Friday, October 31, 2008

Pomegranate Juice

This weekend I joined about 125 other runners in the San Francisco One Day 12/24 hr ultra run. The race is based on a 1.06 mile loop on the beach at Crissy Fields in San Francisco. I had signed up for the 24 hour option, but did not really know what to expect as this was my first time running this type of time-based ultra run on looped course. After the initial set up of gear and chair at the transition area - at 9 am the field was off! the course is essentially flat with 50/50 bike trail and gravel walk path. I noticed that even though the absence of hills to climb makes the running less strenuous - it also eliminates any natural walk breaks that one usually gets in a traditional trail ultra in the mountains.

I joined in with the lead group and we completed the first loop in just over 8 minutes. I continued a steady pace and picked up the lead for the first hour, and continued in the lead for the next 25 laps or so. After changing shoes and a short restroom break i dropped down to second place, and then to 4th. It was an enjoyable day with great weather and lots of people out walking and jogging along the beach. After running continuously for 3-4 hours I started taking a brief walk for 10-15 seconds on each lap to keep down the effort a little.

Having the transition area with the aid station every 1 mile makes for a very different race since then you come by an "aid station" every 10-15 minutes. This can make you loose ones rhythm and also complicate fluid and food intake as compared to a regular race where aid station only comes up every hour or so. At the aid station I tried some new fluids, including a new pomegranate juice, more on this later.

I kept up the pace and around 40 miles I started feeling need for more energy and fluids. I had not peed yet during the day which typically is a bad sign that ones fluid balance may be off. So during the next few laps I had some more fluids, only to find that it made me nauseous and I ended up throwing it up. This was alarming, and I had never experienced that in any previous race. I took down the pace a little bit, and tried to get my stomach to settle a bit.

My family came by and had brought some nice pasta to eat, and I walked the next couple of laps with my daughters while eating the food. It felt good initially, but it was clear my stomach was not there yet - and quite soon thereafter all the food I had eaten came back up. I felt ill for the next couple of hours and could not keep any fluids down. Later on I concluded it likely was the pomegranate juice that zapped my internals. The juice is relatively sour and also has some carbonation in it. It was a bad idea to try that on race day.

As the evening grew darker I got out my headlight and continued at a relatively slow pace around the course. I tried resting for 10 minutes to see if that would help, and I walked a few easy laps also. However, it seemed nothing I did really worked, so after a few more hours at around 8 pm I decided that this would be a 12 hour race for me, and not a 24 hour race. I had not had any fluids or nutrition for the last 6 hours, my legs and feet felt fine - but all my energy was gone. I concluded it would be a bad idea to try push on for another 12 hours during the night. So I finished a last 3 or so loops and then stepped off the course at just before 9 pm, still having completed a decent 65.1 miles in under 12 hours. In the process I also improved my PR for running 50K ( , and 50M and 12 hr (65.1 miles)

Even though I had not been able to complete the full race as intended it still was a great learning experience, and confidence boost since I felt great during the first 25 miles where I lead the race, and then contined in top 5 for another 30 miles - even if I actually was walking for the latter part of it.

Lessons learned for doing a looped 12 or 24 hr ultra run:
- have a specific running plan, with intended lap times and milestones, dont go too fast early on
- plan for when to stop at aid stations, for example only once in every 3-4 laps
- plan for when to eat, and take a real stop for 5-10 minutes
- walk some portions of the lap on regular basis to let body recover
- if your digestive system shuts down completely take a LONG rest, e.g., 30-60 minutes, before picking up the pace again

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