thanks to Mike Arnstein, Mike and Jill Henze, the Johnson family, and especially the Coury family who all helped put on a world-class event. But with my record in Phoenix, please forgive me if I don’t return.

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