As strange as this may sound, the idea of running for 24 hours straight sounds like a good time to me. You have nothing to worry about except putting one foot in front of the other — and you can test the limits of your body. So, I, along with a few hundred other like-minded individuals, signed up for the North Coast 24-Hour Endurance Run in Cleveland, Ohio. The race began at 9 a.m. on Saturday, September 20, circling around a scenic 0.9 mile loop along the shores of Lake Erie, and would finish at 9 a.m. the next day.
In the months leading up to the race, my mileage resembled that of a serious half-marathoner rather than someone prepping for an ultramarathon. Considering my fitness level, I vowed to “take it easy” and just have fun. Admittedly, I had one serious goal: to improve on my collegiate coach Jim Butler’s 24-hour personal best of 103 miles. There is nothing personal with Coach Butler as he is a great friend and mentor, but I assumed the arbitrary goal would help break the monotony.
I figured a 12-minute-per-mile pace would achieve that without too much trauma, and after the race, I would slide into Waffle House for a double serving of pecan waffles. I soon learned that a tedious nine-minute pace at mile 10, if maintained, becomes a world-class speed by mile 60, and a velocity for disaster beyond that distance for someone like myself. Adding to the challenge, the weather during the day was hot and very humid, while the night was chilly and stormy, with a couple downpours — not to mention, there was a guaranteed headwind for a section of the circular lap during the entire race. Of course, there was a tailwind for part of the lap as well, but for some reason, I didn’t notice the gentle push from behind as much as the oncoming resistance.
The race itself was a fascinating example of what human beings willingly endure. I wondered why a bunch of us were motivated to run the same short loop for an entire day? But then I would sync up with a stranger or a friend, engage in stimulating conversation or crude ultrarunning banter, and somehow, it all made sense.
By the end of the 24th hour, to my surprise and my body’s chagrin, I had clocked 118 miles. As this was my first 24-hour race, I was guaranteed a personal best, but I had no idea I would cover that much ground. Fortunately, I had run ultras and 100 milers before and made some important adjustments for this race. For example, for the first time I raced in Hokas. I would not have normally chosen this shoe, but I recently joined up with their testing team and wore a developmental version of next year’s Stinson. Normally, I change shoes during a race of this distance, but I actually didn’t feel the need to do so since the cushioning of the Hoka model was so effective at absorbing the impact of the pavement.
I also made a nutritional adjustment, for the first time consuming Hammer Endurance Amino and Anti-Fatigue capsules every hour which seemed to work exceptionally well as I never felt a cramp or hit the wall. I also consumed 42 Hammer Gels, many Endurolytes, 13 bananas, three liters of coconut water and three servings of pho broth from a nearby Vietnamese restaurant. (As for those waffles, I was more nauseous than hungry by the time the race finished.)
And finally, for the first time in a 100-mile-plus race, I had a crew. Claudine Ko was kind enough or crazy enough or worried enough to stay up for most of the race, make some pho runs and even snap photos. There is no “I” in 24 hours.