Here’s a quick summary of how to run around a 400m track for 24 hours. You start running and you only make left turns. Do that for 6 hours. Stop. Turn around. Start running again, but this time (and here is the exciting part…) YOU GET TO MAKE RIGHT TURNS! Do that for another 6 hours. Stop. Turn around and repeat the whole thing all over again.
OK I bet I lost most of you already. Don’t worry. There’s still good stories that come from running in circles so stay with me here.
Lets start with my Why.
Why the hell would anyone ever want to run around an oval track for 24 hours? Normally, I love to pack all the beauty, nature and adventure I can into my runs by hitting the trails and mountains as much as possible, so signing up for a 24-hour track event at the last minute was a little out of character for me. I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t have a good ‘Why’ for Survivorfest 2021. I wanted to see just how far I could go. After hitting 100 miles in 24 hours last summer at Quarantine Backyard Ultra, I knew I could cover at least a bit more distance in the same amount of time. I also wanted to play around a bit more with my nutrition plan over 16 hours…that didn’t go so well…but more on that later.
Also, when Klondike Ultra had to switch to a virtual format, I just wasn’t as excited about it. I want to do it right, with people, aid stations and a real race on the trails with my friends, so I deferred to next year. Survivorfest also had to switch to a virtual format but since I wasn’t exactly signing up for a track event for the scenery, I was fine with it. The Race Director, Laura is an extraordinary person, and I was more then happy to join what she calls the ‘Survivorfest Family’. Lastly, one of the biggest draws to this event for me was the cause. Survivorfest is a fundraiser for Saffron Centre in Sherwood Park. They provide counseling services for survivors of sexual assault as well as education in schools about consent. Over the last few years, this issue has deeply affected some people I care about and has left most of us feeling pretty helpless. Lucky for me, my best running happens when I feel helpless; turns that feeling into something that feels productive.
I quickly realized I had no freakin clue what I was doing. I have never done a track event before, and only realized about a week before that there are a lot of rules to the sport. Some friends of mine were doing the ‘virtual event’ in person (that doesn’t make sense but don’t over think it, nothing about Covid rules make sense!) and had rented a timing system to use the event as a qualifier for Team Canada at a World 24-hour track competition. I was invited to join them, but that didn’t feel right. I needed to be true to me. I knew what I wanted my day to look like, and the pressure of a qualifying distance was not for me.
I admit, I was pretty nervous leading up to race day. I have been struggling with plantar’s fasciitis since November, and while it is slowly improving, it has still been difficult to manage and I was scared the pain would get unbearable after a couple hours. I bought a couple new pairs of shoes and hoped for the best.
I set my intention for the day with the mantra of “Keep Going”. It felt fitting. After this dumpster fire of a pandemic there has been a lot of uncertainty in everyone’s life, mine included. And there have been plenty of days lately where that is about all I can do; Keep Going. I was determined that no matter what happened, I would keep moving forward for 24 hours. I wasn’t going to worry about pace. I was only going to focus on forward motion.
Simple enough right?
My husband Kirk helped me load up all my gear and we headed to the track behind the high school a couple blocks from my house. Our friend Blake was waiting for us and had set up balloons along the track to wish me well as I started. Kirk joined me for the first hour and then he shifted his attention to setting up a tent and my aid station while I kept going in circles with a run/walk strategy of 700m run, 100m walk.
The sun was starting to warm up and I was feeling good. Kirk was keeping me well hydrated and fueled, mostly with Tailwind to start. By about noon, his sister and all four of my nieces and nephews showed up and that was when the party really got started.
Every run has a highlight. Whether it is the summit of Leg 6 at Sinister 7, or the stars at the Grand Canyon, there is always a defining moment on these big runs that you will never forget. The highlight of running around in circles that day? Was my nephew. His name is Noah and he is 14. He’s athletic but doesn’t play sports. His last run was a 5km with me at Parkrun…pre-Covid…so…long time ago. He started running with me and just didn’t stop. He just kept going, and going, and going. Until we advised him to stop before he got heat stroke. He logged over 25 km and probably could’ve gone a lot further. Seriously, how many 14 year old’s do you know would do that?
It was a steady stream of people for the rest of the day. Some people doing over 20k with me, some doing just a few laps, some brought treats and cheered from the sidelines. Keith brought a whole circus with him including a fencing sword, a bike set up as long as a train and full kitchen kit to make what he called ‘a track snack attack’ station including hotdogs and freshly brewed coffee. The day was shaping up exactly as I had hoped, sun, smiles, kids everywhere and my incredible community out in full force.
My second crew chief, Tania came mid afternoon to help out and trade Kirk off for a bit. I’ve missed her desperately in my run world lately as she’s out with a knee injury, but she showed up in full support and even rode her bike around the track for probably 40km at a painfully slow pace just to keep me company.
Thanks to a well-timed Slurpee delivery and a couple Electrolyte Freezies, I had survived the hottest part of the day and was looking forward to the temperatures cooling off. I was pretty proud of hitting 50 miles in 9 hours and still going strong.
Now 100k. Sunset. Walk a bit more then usual.
Every time a new friend showed up, I got a new burst of energy and managed to keep shuffling but I started to falter around 13 hours in. My friend Jen came around 10pm and excitedly announced I was over half-way, and I looked at her in despair. Half way? That’s it? I couldn’t wrap my head around doing all that again. Not with this foot pain. Not with how raw I felt after a day in the sun. No way. My mental game started to show some cracks. We switched to run a lap, power walk a lap, and that helped, but I still couldn’t stop thinking about how far away 9 am felt.
This was the part of my day that made me thankful I chose to run ‘by myself’ on my own track instead of trying to qualify for Team Canada. In a qualifying event you aren’t allowed company. You can talk to other runners but you aren’t even really supposed to run at the same pace. I am pretty sure if I had been there, by myself, I would’ve sat down around 2 am and never got back up. But the cool part about doing the event my way, is that all through the night, more and more friends kept appearing to…well…make sure I stuck to my mantra. Keep Going. They just kept coming out of the darkness to support. Julia and Paula on their bikes, Curtis at 3 am on his way home from running Klondike, Tania came back to send Kirk home to sleep for a few hours. And Faye. Faye the angel who shuffled over a marathon with me through the night, feeding, encouraging even massaging my cramping feet. Often in silence, talking me down when I accidently stopped my watch and threw a fit, telling me to turn my anger into run energy and just hit start on my watch again. Keep Going. At 2 am, I sat down to wrap in a blanket, change my shoes and have some perogies and coffee. I was cold and my feet were in excruciating pain. I was still irrationally discouraged over stopping my watch and got a little emotional. I allowed myself a couple tears and then threw off that blanket and just kept marching. If I was gonna feel sorry for myself, I was gonna do it while still moving forward.
Thankfully, June races mean short nights and the sunrise brought new energy. It also brought Thomas and his thoughtful offering of a McDonald’s hashbrown which was weirdly the only thing that appealed to me after hours of battling nausea. I would go to on to regret that when the rest of my digestive system was like ‘What is this garbage?’ a few hours later but…maybe those details don’t need to be in my race report. (To answer the oft asked question… if I had to pee I hid in a small patch of trees near the track and a few times I paused my watch and got a ride home to use the bathroom.)
By about 5 am, we got another visit from the Roving Race Director Laura (and Dave!) just after I hit 100 miles (161 km) and reached a distance personal best. With 4 hours left, I was already reduced to mostly walking, and was feeling pretty tired. I knew that my overly ambitious goal of 200km was not even an option, but we calculated that even if I walked the last four hours I could hit my next goal of 180km. It was pretty simple at that point. I just needed to let the clock run out. I wasn’t doing so well with food anymore but was feeling well enough to eat just the bare minimum to fuel a walk pace. I was hoping to have done a better job at forcing down calories after that time but I just couldn’t. (These are problems I will have to solve before taking on multi day runs…)
With the day heating up again, more friends came to join. Bleary eyed kids were dragged from their beds and neighbours walked over with coffee in hand. I sure hope the people in the houses across the streets were watching this dog and pony show unfold as the lunatic on the track turned into the pied piper with a crowd of 15 people following in circles.
The countdown was on. I checked in with the virtual team to connect with the other runners all over the city to see how everyone was managing and was so encouraged to see smiling faces and happy reports of survival through the night. 10 minutes to go. I can run for 10 more minutes right? Those who were dressed to run started shuffling with me, and the walkers dropped off. I have no idea where that kind of energy came from but was so thrilled to have hit over 180 km. Even better to do that with so many of my favourite people there with me.
A minute to go. Kids were cheering while devouring rainbow sprinkle donuts.
I picked up the pace to finish the last 200 meters and hit 181 km exactly. Keith, in his jeans, skate shoes and coffee in hand yelling behind me “You’re dropping pacers!” and I looked at my watch to see I was running a sub 5min/km pace on what I can only describe as pure adrenaline and good vibes.
And guess what? I still had to keep going to get back to the end. This is the problem with finishing your race at the wrong end of the track!
That’s a good metaphor for life. Sometimes you think you’re done but then you realize you still gotta get home. But that’s ok. Good things happen when you just keep going.
Lets wrap this up with the numbers:
24 hours on a 400-meter track
181km (enough to qualify for Team Canada…if I had joined the qualifying event!)
$1660 raised for Saffron Centre
47 people and 3 dogs came out to support.
1st place Female in Survivorfest.