Friday, July 01, 2005

In the black of the night till the red morning light*

Last night was the first of what I hope will become an annual event. We didn't have a name but we debated names during the run: The Swat and Squat, The Scratch 'N Sniff, The Eat and Run, and so on. So I will unofficially dub this the first annual Swat and Squat 12 hour Eat and Run.

I left work a little early on Friday so I could get down to Waco, Texas and meet my ultra friends Frances and Marla by 7:00 PM and start our all night training run. That's Frances on the left and Marla on the right at Three Days of Syllamo.

We had been planning this event for more than a month. The three of us, along with a few other people we know, are training for the Heartland 100 in October. We wanted to get in some really long runs/walks in preparation, and I suggested we do one at night to practice night running. Frances did some reconnaissance and found the perfect place to train. She found some dirt and gravel farm roads in Mart, a little town northeast of Waco. The old farm roads are just like Heartland, only a little less hilly: dirt, gravel, rocks the size of grapes to small potatoes. It was almost an exact duplicate of Heartland. Here's a map of the course:

As I pulled up to the farm road where Frances was waiting for me, I swerved to miss a turtle in the road. There was a truck behind me and fortunately he missed it, too. After I pulled up next to Frances I ran back and moved the turtle off the highway. I certainly didn't want the little guy to get run over, and I thought it might bring us a little good karma for our run (plus, I can really relate to turtles!).

Frances and I drove to a central point and set up our "aid station." The route is a large H and the plan was to park in the center of the H and do a series of out-and-backs, always returning to our aid station. I met Frances' boyfriend Jim, who was really nice, and then the three of us took off (Jim ran the first six miles with us; then he followed us on bike for a while before calling it a night). Marla was going to join us in about an hour.

We came back to the aid station after about four miles. We got some snacks, picked up our lights because it was getting dark, then headed back out. As the sun was going down I was reminded of these lyrics from Johnny Cash:
With the twilight colors falling
And the evening laying shadows
Hidden memories come stealing from my mind.
As I feel my own heart beating out
The simple joy of living
I wonder how I ever was that kind.

But the wild road I was ramblin'
Was always out there callin'
And they said a hundred times I should have died.
But now my present miracle
Is that you're here beside me,
So I believe it was the road I was meant to ride

Like a Soldier by Johnny Cash

After about an hour and 15 minutes Marla called to say she was almost here so we headed to the aid station to meet with her. We spent some time there saying hi and catching up (Marla's boyfriend Kenny came, too) and setting up our food. Our aid station was as well stocked as some of those at SunMart! We had all of the following:
Coke, Mountain Dew, Big Red, Gatorade, Water
Pringles, Cheetos, Pretzels, Peanut Butter-filled Pretzels
Jelly Beans, candy Orange Slices
Peanut Butter Sandwich, Pimiento cheese Sandwiches (without Pimientos!), Turkey Sandwiches
Gel, electrolyte caps, etc.

You can see why I wanted to call it the Eat and Run! We had more than enough food, and we all agreed to stop frequently to refuel. This was not a race--it was an effort to get "time on our feet" and to have fun. If you count our aid station pit stops, the time we spent catching up and getting our final gear together when Marla arrived, bathroom stops and the occasional stop on the course just to get a breather, we stopped a total of 2 hours 9 minutes.

By this time it was dark so we all made sure we had our lights, changed the batteries on Frances' small light, then hit the road. We picked various legs of the H and did out and backs, coming back to the aid station about every 4-5 miles. The longest we were ever away from our cars was about 2 hours, and Frances and Marla both ran out of water shortly before we arrived back at our aid station, so I'm glad it wasn't any longer.

On the way back to the aid station a couple of guys in a pickup stopped to make sure we were OK (we only passed two vehicles the entire night). After we told them we were fine they told us to be careful because there are "hundreds" of wild pigs in the fields. After they drove away both Marla and Frances said they were full of &%$#! Frances lives in Mart, near our course, and both of them have lived in Waco for years, and they figured the guys thought we were city slickers and just wanted to scare us. Then I learned something about Frances I never knew: she won second place in a hog calling contest! So she regaled us with her best hog calls, piercing the night with "Soooooowieeeeeeee. Here pig, here pig, here pig, sooooooooooowieeeee!!!!" So if there were any pigs in the fields we would see them soon!

It was a moonless night for most of the evening, and the stars were just incredible. Being a ciy boy, I always forget just how impressive the stars really are. It just blows my mind to think of everything that is out there that we know nothing about.

Frances went through a manic phase at this point and just had so much energy. She would bound ahead and then walk and wait for us to catch up. She sang camp songs and Vacation Bible School songs. She skipped, she danced. It was some sort of crazy sugar high! Next we all told corny jokes. Here's my contribution:
Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot his whole life, which created an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him frail, and with his odd diet, he suffered from very bad breath. This made him a super-callused fragile mystic vexed with halitosis.

We had a lot of time, so we discussed a lot of stupid things. Marla wanted to know which "Wizard of Oz" character we would each be (I can't remember the consensus). Then Frances impressed us with her "Wicked Witch" voice which was dead on. Next we started talking about horror movies, especially "Children of the Corn" (we were surrounded by cornfields with plants taller than us), which of course spooked us all. Then Frances, who was a little ahead of us, started telling us the plot of the movie "From Dusk til Dawn" (appropriate, don't you think?). Marla told me to turn off my light and we hid on the side of the road. Frances turned around to look for us and saw nothing but pitch black! So the two of us had a good laugh at Frances' expense.

At about the halfway point we stopped at the aid station to doctor a blister on Frances' foot and then headed out again. More of the same--we all stayed together, usually with Marla or Frances in front and me bringing up the rear. Finally, around 3:00 AM, the moon came out, a little orange sliver behind a few wispy clouds. It was beautiful.

Marla is a vet and had to work on Saturday so we had to get back to our cars by 4:00. We got there a little before 4:00, said our goodbyes, then Frances and I started another leg. We were getting pretty tired but still had about 4 hours to go. Finally, around 5:15, the sky started to lighten almost imperceptibly. A little after 5:30 I could turn my light off. We made it to dawn, and that realization gave us a little extra energy!

I did a little math and determined that if we stayed at or below our current pace we could do 42 miles within our self-imposed 12 hour limit. Frances and I stopped to look at a water snake coiled around a tree in a pond. It didn't look poisonous (it was a long snake but had a small head that didn't have that distinctive viper shape) but it had diamonds like a diamondback rattler (but no rattle). I'm not sure what it was.

We got back to our cars with about 50 minutes to go until 12 hours. I convinced Frances to head out two more miles; after that the two final miles back would seem fast and easy because we would be eager to finish. So we headed out for the final four miles. I got that final burst of energy at the turnaround and made it back to my car and stopped my watch: 12:11:46 and 42 miles.

We kept a pretty decent pace throughout the night. If you divide the course into 6 seven mile segments, here were our average paces for each segment: 13:43, 13:24, 14:13, 14:31, 14:50, 14:06. If you add in all of our rest time our average pace was 17:25. If you subtracted the rest time our pace was 13:37. As a point of reference, my 50 mile PR pace is 14:09.

So it was a great evening! I am very tired but do not feel as sore or beat up as I would expect. Maybe my body is finally adjusting to the stresses of ultras.

We're talking about doing a 100k training night in August. We all like the idea of starting a little earlier, maybe 6:00 PM, and then going all night to avoid the heat and the sun. I'll post more details later, and if anyone reading this wants to join us (for a part of the run or for the whole thing) the more the merrier. We'll have more than enough food, and we might even manage to find some beer!

*Red Morning Light by The Kings of Leon.