Race: 3 Days at the Fair, 6 Hour Race
Date: May 16, 2015
Location: Augusta, NJ
Results: 46 Miles
Of Note: First timed race
Of Note: First timed race
For at least two or three years, I’ve heard tell of 3 Days at the Fair, a race which has become nearly mythical to me. It seems like every year a national or world record is broken at that race, and the very best runners from 24 hours to 72 hours show up and run their shoes off. The blogs of Sabrina Little and John Fegyveresi initially tuned me into the race, and my move to NYC gave me the opportunity to enter myself into this year’s competition. Now, mind you, I have yet to reach the level of respectability to enter a 24+ hour race, but I thought I’d give the timed race a try this year when I signed up for the 6 hour version. Not only would this be my first timed event, but it would be my first evening start, with a gun time of 6pm and a finish time of midnight.
I rolled into the Sussex County Fairgrounds at about 1 or 2pm Saturday--plenty of time to set up my tent, snag an hour nap, and walk the course. I set up my tent just steps off the course at about the quarter mile point. Immediately, my neighbors struck up conversation and I found out they were crewing and volunteering. Just to think that people had been running since 9am Thursday, and others had been volunteering even before that, is incredible. I am not yet at that level of running expertise, but just witnessing their trotting and jogging more than 50 hours into the race was, to say the least, eye opening for me. I’d read up about these races, and devoured the blog posts of many a timed event racer, but had never fully understood how visceral of an experience they were, even for the spectators. It’s pure drive and dedication, distilled into a potent 24, 48, or 72 hour run.
I jogged over to the start/finish line with about 25 minutes to 6pm. What had initially been a sunny and hot Saturday quickly descended into an ominously cloudy evening. Waves of dark clouds began roiling overhead and perhaps 10 minutes before the start, thunder crashed around us. A bit of lightening here and there lightened the mood, and the race director, Rick McNulty, told everyone that the clock would not stop. Everyone ran at their own risk. We few 6 hour runners gathered under the pavilion near the startline; two men, including me, and four women would toe the line for this race. Two people had already run their 6 hour races earlier in the weekend, and set marks of 32 miles for the men, and 27 for the women. Moments before our start, the deluge came. It was more funny than frustrating--of course it would start pouring right as our race kicked off! As Rick gave us a count down, I ran to the timing mat to activate my chip, then took off at the sound of the bell.
The first lap was simply water running, which, if you’ve ever tried the actual version in a pool, you know is completely futile. The rain was coming down so hard, I had to close my eyes nearly all the way in order to keep the bombardments from crushing my corneas. I never knew rain could hurt so much! But it was a blast, and way too fast. I knew that I’d be overexcited out of the gate, and let myself indulge in that first loop. The adrenaline, mixed with the fact that I had a hard time judging my speed because I had to close my eyes, meant I ended up running a 6:31 first lap. But I relaxed after that. Running in loops was more enjoyable than I envisioned. Before entering the race, I couldn’t stop the questions racing through my head. Would I get bored or disinterested in the course? What would I think about? Would passing the finish line every mile get to me? Would my feet hold up on asphalt for 6 hours? I also didn’t know what kind of strategy to run with. Before the race, I had a feeling I was capable of 45 miles, but couldn’t decide on how to get there. I thought of trying to run the first 26 miles in 3 hours, then leveling out my pace to finish with 45 miles. I ran 3:11 in my first marathon in Cleveland back in 2009 and have yet to run faster over that distance. After conferring with Steve, I eventually made the intelligent choice of running an even pace throughout. Steve advised I try the goal setting Sabrina Little wrote about when she was preparing for her 48 hour run on the same course:
“Here is my race plan:
Don’t get greedy with the miles early on. Pace myself.
Eat before I’m hungry.
Drink before I’m thirsty.
Think about what I’m doing as little as possible.”
I decided to try the same goal setting for my much-shorter race, with the caveat that I would only drink when thirsty. (I figured I was running ⅛ of what she had been prepping for so that advice couldn’t hurt!) As the race developed, I decided to achieve 45 miles by running the first three hours at an 8 mile/hour pace and hanging on for the last three at 7 miles/hour. When I pulled into the start/finish line after that manic first loop, the downpour ceased and merely continued as a drizzle. It seemed that the sky was saving that 8 minutes of ridiculous downpour only as a welcome to the 6 hour runners. And it was a warm welcome at that. No really, the rain was really warm and strangely soothing. After that first loop, I lost my red singlet as it had collected a lot of water weight. I kept it off throughout the race, yet I never got too chilly. After another half loop, the insoles in my KMDs were slipping so far out of my FiveFingers, I had to stop and take them out. I tightened the velcro and dumped the insoles when I passed my tent. I had lined up a pair of real shoes in my tent in case the KMDs got too water logged or if my feet took too much of a beating on that asphalt loop. I never ended up needed any changes though.
As the loops ticked by, I focused on reaching the finish line each time within 7½ minutes of the last crossing. This strategy kept things interesting for me--if I stopped for food or drink, I’d speed it up a little to get back as close to 7:30 as I could. The race was not at all boring or repetitive as I worried it would become. It became very meditative, not in a faux spiritual sense but in more of a metronomic sense. Instead of focusing on the variances of the course, be it elevation, rocks, roots, or the very direction of the course, I was able to refocus all of my mental energy on pacing. I enjoyed running with people who were running all different races and trading words of encouragement when we crossed paths. If prior to the race I thought there wouldn’t be many spectators crazy enough to sit through three days of cheering even crazier people run repeatedly around a mile loop, the wonderful spectators, volunteers, and crewmembers at 3 Days at the Fair would have proven me wrong. You can’t help but feel great when there’s somebody at practically every corner of the course cheering you on each loop. It never seemed to get old for them, and I can’t thank them enough for bringing smiles to our faces. Throughout the night, more runners joined us, as a marathon and 50K started sometime before midnight. Although I know they must have been dead tired from running for 2½ and 1½ days, I felt the energy from the 72 and 48 hour runners. What they were doing was something I’ve read about but never witnessed first hand. It was more than worth the trip over to Augusta just to see a group of people achieving so many new goals. This is the most insane part--while there were eight of us in the 6 hour race, there were 72 people running the 72 hour race (perfect) and 43 people in the 48 hour race. I could barely wrap my mind around that. Where do you find 115 people who want to run 2+ days?!
I got through the first 3 hours by aiming for my 8 miles per hour. For the first two hours I was eating pretty well. They had butternut squash soup, which was amazing. I would pour some into a cup, then run a lap to let it cool down a bit before grabbing it and taking with me on the loop. After the first two hours, though, my stomach stopped cooperating and I had a lot of trouble taking in food. It felt like I wasn’t hungry and couldn’t eat anything else, but I knew I would need all the energy I could get. By the time I wrapped up my 24th mile at 2:59, I really started worrying about my fuel intake. I had previously decided to take a quick sit down break at 3:00 to put on a pair of dry socks and reapply RunGoo to both feet. When I sat down at my tent to do so, and to put my insoles back in, the guys camping next to me asked me how my race was going. I told them it was going well, but that I was worried about not being able to get food down. Immediately they offered me their gummy bears and some Swedish Fish, which I graciously accepted. After spending four minutes fixing my feet, I was back up and running with a new bounce in my step that was equally due to the gift of candy as it was the dry socks. I ran a few laps with the bag of gummy bears, chomping on my loot, then placed them on the water bottle table when I felt like I had a good amount. I didn’t eat anything else for the last 2:45 or so, only drinking coke and water until the end of the race. I think other runners were able to make use of the leftover gummies, which made me happy!
After that quick pit stop, I started thinking about how the race would finish up. I did not want to finish mile 45 with something like 6 minutes til midnight, thinking that if I only sped up a couple of seconds each of the five previous laps I would have enough time to squeeze one more lap in; but I also didn’t want to drop my pace and jog in the last five miles, when I already ran 40 miles under an 8 minute pace. I tried to motivate myself by repeatedly telling myself I had only five more laps and one little bonus lap to go. during the 2 previous hours, I had also promised myself I would start using the split function on my watch. I have a relatively simple watch that is GPS-less and can only store 10 lap splits. I had started my watch at the beginning of the race and simply eyed it for my time throughout the race. Going into those final miles I began to hit the split button each time I crossed the mat to make sure I truly got my laps done in 8 minutes flat. I still had a difficult time doing this, and ended up between 4 and 2 seconds over 8 minutes each lap. This worried me and by the time I got down to the one more lap then a bonus lap mantra, a sneaking thought crept into my brain, just go for 45 miles then call it quits, that was your goal anyway. When I was about halfway done with lap 45 I made up my mind to roll through and finish it at that, not pull out a bonus lap. Just when I came up with that genius idea, I was coming up on John Fegyveresi. He turned around and told me that I had one more lap in me. Now, let’s take a second to put this in perspective. Here’s a guy who is 63 hours into a 72 hour race. It’s midnight on the third night of the race and he’s cheering on someone who’s running 1/12 as long as he is? I didn’t know it at the time, but John was 222 miles into his race at that point. I knew he was in the 200s, and thought, crap, he’s right. When I crossed the mat for the 45th time, I had exactly 8 minutes til midnight. I tried to crank it up a gear to ensure I didn’t lose that last mile by seconds. By then, I could barely tell how fast I was going because I was relatively exhausted. Cloud Cult’s Brain Gateway began playing in my head, I’ll turn my stupid brain into a gateway / Meet me in the place where life comes to get away... which somehow felt accurate in describing the mental process of running a timed race. I was able to squeeze that one last mile in and crossed the mat for the last time with a minute to spare, because I simply didn't have a one minute mile in me that day.
|Sunny Morning Award Ceremony|
After taking a shower and getting some dry clothes on, I walked back to the start line pavilion to eat and hang out with whoever was there. It’s funny how quickly priorities change after a race--I was walking over with my awesomely warm 3 Days at the Fair fleece and an umbrella. (A very important side note to describe just how comfortable the fleece is--I failed to bring a sleeping bag with me but that 3 Days fleece worked better than any sleeping bag I've ever owned.) Hanging out for two hours with a mix of runners, volunteers and those of us who already finished our races was so wonderful. Everyone comes to a timed race for a completely different reason. Some people are speedsters trying to break a national record, while some are there to notch a personal best, and others are just there for a tune up race and the great energy. I came to get my feet wet, and ended up doing just that. If nothing else, I will come back to 3 Days at the Fair for my next foray at timed racing and for the company. Just being around such adventurous individuals makes me want to jump the gun and give 72 hours a go. Of course, I know I have a lot of crawling to do before I reach that point.
Oh, yeah, and I also want to come back for the rodeo. Yes, there was a full-on rodeo complete with parachuters occurring in the middle of our race.
|Awesome Race Directors, and Bigfoot is Still Blurry|