I love the challenge of the ultra marathons. It gives a different perspective on running as I get to talk to more people and enjoy my time out there more than I normally would be able to during a marathon.I love the timed races as it is a great opportunity to just do my best within the specific span of time and I know exactly when I will be done (so it makes for easier planning with regards to time).
I decided (4 weeks before) to run the North Coast 24 Hour race in Cleveland, OH on September 17th. I wanted to get an ultra distance in the fall, so I signed-up even though I knew I had not had the time to do the type of training I would have liked to do for an event such as this.
My goal was to get to Cleveland (a mere 4 1/2 hours away from me) without spending anything in the travel department. I know it wouldn’t have cost that much to drive there, but I really did not want to have to drive home after running for 24 hours. 🙂 The problem with flying to Cleveland is that Cleveland is a hub airport for Continental. Typically, to fly directly to a hub (especially one that is not a hub shared by other major airlines) is not cheap. To fly from Rochester to Cleveland (a non-stop) round trip would have cost me $540! There was NO way that was going to happen! At the same time, I wasn’t going to use my Delta miles for the trip as I have banked a large amount of them for several international trips this year.
I took an account of the travel resources at my disposal (helped in part by AwardWallet) and saw that I had a $150 voucher from Delta Airlines for a mechanical problem on a past flight. However, that $500 ticket price would not helped that much by $150 reduction. So, I took to a great tool (currently being updated, will write more about this fantastic tool once it is up and running again) at FareCompare. This tool allows you to put a departure airport and a region of the world you would like to fly to and then narrow it down by Airline or Alliance. So, I put Cleveland in as the departure airport and chose Delta as the airline. It pumped out the cheap places that one could fly to from Cleveland. The first city on the list was Raleigh, NC @ $150. That was great because it was also the same price to go from Rochester to Raleigh. That means I was able to take advantage of a ticketing technique called Open Jaw – a flight that originates in one city but returns to a different city. In my case, that was Rochester – Raleigh – Cleveland (my ticket terminated in Cleveland). I then used 10,000 American Express Membership Reward points to transfer to Continental (which no longer works as they are not partners) to ticket a one-way ticket from Cleveland to Rochester. My outgoing itinerary looked like this; Rochester – Atlanta – Raleigh – Cincinnati – Cleveland. That was a total of 2249 miles – it is only a 250 mile drive from me to Cleveland! I know, that sounds pretty crazy, but it only cost me $1.20 out of pocket for an itinerary that gave me an additional 2249 elite qualifying miles that went towards my elite status with Delta. No to mention, I also picked up 5,000 redeemable miles towards award travel.
Totals: Ticket would have cost me $540. I used a voucher and 10,000 Continental miles to bring my total down to $6.20. Not a bad cost!
The North Coast 24 Hour race is a .9 mile loop course. That means, you are coming to a fantastically staffed aid station about every mile. The weather at the start was fantastic. My plan had been to start right out running for 20 minutes and walking for 5. My goal was to do 90 miles in the 24 hour period. In the past, I would normally run for 3 or 4 hours and then start my run/walk routine. I figured I would try starting the run/walk right out of the gate to see how I would do with that.
I saw some friends at the race and met some new ones along the way. Since it was the USATF 24 Hour National Championship race (one of the few ultra events with a cash purse and the chance to go to the World Championship race), there were many great ultra runners there. I got used to be passed every so often by these incredible runners :). It was great to see them in action so up close and personal.
The first part of the race went as planned. My legs felt fantastic and my energy level was high. I made it a point to drink a cup of water every lap and eat something every two laps. My body was functioning well throughout the day time. The race officials began having problems with their timing machines which was not helpful at all. I was wearing my gps watch so I knew what was going on, but I thought it was a real disservice to these high caliber runners who were running for a championship to not be able to keep track of their laps, time, and place. Really, for charging what they did and hosting the National Championship, they definitely should have had a decent backup system in place (other than a pad and paper). In fact, even when it got up and running again, they had missed peoples’ laps. They shorted me 4 laps (which I did not bother pointing out to them because of what happened to me).
My problems started happening when the sun went down. It was fall time which makes for a higher mold count in the leaves. Not only that, but I had a upper respiratory thing going on in the week leading up to the race. With those two working in concert with my asthma, I began to have breathing issues. I had to stop a couple of times for the EXCELLENT medical staff to work on me. The last time they helped me, I knew I really couldn’t go anymore. My lungs were exhausted and I really felt that I could not go anymore. It was a shame because my legs still felt pretty good. But, I am just a recreational runner with a family and I am not about to jeopardize the real part of my life for a race. So, I did what I felt was prudent (though not an easy decision) and called that my finish.
Totals: 53.6 miles in (official time) 11 hours and 39 minutes. Due to the long time they were working on me, my actual finish (though I didn’t want to admit it at the time) was 11 hours 9 minutes. Not my best race, but a good time nonetheless. Given how well my muscles felt, if the asthma has not stopped me, I think I could have easily covered 36 miles in the following 12 hours. Hopefully next time will be my year!