Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Blue Planet 24 Hour Run

The Blue Planet 24 Hour Run (formerly the Run For Africa) was held this weekend at Camp Rockmont in Black Mountain, NC. The run raises money to provide clean drinking water worldwide. The format of the run is predominately a relay race, where teams run a 6, 12, or 24 hour race, taking turns running a five-mile loop. Runners, however, can opt to run solo, and there were more solo participants this year than last year.

The race started at 10:00 a.m., and the weather stayed mostly cloudy all day. The first time around the loop, all the solo runners and relay team members are pretty close together, but everyone gets more spread out by the second time around. The route starts on some steep single track trail and then heads down on a rough gravel/dirt road. It flattens out some on a regular gravel road and then heads around a lake on a grass trail. Then it's back uphill on gravel, then downhill and back to the festival/camping area, where you start the process again. It's not a flat, easy course, but since it is a five mile loop, the tougher parts don't last too long (but of course you get to repeat them 20 times). The atmosphere of the race is fun. The relay teams are camping out, there is live music and food (which unfortunately the solo runners can't enjoy much of) and even in the dead of night, there are relay runners passing you on the course. There were three aid stations set up, two with water and GU, and the other with a bit more food. It's very easy to be self-sufficient, as you pass by your vehicle/tent every five miles.

My race started off great. I rode to the race with our friend Alan Buckner, who was going to attempt his first hundred mile run. Tony was following later (and would set up a world class aid station for us). We discussed different strategies for running hundreds on the way up. Some people advocate a slow start to conserve energy for later. Others say it is good to bank some time early in the race for the inevitable slow-down later. And then there is my strategy: run whatever feels right at the time. Alan leaned toward banking time, I decided to try a slow start if I could.

Apparently my slow start wasn't so slow. I managed to set a 50K PR in the middle of the race (5:53), a 50 mile PR (about a 9:50), and a 100K PR (not sure, but it was somewhere around 13:30). Running felt great, which I attribute to actually being able to breathe for the first time (I was prescribed an inhaler for exercise-induced asthma) and my new and improved stride (as a result of my hamstring injury). Everything felt so easy and natural, until around mile 65.

Then I was hit with nausea like I've never had before. I usually get sick after a race, and some times have a bit of nausea during a race, but it always passes. This hit hard and didn't go away for the rest of the race (and is still with me 2 days later). I was able to get some GU down, but none of the good food that Tony had brought. At the worst point, I wasn't even able to run downhill. Earlier, I had passed Alan around mile 50, and then got about an hour in front of him when he started feeling sick. Luckily for Alan, he started feeling better, and then ended up finishing over an hour in front of me. I was able to keep the forward motion going (barely) and ended up finished 100 in 23:39 (one minute slower than my PR), 2nd overall behind Alan and 1st female.

I'm still not a big fan of the loop format, but I was more mentally prepared this time. My goal was to do 100 miles, so I focused on how much distance I had left to cover, not the hours. The nice thing about the loop is you get a chance to see and talk to a lot of different people that you might never see on a point-to-point. On my 18th loop, though, I made a deal with Brian Beduhn that we would email each other next year when registration opened and remind each other how grueling the pounding downhill on gravel becomes and the monotony of all those loops. However, I'm sure ultra-amnesia will set in by then and I'll be back running around in circles.

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