24 The Hard Way (Oklahoma City, OK) – October 25, 2014

This was another bucket list race, one I had wanted to do for a while but never had the chance until this year. It’s a 24 hour race, with 1, 6 and 12 hour options, on a paved one-mile loop in Bluff Creek Park. The ‘hard’ refers to the asphalt nature of the course, to distinguish it from the 24 hour trail race that takes place at the same time on a 2 mile dirt trail that loops around the paved course. This latter race is called the Double Dirty Dozen and is narrow, rocky, and rooty. Both races share one timing mat as well as a huge aid station and medical tent. To my mind, the trail race is by far the more difficult of the two, but no race is easy and the paved course gave me plenty of punishment.

Darcy and I left in the wee hours of Friday morning for the 1 ½ hour drive to JAX. Our plane left right on time and we were lucky to be upgraded on that first leg of our trip as well as on the 2 hour flight to Oklahoma.   After getting our checked bags and rental car, our first stop was the race site. It was easy to find and we decided to check out the course and see what to expect. People were already setting up tables and tents and timing mats. We introduced ourselves to Chisholm Deupree, the RD, and as we viewed all these preparations, my excitement began to build.

Since packet pickup did not begin until four o’clock, we drove to our hotel, the Springhill Suites in Quail Springs, just a few miles away. The host hotel was a nearby Country Inn and Suites, but we chose Springhill instead because of our Marriott loyalty membership. We had a quiet room on the 6th and highest floor so it turned out to be a good choice.   It was now well past lunch time and we were famished so our next decision was to select a restaurant. We opted for Mimi’s Café, in large part to avoid many of the restaurants on OK that apparently still allow smoking. The food was excellent, kind of a blend between New Orleans and Paris.

After lunch, we drove back to Bluff Creek Park so I could get my bib, race bag with samples of Red Bull, energy bars, and tee shirt (brown short sleeve cotton). Our chip on an ankle strap would be ready for us to pick up before the race start. While we were there we met up with my friend Joyce and her husband Ray. Joyce had done the Double Dirty Dozen several times before and was doing it again this year, along with her sister Patsy and husband Andy. Wes, Joyce’s brother, was signed up for asphalt version, like me. I also saw several others that I knew, including Matt, from last year’s UltraCentric and Jennifer from the 8 Hour Run from the Ducks. There was a pasta dinner just starting as we were ready to leave, but Darcy and I were still stuffed from our late lunch, so we decided to return to the hotel and get some sleep.

Saturday morning was glorious – in the upper 60’s, mild breezes, clear skies. It eventually got hot and very sunny. I later learned that the temperature rose to 91 degrees. Even a sun worshipper like myself was bothered by the cumulative effect of so much heat. But at the start of the race, at 9 am, I was just so happy that it was not raining or cold. That heat sounded wonderful. I set up my drop bag on a chair under Joyce and Ray’s canopy and joined the rest of the throng of racers on the bridge for our on-time start.

We were off on our 24 hour journey. The 12 hour race had begun at 6 am so there were already a few tired bodies on the course but we were all fresh and raring to go. I could see by the timing board as I crossed the mat for the first couple of loops that I was doing 12 minute miles. That was a warning to me to slow down – I knew I couldn’t manage to keep up that pace for 24 hours. Eventually, I managed to work into a nice easy pace around 16 minutes per loop, taking a break every 5 laps or so to grab some food or drink at the amazingly well-stocked aid station or to peel off various pieces of clothing and put on sunscreen and sunglasses.

But the heat started to get to me and my stomach began to get a little queasy. I had the same experience this year at Cremator. I took S-caps, Endurolytes, and pickle juice and managed to keep leg cramps at bay, although the almost flat nature of the course took its toll on my shins. But overall, the only problem I had during the day was due to the extreme heat and intestinal discomfort. I was relieved when the sun finally set and there was a promise of some coolness and occasional breeze. By 6 pm, the 6 hour and 12 hour races were complete, and only the extreme ultramarathoners like myself remained. We were a cozy group, friendly and supportive. I was constantly amazed by the agility and speed of the runners who passed me like I was standing still. Some of them continued at a blazing pace for the entire 24 hours.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when I started to feel really bad. I managed to get through the first hours of darkness, a time during races when I usually experience major fatigue because my body and my mind know that I should be getting ready for sleep. I began this race with only a few mileage goals in mind – first, to reach a 50k (important for the race to count in Maniac statistics), then 50 miles, then 100k/62 miles, and after that, to do the most I could do while still having fun and remaining alive. It took me 9 hours to get to that 50k mark – not bad but certainly not even close to my PR of 7:06. The next 18 miles were a struggle. I thought I might never make it to 100k – my legs began to feel like they were encased in cement. My shoes started to pinch me, my nylon shorts began to chafe my legs, and I was sleepy. I changed to a wider pair of shoes, and that helped, a little. My husband brought me my comfy familiar crops and I changed clothes. That helped a little more. I managed to make it to 58 miles.

During the wee hours of the morning, as I crossed the timing mat and entered the aid tent one more time, I heard someone call my name. It turned out to be my Walking Board friend Joey – he was here to volunteer and had recognized me. I was a mess, my hair plastered against my face, my eyes glazed, my skin salty, and I felt like I was 100 years old, but Joey insisted on having his photo taken with me. He managed to cheer me up immensely. He bolstered my ego and helped get me through the next several laps with his positive attitude. I made it to 62 miles, my 100k goal, but my stomach was still queasy. Ginger pills and Tums did not help. I thought I might feel better if I spent some time lying down in the medical tent and that is exactly what I did – for about 20 minutes. It did help some, but I began feeling guilty just lying there, so up I went, aiming to get at least one more lap under my belt. I moved very very slowly and it suddenly dawned on me that I was not holding true to my underlying goals of having fun and not dying. This was no longer fun and maybe, just maybe, I was causing more harm to my body than good. I had 2 ½ hours left in the race but I was suffering; at that point the race was over for me. I hated to give up but I still have a lot of races left to do this year. I turned in my chip and received my ring (yes, 24 hour racers are give an attractive ring, on a key chain, rather than a medal – nice touch).

This race has numerous positive aspects, making it exceptionally attractive for walkers:

  • The course (if you choose the ‘hard way’) is smooth asphalt, with very few ridges or cracks. I wore my gaiters to keep small leaves and branches out of my shoes but there are no rocks or pebbles
  • Timing is by ankle chip, so it is easy to change shoes and clothes, and the system works like a charm, better than a lot of timing systems. The mats are outside the aid tent while the electronic mileage board is set up inside the tent, so by the time participants enter the tent, their name has made it to the top of the board. There is no delay in seeing your lap count or mileage.
  • Food in the aid station is amazing. There is lots of variety, old favorites as well as some new treats, plus S-caps, Endurolytes, Tums, pickles, pickle juice, and water, electrolyte drinks, soda (including ginger ale), Red Bull, coffee, pot roast, chocolates, chicken soup, and more, plus everything is labeled so people can easily see exactly what they are getting. Of course, I had to ask for the one thing they didn’t have and that was watermelon. I was tired of drinking liquids during the heat of the day and watermelon would have tasted exquisite. But who in the world would have thought it would be 90 degrees in October?
  • The course is very well-marked and it is hard to make a mistake (but I must admit that I did overshoot one turn at 3 am – but it was totally my fault and I realized it quickly)
  • Instead of another medal, 24 hour participants are given an attractive ring that can be used as a ring, a key chain, or put on a chain to use as a necklace. Since I already have several hundred medals, a ring is a pleasant change
  • People- volunteers, racers, and supporters – are friendly, welcoming, and cheerful. It really makes me feel like I am part of an extended family

The cons: Heck, there always has to be something negative, so if I am pressed to find something I did not like about this race, it was this – there are only 4 porta-potties on the course for everyone to use. After 12 hours, they get to be fairly disgusting, especially when trying to use them at night and you have to rely on your headlamp. This would be the perfect race if there were heated and lit indoor restrooms for men and women.

As for my disappointing results in my last two 24 hour races (this one and Sole Challenge in May), I have given it quite a bit of thought. In looking at my calendar, I realized that just one week before both 24 hour races, I had completed difficult triple marathons. In May, it was three of the New England Challenge marathons; this month, it was three of the Appalachian series of marathons. It could be that doing three marathons right before attempting a timed ultramarathon is NOT a good idea. I definitely must rethink my schedule and allow for sufficient recovery time before trying to complete 24 hour or longer races.

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