Friday, January 13, 2017

RUN4RKIDS 8-hour Indoor Ultra - Saturday, January 7th, 2017

This was not what I expected.

When I heard "indoor track", I went in with a couple of assumptions: a nice, soft, rubbery surface in a warm building. I actually nearly brought a pair of trail shoes, thinking I could probably get away with them on the track and solve the problem of not having worn road shoes for more than an hour-long run in recent months.

Haz disappoint.

Imagine my surprise when I turn up and discover that while there is a nice, soft, rubbery track, we would not be running on it. Our course would be the outside lane, which was cement. A thin coat of terra cotta coloured paint would be our only cushioning from the absolute worst surface for running. I'm seriously glad I still had a pair of my beloved original Brooks Launch without too much mileage on them, which I fortuitously brought with me to start.

Of course, we did get to do a bit of running on the soft, rubbery inner lanes. We'd change direction at the top of each hour, pulling a U-turn just past the timing mats onto the inner track to run 'round the curve before moving back out to the horrible cement outer track. While it was a minor relief from the pounding, it came at a price.

The curves of the inner track were cambered, which meant after trucking along on completely flat ground your ankles, knees and hips now had to deal with running side slope. It hurt enough the first couple of times I did so that I noped the hell out from about hour 4 onward - I'd just walk the curve and then (maybe) start running again once it flattened out and we transitioned back to the outer, 232.49m track.

Air conditions weren't much better: while I'd assumed that York University would keep their indoor track & field centre cooler than regular room temperature, I had prepared to be warm while running: I wore very light summer kit, and even brought a couple of cooling fabric multifunction tubes to wet and wrap around my wrist or neck, plus a cooling material t-shirt that I've written about before to try to keep my totally-not-heat-acclimatized self from overheating. Fat chance of that - the temperature never got above about 11c/52f the whole day, with huge ventilator fans blowing a chill blast over the track that seemed to be worse when turning counter-clockwise. People were running in long sleeves and sweaters! There was almost zero humidity, too - absolutely awful for me with my lingering sinus issues.

Regardless, I had punched my ticket, so I might as well take my ride. I'd tapered (mostly) for this, woken up at 5am to scarf down a bowl of rice porridge with almond butter and maple syrup, and made poor Tanker the Wonder Sherpa drive into Toronto at an ungawdly hour on a ridiculously cold (-13c/8f) morning. At least I bought him coffee and breakfast! I'd also sported about half a household's worth of crap along with me, so might as well put it to good use.

When the race director says they won't have anything but water on offer due to financial contraints, I bring ALL THE THINGS.

I set up my gear while Tanker the Wonder Sherpa swung into action as a volunteer, then I used the washroom facilities, flailed my appendages around a bit in an attempt to warm up, reluctantly gave up my sweater, and ended up Grover dancing for some reason just before the start.

I swear there was some reasonable explanation behind this..

There were some pre-race announcements, and then everyone gathered around their starting line - the folks doing the marathon in one spot, and all the other races (half marathon, 50k, 6-hour, 8-hour and 12-hour) by the timing mats.

So many chilly skinny people.

Very little fanfare - I'm not even sure I heard anyone say go, but everyone ahead of me started to move - and we were off.

Obviously, there's not that much to report about the course, since you could pretty much see all of it from the start line.

Timing mats down on the left

It took me ages to figure out the V-shape in the middle was for hammer throw.

I ran around in circles and ate a lot. My sinuses really hated the dry air, and every part of my lower body hated the cement track. My original idea going in was to start with a run 5 laps/walk 1 lap strategy, but it's incredibly mentally difficult to make yourself walk early in the race when you're feeling fresh and everyone around you is running.

So, of course, I didn't. I'd pause at my little table every few laps to take a sip of water from my bottle (my mouth was really dry from the sinus cold and the lack of humidity), then started on nutrition around 45mins in with a swig of EFS Liquid Shot. Over the course of the race I'd go through an entire flask of EFS, nine S!caps electrolyte tabs, a single-serve peanut butter flavour Gu gel, a single-serve of Endurance Tap maple gel, 4-5 bite-size pieces of banana from the aid station table, a few Tostitos Rolls tortilla chips here and there, half of a big chocolate chip cookie, and half of an even bigger turkey wrap with mustard. I also unabashedly slurped sea salt chocolate Gu Roctane directly from the bulk package, 'cause I'm classy like that.

It's amazing I managed to run at all.

Tanker being his awesome self at the much-better-stocked-than-anticipated aid station table.

Despite all this face-stuffing, I actually had no GI issues all day. I did need to pee around 90mins in, with additional washroom breaks around 5hrs and 7.25hrs, but thanks to walking a lap or two each time I'd eat "real" food and washing it all down with lots of water my digestion actually felt pretty good. It's nice that something did.

Don't let the smile fool you - I'm in horrible pain.

The cement track was beating me up pretty badly. My left knee and VMO started to get grumpy, then got worse when we changed from clockwise to counter-clockwise. Something in the left side of my groin started to complain around 2hrs in, but then fortunately went away again. By 3 hours in I had developed a hot spot under the 2nd toe on my left foot, but chose to ignore it while internally yelling at myself that I need to get better at stopping to fix my feet instead of just carrying on regardless. If I ever want to run hundred milers I need to get out of the mentality that "it'll either get better or fall off". This is not sound strategy! I did, however, continue to turn a deaf ear to its cries for help.


My reward was a blister on the bottom of the toe so freakin' big it actually ballooned up between my 2nd and 3rd toes as well. Maybe if I'd done the 12-hour it would have wrapped all the way 'round? We'll never know. What's awesome is that it turned out to be one of those blisters that looks really horrible at the time but you never hear from again once the event is over. Seriously - not a peep out of the monstrosity that grew inside my sock since. It just deflated and will probably slough off the dead skin in a couple of weeks. This does nothing to dissuade me from my approach of willful ignorance.

So here's a picture of Grant and I instead.

At some point the folks doing the timing got their laptop to jive with the twin projectors and screens they had set up by the timing mats, so as you came through the start/finish you could see your lap split, number of laps completed and distance completed so far. This was pretty cool, and actually helpful in a way - as the hours pressed onward and the pounding started to accumulate, I did walk a bunch of laps and it got progressively more difficult to get myself to run again. I could, however, keep myself running until I reached some arbitrary number: either a round number of laps or a particular distance.

My full splits. There's a lot more walking in the second half.

Occasionally I'd pick up the pace a little just to change the muscle recruitment a bit - the unvarying flat track didn't give me a whole lot of variety, even with the change in direction. I started naming laps (snickering like a teenager on lap 69, 151 was the rummy lap, 180 was "good darts score", 242 was Headhunter, etc..), and my brain started doing stupid things like hallucinating that a brown plastic bag one runner had left near the track was a whole roast turkey.

I also took my phone out for a few laps here and there, which is only marginally less insane.

Some other weird stuff went on at various times throughout the 8 hours as well. It felt very odd running completely unencumbered - I hadn't worn my usual racing top as I didn't need pockets, and I didn't carry anything with me (not even my watch) until the second half when I started to bring a water bottle with me more while running. Despite this, my shoulders got very tight and sore before I'd even gone 4 hours; I spent the latter half of the race periodically stretching and swinging them around to try to loosen them up.

Possibly from t-rexing even worse than usual..

I made 42 laps for my first hour and 81 by the end of the second, not knowing how much I'd be able to do but having set a goal of at least 200 laps (46.5km/28.9mi) for myself when I started that morning. With my random pauses and walking breaks I was through marathon distance (42.2km/26.2mi) in 4h52m - not exactly a PR, but not too shabby for a sick girl in not much of a hurry.


The next goal was 216 laps, as that would give me 50k. It was pretty sweet to pass that point before the 6-hour mark, as it was only my second time ever running a sub-6-hour 50k (the other being what I consider the best race performance of my life). 

Another odd thing - when I'd drop to a walk in the last few hours, I'd feel a little lightheaded. I'm not sure if it was due to a blood pressure issue or lack of calories, but I tried eating more through the latter portion of the race and it seemed to help. I'm still not totally familiar with all that happens to a human when running longer than 6 hours, and I've heard from Tank that I wasn't the only one who experienced the lightheadedness, so maybe it was something about the venue. Who knows?

I bet Joe or Grant could tell me - those guys are ultrarunning legends!

Having passed the 50k mark, the next goal was 250 laps, which I made with just under an hour left. By this time I was really hurting - my left ankle hadn't been turned or tweaked, but was still complaining loudly about all the pounding on the harsh cement, and while my quads were basically ok (advantage of no hills) my glutes and hamstrings were feeling pretty wrecked. At some point near the end even the left side of my mid-back tightened up, though that went away when I started to pay a little more attention to my posture. Perhaps I'd been slouching into the curves as I ran around the track counter-clockwise during the last hour?

I had made 258 laps - my stretch goal of 60km/37.3mi - and still had time left. If I could pull off a 38min 5k after nearly 7.5hrs of fairly consistent movement, I could finish the day with more than 40mi in the bank. Tanker said he believed I could do it, so I went for it.

What did I have to lose?

Surprisingly enough, my lap times (when I was actually running) didn't really degrade that much as the hours pressed on. I was clocking a pretty consistent 01:30 per revolution, even managing to pass the fast group of guys (who were mostly admittedly running the 12-hour) at one point around 7-odd hours in. It seems I have a pretty solid (if slow - 6:27/km or 10:23/mi) pace even when tired - I just walk a lot more when the fatigue gets heavy. By the last couple of hours I'd definitely slipped into the "run 4 or 5 laps and walk 1 or 2" I had envisioned from the start.

Yes, running was still happening even at the end.

I came through the 280th lap for 65k with just under 2mins left to go, having run the last 6 laps / 11mins in a row - the longest stretch I'd done without walking in quite some time. I decided I couldn't leave it at that, so went for one more.

See? Definitely still running.
At 01:26, it actually turned out to be my fastest lap of the second half, no less.

Official Distance: 281 laps / 65.33km
2/3 O/A - only female in 8-hour

I'm pretty pleased with my endurance through this very strange event, and despite the monotony I was able to stay pretty cheerful throughout just by passing a friendly word here and there with my fellow runners. While I'm not sure that I'd do this particular race again (I'd rather be frolicking through the woods!), it was a good experience to learn from as it was only my second time running more than 50km. It also pushed me to get some longer training runs in during the winter and step outside my comfort zone a bit: things that should serve me well as I continue my Sulphur Springs 100k campaign. 

Sense of accomplishment!

I never used the extra pair of shoes I brought along with me, though they were a pair that have a very soft midsole that might have helped cushion the pounding a bit. I might have also fared better if I'd known that I'd be running on cement, and thus put in some long training runs on roads & sidewalks as opposed to doing all of my long runs on trails. Conversely, I might have ended up too beaten up (or injured) from running long on hard surfaces and been unable to get the volume in that allowed me to run as strong as I did for the duration of the race. Hard to tell which is the better approach, especially since there's no way I wouldn't have felt the effects of running 65km on cement (blecch!), but I do know I enjoyed my adventures on the trails more than I would have slogging along on the road!

Recovery has been going ok, despite the shower I took at the York Track & Field Centre after the race nearly having seared the flesh off me (the sign said "showers may be too hot for some" not "showers may be used to cauterize open wounds"!), plus some chafing around my bra band and chub rub areas that I swear was a result of barely having broken a sweat in the chilly, dry air. Now to heal up from some emergency dental surgery this week and get down to business again - just 8 days left until Frosty Trail!

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