A good choice for my second 24-hour race, the Northcoast 24-Hour Run is held in Edgewater Park, close to downtown Cleveland and on the shores of Lake Erie. Runners travel along an asphalt loop that measures 9/10th of a mile. It’s essentially flat, with just a few slight inclines that seem to become much steeper after 18-20 hours but are barely noticeable at first. There is one very short downhill portion (the only part I ran) that is at the end of the loop just before the start/finish line. The Northcoast 24 was selected as the 2011 USATF 24-Hour Run National Championship Race. This meant that I could view firsthand some supremely fast endurance runners close up and that was exciting.
I began my journey on Friday morning and arrived in Cleveland around 3 in the afternoon. A short cab ride took me to my hotel, the Hyatt Regency at the Arcade in the downtown area, and I quickly settled in and began my preparations for the race. I had brought a drop bag and some warm clothes and gloves. For this, I was later extremely grateful. I filled the drop bag with extra shoes and socks, gloves and scarf, sweatshirt and cap, plus assorted bandaids, snacks, vaseline, and such. Packet pick up was in the morning and there was no official pasta dinner (okay with me since I seldom go), so I had my usual pre-race meal of homemade bread and peanut butter and managed somehow to get a good night’s sleep.
One of my major concerns about this race had been logistical – how was I to get from the hotel to the race start and then back again? With my tendency to get lost very easily, I hesitate to rent a car and drive around an unfamiliar city. So, once again, I found myself dependent upon the kindness of strangers (and thank goodness racers tend to be a very kindly group). I mentioned my concern on the race’s Facebook page and several people offered their services. Leon Rothstein from Boise, ID, was staying in a hotel very close by, had a rental car, and was planning to run for the entire 24 hours, so I will be ever grateful for his willingness to drive me there and back. Thank you, Leon! (He also did great in the race, coming in second in his age group with over 112 miles).
Race morning dawned clear and cool, in the 50’s. Leon met me at my hotel around 8 and we drove to the park, a short 5 minute ride. We put our drop bags on a picnic table just past the aid station, amidst the tents and tables set up by runners and their family members and friends. We picked up our bibs at the registration tables along with our goodie bags (inside were a candle, a short sleeve tech tee shirt, and several race flyers). Chips were attached to the bibs and could be worn under a layer of clothing. For those who were aiming for age group awards (that includes me) there was an extra paper bib to wear on our back where we put our sex and age group. There was a short pre-race briefing and the singing of the Star Spangled Banner and we were off on our 24 hour adventure.
The Northcoast 24 Maniacs
Me, Kino, Steve, and Ryan
I approached this race with a certain degree of trepidation. This would be the first time I was attempting a race of this duration without my husband along as cheering section and moral support. Remembering how exhausted, blistered, and sore I felt after FANS made me a bit nervous about how I would manage post-race. However, mixed in with these concerns was a generous amount of excitement and a willingness to test my abilities. I was also entering this race with a sore left hip. This was another first for me since I hardly ever have an injury or problem before a race, but ever since Tupelo a couple of weeks earlier, I had been having twinges of pain and some definite soreness. Despite these concerns, I had lofty goals for this race; if everything fell into place perfectly, there was the possibility of reaching 100 miles. Failing that, I would aim for 80 miles (to top the 76 I did at FANS), but I would settle for 100k (62 miles) if necessary.
It turned out to be a LONG 24 hours. I’ll give my pros and cons about this race but I want to be sure and preface all my remarks by saying that this was an extremely well-organized and superbly run affair. I have only positive things to say about the race director, Dan Horvath, and his numerous dedicated and stalwart volunteers and Dr. Andy Lovy, the charming 76 year old medical director (who also ran the race) and his excellent medical crew. They did an admirable job and I have absolutely no complaints about how the race was organized. That said, what follows is simply my personal thoughts and feelings.
- I had a personal best with a total of 81.13 miles
- I placed 2nd in my age group (only 2 of us, but even so)
- My hip stopped hurting about half way through the race. The pain just simply went away. Maybe it was because I now had pain in my shins and blisters on my feet and just didn’t notice the hip pain anymore, but it doesn’t matter, because now, a day later, it’s still gone.
- I met some great people, including some fellow Maniacs, and had a chance to see some outstanding runners
- I lasted the entire 24 hours (at FANS, I stopped at 23 hours, in part to save my blistered feet for Alaska)
- The loop was short, only 9/10 of a mile, and this meant the laps went by fairly fast.
- Indoor bathrooms (as well as an array of portapottys)
- Yummy selection of food and drink – I especially enjoyed the big sugar cookies, pizza, and pb and jelly sandwiches
- The short 9/10 loop drove me crazy. It was too short to feel like I was making progress. It also made me a bit dizzy.
- Because the loop was not quite a full mile, it was hard for math-challenged people like myself to figure out exactly what my mileage was. There was an automated board set up at the start/finish line that kept track of the clock and each runner’s lap number and mile number but there was a time delay, so I often hung around a bit at the screen so I could check my mileage. Several volunteers were also keeping track and were faster than the screen so they would tell me my lap number and then I would pester them to figure out the mileage as well.
- And because each loop was not quite a full mile, it often took several laps to make a difference in mileage. This was discouraging to me. I tried hard not to think about it.
- The short loop did not have enough change and variation in scenery to keep me intrigued. It was fine in the beginning because it was all new and different but after a while it became boring. Very boring.
- There was not a lot of activity in the park, even on a relatively sunny afternoon. Several people (including some nuns dressed in black habits) were flying kites, some young folks had a barbeque and others played games, and a few people walked their dogs, but it was otherwise relatively quiet.
- Quiet, except for the loud music played in several different places along the loop. It was hard to listen to my Ipod. It gave me a bit of a headache and there was no way to escape it. Anywhere. It was a very short loop.
- COLD!! It was freezing cold, icy cold, with the wind threatening to blow off my cap. Turns out I wore everything I had brought in my drop bag – tee shirt, vest, sweatshirt, jacket with hood, scarf, and gloves. I was thankful I had brought all this extra clothing but I was still painfully cold.
- The cold and boredom caused me to stop at the bathroom (to warm up) and the aid station (to eat and talk) much more than I needed to.
- Around mile 50, I felt a blister on the ball of my left foot and another on my big toe on my right foot. I ignored them as long as I could and finally gave up and spent about 30 minutes in the medical tent where the staff lanced my blisters. This made me a little sick to my stomach so they gave me some ginger and sent me on my way. The blisters began to bother me again around 20 miles later but I persisted without stopping; I was so close to passing my previous PR that I didn’t want to waste time
Around a half hour before the race was to end, we were all given a rectangular block of wood with our bib number on it. At the conclusion of the 24 hours, we dropped the block where we stood at that moment so partial laps could be tallied to our total number of laps. I completed 90 full laps. Even I could do that math – 90 x .9 = 81 miles. Hooray! – I made my second goal.
As we passed through the finish line for that final lap, all the volunteers and medical crew and family and friends of racers stood on the sidelines and cheered us. That was a good way to end the race, a really neat touch. There was a huge breakfast served to everyone and then an awards ceremony. Since Leon had a plane to catch just past noon, we did not stay for the awards, but that was fine with me since I was eager to return to my hotel for a shower and a long deep sleep.
I was extremely pleased that I was able to do so well at this race. Aside from the annoying and painful blisters, some slight muscle soreness in my legs, and the achy hand cramps I get the day after a long race, I learned several things about myself, including what things I can tolerate well in a race and which ones I cannot. It may be a good time to reassess my goals, including my major goal of attaining 100 miles in a single race. If I cannot find a way to deal with these %$#(&+ blisters, I may decide to forego the longer distance for the ability to do shorter races (we’re talking marathons and 50k’s here, not really short races). But I feel it is premature at this point for such a decision but it is certainly something I may need to revisit in the future.
Another thing I realized about myself is my need for and enjoyment of variety, both in terms of scenery, terrain, and people. I may think twice about committing to a long timed race on a very short loop. Remembering the difficulty I had on the Darkside 8 hour race around a quarter mile track leads me to believe that going around and around and around tends to make me dizzy and a little bit crazy. It’s a good piece of information to have. Too much noise and loud music also pushes me over the edge. I wavered about trying the Peanut Island 24 hour race in FL on New Year’s eve, but I now know that a race of that nature is exactly the kind I should avoid.
So, now I am actively resting and nursing my blisters so I will be ready for my next race, a marathon in WI, in two weeks time.