Well, another FANS is in the record books, my second in two years. I had enjoyed this race so much last year, despite my horrendous struggle with blisters, that I looked forward to registering for it again. With the knowledge I had of the course and the surroundings and other useful information gleaned from actually visiting the location and doing the race, I think I managed to do many things more wisely than the first time. For instance, instead of using taxis to get back and forth to the race site at Lake Nokomis, my husband and I rented a car at the airport and drove the short distance to and from the airport, hotel, and race venue multiple times. The cost turned out to be approximately the same as using taxis but a car gave us much more freedom, convenience, and flexibility. It also allowed my husband to come and visit me several times during the race on Saturday and he was able to arrive early on Sunday morning.
Another improvement was the hotel we stayed at this time. Last year we stayed at the Embassy Suites near the airport, but our room was musty and smelly (admittedly an unusual situation at this hotel chain), so we had to change rooms and that was a pain. This time we stayed at the Hilton near the airport, just a block or two away from last year’s Embassy Suites, and we were pleasantly surprised that the Hilton, though an older hotel, was very pleasant, clean, and attractive. We were given access to the Club level so we also had morning and evening snacks and beverages, and this turned out to save us quite a bit of cash.
Our flight didn’t arrive into Minneapolis until 4 pm on Friday, so after quickly locating our checked bags, we picked up our rental car and drove our hotel and then went right to the Nikomis Community Center where the pasta dinner was in progress. I checked in at the table for preregistered racers and was given a tee shirt (flimsy blue cotton and far too large) and my bib number and a goody bag. We didn’t stay to eat since I had my pre-race meal waiting at the hotel. In the goody bag were some ginger chews, a pen, and some important information about the race. One handout listed all the competitors, with names, ages, goals, and number of past ultras completed. I quickly checked out the category of 24 hour walkers; there were about 8 of us and several were already Centurions (walkers who had achieved 100 miles in a 24 hour period). This really made an impression on me. I should NOT have let that bother me; after all, I was trying to do MY best, not compete with anyone else, but nevertheless I became extremely anxious about my ability to perform well in comparison to these excellent racewalkers. The degree of apprehension I felt really surprised me. This was to be my downfall. So much of racing is mental, and even though I understood that, it was still difficult to keep things in perspective.
I was prepared this time to deal with my blister problem. Over the course of the past year, I had experimented with various methods, sprays, bandages, tapes, and other mechanisms of blister prevention. The method that seemed to work best for me was to spray the soles of my feet with Blistop, let it dry, rub Body Glide over the spray and over my bunions, calluses, and toes, and then cover potential hot spots with large size Band-Aids. My Injinji socks kept blisters from forming between and on my toes and the spray, lubricant, and bandaids helped keep my feet dry and pain free.
After we ate dinner on Friday evening, I packed my drop back with extra clothes, shoes, socks, and everything else I could thing of and then tried to sleep. As usual, I woke up well before my alarm went off, had my breakfast, dressed, and woke up my husband who drove me to the race start. Participants had to weigh in before the race (and this year once was enough; we no longer had to stop and weigh in every 4 hours during the course of the race). Once that was done, I stood around in the cool 50 degree morning chatting with others. My friends Deb, Cathy, and Jim were there to do the 12 hour race and a number of other Maniacs and 50 Staters like Larry Macon and a good representation of Darksiders also showed up.
The race began promptly at 8 am with a one-time 1.656 mile out and back; after that it was round and round and round the 2.42 mile lake as many times as we could manage. We had to attach our numbers to a part of our clothing that was visible at all times to our lap counters. No chips here, but the lap counters were an excellent group; somehow they managed to keep up with everyone and I was always greeted by name and the lap number I had just completed. There was also a huge board that proclaimed the lap numbers and accumulated miles – 20 laps was just over 50 miles, 25 equaled 100K, and 41 was the magic number for 100 miles. Of course, that 41st lap was the one I wanted to go for, but I looked upon each lap as one step closer (literally) to my goal. At the beginning of the final hour, we were allowed to do a shorter ¼ mile out and back as many times as we could until the clock stopped.
I was ready. A bit nervous, as I always am before a race, but ready. We took off at the race director’s signal and I tried to get into an easy brisk pace. Several of the walkers breezed by me and some were already far ahead of me. This worried me – would I come in last in the walking category this year? I tried to convince myself that it didn’t matter, I was only competing with myself (and, truly, I do believe that), but it still caused me some tremors of anxiety. On the second loop I saw a racewalker whom I recognized from the Tallahassee Ultra several years ago. I managed to catch up to him and we talked a bit. Pat had come all the way from New Jersey to try to do 100 miles again (he was already a Centurion) and I thought to myself ‘maybe if I stick with him at his pace, I can do 100 miles too’ – but it turns out this was definitely NOT a good idea. I was walking way too fast at this early stage of a 24 hour race. This was my first big mistake. I had always been a believer in the dictum “run your own race, not someone else’s” but I did not follow that rule this time. I kept up with Pat even though his pace was far too speedy for me at that early stage. At some point, I had to slow down and he moved on ahead and I gratefully let him go. But it was too late to recapture my usual steady pace and I struggled somewhat for the rest of the race.
Another mistake I made was not eating soon and often. This seemed to be tied into the problem of going out too fast. I did not want to slow down as I passed by the well-provisioned aid stations so I neglected eating my usual goodies. Although I did have sufficient S-caps to help with salt loss, food was what I really needed. By around mile 30 or so, I began to feel queasy and tried some ginger chews to settle my stomach. That didn’t help. I continued on but nothing tasted good or looked appealing and a few times I felt almost dizzy with nausea. But I kept moving forward. When my husband stopped by around 4 pm, I was so cheered to see him that I revived a bit. The second time he came, around 8 pm, I was starting to chafe under my arms, so I changed shirts and he coated my underarms with Body Glide. Another lap and I mentioned my queasiness to the docs at the medical tent. They made me get on the scale and it turns out I had lost over 3 pounds. They said “EAT” and I said ‘YUCK” but of course they were right so at the aid station I had 2 cups of chicken noodle soup. Amazingly that seemed to help and my nausea slowly disappeared. For the rest of the race, I made a concerted effort to eat whatever seemed appealing. As the night wore on, I discovered I could manage to eat thin slices of pizza but anything sweet made me ill (that never happens). I had read about racers having problems with eating and drinking but up to this point I had never experienced this. Now I have (and I hope I learned my lesson).
The most difficult part of a 24 hour race for me is always the nighttime. From around 10 pm until 4 am, I really want to sleep, so keeping awake and moving is a challenge. However, I also find it to be rewarding and exciting, so I kept moving, only taking a short break to change my shoes around 2 am (my New Balance trainers, brand new, were starting to cause soreness in the top of my left instep and a small blister on my right ankle). I put on my old comfy Cascadia and continued on. Took another brief break when I was dizzy from the darkness. Kept going.
I completed 50 miles in 12 hours and 15 minutes. That was good. I’m not sure exactly what time it was when I reached 62 miles but I remember doing so. The timekeepers ring cowbells whenever anyone reaches 50, 62, and 100 miles. I remember them ringing those bells for me for 50 and 62. Kept going. Usually I feel a surge of energy when dawn breaks and the sun comes up but this time I was just tired. I attribute this to my too-quick pace at the start. I should have managed my time more wisely. This is important for me to remember for next time (yes, there WILL be a next time).
As the time approached 7 am, I questioned whether I could do another full lap. My last circuit of the 2.42 mile course had taken me a really slow 52 minutes but that was plenty of time to do another entire loop. I completed that final loop and then began shuffling on the ¼ mile out and back with most of the other racers who were left standing. Despite the problems I had during this race, I was pleased with the final results: 85.24 miles (9 more miles than last year at FANS), third place walker (same position as last year). Unfortunately Pat never made it to 100 miles; he came in 4th and I never had the chance to find out if something happened or if he just tired. I hope he returns next year and manages to achieve his 100.
Once again, I did not stay for the breakfast and awards ceremony. I only want 2 things right after a long race: a shower and a nap. So we headed back to the hotel where I washed up and slept. Afterwards, my husband and I drove to Mall of America and had a delicious breakfast brunch at Crave, a restaurant we discovered last year. This place has a French toast buffet that is to die for: several kinds of syrup, whipped cream, nuts, fruit – well, you get the idea. Better than an ice cream sundae.
A few days out and I have some soreness in my hamstrings and calves, a couple of sore places on my feet, but basically I am gearing up for my summer races. Fatigue is the most noticeable and lasting aspect for me of doing long races. I need a lot more rest than usual, but that is a good thing. I can hardly wait until next year to try FANS again.