2011 North Coast 24 Hour National Championships

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I was second place at the USATF 24 Hour National Championships with 146.28 miles. I've split this report up into a "race review" (in case you're thinking of running the race yourself and are not interested in my specific race), some highlights of my training and tapering, a narrative of my race, then a list of what worked and what didn't work.
Left to right: Finishers award, first in age group, second overall

1 Race Review

The North Coast 24 hour race is held at a state park on the edge of Lake Erie in Cleveland, Ohio. Like most 24 hour races, it is a short (0.9 mile) loop course on a good asphalt path. The course is quite flat, though over the course of the race, the slight inclines become more noticeable. The course has brick restrooms at the start/finish about 20 yards off the course, but most people use the portable toilets at the half way point that were right by the path. For part of the course you have a calming view out over the lake and the whole park is quiet and pleasant. While there are scattered trees on the park, there is not much shade, so sunburn can be an issue. The race does not allow pacers, though I got the impression that rule was not enforced for non-competitive runners. The race also prohibits someone giving aid outside of the main aid area. In practice, this 'aid area' is about a quarter of a mile where people setup tents to provide support for their runners. The race provides extensive aid, and even has someone handing runners drinks as they go by. The aid station area is well lit, and most of the course has a little light from near street lights. Many runners seemed to run without lights, using the light of the moon. The lap counting uses a timing system with the chip attached to the bib number, with your lap count and mileage displayed on a large TV. The timing system had a few issues, but is a great idea. Although this is the USATF national championship race, it is open to anyone and attracted runners of all calibers. It's important to note that if you are not a member of USATF, you are not eligible for any awards, so it's worth becoming a member if you a US citizen. Unlike other 24 hour races I've done, the number of people on the course did not drop off as much, which means the faster runners are often running around people rather than hugging the tangents.

2 Training

For this race I experimented with changing from my usual training plan of running four days/week to running every day. Over the 10 weeks before I started my taper I averaged 125 miles/week, peaking at 186 miles/week. I'm not sure how effective this training approach is compared with four days/week. My running performance improved, but I also lost 15 pounds and did Altitude Training with my AltoLab.

3 Tapering

With one exception, my three week taper went well. For details of each run of my taper check out http://www.dailymile.com/people/JonathanS.

  • Three weeks out I reduced my mileage slightly to 113 miles/week, ending that week with a sub 3 hour marathon length training run.
  • Two weeks out I reduced to running around 8 miles/day for a 62 mile week.
  • For the race week I did 5 miles/day for 4 days, and then took the last two days off before the race.
  • All running in the last two weeks was at slightly faster than marathon pace, with some mile intervals.
  • I continued the AltoLab altitude until 4 days before the race.

The one exception to the successful taper was when I cut the back of my right heel on a chair, lifting a section of skin a little over an inch round. I thought this was going to prevent me from running, but I decided after some soul searching to attempt the race anyway. I was able to position the damaged skin back to its original position, as I've found that this will improve the healing rate considerably. I bandaged the wound with a hydrocolloid dressing (Granuflex) with a little triple antibiotic ointment. I used GOMAD Grazing to try to promote the healing and used a heat blanket periodically. On the way to the race I realized I would not be able to use the heat blanket much, so I tried using chemical hand warmers instead. I found that this approach worked remarkably well, as the hand warmer kept the wound warm all the time, even when I slept. I used a thick sock to keep the hand warmer in place, and the thickness of the dressing prevented the warmer from burning. By race day, the wound was recovered enough for me to try simply taping the wound with Micropore and adhesive promoter, and then run in my usual Shoes without Extreme Modifications.

4 The Race

The 2011 race was quite competitive, with some remarkably talented runners, including Philip McCarthy (US 48 hour record holder), Serge Arbona (who I've seen win Umstead 100), and Zach Gingerich (who I saw set an amazing course record at Umstead 100). The leaders set a fast pace, but I took the advice of Ray Krolewicz to run my own race. I still found myself running faster then I should, going through the marathon distance in about 3:40. I changed my socks and checked my heel at about 5 hours. At about mile 65 I realized I was getting a slight blister on the side of my left heel foot. This was caused by leaving my Shoes less tightly tied to help protect my damaged heel. Given its size and position, I could not leave the blister intact, so I burst it. The blister was more painful when burst, and occasionally I could feel it refill, but I'd made enough holes that it drained well enough. During the day the temperature was not high, and there was a slight breeze, but the sun was quite intense, and a number of people got slightly sunburned. As things warmed up, I slowed up a little, saving myself for later. I'm told I dropped from 7th place down to 10th, though the displayed board only showed the top 5. I was glad when the sun went down and I was able to shed my Under Armor Heat Gear Top and pick the pace back up. My wife and son Ben went back to the hotel at 9pm, as I needed them to be able to look after me on the journey home. I got some valuable support from Serge's crew in the night, such as changing batteries on my light, which would have taken me ages by that point in the race. I found myself in the top five about midnight (15 hours), with the two runners ahead of me on the same lap as me, making things close. My friend Shannon McGinn advised me to keep things steady and wait for the dawn to give me a spiritual lift. The next time I looked at the leader board, which was updated hourly, I had jumped to second place, but with the third place runner within a lap of me. We stayed with a lap or so of each other for the rest of the race. The level of pain rose steadily through the race, but it became quite a bit worse near dawn. The last few hours were interminable, with a lot of pain, and a slowing pace. If I had not been in second place with no margin, I would not have pushed so hard at the end. The last hour was some of the most painful running I've experienced, though my skin condition has provided me with far more intense suffering to keep things in perspective. On the The Ivan Scale Of Perceived Suffering I was at about level 7 due to pain, but I had no depression or fear. I also started to get some cramping in the last hour, almost certainly due to having done 'more exercise than I was accustomed to!' The last hour of the race was also a little surreal in that I was in second place, chasing the third place runner. Confused? Well, it's a short loop course, with only a lap between us, so I could see the third place runner who was just ahead on the course, but a full lap behind in the race. It was close enough that I even ran part of a lap, which I really didn't want to do.

5 What worked

  • My wife and son provided me with an outstanding crew, providing what I needed when I needed it before and after the race. They were also prepared to provide the nursing care for the battered cripple I became after the race.
  • I was amazed I was able to heal my heel injury. The continuous heat and the GOMAD Grazing worked wonders. That allowed me to tape the heel and run normally.
  • The taper period worked well, leaving me faster and fitter than I would have expected.
  • I know when to burst a blister and it was the right, if painful, choice. If I'd left the blister intact, it would have spread under my heel.
  • As always, my Modified Nike Free Shoes work amazingly well.
  • I was glad to my white, long sleeved Under Armor Heat Gear Top that kept me from getting sun burned.
  • Being cooler, I didn't drink as much Go Juice, probably getting through only a few gallons. I had my crew make up some of it double strength, which worked surprisingly well. This time around I used 50/50 mix of Gatorade and Maltodextrose with no added BCAA or Glutamine. I also ate quite a few Mint Oreos; I mention the flavor because mint can calm the digestive system and doesn't become so overpoweringly sweet after you've been eating them for hours. (Newman's Own "Ginger O" are even better if you can find them.) I also got though lots of Accel Gels, though I'm not sure how many. Gels are one of the few things I can consume while running.
  • I like to listen to music when I run, and the Koss Sportapro are not only the best sounding headphones I've found for running, they are also comfortable after 24 hours of continuous use. I used my iPod 4G shuffle for most of the race, which has the best ergonomics of any MP3 player for running with, then changed to my Zune HD, which I prefer overall for its subscription based music service.
  • We drove from Charlotte to Cleveland, a 9 hour drive on the Thursday before the race, and then chilled out at the hotel on the Friday. That extra day's rest worked wonders for relaxation and catching up on sleep. Having a great book to distract you helps; my wife got me "the quantum thief", an outstanding bit of hardcore Science Fiction.
  • My Petzl MYO RXP light provided smooth, bright illumination that helped keep me on pace through the night.

6 What didn't work

  • Not injuring my heel a few days before the race would have been much better. Maybe I need to wear slippers or something to protect my feet in the week before a race.
  • It's hard to compensate for something in one part of your body without screwing something else up. In this case I left my Shoes a little loose to protect the damaged skin on my heel, only to cause a blister somewhere else.
  • I used my Garmin 310XT for the race, as I like to have some details of my lap number, pace, etc., available. With hindsight I should have used my Polar RS800 which has a battery life measured in months, rather than dyeing after 17 hours.

7 What's next?

I came close to my goal of 150 miles, and that remains one of my goals. I also have a place on the US national team to go to the world championships in Poland next year.