[Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Rose Bak who originally posted this on DailyMile. What an intense experience!]
You may be wondering what it would feel like to run and walk 62.2 miles over 23 hours. I don’t know how it feels for others, but the best way I can describe how it felt for me is this: imagine having all the blood drained out of your body, battery acid thrown on your feet and then someone running over you with a truck, backing up, and running over you again. Then imagine feeling ecstatically happy and proud, like it was one of the best things you’ve ever experienced. That’s how I felt after completing the Pacific Rim 24-Hour Race.
I don’t know what would have been the best way to train for PacRim but I probably didn’t do it. I was coming off of an injury so I was limited to about 6 weeks of very short runs, none of which were over 12 miles, along with cross training. My buddy Esther & I did some of these runs late at night on the treadmill, fueled by Crown Royale and donuts, to simulate the feeling of being exhausted and working out in the dark. I’m still not sure if these late night workouts helped at all, but they were really fun, and nothing earns you a weird look in a locker room like eating a donut in the middle of the night.
Laura, Seth & I drove up to Longview for the race early on Saturday morning. We set up a little runner’s compound near the start/finish, including a tent, chairs and coolers, and soon were joined by Esther, Debbie, Jodi and Teri. Our little tent was bursting at the seams with clothes, food and supplies. Other runners set up camp along the path near us. Everyone was talking and laughing and looking forward to a fun day. I knew a bunch of the runners and it was great to see so many familiar faces. I also met some of my Facebook and Daily Mile friends “in real life” for the first time.
The race started at 9 a.m. About 70 of us set off at various speeds to start the one mile loop around Lake Sacajawea. I’d made a deal with the universe that I would not whine about our crappy weather for an entire month if we could have a dry day for PacRim. I was sorely tested as it poured pretty much every day for a month before the race, but in the end the universe held up its end of the bargain and brought us a nice, mild, sunny day for the race. The park where we were running was filled with families, dogs and recreational runners enjoying the beautiful day.
Laura had promised to run with me for the first 20 miles and as usual, I enjoyed her company. Time passed quickly as we went around the loop, enjoying the sunshine and camaraderie with the other runners. I was sad to see Laura go but I was still having a lot of fun. I especially enjoyed the spectator who was writing little messages to us on a white board, a new one each trip around. So cool.
I love these timed races more than any other type of event. Unlike most races where the fast people are home, showered, and having a beer on the couch before I’m halfway through the race, in a timed race everyone is out there for the same amount of time, and you see people over and over again. Runners who’d blast by you in a regular race might be taking a walk break at the same time as you so you can chat, and you really get to know your fellow runners. Since you pass through the start/finish and aid station every mile, you don’t have to carry a lot of stuff and you have many opportunities to make needed adjustments, whether it’s changing your shoes, adjusting your nutrition plan or as we’d really need this race, getting first aid.
It was a weird thing at PacRim, people who normally don’t blister, like me, blistered terribly. And early in the race too. Within the first 15 miles I had significant blistering on the balls of both feet. By the 12th hour pretty much every toe was also blistered. Eventually my feet were so blistered they were bleeding right through moleskin and wool socks. Nearly everyone I talked to complained about blisters. This was a seriously blister-inducing course for some reason, and we all suffered because of it. I knew my blisters were bad when at one point Ray, a friend who is also a foot doctor, looked at my foot and said, “let’s just put moleskin over your entire foot”, and he did.
Late in the afternoon Amber & Josh came to visit, burgers in hand, and Amber walked with me for several miles while Josh ran with Seth. Soon we were joined by Teresa who eventually ditched Seth and walked me into nightfall after Amber left.
I was amazed how quickly time was passing. You’d think it would get boring going around the same one mile loop over and over and over again, but it really doesn’t. There are so many people to talk to and things to see that it doesn’t seem boring at all. Especially when one of the other runners inexplicably moons everyone.
Other than my poor blistered feet I felt really good and tried to maintain a steady, if slow pace. That was my strategy from the beginning, start slow, walk a lot and stay slow and steady so I could make it all the way through and not burn out. It was hard sometimes to keep that strategy when I could see all the superstar runners like Lisa, Steve, Heidi, Ben and Seth racing by at warp speed (or warp speed to me anyway) but I knew if I pushed my pace I’d be cooked, especially coming off my injury hiatus. I had to focus on running my own race and reaching my own goals at my own pace.
As a nutrition strategy I mostly used my maltodextrin-based homemade sports drink for calories, supplemented with S-Caps for electrolytes, some pretzels, oranges and one of Sarah’s awesome peanut butter brownies. I also took a protein recover drink called Endurox every 4 hours, which seemed to really help keep my energy up. Funny thing about the S-Caps. At one point during the race I was taking a break and Esther asked if she could use some S-Caps to get her electrolytes up. I told her where they were in the tent and then I see her come out with a prescription bottle of vicodin in her hand. Thankfully I caught it before she put herself to sleep with some pain meds. That would’ve really put a dent in her 50 miles.
As darkness fell many of the runners left, having either completed their distance goals or tanked, and the scary animals came out. Depending who you asked, they were either muskrats or nutria. I didn’t really care, they all looked like huge rats to me, and all I could do was pray they didn’t try to kill me because as that point I was way too tired to do anything but walk slowly away from them.
Our reinforcements came out after dark and fresh blood kept our spirits up for a while longer. First Mollie & Danielle came, and Danielle and I did several miles together, commiserating about online dating and its pictures of men with dead fish or guys who say they’re “active” but haven’t actually left the couch in years. I struggled a little after they left, fatigue and pain setting in as I passed the 12-hour mark. I remembered one of the Running Chicks saying that when she was struggling during a long run she’d count backwards from 500 by sevens. I decided to try that but my poor muddled brain got confused after 493. So much for math. I decided to start counting backwards by twos instead and made a little song out of it: “494, I can do this, 492, I can do this, 490, I can do this”. I know, it’s not going to be a pop classic, but it distracted me for a while.
Around midnight my other friend Amber, or Amber 2 as I like to call her, came to do 5 miles with me. By this time Jodi and Esther had finished their first 50 mile distances and Teri had done both some volunteer work and a quick 35 miles (and qualified for Maniacs), and they had all headed home to their nice warm beds. Amber couldn’t have come at a better time to boost my spirits. The 5 miles flew by for me, although I know they must’ve been excruciatingly slow and cold for poor Amber as I hobbled along enumerating my aches and pains.
After Amber left it seemed like a good idea to take a short nap. I snuggled in the tent next to Deb, who’d been sleeping for what seemed like hours, but I couldn’t get warm or comfortable, and I had a sneaking suspicion that if I actually fell asleep I’d never start again. I was past my 50 mile mark (take that PCT!) and while I could tell my dream goal of getting over 70 miles was out of reach, I knew I could still hit my “die happy” goal of 100k. I sat in a chair for a while til Seth joined me, then set out to do a few laps with him. Having Seth there for the whole race for moral support was so helpful. For the rest of the race I pretty much took a 5 minute break every mile and it helped keep me going.
It’s a well-known fact that these long races can cause hallucinations, especially at night, and I’d wondered if I would experience one during this race. Coming into the start/finish lap about 56 miles in I thought I saw a little blue ghost. It called my name. But it wasn’t a hallucination, it was Debbie, up from her long winter’s nap, wrapped in a blue snuggy and ready to walk some more laps so she could get her own 100k. I was extremely glad for her company, especially after Seth decided he was too cooked to go on. I’d joked with him before the race that if I found him sleeping in the tent while I was still moving I’d come in and kick him in the head, but the fact was I knew he needed the break. Also it was impossible for me to lift my leg to kick him anyway.
After mile 61 I went to the bathroom for what had to be the 50th time of the day. I’d been very good about following the hydration and nutrition plan for this race, better than I’d ever been, but at the risk of oversharing, it was causing me to pee. A lot. So I stopped at the bathroom after mile 61 and seeing that the handicapped bathroom was busy I went to the regular one. Big mistake. I finished my business and discovered I literally could not get up. Without the grab bars, I sat there willing my cooked quads to lift me up. They refused. I burst into tears, imagining myself trapped in the bathroom for hours until Seth woke up and discovered I was missing. I finally pulled myself up using the sink and the wall, but it was seriously touch and go for a while.
Finally, finally I finished lap 62. Only .2 miles left to get my 100k. I asked the race director to confirm exactly where I needed to go to finish. He tried to convince me to keep going for the last hour of the race. I refused. He suggested that I go one more lap to get 63 miles instead of 62.2. I swore at him. With the “f” word. Unfazed, he told me where the 100k mark was and I hobbled off, calling to Seth in the tent that it was the end for me. Seth hobbled over to the 100k cone to take my picture. I burst into tears.
I couldn’t believe it. Not only had I finished a 50-miler, but I’d finished a 100k, 62.2 miles. I’d ran and walked for 23 hours, only stopping for a few minutes at a time. I’d gone farther than a lot of people in the race and longer than most of the people in the race. My feet were bleeding. My legs were stiff and cramped. My back was locked up. My arms hurt from carrying my water bottle. I had random shooting pains in my hips. I’d been in some of the most horrific pain I’d ever felt for most of the last 8 hours. It’d been the most challenging thing I’d ever done, both physically and mentally. Yet I’d dug deep, stayed focused on my own race, convinced I could do it, and I’d smashed my previous personal records for distance (40 miles) and time (12 hour). It was literally one of the happiest moments of my life. I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud of myself or felt so strong. I kicked ass at PacRim!
Special thanks to everyone who helped make my “special day” possible, including my training partner & donut supplier Esther; the people who crewed, volunteered and/or paced me including Sarah, Bart, Teri, Laura, Amber 1, Teresa, Danielle, Mollie, Ray and Amber 2, the people who motivated me like Lisa, Steve & Heidi and thanks especially to Seth, the best friend an ultrarunner could ever have. I couldn’t have done it without you guys. Next stop Capitol Peak!