Ms Chenandler Bong
North Coast Race Report (Seems surreal just typing those words)
I never considered ultra marathons to be something I was interested in. Those seemed to be for elite athletes that I read about in “Born to Run” and on the covers of running magazines or running across the US for charity. And that’s not me. But then I read and cyber-stalked a group of internet friends as they ran in the North Coast 24 hour Endurance Run or NC24 for short. These were all normal people. These were people I knew. One of them even won it! And their race reports made it sound like fun, like a social event with running. And that appealed to me.
NC24 is an ultra marathon event but it’s a timed event rather than a point to point or “distance” event. The route is a .9 mile loop on a paved bike path through a park that’s on the edge of Lake Erie in Cleveland. There are advantages and disadvantages to running a loop event. It can be boring as you’re seeing the same things over and over and over again. The option to quit always right there as your tent or car is only a few yards away. And the miles didn’t seem to add up very quickly either. The advantages were great though – you would pass an aid station every lap stocked with any food or beverage you could need – hot or cold. Medical tent staffed with podiatrists and massage therapists was at the ready for you whenever you might need it. Seeing the same people over and over again, allowing you to never feel alone and to maybe get the encouragement that you need right at the time that you need it. The ability to change to warmer, dryer or cooler clothes with very little down time. And the biggest advantage of all was the inability to fail. Any distance was considered finishing. So these advantages convinced me that if I ever was going to do an Ultra, this kind of one was the type that I wanted to do. Add in the fact that I knew a dozen or so other people who were doing it as well and I was sold.
My training pretty much started in January after the Disney Goofy Challenge. I developed PF right before that race in December so had to start building my miles back up after recovering from that. I had only 58 miles in February, 100 in March and built up to 225 in June. My main training was June-August where I averaged 47 miles a week (that seems really low looking back at it now), peaking at 72 and 60. I would run 5 days a week, having one 10 mile run during the week, a 12-14 mile run on Fridays and a long run of 20-26 miles on Saturday. I had cut my longest runs (planned two 28 miles and one 30 mile run) short due to excessive heat once, ITB issues another time, and lack of time another time. I started tapering earlier than planned as well as I started having ITBS in mid-August. I ran my first marathon with severe ITBS and wanted no part of that game again.
So – race weekend arrives. My husband was kind enough to come along as my #1 supporter and voice of reason. We left Indianapolis about 2:30 on Friday afternoon and drive 5.5 hours to Cleveland. We stayed at a Travel Lodge about 2 miles from the park that the race was held at (Edgewater Park). It wasn’t the best of accommodations but it was clean and the bed was comfortable. I did have the chance to meet three of my on-line team mates – Susan, Sue and Chris. Sue won the event last year with 126 miles so it was really neat to meet her in person. Chris is an accomplished ultra marathoner himself, doing these types of events on a regular basis. And Susan had been here the year before so was looking to better her distance as well.
I slept well that night and was up at 6:00. It was raining and was expected to continue raining for the next several hours. I wasn’t too worried about that, I’ve run in the rain many times. I got dressed in my super cute Ink N Burn outfit (Hey, if you’re going to work so hard at something, you might as well look good while doing it!), put Body Glide and another silicon based protectant (Lynocaine maybe?? It was a sample from my last race, worked amazingly well, better than the Body Glide) all over and was ready to go. We ate breakfast at the hotel and met a few more people doing the race. Brett and I headed out about 7:30, stopping at CVS for some Pepto (GI issues started for me first thing that morning, never have had a problem with that before). I also woke up Thursday morning with a slight head cold but it didn’t seem to bother me much other than lots and lots of gross drainage.
We found the park easily and were happy to see that our group had a tent, table and chairs already set up thanks to a local runner in our group – Bob! The other runners and support crew was gathering so I had lots of fun meeting all these on-line friends for the first time. It was so great to finally meet Jen (thelearnedfoot) who had some medical issues this winter, causing Bob! to form a secret group to raise money for her; I ran and knitted numerous orange hats to auction off and ate donuts in her honor this winter, still have the orange bumper sticker Bob! had printed and distributed on my fridge to remind me to never give up. Also met Katrina, Traci, Chuck, Groove, Angela, Tracie, Terri, Eric and others that I’m probably forgetting.
Anyways--- I got my bib and timing chip (which was a large ankle bracelet, big enough to look like a house arrest monitor!) and got to meet one of RW on-line forum legends, George or wcrunner. George was running the 12 hour race as his first Ultra. He’s a veteran runner, very accomplished and knowledgeable and super, super friendly. And I found it so inspiring that at whatever age he is (seems much younger then he might actually be) he’s pushing all his limits by trying something so new and challenging! I want to be like him when I grow up!!
My plan of attack was to run a mile, walk a minute for the first 30 miles, then go by feel from there. My goal was to hit 80 miles and to stay on the course for the entire 24 hours. Anything less than 60 miles was failure unless I became injured.
We gather for a group picture and then walk to the starting line. At precisely 9:00am, the horn sounds and we’re off! It’s still raining heavy so I concentrate on trying to avoid the largest puddles as the crowd starts to thin out (it’s good that they cap the race at 200 people, more would be crowded). I fall into a slow and steady pace. I finish the first and second hours exactly at my 5 mile per hour goal, everything is going exactly as planned. I do have to make more bathroom stops then I expected due to my unwelcomed GI issues. That’s a nice thing about this loop race, Porto-lets every ½ mile. I know I need to eat often and before hunger hits as well. So I down a donut and a bagel during this time. Also some cookies. Brett left for a long time, going to the grocery store with Laura (the head of the crew and chief cat-herder). Just about the time I was going to ask where the heck he was, he showed back up. J
By hour three, I noticed that I’m feeling more tired then I should. I’m only at 13 miles, something that I don’t even consider to be an effort normally, and I’m feeling tired. This has me worried for the first time. I ask for a coffee, which Laura goes to Starbucks to get. Brett finds some espresso candy and a cup of coffee for me too. The caffeine helps and I continue on. I’m talking with lots of people along the course, everyone is very friendly. You can tell who is there to compete because they were running fast and who was there more as a personal challenge. It seemed like the same 20 or so people kept passing me as I kept passing others. GI issues continued to plague me, I’m making pit stops every 3 laps or so. About mile 20 I decide that I needed to take an extended walk break and I walk a lap. I remember what veteran NC24 participant Fred told me “walk before you have to.” I fall into pace with another walker and he’s telling me that he walks these kind of events all the time and that he normally walks 200 miles a month. I contemplate what he’s saying and decide that I’m not a walker, I’m a runner who hasn’t even hit a full marathon distance yet. So I say good luck and start running again. Terri mentioned to me that she changed shoes and her feet were warm and happy again. Hum, maybe I should do that. The rain had been finished for an hour and the puddles dried up fast. So, I let Brett know that I needed new shoes and socks which he had ready for me on my next lap (so convenient!!) WOW – what a difference!! Padded Feetures socks felt amazing! I felt like I was running on clouds and my attitude changed for the better. Around this time, I also ate some of Brett’s rice and bean burrito and drink some more coffee. I was snacking on cookies and other food as well but looking back, it wasn’t often enough and enough calories, which comes back to bite me.
I was pretty darn happy to finally hit the 26 mile mark, well past 5 hours into the race, maybe even 6 hours. I was even more happy to hit 30 miles and had kept up with my run 1 mile, walk 1 minute (other than the 2 small hills along the course that everyone was walking). My Garmin had died by this point and I asked Brett not to recharge them as they weren’t in sync with my miles and I could see my miles each time I passed the timing mat anyways. So I would run from the group tent, walk the hill, run again to the next hill, walk that, run to the main aid station, grab a drink or snack and walk along “tent city” to our group. Repeat.
Speaking of tent city. This was such a fun and unexpected part of the event. Everyone had a set up of a tent, tables or friends there to help them. And they were all within 1/10th of a mile on the route. So everyone’s supporters also cheered you on. One tent had a white board with trivia questions on it (I got 7 or 8 of them right and was rewarded with mini candy bars!). Another crew had Dixie cups of a variety of pops and snacks all set up in a row for their runner (who happened to be Harvey Lewis, 4th place in Badwater this summer, insanely talented and very nice too).
By late afternoon, more and more people were walking. I was feeling pretty good and kept up with my running/walking plan. But nausea started hitting about mile 35ish. It seemed to be taking forever to get to 40. My goal of hitting 80 miles was slipping away as I was just feeling very drained. I think the combination of GI issues, nausea and head cold was all adding up to drain me much quicker than I expected. And I know by now that I hadn’t eaten nearly enough but food now had no appeal. I did eat a few Dixie cups of hot, salted rice from the aid station which tasted really good. I mentioned the nausea to Chris and he suggested ginger ale from the aid station which seemed to help too. I noticed a hot spot forming on my pinky toe so I stopped in the med tent to have them drain the blister and patch it up.
Evening comes. I’m walking a lot more and not very happy about it. My wonderful friend and employer, Halle, is in Cleveland visiting family and she comes by to cheer me on. It was so great to have a new face to talk too and to get encouragement from. Walking a lap with her was the first time that I said out loud that I wasn’t going to reach 80 miles. It was very hard to say and made me very sad. She did her best to cheer me up and I enjoyed the conversation. She brought me a bagel which I ate while trying not to throw up. I asked to walk a lap by myself so I could refocus and think. My body felt good for 40+ miles. Quads were sore but that was to be expected. No ITB problems which was a complete blessing from God. The GI issues subsided finally. So physically, I could keep going. But I was so tired and mentally was just done with it. I wanted to be done. I could see some of my teammates, who I really only talked briefly with at the random times I was near them on the track, sitting under the tent wrapped in warm blankets, eating donuts and laughing and cheering runners on. I wanted to be one of them! I grabbed some chocolate covered espresso beans (Thanks so much for bringing those Susan!!) and within 2 laps, the best caffeine kick I’ve ever had kicked in! I was happy, and excited and running again! And 2 laps later, it was gone. Brett and Halle joined me for a few laps and Brett worked on a strategy. We were nearing the 12 hour mark (9:00pm) and I was close to 50 miles but not going to hit it. This really seemed to hit me hard and forced me to come up with another goal. I told Brett that I wanted to reach at least 62 miles so it would be a 100K. He knew I could do that but knew that I needed to rest so we decided it would be best to reach 50.4 miles or 56 laps, sleep for a few hours and finish the other 12 miles in the morning. Twelve miles, no big deal, that’s not much of an effort, not even a long run anymore for me. Right?? ;-)
Halle had to head home about this time (9:30ish) so I thanked her for coming. My legs were feeling pretty good still so Brett set up an interval route based on the tiny sidewalk lights the race director set up. I would walk up the little hill and walk to the 2nd light, run from there to the 2nd light and walk for another two lights. Repeat this 4 times and that was a lap. Would do this for 2 laps and walk the 3rd lap. This new pattern gave me something to concentrate on which really helped. Miles 40-50 went pretty well. I hit 50 miles about 10:00 or so. I knew it would be best to get a massage before bed so I hit the massage tent (saw George being worked on in there, he finished his 12 hour Ultra with 49 miles, 8th place overall!!!!) The massage wasn’t a relaxing experience, it was lots of having my legs pushed and pulled and twisted and pushed some more. But it really helped and Brett and I head to bed.
We brought a tent but Brett thought we would sleep better in the warm van so we laid down some of the seats and I tried to stretch out. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t very comfortable but it was probably better then the ground! Brett set the alarm for 3:45, giving me 5 hours to run/walk 12 miles in the morning. As I was lying in my sleeping bag, thinking about how the day hasn’t gone the way that I had hoped, I decided that 50 miles is a very nice round number and many people would be happy with it and so would I. I was not going to go back out there. Nope it was cold and windy and I wasn’t going to do it. My two bathroom breaks outside the van at midnight and 3am confirmed my thoughts. I was done. I asked Brett to turn off the alarm.
He didn’t. The alarm goes off at 3:45. He turns it off and I lay there thinking “I’m not getting up. Nope, 50 is good. It’s my first time. I’m happy with that. I don’t care what that old man said about people having regrets a week later, I won’t. Nope, no one is going to make me go back.” I doze for a little while and decide to check Facebook for the first time. I had 54 notifications on it! I start scrolling through them, reading the encouraging words that friends and family had posted and the updates that Brett put on there too. There were lots of “Keep going, you can do it” messages and I just thought “Yup, I did it, 50 miles.” Then I read another message from Brad (love the half). Brad’s a straight shooter and very blunt. I’ve met him in person over the summer and enjoyed our time together. But his post to me was pretty harsh. It basically said “you’ll wake up and be sore. Get moving. You’ll want to stop. Get moving. You’ll want to quit. Get moving…..sore for a day…regrets for a lifetime...” Anyways, it was enough to piss me off. How dare he tell me how I’m feeling. I’m the one squished in a mini van after running 50 mile. I don’t care that there are people twice my age and older still out there in the windy cold weather walking and running. I know what I can do and what I can’t do. I see that it’s 4:45. Hmmmm……I could get dressed and be out there by 5:00. That’s what time I normally run and I’m a good early morning runner. I am feeling rested. That would give me 4 hours to get 12 miles. I can do that just walking, right? Well, what the hell, I’m going back out there! I turn on the overhead light, waking up Brett who says he’s glad I’m going back out as he moves to the back seat and that he’ll be out to help me in an hour. I tell him that’s no problem, I’m just walking and he should sleep. At the last minute, I grab a long-sleeved tech shirt, just in case I want to run a little bit……
It’s so cold! And so dark!! I’m wearing a hoodie and yoga pants. But I’m wide awake. I hit the bathroom, get some hot coffee from the aid station and walk to team tent area. Most everyone is huddled in sleeping bags or tents. I say good morning to Todd, Susan’s husband, and let him know I’m going back out. I start walking and see a few team mates – Groove is still going and working to reach his 100k goal too. Chris is still going, even running some and he’s pushing even with knee problems. I see that the 80ish doctor, Dr. Andy, who is in charge of the med tents and head dr of the USA 24 hour endurance team is still out there as is my other 80ish friend in the red hat is. He even shows me that he runs the down hills to gain some momentum! Harvey, the ultra running machine, is still running like it’s his first lap as are several other runners. John in his orange shorts is still passing me like it’s only the first hour. This is all encouraging to me. I can do this, I’m going to hit 62 miles, no matter what. I eat a yummy hot egg and ham sandwich and have some mac and cheese too. Handful of jelly beans at 5:45 am? Why not?? I have my phone with me for the first time and see that it’s 6:00. I’ve got only 3 laps in. I do the math and realize that I needed to make more of an effort to guarantee that I hit 62 well before the 9:00am horn. Plus, my hoodie is getting hot. So I stop in the tent and change to my tech shirt and start running. Amazingly, it felt good!!!
I start running the intervals that Brett had set up for me the night before. Everything is feeling good and my pace felt comfortable. My muscles were fine (thanks to my pre-bed massage). I get 4 laps in during this next hour, putting me about 57 miles. I know I can finish now but I have another hot spot on the ball of my foot. Another trip to the med tent where the students put a donut and some padding on the small blister and I was back out there. I’m regretting not putting my cushioned sock on now, these thin ones are not feeling very good. But my socks are in the van and I didn’t want to walk there to get them. Just after dawn, I run where I can see the parking lot and I see Brett getting out of the van, perfect timing! He’s waiting at the lap counter for me to see how far I’ve gone. George is there too, looking happy and well rested! I ask Brett to get my cushioned socks and he offers up his own as we wear the same running socks so we just switch socks. Oh what a difference!! Happy, happy, happy!
Brett asks how I’m feeling as I get some more food from the aid station (those workers were so amazing and helpful!) I tell him that I’ve been running and want to finish this race running. So we head out for the last 4 laps. He starts with the intervals but I tell him, nope, I’m running the whole way, just walking the hills and tent city. He says ok and we’re off. The last few laps went by very quickly. When I crossed the lap counter for the second to the last time and see 61.3, I take a mental time out to really savor this last lap. Last time passing through the city, last time passing my team tent, which was more active now that the sun was up, last time passing my friend in the red hat, last time saying hello to the Dr who always said I was looking good, last time passing the older couple that walked the entire race together. Last time seeing my teammates walking and running and laughing together. Last time being passed by Harvey and John and the guy in the white Hammer shirt and the guy in the green Ice Age Trail shirt and the lady in the pink calf sleeves (Jill who won for women with 122 miles after never going more than a marathon before!!) and the other tall lady in the cute running skirt. Last time passing the Porto-lets and the police officer who kept us from being run over by slow moving cars in the parking lot, last time wondering what XXXXXXXXO painted on the path meant.
Brett broke away from me towards the end and started taking some pictures of me. He got to the finish and took my picture and took a picture of the TV screen showing Mary Nabb 62.2 in green writing. George was there too, taking pictures and grinning. I broke into tears and hugged Brett. I did it!!!!!! 100k!!!!! 62.2 miles!!!!! It was amazing, I can’t describe the feelings that overcame me. I was joyous and so happy to be done.
I hung out in the team tent for a little bit and then walked back to the finish line to turn in my timing bracelet and get my medal. . I got another massage. Brett found me in there and told me to make sure to eat a hot breakfast that they had ready which I did. Then I stood at the finish line and screamed as people where pushing themselves to the finish in the last few minutes. I saw Harvey screaming down the tiny hill at a sub 6:00 minute mile pace as everyone cheered for him. I saw another man who , by appearance, no one would consider an athlete, sprint to the finish line as the race director, Don, is yelling “30 seconds!!!”, knowing that he accomplished something that few people would ever even consider. I see the older couple speed walk like champions to the finish and see that they walked over 80 miles together!!! I swear, those last few minutes at the finish line were as inspiring as watching the Olympics. What a rush!
So, Brett and I walk back to the team tent and everyone starts to break it down. We’ve got a long drive ahead of us so once Brett was done packing everything up and helped a few others load up as well, we decided to start our trip home. Chris gave me a very sweet gift, a little lego version of me which he had a hard time finding a stylish enough outfit for. I hugged everyone and got some last minute pictures.
I do wish that we had more time with the group. I feel like I was there, but not THERE. I spent time with the group but only for a few minutes at a time. I wish our schedule would have allowed us to either be there earlier on Friday or stay until Monday morning. But it wasn’t possible this time. But I can say that the people I met are all wonderful, amazing people. So friendly and encouraging. I never saw anyone with anything but a smile on their faces. Just knowing that I had friends and support there made this experience so much better. Thank you all!! Team CLE ROCKS!!!!
So, will I do it again? I don’t think so, at least not for a long time. The training took a lot of time, not just time spent running but time away from my kids and husband. Things around the house slacked – laundry piled up, dinners weren’t the best and I felt guilty for putting my goals ahead of my family at times. I could see being a crew member or going with different goals in mind. But training for 80-100 miles was not something that I want to repeat at this time. But that said, it was an amazing experience, filled with highest of highs and some very low lows a well.
I want to thank my husband and biggest supporter, Brett. He kept an eye on me the entire time (except for his hour long trip to the grocery, I seriously was thinking he got lost!), was the voice of reason when I couldn’t add .9 + .9. He put up with me talking about bathroom stuff way too much. He took my mind off of things when I needed the distraction. He quietly encouraged me when I needed it and he loudly told me what to do when I needed that. He’s my Rock and I know I probably wouldn’t have even hit 50 miles if he hadn’t been there for me. Thank you so much, honey.
And thank you also to the entire group. Some people say that on-line friends aren’t real friends but they are wrong. It may have been the first time that I had met these people in person but we were long time friends. Thank you – Susan for recognizing me in the hotel lobby as soon as you walked in, thank you Sue for always encouraging me as you flew past me! Groove for the endless smiles, Eric who ran the most miles of any of us, Katrina for putting your own goals aside to be a teammate to many, George for showing me that you never stop pushing yourself and for some great and needed hugs, Chuck and his excessive amount of orange clothing! Jen, who was not only an amazing photographer but friendly face who kept popping up along the course, Bob! who ate more donuts then I thought was possible all while setting up a very comfortable camp for us, Chris and his un-relenting forward progress, Terri who seemed to be at my pace when I would need to talk with someone, Tracie who brought yummy goodies, orange mustaches and her family, Laura who was so helpful in herding us all around, Angela who pushed herself to a new PR. Todd, Susan’s husband who kept my husband company. Thank you all so much!!!!!
Marathon and ultra marathon runner. Sour Patch Kid addict.
Uh oh... now what?
Things fall apart (apology to Achebe), some put them back together. That was a very good first-time 24-hour. Congratulations on riding the roller coaster and reaching the 100 kilometers (and change).
Congratulations on your 24 hr. 100 Km is a good result for your first time.
I enjoyed reading your race report.
Congratulations on a great run! Things go wrong in long races, you hit the dark places, and you handled them great!
Sorry it took me so long to stumble across this, but I'm proud of you, Mary!
Best Pace Scenario