On June 1st, I ran the FANS 24-Hour Race in Bloomington, MN. The race had a new venue this year. Since 2014, the race has been at Fort Snelling State Park in the Minnesota River valley. This year, severe flooding in the river valley forced the park to close, and it wasn’t expected to re-open until July. Finding a new site for the race was difficult, because the Minneapolis parks won’t issue permits for a 24-hour event. Five weeks before the race, the organizers announced that the race would be held at Normandale Lake in Bloomington.
I made a late decision to do the race this year, not signing up until May. I haven’t been training for ultramarathons, but my marathon training has been progressing well. I initially assumed I would do the 6-hour race. When you’re in good shape to run marathons, it isn’t much of a stretch to run for six hours. You just have to slow down and take a few walking breaks.
I’ve done FANS several times, both as a runner and as a walker. In 11 previous attempts, I had logged more than 900 miles. I’m already in their 500 mile club, and I was within striking distance of joining the 1,000 mile club.
My primary motivation for running FANS was to get closer to 1,000 miles. At first, I thought I could do thirty-some miles, if I did the 6-hour race. Then it occurred to me that I might be able to get to 1,000 miles this year, if I did the 12-hour race.
After looking up my previous totals, I realized I needed 66.5 miles to get to 1,000. There have been years when I could do that in 12 hours, but I’m not currently in shape for that. I just haven’t been putting in enough miles. I could probably run 66.5 miles, but it would take me 13 or 14 hours.
Then it occurred to me I could enter the 24-hour race, but only run long enough to get to 66.5 miles. In a fixed-time race, you can stop any time you want. Ideally, I could finish 66.5 miles in time to get some sleep. I didn’t want to run all night.
Our course was a 1.82 mile asphalt path around Normandale Lake. Other than two short wooden bridges, it was all paved.
Most of the course was fairly flat, but there were a few sections with rolling hills.
The main aid station was next to the bandshell, where there was also a building with bathrooms.
There was also a smaller aid station on the opposite side of the lake, near Nine Mile Creek.
There was a small area on the west side of the lake where we could set up tents. There wasn’t as much space for tents at this park as there is at Snelling Lake, so we were requested to keep our campsites as small as possible. In the past, I’ve always had a tent, but my tent has a rather large footprint, so this year I decided to forego it. I was comfortable doing that, only because I was reasonably confident it wouldn’t rain.
The race started Saturday morning at 8:00. I’m used to arriving two hours early to set up the tent and unload my gear. This year, I didn’t arrive until 6:45. That gave me plenty of time to walk to the main aid station to check in. Everyone has to get weighed before the race starts.
It was 60 degrees at the start, with an afternoon high in the mid 70s. That would be hot for a marathon, but for 24-hour race, it’s not bad. When you’re pacing yourself to run all day, you run at a slower pace and take walking breaks. That makes it much easier for your body to dissipate excess heat. I was relieved that we didn’t have any rain in the forecast. It’s been a wet spring, so most of the lakes and rivers have had flooding. Earlier in the week, the paths we were running on were flooded in a few spots, because of heavy rain on Memorial Day. Thankfully, we had enough warm dry days for the water level to recede.
Our first lap was a slightly shortened lap of 1.68 miles. All subsequent laps were 1.82 miles. To run at least 66.5 miles, I needed to complete 37 laps. To keep the mental arithmetic easy, I gave myself 20 minutes per lap. At that pace, I would reach my goal in 12 hours and 20 minutes, which would have me finishing before it got dark. I didn’t know if that pace would be sustainable, but it seemed reasonable to start at that pace, and make adjustments as necessary.
I kept myself on a consistent pace using variable-length walking breaks. After running one lap, I walked until my watch read 20 minutes. Then I resumed running until the end of the second lap and walked until my watch read 40 minutes. I always started my walking breaks at the end of a lap, and always ended them on a multiple of 20 minutes. The beauty of this strategy is that is automatically adjusts for things like bathroom breaks.
There was a cold breeze, so I started the race wearing a light jacket. After a couple laps to get warmed up, I was able to take it off. I drank a small cup of water or Gatorade at each aid station. Every couple of laps, I also had a small amount of solid food. At various times, I ate pretzels, candy, PBJs, and naan bread. The naan was warm and buttery. It was a nice change of pace from the usual aid station food.
During the morning hours, my pace felt really easy. That’s how it should feel when you’re running all day. My walking breaks were typically about six minutes. Then I’d run the rest of the lap.
Every four hours, we had to weigh in, so the medical staff could tell if we were hydrating properly. At noon, my weight was up a pound, suggesting that I was drinking too much. For the next four laps, I only drank at the main aid station. After that, I went back to drinking at both of them.
There were signs at various places indicating where we would reach significant milestones. During my 15th lap, I reached the marathon mark. When I finished that lap, I was officially a finisher of at least a marathon, making this my 50th marathon or ultra in Minnesota. As I started my next lap, I looked at it from a different perspective. I was now running farther than I’ve run since August. For the rest of the race, I was running distances for which I haven’t trained.
To stay motivated, I needed to focus on intermediate goals. The next goal was to reach the 50K mark, which came during my 18th lap. After 19 laps, I was more than halfway to my goal. I just needed to run 18 more laps, but they were getting tougher.
In the afternoon hours, it got warmer, and the sun came out. Running in the warmer temperatures was more tiring. I was still doing 20 minute laps, but it didn’t feel as easy as before. I wasn’t sure if I could sustain it for the whole race. Eventually, as my running became less efficient, I couldn’t afford to do as much walking. Soon, my walking breaks were only four minutes.
After eight hours, I weighed in again. My weight was down a pound compared to my previous weigh-in. I was sweating more in the afternoon sun.
The time it took to weigh in left me less time for my walking break. I could only walk for two minutes. On the next lap, I also only had a two minute break. I finally had to abandon my pacing strategy. I couldn’t sustain 20 minute laps for four more hours. After that, I walked the first quarter mile of each lap and ran the rest of the way. That gave me about four minutes of walking per lap. That was difficult, but I was able to sustain it.
My pace slowed to about 23 minutes per lap. If I could keep that up, I’d reach my goal by around 9:00 PM. I could still finish before it got dark, but just barely.
The Gatorade was clear, so it looked just like water. I had to pay attention to where it was on the table to know which was which. On one lap, I saw some cups where the clear Gatorade was usually placed, but the liquid was bright yellow. Did they switch to yellow Gatorade? As I drank a cup, I quickly realized it was pickle juice. It didn’t taste good, but it probably gave me plenty of salt.
In my 28th lap, I reached the 50 mile mark. When I finished that lap, the lap counters rang a cowbell. They do that whenever someone reaches a big milestone.
Now I just had nine laps to go. Whether you’re counting down remain laps or remaining miles, it usually seems easier when you’re down to single digits. This time, it didn’t. With each lap, I had fewer to go, but each lap seemed more difficult than the previous one. I was struggling. I wasn’t trained to run this far, and it was really starting to show.
I had to get creative and think of intermediate goals. In my 30th lap, I reached a distance equal to the length of the Comrades Marathon. I got there in 9:58. The cut-off time for Comrades is 12 hours, so I was well within that. It’s worth noting, however, that this race didn’t have all the big hills that Comrades has.
My next goal was to finish 32 laps, which gave me 58.1 miles. That that point, I had run my age in miles.
I started seeing some hot food at the main aid station. On one lap, I ate some spaghetti. On the next lap, I had a small slice of pizza.
I was starting to feel thirsty all the time, so I suspected I was getting dehydrated. At the next weigh-in, my weight was actually up. That surprised me, but at least I didn’t have to worry about drinking enough.
The next big milestone came early in my 35th lap, when I reached the 100K mark. When I eventually finished that lap, I got my second cowbell of the race. Now I just had two laps to go.
They had a leaderboard that showed the top men and women in each race. At 8:30 PM, I was in 4th place in the 24-hour race, but that was misleading. I was pacing myself to do 67 miles as fast as I could and then stop. Others were pacing themselves to keep running all night.
As usual, there were a few walkers who were attempting to walk 100 miles to earn a Centurion Walker badge. In my second-to-last lap, I did some extra walking, so I could briefly walk with two of the Centurion candidates.
John Greene and I often crew for each other. John was doing the 24-hour walk, but like me, he didn’t have an ambitious goal. John is also working on getting into the FANS 1,000 Mile Club. He couldn’t get there this year, but if he walked enough miles this year, he could get there next year. John was walking about four laps at a time and then taking breaks. In my last lap, I walked the whole thing, so I could walk with John. It was slower than my other laps, but I knew I had enough time to finish before it got dark.
Near the end of the lap, I took off running to ensure I would finish within 13 hours. That lap gave me 67.2 miles, giving me more than 1,000 lifetime miles at FANS. For that, I got to hear the cowbell for the third time. Unofficially, I finished in 12:59:25. Officially, my time for the race would be 24 hours.
After having another slice of pizza, I went home, so I could shower and try to get some sleep. The shower was interesting. As my sweat evaporated, it left a layer of salt. As I started to rinse that off, my skin initially felt slippery. It took a few minutes to thoroughly rinse away the salt water. When I rinsed my face, I could taste salt water getting into my mouth.
When I got into bed, I felt a bit nauseous from all the food and beverage in my stomach. Sitting or standing, I felt fine, but it didn’t feel good to lie down. That feeling eventually passed, but I couldn’t get to sleep. It was as if I had been drinking coffee all day. I had a few small glasses of coke during the race, but this was something else. After exerting myself so hard for so many hours, my body chemistry was off. Who knows what kind of stress hormones I was producing.
I took me until 4:00 AM to get to sleep. Then my alarm woke me up at 5:00. I wanted to go back to watch the end of the race. I was moving kind of slow, so it took me a long time to get ready. I finally got back to Normandale Lake around 6:45.
When I got there, John was still on the course. He had just finished his 37th lap. He did one more to make sure he beat my total. We can be competitive at times.
After the race, there was a breakfast and awards ceremony under the bandshell. First they have awards to the top finishers in each race. Then they give special shirts to anyone who finished 100K in the 12-hour race or 100 miles in the 24-hour race. After that, they honor anyone who reached a lifetime milestone. I got a jacket as a new member of the 1,000 mile club.
Distance: 67.2 miles
Official Time: 24:00:00
Actual Time on Course: 12:59:25
Average Pace: 11:36
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras: 374Minnesota Marathons/Ultras: 50