Thoughts on fitness, health, good nutrition ... and running.

Welcome to Bald Man Running, a blog launched by Frank Murphy on January 1, 2015.

In March, 2013 I was selected as a contestant for the sixth season of Fort Wayne's Smallest Winner. Through this amazing program, I learned about good nutrition, sound exercise and accountability. By October, I would lose over 88 pounds (almost 37% of my original weight)! One of the many things I acquired through FWSW was a love for running. You can retrace my weight loss journey and discover how I became a runner by reading those entries labeled "fwsw" ...

Note: Many of the blog entries on this website predate 1/1/2015. Prior to launching BMR, I had written articles for various projects, and I have imported many of them into this blog (labeled "retro").

Friday, November 3, 2017

Event Report: 2017 St Pat's 24 Hour

Event Report: 2017 St Pat's 24 Hour
St Patrick’s County Park (South Bend, IN)

This report is written in two parts: a review and my personal reflections. If you’re considering this race and just want basic facts, feel free to reading just part one.

* * * Race Report * * *

About the Race
The race is organized by two wonderful ladies as a fundraiser for a friend of theirs with ALS. I believe this was the tenth year for the event, and it is held in high regard by many I know who have ran the race.

There are three events to choose from: 6 hour, 12 hour and 24 hour, all of which start at the same time: 8 am.

When I arrived to pick up my packet, one of the directors warmly addressed me by name! I’d never met her before, but because I’d posed a question on the Facebook page, she recognized me from my profile photo. She made a very good first impression. Overall, the staff does an amazing job, and treats the runners like family.

The park which hosts the race is open prior to packet pickup, and on-site camping is permitted (free with your registration). You can begin setting up your space (first come, first served) before packet pickup begins at 6 pm. You have the option to pitch a tent on the grounds or set up an area inside the barn (a large building at the start/finish area). Be forewarned: if you choose to spend the night onsite, it might difficult to sleep due to all of the activity in the main staging area.

Along with pickup, there’s a catered pasta dinner. It was good, quality food.

The Course
The course is a 3.1 mile loop. It’s fairly flat and wide. It’s also very well maintained, with no fallen trees or other unnecessary obstacles. About two-thirds of the course is a packed trail surface that winds through the woods. While you need to be alert for roots and walnuts, you can generally move at a nice clip through these portions of the course.

Most of the remaining course is wide and grassy with a small paved portion near the start/finish. There is only one hill of consequence, but it’s not obnoxiously steep. There are plenty of loose rocks on the ascent, so it’s always prudent to walk up the hill.

The course is very well marked. One nice touch was the use of glow sticks as course markers as it got dark. I’d never seen this in a race before, and I really, really, really appreciated it. It made the course so much easier to navigate in the dark.

As you cross the finish line, a timing computer is set up near the aid station where you can check your lap count. Laps count as 3.1 miles, even though my Garmin routinely showed a slightly shorter distance. Make of that what you will.

They set up a quarter mile out-and-back track you can run repeatedly over the last half hour of each race. This is a nice bonus as many other timed races do not offer such an option.

I’ve certainly ran my fair share of foul weather races this year. This was not one of them, as the weather was simply gorgeous. It climbed into the low 70’s at the highest temperature and into the 50’s at the lowest. It was mostly cloudless with a light breeze. I suspect the course would have been significantly more difficult if there had been rain (especially the hill).

Aid Station
The is one full service aid station at the start/finish line and an unmanned water-only station about two-thirds of the way through the loop.

The main aid station has to be seen to be believed. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was well stocked with the standard fare (chips, fruit, gummies, PB&J, etc), and some higher-end not-so-standard fare (sandwich wraps, jelly/rice balls, etc). The complementary energy drink was Heed, which I’d never tried before, so I stuck with Tailwind. As it got later into the day, a variety of warm soups were available as well. If you’ve seen it at an ultra, it was probably available at this aid station. Additionally, it was always adequately staffed by eager and helpful volunteers who refilled water bottles, etc.

While the variety was appreciated, what made the aid station so unusual was that virtually everything was served in individual containers. For example, oatmeal/PB balls came in little cups with lids, and PB&J segments were wrapped in foil. This made it easy to take it with you since you could cleanly stash it in a pocket/vest/etc. There are plenty of trash cans along the course, so you never have to carry trash with you for very long.

I would give this aid station a rating of four … as in “The Four Seasons of Ultra Aid Stations.”

Your pre-race packet has all the race swag you’re going to get, which includes a long sleeve cotton t-shirt, a branded beer mug, a branded pair of knit gloves, a can of beer, and a bottle of maple water. As swag goes, it’s on the light side. There are no finisher medals.

At packet pickup, items from previous year’s races, including dri-fit shirts, hats and more, were available for purchase. I suspect swag varies a little each year, so it’s a good idea to check the site’s event info before the race if you want to know ahead of time what you’re going to get.

Personally, I’m fine without a medal. The race was a good value without it. I knew the race was a fundraiser, and adding things to the swag bag increases the cost of the race.

Awards are presented to the top two male/female finishers in the six hour event and the top three male/female finishers in other two events. I’m not quite sure what the awards are, but it included a large bottle of some sort of alcohol. If you don’t drink alcohol then the alcohol-centric swag/awards will be less appealing to you.

Review Summary
If swag is really important to you (ie, you’re a bling whore), then this might not be for you; however, if you’re looking for an ideal racing experience, rest assured that the race directors do not skimp on the race experience itself (ie, the course markings and aid station fare are top notch). I confidently state that this is a well-organized race with awesome volunteers on a beautiful course. I was challenged and I found the entire experience to be thoroughly rewarding.

I highly recommend this event.

* * * Personal Reflections * * *

One of my goals for 2017 was to run twelve races of marathon or longer. Prior to St Pats, I had completed ten (marathon = 3, 50k = 5, 50mi = 1, 12hr = 1) and had another 50k on my calendar. I still needed one more race.

I was also hoping to set a distance PR. In 2013, I ran my first half. In 2014, my first full. In 2015, my first 50k. In 2016, my first 50mi. In 2017, I wanted to notch my first 100k. With the year coming to a close, I was running out of nearby 100k options. I chose to run St Pats as if it were a 100k with a 24 hour cutoff, yet my time goal was to be under 18 hours (which is a fairly common cutoff for a 100k).

Another factor in choosing St Pats is that several Ignite and 3RUR teammates would also be running St Pats. I knew I could count on these teammates to encourage and support me, but I had no idea how strongly they would come through in this way.

I was fortunate to carpool with Brad Compton again. We’ve done this before, and it is always such a blessing to spend time with Brad. He has run at St Pats multiple times and is a wealth of knowledge (not just in general, but also specific to this course). He is a wonderfully pleasant person, and one of the reasons I had such a successful weekend.

The Team Concept
I’ve ran most of my races solo. Even when I know people who are also doing the event, I tend to be pretty solitary. I’m not complaining. I’m kind of wired that way and I enjoy the solitude. This race would be different because about 30 people were there from the Ignite Ultra Team and the Three Rivers Ultra Running (3RUR) Team. I a fortunate to be a part of both groups.

I thought I’d see them on the course (ie, get passed by them), chat briefly if we met at the aid station, and perhaps I’d even share a few random miles with someone every so often. I was wholly unprepared for the different experience it is to truly be part of a team.

First, several team members were there in a support capacity. They came with a specific objective, but were generally available to do whatever they could to help. For example, Jason Richardson and Jared Newhard were there to crew for Suzi Swineheart. While Suzi was their primary concern, whenever I came through the aid station they were always there to help. One would grab my water bottle and fill it, while the other talked me through my last loop and offered a suggestion or two. They’re both experienced ultra athletes and could tell better than I when I needed a salt tab or other things like that. There were several other teammates I saw throughout the event that similarly helped me out.

As great as these teammates were, Tiffany Kravec was on a completely different level. She was there to crew for Mike Else, but always had time to help me out. She really took good care of me and her kindness caused my eyes to water more than once. She monitored my food intake and made several “suggestions” throughout the race that kept me going. She taped up blistered feet several times, and that right there is amazing. I mean … who does that? This required removing dirty, sweaty, smelly shoes and socks, cleaning my feet and then applying the appropriate bandages in the right places. I think it says a lot about a person’s character when they’re willing to clean another person’s feet. Tiffany drew upon her own experience and knowledge in just the right way each time I needed it. Sometimes, it was in the form of a gentle question, and other times it was a stern “now go!” Either way, she did a fantastic job helping me amidst her many other duties.

And then, there was Pat Quinn. I’m going to struggle to put all this into words, but I am so incredibly thankful for what he did for me. He was there to crew/pace for someone else, and due to unforeseen circumstances, he wouldn’t be needed to do that. As I completed my 16th lap, he asked if I had a pacer and that he was available and interested in helping me out. I had never ran with a pacer before, so I didn’t really know what it was like. I was also a wee bit intimidated, because Pat is an accomplished runner far beyond my own ability. I tenuously agreed to run with him starting on my 18th lap (mile 52.7).

I can say that as nervous and intimidated as I was by the thought of Pat joining me, it was a completely silly way for me to feel. He did absolutely nothing to heighten my insecurity, but it’s easy to let weird thoughts get into your head. I am so grateful for his patience and kindness.

Pat is not only an experienced ultra runner, but he is also an experienced pacer. He talked to me, made several very helpful suggestions, refilled water bottles, fetched appropriate food from the aid station, carried extra food for me onto the course, and so much more.

Prior to Pat joining me, my pace had slowed to about an hour per lap. For the first three loops he ran with me, my pace improved over five minutes per lap. He pulled something out of me than I did not know I had. He was aware of my goal (100k in 18 hours), and he got me to that point at 16:44! I did not even dare to think I could complete my goal distance in that time.

Once I hit that goal, Pat encouraged me to keep going. After all, I still had seven hours left! I was very happy with my accomplishment at that point, and I felt like a burden had been lifted. I was willing to continue, but I was also quite content to shuffle along at a much more sedate pace. I managed to complete three “bonus” laps.

On my last lap, I was definitely moving quite slowly, and Pat was worried enough about me to walk the course in reverse to find me, which he did a little less than a mile from the start/finish line. I was uninjured, but completely exhausted. I can admit that seeing Pat caused a few more happy tears (seriously … I had never bawled during a race before, but this one brought out so much emotion). Pat walked me in and I shut it down at 71.3 miles. I had been moving for over 21 hours.

Another cool component to running a “short looped” race with a team is that I saw teammates often. It was neat to see Mike, Brad, Suzi, Brenda and others so many times. They always had a kind word when they passed me. As they’d disappear ahead of me, I’d think, “Dang, how cool is that I’m on the same team as those awesome runners!” It was a bona fide boost throughout the entire event.

I’ve already said a lot about the value of team on this race, and I could keep going on and on about it. Suffice it to say, this was my first real team experience, and it was incredible.

My Performance
Overall, I think this was the finest race I’ve ever run. It was a good, strong race.

Initially, my plan was to run/walk using time intervals, but after a couple of loops, I decided to switched to using landmarks to make a switch. For example, I would walk from the start/finish area to the first turn, and then run/jog to the first lengthy stretch of grass, then walk until the trail ducked back into the woods, then walk until … you get the idea. With such a short loop, it was easy to remember the course and make “on the fly” plans for my intervals.

Through the first nine laps, I was averaging about 40 minutes/lap. Over the next nine laps, my pace dropped to about 60 minutes/lap. Some of this slower pace was intentional because it was a hotter part of the day, and I didn’t want to wear myself out in the heat and have nothing left in the tank for the night. Tiffany had also insisted that I slow it down, and she can be very persuasive.

When Pat started pacing me, my pace dropped below 55 minutes/lap for three laps. My last three laps were at a pretty sedate 90 minutes/lap. All that’s to say this: I started a little fast, but I never really felt labored. Pat was a miracle worker who get me moving a little faster, and then I just barely zombie walked the last bit.

When the last half hour started, I resumed my zombie shuffle for three of the quarter miles loops, which was enough to push my final total to 72.05 miles ... a distance PR by over 20 miles!

My 50k time was 6:48. My 50mi time was 12:54. My 100k time was 16:44. That was very close to a PR for both 50k and 50mi.

In the “Completely Random” category: several times throughout the race, the word “analgesic” popped into my head. For whatever reason, I think it’s just a fun to say word. Go ahead and say it out loud right now while you’re reading this, and you’ll probably chuckle. It’s just that kind of word.

Overall, this worked out really well, in large part due to the expert care provide by my team. I had very little experience with salt tabs, but think they made a significant difference.

Around 18 hours, most foods did not sound palatable. It just didn’t sound good. Maybe I could have ate it, but the thought of even trying did not sound like it would go well. Soup was about all that I wanted to eat at the point, and it went down easily.

Lessons Learned
The value of team cannot be overstated. Having never really experienced it before, I am in awe of how much better the experience is when a group of people are pulling together. I am so appreciative of the many kindnesses shown to me over the weekend. I’ve mentioned several names, but many more could be mentioned. I’m so thankful, and I look forward to working as a crew/pacer for some of them in the near future.

Because I was unfamiliar with the course, I took four different pairs of shoes (three trail, one road). I ran the first 15 miles in a basic trail shoe before switching to road shoes (Under Armor Bandit 3). It's lightweight with a lot of cushion (similar to minimally cushioned Hokas). I wound up running about 50 miles in these shoes before switching back to trail shoes. While I love my Salomon, they're heavier that the Bandits, and I think wearing lighter shoes helped I know I couldn't have done this if the weather weren't so cooperative, but in this situation it worked out perfectly. Before making the switch to road shoes, I talked with some of the ultra vets who confirmed that it was a worthwhile idea.

I have never treated blisters or chaffing in the middle of a run. I probably wouldn’t have done it on this race either if I had been by myself. Tiffany, Pat, Erin, Jason, and the others were always asking questions, and by treating these type of problems early enough in the race, they were not a major problem later in the race. I escaped from the weekend relatively unscathed: simply exhausted, but injury free. I was very fortunate.

One of the many insights Pat shared with me was the value of using this race as a litmus test for a 100 mile race. I’ve entertained the thought of attempting a 100 miler, but have doubted whether or not I had the ability to do it. Continuing to run past the 62 mile mark gave me valuable experience that I couldn't simulate with training runs. I am now more confident of my ability to complete a 100 miler than I was before St Pats.

Something interesting from the experience: Pat pointed out to me that I seemed like I was moving with determination and grit prior to 62 miles, but once I crossed that threshold, I had given up that edge. This was not to denigrate my performance, but to point out that as long as I had an objective in front of me, I was capable of more. Once I passed the threshold, I lost a powerful motivator. Pat pointed out that if my goal had been “run for 24 hours” then I would have been able to attack those last several hours with more strength. This is really insightful and I immediately realized the truth of his analysis.

Overall, I am so pleased with this race. The course, the volunteers, the weather, the friends … everything lined up perfectly. I couldn’t have scripted a better experience, and I was privileged to have so many blessings in such short succession. While I signed up for a 24 hour race, I came away with a lifetime of cherished memories.

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