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All race reports are written by Eric Buckley unless otherwise noted. To find older reports, follow the links on the left.

Aslinger 12 and 24

March 15, 2014

Having gained a new age group with my fiftieth birthday last year, I decided this was the year I should take a shot at the Eastern Missouri Ultra Series (EMUS) title. The six-race series is scored by total mileage covered with bonus points for age group and overall placings. The big-points race in the series is the opener, the Howard Aslinger Foundation 12/24-Hour in Cape Girardeau. To really rack up the points, one should obviously do the 24, but I didn't want to fry my legs for the two following spring races, so I entered the 12.

Prudence dictates keeping the pre-race run to something light, but I can't drive right past Hawn on a warm spring afternoon without stopping to run an old orienteering course in the woods. I walk the uphills and don't take any chances jumping over deadfall or boulders. Whatever damage is done to the legs is more than compensated by the benefits to the soul. An hour further south, I stop in Jackson to make sure Pizza Inn loses money on their buffet, check in at my hotel, and then head into Cape to pick up my number and watch the 24-hour start.

As one would expect, the SLUGs are well represented. I spend an hour catching up with Laura Range, John Poulihan, David Stores, Jan Ryerse, and Travis Reddin, who are all entered in the 24. The ever-present Jim Donahue is also on hand helping set things up. With the start approaching, I assume Race Director Bryan Kelpe has better things to do than chat with me, so I don't bug him.

Bryan devotes a good portion of his pre-race briefing to the motivation for the run: the Aslinger Foundation which assists those with disabilities in their educational goals. As I was to find during the weekend, these were no empty words. The run not only raises money ($16,000 this year), but actively involves their clientele, offering a competitive wheelchair division and also providing volunteers who push or otherwise escort non-competitive disabled entrants around the course.

24-Hour field heads off into the sunset.
I watch the 7PM start and then, since pacers are allowed at any time, join Travis and John for their second lap. When they complete the 0.984-mile loop around Arena Park in 8:25, I tell them I expect their lap count to be in the 80's by morning and then head back to the Hotel.

Despite staying only a few minutes from the start, I get up before 5AM so I have time to eat a bit and let it settle. The few minutes becomes a few more as I have to scrape ice off my windshield. The temperature is still right around freezing as we line up for the start. Five days before the equinox, this race will be almost exactly sunup to sundown. Bryan sends us off just as the first beams break the horizon.

A group of six forms at the front. The pace is just slightly faster than I'd like; the first lap is done in 8:35. When lap two comes up in 8:20, I decide that hanging with the lead is not a priority at this point. It's time for my first walk break, anyway.

One of my projects over the winter was to read Tim Noakes' tome, The Lore of Running. It's about as thick a book a dyslexic such as me ever dares to pick up. I'm not done with the whole thing, but I did get through the theoretical section which looks at the various explanations of what really limits endurance. My approach in previous races of this length has been to try to run very close to a constant pace throughout, but I haven't had much success with that. Seems that no matter how easy I take it out, I fall off the pace at around 45 miles. The research cited by Noakes suggests that this is caused primarily by the repetitive eccentric contractions (the landing rather than the pushoff). Since you take more steps to cover the same distance at a slower pace, running slow can actually hasten rather than delay the fatigue. The suggestion is to run faster and take frequent walk breaks to allow the muscles a chance to recover. I decided to test the strategy in this race by walking for 60-90 seconds every other lap, using that time to eat or drink.

The temperature has hardly moved and a dense fog has rolled in. In some parts of the course you can barely see 50m ahead. While a bit eerie, it makes for pretty ideal running conditions and, even with the walk breaks, I get to ten miles in 90 minutes feeling fine. The fog begins to disperse around 9AM and I begin to shed layers, dropping my hat, gloves, wind shirt, and long pants next to my cooler on successive laps.

Never one to miss sneaking in some miles, Bryan is on the course and we run together for a few laps. Actually, it's rather amazing how many miles the race director has managed to sneak in without the event going to pieces. This is the fifth running of the race; he's got over 400; and I've never heard a competitor complain that something was being neglected.

I hit marathon distance at 10:56AM (still right on 9:00/mi). The temps are still very comfortable, but there is no shade anywhere on the course so I don't expect that to last. The early leaders have taken some breaks and I come up on the second place runner, now a lap behind me. He asks how far I'm going and I point to the sun and say it will all depend on how hot it gets. In September, a day like this would result in PR's, but it's been a very cold winter and none of us are prepared to run in even modest heat.

Pretty nice temps in the shade! Too bad there was no shade.

US 24-hour champion John Cash has come down from Washington, MO to pace David Stores and any other SLUGs that might want company. He runs with me for a few laps and asks how I'm going. I tell him I'm fine now, but am sure I'm going to have to make a pace adjustment due to the heat. It's nice to have someone of his ability to talk to. We discuss several options and I settle on staying close to 9-minute pace to half way, which will put me at just under 40 miles, and then extending the walk breaks in hopes of getting more food and fluid down (and keeping them down).

The adjustment turns out to be a bit more severe than I had hoped. While I manage to knock out six more miles in the next hour, at 2PM I have to succumb to nausea. I walk a full lap, trying to settle my insides by sipping on a soda and eating some strawberries. I'm able to get running again and finish the second marathon (52.4 miles) at 3:10PM. It's 18 minutes slower than the first and with temps now pushing 70, I'm sure the worst is yet to come. Any hope of getting the triple done within the 12 hours (a stretch goal in the best conditions) is long gone.

The next two hours are spent feeling sorry for myself while grinding out depressingly slow miles. Misery loves company, and I have plenty of that. Pretty much the entire field has been reduced to alternating between a walk and weak shuffle. I chat with a few other SLUGs such as Susan Kenyon (who gets her goal of 50 miles in the 12-hour) and Jessica Knopf (who is in a remarkable 5-way battle for the Women's 12-hour title; they end up steamrolling all but two of the men, finishing 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8 overall). John Poulihan is also still going, though he's given up on his 24-hour race and is instead pacing his wife, Lynn, in the 12.

One very salty hat by race's end.
I get to 60 miles just before 5PM and take a little time to assess the situation. My lead is considerable; another 2 or 3 miles will probably lock up the win. 100K seems like an awfully sorry winning distance for a flat, paved 12-hour, though. On the other hand, all the walking in the last two hours has resulted in a sizeable blister on the ball of my left foot. If I am going to continue, I need to do it running (for whatever reason, I only have blister problems when I walk). Temps have started dropping and there are now a few shadows creeping out onto the course. My insides are still scrambled but legs feel fine so I decide I'll just run straight through with no food or water for about an hour and see how far it gets me.

It gets me fairly far. I'm back on 10-minute pace almost immediately and I hit 64.5 miles at 5:45PM. I walk half a lap with Laura, who is in the process of gutting out the Master's win in the Women's 24 on a day when her body clearly had lesser aspirations. I run one more lap because 66 miles sounds a lot better to me than 65 and call it a day at 6:10PM. (OK, officially it's 67 laps for 65.928 miles, but I also walked 100m to my car to get my change of clothes before the course closed, so I'm calling it 66).

All's well that ends well. Three SLUG champs: Laura, Eric, Susan. Jan Ryerse also won his age group, but we missed him in the picture.
The post-race dinner looks quite nice, but I can only pick at it as I'm still not fully settled even 90 minutes after finishing. At the dinner, I make the acquaintance of the Senior Women's 24 winner and relatively new SLUG, Susan Mogley Schenberg. Turns out I run right by her house several times a week on the way home from work! David also joins us. After his difficulties when we ran Heartland together last fall, he's thrilled to have broken 100 miles in the 24; the first time he's run the century in less than a day. Laura is also with us and is clearly the one who went the deepest. She feels so haggard that she resists joining in the hardware photo, but we finally talk her into it.

The part of me that is never satisfied wishes I could have kept things together well enough to take a real shot at the course record of 71.6 miles, but there was no way I was doing that today. Still, my total was the third highest in the five runnings of the race, so I regard it as a solid no-excuses effort. And, after last year's frustrating string of second-place finishes, I'll take overall wins any way they come. It certainly was an ideal start to a series I've wanted to run for quite some time.

Note on the run/walk technique: Unfortunately, this experiment was rather inconclusive as the limiting factor was nausea, not leg fatigue. Then again, if leg fatigue wasn't a factor, maybe that does count for something. Forty six miles in seven hours should have been enough to see some tightening of the eccentric muscles yet none was observed. At any rate, I was certainly in no worse shape at 2PM than I would have been running straight-up 9:00 miles. I'll give the technique another try at the Berryman 50 and report how it goes.

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