When you’re doing something for the first time, there’s going to be a certain amount of unknowns, no matter how much research you do. I was as prepared for this ‘race’ as I possibly could be – but there were many lessons I would soon take away. Because when you run for 24 hours in a row for the first time, you can pretty much be guaranteed something isn’t going to go according to plan…
Saturday, August 13 – 8:00am
The race director had drawn a line in the dirt path in front of the large picnic shelter I would call home base for the next 24 hours. All the runners had dutifully lined up behind it – there were about 80 of us total. Not everyone was doing the 24 hour event – some of the runners were ‘only’ running 6 or 12 hours. And then there were a handful that were actually signed up to go longer than my event – 32 hours. I couldn’t even fathom 32 hours. But I had wrapped my head around 24 hours. I was ready for it.
I started running. Slowly. I had so much energy that in actuality I wanted to zip zoom off and around the 2.6 mile (4.2km) loop around Lake Padden that lay ahead of me. But I held back and positioned myself behind a 24 hour runner who was running with a 32 hour runner. Argh. Couldn’t do it – I passed them and found myself beside a 32 hour runner wearing a yellow Marathon Maniacs tank top. As we turned the corner, the so far flat path offered a small incline.
“Is this hill?” I asked? She had no idea, it was her first time doing Hamster also.
It turned out that little incline was not ‘the hill’ – in each 2.6 mile loop I knew there was to be 244 feet of elevation gain. I did not however know what that would look like in reality. We rounded another corner and there was the first real ‘hill’ – I only ever ran up it that very first loop. It became the ‘I get to walk now’ hill after this lap.
There were 2 other steepish hills like that as well as a half dozen small inclines over the course of the loop. I would get to know them intimately as the day wore on…
We I began chatting – she was aiming to complete 100 miles by the time all was said and done! I was just hoping to keep moving forward for 24 hours in a row. But hmmm, I wondered then if I could actually run 100 miles. I’d tossed around distance goals – and had landed on deciding I’d be happy if I hit 100km (60 miles).
As I rounded the last corner of first loop, I saw hubby and the girls (Sparkle and Sunshine) beside the picnic shelter and I stopped for kisses before heading back out. On my second lap I found myself beside a lady who must have been in her 50’s and she began to tell me amazing stories of the dozens of ultra’s she has run. I listened intently – her experience outweighed mine by an exponential amount!
Hubby and the girls again!! I stopped again to say hi – and then hubby told me he was going to go back to the hotel as it was quite hot already and we were worried it was a bit much for the girls.
“When will I see you again?” I asked… But he didn’t know for sure. Early afternoon maybe. He’d moved my stuff to the inside of one of the far picnic tables, out of the sun. I had a blue soft-sided cooler bag there, full of my food as well as a bag with a change of outfit and shoes as well as long sleeved shirt… And at the last minute, an extra sweater got thrown in.
Hubby and the girls took off, and I dove into my bag. I knew I needed to start eating early. I’d already begun hydrating like crazy – I love my hydration pack, it makes hydrating so easy! I’d already gone through one 500ml serving of Skratch and half a bottle of water. So I refilled my Skratch and grabbed a power cookie.
On this 3rd lap I bumped back into the pair I’d initially past – the 24 hour and 32 hour runners, Sebastian and Abbey. We began chatting nonstop – Sebastian, it turned out, had run Mountain Lakes 100 a few years ago! And he happened to know a gal I’d been ‘stalking’ on Strava whose race times I’d looked up for various distances including the marathon and then used as a benchmark to figure that I could complete Mountain Lakes in 24 hours. But I’d gotten my details all wrong and was quoting incorrect race times for her (apparently I’m a terrible stalker) and nothing made sense – at that point I’m pretty sure they both thought I was nuts.
As we came around to the picnic shelter again, our laps got counted by the counters and we each went to our respective areas we’d staked claim to earlier – but I didn’t see anything in my bag I wanted to eat, other than a few pieces of candied ginger, so I grabbed the ginger, refilled one of my bottles with Skratch again and the other with water, and the three of us took off for our 4th lap. Or was it fifth? We’d already lost count. Conversation quieted a bit for the next lap – it was hot already, and the mileage was adding up.
We lost Abbey on the next lap – and after another quiet lap, I let Sebastian drop me. My glutes were killing me. Super weird. A pain I was not familiar with! But to be honest, after taking the last 2 days off of running, they’d been sore (totally weird right?!!) – and they were still sore. I found myself alone on the trail – occasionally lapping other runners, occasionally being lapped. Glutes killing me.
“How are you doing?” I’d come around to the picnic shelter again and the lap counter wanted to know how I was doing. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I was doing great. My glutes hurt, and I could see already I was running out of Skratch, which was making me super anxious. Plus I was tired already! Gah!!
“I’m hanging in”, I responded. Oh boy, if I’m just hanging in here after a mere 3 hours of running, how in this world did I expect to get through the next 21 hours. Hahahaha. I had 21 hours ahead of me. Yah right, I thought. No way, I thought. But at the same time, I knew I’d keep pressing on no matter what (unless something dire or life-threatening popped up of course).
I’d packed my curcumin/fish oil capsules, as well as my biovaflex pain relief capsules (I guess instead of packing Advil like most people might, that’s what I threw into my bag haha). And on this round I grabbed a couple of each, along with a millet burger – which was the only thing in my bag that looked appetizing at that moment, and took off again, swallowing everything down with water as I went.
I began noticing that there were mile markers along the path every quarter mile. We started at ¼ miles in already. The ¾ mile mark was by the blackberry bushes which was in the sun – very hot. The 1 mile mark was by the second washroom past the one beside our picnic shelter. Still in the sun, still very hot. When I’d started there’d been a swim meet going on. They were packing up now. I’d seen them giving out awards, was it 2 laps ago?
The 1¾ mile mark was the half way point of the loop, just past the top of the first big hill which had tall trees on either side of the path making it blessedly shaded. Knowing the back half was in the cooler forest was something that kept me moving forward. Just past 2½ miles was where we’d exit the forest – and back into the sun for the final stretch of about a quarter mile or so to the picnic shelter.
Around and around and around. I’d run the flat, walk the hills. When I say run – I mean more like jog… Or slowly run. Which become more of a shuffle. I told myself that when I hit 100km, I’d let myself walk continuously the rest of the way – no matter how much time was or wasn’t left.
Saturday, August 13 – 3:00pm
Hubby and the girls returned and were waiting for me as I came in from my what was probably my 13th or 14th lap. I’d passed the marathon mark a couple hours ago. I was somewhere in the mid 50km’s. And I was SO HAPPY to see hubby and the girls! In fact, they gave me such a boost of energy, that I ran my 2 fastest laps of the whole 24 hours in that hour, while they were there.
Hubby brought our double lawn chair down and put it beside ‘my’ picnic table, so I moved my stuff over to in front of the chair. It was so comfortable to sit on that chair! I sat down with them for a good solid 10 minutes (twice, after both laps!) eating my power cookies and the delicious watermelon that was being cut up by the wonderful volunteers.
After hubby left, I went back to my shuffle/walk kind of run. I filled my Skratch water bottle with my 2nd last serving of Skratch. I hadn’t even reach 12 hour half way mark yet and I was nearly out. Gah.
I came around another lap and was asked how I was doing.
“Surviving.” I tried to smile. Tried to remember I was the one who had signed up for this. The good news is my glute pain was gone. Now I just had a dull ache through my legs and feet. Maybe ache is the wrong word. More like pulsing fatigue and throbbing feet. But I worry that makes it sound worse than it was…
It must have been only a few laps later that I bumped back into Abbey and Sebastian. They were walking in the sun and on the hills and running the rest. Brilliant! Walk when in the sun. Why hadn’t I thought of that?!! So I fell in line with them, walking when under that hot sun that beat down on us and running the shaded areas.
On the next lap – or was it 2 laps later – we were walking along just past the picnic shelter when a HUGE bug flew in my eye. I walked and tried to get it out but it wasn’t happening. So I pulled out my phone to use a makeshift mirror and called to them to go on ahead. I stood still while trying to remove the HUGE bug (honestly, it was pretty big). Another runner came along and helped me hold my eye open while I finally managed to pry it out. With profuse thanks, I chatted a bit with her and then ran on ahead. Running felt good so I just kept running past Abbey and Sebastian. But then later that same lap, in the woods, Sebastian passed me.
When I hit the picnic shelter this time, I pulled my phone out of my hydration pack – it was at less than 20% battery life, so I grabbed my little pink Anker phone charger. With just under 12 hours to go, I was worried for a minute that this charger wasn’t going to be enough and my phone would die anyway – but nothing I could about that now. So I plugged it in, draping the cord connection the two between pockets. I wanted my phone to stay charged because the only thing I was using to track my distance was Strava. I’d turned data off – Strava just pulls from satellites and gave me my pace, distance and time every time I pulled my phone out to look – but wouldn’t be able to upload the run until I was back in wifi or turned data on.
Then I sat there in my comfy lawn chair and didn’t feel like getting back up. A guy chatting with a couple other runners looked over at me. He’d just finished the 12 hour run.
“Have you had any soup?” he asked. No I had not and I shook my head no. “You need some!” he said and off he went. When he returned he handed me a cup of soup telling me he’d taken it from another runner because you were supposed to ‘order’ it a lap before you wanted it – but I needed it, so he’d had another order made up for that runner… Anyway, there was no way I could or would or wanted to say no.
So I ate/drank that deliciously salty soup full of gluten-rich noodles. It was amazing and if only my body could process gluten normally it would have been perfect. That said, it did give me an energy boost in the moment – but it also made the next lap an excruciating one as I was hit with terrible stomach cramps and barely made it to the next washroom stop. Sorry, probably TMI, but that was pretty uncomfortable!
Luckily there were no lasting effects and my digestive system calmed right back down as I carried on. I kept mentioning to other runners, that if only the sun would go down and give us a reprieve from the heat, it’d get so much better. Please let the sun go down!
And finally, blessedly, the sun went down. I’d been drenched – just dripping in sweat – from about 9am this morning onward. I was already (long ago) pretty badly chaffed around my neck and shoulders from my hydration pack. But that was about the extent of chaffing. Well, um, other than… Well, let’s just say who knew all the places chaffing could pop up and be so uncomfortable? Seriously, thank goodness for Bodyglide. I pulled my headlamp out as it was darkish in the trees already (although still fine in the open).
Saturday, August 13 – 9:00pm
I came in from another lap and sat down on my comfy lawn chair. Hubby had mentioned he was going to come back around 9pm, so I thought maybe I’ll just sit and wait here until he shows up. But I couldn’t just sit there doing nothing. So I ate some candied ginger. Then I decided to change my outfit. Deeming it way to much work to walk over to the washrooms to change, I draped a towel over myself and somehow carefully managed to change my sports bra and tank top discreetly. Then I changed my socks and shoes. And lastly, I switched out my blue headband for a pink one (because, one must match when running for 24 hours!).
I set my headlamp on my head. And still no hubby. So off I went for another lap…
Walk, run, shuffle, walk up the hill, jog down the hill, shuffle, run, walk…
As I came around the corner to the picnic shelter, now shrouded in darkness I could only see shadows of people standing around. And then I saw hubby and the girls!! Yay! So happy to see them! Apologizing, hubby explained how he’d had to watch the men’s 10,000m Olympic race before he could come… Haha. All good. After hugs and kisses and grabbing another power cookie, I went back out.
I loved running in the dark. At this point the last of the boats were being hauled in from the lake and driven away. Most of the people had left the park already. The hot sun beating down, sounds of laughing, splashing kids and sights of bikini clad sun tanners were all gone – replaced by cool quiet darkness. My headlamp easily lit the way ahead and I got lost in my own thoughts.
Saturday, August 13 – 10:45pm
As I made my way through the forest this lap, I stopped and pulled my phone out to look at Strava. Wouldn’t you know it, I’d just hit 100km! This was the goal I’d given myself – hit 100km, and then go ahead and walk the rest of the hours remaining. So here I was with 9¼ hours to go – and permission to walk from there on in. Suddenly it all felt totally doable.
As I came around from my next lap I was asked if I needed anything.
“Scrambled eggs please?” I replied. I’d seen and smelled them being cooked up earlier – and now I really, really wanted some. I was trying to think if I’d been eating enough. My millet burgers and power cookies were the only things I’d brought that had been all that was appetizing to me. I consumed zero gels or dates (my usual go-tos) – it was too hot for the sweet stuff – the thought of it earlier had made me feel sickly (although the candied ginger had been fine). Even my energy bars weren’t appealing, oddly – again I’d eaten those so many times in training and loved them. And unsurprisingly now I wanted more protein and fatty foods – particularly as my pace had slowed so much and I’d already been moving for more than 12 hours.
My Skratch was gone – and so before hubby had shown up I’d grabbed a can of coke. Yes, it was in the cooler full of ice – and all I’d wanted was an ice cold coke. Good lord what running for 24 hours can do to a holistic nutritionist haha. PS oh dear it was delicious (lol).
Anyway, now here in the dark, I sat with hubby and waited for my scrambled eggs – they even threw some bacon in there for me. Yes, bacon and coke… Don’t worry – it gets better (worse?) 😉
After the eggs, I got back out there feeling better. I walked – power walked. As I came upon the back half and hit the hills my whole body resisted them. Nooooo ahhhhh – but I climbed them anyway. I could only walk down the hills because running was too jarring on my very fatigued muscles. I stopped. Turned off my headlamp. It was intensely crazily pitch black – as black as could be. In the middle of the woods. I loved it. I turned it back on and pushed forward.
Sunday, August 14 – 1:00am
After a few more laps I was feeling really, really tired. It appeared that just about every other runner was napping. They’d all brought sleeping bags, sleeping pads and little pillows. Napping! This was not something I’d planned on. But as I sat down and my head fell forward, I understood. Hubby sat beside me, worried. I finally agreed to take a half hour nap in the car. So off we went to the parking lot, and I slept for 42 minutes (hubby made the executive decision to give me more than half an hour haha).
When the alarm went off, it was close to 2am, and I DID NOT want to get out of the car. Everything in me just wanted to say, take me back to the hotel room. I was so tired. So cold. So uncomfortable. I could tell hubby was worried – had I said take me to the hotel, he’d have no hesitations.
But I exited the car and told him I looked forward to seeing him around 7am. My body shook from the cold as I made my way back down to my lawn chair. I’d already pulled on both my long sleeve shirt as well as my extra sweater. I secured my hydration pack back on – and headed out. I was cold and sleepy. For some reason all I could think about was coffee. All I wanted was coffee. I also remembered seeing M&Ms in the cooler beside the coke. I shuffled through the dark.
Coming around from this first lap back out post-nap, I asked if please could I have a coffee. As the volunteer made me some instant coffee, I grabbed one of my empty snack ziplock baggies and dove into the cooler.
Off so I went, shortly after 3am, coffee and M&Ms in hand (told you it got better haha)… The coffee was amazing. It was literally the best thing I’d ever tasted. Same with the M&Ms. I didn’t really even think about what I was doing – I just reached for what I wanted. I can’t explain it – but I know I was definitely a bit delirious at that point.
That was a great lap. So great, I didn’t even stop coming around, just went straight back out for another. And then another. Finally, around 4:30am, fatigue came crashing down on me. I was coming around the back half, in the forest, and I stopped. I crouched down, my head bobbing forward. I wondered if I just laid down right here – just for a quick nap – the next runner to come along would see me and wake me right?! Silliness! I got up, I moved forward.
As I came through the aid station this time I asked for another coffee. It was not as deliciously amazing as the first one. It did not give me the same boost. I sat down on a bench just past where the swimmers had met hours ago, back when I’d first started this craziness. The sun was rising – it was pretty. The lake was pretty.
Sunday, August 14 – 5:30am
After running for 21½ hours, why not take a silly selfie?
I finally made it into the back half 20 minutes later, where I saw the sun rising through the trees and making the sky glow all sorts of pretty colours. I tried to walk faster as I wanted to see the sun rise without the trees in the way… But faster wasn’t an option just then.
I came around to the picnic table area, and there was Abbey, getting up from a nap and preparing to head back out. She was going to walk a lap – if I was cool with that, let’s do it together.
“Absolutely!” I said. And we headed out. Sebastian had been there too – he came over all wrapped in his sleeping bag to say he’d bowed out hours ago due to an injury. He could walk, but walking it was too boring for him… He’s fast. He did almost as many laps as me in half the time.
Abbey and I walked the loop. Having her with me helped me to pick up my pace – and not make any stops. As we came around it was nearing 7am and hubby and the girls were there! At that point I also knew I had time for one more lap. So after a quick hello, Abbey and I headed back out for my last lap.
At that point, with the sun up and the end so near, I felt almost normal again – and energized. I power walked that last lap dare I say easily?! But at the same time, I couldn’t imagine continuing on. Abbey would have 8 more hours to go after I stopped.
Sunday, August 14 – 7:45am
And then, with 15 minutes left on the 24 hours clock, here we were, coming around the last corner and into the picnic shelter area for my last time.
I was ecstatic as I came in down those last 100 metres, dropping my sweater and jogging it in to the ‘finish line’. According to the counters, I’d completed 30 laps, or 78 miles (126km). According to Strava (my phone didn’t die – in fact when I finished it still had over 50% battery life thanks to my little pink charger!), I’d just completed 134km (83 miles). I don’t know which is right for sure. Somewhere in the middle of the night, the race director had come to me and asked me how many laps I’d done as the counters had been making different marks or something – I didn’t quite understand. Anyway, I lost count of my laps after the first 2 haha. So I wasn’t much help. I wish I’d done like Abbey did, and marked down on a sheet of paper every single lap split she completed.
But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter at all. My goal was to keep moving forward for 24 hours, and with the exception of a 42 minute nap, and many more sit-downs that I’d anticipated, I pretty much did just that. I’d hoped to get a sense of how to dress and pack and what food to bring with me for Mountain Lakes – and I really totally absolutely took away so much valuable information for that from this experience.
With my finish of 30 laps I placed 2nd female (first place did 32 laps). More than half the field dropped out over the course of the 24 hours, as the sun and heat of the day had really taken a toll on many of the runners, among other issues that had cropped up. If nothing else, with as many stops and sit-downs as I took, I’m just super proud of myself for getting back out there each time and continuing on to the end – because I definitely didn’t always feel like it in the moment!
I learned that it’s totally possible to run for 24 hours. I learned that no matter how well prepared I go into Mountain Lakes, I need to be adaptable – ready to change plans on the fly. And I learned many interesting and valuable things about nutrition (including how I must bring more Skratch with me next time haha). I’ve got a lot to take into consideration as I sit down to map out a race plan for my first 100 miler. It’s scary to think what’s in store for me at the end of September… But mostly it’s exciting. I’m really super excited for my next adventure.
Onward and forward!
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Congrats on completing some big mileage!! You drank the kool-aid and now you’re hooked 😉 Do you have a crew to help you on your 100 mile run? There’s usually a pacer along with the runner for sections of the distance. The crew swaps out and helps take care of you. It’s super helpful as that mileage racks up and you can’t remember the last time you ate/drank etc. Come up with a food and hydration plan ahead of time and share it with your crew. I’ve seen some really detailed nutrition plans for ultras. Rest up a bit and then GO GET EM! 🙂
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