13 days was never going to be enough time to recover from the Virginia 24 Hour Run/Walk for Cancer, so I shouldn’t really be surprised that things didn’t go too well at last weekend’s Dawn to Dusk to Dawn Track 24-Hour. Mentally I was 100% up for the race, but physically my body started to let me know fairly early that this wasn’t such a good idea after all.
To backup up a bit, my original plan for the 2 races was to use the Virginia 24 Hour Run/Walk for Cancer on April 30th/May 1st as a final longish training run before the higher-priority Dawn to Dusk to Dawn event in Pennsylvania 2 weeks later. What actually happened was; I decided to take advantage of a good day at the races in Hampton, where I managed to come away with the win and a new course record, telling myself I’d just settle for a fun time at Dawn to Dusk to Dawn with no pressure for a big race. Race day arrived, however, with competitive-me armed with a short list of unrealistic goals and looking to compete against a high quality field of athletes. Here’s how it went…
Friday was a nice, relaxed travel day to the Wyndham Gardens Hotel in Essington, PA, with a 2-hour stop in Berlin, MD to grab lunch and visit the Burley Oak Brewing Company. Packet pickup was quick and easy at the host hotel where we grabbed dinner and enjoyed a traditional pre-race Guinness. It was cool to meet several of the returning runners from last year too.
With gear and supplies organized and laid out, sleep came easy and thankfully it didn’t seem too early when the alarm went off to signal the start of race day. The drive to the track was easy, where the first task of the day was to set up camp for the next 24+ hours, then collect the ankle chip from the timing company and mix up a 3 gallon solution of Tailwind Nutrition. The minutes passed quickly and it was soon time to gather at the start line for the pre-race brief from Race Director, Bill Schultz.
At 7am we were off and running; well, really more of a shuffle through the first couple of hundred meters as runners found their rhythm and settled into a comfortable pace. I slotted in right on the heels of Bob Hearn and right alongside crazy Irishman, Padraig Mullins – not a bad place to be considering Bob’s precision pacing which I’d read about on his 2015 Desert Solstice blog post. As to be expected in a 24-hour race, the early pace felt awkwardly easy and it was more of a matter of slowing things down than striding out comfortably.
Chat with Padraig helped the early miles pass quickly, but after an hour or so of running together he stopped for food while I carried on with my 2:10 to 2:13 laps – a little bit quicker than planned, but hey, you know how that goes in these Ultramarathons. As expected, the lead runners went off fast – with several of them lapping me many, many times in the first couple of hours. For once though, I really tried to keep my pace controlled, and with no Garmin on my wrist to obsess about, it was nice to just run by feel and enjoy the odd glance at the huge monitor each time we passed the timing mat. I even threw in a few short walk breaks to hopefully keep the legs fresh later on in the race.
Ally crewed me well with regular Tailwind topups, and with the morning temperature rapidly rising it was great to get an icy sponge every few laps to chill my legs. Heat was never really an issue, but I did change from a singlet to short sleeve shirt to protect my shoulders and upper arms from the deceptively strong sun, and added an ICED running cap to keep me cool. I felt good through 4 hours and with pace still easy to maintain, I felt quite optimistic that it might be an okay day after all. I’d also moved up the leaderboard a few slots so that gave me confidence I’d started off at a sensible pace too.
Hour 1: 27 laps
Hour 2: 27 laps
Hour 3: 26 laps
Hour 4: 27 laps
However, the 5th hour wasn’t that great. Pace dropped for the same effort level by at least a couple of seconds per lap. My left knee also gave out on me a couple of times, which I’ve never experienced before – one minute I was running along perfectly fine, the next I almost collapsed in a heap on the track. There was no pain at this stage, just a weird weakness as my left leg buckled a bit for no apparent reason. I made it to mid-day with just over 33 miles logged at about 9:00/mile pace – a little ahead of the goal, but that’s pretty typical in 24-hour races for me.
I’d been looking forward to my hourly 400m walk-break at noon, but looking at the post-race lap times, it appears that the next 15 laps were all a combination of walk/running, with nothing faster than a 3:36 400m and an average of 13 minute miles. I remember my knee locking up at some point but didn’t realise at the time how badly it had affected my ability to run. During the next 45 minutes I tried several things to fix the knee – ice, Biofreeze, makeshift Injinji Buff knee support, spray from Padraig, sports bandage and even a healthy Tylenol dose. Nothing helped and after hobbling around the track for another mile, the decision to cut my losses and call it a day was relatively easy to make. In truth, a part of me wanted to keep moving and get to 100 miles before the end of the 24 hours, but deep down I knew that was foolish and long term damage to the knee and potentially other parts of the body was highly likely.
Hour 5: 25 laps
Hour 6: 15 laps
The rest of the afternoon was spent cheering on the other 24-hour athletes and witnessing some amazing feats of ultrarunning; notably Pam Smith’s blistering 100 miles in 14:09, and after braving an hour or so of late afternoon rain and cooler temps, the night was spent crewing for Ally and Roy who were taking part in the 12-hour event. With something happening every lap, there was no time to think about my “race”, and it was actually a lot of fun to witness the event from a non-runner’s viewpoint. It was also cool to chat with other spectators/crew and truly inspiring to witness so many gutsy, determined performances, with Ally successfully defending her 12-hour title with an excellent 52 miles of running just 2 weeks after logging 78.75 miles at the Virginia 24 Hour Run/Walk for Cancer. Clearly, my choice to attempt 2 x 24-hour races in 2 weeks was a poor one, so in future I’ll be sticking to a more manageable schedule where I can set a goal and hopefully nail it.
Big shout out to Race Directors Bill Schultz and Josh Irvan for putting on a fantastic event, and to the team of volunteers who worked tirelessly throughout the day and night to take care of the runners. Dawn to Dusk to Dawn Track Ultras is definitely a race “for runners, by runners” and is well worth adding to your race calendar if you’re looking for a quality event on the track. See you next year(?)
- Topo Athletic Magnifly
- Injinji TRAIL 2.0 Midweight Mini-Crew Socks
- Salomon S-Lab Sense Shorts
- Les Croupiers Running Club Singlet
- CW-X Stabilyx Ventilator Short
- ICED running cap
- Julbo Dust Sunglasses
- Tailwind Short Sleeve Tech T
- Garmin Forerunner 235
- Injinji Full Buff [aka makeshift knee support]
- Tailwind Nutrition – Mandarin Orange