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Around the Lake

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Sky before the start of the race

After finishing the HURT 100 I laid out the rest of the racing schedule for this year with the main focus this summer being the 24 Hours Around the Lake in Wakefield. There were a couple reasons for this; I had never raced a timed event or road ultra before and I wanted to gauge how far away I would be from meeting the qualifying standard for the US 24 Hour Team. To even be considered you have to run 140 miles in a 24-hour event.

I knew going into this event that the mental aspect of this type of race would be the hardest thing to overcome. I typically break a race down into manageable pieces, but with a timed race it becomes very difficult to do so as there is no set destination to focus on. Sure, you can focus on meeting distance benchmarks but you are always still aware of how much time remains on the other side of that goal.

Making our way down to Boston we were stopped in traffic on 95 for over an hour due to an accident and watched the Life Flight helicopter touch down on the pavement near the accident. Throughout my race my mind would drift back to thinking about those involved and if they were okay. It made running in circles around a lake seem insignificant.

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5,000 calories in the cooler and lap counter

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A few friends in the area and my wife were there for the 9pm start that coincides with the marathon start, another distance option at this event. I have a tendency to go out too fast and I knew how easy it would be to get sucked into the marathon race. Early on several guys that also had hopes of hitting the National Team qualifying distance actually lapped me. I offered encouragement to one guy, however it was not returned, which was a first during a race. I checked my pace and heart rate and knew I would see him again as he was going out way too fast.

20 miles ticked away easily and the marathoners began to thin out as they reached their goal. It was difficult starting a race at night after being awake already during the day. 5 hours in and already I was beginning to think about how much time remained. I started to get sleepy. The town was slowly shutting down for the night, and even the cars full of people coming back from the bars were becoming sparse at this point.

It became difficult to have any concept of where I was in the standings as it was easy for someone to leave the course at the start/finish area. I tried to stay focused on running relaxed, and at this point I had taken my heart rate strap off as I had used it as governor to prevent myself from going out too hard. I had found a rhythm and I became completely focused on replicating it each lap.

There was enough light for me from the street lights to forgo needing a headlamp for this race. Slowly the light from dawn was adding color to the low overcast clouds that shrouded the lake. I laughed, as I did not think this would be a race that would offer much visually.

I worked on trying to notice something new each lap. The bar crowd was replaced by the early morning dog walkers and those setting up for the farmer’s market. I started to feel awake again. The body somehow finds a way to reset even without sleep and I started to shed my heavy eyes and refocus on the task at hand. 8 hours and 48 minutes in and I had 50 miles behind me. I started feeling the results of running a course that had almost no change in elevation. My hips and calves were getting tight from using the same muscle for such an extended period of time.

I made the decision to start using a run/walk strategy.  I would run for 10-12 minutes and then take two minutes to walk, allowing a different group of muscles a chance to work while giving others a break. I noticed after a couple of laps of this that I was able to walk and run in the same spots on the course. This became a game for me as I used this to occupy my mind.

As the morning went on I slowly fell off my goal pace that I thought would allow me to reach 140 miles, so I decided to focus on plan B, which was to run 100 miles and call it a day. I did not see the reward in pushing much beyond that if I was short of 140 miles, especially as 3 days later I would be sitting on a plane to Budapest so the incentive was just not there.

I became consumed by running the 10-12 minutes to reach the next 2 minute walking break. My father had driven down from Maine to watch and support me during the day while my wife and mother had gone to a bridal shower. Growing up he was the supportive and proud dad that told you that you could do anything. I focused on showing him he was right. 12 hours in and my GPS read 69 miles.

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Went full handlebar mustache for this race

By this point the 12 hour runners had started their race which was a huge boost as it gave me new people to talk to and pace off of.  I met Dan Jackson early into his 12-hour race, whose positive energy was contagious. At this point my watch GPS was tracking slightly ahead of the course. I figured this was due to how I was running versus where the course was measured. A few feet difference here and there can add up and I found my watch eventually reading over a mile ahead of where the course said I was.

Usually this late into a race I hit a point where calorie expenditure overtakes caloric intake and I crash. This came at mile 93 where I felt like the wheels were finally coming off. I would complain to my Dad but he would have none of it as he was consumed with the fact that I was now leading the race. For a brief moment I thought about running the full 24 hours but with the heat and humidity and the tightness of my calves and hips I let that idea go.

I sat in the chair trying to get as many calories in as I could – I knew that was the only way I was going to come out of this low. I inhaled around 600 calories in 5 minutes and set back out on the course with encouragement from my dad. Slowly I felt life coming back into me and started running again.

I ran into Dan Jackson again, this time being paced by Julia Hanlon. I matched their pace to bring me through the 100 mile mark in 18:29, a new PR. The hardest lap remained, as in order to be considered a 100 mile finisher at this race you had to run an extra lap. I tried to think of it as a celebratory lap as I had run smart and was happy with what I had accomplished on the day. A half mile out I picked up the pace and with a quarter mile to go I used it as an opportunity to see what kind of kick I would have. I was able to drop below 7 minute pace for the first time during the race, leaving those at the start/finish area fairly confused.

I sat in a chair and talked with my dad until my wife returned from the bridal shower, about 30 minutes after my finish. After showering in the hotel I discovered I had heat exhaustion as I was shivering beyond control. This forced me to stay awake monitoring my temperature that had crept up to 101.4F. By 10 pm it started going back down and I was finally able to sleep without having to worry about going to the hospital. The next morning I awoke to find I had gone from 1st to 5th place overall after stopping a little over 19 hours into the race. In the end I had made the right decision as the heat and humidity had masked my heat exhaustion and I was happy to have run a smart race.

Strava Data for 24 Hours around the Lake

2 Comments

  1. Jesse Jesse

    Nice writeup, Brendan! I’m interested in trying one of these timed events someday.

  2. nancy nancy

    Another amazing story, from an amazing man. So proud of you Brendan.

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