The final countdown has officially begun.
As of this post’s publish date, I have less than 48 hours until the 10:00am start of my first 24 hour ultramarathon.
The training is over, the gear is (almost) organized, and I feel ready. And anxious.
Late last year, I begin planning out my 2015 winter and spring race schedule. I knew I wanted something big and ambitious to really focus the first half of the year.
Originally I thought a return to the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100, where I could work to improve on last year’s time, would be a good option. But when I didn’t immediately get in through the lottery, I opted not to put my name on the wait-list.
I needed something different. The Black Mountain Monster.
A 24 hour event, complete with its monotony and lack of inspirational views, isn’t something I’d normally find appealing. In fact, I can remember saying just last summer that I wouldn’t ever sign up for a race like this.
Which is exactly why I decided I had to do it.
How a 24 Hour Race Works
The fact of the matter is that unless you’re an ultra-geek, you’ve probably never even heard of a 24 hour race. They’re uncommon and rare even within the ultramarathon scene.
But timed events are growing in popularity, in part because some runners find them more approachable than a set distance race.
Here’s how it works:
Runners repeatedly complete a loop course, attempting to cover as much distance as they can within a certain amount of time. The runner who covers the most distance wins.
Depending on the race, a loop can range from as short as a single track lap to several miles. Mine will be a 5k loop on mostly trail.
The time length also varies by race. Black Mountain Monster has 6, 12, and 24 hour options, and a 24 hour relay.
Because there’s no finish line, runners can stop at any point, but will only be counted for the distance covered.
It’s a different style of racing. Running faster doesn’t mean you get to stop any sooner, it just means you’re covering more ground. Just two days out, I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around what it will feel like.
Why This, and Not Some Mountain Adventure
This type of race is a departure from my norm, and I’m looking forward to the new challenge.
I know what it’s like to push myself on rugged terrain. I don’t have experience dealing with the monotony of running a simple 5k loop more than 32 times. Yup, more than 32 times.
The goal is to run more than 100 miles within the 24 hour time period. Something I’ve never done before.
If I want to improve as a runner, ultra runner, blogger, and coach, I need to do the unexpected. Remove myself from what comes naturally, and experience all that this sport can throw at me. This weekend mountains will not be the challenge, time will. And continuing to move effectively for the entire race.
I’m actually looking forward to it. I’m excited about the new struggles, what I’ll learn, and how I’ll grow.
The Advantages and Disadvantages
A loop race has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages help make this style of racing approachable for someone new to ultramarathons, and comfortable for someone going for a set distance.
The disadvantages, on the other hand, are real, and not to be ignored.
Let’s take a look at both:
- I’ll experience the entire course during the first 3.1 miles. No surprise climbs, unexpectedly rugged descents, or getting lost.
- After every loop I’ll pass by my own dropbag and crew, where I can gather what I need and get pumped up by family and friends.
- Pacing is less of an issue when the course remains consistent.
- This course has an aid station at the start of each loop and mid-way through, which means I won’t go more than 1.5 miles without aid.
- While the repetitiveness of the course is an advantage, it’s also a major mental drain.
- Passing by your crew every 3 miles will creates added temptation to stop and waste time.
- Muscles will experience additional strain from running similar terrain over such a long period of time.
- Quitting early doesn’t result in a Did Not Finish, making it that much more appealing.
Most of what’s appealing about this type of race are the same things that make it so hard. The key will be to focus on the advantages, and remove the disadvantages from my mind.
Training for a 24 Hour Event
When training for a timed event, it’s important to have a distance goal in mind. Training for distance is much easier than time.
In this case, I trained as much as I would for any other 100 mile ultramarathon. Since 100 miles is my #1 goal, distance remains my focus.
The one major difference is that I’ve spent more time on the road than I would training for many mountain ultras. Because this course is relatively flat, I focused more on speed than elevation. This plays more into the importance of training for course specifics than anything else.
I also raced my first loop race, the Thomas Jefferson 100k, to get a feel for that type of event. While the loops were more than twice as long, repeating the course multiple times still provided the mental challenges I expect this weekend.
I Need to Find Out
I talk a lot about putting yourself out there, taking risks, and setting big goals. I believe that’s the way you grow and improve.
I don’t know if I can run 100 miles in under 24 hours, I’ve never done it before.
I don’t know if I can keep my head on straight enough to repeat a 5k loop more than 32 times.
I don’t know if I can handle a night on a quiet course without slowing down too much.
I don’t know…which is why I need to find out.
I will inevitably face a deep darkness, and feel overcome with a desire to quit. Or cry. Or lay down in the fetal position on the side of the trail.
And I’ll mostly certainly experience great joy as I pass and share miles with family and friends who will be out supporting me, and find beauty in a sunrise after 20 hours of running.
I do know I can expect all those things, and that each one will show me a little clearer who I am and what I’m made of.
That’s what Saturday is all about.
For those of you that are interested (if you aren’t just skip right on over!), here’s the gear and food I’ll have set up with my crew at the start of each loop. I don’t expect to need most of this stuff, but since I can easily set up my own fully stocked aid station, being over prepared isn’t a problem.
- Shoes: HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATRs and the more sturdy Trail Mafate if things get sloppy due to rain
- Clothing: Shirt and shorts x 2, light rain jacket, Buff
- Hydration: Amphipod Hydraform Handheld and UD Race Vest just in case
- Light: Black Diamond Headlamp + extra batteries
- First Aid:
- Ginger chews and Pepto for stomach relief
- Second skin, tape, and other blister care
- Body Glide
- Lip balm
- Sun screen
- GPS: Garmin Fenix