Saturday, November 15, 2014
I was tired; I had finished a 100 miler a week earlier. There was a part of me that wanted to sleep in, but as soon as I arrived at 6 am at Snyder Park in Fort Lauderdale, I knew I was in the right place. I saw a lone 6-day runner make his way around the track and I suddenly felt incredibly lazy for wanting to sleep in. Then I saw Andrei, Claire, Mike Melton, Carey Lynn, Dave Krupski, Jason Gruss, Jodi Samuels, Bob Becker, and Zsofia, all in good spirits, and I was thrilled to be part of the inaugural Icarus Ultrafest. It was going to be a great day.
As daylight broke, the 6-day superstars were all out in full force: Jesper Kenn Olsen, Jovica Spajic, Charlotte Vasarhelyi, Jim Schroeder, Michele Notarangelo, K-G Nystrom, Tim O’Malie and Brad Compton. It was amazing to see them all moving with what seemed to be strength and ease after all those days out there. They even looked clean and fresh. I thought of how I look and feel day two of an ultra – because for me there is always a day two past that 24 hour mark: haggard, dirty, and ready for it to be done. These folks were all talkative, focused, and kind. To keep moving forward in a suburban park, around a .62 mile loop for a full week, without much stimulation and the same foods, to me, is nothing short of superhuman.
One of my favorite aspects of ultrarunning is that the race starts are low key. At 7 am, Mike Melton and Andrei gathered around the 24 hour and 12 hour runners, the last to join the 6-day event, and then we were off, with Aly Venti and Lara Zoeller in the lead. At the onset, I felt strong and happy. The miles seemed to pass seamlessly. When Jodi S. mentioned that we had gone 9 miles, then 11 miles, I couldn’t believe it.
The 6 and 3-hour runners started at 8 am, and suddenly Bruce, Brandi, Tammy Jones, and a host of others were out on the course with us. I loved having so many friends and familiar faces out on the .62 mile loop. There was time to talk to everyone, catch up on their lives, laugh. Jodi S.’s 8-year old son, Trevor, was running the 3-hour race, so we continually intercepted him and ran a bit with him as he completed 13 + miles!
The scenery around the loop was beautiful. Lush green trees, some sort of climbing wall that was intimidating to look at, and a lake for dogs to swim in. There were even treehouse setups surrounding the lake that people had picnics in throughout the day, and, the biggest luxury of all: two real bathrooms.
We had intercepted the ROTC folks setting up prior to our race start, but it was not until we were a few hours into the race that their events began – and they had a lot of events with huge crowds from various high schools cheering them on. For a few hours, teens dressed in fatigues intercepted us at one or two points around the track, and then as phase two of their relay began, they were charging at us carrying stretchers. Once, they came right at me with a stretcher and I thought I was going to be tossed onto it. The cheers and crowds added to the uplifting atmosphere for me and brought a high energy to the park. More than once, ROTC guys and girls screamed: “we want to be like you guys when we grow up!”
This was a great event in which to witness runners whom people like me will never be close to in a point-to-point race, or even a longer loop event. Aly Venti was a machine from the start. She never seemed to be exerting– her consistency and focus were inspiring. It looked easy/breezy from my point of view. Jodi S. and I, caught up in conversation, were always blocking the inner lane, and each time Aly passed, she had to ask us to let her pass – I cannot imagine what a nuisance we were. And then there was Lara Zoeller, who was clearly in pain and struggling at various points, but she carried on, loop after loop, her gait strong and steady throughout. I didn’t see her hobble once!
From the moment we arrived in the park, the volunteers were awesome – everyone was helpful and attentive. After 6-days of looking after others, that type of good cheer deserves a medal. Later in the afternoon, Carey Lynn, Claire, and Andrei became park traffic conductors, veering the cars pulling into the park this way and that, trying to keep them off of the course. We would all pass them by, as if it was somehow normal they had taken on this role.
Proof that I was running sometimes
25 mile mark
Around 25 miles in, my legs started to feel heavy. Tired. I wasn’t asking myself what I was doing running or why I was out here in a race – it wasn’t that quitter-mind yet, but the way I felt, I could tell I would need an attitude adjustment. Lucky for me, Jodi S. had great stories to share. My favorite thing about these races is that they provide us runners with time to share the little details of our lives that there is just somehow not time for in our non-running lives.
I think that it was around mile 30, or a few miles short of that, that I started to stop every time we hit the start/finish line. As in wasting time. As in getting slower. There was always something that I needed: water, Tailwind powder, a glance at the aid station food, a scan of the drinks in my gear bag. For me, this can be the challenge with a short loop: I go through hang-out syndrome. My hang-out syndrome set in around the same time that more familiar faces showed up: Craig and his girlfriend, Tessa; Jerry and Tim, Sergio, and at some point Christopher Knight was there, too. Familiar faces meant more people for me to socialize with. I lost Jodi S. for a bit as I got caught up talking and catching up with Jerry, and then Zsofia.
Miles 35 and beyond
Miles 35 through 78 were a blend of no big deal and tough for me. Nothing was wrong with me physically, but I was in no rush to move. I couldn’t imagine how the miles were ever going to add up. Would I ever reach 50? 60 miles? It was fun to run and then walk loops with different folks throughout. It reminded me of why I first fell in love with the ultrarunning community years back: there is a joy to be around these people, a simplicity. We all are content to spend the day outside, moving, taking in life, clocking miles. Who else would listen to the story of my adopting my new cat and tell us about his cat clan, but Christopher Knight? Benny Hill music and squats were great takeaways from those loops.
Back to the 6-day racers. Jesper, who has run around the world twice, and was the leader of the pack of the 6-day racers, seemed to glide by at all times. Jovica was steady and moved, too! He passed us throughout the day as if he was out for a few mile run. Then there was Jim Schroeder, with his good humor. He was even and clear headed throughout. Michele was also amazing to watch – he was so steady throughout the race, constantly passing us by, absorbed in his own thoughts.
The raccoons lurked from the afternoon on – big mama raccoons and their little babies. They were right there, bordering the loop, hanging out by our cars, ready to eat us if we got too close. When I didn’t see them, I heard them rustling through the bushes and trees. It was a reminder that we had to be on the lookout. Another highlight was passing Aly Venti’s boyfriend, Teddy, each loop. He was set up away from the herds of other runner-gear set up points. I kept catching him eating up what was likely food for Aly. It wasn’t until later in the evening that I learned that he was monitoring my talking habits. His Oh my gosh, is it possible. Are you really quiet? Have you stopped talking? sent Jodi S. and I into fits of laughter. But where else do I have time to talk about sneakers, races, life?
At 8 pm, when I became exhausted, I was baffled. In my non-running life, I am never tired until at least 11 pm. In other ultras, it usually takes until about 3 am that I hit a first low. 8 pm? I panicked a bit. I put tear drops in my eyes, then I drank a Starbucks expresso drink. That gave me a huge boost, but it was short lived – by 11 pm I was exhausted again and had to repeat the caffeinating process. As the night wore on, my exhaustion passed and I felt alert again.
It was around 50 – 60 miles in that the bathroom stops started. As in, one of us—Jodi S. or myself—and likely both, always had to stop to go to the bathroom. This is what happens after you spend a whole day drinking fluids. At some point the park people locked up what we decided was our favorite bathroom due to its proximity to the course, and so we had to use the other bathroom, which was only a few feet from the course, but somehow seemed far away. There were points later in the night that Jodi S. rationed my bathroom stops to every few loops. Around 1 or 2, or maybe 3 am, the 6 day folks passed us on the course, one by one: Jesper, Charlotte, Jovica and of course, Lara and Aly were still flying by. This elicited fits of laughter from Mon, Jodi S., and myself, as these folks were clearly running for days longer than us, on a lot less sleep. Were we simply that lame?
Walk & Talk while being passed by 6-day runners
There are so many fun and wonderful moments from this race, that it’s impossible to recap all, but some highlights include a loop with Jovica, who had noticed my run gate and was curious to know if I have any shin issues due to my forefoot strike. Then there was the science fair project catastrophe that Jodi S.’s son Brendan faced. I was really beginning to get nervous for her – I didn’t want her to have to stay up the whole next night working on this with her son. Somehow, someway, amidst the mish mash of conversations and laughter and bathroom breaks, I managed to clock a bit over 78 miles. I was in awe that the mileage actually added up. It didn’t seem possible.
This pic is a reminder that running makes me happy!
Aside from the great time we had out there on the course, there were a lot of things to love about this race – the volunteers, the course itself, which was flat and scenic; the accessibility of our gear, but perhaps what made this race most memorable, was the vibe that it emitted. On the same course, there were runners setting world records, two girls trying to make the U.S. 24 hour team, people running for 6 days and others feeling like they ran for 6 days, although it was only 24. I have never been on a course and had the chance to witness greatness right in front of me. Typically, the lead pack finish way ahead and are off relaxing by the time I cross the finish line. In this race, we were all out there together, creating our own triumphs and overcoming our individual battles. At the race conclusion, three records had been broken by Brad Compton – Age Group 144H American Record, Jovica Spajic – Serbian 144H Record, and Michele Notarangelo who ran 4 races of 6days in just a bit more than 6 months, making him the first Italian to accomplish such a success. In addition, Alyson Venti’s 140+ miles gives her a great chance to be part of the US 24H National Team,
Regardless of what was going on around the race, ROTC stretchers and all, Andrei and Claire were calm, even, helpful, friendly and always around! What a great way to share a day with friends in a beautiful park in South Florida. There was no stress, just friendly, energetic people. There was a lot to learn and plenty to witness. It was fun. It was uplifting – the type of race that you leave and feel like you want to try more, do more, be better.
*Photo credits to Zsofia and Teddy.