When I was in high school, long-ass personality quizzes would often get passed around. Everyone’d fill them out, post them in their AIM profile, Geocities website, etc. Most questions were silly. But some were invaluable to “knowing a person.”
Like “what’s your ideal day like?”
Mine was to get up, eat, then run 4-mile loops around my block for 12-16 hours straight.
After running 13 loops on Saturday from 8am to 8pm, and walking (crawling?) 12 loops on Sunday between 8am and 12:30am… I don’t think I’ll be doing this again anytime soon. 😛
Still, did I get everything I expected? This is the first time I’ve ever covered 100 miles on foot over two days. My first time running more than 20 miles on two consecutive days. But where were the cramps? The vomit? The bloody pee??? I mean, I only ended up with a probable left calf strain, possible impact injury in my right ankle, and blisters running across both calves. I _only_ lost a little over 10 pounds. I thought 100 miles was supposed to put me *in the hole,* really kill me… but I dunno, I think I’ve had worse!
That’s why, DESPITE all the congratulations and gasping-face emojis, I’m disappointed with myself. I really, really, REALLY wanted to finish this in one shot. But I quit. 52 miles on Saturday was my limit (though I was still able to clock 8-minute miles at the end of Day 1). When I realized this, when I realized I wasn’t going to convince myself to get the door again Saturday night, I typed into Strava: “Whatever it takes to run 100 miles, I don’t have it” before trashing everything I wrote (it was all too negative).
Posting those first 52 miles to Strava Saturday night made things both worse and better. I wanted to keep this project secret until it was *done*, very much in the tradition of KK Fischer (the event organizer, and official Crazy). Posting a half-done project didn’t feel right; I hadn’t planned on making this a two-stage race.
That’s the other thing: I realized I wasn’t in a “race” mindset. In my Saturday long run comments, KK at-mentioned Peter Briggs, another ATB finisher. To address the longggg times I was resting at home in-between loops, Peter advised me to consider this a race. I pride myself on spending as little time as possible at aid stations during races. During this run, I couldn’t leverage that strength at all.
In any case, thoughts of racing ultimately didn’t matter on Sunday. I surprised myself with a 9-minute mile during my first loop. But during my second loop, with 45 miles left, the left calf pain started — the same kind of pain I felt when I strained (tore) my calf during the 2018 Chicago Marathon.
Every runner knows aches and pains happen. For me, I can usually “walk it off.” 99 times out of 100, a sharp jab is my body telling me “hey, stop that!” If I take my foot off the gas for a bit, my body stops complaining.
Not this time. After every failed start and stop, it became clear that if I didn’t back down (or even quit?!), I could do some longer-term damage. Worse, my right side was compensating. Outside of rolled ankles on technical trail, my ankles never hurt, they’re rarely sensitive to mere touch. Now my right ankle swelled under my compression sock. I could also _feel_ an imbalance in how tight my right IT band was, versus my left. Aerobically, nutritionally, and mentally, I felt recovered. The day before, my shoulders and neck hurt, my core hurt, everything hurt. Now, small (though critical) component pieces were ruining everything. It was all so frustrating.
But, I could still walk.
In the Strava comments from my “first half” run, I mentioned that at the end of the day, I was averaging just faster than 4 miles per hour. KK replied: “4mph is pretty good!” 4 miles per hour is 5 minutes per mile. During my first day, I took relaxed walk breaks. I knew that I’d even out my pace by running at least half my Loop. Now, walking was a cycle of (1) trying to remember how competitive racewalkers walk, (2) checking my watch to be sure that my pace was under 15:00, and (3) rubbing my quads, IT bands and butt (cuz god, I don’t know what tires my muscles out more, running or powerwalking for hours).
SOME GOOD THINGS
I said some good things came out of posting my first 52 miles. One good thing was the outpouring of support. One reason why I wanted to keep this project secret was to make it harder. I wanted to see what I could do mentally, with no one cheering, no one knowing, no one helping.
These hopes were dashed during Sunday Loop 3 (Loop 16, Miles 61-64). That’s when Ed Cruz called, and asked where I was. He _just_ saw my Saturday First Half. Now he was AT MY FREAKIN’ HOUSE. I told him to find me one mile down Alcatraz; I’d just started another Loop. I told him I was walking. Since he was running, he’d catch me pretty quickly.
Ed will claim that he got lost, cuz he doesn’t know Berkeley. But to set the record straight, he didn’t catch me for almost two miles! 😉
When Ed finally caught me, he gave me the worst possible news. He had brought fresh enchiladas, courtesy of Kris Barrios. Didn’t I say NO OUTSIDE HELP? Now, not only was I going to get pace support, I’d also get extra yummy calories! NOOOO!!!
Ed paced me for Sunday Loop 4 (Miles 65-68).
It helped. A lot.
After he left, I was alone again.
I was asked a few times on Sunday whether anyone noticed me going around and around South Berkeley. There were two incidents where people noticed.
The first was on Saturday. My route featured three parks. These parks were virtually empty during my morning loops. Then they’d fill to near capacity (especially Willard Park) in the afternoon, before emptying out into the evening. Circle of life stuff.
At the second park, Tim Moellering Field, I passed by a group of a dozen teenagers throughout the afternoon. I didn’t track how often I passed by, but by Saturday Loop 12 (Miles 45-48), they clearly remembered seeing me!
The memory’s recorded in slow-motion: A girl looks over. She starts clapping. Her friends standing nearby start clapping. Then her friends sitting in a circle on the grass look over. They start clapping too! I was so dead I didn’t say anything. But the cheers felt freakin’ good. After I passed them, I regretted not thanking them. That helped me go out once again for Loop 13 (Miles 49-52). But they were gone by the time I got to the field.
I didn’t go out again for Loop 14.
The second was on Sunday. Along with buildings and trees, the homeless were also fixtures on my route. I’m sure most of them noticed me coming round and round. Only one actually said something to me: “Hello again!”
To which I replied: “Hello!”
And… that was it. After this incident, I switched to the other side of College Ave for better shade. I saw the guy again, sitting alone in front of Gordo’s (or was it the Italian place?), face in full blast of the sun. He didn’t notice me across the street. For all the hustle and bustle of the Memorial Day weekend, no one else noticed, or cared to say anything. Kind of like wildlife on the trail. Eh.
Most people define an ultramarathon to be any run/race longer than a marathon (26.2 miles). I like to say that “real ultras” start at 50 miles. (I don’t mean to gatekeep 50K’s runners; 50K’s are ultras for sure — but the gap between 31 miles and 50 miles, the two shortest “standard” distances, is just so freakin’ huge!)
I say this because I know my effective range is about 30 miles. After that, I start to lose control.
So this project carried big risks. But, running loops around your house increases control. I’d always have a restroom within 4 miles. I’d always have food and water within 4 miles. ATB rules called for a course that’s “authentically home.” I chose a totally familiar loop that I run time and time again; I choose a variant of this loop whenever I don’t want to think about where to go.
With all these variables accounted for, the main unknowns were (1) how much I could recover from a relatively relaxed 52-mile run within 12 hours, and (2) how far I could go after 67-ish miles.
I’ve only ever run up to 67-ish miles before, and I knew I’d reach that milestone during Loop 17 (Sunday Loop 4, Miles 65-68, Sunday Miles 13-16). As I crossed that line, I kinda held my breath. Nothing magical happened. I just kept walking.
That magical moment happened on my third-to-last loop, Loop 23 (Sunday Loop 10, Miles 89-92). It came pretty suddenly (as usual). It didn’t feel like anything I’d ever felt before.
It didn’t quite feel like bonking.
It wasn’t an injury.
The best way I could describe it, when Jeanine met up to pace me during my last Loop, was: “you know that lactic burn when you run at threshold? Well, I’m feeling it everywhere [in my legs] with every slight movement I make.” Magical stuff.
LOOPS 22 AND 23 (MILES 85-92)
Again, I said some good things came out of posting my first 52 miles. First, Ed came out. Then, after more people heard what I was doing during my weekly Sunday 4PM Zoom chat (which I joined while walking of course), Jeanine came out.
She found me during Loop 21 (Sunday Loop 8, Miles 81-84) and continued to pace me through Loop 23 (Sunday Loop 9, Miles 85-88). During Loop 23, Matt appeared with his mountain bike, and joined us. We were now a trio!
This also meant that, unexpectedly, I spent the _least_ amount of time at home in-between Loops 21 and 22, and between 22 and 23! I don’t like making people wait!
I don’t know if this lack of rest was the reason why my pace dropped from around 15:30/mile to 18:30/mile between Loop 22 and 23. But I do know that, starting Loop 23, I was in survival mode.
Matt had to go home near the end of Loop 23. It was getting dark. As this external oasis of accountability left, I had to decide. Would I complete the final two loops? Could I?
Or, would I call it a day, claim that I didn’t want to walk around for hours in the cold at night, get some rest, and resume on Monday?
Someone on Zoom had suggested that I continue on Monday. None of ATB’s rules required me to finish in 2 days. In fact, it encourages the opposite: take a week! Take a month! In fact, when I first heard about KK’s ATB challenge, I thought I’d do it in 3 days. That’s why I picked a 3-day weekend.
But wasn’t I going to race 100 miles, over mountainous terrain, in high altitude, around Tahoe in July? Didn’t I want to want a glimpse of heaven, a taste of hell? If I need TWO nights of rest to get through 100 miles on relatively flat, paved surfaces at sea level with aid every 4 miles… I could forget all that. These thoughts ran Loops in my mind.
In the end, fear got me out the door. As I rested, it occurred to me that there was no guarantee I’d be able to walk on a Day 3! I’d already spent most of the day regretting not running more loops on Saturday while I could still run. I also knew that if I went out for the second-to-last Loop, I’d need no motivation to do the Last Loop.
THE LAST TWO LOOPS (MILES 93-100)
I don’t have much to say about the second-to-last loop, except that I started to read. On Saturday, I spent about a third of the day listening to podcasts, another third to my usual Spotify and SoundCloud playlists, and the last third to actual stuff happening around me. I started Sunday with KK’s Spotify playlist (pretty much a 180 from stuff I listen to). Then by Loop 3, I listened to nothing (my ears were just too tired).
By the time the last two loops rolled around, boredom kinda set in. Matt asked what I noticed most after having run my 4-mile loop over 20 times, as he paced me. Apart from practical stuff like where I could get the most respite from the sun, I mentioned that I’d always notice some new detail every loop. Political flyers nailed to power poles, inspirational art scribbled on sidewalks, creepy dolls displayed through windows.
Without these tidbits, I would’ve been SO, SO BORED. There’s only so much stuff to notice though, and it got harder to see anything as it got dark. When Jeanine found me during Loop 21, I was reading Stephen King, while trying to maintain a brisk pace. During my second-to-last loop, I tried to pass the time with more reading. It partially worked. (I don’t think I’d recommend it though.)
I should also mention that I changed shoes for these last two loops. You know those thoughts of “flat, paved surfaces”? they were the death of me. OK, they’re great for short distances. But dirt is much more forgiving for ultra distances. So I switched to hiking shoes with padding meant to absorb more impact, and a non-zero drop to give my calves a break.
Sometime during Loop 24 (Miles 93-96), Jeanine messaged me again. After pacing me earlier, she went home for dinner and family time. Now, she was back for The Last Loop, with freshly baked sugar cookies.
With someone to have a conversation with, and Loop 25 (Miles 97-100) being THE LAST LOOP, these last few miles flew by pretty quick. We talked about the future of our running club, the local East Bay running scene, mutual friends. Before I knew it, we hit College and Derby, the top of my loop’s hill. Two miles left.
I really wish I could’ve run these last couple miles, like I did at my first 100K in Tarawera, New Zealand, three months ago. Instead, I crawled through them. When I finally got home, I could only think about sleep. Anticlimatic stuff…
THE IDEAL DAY
At my current moment in life, my ideal day would involve waking up early, going on nice, long trail run, staying on the trail to read, write, and work throughout the day, before camping out at night. I’d repeat the same thing the next day. And perhaps the following day or days, before returning home to shower, rest, catch up with friends who like to spend a little less time outside, etc.
In my imagination, I’d be fit enough to cover 50 miles a day, day after day, no problem. Maybe not for 46 straight days like Scott Jurek on the AT… but at least a few days at a time!
This weekend experiment taught me that I still have a lot of work to do to realize that dream.
We’ll see how much I’ll have improved when I do something like this again.
Day 1. 2020-05-23. 13 loops = 52 miles.
Started 7:41AM. Finished 8:10PM.
Elapsed Time: 12:29:34.
Moving Time: 8:50:40. Average Moving Pace: 10:12 min/mi.
Rest Time: 4:08:54
Elevation Gain: 2365 ft.
Average Garmin Temp: 74.3 °F. Max: 84.2 °F.
Day 2. 2020-05-24. 12 loops = 48 miles.
Started 7:56AM. Finished next day, 2020-05-25, 12:17AM.
Elapsed Time: 16:36:33.
Moving Time: 13:10:34. Average Moving Pace: 16:28 min/mi.
Rest Time: 3:25:59
Elevation Gain: 2211 ft.
Average Garmin Temp: 78.6 °F. Max: 89.6 °F.
Total Elapsed Time: 29:06:07
Total Moving Time: 22:01:14
Total Vertical Gain: 4576ft