Several weeks after running the Javalina Jundred 100 in November I received an email from RD Nick Coury asking if I would be interested in participating in the Desert Solstice 24 hour run on December 17th in Phoenix. Nick billed the run as an “elite level event for record setting.” I’d never thought about records in ultra-running beyond course records for respective events. In fact, I’d never really heard of there being ultra-running records.
I was intrigued to learn that organizations exist that actually keep track of this stuff. The American Ultrarunning Association (AUA) maintains the track and road records for a variety of distances, and the International Association of Ultrarunning (IAU) maintains the world records. In perusing their websites I realized, that I could possibly break an age record or two.
I shot Nick a reply, “I’m in!” And I asked, “Anything I should know?” Nick suggested some long runs on the track to get used to the flat and the turns. That seemed like good advice so I went to the track that night. The plan was to run a moderate 20 to get a sense for pace – and practice on the flat. The next morning I could hardly walk my hamstrings were so tight. How could 20 miles have left me so wrecked? I questioned if this was a good idea. My rational brain told me it was a bad idea and to leave the running shoes in the garage until spring. It has been a good year and running another hundred was inviting burnout and perhaps injury. Yet, my emotional brain told me it would be fun to try something new (a track run) and shooting for a record would be kind of cool. My emotional brain generally prevails.
I had three weeks to get ready…
I called Scott Dickey at Salt Lake Running and told him I needed some fast shoes well suited for the track. He said, “come on down and we’ll get you taken care of.” We decided that the shoe for me was the Nike Luna-Racer. I needed to figure out a way to both get used to the track – and to taper simultaneously. I decided to only run every other day – alternating the running days between 15-20 miles at a moderate tempo (7:15 – 7:45 min miles) and between 8 – 12 miles at a faster tempo (6:30 – 7:00 min miles). For three weeks I only ran on the track until the Wednesday before the race when I treated myself to an easy six miles on the Pipeline Trail.
In reviewing the various records I felt confident that I could break the 100-mile world record (13:55) for ages 50-54 set by Denis Weir of Great Britain in 1988. And, I felt confident that along the way I could break the US age record for 50 miles (6:39), 100K (8:26), and 12 hours (85.3 miles). I just needed to have a good day.
As I’ve become a bit more experienced runner, I’ve learned that there are a few things that contribute to “better days.” The first is a pedicure. Friday afternoon I had my toes done. It was touch-n-go for a bit when the pedicurist tried to remove the superglue that keeps my right toenail from falling off. I was unable to explain in Vietnamese that the superglue was all that kept the nail on and that if she knocked it off I would expect a 10% discount. That evening I enjoyed a sushi dinner (my preferred pre-race dinner) followed by a toffee Dairy Queen Blizzard. Yes, the stars seemed aligned for a good day.
A few minutes before 8:00 am Nick Coury provided a pre-race briefing and instructions for record verification. I felt honored to toe the line with Dave James (who I was sure was shooting for Scott Jurek’s 24 hour record), Suzanna Bon, Debra Horn, Carilyn Johnson, Nick Pedatella, Michael Arnstein, Tatsunori Suzuki, and Dan Rose – some of the most accomplished ultra-distance track runners. The weather was in the mid fifties with a light breeze. Ideal conditions for a track meet!
My original plan was to go out at a 7:45 pace. While I felt the 50-mile US record was soft (6:39), I knew I needed to hold myself back for the 50 miles on the backside. Yet, I suddenly found myself running a 7:30 pace and feeling quite comfortable. I decided to stay at that pace for the first couple of hours knowing that a few extra minutes in the “time bank” may be useful later in the day. It wasn’t too long thereafter that I took my first withdrawal.
I’ve never really paid attention to how long it takes to pee. Most of the time I just wait until a hill to do some multi-tasking – walking, peeing, drinking, eating. I noticed that my split after my first stop at the Porta-Poty was 52 seconds longer. Really?? Fifty-two seconds to pee! Now I understood why these age records get slower with the extra years – it takes us old people a long time to pee! I hadn’t built 52 second pee stops into my plans. This was bad. My next discovery was that on the laps where I carried a water bottle that I was almost exactly one second slower. My mental math indicated that the water bottle would ultimately cost me between one and two minutes of time. Then the completely unanticipated happened, at about 25 miles the Nike Luna-Racers were starting to rub the top of my left pinky-toe. I never have problems with shoes. I had a decision to make, take some preventative action or just go for it. Completely out of character for me I took preventative action and stopped, wrapping a piece of duct tape over my little toe – 70 seconds. Five miles later a shoe change to the trusty Montrail Rouge Racers was required to avoid blistering – 47 seconds.
Time became fascinating, amusing and stressful for me. I run with an analog Timex watch that is always a minute or two off race time. I never really know quite where I am in a race. Sometimes I won’t allow myself to look at my watch until late into a race. No splits. No pace. No distance remaining. I like it that way. Yet on the track, every lap I would see my split on the TV screen and I became obsessed with time. It became a game to guess my split before I crossed the mat each lap. I couldn’t exploit my real talent of daydreaming away the miles because I became so obsessed with the splits. I tried closing my eyes as I went over the mat to avoid seeing the split – but the compulsion would overtake me on the next lap and I would look.
I passed through 50 miles at 6:33:58 taking a bit more than 5 minutes off the previous record. I was right on plan. The next milestone was the US 100 km record of 8:26:32. At about 60 miles good friends Gregory and Julie Castle from Kanab stopped by to say hello. Smiling faces and encouraging words had resulted in sustained splits of a couple of seconds faster – manifestations of the power of friends! I passed through the 100 km mark at 8:16:51 shaving 10 minutes off the old record. Next on the list was the 12-hour record of 85.3 miles. I was feeling good and was consistently hitting 2:00 minute splits (8 min miles). Could I maintain this pace through to a 100?
At about 78 miles I felt a tightening in my left calf. I reflected back on when I had leg cramps in the Pony Express Trail 100 because of dehydration. Could I be dehydrated and low on salt? I had been deliberately very conservative on fluid intake during the day given my obsession over the extra second required to carry a bottle for a lap and the 50 or so seconds required to pee. But, this felt different. It felt like at any moment the calf would seize and no longer work.
I guessed right. At mile 80 it cramped. I couldn’t run. When it seized I was just yards from the Porta-Poty so I hopped in to evaluate the situation and pee. During the 50 or so seconds of peeing and thinking I decided that I might be able to walk, hop, and shuffle 5 more miles for the 12-hour record. I came out of the Porta-Poty and walked the 100 yards to the aid tent trying to loosen the calf and asked Nick if there was anyone who might be able to work on the leg. I walked the next lap while Nick went to find someone. When I returned James Bonnet put me in a chair and began working on my leg. He was grinding his thumbs into my calf. I thought I was going to pass out (both from the pain and being lightheaded from sitting). He proudly reported that he was getting some good pops. He asked if it felt better. I reported that it felt worse. After what seemed like forever and the leg feeling no better I climbed out of the chair began limping around the track on a countdown to 85.3 miles, where I had decided I would then quit. Three US records in a day would be enough.
First a crawling 2:23 split. Then a 2:17. Next a 2:15. Followed by a 2:12. Then back-to-back 2:10’s. The leg hurt. It felt like I was just one step away from having it seize again. But, I was moving!
At 12 hours I reached 87.24 miles bettering the previous US 12 hour mark by almost 2 miles. I was feeling better and knew that I could still break the US 100-mile record of 14:56:19, but I was bummed that the world record of 13:55:48 was probably out of reach. On my next lap I asked Nick what the splits were for the world record. I was surprised when he said 2:13. If I wanted it bad enough - I knew the record was mine.
I was tired. I was close to bonking from getting behind on my nutrition and hydration during the last 5 miles when I thought I would be quitting at 12 hours. The leg hurt. I felt as if it would cramp again every time I tried to push the pace much faster than 2:05 per 400 meters. But I had a plan. I would run each lap 5-10 seconds faster than the required 2:13 split. And, to get me around the track in the allotted time, I would think about someone who would be proud of me for digging deep. I knew the MRC boys were watching the webcast. Not delivering for them was unacceptable. I reflected on conversations with my past work colleague and University of New Mexico track star Ed Lloyd about pushing through the wall of pain. I thanked John Straley for introducing me to the joy of speed work and track running. While my kids don’t get the running thing – I knew they would be proud to say their old man had a world record. I knew Darcie Gorman would give me endless sh*t (as a gastroenterologist is prone to do) if I didn't get the job done. And, I wanted it for Adrienne who has sacrificed so many things so that I can run. For each of the final 40 laps I thought about someone important to me and thanked them!
I crossed the 100-mile mark at 13:52:29. While it was only three minutes faster than the previous world mark, I was proud of myself for having stayed with it and pushed hard the last 20 miles when things had unraveled. It turned out to be a good day!
I came back to the track at 8:00 the next morning to watch the 24 hour runners finish, and to take a drug test as part of the record certification. This was all new to me. A “Doping Control Officer” (yes – that’s for real and I’m not making it up) from the United States Anti-Doping Agency had come in from San Diego to administer a drug test. Fortunately my split for this observed urination was less than 52 seconds! The "Doping Control Officer" didn't find my comment about a negative urination split very funny. The drug test was a comprehensive and detailed process that was interesting to undertake.
Other U.S. records broken that day include:
Women's 50 Mile Age 45-49 - Suzanna Bon - 7:39:14
Women's 100 KM Age 45-49 - Suzanna Bon - 9:34:47
Women's 12 Hour Age 45-49 - Suzanna Bon - 77.25 miles
Women's 50 KM Age 50-54 - Debra Horn - 4:51:30
Women's 100 Mile Age 50-54 - Debra Horn - 17:13:21
Other notable times:
Carilyn Johnson - 130.92 miles (24 hours)
Tatsunori Susuki - 124.83 miles (24 hours)
Nick Pedatella - 113.59 miles
Michael Arnstein - 13:46 (100 miles)
Several important shout-outs include - the Coury family and all the volunteers for hosting a great event, James Bonnet for getting me back on my legs and moving again, the fellow runners and their encouragement, and Adrienne for crewing me and patiently putting up with all the "change orders" and endlessly asking the question "what are the splits now?"
Thanks to Manoj Nagalla and Aravaipa Running for the photos