A couple of weeks ago, I committed to fundraising for the Smile Train. In order to complete the 24-hour challenge on November 7th, I would have to start running events that would eventually prepare me to endure 24 hours on a treadmill. Earlier this month, I started to Google events, plan out my running season, and enlisted the help of Mike Thomson. The first event on the schedule was the FANS 6, 12, & 24 Hour Races and I signed up for the 6 Hour event. The run is a timed event to see how many miles a runner can get in a 2.1 mile loop. It sounded a bit like madness and monotonous; but running on a treadmill for 24 hours is as well.
Event: FANS 6, 12, & 24 Hour Races
Date and Time: June 7, 2014 @ 8:00AM
Location: Fort Snelling State Park, Minneapolis, MN
Weather: Hard rain with lightning, 54°, 16 mph NNW wind, Humidity 100%
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I flew into Minneapolis the day before the race. It was about 80° and sunny, definitely not optimal conditions for a 6 hour run. According to the forecast, the temps would drop to the low 50s with overcast. The packet pickup was what you would expect from an event like this: In a small gym at the Nokomis Community Center. After picking up my packet, I stayed for the pasta dinner and talked with some of the runners that had done the event previously to get an understanding of what was in store for me. “It’ll be real easy, asphalt and packed gravel surfaces, plenty of shaded sections” one of the veteran runners told me. I went back to the hotel and did my pre-run rituals: pinning my bib, laying out my clothes, getting my food and nutrition in order, stretching and rolling out.
I slept really well and woke up rested. The first thing I did after getting up was checking the weather outside. It looked like it rained hard overnight and the clouds above meant there was definitely more in store. On my way to the race, my vision and expectations for the race changed immediately. Hard rain and lightning hit without notice. I got to Fort Snelling and stayed in my car till about 10 minutes before the start of the race. I thought to myself, “This race could possibly be cancelled, I mean we can’t run in this, can we?”
The start was approaching and I could not wait any longer for the weather to clear. I bolted to the start line tent to see what the race directors were going to do about the event. It was raining sideways and I could barely keep my head up without being pelted in the face with rain. When I got to the tent, the decision was set made to run. “Rain or shine, FANS doesn’t cancel,” said one of the volunteers. The race start was delayed for 30 minutes because of heavy lightning and thunder. At 8:28AM, the race director had us line up to get ready for an 8:30AM start. How the hell was I going to run in this weather for 6 hours?
At 8:30AM we were off, terrible weather and all. The first quarter mile was on a mixture of pavement and gravel that had fairly large puddles or was completely flooded. I did not want to run with wet feet for 6 hours so I tried to find dry patches and avoid the water. Once I got to the trail portion, all of that went out of the window. The next 1.25 miles was like running through a mud pit with a little up-down rolling. I was ankle to shin deep in a mixture of mud and water. Footing was challenging and keeping a steady cadence just was not going to happen. At the end of the loop we finally hit some relief, it was my dear friend pavement. For about a half mile, we were on a road where I was mentally able to reset. As I approached the end of the loop, it was back to the mixture of pavement and gravel with large puddles or complete flooding. At this point I just decided to run through the puddles. As I approached the start tent, I heard “Runner 311, that’s one loop.”
I thought to myself that it has only been 20 minutes. I am going to be in a world of hurt. I had brought a butter knife to a gun fight and was completely unprepared. I did not have any rain gear, I was running in Newton racing flats when I should have brought trail shoes, and my spirits were down. For another 5 hours and 40 minutes, I would have to grind through that 2.1 mile loop. Each time I passed the start line tent, the loop count got higher and my mileage went up. After 1 hour, I told myself to embrace this experience rather than dread it. It was not going to be 6 hours of hell, it was going to be a timethat I could reflect and focus. I used this time to remind myself why I took up for this challenge and used that as my focus. From that point, I took that focus and ran as hard as I could for the next 5 hours, even with the conditions.
At 5 hours and 20 minutes, the race organizers started corralling runners into this quarter mile loop. As I rounded lap 17 at 5 hours and 40 minutes, I was corralled into the quarter mile loop. For the last 20 minutes, there were about 20-30 people running in a circle after running in an even bigger circle. At 6 hours, our run was over and I could not be more relieved. At the end of the 6 hours, I ran 17 laps and 18 short laps for a total of 40.3 miles in some of the nastiest conditions I have experienced.
With the race starting late, I had to rush back to the hotel to change and catch a 4:30PM flight back to Chicago. I raced through the airport with beat-up legs and luckily, I was able to barely catch my flight. As I write this, I received a surprising e-mail from the FANS director: I came in 1st overall for the 6-Hour run. I was lucky enough that only 25 people that ran the 6-hour race. From this run, I was reminded that not every race or run is going to be perfect. You just have to embrace the conditions and the experience. If you put your heart into the experience and truly give it 100%, you will always be satisfied with the results. With that being said, time to get back to training.