24 Hours of Palmer Lake Death Race: “Start Fast, Die Early”

Race information

Goals

Goal Description Completed?
A run/walk/crawl all 24 hours Yes
B distance PR (59+ miles) Yes
C 100k (62 miles) Yes
D 100 laps (82 miles) Yes
E top 10 all time on ultrasignup Almost?
F podium Debatable
G 100 miles LOL

Pictures

Splits

Hour Distance
1 5.7 mi
2 5.9 mi
3 5.7 mi
4 5.3 mi
5 4.9 mi
6 4.8 mi
7 4 mi
8 4.1 mi
9 4.2 mi
10 3.1 mi
11 3.4 mi
12 2.5 mi
13 3 mi
14 2.1 mi
15 2.4 mi
16 2.3 mi
17 2.8 mi
18 3 mi
19 2.8 mi
20 2.4 mi
21 2.8 mi
22 2.6 mi
23 2.3 mi
24 0.7 mi

Training

My training leading up to this race was… less than ideal. I ran the NYC Marathon in the beginning of November, and then spent pretty much the rest of November and early December farting around and running 30-40 mpw. I signed up for a 6 hour timed race up and down a mountain in Utah (Running Up For Air) in February, so I spent the latter half of December and all of January training for that race. I was focusing on getting lots of vert and time on feet (averaging around 50 miles per week with ~6,000-13,000 ft of gain per week). While this was good training for my 6 hour race, it wasn’t ideal training for a pancake flat 24 hour race. The 6 hour race was on February 9th. I took the week after the race as a “down” week of 40ish miles, then started to build back up and officially train for this 24 hour race. After the 40 mile week, I did one week of 50ish miles (long runs of 16 & 10 miles) and one week of 65ish miles (long runs of 20 & 12 miles). I decided to do a recovery week and then try to hammer out three “big” weeks before my taper. I had one good week of 70+ miles (long runs of 20 & 15 miles) before disaster struck. I went out for my first long run of the week on March 23rd and managed to tweak something in my lower back. I started having very bad nerve pain radiating up my spine and down my left leg. After a painful 10 miles, I decided to stop for the day. I didn’t run again for two days, hoping that some time spent on the stationary bike would allow me to still get some aerobic stimulus while giving my body time to heal. I was wrong! After two days off from running, I managed to convince myself that I was healed and I was fine to start running again. I was totally panicked about missing my peak weeks of training and being super out of shape by the time the race rolled around, so I managed to run 50+ miles that week while still being in a decent amount of discomfort/pain. The nerve pain was mostly gone, but there was still some lingering muscle pain/discomfort (that I was steadfastly refusing to acknowledge). This “fake it till you make it” approach worked until I tried to do a long run on Saturday. I made it through 12 miles this time before I realized I needed to stop. I finally acknowledged that this pain and discomfort wasn’t going to go away if I just ignored it, and it definitely wouldn’t go away if I insisted on training through it. I made an appointment with an ortho/sports med doctor & a physical therapist (who diagnosed me with sciatica & “extremely tight hamstrings”) and started my taper. I took 4 days off of running, and by the fifth day I was able to run 2 miles without pain. I was really tempted to try some longer runs right away, but I knew it wouldn’t be worth it if I accidentally made the injury worse and totally tanked my chances of even making it to the start line. In the ~2 weeks remaining before the race, the farthest I ran was 8 miles. Essentially, I had a solid ~4-5 weeks of focused training and a 4 week taper. Again, not ideal!

Here’s a graph of my weekly training mileage, beginning January 1st

Pre-race

Palmer Lake is about ~3 hours away from where I live, so my boyfriend and I drove down the night before and stayed in a nearby hotel. I had some trouble falling asleep (like always), but eventually got around 6 hours of sleep before waking up at around 4:30 am. I ate a plain bagel, drank some coffee, and got dressed then drove over to the race. Race start was 8 am, so I picked up my bib and started to get everything ready before the race started. We got a parking spot right by the edge of the trail and set up a small table and a folding chair in front of the car. I prepped a few bottles of Tailwind and Maurten and set them out on the table along with some Honey Stinger gels and chews. My boyfriend was going to be doing his long run in the nearby mountains for the first ~4 hours of the race, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to rely on him to crew me until about 5 hours after race start. I also planned to have him sleep in the back of the car from around 10 pm to 6 am so that he would be able to drive us home on Sunday, so I was hoping to be able to make it through the hard night hours on my own. The forecast was calling for snow from around noon until 4 pm, and temperatures in the mid to high 20s and low 30s.

Race

Hours 0 – 6: 8 am to 2 pm

This race gives out $100 to the fastest man and women on the first lap. The guy who won the money (Kyle Pietari) ran 5:07 pace for that lap! I started out the race with a (in my mind) conservative 25 minute run/5 minute walk strategy. I planned to take in about 200-300 calories per hour, so I figured I could use the walk breaks to eat a little something every 30 minutes and just slowly keep the calories trickling in. I messed this up almost immediately! I got caught up in the excitement of the race and ended up eating about 200-300 calories every half hour, so basically doubling my planned intake. This ended up making me nauseous really early, and after 20 miles I decided to take a full lap walk break to drink some coke and try to settle my stomach. It didn’t work. The nausea stayed with me for almost the whole race, and my stomach never quite felt normal again. The biggest consequence of this mistake was that I ended up falling way behind on calories by the six hour mark. I came through the six hour mark with a little over 32 miles completed. At the time, I was thrilled by this. My 6 hour personal best was about 33 miles at a race last year, and besides the stomach issues I was feeling much better than I had during that race. It had started lightly snowing right before the race start, and by about 1 or 2 pm it had started to really come down hard. The ground was still fairly warm from the mild weather earlier in the week, so the snow just ended up melting and creating some big mud puddles. I decided to switch out of road shoes (the Hoka One One Clifton 3) into trail shoes (the Hoka One One Speedgoat 2) to try to get a bit more traction in the mud. One really awesome thing about this race is that they do free registration for all kids under 18. This meant there were a ton of really enthusiastic young kids out there during the early parts of the day, and it kept the race atmosphere really fun. There was even a toddler out on the course, proudly wearing a race bib. The youngest participant according to ultrasignup was 7 years old, but I’m sure there were younger participants who just didn’t turn in a timing slip. A 9 year old boy “won” the <20 age group with 41 miles, which is just incredible.

Hours 7 – 12: 2 pm to 8 pm

This is around when I started to completely abandon my run 25 minutes/walk 5 minutes pacing strategy. My legs were starting to get really tight (hmmm… wonder if the 4 weeks of no runs over 2 hours had anything to do with this?) and I was feeling severely fatigued already. My boyfriend kept trying to get me to eat something, but all the food we had seemed so incredibly disgusting. I drank a cup of warm broth, which tasted alright, but I basically refused to eat anything else. He managed to talk me into trying to eat some cookies and candy, but it was a huge struggle. In the back of my head, I knew the fatigue I was feeling was coming from the lack of calories, but I just couldn’t get much down. I hit 50 miles at around 10.5 hours elapsed, which was definitely a new personal worst for me by about an hour. I would have some short surges of energy and run a lap before lapsing back into the fatigue and walking for another few laps. By 6 pm (10 hours in), I was reduced to walking entirely, no more running. My hip flexors and hamstrings were so tight that it took all of my remaining energy just to keep shuffling forward. At this time, I decided to change out of the trail shoes and into my last pair of shoes, the Altra Torin 3.5s. These shoes are my go-to “recovery run” shoes, because the cushion is super soft. I figured they’d be good for the long hours of walking ahead of me. The field was starting to really thin out at this point, with a ton of people deciding they’d had enough of the snow and mud. During these six hours, the heavy snow had tapered off, but some thick freezing fog started to roll in. The mud puddles were getting bigger after hours of precipitation, and temperatures were dropping. Every time I saw someone going to hand in their bib, I felt a pang of jealousy. I was not looking forward to running all night in the freezing cold in the dark, but my one non-negotiable goal was to make it all 24 hours and not quit.

Hours 13 – 18: 8 pm to 2 am

This was without a doubt the hardest 6 hours of the race. After the sun went down, I started having a lot of issues with the cold. I kept putting more and more layers on, but I couldn’t get warm. Eventually I was wearing almost every layer I had packed. A long sleeve wool shirt, a short sleeve shirt, a windbreaker, a puffy insulated jacket, a hydration vest (for the snacks I refused to eat), a thicker insulated windbreaking jacket, a pair of fleece lined tights, a pair of sweatpants, a pair of regular running gloves, and a pair of windblocking mittens. I was still so cold. Because I was so cold, I couldn’t stop hunching my shoulders and shivering as I walked my loops. The shoulder hunching made my back and shoulder muscles really sore, and I kept trying to relax my upper body, but the moment I turned my attention to anything else I would tense up again. I had tried to send my boyfriend off to get some sleep at around 8 pm, but by 9 pm I realized I needed his help if I was going to make it through the night. I had started essentially “sleep walking”. I couldn’t keep my eyes open, and I was walking for minutes at a time with my eyes completely closed. I knew this wasn’t good, and I didn’t want to end up tripping or falling into the lake. I got to the car and told my boyfriend I needed to lay down and close my eyes for 10 minutes. I grabbed a red bull, drank some, set an alarm, and closed my eyes. After those 10 minutes passed, I got up and he started walking laps with me.

He walked with me until a little bit after midnight. Those laps with him were the hardest part of the entire race for me. I essentially spent 3 hours throwing a gigantic temper tantrum/pity part for myself. I complained about how shitty I felt, how I felt like a giant failure, how I wasn’t going to reach any of my goals, how much I wanted to just quit. I cried probably 15 different times. All I wanted was for him to tell me I should quit. At one point, I was so cold that I was shaking and shivering uncontrollably and a tiny part of me wanted to use that as an excuse to quit. But he reminded me that I had told him before the race to not let me quit, no matter how much I wanted to. And even during my endless pity party, I knew I couldn’t quit. I’m pretty sure I actually complained about that at one point as well. I literally complained about how I wouldn’t let myself stop. These were some of my absolute slowest miles too, with an average pace of about 25 min/mile. During the last hour or so that he walked with me, my boyfriend told me that if we kept going at this pace, I wouldn’t make my goal of 100 laps. I cried (again) and told him I was trying as hard as I could, but I couldn’t go any faster. He kept trying to encourage me to eat, telling me that I’d feel better and have more energy if I could just get some calories in. Eating just seemed so hard to me. My hands were so cold and stiff and my glove/mitten combination was so cumbersome that it felt like too much work to eat. If I tried to grab food with the gloves on, I had trouble holding stuff in my hands. But if I took the gloves off, my hands got so cold that I would lose feeling and not be able to bend my fingers very well. So, in my stupid run brain, this meant that I should just not eat anything because it was just too much effort.

Sometime after midnight, my boyfriend had to stop walking with me. His ankle and feet were starting to ache (he had done a hard 20 miler earlier in the day). I didn’t want him to risk an injury just so he could listen to me complain more, so he went back to the car to lay down and rest. I was on my own again. At this point, something shifted. I finally snapped out of the pity party. I was pissed off now, and determined to get to 100 laps. I decided I was going to stop letting my stomach rule over me, and grabbed a bag of gummy worms off my table. I forced myself to eat about 3-4 gummy worms every 15 minutes or so. It was lonely out on the course at this point, with only about maybe 15-20 runners remaining from the ~200 or so that started. The next 1.5 hours I managed to pick up the pace to about 20 min/mile, fueled by sheer anger directed at myself. I also picked up the red bull I had started drinking earlier, and tried to drink more. It had actually started to freeze, so it was like drinking a slushie. There had been coffee available earlier in the night at the start/finish area, but at this point any warm beverages were long gone. The mud puddles on the course had also frozen, which made for some interesting detours being devised by the remaining runners.

Hours 19 – 24: 2 am to 8 am

By about 2 am, the anger was starting to wear off. I was beginning to have the same trouble I was having earlier where I was unable to keep my eyes open. I developed a new strategy: every hour, I’d take a 5 minute break to sit in my folding chair and close my eyes. It seemed to work pretty well. The 5 minute breaks seemed to help me “reset” and get more alert for awhile, and my average pace was actually faster when incorporating these breaks. I think if I had been able to run at all, some running intervals might have had a similar effect. I knew if I could average ~20 minute laps for the next 6 hours, I could hit my goal of 100 laps. This seemed doable if I could just keep moving. My “nap laps” were about 20 minutes with the 5 minute break, and the “non-nap laps” were right about 15 minutes. I threw on a playlist and just focused on whatever lap I was on, trying not to think about how much time I still had left. At one point, while coming around a turn, I looked over towards the fence on the side of the trail and thought I saw some children sitting on it with a small statue of a rhinoceros underneath them. My first hallucination! Cool! Finally, around 6 am, the sun started to come up. Everyone always talks about how amazing the sunrise is during a 24 hour race, but honestly my first thought upon seeing the sunrise was “fuck, there’s still two hours left”. After that thought passed, I appreciated the lovely pink clouds and I was hopeful that the temperature would rise a little and I’d be able to use my hands again.

At around 5:30 am, I realized I was about to finish my 98th lap. Only two more laps to go! Unfortunately, I was deteriorating at a rapid rate. I had started experiencing some extreme pain the arch of my left foot, and the idea of shuffling two more laps around the lake seemed almost impossible. I shuffled my way slowly to my car to talk to my boyfriend, who had woken up after a restless night of “sleep”. I told him I didn’t know if I could do two more laps. I took a moment to sit down and re-center myself, then got up and started moving again. I told him that after I did those two laps, I was done. As I finished my 99th lap and passed the car again, he joined me for my last slow walk around the lake. When we rounded the first corner, a girl sitting on a boulder yelled my name. A friend I had made on instagram a few weeks earlier, and had yet to actually meet in person, had come out to the race to support me! We hugged and started chatting. She joined us for the last lap. Having two people to talk to, and especially having one person who was wide awake and feeling very chatty, made that last lap so much more bearable. I finished lap 100 with 24 minutes left on the clock. The woman working the start/finish told me I was in 3rd place, and that I could probably do another lap before time ran out. I was almost tempted, but at that point I just didn’t have anything left. I had been so focused on making it to 100 laps that doing another lap was unimaginable. Technically, I ended up tying for 3rd place with 2 other women, but they gave the 3rd place award to the woman who had reached 100 laps before me (which makes sense). My ultrasignup page has me listed as 3rd female and 9th overall (because of how the tie got inputted into their database), but in my mind I know I really got 4th female and probably somewhere around 11th overall if you take into account how fast people did those 100 laps.

Post-race

The race motto is “Start Fast, Die Early”. I think I successfully achieved that!

Looking at the ultrasignup stats/the strava posts from other participants, I feel pretty good about my performance. There were 169 “finishers”, but only about 25 people ran into the night. There were at least ~50 “DNF/DNS”s (and that number is probably even greater). If you didn’t turn in the timing slip attached to your bib, you got a DNF, and if you did race day registration and didn’t turn in the timing slip, you don’t get in the results at all even as a DNF. There were a few people who I saw did the race on Strava who didn’t turn in a timing slip so they didn’t get a bad ultrasignup score (lol). I also saw many people who went into the race planning to do the full 24 hours but dropped out early. While I’m disappointed in my performance, I’m also proud of myself for not giving up when I really REALLY wanted to. I guess I’m a little bummed I left those last 24 minutes on the table, and I probably physically could have done another lap with the time I had left, but I know that I had really reached my limit by the end of lap 100. It’s easy to look back and say “oh, I totally could have done more” but I remember how physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted I was at 23 hours and 26 minutes. I definitely feel like I have some unfinished business with the 24 hour race though. I think that if I found a race with better weather, and if I managed to get a solid 12-18 weeks of focused training under my belt, I could put up a much better performance. I think I did as well as I could have, considering the circumstances. This was my first ultra since my DNF at Eagle Up last June, so if I was smarter I might have done a 50k or something shorter to ease back into it.

I’m not planning to race again until September, and I’m surprisingly excited about it! I really want to take the time to recover from this race and get a lot of solid training on my legs before my next big ultra. In September I’m running a 50 miler (my first “official” 50 miler!) and I hope to run a solid PR (sub-9:33). It’s also going to function as a tune-up race for my big goal race of 2019, the Javelina Jundred 100 miler. I feel like I learned a lot from this race that I can take with me as I prepare for these upcoming ultras. I know I need to get better at nutrition, both in remembering what/when to eat and also just figuring out what actually will appeal to me after ~6 hours of running. I’m really good at eating in real life, but I’m awful at eating during races. I also want to work on the mental side of things. My stupid ~3 hour long pity party could and should have been avoided. I’m hopeful that now I’ve proven to myself that I can suffer through pain for almost 24 hours, and next time I’m hurting I can draw upon this experience to help me power through the suck. I’m also glad I got my first “run through the night” experience over with. Now I have some sort of idea what it’s like (with the bonus shitty weather to add to it), and I know a bit more of what to expect in future races and what I could possibly do to make it easier.

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