While it was cool to run a fast 100-miler, I was very clear that my primary goal at Desert Solstice was to learn how to run a 100-miler. Many people might question how a track race would prepare one for a mountain trail 100-miler, but to me it was like the necessity of taking Algebra 1 before Advanced Calculus. You need to have the basics down cold in order to have a foundation on which to build. By stripping out elements like heat, altitude, hills, and long stretches without aid, I was able to focus on nutrition, hydration, electrolytes, and pacing – the true basics of ultrarunning. (Smith, 2013)
I wish I could say I was as thoughtful as Pam Smith when I signed up for Pacific Coast Trail Runs’ Summer Solstice 24 Hour and that doing it was part of some bigger plan but the truth is I signed up about two weeks beforehand when I saw what the buckle looked like if you went over 100 miles. When I mentioned to my friend Alina my attraction to this shiny object her first response was, “What are you, a cat?” Depending on your perspective that’s either a huge compliment or a wholly accurate assessment of my ability to make a rational decision.
It was only the day before the race that I stumbled over Pam’s quote but I could co-opt that strategy as my own just as easily as I could co-opt Jessica as my crew just minutes before the event even started.
The course is slightly over a mile—1.061 to be exact—flat, half dirt, half paved, and circles the lagoon at Chrissy Field in San Francisco. Running the same short loop over and over again sounds horrifyingly boring and a touch mad. The redundant nature of the course was a serious concern and yet I found myself not feeling a moment of boredom at all.
How could I be bored spending time with friends?
The course is so easily accessible that it lends itself to receiving support from the most unlikely of sources, like my cousin Eleanor. She doesn’t run but she spent a few hours following me on a bicycle in the late afternoon while we shared some laughs. Between Alina, Eleanor, Steven, and Jen who were scheduled to come in and pace me for awhile; other friends who had dropped by to say hello to whoever they might know; and the race participants and their crew who I knew or would eventually know there was always the possibility of engaging with another person should I choose to do so.
The interaction could be as brief as the encouragements I often got from the rocket ship known as Lisa Hughey—eventual overall winner with 131 miles—as she lapped me many, many times over or as involved as a philosophical discussion on friendship or as banal as the merits of turkey sandwiches.
How could I be bored when it was beautiful?
The views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Marin Headlands, Alcatraz, the Palace of Fine Arts, and the San Francisco cityscape never got old. Really. I don’t know why. Maybe it was the changing light as day moved into night into day. Or the constantly moving backdrop of fog and clouds. Or the changes in the surrounding shapes, colors, and sounds of people sharing space in an urban environment. It’s just as surprising thinking about it now as it was when I was experiencing it.
Night brought its own special beauty with lights lining the span of the Golden Gate Bridge and the glow of the Palace of Fine Arts dome against the sky. There was the sliver of a moonrise at 2am shared with my good friend, Jen, and the bobbing of headlamps visible across the lagoon. It was a clear signal that you weren’t really alone. I loved how quiet and peaceful it was in an area that normally is anything but.
How could I be bored when I had my own time elapsed movie running in my head?
There was a group picnic area that I had to run by every time I got near the timing mat. For a while it was an empty space devoid of life. Then grocery bags and picnic items slowly appeared scattered here and there. Loose groupings of people milled about until at some undetermined time they all sat down for a meal. The food and drink was consumed and the group got smaller and smaller re-organizing themselves until they occupied a single picnic table. It stayed like this for a while. They seemed perfectly happy to linger. Eventually only two couples remained and I happened to come upon them as they stood up to leave.
“You know, I’ve watched your group all day. Setting up, eating, and hanging out afterwards. Now you’re leaving and I’m still going to be here when the sun comes up tomorrow morning.”
We laughed about this. They wished me luck. I bid them a good evening. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized just how much I’d been observing them; a slice of their lives in 14 minute increments. I might have even had a story to go along with it that I’ve since forgotten. In a weird sort of way I missed them when they were gone.
How could I be bored discovering something new?
When I was little I touched a hot iron. It wasn’t the tentative approach of the tip of my finger but a determined press of the entire flat of my hand. Despite the warnings I’d wanted to see what would happen and I found out rather quickly. In this case I wanted to see what would happen when I passed the 100k point. It was a milestone I had reached but not crossed and I thought the 24 hour would provide a benign environment in which to do so. But there is no quick discovery or shortcut to getting there but to put in the work and just do it.
So what did I find out after nearly 24 hours on the move? That a 12-minute mile felt mind numbingly slow at the beginning and a 20-minute mile took everything I had at the end. That bridging the gap between the 50k and 50 mile point continues to be a difficult mind game for me. That I could move and feel pretty good up to the 100k point but everything, and I mean everything, gets progressively harder after that, astonishingly so.
That thinking 100 miles in 24 hours would be easy for me was the height of hubris but reaching 100 miles—given more time—was entirely possible without turning into a complete train wreck. That I could feel so tired yet remain in good spirits. That being mindful and consistent about taking in nutrition played a big part in staying positive. And that any physical discomfort I was feeling was way better than putting my hand on a hot iron.
How could I be bored moving the line in the sand just a little bit further out?
During the last lap I finally wanted to listen to music. My iPod was available if I needed some motivation at any point but I didn’t feel the need to reach for it until now. Using it at the end was more celebratory than anything else. I even sang out loud. I kept looking behind me hoping to see Lisa because I wanted to wish her well face to face for a change. When I saw her I began walking backwards. I gave her a high five, we exchanged pleasantries. “Great running with you,” she said. I had to laugh at that because “with” when it came to Lisa would have to be defined in the loosest possible way.
In the end I logged a new distance PR of 80 miles in around 23 hours. I wanted to finish with a nice round number and 80 miles, while just as arbitrary a distance as anything else, seemed like a good stopping point. As an aside, I also set a new nap PR of two. Most naps during a race is not really a PR I’d like to keep cultivating.
Who knew a person could run around in circles for nearly an entire day and manage to have a really good time while doing it?
No, I wasn’t bored a moment at all.
Smith, P. (2013, August 1). How the West(ern) Was Won. Retrieved from http://www.irunfar.com/2013/08/how-the-western-was-won.html