3 Canadian Records and a World Record - my first 6-day race
My first goal race of the year was 6 Days In The Dome. I've never finished a 6-day race before and my main goal was to just finish the full race, regardless of the results. Of course I had my eyes on records and even very high records, but I had no idea what was realistic on a first shot and as I learned, the right approach is to just get through the first one and learn as much as you can.
I had a plan that wasn't great, but again, I didn't know any better. For next time, I can modify and apply what I have learned. I was going to front load the first day and somewhat the second day and then just do my best for the rest. The concept was good, but I will have to modify it not to frontload quite as much. Not sure what the right amount is yet, I will have to figure it out and experiment. It doesn't help that I don't really know what I am capable of in a 24h race. That could give me some indication of what I should aim for in day 1 of a multi-day, but I haven't done a 24h race in 2 years, since my first ever ultra, when I didn't even really know what I was doing. That should change this December at Desert Solstice, and knowing that number will be important for planning 6-day races next year. Then I can compare my 24h best to that of great multi-day runners and come up with a % to shoot for in day 1 of a multi.
This is also why I'm quite excited about backyard ultras that I will be running later this year. In a backyard, you can only go 100 miles the first day. I'm curious to see that if I'm only running 100 miles on day 1, can I do another 100 on day 2? Can I go 48h deep in a backyard? And if so, how far on day 3 am I able to hold this pace that is required to go 100 miles per day? That should give me some insights to how to better pace a 6-day race.
Back to the Dome. I knew that I almost had to break my own 48h Canadian Record and 72h World Record to have any chance of getting the mileage I was aiming for by the end of the 6 days. Again, this was a really ambitious plan, and I knew that it is unlikely to go as planned for a first try, but it was something to aim for. It was also clear that all will depend on the 2nd half of the race, which I've never done before. I have done two 72h races, one being the Dome last year when I had to drop out after 72h because of an ankle injury. (See race report of last year's race.)
Day 1: when everything went as planned. Photo: Tuan Nguyen
Even breaking these records wouldn't mean that I can do what I was hoping to do, it would only mean that I have a chance. Unfortunately by the end of day 3, at 72h, it was crystal clear that I would have no chance of hitting anything even remotely as big as the 6-day World Record, so we had to reassess and find more realistic goals for the last 3 days.
The one thing that went as well as it could have was handling my asthma. I have been struggling with this since my first ultra 2 years ago and it took until now to find a solution for my asthma to not impair my performance. I have been working with my respirologist on daily medication as well as puffers during the race and when that wasn't enough I contacted a scientist from UCLA, Nicholas Tiller, who is a respirologist, an exercise physiologist and an ultrarunner himself, thinking if anyone, he would be able to help and he was. He gave me several suggestions and the one that ended up working perfectly for my needs was the AirTrim heat and moisture exchange mask, together with all the other measures and medications. I wore the mask for the whole time during the race and it worked like a charm. I also took cough medicine for the whole race and my cough never got too bad. There was a little bit of it, but nothing serious. Last time, after Vegas, I lost my voice for almost two weeks, so my respirologist suggested rinsing after each application of the puffer, and again, that worked out great, no loss of voice this time.
I also cleared it with the IAU that the mask is perfectly race legal and record eligible. Of course, there will always be that one person who questions what you are doing and in Las Vegas one of the USATF officials said the mask couldn't be worn in official WA / IAU / USATF competitions. I wanted to prevent anyone from questioning the legality of my records so I wrote to the IAU back in February asking for an official opinion and both the medical and the technical committee cleared it. I can't see why they wouldn't have but again, better to be safe than sorry and having it in writing makes things very straight forward.
But back to the beginning. The race started at noon on Sunday and went until noon the next Saturday. Day 1 went as planned, I put up the exact mileage that I had in my race plan, 210km / 130 miles. Again, I will have to re-think this for the future, but this time, that was the plan and that is what I did, bang on.
I decided to start out in the carbon plated shoes but had to swap them 9h in. Photo: Tuan Nguyen
The day didn't go smoothly but there were no unexpected problems yet. I knew that my ankle is one thing we will have to keep a close eye on, since that is what ended my race a year prior. One of the strategic decisions I had to make before the race was if I wanted to run the first day in carbon plated shoes and risking my ankle getting too much strain early. I did a lot of ankle strengthening exercises during the past year (thanks, Bob Hearn for the tips!) and I was hopeful for my ankles to hold up. I had no issues in Las Vegas where I broke the 72h World Record in February, I didn't feel the ankles at all, so I decided to try the carbon plated shoes, but switch out of them as soon as there are any signs of my anterior tibia getting too much stress. This happened around 9 hours into the race which surprised me, but I was prepared for it. So, Hokas it was from that point on.
I carefully measured before the event what my sweat rate is in this climate at different running paces, so we had an idea of how much liquid to consume - we wanted to match the sweat rate exactly. We had to be very careful because I don't sweat much - about 9 oz / 280 ml at the starting pace, going down to 5 oz / 170 ml once pace drops a bit and even lower later in the race. However, it seems like we were a bit too careful at first and I ended up dehydrated. First, I just felt the constant urge to pee but there wasn't any urine coming out, which tipped me off and then I used my hDrop hydration measuring device to confirm and it showed that I was only 50% hydrated. So we upped the liquid for a little while and that solved the problem for the time being.
HDrop device on my bicep. It measures hydration. I wore my Airtrim Mask the whole race except for photos. Photo: Tuan Nguyen
Later in the race I barely drank anything and I was still well hydrated, above the 80% mark. I spot checked with my hDrop every now and then. Once I started eating real food, I simply didn't really drink anything other than for the food to go down, sometimes coffee and Red Bull and whatever I would get from fruits, watermelon, oranges, milk with my cereal, etc. And that was perfectly enough, sometimes even too much.
On day 2 I already fell behind the plan. The main reason I can see is that unfortunately the sleep breaks didn't work out as planned. I went down for a 1h nap at 32h but I couldn't fall asleep. 2 days later we figured out what the problem was and how I could fall asleep but by that point I lost 2 of my sleeping opportunities so I only got 45 mins of sleep for the first 72 hours. The problem was that I'm a side sleeper but when I lay down, I put my legs on top of each other, the top one crushing the bottom one and giving me a lot of pain so I couldn't fall asleep. Rolling on my other side the same thing happened with the other leg. By the time I rolled on my back to sleep, both legs were hurting too much for me to be able to fall asleep.
Somehow I must have been tired enough by the 48h mark to fall asleep on my side despite the pain, but at 60h it happened again - no sleep. This was when I finally came to the conclusion that I have to sleep on my back - and from that point on it worked like a charm.
We also made the decision that one of my crew members would stay with me for the duration of the nap and if I can't fall asleep, which I knew after about 15 mins, then we wouldn't waste time just lying there, but instead, go down and keep going. The problem is that it creates a lot of overhead - go upstairs, get ready to nap then not sleep, get dressed, go back down. So with no sleep, I would still waste 30 mins - not helpful. But at least it was not a full hour.
I asked for 5-minute micro naps every now and then to get me through the roughest periods. I usually got going after 2 minutes, re-energized. Photo: Jenny Thorsen
We also had to cut back on the naps to make my targets with my pace being much slower than originally expected, and at this point I still had some hope of putting up a reasonably big performance. No 1h naps any more - only 45 mins after the first one.
The end of day 2 was quite a struggle. I was so sleepy because of the missed sleep break, but I was also close to breaking the Canadian 48h record. I almost pulled the plug at 44h and went down for another nap early, throwing that record out. It was at the very last moment, when Brian, my excellent crew chief asked me one last time: "are you sure?" as he was heading out the arena door to wake up the other crew member, Bela, who was sleeping on my bed. As I ran by Brian, who was standing at the door with his hand on the handle, I said: "you know what, I'm not sure". I wanted that record.
With catastrophe avoided, I somehow got energized and didn't even feel sleepy for the rest of the time to 48h and broke my own PR as well as the Canadian National Record with a distance of 353.9 km / 219.9 mi. This also puts me in 20th on the all-time list for 48h performances in the World. I know I can do better because in a pure 48h race I wouldn't sleep for an hour (or even try) in the middle, so I expect to break this again in the next few years when I run a race that is 48h and no longer under ideal circumstances (good weather, good course). Maybe next year in the UK at the 48h World Championships.
This success helped lift my spirits and I was in a good mindset even though I was behind on my goals - at this point not by much yet. Day 3 was harder and that is when things started to catch up on me. Injuries, lack of sleep and blisters.
Guys, TMI warning, feel free to skip the two paragraphs ahead! My period started on day 2. I want to speak about this openly, because it is part of life, our body, and there is nothing to be ashamed of in the human body. It's nature and we need to live with it, do our best to handle it and it had an effect on my performance.
We knew this was likely to happen, but I was hoping that somehow the constant running would send my system into such a shock that it decided reproduction wasn't a priority. Nope, that didn't happen, so like clockwork my period showed up on day 2. Luckily since my kids were born I don't have a strong flow and it only lasts 3 days, so I knew that on day 4 it will be over. I tried to use my usual menstrual cup, but just as at Ultrabalaton and the Sulphur 100 miler, I got rid of it pretty quickly, I just couldn't tolerate running with it, it kept slipping out. So I "let it flow", cleaned myself up regularly and since I had triathlon shorts on, they absorbed a good bit and I just swapped them out, then my crew went to the laundromat with a whole bunch of them and got them washed, bringing them back all clean to go through them again... It was very inconvenient and a huge time burner to keep cleaning myself up pretty much everywhere where the shorts covered, but nothing flowed out of them, so nobody noticed other than the crew members who knew about it.
By hour 60 it was also clear that the 72-hour World Record would be a close one. So we had to eliminate as much overhead as we could. One of them was lubing after every washroom break. Up to that point I didn't get chafed even with all that happening, because I kept diligently lubing myself after every potty break at first, then after every 2-3. But it was taking too much time - 1.5 mins each. So I couldn't afford that overhead for the 12 hours coming - which meant a new 72h World Record of 467.3 km /290.4 mi, but also some serious chafing in my sensitive regions. And once the damage is done, there is no way back. I could mitigate the pain to a certain extent by lubing in the last 3 days but it was going to be painful for the rest of the race. One more thing I can do better next time is that I discovered that it matters what diaper rash cream I use - I use the diaper rash cream as well as some lube, Squirrel's Nut Butter is a great one!
Stephanie Fonda, assistant race director was following me around the track to mark the partial lap for the new 72h World Record
So for the diaper rash cream, I was using the cheap house brand and once I switched to a mid-range brand, it was much better. So next time I'm going with the high-end brand and that should make a big difference. Live and learn!
The injuries kept creeping up on me too. First, the ankle, but luckily as I kept stretching and rolling my ankle from the moment I started feeling them (tricks that I've learned since last time), the pain stopped growing after a while and it was very manageable. But then my shins started hurting and the pain kept growing there.
There was footcare at the race, Carey did an amazing job treating my blisters (more on that later) and I mentioned to her that my knees were surprisingly giving me troubles. She had these KT Tape strips that would stabilize the knees and put them on me - I never had any more issues with the knees for the rest of the race. I also saw she had kinetic tape in her supplies. So I asked on day 2 if she knew how to tape the shins. She said she didn't. I left it at that but the pain was getting me worried by day 3. This was about a full day later. You have plenty of time to think and problem solve in your head when you are running around a track! I kept thinking about what we could possibly do - there was no way I would let this be the end of my race.
My solution was to go to Carey and ask her to google how to tape the shins. She clearly knew some stuff about taping, she had the supplies, so what can go wrong? I woke her up in the middle of the night with the great idea - then she tells me that she had already looked it up the previous night after I asked, and had already taped two other athletes in the race for shin splits! Bingo!
She taped my shins and that helped, for a while the pain stopped growing. I was very happy with that. But I still kept thinking about the problem and remembered what my physiotherapist told me about shin splits. He said shin splints are not an injury per se. They are a symptom of an injury that is occurring somewhere else in the body, and it can be a number of different things, eg. IT band. But in my case, the cause of the shin pain is the ankle, the anterior tibia. That suddenly made a lot of sense!
So I came back to Carey and asked if she could tape the anterior tibia - she knew how to do that! Bingo! (again!) She taped my ankles and the shin pain stopped growing for the next 3 days. Yay! Problem solved. Next time it would make sense to tape the ankles prior to the event. I'm wondering if it is just the track since I had no issues in Vegas. That's what I'm suspecting, but it doesn't hurt to tape in advance, either way.
The brace-like knee support, shins taped, ankles taped, back taped, hamstrings taped, wrists taped - we were joking I could apply to be in a KT Tape ad! Photo: Jenny Thorsen.
I made a few stupid mistakes in the race, luckily we could overcome all of them, but the blister issue was a big one. First, about the wrist. I like to overtighten my watch on my wrist for running, so it has zero movement. I've always done this, for all training and racing, never an issue before, never thought much about it. I'm not sure why it gave me problems this time, maybe because I took the watch off after 36h which I've never done in a race before - not sure.
Since we were indoors, the paces my watch showed had no resemblance of reality. I knew what pace I was jogging at from the timing system and my watch kept showing very different numbers which, after a while, got annoying. They were not just a bit off, but way off. Eg. I was running at a 7 min/km (11 min/mi) pace and it would show 5:40 min/km (9 min/mi) so not a small difference. The only useful thing it did was showed me how much each break took, because I used the "ultrarunning" mode where you can time your rest breaks. So I knew that a pee break took about 90 sec, plus lubing after another 90 sec. Carey usually got me in and out under 10 mins which was very impressive. Overhead for a sleep break was about 15 mins including going upstairs and getting dressed etc. It was good to know these but I couldn't justify keeping the watch going, keep charging it etc just for these once I had a rough idea of how much these overhead events cost me.
So I took it off and not long after that my wrist started to hurt badly - taping it is. At least this pain was not growing, just constant and I wasn't running on my wrist. I could deal with it.
Day 4 was uncharted territory for me - well, the territory ie. the track, I knew darn well by now! But I've never done day 4 in a race. I was excited, curious, scared all at the same time to finally get a chance to do it, I had been waiting for the last year to be here!
There is a huge difference between a 3-day race and a 6-day race. The last 3 days are like nothing else - you simply don't know what it's like until you experience it. To me, running 3 days twice before didn't make it any easier which was surprising. I had expected that going 3 days deep will bring the 6-day experience closer. But in a 72h race I have not experienced this rhythmic up and down that I felt during my 6-day race. Your mood is either very high or very low, there is no between, and it changes rapidly and unexpectedly. I quickly learned to ride the highs as much as I can because the low is coming, and tried to find ways to get me out of the lows as fast as possible - it took a lot of trial but I think I found some ways.
Caffeine is obviously one, but if you take too much, it stops working. So after a while I realized that I need to take them less often and in higher doses. Basically a full can of Red Bull, maybe once or twice a day. Then it works, but what do you do the other times? One of the tricks we used was ice cold water. Splashing my face, putting a shirt around my neck that was immersed in ice water, etc. This works for the moment, but only for a very short amount of time.
With a singlet, immersed in ice cold water, around my neck. I never thought to bring an ice bandana to an indoor race where the climate is really cold to begin with. Photo: Jenny Thorsen
I'm not sure when the dancing and singing started, but I think it was on the night of day 4. The track was relatively empty, so I was not embarrassing myself in front of too many people (at first, then later I didn't care), only the timer, Mike Melton, maybe a few runners, some crew members. I don't have any kind of musical talent and I can't sing whatsoever, but I like to... haha... funny combination. Plus, it kept me awake and made me happy. I can't dance either. I don't even like to, but somehow, making dance moves on the track as I was jogging around, again, kept me awake, kept me occupied and kept my mood up. So I did all sorts of funny things, and the best part was that in the middle of running for 6 days, nobody will dare to say anything! At one point both Eoin and I were humming our own songs, running side by side, I had no idea what he was playing, and I'm sure he had no idea what I was playing! He can certainly sing much better than I can, but he still won't give any concerts anytime soon!
When I found a good tune then I would put it on repeat, sometimes for several hours, as long as the "high" lasted. Then I would either sing it, dance to it, make funny dance moves or just look at the track barriers and close out all external signals and keep going. Those were the periods when I was able to click away at the miles as I should have for the whole time, although, again, the pace was slower than I would have liked.
I think eventually, by the end of the race, I found a little secret, but it was so late in the race that I couldn't really experiment with it much - that is picking up the pace. The realization came on the 5th night and I am so grateful for Eoin Keith who was chasing me the whole race, for this interesting discovery.
Yep, there were some fireworks the 5th night! It was sooooo much fun too! Eoin is an experienced multi-day runner, he won the Spine race earlier this year in the UK and he holds the Irish 6-day record! So I was chased by an excellent predator who knew very well what he was doing, reeling his pray in slowly, day by day, enough to catch right by the end of the race. It was very clear from the distance that he was making up on me each day that right before the end of the race he would take over the lead. A prospect that I really didn't like!
I always prefer to run my own race, have my own goals and not worry about the competition much. That's why I like chasing records. There is a fixed number I want to reach, regardless of what everyone else is doing in the race. It helps me focus and not stress, just concentrate on doing my best.
However, I also like to win races! When I beat the extremely strong multi-day runner, the Mongolian Budjargal Byambaa in Vegas in the 72h race this February and won outright, I kept telling people during the race who were giving me updates on how he was doing compared to me, that I didn't care. I only cared about the World Record and my own race. But I'll be honest, it gave me pride to beat such a great multi day runner and win the race outright. You can't deny it, it feels good, no shame in that, right?
Crossing the timing mat at 71.5 hours to break the 72h World Record. Photo: Jenny Thorsen
So while I tried to tune out the fact that Eoin was coming after me, and concentrate on my own race, I couldn't help but notice the trend - that my lead was shrinking at exactly the right rate for him. Moreover, he was crewed by pacing mastermind, Mike Dobies. Talk about precision in calculations for what's good enough!
Then on the night of day 5 this is what I see. Eoin suddenly starts to accelerate. Starts running faster and faster laps, increasing speed each lap. Meanwhile, Mike is talking to him each lap, as if he was coaching Eoin, telling him something about pacing, some advice, at length, each lap. What is going through my mind? They are calculating. Maybe Eoin doesn't want to leave it to the very end, maybe he thinks I might pick it up just enough to conserve some of my lead and he wants to take it earlier. I assumed they were calculating what pace he needed to catch me by a certain point in time. That's why he is accelerating little by little, so Mike can see what is enough for whatever goal they agreed on.
And here came the point when I discovered a whole lot of things about myself, the race, my mind, everything. I started to pick up the pace too. I wasn't going to go crazy, we were still both purely at aerobic effort. But it felt like a tempo pace at this point in the race. However, it felt good. I was very surprised how good it felt. And that I could actually do this! I kept thinking "WOW! - I can really do this? Now? WOW!"
Béla, my awesome crew member, was also standing there shocked - what the heck is happening? Where was this pace in the last 3 days? Where is this coming from? We were running around a 6 min/km pace (9:45 min/mi) but remember, we had been running for 5 days at this point, almost non-stop.
I managed to match Eoin's pace approximately. I was having fun, loving it and thinking in my head "there is no such pace! there is no such pace!" - answering his imaginary question of what pace he needs to run to catch me at a certain time.
We ran at this pace for about an hour and 10 mins. I was still surprised I could actually do this and I am so happy Eoin made me realize it. It goes to show that everything is all in our head - the body is capable of so much more than we give it credit for. It also got me thinking about a whole lot of other things. Most importantly, that I felt no pain from any of the injuries while I was running at this faster pace. By this point my back was hurting and it was giving me a lot of problems the last day, but during this 70-min bout I felt no shin pain, no ankle pain, no wrist pain, no back pain, nothing. Everything just clicked and was flawless and effortless, making me happy and just cruising in a high flow state.
It also got me out of a low. I was struggling when it all started and by the end of it I was feeling amazing, not sleepy at all and in a high. So in retrospect I'm wondering if picking up the pace just for a short period of time, 15-20 mins, would get me out of those lows quickly. This is something I certainly want to try in my next race.
Eoin, fellow GOMU official, increased the pace but I was determined to match it. Photo: Jenny Thorsen
During the last 3 days the only time I didn't experience a low in a full 11-hour period between my two sleep breaks was once I managed to get two consecutive sleep breaks in when I actually slept. I think those were the 72h and the 84h breaks, so between 85h and 96h was the only time I felt good in the second half of the race other than that 5th night. That's why I think that if I managed to get all the sleep breaks that were scheduled, the whole story of the last 4 days would have been a different one.
My lows came from being sleepy and not from a negative mindset of any sort. It was very physical and not mental but the interesting part was that once I managed to push past it, I felt no sleepiness for a while - as long as the next high lasted. When I was feeling low I was looking for excuses to take short breaks but I was also trying to find a way to get out of the low state. After a while I wasn't sure if my frequent peeing was actually physical or mental - was I just looking for an excuse for a 90-second break or did I really need to go?
Another time burner were the blisters. I am still not sure why my feet got as bad as they did. Last year I pre-taped and I had one blister on day 1, I treated it and had no other ones until the end of day 3. The main difference was that I had been experimenting with not pre-taping lately so this time I didn't - that might have been a bad call. The other difference was the shoes. Last year I was in Nikes for the whole time while this year I spent most of the race in Hokas and I know that some of these hot spots only come up when I wear Hokas. I got some great advice since from John Vonhof (the authority on athletes' footcare) and I will check the insoles and seams in those shoes and tape them - I'm pretty sure those are causing some of the problems.
I treated the first two blisters myself but the organizers mentioned pre-race that there was a lady, Carey providing foot care so I went to see her when the next few came up, I think that was after breaking the 48h record. She did an amazing job and I could happily keep going, but the blisters kept coming back. In certain spots she ended up putting just doughnuts - these pads provided an outline for blisters to form, they would come, pop, refill, pop, but cause no pain. I just felt the fluid spread every now and then.
The doughnut. There was not an inch on my foot that wasn't taped. Toes were also taped, I'm guessing she was redoing all the toes at this time. Photo: Jenny Thorsen
By day 6 every inch of both of my feet were taped, my toes, between the toes, under the feet, sides of feet on front and back, yet, some of the blisters kept coming back. But on the last day I was again under time pressure. I couldn't afford 10-20 min foot care sessions, and the end was close enough that I decided to just run through the pain for the rest of it. The most painful part was between my big toe and the next on the left foot, but I wasn't even sure if there was anything to treat there or if it was only the huge amount of padding and the previous blisters that gave me the pain. In other spots I was aware of the blisters that came back but those were fine, I could tolerate the pain.
There is an aspect of ultras that seems to fascinate those who haven't experienced it: the hallucinations. Last year in the Dome I didn't have any, my guess was that the constant lighting just didn't make a suitable environment for hallucinations. I must have been wrong, because this year, to my surprise, I did see some "friends" around the track. The middle of the track had two big ice skating rinks where hockey players, speed skaters and figure skaters practiced during the day. At night time, the lights in the middle were dimmed - providing the perfect environment for some "friends" to come out.
I really didn't mind them. I never got into a state (in this, or other ultras either) where I wasn't aware of them not being real. There were these huge trash cans, the size of a human. Those looked like cute black bears sitting on the side of the track. At least I wasn't lonely. There was a point during the first night when I was the only person out on the track - just me and the bears. There were also some other features between the two skating rinks that looked like people sitting there. My hallucinations never move, they are just there, keeping me company. But then when 5-6am came and the early figure skaters showed up for practice - that's when I started to have trouble differentiating who are the "real" people in there and who are just my "friends". That was fun - I kept guessing and looking carefully. I had to look longer because the only way to know if someone was real was to see if they were moving. It kept me occupied for a while each morning.
Trishul, who is the president of GOMU (Global Organization for Multi-Day Ultramarathoners) and an excellent multi-day runner, holding a whole lot of Canadian records, told me that taking vitamin C will make the hallucinations go away. The problem was, I liked them, I didn't want them to go away. So the first two nights I didn't take vitamin C, but then I decided that there might be a time in a future race when I want them to go away. So at least I should try if the trick works. So for the third night I took one 500mg vitamin C pill.... and then my friends didn't come out that night... I was kind of sad but also happy that it worked. They stayed away the next night too, which surprised me. But they came back the last night - I didn't take any more vitamin C.
I didn't overcomplicate nutrition for the race. The first day I was consuming mostly liquid nutrition and gels. My glucose levels were fine for the whole time and once the pace slowed down, I was in pure fat burning territory, especially with my very efficient fat metabolism. I had no worries about running out of energy, I have plenty of stored fat and my glucose level seemed to be in the performance zone, surprisingly, even without eating much. So I decided that I will only eat when I feel hungry and that should be plenty. I wouldn't force food down for energy, it is not necessary for what I'm doing and digesting takes away from the energy that I can put towards running. There were a few staples that I kept eating, the big one being watermelon, then oranges, I had oatmeal or cereal for breakfast, a slice of pizza once, some doughnuts, slices of vegan cheese and mac and cheese. Whatever appealed to me in the moment. Bill Schultz, one of the race directors was great at getting the food the runners asked for, including watermelon and doughnuts for me, and pizza on popular demand. Although he didn't like it when I tried to talk to him without stopping... hahaha... (asking about watermelon).
I always ate on the go and sometimes I was able to chat with people while doing so. From the left: Eoin Keith, Jenny Hoffman (24h race), myself and Barney Riesbeck (who brought me Hungarian salami!)
Many times we would just take the food that was offered and looked good to me and save it for later, because if I didn't feel hungry, I wasn't going to eat just because dinner is being served at a certain time. I had a BLT and a chicken sandwich from the offerings but not when they were offered, usually much later. I always ate on the go, while walking around the track, that was one of the rules we made that I wouldn't sit down for meals.
The biggest challenge towards the end was my back pain. It started late in the race and kept getting worse. The problem started on day 5 I believe or maybe late on day 4. First, we taped my back. That helped. It didn't help when walking - which is what I did when I was eating. The way Carey taped my back relieved the pain when I was shuffling in a jog-like motion but not when I was walking. I was happy with that, I was planning on shuffling around anyway, not walking. I also kept thinking that again, this doesn't feel like an injury of my back. It feels like it's a symptom of my body compensating for something else, a different injury. But I just couldn't figure out what that could possibly be. Another difficulty was also that this time, unlike with the shin pain, I wasn't sure. I never had back pain before while running. It was just a feeling and my logic that kept me thinking and going through all possibilities and trying to understand what was happening.
Meanwhile the back pain kept getting worse. I had a feeling that ice would help but we had no ice, the facility had no freezer. I had a cooler and some food in there that I brought with me from Canada, and it had some ice packs! So the idea came to me to put an ice pack on my back. It was not a small ice pack! But we taped it on my back and that did two things. We taped it tight enough that it put some pressure on my back and that felt great, plus the cold. The trick worked, I was shuffling happily around once again - that is, until the ice pack melted.
I only had one of that size. I had two more that were seriously huge! Well, I had no better ideas so on my back they went! Again, happy shuffling for a while. Until each melted. The other problem with this solution was again the overhead it created. It took a while to put these packs on my back, but that was the lesser of my worries, the bigger one was what we would do once all of them melted. That's when Carey showed up with some ice and a girth! She was seriously resourceful. A huge bag of ice, zip lock bags to contain them and a stretchy girth that would help us tie them to my back really well and snug - so I got the same benefit of pressure.
The large ice pack - running around with this strapped on my back was a challenge! Photo: Jenny Thorsen
Now we had a system going. Lidocaine spray first, ice double-zip-lock-bagged, girth, go. This all went on for about 12 hours - that is how long it took me to figure out the cause of the pain. Which felt really stupid because of how obvious it was. Anybody, who followed my journey to Vegas or since, knows of the injury that was causing all this trouble! I had hamstring tendonitis since last November. Not something new or something that should have taken 12 hours of thinking to figure out! And even then the only reason it occurred to me was because I felt shooting pain from the hamstrings twice - that is when I realized where all the trouble was coming from.
My hamstrings only hurt for the first few hours. Same as in Vegas. Then I never felt any pain there until the last day, when the shooting pain showed up. I have been trying to overcome this injury for over 6 months but I only got more educated about it the last few months before the race. By now, I know the exercises I need to perform, also that it will take anywhere between 6-12 months to rehab if I actually follow the plan and that even later I will need to do some maintenance to prevent the injury from reoccurring. So it is not something that will go away anytime soon, I learned to live and train with it for now, I'm trying to be consistent with the rehab but I admit that it is not going great.
My point is that it is an injury that is in the center of my daily training and rehab practice - why then did it take me 12 hours to think of it... it just showed how much your brain is impaired when you are running for days at end. Now that I realized what the underlying problem was, we finally taped the hamstrings. And that seriously helped! - for a while... I could even run without the bags of ice for a little bit.
Another problem with the ice bags was, other than being a big time burner, that once the ice melted, water started dripping into my pants - no matter how many zip lock bags we put them into. Had I not been badly chafed already maybe it wouldn't have matter that much, but now it just made things even more painful down there and seriously didn't help my comfort. That's why I was very happy to run without the ice bags for a while. I think I even changed to a dry pair of shorts to celebrate!
Sometime around this happening we entered the final 12 hours of the race. There was a question mark in my race plan originally - if I wanted to go down for a final nap or just skip it and push through. My goal was going to be a close call again - I started getting used to it and not freak out over it any more. It also helped that for the whole way it looked like I was going to make it, it would just be close. At this point, and even from day 4 on, the only realistic goal was to break the Canadian 6-day record, so that was the focus now.
Eoin dropped out of the race at the end of day 5 - maybe my message got through? He had a lot of issues himself, I'm not sure what he was struggling with, but I know that it wasn't a smooth sail for him either, from the very beginning. He had the male win sealed and maybe he didn't care about the overall position if he couldn't win or he was just in too much pain or didn't see the point of continuing. Ella Lombardi took over 2nd place but she was too far back to catch me. She was chasing the American 45-49 age group record and broke it.
After Eoin dropped out, he stuck around and to my surprise he stayed awake! Photo: Jenny Thorsen
I was very impressed with Ella! When she was out on the track and jogging, she was moving much better than I was. I kept thinking what is it that she is doing right and I'm doing wrong that she can move like that in the second half of the race. I still don't know the answer but I sure would like to find out!
After a while the taping didn't help any more. I was back to ice in ziplock bags. We were also running out of ice. I had to run/jog/shuffle 5km (3 miles) per hour to make it to the record. I decided not to take the last nap and my main concern wasn't sleepiness any more but my back. Somehow the whole sleepiness issue just disappeared now that there was a different threat to me being able to finish the race and reach my goal. At this time the only way to ease the back pain was to lie on the hard floor on my back for a few minutes. I expected that this would eat up the 45 minutes we allocated for the last nap.
I took one or two of these breaks for my back and I was getting close to the record and it was going to be really close. It was 8 am on Saturday and I still had 10 miles (16km) left to go until the record. The race finished at noon. The 24 hour runners were in the last hour, their race ended at 9 am and Jenny Hoffman was putting up a great performance, making a really good bid for the USA 24h team, putting herself in 2nd position for now in the qualifying process - of course there is still a lot of time left for others to qualify.
At 8 am I remembered the previous night. We had been fighting with Béla for the last hour, him saying I need to go faster to make it (he was looking at a larger time frame and what I was able to do in that time frame in the past few hours and that not being enough), while I knew I would make it at the 5km (3.2 miles) per hour pace (including overhead) that I was doing for the 2 hours prior and most of the time when I was actually out moving on the track the last 3 days.
Béla Vados, crew extraordinaire, handing me something hot - maybe noodles? Not shouting with me just yet! Photo: Jenny Thorsen
I look at it as a positive thing, but I hope nobody was nearby to hear our shouting match that went on for several laps. Our table was far enough so I don't think anybody noticed. But to me, it means he cares, he deeply cares and that is all a runner can ask for. And yeah, it means that sometimes you need to keep shouting at your runner to push her to where she wants to be. I might have even called him names - ooops, sorry! You can't hold me responsible for what I say on day 6 of a race, right? He is a dear friend.
He kept pushing me to try and run like I did on the 5th night with Eoin. And so I did. I remembered how nothing was hurting that night, how all the pain went away, how it felt great and how it made me happy. So off I went, 4 hours before the end of the race, to chip away at the last 10 miles (16 kms) for the Canadian record. I wasn't sure how long I could run like that but I really wanted to find out, and I was relatively confident that at least for 10 miles. I suspected that maybe not for 4 hours though. As I set off, the spectators who came to see the end of the 24h race cheered me on which made things easier. People also started to gather for the end of the 6-day race, although that was a few hours away.
But as the 24h runners were finishing their race I was putting up a pretty good pace for a 6-day runner and I really enjoyed it. I only went as fast as it was comfortable, which first was the same pace as that night. I managed to run half the remaining distance in one go, no pain! Then took a little break - I could only lie down. Walking hurt my back the most and even shuffling was too painful any more. Lying on the floor for a few minutes with my back flat felt good. Then off I went again, finishing the remaining distance to the record, putting an extra lap or two on top. And I still had 80 minutes of the race left! It is always a big question what you do - do you keep going to push the record up for future generations to come as high as you can? Or stop there being happy with the minimal increase?
I took another little break and decided that I would keep going, running like that as long as my body allows, not letting the last 80 minutes go to waste. So I got up again, one last time, to see how much more I have left in me of this pace, with the plan of taking short breaks if needed. After about 15 more minutes of running however, my back decided that it had had enough and the pain finally showed up even when I was running.
I finished that lap just past the 143rd hour, something like 5 minutes after the last hour started, crawled over the timing mat and lay down by Mike Melton on the floor with my back flat, not moving for the next little while. I was done. Handed my chip in. I only added about 2 km (just over a mile) to the record, but it was still a record and it put me (interestingly, again!) in 20th on the all time list worldwide for 6-day performances for women. I seem to have a ticket for that position in all distances!
The fact that my back held up exactly as long as it needed to, and after breaking the record it just gave in, makes me also wonder if this - as almost everything else in running - is mental. Isn't it interesting that once I reached my goal, even running started hurting but until that point it was painless? Just something to think about.
Flying through the last laps to break the 6-day Canadian Record with 80 minutes left from the race
A few words about my crew. I'm always extremely grateful when people sacrifice their time to help me in my races and these ultras are almost impossible to do well without a crew. There was Brian from the start for a few days, he is my crew chief and knows me best, and by now even looking in his eyes I know what he is thinking, if he is approving what I'm about to do or not ("I don't think you should go down for a nap right now..." - Grrrrrr....). I rely heavily on his judgement and firmness to steer me in the right direction during the race.
When Brian had to go, Béla took over crew chief. He did Vegas 72h with me and is starting to know me almost as well as Brian. He is a bit too nice and too caring for the tough moments sometimes, however, as he just proved, he can be tough when my race is on the line! He also did all the driving to and from the race which was huge help.
Márta is a friend from Hungary who lives in Chicago and helped out for the first few days and brought my spare shorts from Hungary, I really needed those! Jenny Thorsen is a professional photographer and crewed me for the first time here, she was absolutely amazing and as a bonus, took some great photos. She also brought the most delicious doughnuts when she showed up. Nutella filled doughnut! Talk about yummm... (Although I ended up eating less of them than what I had expected. So unpredictable!)
There were also a few Trail Sisters that showed up to cheer me on which was great, I loved seeing their faces. They crewed me last year when the borders were closed and I couldn't bring my own crew and provided a moral boost this year as well as a little break for other crew members when needed.
I asked for a "sitting podium" ceremony. My back was killing me while standing. From left: Ella Lombardi, myself and Chastity Hertel, the women's podium finishers.
I was very happy with how it went at the end and that I was able to get through the whole race. Breaking the Canadian record and winning the race outright were great additional confidence boosters. There were a lot of things that didn't go as planned, and even things that did go as planned were not necessarily planned correctly. I know how to correct some of the issues that I faced, eg. pre-taping injured areas would definitely help. I'm excited about trying to do better next time and to see how much I have in me when things go better - if they ever do. Or maybe there are different issues that come up next time and it is always a matter of problem solving and being flexible and creative. I know that I just started a journey and I'm curious to see how far it takes me. Even if the ultimate goal of breaking the World Record is completely out of my reach, I will try to keep improving and at least get as close to it as I can.
Super ! Amazing !!
What an inspirational show !!
Thank you, Marina, congrats on your race! Justin, congrats on your race, it was great chatting with you a few times. I loved your outfits and you did amazing!
I also feel like I found out during this race how to go new levels when I feel exhausted. I am proud I was able to get my original goal of 300 miles by getting 306 miles.(While in amazing outfits)
Congrats on the well earned records.
Seeing you and Eoin battle(while most were sleeping) was the craziest thing I saw there.
Congratulations, Viktoria. You were amazing and always with a smile. Thank you for this great story, motivation and advices. 😊
Thank you, Trishul! And thank you for all the support!