I walked away from the 2013 Virginia 24-Hour Run/Walk for Cancer with 112.5 miles and a 2nd place overall finish. At the time I was happy with the mileage (a PR distance) and comfortable with the decision to stop running with a couple of hours left on the clock. My body was cold and my mind had mentally checked out of the race. Enough was definitely enough. As the days/weeks/months ticked on, however, my decision to “quit” started to bug me, and I wasn’t happy that I’d left a couple of hours and potentially another 10 miles on the table. This year, I promised myself, would be different.
Fast forward 12 months, and it was time to line up and take the challenge again. Brian Burk headed up our Run4Life team which included wife, Ally, and daughter, Shannon, who were both taking part in their first 24-hour event. In 2013 we won the team award with 788.75 miles. It would be interesting to see how many miles we could rack up this year.
The race started a little late (7:15am), but everyone was in good spirits as Race Director George Nelson counted us down to set us on our way. The first several loops with Tad Meyer felt great – the pace was easy and the good conversation helped the miles tick by really quickly. As enjoyable as each 3.75 mile loop was, however, I *knew* I was running too fast for a 24 hour run, but didn’t do anything about it. I really need to practice better pacing if I’m going to maximize my potential at these Ultra events.
Despite stopping after each loop to top up fluids (Tailwind Nutrition was the fuel of choice for the race), we ran the first 20 miles in around 2 hours 47 minutes – quicker than my opening 20 at Rocky Raccoon where I’d spent hardly any time at the aid stations. Basically, the pace, despite feeling very comfortable, was way too fast.
The weather was great but probably a little warm for an Ultra – I think it topped out at the low 80s in the early afternoon. Hydration was good, and my hourly Endurolyte Extreme capsule was taking care of my electrolyte levels. Around Mile 30 I started to develop a hot spot on my right foot, so decided to change out of my Pearl Izumi EM Road N1s (which actually gave me a bit of trouble on some of the slick parts of the course), and into the Trail N1s. The extra traction and sturdier outsole was a welcome relief, and the hot spot seemed to disappear. I also took the opportunity to slap on some MISSION Sunscreen and switch from a longsleeve to singlet.
Naturally, as the morning wore on, the pace slowed. I’d kind of expected this to happen after the early swift pace, but wasn’t prepared for how tough things would get. Amazingly, Tad experienced the same feelings as me, and we both struggled to maintain any kind of decent pace. Tad’s description of having “legs like stone” summed up the next 30 or 40 miles perfectly.
The second 20 mile block took around 3 hours 15 minutes, and at this point I think we were still the leading two runners. Not for much longer though. As our constant-running turned more and more into running abbreviated with longer and longer walk breaks, our average pace slowed and slowed. We were both despondent and neither of us seemed able to break the cycle – quite strange as typically we’re both such strong minded and determined runners.
In addition to the stone legs, my feet were also giving me a hard time. The hot spot came back, so I decided to change socks and shoes. And then a few loops later, I changed shoes again. I hoped the Hokas would be the miracle boost I was looking for and set off with a slightly renewed energy.
Despite the steadily slowing pace, Tad managed to set a 50 Mile PR, but by this time we were discussing when would be a good time to drop from the race. I’m not sure how or why I allowed myself to get into such a low mental state, and I almost convinced myself that dropping early would save my stone legs from further damage so that I could resume training that much earlier the following week.
To add to the misery, last year’s winner, Keith Straw, passed us at some point in the afternoon to move into the lead. Keith always runs a smartly paced race and just cruised by us as if we were standing still. I remember saying to Tad that the “old me” would have responded to being overtaken with at least a slight chase down of Keith, but in this instance I wasn’t really bothered and was quite content to let him go.
The third 20 mile block was the slowest of the day to date – 4 hour 07 minutes – but it was still 24 minutes faster than miles 60 to 80, where the average pace was 13:33 per mile. Tad and I were still together at this point, although I’d contemplated dropping at both the 100km AND 75 Mile mark. Somehow I stuck with it and battled on into the night.
Unfortunately, the Hokas weren’t the boost I was looking for, so yet again I decided on a sock/shoe change. I also took the opportunity to switch into compression shorts and a long sleeve for the night time miles, and told Tad it would probably take a while for me to change, so it would probably be best if headed out for the next loop on his own. The compression shorts felt great, but my feet were still not happy in the Pearl Izumi EM Trail N1s.
Strangely enough, running seemed less painful than walking with regards to my blistered feet, so for the next loop I ran pretty much the whole 3.75 miles. That hadn’t happened since way earlier in the day and actually provided a small boost of encouragement. At the end of the loop Tad was refuelling at our makeshift aid station near the start/finish area. I quickly topped up my handheld from the pre-mixed 5 gallon cooler of Tailwind and told Tad that I needed to keep moving – I’d finally found some sort of rhythm and didn’t want to lose it. I headed out for the next loop with a renewed energy, feeling much more like my old self.
From here on out my perspective changed. I started to go through the numbers in my head – how many miles I’d logged, how much time was left on the clock, how far ahead was Keith. I started to run for a mile, walk for a minute and the loops seemed to pass quicker and quicker. Two of Shannon’s friends (Drew Midland and Liam Arocho) helped out by keeping me company on several loops. The conversation was a nice distraction, but I found myself taking more walk breaks than I really needed and decided to go solo for the rest of the race.
My Garmin died just before reaching 100 miles, but the elapsed time was about 18 hours 40 minutes. The fifth 20 mile block had taken exactly 4 hours – faster than both of the last two 20 mile blocks! Night running must agree with me. I think I told Drew that I was confident of beating last year’s distance (112.5 miles) and with any luck I could get to 120 miles before the end of the 24 hours. He was mentally in a better state than me and confirmed that my calculations were correct. Heading into the race, I had a feeling the course record of 125 miles could be achievable, but after walking so many miles in the afternoon, I figured today wouldn’t be that day.
I remember closing in and passing Keith, but cannot for the life of me remember at what stage of the race this happened. I do know that from this point forward I was on a mission to stay ahead of him though. Each loop was a personal battle to keep running. I allowed myself some walk breaks, but tried to run as much as possible. Time spent at the start/finish area at the end of each loop was kept to a minimum too – after a quick handheld refill and a few swigs of coke, I was off and running with a “See you next time” to whoever was still hanging around.
At approximately 5:15am I wearily finished off another loop. As I filled up my handheld, the timing guy announced that another 2 loops and 2 x 1 mile out-and-backs would give me the course record. I appreciated the info but replied “There’s not enough time. I can’t do another 2 full loops.” As I headed out for what I thought would be my final full loop, it hit me – “Wait a minute, the race started late. I have until 7:15am!” For the last 5 or 6 hours all my calculations were based on a 7am finish. The extra 15 minutes breathed new life into me and I took off.
Sure enough, I was able to complete two more loops to put me at 123.75 miles, and had enough time left on the clock for at least an out-and-back run that would enable me to tie the course record. I chugged down some more coke and set off as fast as my legs would carry me. I made it back to the start/finish area where quite a large crowd had assembled – all cheering and clapping and generally urging me on. “One more mile, Steve” I said to myself and took off again.
The run out to the 0.5 mile marker was quite emotional. After such a rough day I was about to set a new course record and win the race. Keith was still out on his final full loop and although he had enough time left to run a 1.25 mile out-and-back, I figured it was impossible for him to run any more. My body was hurting and my feet were a mess, but nothing was going to stop me from running the final half mile back to the finish line.
Ally and Shannon were waiting at the finish line, along with the rest of the team and numerous other folk. Finally it was time to stop running and enjoy the moment!
Keith did indeed end up with 125 miles, earning a 2nd place finish and a coveted 125 mile plaque. I have to thank him for pushing me all the way and inspiring me to keep on running when the easy option would have been to stop. Also, I can’t end this race recap without thanking Tad Meyer who ended up with a new 100 Mile PR before calling it a night some time during the 19th hour. Despite the rough patches, it was a real pleasure to spend many hours and many miles on the trail with Tad – he’s an amazing athlete and a real nice guy.
Congrats also to Team Run4Life. We weren’t able to defend our title, but there were many fantastic performances and the team spirit was tremendous. Something tells me we’ll be back to have another go next year. Right, Brian? Last, but by no means least, the day was made extra special by having Ally and Shannon taking part. They each logged 52.5 miles yet still found time to support me in my crazy endeavour. Naturally, I’m very proud of them both!
- Pearl Izumi EM Road N1
- Pearl Izumi EM Trail N1
- Saucony Virrata
- Hoka One One Bondi 3
- Balega Enduro Quarter Socks
- Drymax Lite Trail Run 1/4 Crew Socks
- Swiftwick Performance Four Socks
- Inov-8 Gaiters
- Zensah Calf Sleeves
- Running Etc. Long Sleeve Tee & Singlet
- Nike 5″ Race Day Short
- Saxx Kinetic Brief Fly
- CW-X Stabilyx Ventilator Short
- Garmin Forerunner 910XT
- iPod Shuffle
- Ultimate Direction Fastdraw 10
- Black Diamond ReVolt Headlamp
- Tailwind Nutrition
- Island Boost
- Endurolytes Extreme
- Caps Plus
Footnote: Many of the race details are already a bit fuzzy, so apologies in advance if I’ve misquoted or messed up any of the facts. Thanks also to everyone who came out to support at Sandy Bottom Nature Park – your assistance and generosity is greatly appreciated.
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