2014 Hinson Lake 24-Hour-Run: The Third Time's The Charm

Before the start gunI made it to the banana lap. I’ll pause to allow the significance of that statement to sink in.

For those unaware of what a banana lap is, when you run a 24-hour loop, on what is most likely your last lap you’re handed a banana with your bib number on it. When the horn sounds announcing the end of the 24-hours, you set your banana down so they can measure exactly how far you ran during the race. (Sobbing with gratitude that it’s finally over is optional.)

This was my third year running the race. Year one, I got 62.1 miles. Last year, 76 miles. This year, my official total was 86.341 miles.

This year’s race stood out on several accounts. Here are a few highlights.

Daniel and Dena - 2014Cindy and Dena - 2013I went alone. My friend Daniel (leading contender for “Nicest Guy On Earth” award) also ran but as often happens, we ended up running different paces and probably only did 5 or 6 laps together. This was my first year crewing for myself and while I missed Blair’s reassuring presence, I surprised myself by how well I managed to get by.

The start was a struggle. By mile 10 I was wondering if I should just run a marathon and go home. My mind wasn’t in the game and my glutes started hurting early, around mile 18 or 20. I kind of resigned myself that today was not going to be my day.

Then I found my groove. Sometime around mile 30, my mojo kicked in. I think it has to do with overcoming a mental block. Even after running 18 miles, it seems like you’ve barely accomplished anything when you look at what’s still before you. By mile 30, you feel like you’ve done something and can start mentally breaking the rest of the run down by chunks. “Okay, I’ll post to Facebook when I hit 40 miles. I’ll change clothes at 50. I wonder if I can hit 60 miles before it gets too dark?” Playing with little sets of 5 and 10 mile goals made the time go by faster.

I spoke to almost no one. 24-hour runs are social events, where you end up near different people and chat to pass the time. Since I was struggling, I put my earbuds in early, around mile 12 and didn’t take them out until almost mile 40. By that time I was in my own head in a good way and just ended up not really saying anything more to people than the occasional “Hey” or “Good job.”

Hokas saved my life. My friend Cindy gave me her Hokas to run in and I truly believe they saved the day once I changed into them at mile 30. Last year, it took me almost 2 months to recover from the run. My body felt permanently damaged. This year, I was back to normal within 48 hours. HOKAS = LIFE.

I took fewer short breaks and one long break. Last year, I took a couple of 15 and 20 minute breaks and was still barely able to walk when I went off the course at 2 am. This year, my strategy was to run hard during the day and get in as many miles as possible before it got dark. Other than a few quick bathroom breaks and one break to change clothes/shoes, I was on the course pretty much non-stop until midnight.

My times were better. I didn't hit 76 miles until 2:30 am last year. This year, I hit 74 miles almost exactly at midnight. At that point, I decided to head to the hotel for a shower and couple hours sleep. I made the strategic decision to go off course before I matched last year’s run. That way I gave myself no choice but to return.

Never underestimate the power of a shower.  The hotel shower at 12:30 am was life changing. As were the almost 3 hours sleep. I got up at 3:30, moving slowly to be sure, puttered around and was back on the course a little before 5 am.

I was faster after the nap. When I left the course at midnight, I was walking about 18-20 minute miles. When I came back at 5, I started out at 16-minute miles and quickly moved into 13-minute miles. Seeing the sky lighten and the sun rise gave everyone an added boost of energy. Much, much easier than pushing through the night where at 2 am you have thoughts like, “It will never ever be light again.”

8:15 am: The end of a run and the start of a new dayI felt good.  I walked away after 24 hours feeling extremely proud of myself and what I’d accomplished. I was the #2 woman on the leaderboard at midnight when I walked away and my ego had me playing with the idea of staying on course and seeing if I could power through and finish top 3. But I played it smart and stuck to my plan of leaving at midnight. I’m glad I did, as I don’t think I would have held up as well mentally or physically if I’d stayed. As it turned out, I think I came in 7th woman and 18th overall—and I’m pretty damn proud of both those numbers.

Of course, you know what’s next. Somewhere out there is a 24-hour run with 100 miles that has my name on it. It’s going to hurt but mark my words people—it’s going to happen.