Six Days in the Dome – The Redux (Milwaukee, WI) 2019

The Dome in Anchorage, AK, was home to the first Six Days in the Dome in 2014. The Six Days – Redux series is currently being held this year at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee, WI, from August 23 through August 31 (which means it is still going on – this is day 3). Steve Durbin of Durbin Race Management along with elite runners Joe Fejes and Traci Falbo are the masterminds behind the event.

By the time I heard about the 6 day race last April, it had already filled up and there was an extensive waiting list. However, there were opportunities available to register for one of the two 24 hour races or the 48 hour event. These were to start two days before the 6 day race was to begin. In a weak moment, I decided to try for the 48 hour but it too had completely filled up. Not willing to give up, I put my name in the waiting list lottery. Then I promptly forgot about it. Imagine my surprise a few weeks later when I discovered a message in my email that a spot had opened – was I still interested? I had to respond quickly. After discussing with Darcy, I decided to go for it. We bought plane tickets to Milwaukee and then I once again put it all in the back of my mind – until last month when RD Steve began sending us informative emails with lots of intriguing race details. Suddenly I realized that it had been years since I had to fly to a multiday ultra; I had a lot of planning to do!

I wanted to make sure I had sufficient clothes in case one of my suitcases got lost or misplaced, so I packed duplicate outfits and several pairs of shoes in both of my checked bags. In addition, I wore a running top and pants with injinji socks and running shoes on the plane. To say I was a little obsessive compulsive was an understatement. I didn’t want to chance anything coming between me and my best showing in this race.

Darcy and I left Thursday morning and arrived in Milwaukee in the early afternoon. We picked up our rental car and drove by the Pettit Center to make sure we knew exactly where it was and how long it would take us to get there on Friday morning. We checked into a pleasant Homewood Suites where we had a suite on the 5th floor. It was in quiet location and only about 3 miles from the Ice Center. An early meal at Olive Garden allowed me plenty of time to panic about what to pack in my drop bags and think about strategy (as if I hadn’t been thinking about that for weeks).

Packet pickup began Friday morning at 6:30 in the lobby and we arrived at 6:31. I had arranged to purchase a sleeping bag and rent a table and chair beforehand and everything was ready and set up for me. I got my bib, ankle chip, hat, long-sleeve cotton blend hoody, and a drop bag (personalized – my name was on it – how neat is that?!).

My friend Judy soon arrived and we commiserated on our nervousness and anxiety. Judy was doing the first day 24 hour so she brought a minimum of belongings. I envied her at that point, thinking maybe I should have signed up for the 24 hour as well. But heck, I was in this for 48 hours and I was determined to give it my all.

Because there are two rooms, one upstairs and one downstairs, in the Ice Center, that are designated for sleeping and/or resting, Darcy and I wandered around to each so I could decide where I wanted to put my sleeping bag. I also wanted to make sure I knew my way there and back –I have a tendency to get lost very easily and didn’t want to waste valuable racing time trying to find my way back to the track. I also had to check out the location of the several restrooms. The closest ones to the track were immediately outside the track double doors in a heated lobby area – convenient and a lifesaver.

Timing was done by Mike Melton and Brandon Wilson and there were large monitors that gave real-time results, including miles, kilometers, lap distance, and position. There was one fully-stocked aid station that provided the usual ultra staples plus scheduled meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I never went hungry, and the one time I made a special request (for my favorite drink of seltzer), Steve quickly brought several bottles.

Our pre-race briefing took place at 8:30 and Steve and Mike went over rules and procedures. At 9 am on the dot, we took off counter-clockwise and immediately I felt a surge of relief course through me. All that anxiety and worry disappeared and my only focus was to move forward and have fun.

The track is a 443 meter track with 3 lanes, each approximately 18” wide. We changed direction every 4 hours. Runners AND walkers were required to use the inner lane except when passing (in the middle lane). For sauntering or strolling but still moving forward, racers could use the third (or outside) lane. As a serious walker, I loved this rule – I was no longer relegated to the outer lane. I’m not sure how much faster runners liked it, but most were moving so quickly around me they didn’t seem too bothered about it.

The really great thing about an indoor race is the controlled climate. For a change, I did not have to worry about rain, thunder, lightning, snow, freezing cold, or heat-stroke highs. Inside the Pettit, the temperature is an almost constant 55 degrees with 30-35% humidity. I did not have to pack rain gear or heavy jackets, mittens, or handwarmers. I did find that the low humidity was a problem for me (there is a reason I live in humid Florida). My nose bled constantly, and my lips and fingers were chapped and sore. But that was a small price to pay for the lack of severe weather extremes.

There was music, lots of it, several tapes that played the same songs over and over. Some I recognized and enjoyed (oldies like ‘I Heard it through the Grapevine’) and others I tried to block out. During the first day, there were several hockey games taking place in the center rinks and the loud smashing of the hockey sticks and pucks competed with the musical refrains. Occasionally there were skaters, young and old, in one of the rinks. During the late evening hours, the center rinks were quiet, and the only sounds were the music tapes and runners moving past.

Those first 24 hours went by relatively quickly. I had no foot or leg problems, no pain or aches, just occasional dizziness from going around the track in tight little circles. I have experienced similar dizziness on outdoor tracks so this was nothing new. I had to concentrate on looking up and around me instead of down and at the center. That queasy feeling only occurs during track races and seems to be my personal bugaboo.

Except for changing my shoes or stopping at the bathroom, I never took a break. By 30 hours in, I was starting to get tired and a little sleepy. I decided to get some rest in the sleeping quarters downstairs (ironically called ‘the party room’). At least that was my intention. However, there were too many impediments to getting any real rest for me. Even with a sleeping bag and mat, the floor was too hard. I couldn’t lie flat and my legs wanted to cramp as I lay down and rose up. In addition, the room was filled with people snuffling, snoring, and coughing. Whatever was I thinking?? I am an insomniac who finds it hard to fall sleep even in an ideal environment. How was I supposed to sleep on a hard floor with a roomful of people around me? It wasn’t going to happen. I texted Darcy to come get me so I could get at least a few hours of restful sleep. By that time, I was up to 93 miles. I had a blister and hot spot on the sole of one foot. Darcy came around 4:30 pm on Saturday and took me back to the hotel where I soaked my feet and doctored my sore foot. I set my phone alarm for 7 pm and immediately fell asleep. The bed was comfortable, the room dark and quiet. I don’t even remember my head touching the pillow. The jarring noise of my phone woke me from a sound slumber. I really wanted to turn off the alarm and go back to sleep but I resisted. I quickly changed into clean new clothes and shoes and and returned to the track.

It’s amazing what a little bit of quality sleep will do for one’s physical and mental ability. I felt so much better after what essentially was a simple power nap – I really needed those 2 hours of sleep. From that point on, the only breaks I took were to visit the bathroom, change my shoes, or put my feet up for 10 minutes or so. I soon reached 100 miles and decided that next I wanted to get to at least 121 miles by Sunday morning. My 48 hour PR was 120 miles several years ago at UltraCentric in Grapevine, TX. It would be great if I could beat my own record, especially now that I was older and slower. I cannot remember at what time I reached that goal but I was still feeling pretty good, though my blistered foot was starting to bother me again. I realized that 200k was within my reach if I kept moving. I mentioned to another runner that my husband was supposed to show up at 8 am and when he does I will probably leave. However, by that time I was too close to 200k to stop. I persisted until I finally reached 125 miles (201k) and I carried the little 200k pennant around the track once more as the few remaining runners cheered me on. What a rush that was for me! I’m told that 125 miles is the USA age-group record for women 70-74. If accurate, that is even more reason to celebrate.

My mantra during races is “stagger onward rejoicing” (from W. H. Auden’s poem Atlantis) and that certainly kept me going here. I also remembered my friend Joyce’s advice to take occasional short breaks but stay on the course and keep moving. Joyce never seems to stop, even when she is exhausted, and as a result she often finishes in the #1 spot because of her persistence.   I have a fair amount of stamina and stubbornness but I tend to give up when I am too cold, wet, or tired. In this race I was only tired, so it was easier for me to keep moving and motivated.

Another bonus to this race – the buckle for achieving at least 100 miles is also personalized. I have several 100 mile buckles but this is the only one that has my name on it!

As I mentioned earlier, the 6 day race is currently taking place and I have a number of running friends who are now attaining major mileage numbers. I want to send lots of positive thoughts to Sally, Kevin, Jimmie, Doyle, Joe, Dr. Lovey, and all the other runners and walkers in the 6 day event.

Someday, maybe, I will try a six day race, but for now I will enjoy cheering on everyone still moving forward.