Sunday, May 25, 2014

Hat Creek 24 Hour Endurance Run

This was my first time ever attempting a run of this type. The course is a 5 mile loop around the Hat Creek Camp Grounds and Conference Center property which started at noon on Saturday and ran until noon on Sunday. Only completed loops counted towards your total distance. Instead of being a linear run from Point A to Point B, this was a chronological run from Point A to Point A as many times as possible.

Part of me dreaded the idea of a 5 mile loop and the monotony that would bring, but from a logistical stand point it was great because I could stage my own gear and crew and come back to them every 5 miles. In addition to that there was a full aid station at the half way point on the loop, and as it turned out the course was beautiful and the terrain varied enough that it took a long time to get bored. The course was very fast, almost too runnable for such a long endeavor, I consider myself a pretty good hiker and this course did not play to my strengths. No significant downhills and no long uphills, just miles and miles of soft, flat single and double track trails.

When the race started at noon on Saturday the temperature was about 70 degrees, and it only barely warmed up much that afternoon before it started to cool down again as we ran into the night. The weather for the duration of the event was ideal, the only negative weather effects were due to torrential rainfall that occurred two days before. The course follows streams and circles two lakes, and all of the flood water from a Thursday storm had parts of the trail under several inches of water. So the first 6 hours or so were very wet, but the course drained remarkably fast and by midnight, when the 12 hour runners started, the course was all but dry. I don't think that the 6 hour runners even got mud on their shoes!

At the beginning of the run I was very concerned with my pace. Was I running too fast? Was that loop too slow? Kevin yelled at me to slow down after my first loop, but you get used to Kevin yelling at you when he's on your crew (he yells a lot). I didn't wear a watch for the entire event, so the only time I knew how long the loop was taking was when I came into the start/finish area. I thought that if I wore a watch I would be inclined to push myself to maintain some arbitrary splits. So I ran the entire time based on how I felt like running, and I think this worked better than I could have hoped.

The start/finish or transition area was always a highly anticipated stop. Firstly, it was the end of a completed loop, and brought me 5 miles closer to my 100 mile goal. Secondly, it was a smorgasbord of wonderful food and a time when I could stand still for a minute or 5 (sorry Kevin) and eat and drink anything and everything. The race staff had a full aid station here which changed throughout the day: veggie burgers for dinner, coffee all night long, pancakes and syrup in the morning, but in addition to that I had my crew here and we had all sorts of food as well as some surprises brought by unexpected friends who showed up to cheer us on. Which brings me to the third and most anticipated part of the Transition Area, which was the crowd of cheering friends and strangers. This was emotionally recharging, and it never stopped lifting my spirits. Whether it was Alexis asking how I was doing, or Clifton and Bethany showing up unexpectedly and cheering me on, or Horton and Frank giving me a hard time for running so slow, I am thankful and indebted to everyone who was there and helped me through this ordeal, even though a lot of the details are blurry and I can never hope to remember accurately everyone who was there, I want you all to know that you helped me run those miles and I am honored to count you as friends.

The miles went by much easier than I could have hoped. The first few laps were harder than most of the middle miles. By mile twenty I was in a good rhythm where I was eating steady and running slow enough to sustain. The first couple loops were riddled with self doubt and under-eating leading to a near bonk at mile 16! But once I found my groove it was easy enough to maintain. Until the end when the aches and pains were starting to pile up on top of each other and screaming in my head for me to stop already. Mile 70 marked uncharted territory for me, but that milestone slipped by in the night without much notice. Kevin who was running with me at the time pointed it out and continued to motivate me forward. The night came and went and even with the addition of fresh runners on the course we would run for miles without ever seeing anyone.

Except good-ole Zack, he was always there. Whether he was building fire pits, hunting snakes, or just keeping us runners safe from a swarm of ravenous ground bees, Zack was always happy to see me and very encouraging. He maintained the half-way aid station almost single-handed for 24 hours, an endurance feat in itself. I ate his pretzels and drank his Gatorade and exchanged delirious banter with Zack 21 times. He was a welcome friend in the wilderness.

The entire staff of Hat Creek is in need of thanks. Jason Captain, the race director, took time out of his day to run several miles with me including my entire last loop. John and Jeff managed to be everywhere, cooking meals and running aid stations, and keeping everything running smoothly. For a small staff, all of these guys did a great job of keeping the event going.

As the race wore on into the daylight hours my motivation began to waiver. I reached a point where I knew I would hit my 100 mile goal, and a part of me just gave up. From this point on I was just coasting to the finish, and each step of each mile got harder than the one before. My drive and determination evaporated with the morning dew, and I found myself wanting to be done more than anything else. I stopped eating well, and switched to gels. When I finished 95 miles I had so much time left that I didn't care. I finished 100 miles at 21 hours and 41 minutes. The next 5 miles took me 1 hour and 30 minutes, my motivation was gone, and luckily my time was up. 105 miles in 23 hours 12 minutes.

I am very excited for this accomplishment, and very thankful for all of my wonderful friends and family and the trail running community around here that made this event possible. It would be very hard to run 100 miles in the woods alone, thankfully we have each other so we don't have to.