Thursday, June 16, 2011

FANS 24 Hour 2011

Now that I have had several days to think about my recent 24 hour race, it is time to do a little write-up about it.

My travel to the race was rather stressful. In order to save about $150 on airfare, I flew from Austin Texas rather than Houston. It is a 2 hour drive to the airport so I had to leave my home at 2:15 am Friday in order to arrive at the airport 2 hours before my flight. Here is the funny part. I flew to Houston and had to sit in the airport for 2 hours waiting for the next flight.

The race is called FANS 12 and 24 Hour, and is held at Lake Nokomis, Minneapolis Minnesota on the path that surrounds the lake. “FANS” stands for Family Advocate Network System and is a program of Pillsbury United Communities in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Pillsbury initiated the FANS project in 1989 with a group of sixth-grade students from North and South Minneapolis. The Project has a vision of sending inner-city kids to college or to another post-secondary institution. FANS works with the youth and their families in a wide variety of activities geared to providing support for the vision.
I paid the entry fee for the race a long time ago as I have had my sights set on doing a 24 hour race that actually has a walk division. Also, the race provides judges for a Centurion event if there are any walkers planning to attempt to walk 100 miles or more in 24 hours or less. I have had the dream of becoming a US Centurion since I attend such a contest in 2006, not as a participant but as a spectator, at Bear Creek Park in Houston. That particular race was held in February, 1 week after I completed my first full marathon in Austin Texas.

Back story… when I completed 100 miles walking the first time recently at Across the Years in Phoenix Arizona, I came home from that race feeling fat and defeated. I had gained back about 25 pounds of the weight I lost and things were beginning to hurt due to the extra weight I was carrying around. I was at a loss as to how to start a healthier program when I found out about the Paleo diet from some running friends in Houston. Since I was recovering from my first completed 100 mile race, they suggested it was the perfect time to try this new way of fueling my body. January 18 I gave up grains, refined foods and sugar (the only sugar I eat is a tiny bit of honey in my hot tea and the little bit that is in 90% Lindt Chocolate). I eat protein from a variety of sources, lots of veggies (I love my veggies) and lots of fat. It takes a few weeks for the transition from sugar burner to fat burner, so I was a real bear until about 3 weeks into the plan. Then, my energy level started to come back up and I felt stronger than I had in a long time.

I started training for FANS after about 6 weeks strict Paleo. Strict meaning absolutely no grains, sugar or processed food. Cooking the meals is simple, and it is very satisfying to eat something you prepare yourself rather than eating some crap that comes out of a cardboard box. I joined a gym so that I could get some help as a weight lifting beginner. I needed to make sure I was using correct form through the exercises so that I would become stronger instead of overdo it and injure myself yet again. I did not put together a real race training plan, which is the complete opposite of what I have done in the past when training for a long distance race. I just walked as far as I felt like walking, and made sure I did my strength training twice a week. Monday mornings were always reserved for what I call speed training with my high school racewalking friend Ruth. She needed to walk longer distances, which is what I do… and I need to walk faster, which is what she does.

Ok, so I lost all the weight my body felt like losing while I was always eating until I was fully satisfied. I only eat breakfast when I wake up hungry (a couple of times a week) and eat a healthy lunch and dinner. My skinny jeans fit me again, and I can see biceps and triceps and (my legs have always been muscular) and I am beginning to develop a waistline… something I have NEVER had my whole life.

Still training only as much as I felt like, the taper was uneventful. I went to Minneapolis feeling rested and ready for the race. It was great to meet up with Mellody and Dan and head to the race site after we checked into our respective hotel rooms. Packet pickup went smoothly and I really love the race shirt… Bright orange, it says run all day with a picture of running shoes on the front, and run all night with a picture of bunny slippers on the back. The pre-race pasta dinner was kind of an issue for me; I don’t eat pasta. So, I ate a large salad and picked up some Jimmy Dean Sausage and sweet potatoes when we stopped at Target on our way back to the hotel. I cooked that in the hotel microwave and had plenty to eat. I was filling my Hammer flasks while eating and accidentally spilled some raspberry gel on the sausage – it was delicious! I also cooked a couple of sweet potatoes for the race. I will not eat the junk food fare at the race aid station because my body would certainly reject it since I never eat processed foods. The sweet potato turned out to be the perfect ultra food for me. As I was getting the rest of my gear ready for the race, I realized I had forgotten a whole bottle of Endurolytes I bought for the race at home. I began to panic and decided that it was a subconscious act of self-sabotage. My mind was telling my body I could not possibly walk 100 miles in 24 hours. Mellody was critical here – she kept me from falling apart. I looked up local cycle shops who would surely have Hammer products and planned to shamelessly beg (and offer a bribe to) someone at the race to go and buy a bottle of Endurolytes for me. I didn’t have to beg for too long and a runner, Alison Fraser offered one of her crew members (her dad) to go and get them for me. If it was not for Alison’s dad, I would not have fared so well in the dry hot weather that was to come.

It usually rains race weekend in Minneapolis. Not this time. The sky was clear and beautiful and the temps rose to at least 86 that afternoon. I am used to the higher temps, but not the low humidity that we were experiencing. Back to the start of the race – The average pace to walk 100 miles in 24 hours is 14:17 and my plan was to walk at about a 13:45 pace for as long as I could to try and build a little time cushion in case I needed to stop and change shoes or had any problems later in the race. The day just proved to be too hot and I was only able to hold the pace for about 4 hours and when the clock reached 6 hours, I had walked 24 miles. I knew at that time I would not be able to walk 100 miles at this race. I did not let that stop me from trying to walk as many miles in 24 hours as was possible for me in the conditions that day. I just kept moving forward, following the nutrition and hydration plan I had painstakingly prepared for the race. Sometimes slow and steady does win the race; because that is exactly what I did… win the race.

I chose this race because it is the only 24 hour ultra in the country that has a walking division. People have come to FANS from all over the world to compete in the Centurion contest. I am really sorry I did not make the Centurion list. BUT, I did not give up even when I knew early in the race I would not walk 100 miles. Ray Sharp should have beaten me soundly, but the heat of the day got to him like it did to some of the runners. I spoke to one person who was having problems during the race and later found out he had been taken to the hospital. He is ok now, but we should never underestimate how important race nutrition, hydration and electrolytes are. This race keeps a close watch on participants, weighing each of us before the race, and then every 4 hours during the event. Should anyone lose or gain too much weight during the event, the race doctor pulls you from the competition and does not let you return to the race until your weight normalizes.

I never felt sick to my stomach and I only had one small blister at the base of my right heel which means my electrolyte intake was spot on. My weight only fluctuated 1.5 pounds during the race, which is also an indication I was taking good care of myself! I changed my shoes, socks and clothes one time, in order to put on a light weight long sleeve shirt and tights for the overnight part of the race.

I hope everyone who reads this will forgive my jumping around the story, but this is how my mind works. I am remembering going out at 1hour and 5 minutes remaining on the clock for one more 2.4 mile loop around the lake. I was starting to have more frequent bathroom stops towards the end of the race, and finished that last full loop in 40 minutes (including a bathroom stop). So, when I got back to the start/finish area, the 220 meter short track was set up and the timer told me I had a chance to get 80 miles if I kept moving. Ray Sharp told me he would probably walk about 78, and Marsha was gone. (Her 50th state marathon was 2 weeks out and I had seen the medical aid working on her feet… she stopped in order to save her feet for the marathon). That’s when I knew for sure the race was mine… with 25 minutes still on the clock. So I started racewalking (lmfao), if you could call what I was doing racewalking. The runner’s crews were all cheering us on, even the ones who were doing their first 24 hour race and looked like the walking dead. It felt like I was getting faster each time I went around a cone and missed getting to the finish of the last 220 meters by about 8 seconds. Oh well… I walked 80.77 miles in 24 hours. This is my personal best distance in 24 hours, all walking.

The post race award ceremony was great! If you participated in the 24 hour event… they brought your award to you, you didn’t even have to leave your seat. This was my first big win, and my hat is still a little tight, if you get my drift.

We went back to our hotel, showered and rested a little, then went out to dinner. I had the lucy (I totally forgot to ask for blue cheese :( ), and the server looked at me like I was crazy when I said, keep the bun, and give me an order of bacon on the side!

I highly recommend this race for anyone who wants to test their limits of endurance. It is a tough one because the path around the lake is mostly concrete and the bridge over one end of the lake started to look like a monster as the day got warmer and warmer, but the people who put the race on are amazing and they take great care of everyone. I just LOVE the fact that walkers are treated with the same respect as runners, although this is true at every ultra I have done, they give AWARDS to WALKERS at FANS.

This was my Strong is the New Skinny Challenge... to see just what I could do if I let my body be my guide.  I learned something about myself.  I can do things I never dreamed.  I will continue to work on my strengths, and do my best to improve on my weaknesses...  Thanks for reading if you took the time to follow my crazy train of thought this far!