Across the Years, Day 2 : The Distance Strikes Back

The plan to sleep for an hour didn’t go quite as well as expected. I think I had managed to pick the noisiest part of the day. As well as music being played over the tannoy at the start/finish area, the day 2 starters were being given their race briefing. On top of that there was plenty of cheering going on for the day 1 24 hour runners reaching the end of their race. And that was just the external factors. I was tired without being so tired that I would sleep through anything. The tired in my legs, and particularly in my hip joints meant that it was hard to find a comfortable position lying down.

I had decided on an hour’s sleep, but probably got hardly any at all. Still, just resting the legs and feet was definitely beneficial. My experience from previous 24 hour races was that simply running on your feet for that length of time tires them out to the point where you simply get an overwhleming urge to get the weight off them. This rest would likely mitigate against that somewhat.

After about an hour I got back up and gingerly made my way back onto the track. When you come off the track at any point you have to finish the lap you exited in the same direction you were going, no matter what the current lap direction is (thus ensuring full laps are always completed), so I spent my first lap back running against the traffic, since there had been a direction change at the 24 hour mark.

Day 2 was inevitably going to be a slowdown in comparison to day 1. Looking at the historical splits from the race this had been the case for all of the top runners. It was even more likely given the very high mileages that we had pumped out.

Even though I have had no experience of running multi-day ultraruns, I had plenty of experience of multi-day non-stop adventure racing. It’s a very different thing, since you switch sports so often in an adventure race, but at the same time I reckoned a lot of the experience would carry over. It was certainly a huge psychological advantage knowing that just a few months earlier I had handled an 8 day adventure race (the adventure racing world championships in France) in relative ease and comfort with very few issues, especially when compared with the carnage the race had inflicted on a large proportion of the field.

One consistent pattern I have learned from adventure racing is that day 1 is hard because you speed around a bit in racing mode and have to get used to the racing intensity and switch the body and mind into focusing on the race. Day 2 is harder again since all the aches and pains that are likely to arise start manifesting themselves, along with the onset of fatigue and sleep deprivation. The upside is that by day 3 you generally are getting into “the zone”, and you get used to all the discomforts, to the point where they are really just background noise. They are just another environmental factor like the weather which is simply just part of the experience. Given all that, I was expecting that the psychological “heavy lifting” would start on day 2.

The rest did seem to me some good and I hit 130 miles after 10am very comfortably. I was back running nice fast 11 minute laps, or thereabouts. I knew that if I could run 12 minute laps I could easily notch up over 100 miles in a day, even with 2 hours of breaks (My quick ready reckoner was 12 minute laps = 20 miles per rotation = 120 miles per day). Anything close to 100 miles today would be a very satisfactory result, especially when combined with yesterday’s over-target total.

I was expecting to see that Joe would have put huge additional mileage into me during my time off the course. But that hadn’t happened. The next time we met out on the track we had good conversation about how things were going for us. It turned out he had gone to the first aid tent to get some foot repairs done, and had also been off the course for the guts of an hour. Joe’s pace had slowed somewhat from his blistering speed of day 1 and I was now much more closely matched to him. Behind me, Ed hadn’t taken any breaks and had racked up an excellent 115 mile day 1 total, and was still running steadily.

Joe back running happily after some foot repairs

Joe back running happily after some foot repairs

Running in the daytime seems much easier after going through the psychological lows of the night. The bright sunlight of the Arizona desert is particularly uplifting for me… I am a real sun and heat lover! So the morning passed along reasonably well. It was nice to occasionally meet John Geesler out on the course now that he was running. But he was early in his race and running much faster than me, so our chats didn’t last too long. Nevertheless it’s always a pleasure. With the mental and physical fatigue becoming more and more prevalent this far into the race it becomes more and more beneficial to chat with the other runners.

John Geesler cranking out early laps in his 48 run

John Geesler cranking out early laps in his 48 run

Despite the reasonably steady lap times I was churning out it was getting harder and harder to keep going, not unexpectedly! That’s the nature of ultrarunning, and this was pushing out into new territory for me. A bit after 2 in the afternoon it was getting to be a bit too much and I reckoned I would benefit more from taking another rest. My feet were really killing me from general fatigue. I sat on a chair to take the weight off them, but after 5 or 10 minutes I realised that I would be as well off taking a full break and trying to get a proper sleep in. There were plenty of people hanging around the aid area, and in the usual spirit of friendliness they were more than happy to wake me up in an hours time.

Settling down to sleep again proved to be difficult. Perhaps I was too good at handling sleep deprivation, as I just wasn’t conking out like I expected to. I did get some fitful sleep, and I most certainly got to rest my feet and let them breathe for a while. Due to the fitfulness of sleeping I decided to get up a little early, so didn’t need the outside assistance alarm call! I had lucked out in one way with the timing of my stop. Not long after I went into the tent I heard the sound of a heavy shower hammering on the side of the tent. I think I heard at least one more shower in the time I was in the tent. I don’t it rained in any significant way for the rest of the race!

I had been running in the same pair of shoes to this point. They were a pair brand new unworn zoot cushioned runners. I had been training in an identical pair for the previous 6 months, so was familiar with them, but their perfect condition meant that they had full “bounce” in their cushioning. They’d done their job but I definitely needed a change. Next up was a pair of Asics cumulus trainers that I had also been using for the last few months. I had read in the race websites in the medical hints and tips sections that changing shoe brands during the race could be a good idea, as the shoes would be constructed on a completely different last, and as a result you were much more likely to vary the pressure points etc on the feet. That sounded plausible to me. I also switched socks to a thicker pair of bridgedale walking socks.

It took quite a few laps to get any kind of regular pace going. I needed to start with some walking and build up to speed again slowly. It was also good to get in a few chats to keep my mind engaged. My feet felt a lot better in the new shoe/sock combination. The surface of the course was one of the most difficult I had encountered in any ultrarun. 90% of it was hard packed dirt track, with about 10% tarmac and a small bit of concrete in one section. Despite spending a massive proportion of my training time on trails I was finding the dirt track to be very hard on my feet. The tarmac section seemed like a little relief every lap where you could more easily trot along.

Example of the dirt-track surface

Example of the dirt-track surface

I definitely wanted the maximum amount of cushioning to protect my feet, which is why I was using cushioned trainers. But they’re not really designed for hardpack surface. I wasn’t getting any big problems like blisters (and plenty of people were), but it was still the biggest hinderance I had. It was the same for everyone though, and I still reckoned I’d handle this as well as anyone else. I realised too that I might just be imagining all these factors, when the simple explanation is that ultrarunning is hard, and it hurts! Indeed on one of my little stops, when I just sat on the chair for a few minutes to drink some juice and asked how I was feeling, I think my answer was a simple “I hate ultrarunning” ๐Ÿ™‚

Joe tracking me in the middle of day 2

Joe tracking me in the middle of day 2

With the sunset I made the usual change get my warmer base layer on. There was still a chance of more rain, so I also put on my “UTMB” combination of shorts and thermal leggings, and put on my Columbia omni-dry waterproof shell, my best super breathable running jacket. This combination worked better than the previous evening’s, and I was at a comfortable temperature for the rest of the night.

With the day two lows well in progress I knew it would not be so easy to keep myself entertained through the long hours of darkness, so I also grabbed my phone and newly acquired running earphones. I had a substantial quantity of music loaded onto it so that it would be a long time before I would listen to the same music twice. It did a good job of keeping me awake and a little better motivated than I otherwise would have been.

Did I mention Helen got me a Mcdonald's milkshake as a treat? Yum!

Did I mention I got a Mcdonald’s milkshake as a treat? Yum!

The food tent had been handing out various cooked treats occasionally through the day. The highlight had been M&M pancakes, which tasted great when freshly cooked. This evening they excelled themselves with the culinary highlight of the race. They had cooked up tons of burritos in 3 different flavours. I stopped to find out what was on offer, and was offered vegetarian burrito, Pork burrito with green salsa, and I didn’t even listen after that as I grabbed the pork burrito and set off to walk and eat. It was absolutely fantastic, and yet again was perfect race food.

Vegetarian Sushi being prepared in the food tent

Vegetarian Sushi being prepared in the food tent

I had been chatting with Ed quite a bit earlier in the day. One long conversation was about food and nutrition. Ed was saying he was a vegetarian, but for races he relaxed the rules a bit ๐Ÿ™‚ He also had a good story about a well-known American ultrarunner who was a fruitarian (more extreme than Vegan) but would turn up to races with tons of junk for race food.

On the next lap I picked up another Pork Burrito, and as I was munching through that I caught up with Ed, who was also eating a Burrito. I asked if he had picked up the bean burrito. At this stage he had lost his voice and he just smiled and shook his head. So I asked was it the pork, and he smiled even more and nodded ๐Ÿ™‚ At that stage I guessed that his loss of voice was a bad sign for Ed, and not long afterwards at about 9 in the evening he disappeared from the course. I reckoned his body must be shutting down a bit on him and he needed a good solid rest.

I wasn’t feeling particularly great myself, so I decided to have yet another go at getting some rest and sleep. It followed a similar pattern to the previous stops of the day. This time, with the darkness, it was a bit easier to actually get to sleep. The general aches and pains in my legs and hips did make it very difficult to get comfortable lying on the cot though. strangely enough these particular aches only seemed to manifest themselves when I tried to lie down. I didn’t feel them at all when running. More effective sleep meant I took a bit longer in the rest stop, as it was the most useful one so far.

The food tent on night 2... always worth a quick stop!

The food tent on night 2… always worth a quick stop!

When I got up I made yet another shoe change. Shoe changes were getting harder since my feet were now quite inflamed/swollen. I would have liked to have shoes at least a half-size bigger than normal. I decided to try my Columbia Ravenous trail shoes for a complete change. These are well cushioned trail shoes, so would be an interesting comparison to road trainers. I also switched to 1000 miles socks. This combination proved to be much more effective. I regretted not trying it earlier. I didn’t make any footwear changes after this.

I was still able to keep a reasonably steady pace for the night, but the lap times had drifted a little over the 12 minute mark. It wasn’t looking too likely that I’d manage to make a hundred miles for the second day. I wasn’t too surprised or disappointed about that. Realistically it was going to be a “big ask” to do so after such a big first day.

Night time on the course

Night time on the course

Even after the earlier good rest I still started to fatigue badly again in the real night-time low, and came into to the tent again for another hour’s rest after 2am. There was far less noise and distraction at this time of night so it was a good time to try to bank some sleep. At this point I was both reacting to my own lows, and consciously deciding to bank sleep at night to avoid having to stop in as much as possible during the daylight hours.

My running after that sleep degraded again, so that lap times were by now slipping out to 13 or 14 minutes. The onset of daylight at about 7am changed things for the better though. It provided both a psychological boost that took away any feeling of sleep deprivation, and a genuine physical boost since it was easier to see the bumps in the dirt track and run over them more efficiently (rather than occasionally catching them accidentally). Lap times started improving then.

Joe speeding up in the morning sun

Joe speeding up in the morning sun

A look at the scoreboard screen made me realise that I had passed 325 kilometers. I now remembered that Tony’s Irish 48 hour road record was something around 340km. Unfortunately I couldn’t remember the exact figure. I realised that it was definitely within the bounds of possibility that I could get very close indeed to his record If I could up the pace a bit and get back to the speeds I had been doing consistently this time yesterday. As I went through 7:30am the lap times fell under 12 minutes, and I wasn’t pushing too hard. I needed to think of the bigger picture and in no-way overstretch myself with a full day to go.

Through 8a.m. and I know had the lap times well into 11 minutes, and sometimes faster. The target of exceeding 340km was spurring me forward with new determination. Amazingly, even as I was doing these fast laps Joe had also picked up his pace and was passing me. I marvelled at his ability. I had wondered would his 24 hour race 3 weeks earlier affect his endurance. The answer seemed to be not in the slightest!

At about 8:30 I ran some calculations in my head about how many more times I could cross the timing mat before 9am (since the last crossing before 9 would give my 48 hour distance), and upped the pace a little more to ensure to squeeze in the maximum possible. It was great to be running at good speed again, and whilst I knew I wouldn’t be able to sustain it much beyond 9, it still didn’t feel like too big an effort that would have nasty consequences later on. It’s a very fine balancing act though.

With just over 1 minute to spare I passed over the timing mat for the last time in the sub-48 section of the race to give me a total distance of 342.969km. I reckoned this was good enough, but was still unsure. I slowed to a walk and fired up roaming internet on the phone to check Tony’s record on the ultrarunning Ireland website. I had to know! It turned out it was 340km exactly (set on a 500 meter loop 6 or 7 years earlier at the previous venue for this race). Yeeeeessssssssssss!!!!!! I’d done it ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s a long time since I’ve broken an official Irish record. I was absolutely delighted. I let the race organisers in the timing tent know (and had them confirm my 48 hour distance). Word spread throughout the course and runners congratulated me out on the course when I passed by.

So day 2 had elapsed. It was a very tough day indeed, full of stopping and changing, but not unexpectedly. But getting the Irish 48 hour road record meant I was already happy that I had achieved something big in the race, no matter what happened after this. But there was still a huge amount of work to be done…

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2 Responses to Across the Years, Day 2 : The Distance Strikes Back

  1. riveting stuff. looking forward to day 3. no spoilers!

  2. Colm McGarvey says:

    Amazing stuff Eoin!! congrats on 2 fantastic results!

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