72h World Record - race recap
WOW - so I did it! I don't even know where to start this report, the whole 3 days seem to be just a big blur so far, but I will try to peel back as much as I can dig out from my memory.
Let's start with a little perspective. This race was not a goal in itself but a stop on the way in my quest for a 6-day record. I'm so new to ultrarunning (I've been doing it for less than 18 months) that I felt that I needed a bit more experience before jumping into another 6-day race. I also think that there is a big difference between a 48-hour and a 72-hour race, and that a 48-hour race wouldn't have given me the insights and the experiences I was looking for.
This is why I signed up for the Jackpot Ultra near Las Vegas in Henderson, NV. Running for 3 days is as close as you can get to running for 6-day without actually running for 6 days. And I'm very happy to say that I got the answer to all of the open questions that remained regarding my strategy and gear choices for a 6-day race.
A side goal of the race was to break the 3-day World Record. The importance of this is that the 3-day record was originally set as a split time during the 6-day record in 1990, by New Zealand runner, Sandra Barwick, who holds the 6-day World Record - a 32-year-old record. And because the back end of a 6-day (or any race) is not my forte, there is no other way for me to beat the 6-day record than to be ahead half way. That is what I managed to prove with this run, that I can be ahead half way, even though it is also clear that I will need to be ahead more than this to have any kind of a chance. But I think that will also be doable, since this wasn't an easy or flat course.
I was going to have two friends help me out. My North-American crew chief, Brian, from Milwaukee and my friend's husband, Bela, from Toronto. I flew in on Wednesday, Bela came on Thursday, race started Friday morning at 8am and Brian was supposed to arrive Friday afternoon around 6pm. Except his flight was cancelled because of the snow storms. Flights for the next day cost $1000+ so we decided against it - all this while I'm running the first day.
Concentrating on the task at hand, not letting circumstances distract me
Bela and I started looking for some help for that night so that he can get a few hours of sleep. Eventually we found someone, but the person showed up for the shift drunk, drugged and was never at our station when I came around to hand me my drink. After this fiasco Bela decided not to leave our station again. He slept for the 1h on day 2 when I did and that was it until the last day, when, from a nearby tent, a guy came over offering help - Kelly. He was a God sent, he did an amazing job holding the fort while Bela (who at this point was in worse shape than I was) could get a few hours of sleep - until I woke him up because I needed a power nap and he was sleeping on the same cot.
Day 1 went almost as planned, with the exception of Brian's arrival and the blister issues. I made a very stupid mistake with my socks. I didn't realize that the second pair that I put on top of my usual pair were compression socks - they weren't compressing that much, so I didn't notice but the name (CompressSport) should have cued me in! So I was in big trouble for blisters and although I treated them and taped them and removed the outer socks after realizing the amateur mistake, the blisters just got worse and worse - and by the end of the race I was down to raw flesh in some spots.
I didn't hit the target distance on day 1. I didn't want to push it since I knew I had 2 more days left, so I just took what came comfortably and that was only 200 km / 125 mi. Which is not enough. I should be up at least to 210 km / 131 mi if I want any hope in a 6-day.
The night got chilly but I live in Canada so I was ok. I wore my asthma mask all night to help with the cold and dry air. I knew people were wondering what the heck... and that some thought it was a COVID mask. I didn't realize others assumed it was an altitude mask. I think there was only one person, who was sitting at the start/finish line, who knew what it was - an asthma mask. Others kept asking Bela, who kept explaining. Basically, this mask saved my race, my airways never closed up because of it. I owe huge thanks to Nicholas Tiller, UCLA researcher and author (you should read his book, it is phenomenal!) for suggesting this to me. This was the last piece I had to figure out to have any hope of breaking the record.
A smile behind the mask - they called me DarthViki
I wanted to find a solution for the chafing, which I did, and it is to wear triathlon shorts - they worked wonders, and with the help of my new sponsor, Squirrel's Nut Butter, I was all set for no chafing.
I have also been doing ankle strengthening exercises for the last few months and those worked as intended too, I had absolutely no problems with my ankles. Another box ticked.
Going into the race wasn't smooth though. About two weeks before the start I was diagnosed with tendinitis in the left glutes - plus in another 3 areas that were trying to compensate: right glutes and both hamstrings. This didn't bode well for running 3 days straight. So I had to pull back on the training a little bit but I was entering taper anyway. We replaced a long run with a long ride - at that point riding didn't hurt. But then I couldn't finish the ride either, because it started hurting.
So we really didn't know if I was going to be able to run one hour or 72. It was a total gamble, but I also didn't want to not even show up. I decided that I would start the race, see how badly it hurts and if I can tolerate the amount of pain.
To my huge surprise the injury only hurt for the first 4 hours or so, for the first marathon. Then never again. I just didn't feel it, not even in the background, whatsoever. Was it because other pain took over? Probably. Will it come back now that the race is over? Almost certainly. I mean, it is no way to cure tendinitis to run 288 mi / 464 km on it, right? So I will take care of it and let it heal now that the race is over, but it went as well as it possibly could regarding the injury during the race.
The big question for me about pacing in my whole multi day quest is if I can bring in 100 miles / 161 km on day 2 and I think by now I know the answer. The answer is: NO. So I need a more realistic target for day 2 but I don't know what that is yet. This time I missed day 2 target as well as the 48h target. There was a possibility that I would break the 48h Canadian record (that I hold) as a split but by the middle of day 2 it was clear that I would have to push for that and even then it would be borderline so I quickly let that idea go, knowing that I had a whole day still in front of me and that the end goal is much higher than a split time Canadian record.
There was still quite a bit of smiling and happy running on day 2 and then it becomes a bit of a blur until the last 13 hours. That is when all our calculations showed how close the end will be. Those last 13 hours were brutal.
The days were hot and the nights were cold
I don't do well with close finishes mentally. I find them so draining while if I have a good buffer, I can outrun any obstacles just from the joy of having it in the bank. But if the finish is a close call then I keep calculating and calculating and re-calculating at a point in the race when my brain is not really working whatsoever, so I just get more and more frustrated and it also takes up a lot of energy that should be used for running instead. I am fully aware of this, it wasn't the first time that I had a close finish for a record, so I'm working on handling situations like this better, but I just find it extremely hard. That's why I always front load and I don't even think about even or negative splitting any races. It just doesn't work for me mentally.
I went to some very dark places in those last 13 hours. I was shuffling around the course at a snail's pace, but my walk was too slow to make it, so I had to keep shuffling (running) and couldn't afford to walk - even though most people were walking faster than I was shuffling at this point.
Eventually I started walking up the one big hill and then both bigger hills every lap. I afforded myself that much. What we also escaped the first two days, we couldn't get away from the last night and morning - the wind. It started to get bad and Bela kept saying how bad it was, but interestingly, that didn't get to me as much as the darkness of the night did.
This course was NOT flat. I ran this little incline every lap but walked another two on the last day.
I kept checking the horizon for any sign of sunlight. Even though I knew full well the time of sunrise: 6:23am. But for some reason I remembered that the previous day the sun started peeking out about an hour before that. So from something like 4am (talk about optimistic), I was fixated on the spot where the first rays hit the sky - except they didn't for another while.
This was also the time when I had to simply ignore the blisters. I could have treated them and then they wouldn't have gotten as bad as they did but I simply didn't have time for it. It can take 20 mins each time to take care of them and I didn't have that kind of buffer. So the only solution was to run through the pain and that's what I did. Same with lubing and wiping sweat off - I skipped them for the last 13 hours because they take too much time.
I even decreased the liquid intake below my sweat rate so I would need less pee breaks - those few minutes can add up too. It was just a race to the end and even the last few laps, even the last lap was just so hard. I can't describe the joy of crossing that finish line and knowing that I made it. That it was all worth it, that my family didn't sacrifice so much for nothing, that I didn't come all the way for nothing.
I had about 30 minutes left when I finished my last full lap and then the partial lap would be measured and added to the full laps for final distance. So crossing the finish line in this case didn't mean the end. I kept shuffling for another 20 minutes and then walking for the last 10 when finally the beep sounded to signal that our 72 hours were up. The race director marked my spot and then measured the partial lap - luckily there was a certified 1 mile mark nearby so he didn't need to wheel measure too much.
With race director, Ken Rubeli. My finishing spot is marked with green paint and he wheeled the final distance.
All in all, I'm happy with how the race went - a World Record is a World Record after all. I believe I also found the solution for almost everything regarding multi day races and that gives me a lot of confidence for my next race.
I'm grateful for all the support from the people around me as well as my sponsors.
Thank you:- To my husband and 3 daughters for putting up with what I do
- My mom for being my biggest supporter
- My coach, Allen Stanfield from Team MPI
- Bela Vados, the best 72h crew ever
- Nicholas Tiller for the tips on how to handle my asthma
- HoldTheCarbs, F2C Nutrition, Squirrel's Nut Butter, G2G Bars, Team MPI and Running Free Canada for supporting my journey