It was a recent Tuesday, and I was contemplating my training runs for the weekend ahead. I had options. There are always options … so many good options when you have some time. (This applies to my daily life, but today we will focus on running). I settled on what may sound like the least reasonable-sounding option to most – I could pay $28 and spend 24 hours running around a .82 mile loop at around 7300 feet in Palmer Lake, Colo., at a race called the “24 Hours of Palmer Lake Fun Run.” I like when I convince myself something sounds fun and I believe it no matter what anyone else says or thinks. I signed up the next day, on a Wednesday, and started contemplating the possibility of attempting my first 100-mile distance three days later.
“Why?” so many asked.
I usually answer that question (in any context) with: “Why not?!”
I wish that I could fashion a micro story about each of the 85 loops I completed. Instead, here are my thoughts on various topics that mattered to me when I was running a 24-hour race on the fly.
Sleep Deprivation: I am going to be running for close to 30 hours for the Leadville 100 in four short months, so let the sleep deprivation training begin! The only problem here was that I was already sleep deprived going into the race, so it really was going to be an exercise in sleep deprivation on top of sleep deprivation.
Strategy: “You can’t just run a 24-hour race on the fly!” – said to me by a more experienced ultra-runner that I trust. It all depends on what “on the fly” means, I suppose. I had very little strategy going in, though I did receive the go-ahead from my running coach. I certainly wasn’t trained for a 100-miler, or even a 70-miler. I drove there on my own, was expecting a few visitors throughout the day, and that was that. I do have determination and flexibility and an ability to work things out when I need to, though, so those things become my strategy. Also, how much strategy do you need when you’re going to be passing your camp every .82 miles? As it turned out, quite a bit! But, I survived.
Sustenance: I knew I would be sleep deprived. Nothing some Red Bull and chocolate-covered espresso beans couldn’t assist with, right? I am pretty sure that I thought Red Bull was reserved for some nasty vodka drink at some late night club…but this just underscores my feelings of disgust at what was in my grocery cart in preparation for the race. For those that don’t know me, I am typically a very healthy eater all of the time, and very disciplined in this way. I kept thinking, “How many bananas and Chia Squeezes can I eat during the race to balance this all out?” Luckily for me, despite all the sugary and caffeinated aids in my shopping cart, my nutrition kept up with me for the entire race, a first!
Shifting Interactions: I love shifting interactions. This is also something you should know about me. As when you are on a vacation with several people and you have no idea what you will be doing with whom at any given time. I LOVE this. So, think 85 loops around Palmer Lake and each loop being like a mini-vacation with new runners, new spectators, new conversations, and new ideas to ponder. Believe me, this is NOT boring or monotonous.
Socializing: This may be my downfall generally, and specifically was at this race. I get really excited when I see my friends, and I immediately want to stop whatever I am doing and head into a full-blown conversation. First, my friend Andrea arrived and walked a few loops with me. That helped me get out of a minor negative head space. (Thank you Andrea!) Then my friend Mark arrived, and although he tried to talk me into more running, I was also too excited and all I wanted to do was chit-chat. I know I need to work on this.
(the) Suck: There really was only one time that I can recall where I thought to myself, “This might suck.” That was when I looked at the clock and said “Oh great, only 14 more hours to go!”
Saviors: Otherwise known as friends and family and crew members. And at Palmer Lake, also the lady making grilled cheese at 2 a.m. In this instance, I had many race saviors, despite my cluelessness in not really planning for a crew. I received many texts and messages from people who were checking in on me and sending encouraging words, including a text at 1:30 a.m. from a friend traveling in Japan. He rightly pointed out that most people were sleeping while I was running loops, and it was extra fun to know someone else I knew was awake in another part of the world! Everyone’s timing was right on, and I was reminded of all the people that support my running goals and shenanigans. Thanks to all who checked in!
Some special thanks are in order. First, my friend Mark had committed to coming out there after running his own 50 kilometer run that morning to help me get through some night miles. I was really looking forward to this. Although the original plan was sidetracked by an injury, which would have been a perfectly acceptable reason to bail, Mark still drove out there, brought me a burrito, walked/ran several loops with me and dealt expertly with my overexcited, incessant chatter. (I promise I’ll change my ways for Leadville, Mark!)
Second, my friend Dave spontaneously became my overnight crew and this was nothing short of amazing. Dave was planning on coming out around noon to hang out and bring some of his homemade cookies and fruit. At some point in time, Dave figured out I was on my own for the night and decided he would stay to help me through. He also decided to run his own 50k! Needless to say, I am not sure I could have accomplished what I did without Dave’s overnight help. I just couldn’t believe it, and when I kept thanking him, he said something to the effect of, “I like to volunteer and help our running community just like you like to do pro bono (legal work).” I am still overwhelmed at how awesome that was. Both Mark and Dave were already lined up to be part of my Leadville pacing/crewing team, and again, needless to say, I am stoked about this.
Sleep Deprivation (Again): A long time ago I bought a Volvo station wagon. You know, a good family car. If someone would have told me in 2006 that in 2017 I would be so psyched to sleep in the back of this car for 30 minutes in the middle of a 24 hour race, I may have said something like “You never know what’s going to happen!” or I may have just said something like, “Whatever, you weirdo!”. However, I fit perfectly in the back of this car and it was oh so warm in there. I took two 30 minute naps during the night. Each time Dave knocked on the window and shined a flashlight in my face to wake me up, I popped up, got out of the car and said “Ok, let’s go do more laps!” (maybe it wasn’t really an exclamation). Best unanticipated running purchase ever!
Solidarity– All those people running around that lake – we were all in it together. All those people that showed up that day to bring food, to heckle, to entertain (think semi-drunk guys blasting 80s music in the dark with a bottle of Fireball with a huge spotlight), to push their friends – all those people were in it together with us. Enough said.
Strength/Stubbornness: I remember my spontaneous crew member Dave telling me at some point, “You’re really stronger than you think.” It is always hard to understand that in the moment, when you’re struggling along, but it must be true. As for stubbornness – I had planned on being stubborn that day, and I don’t think I actually ever was. I think I was pretty stubborn for the first half of my life – I might be all out of stubbornness! That trait never really served me well anyway.
Sunrise: As for most, sunrises typically signal the beginning of the day to me, a time when I am waking up and anticipating the amazing day ahead. I catch many a sunrise while running. Here, the sunrise at Palmer Lake signified the opposite – the end of the race, the end of the day’s journey, and close to the time I could go home. It was just as meaningful. It was fun to see the people who had chosen to sleep through the night show up on the course again to fit in some more laps. I wonder what I looked like to the all of the well-rested people that morning!
Success: I decided to stop early at 70 miles. I could have completed another loop, but I wasn’t so interested in a 70.82 mile finish. Seventy miles seemed sufficient.
Seventy injury-free miles, a participation award, and so much fun! Thanks to all, and a special thanks to the race directors who provided the opportunity (and to my family who let me be useless for a few days after the race). I am one lucky person to get to have such an incredible experience.
Ilene Bloom is an evolving ultrarunner, mother and lawyer who lives in Denver. She is excited to do a few more overnight runs this summer in preparation for the Leadville 100 in August. If you have any questions or comments about this post, Ilene can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org