2015 Save the Daylight 24 hour race report
October 31, 2015 – This was the second year for Justin Radley’s Save the Daylight race, and my second year for participating. Last year I did the 12 hour option (that was my first ultra, and I went 40.1 miles). This year I moved up to the 24 hour. My goal this time was to do at least 50 miles, and then evaluate my condition (and how much time was still left) to maybe go for 100k (62 miles). I ended up with a total of 62.7 miles.
I’ve had several people suggest that I do a podcast episode about my experience in this race, and have someone interview me as the guest. I’m going to reserve that option for if/when I ever complete a 100 mile race. I did interview two of the other participants in this year’s race though – Lara Costa and CB Thompson.
And for this report, rather than just a chronological narration of what happened, I’ll talk about the various aspects of the race and my training. That’s easier to write, and probably easier for the reader.
I’m a planner. When I decide on my next race, I write out my entire training schedule leading right up to that race date. At this point I pretty much know how much mileage I need, how to gradually increase it week to week, what recovery time I need in between, all that stuff. So I get that all worked out, then I just follow that schedule and I know I’ll be ready on race day. Sometimes things come up and I have to juggle my days around a bit, but overall I know what I need to be doing.
Except when I’m forced to make changes I didn’t anticipate.
A couple of years ago I had a bout with plantar fasciitis. I experimented with a variety of strategies and products to get rid of it, and found what worked for me. Haven’t had a problem with PF since then, right up until September 28 – just a month before my race. It was kind of weird the way it came on. On Saturday, September 26, I did 24 miles and felt fine. No problems on Sunday either. Monday is always my 4-mile recovery day, and I could feel that familiar twinge of heel pain about 2 miles in. The rest of Monday, the plantar fasciitis was back with a vengeance.
I knew what to do and I immediately implemented my plan to make it go away, and it worked. But I still lost a week of training just a month before the race. This included not doing my big back to back weekend (30 miles Saturday, followed by 16 miles Sunday). I still have not done a back-to-back. The following week I eased back into training, and was able to do a couple more 12 milers with the last one being about a week before the race.
With my training plan being messed up, I didn’t really know what to expect as far as what I would be able to do in the race. I tend to be kind of obsessive about that. But in my head I just told myself that it is just a longer “taper” than what I had planned, and tapering is a good thing. I also knew that I already had a good “base”, having trained consistently through the summer (in the heat of the Florida summer, I have to do my longer mileage in the dark when it’s cooler. I don’t do well in the heat. More on that in a minute.).
In addition to the training issues, I have not been as disciplined as I should be in my diet, so I went into the race about 10-15 pounds heavier than I would have preferred. Stupid, because obviously I have complete control over that aspect.
The actual course for this race is one that I find just about ideal. I really like loop courses. This one is a 3.3 mile loop on a trail through the woods. There is nothing about it that could be called “technical”. It’s a wide path of dirt and crushed shell. There’s the main aid station at the Start/Finish, which you can take advantage of every loop. There’s also an unmanned aid station about halfway through the loop with Tailwind, water, and a few other necessities such as bug spray and Vaseline. On top of that, the very first part of the loop is through the parking lot, so it’s super easy to self-crew from the trunk of your car.
I parked my car so that I would come across it at the end of each loop, just before crossing the timing mat that read the chip to give me credit for that lap. I set up a small table and put my cooler on it, and I had a chair right next to it. I carried a spare car key with me, so I could easily open my trunk and get anything I needed.
Also on that table was my chart to keep track of my laps. Yes, that’s all done by the race organizers but I like to have my own record. It was basically just a rectangular piece of cardboard, and I drew grid lines to mark off 19 boxes. One box = one lap. In each box I wrote the number of cumulative miles I will have completed when I finish that particular lap. First box, 3.3 miles. Second box, 6.6 miles, and so on.
Then on each of those I stuck a little post-it note, with “Loop 1”, “Loop 2”, etc. So every time I completed a loop, I removed that sticky note to reveal my new mileage total. Very primitive but it worked. Even when we had a little rain and it got all wet, it was still usable.
My nutrition needs during an ultra are pretty basic. All of my training includes Tailwind. It seems to work great for me, and it doesn’t have that overly sugary taste like Gatorade. So I stick with what works. Also, recently I have been using another “real food” form of fuel – peanut butter and jelly burritos. Just a round tortilla, some PB & J slathered on, then folded up like a regular burrito. A toothpick holds it together until it’s needed. I had one of these about every 10 miles. I also had a Clif bar every once in a while when I felt like it. During the night there was some pizza available so I had a couple of small slices. And throughout the 22 hours I was taking Tailwind. During the day when it was warmer, I would go through about 25 ounces per 3.3 mile loop. At night, one 17 ounce bottle was more than enough for a loop.
The excessive heat was unexpected. And unwelcome. My body does not respond well to heat, which is why I don’t sign up for the Keys races, or the 8 Hours of Hell series in the summertime. Last year at Save the Daylight, it was in the 40s (F) at night, which was pretty cold. So in my head I was thinking it would be sort of similar this year. Nope. It was very warm and sunny all afternoon, and that just zapped my energy. A couple of people even told me that I was looking a little flushed and might be overheating. So during this time, I spent more time at the main aid station to cool off, and at one point I even went to my car and sat in the cold AC for about 20 minutes to lower my core temp. That helped.
And here’s what else helped. When I interviewed Chris Gkikas about his experience with the Barkley Fall Classic, he talked about when he was suffering from what he now suspects was the beginning of heat stroke. He was offered some cold peach slices and he said it seemed to work like a miracle to refresh him. I can attest to that. I had a glass jar of peach slices in my cooler, and I also had a jar of pear slices. These are things I will now have as standard fare when doing an ultra in the future. The cold fruit and the sugary syrup really worked wonders to get me back in the game.
Finally after the sun went down I was really in control again. I much prefer doing long distances at night anyway, so I felt great at that point. It’s funny because some of the other runners I chatted with are the opposite – when it gets dark they just want to go home and go to bed. Not me. I had a nice bright headlamp (and was carrying a spare just in case) and was ready to crank out the laps.
Pain in an ultramarathon is inevitable. Of course you can try to minimize it as much as you can, but it will be there. The nice thing is, it usually gets to a certain point and then the pain doesn’t get any worse. That’s what many of my podcast guests have told me, and I can personally attest to it based on this race. My feet hurt, my legs were sore, and the most prominent pain really was my hip flexors. That’s what always hurts when I do a long distance. They started hurting around 15-20 miles, and that’s the point where I just had to resign myself to the fact that it would be that way for the duration. I would say the pain level got up to about a 5 or 6, and it pretty much stayed there the rest of the race. Maybe a 7 on the last few loops. But frankly, I kind of enjoy that process – feeling the pain, knowing it’s not going away anytime soon, and continuing on in spite of it. Being willing to do something that most people are not willing to do. It’s a feeling I enjoy, and I think it’s common among ultrarunners.
Last year on this course, there was talk of a bobcat that was spotted by several runners. There was no threat to any of the runners, as it jumped off the side of the small bridge and ran into the woods. But I was kind of hoping to see something like that this year. I did see a couple of large turtles ambling down the trail, which was interesting.
Then, at around 2 or 3 am, there were probably around a half dozen runners on this wooden bridge that’s probably about 75 yards long. Suddenly I spotted a very large raccoon headed my way. He was really fat and moving as quickly as he could. All of the runners got over to one side and gave him all the space he wanted. He wasn’t interested in attacking anyone, he just wanted to make his crossing and get out of sight into the woods. It was a nice little adrenaline bump for the middle of the night.
As I mentioned earlier, I had my minimum goal to do 50 miles. But fairly early on in the race, I could see that as long as I didn’t injure myself or do something that would keep me from moving forward, I would really have more than enough time to hit the 100k “stretch” goal. In any long distance (training or race) I am constantly doing math in my head to calculate time, distance, pace, etc. and predict what will happen. At one point I figured I that in order to hit 100k (19 loops) I would need to do the last 3 loops in something like less than 7 hours, which of course should be ridiculously easy. So for most of the night, I was really focused on my goal of 100k (especially after hitting the 50 mile mark with lots of time left).
I did that last 3.3 mile loop with no music, just enjoying the silence and darkness and knowing that I was going to set a new PR for distance. And knowing that I could hang out and relax while the other runners still out on the course continued to get their mileage done.
As is the case every time, immediately after the race I was hobbling around very slowly. It hurt. I even had thoughts like “Why do I do this to myself? This is stupid. I’m not doing this again.” And even though I was seriously thinking that, I also knew in the back of my mind that a lot of people have those thoughts and they go away pretty soon. I’m now thinking of when and where I want to tackle the 100 mile distance.
I ended up with 8 blisters, with the two biggest ones being on the back of each heel. Drained them, coated with Neosporin and bandaged up for a day, then uncovered to let open air healing begin. Still sore to walk on (a few days later) but making progress.
I’m not going to try to name everyone who helped with this race because I would forget someone. They were amazing, helpful, and encouraging – which is typical of the ultrarunning community/family. It’s part of the reason I like to work at ultra aid stations myself; it’s good to give back.
If you have a chance to participate in the Save the Daylight race, I encourage you to do so. Justin Radley is an awesome Race Director and you’ll have a great time.