20in24 Silver Relay – Race Recap

20in24 banner. 14 July 2012.

Race: Strohemann’s 20in24 to Benefit Back on My Feet
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Distance: 25 km per person/125 km total (16.8 miles per person/84.0 miles total)
Date/Start Time: 14 July 2012 1000 or 1800 (depending on the groups)
Distance Travelled to Compete: Negligible – 1.8 km (1.1 miles)
Weather conditions: Clear to partly cloudy; temperatures started high 80s and dropped to high 70s. Humidity was 100% the full way. Some dampness through the night. Course loop was entirely flat, very slight incline and decline on MLK Drive if that even counts.
Preview: A very different type of race, based on raising money for Back on My Feet. Races include 4 classes of relays by distance, and two 8 mile individual races, one run at midnight, and one run at dawn.

Preview:

Race kit. 13 July 2012.

Last year, I had tried unsuccessfully to enter this race with other friends, however at the time, I did not know as many running friends as I do today. The ones I knew that had already entered did so with people they had already known. So when Caroline, my residential cohort and close friend, asked me to join up with her on the adventure three months ago, I took upon the offer right away. We were joined by Natacha, who I knew from where I used to live (and who owns Phila Massages) and two other friends from TPRT, Azadeh and Amanda. There was our team of five, and our team name, We CCAAN, which comprised the first initials of our first names.

Azadeh and I went to the boathouse on Lloyd Hall (Sedgeley Drive) to pick up packets for the rest of the team. The sweltering heat made me quite concerned about the ability to run, already when we registered months ago for this race, we picked the 6pm time slot for concern with the heat, but now even with the evening slot record highs were up to 90 degrees most of the evenings leading up to race night on 14 July.

The tents were well organized on the river and packet pickup went smoothly. The goody bag didn’t have much, some beef jerky, a bunch of pamphlets, the unisex t-shirt (and small was huge haha), and the bib. The most critical thing? A strobe light was in there, which proved to be VERY useful for the night wing and ourselves included. I owned no headlamp and just purchased Nathan reflector armbands for $10, unsure of whether I needed a vest. And unless I was on a bike, a bike volunteer patrolman or escort, I wasn’t wearing a vest.

My mates complained there were no pins for our bibs. Oh there were, but they were so deep in the bag no one noticed them.

Teams running all night – all relay teams – were advised to camp using tents. For $16, Caroline and I rented a 2-person tent from Eastern Mountain Sports, not bad at all.

On Saturday afternoon, the team agreed to meet at the borders of Azalea Park and Fairmount Park to pitch our tents and ready up for the starting horn at 6pm. It was a hot summer afternoon; my biggest concern was my slightly nagging left knee and the sheer humidity.

Inside Lloyd Hall, Platinum (33 mile per person) class teams as well as ultramarathoner Lone Ranger teams were permitted to set up camp inside. Also inside were loads of food and snacks and drinks as well as a slew of walkie-talkies for the volunteer patrol. Volunteers were also situated at the backend of Lloyd Hall as well.

Upon setting up our tents we knew they were calling for rain so we took enough care to avoid areas we felt could easily flood. We had a nice view of the Waterworks restaurant and the center city.

Campsite at Fairmount Park. 14 July 2012.

Azadeh and her husband brought their own tent. Paul in the meantime had taken over for Natacha who was working double shifts as a massage therapist. They came in and out with their car between their running shifts.

Setting up shop. 14 July 2012.

Pretty soon it was 5:30pm. We had drawn straws, and we determined we’d be running in the following order: Paul, Azadeh, Amanda, myself and Caroline. Looking through our times, my first lap of 8.46 miles would be around 9:40pm, and the second lap…4am. Yikes. Everyone’s second lap would be a dodgy time but we were going to make this work.

The Race:

At quarter til 6pm, Paul braced himself for the start.

Paul readies up. 14 July 2012.

Runners were given a 2 mile warning when the previous teammate had reached a certain checkpoint before the beginning of the loop, so we knew exactly when the previous runner was inbound. (I found out later this probably was moot as I missed the 2 mile warning at 3:45am, barely waking up in time to take my second leg at after 4am.)

But before we knew it, Paul was up and running. It was 6pm, and we were off. 5 people, 10 laps, so two laps of 8.4 miles each, 16.8 miles (25km) total per person, for a total of 84.0 miles (125km) for the team.

Early evening through 9:40pm: I decided to check out the course site and get in about an hour’s nap prior to my first leg which proved to be a smart move given the heat. I ran into my old college friend Lian, who introduced me to the race and concept. She was in DC for an internship but had swung back up. She was competing in the Gold class (3 laps or 25.2 miles per person) and had just finished her second lap.

Course at sunset. 14 July 2012.

Paul had completed his first leg in about 53 minutes, definitely well under 7-minute miles. Azadeh ran hers at a 10:15 pace, and Amanda also ran hers at 10s. With this humidity though I would be fortunate to hit 11. Crikey I never do well in humidity. My best pace would be 9, but that would mean a fall day and optimal conditions not only with the weather but my body as well. But like I told myself at the Odyssey if it wasn’t meant to be it wasn’t meant to be and this was more a laid back race, particularly with a non-traditional distance that I wasn’t sure I’d be running anytime soon.

Bah I was overthinking it, wasn’t I?

To lift my spirits up, I ran into long-time running friends Cintia and Vee as well. Cintia’s friends were running and Vee came down for support but neither of them were running to my knowledge. I used some time up to get to catch up with them. I would have spent more time except pretty soon it would be my turn to go.

Azadeh finishing her first lap (2nd overall for the team). 14 July 2012.

First Leg, 9:40pm, 8.4 miles: Being the paranoid individual I am when it comes to running in the dark – particularly on West River Drive where I’m scared running in that area in broad daylight mind you – I requested an escort (which you can do at any time) through at least that portion of the race.

I was more than ready when I had gotten the two-mile warning:

“Team We CAANN, this is your two-mile warning. Your teammate is two miles from the start!”

Finally in the distance, I saw Amanda, green neon shirt and all powering home. This was it.

And I was off. This was our team’s Lap 4 of 10.

Segment 1 (Start to Water Station 1): Easy uphill around the front of the museum (Philadelphia Museum of Art). I was greeted by Steve the biker escort at Anne d’Harcourt Drive on the Museum’s west entrance. The night had fallen and it was an easy start across the front of the Museum and then to Martin Luther King Drive. Across the bridge, straightforward. I looked across the Schuylkill to where our campsite was, the palladium and the Waterworks Restaurant, and Boathouse Row all lit up. Easy start with the wind at my back.

Segment 2 (Water Station 1 to Refreshment Station 1):

I picked up a water bottle here and it was a very good thing I did. The humidity started packing on me quite fast and I was almost shocked that even at nightfall, that I was losing way more water even with the temperature at 80 degrees. I cannot even remember losing this much water at the darned Odyssey race in May. Heading north on West River Drive was creepy at best even in broad daylight and Steve and I had a good conversation that made my first loop go faster. A retired teacher who enjoyed cycling and running for fun, he also enjoyed volunteering and giving back to the running community that had enriched his life for so many years.

At nightfall. 14 July 2012.

After going through a couple of dark underpasses, I had overtaken several other Lone Rangers (those running the ultramarathon competition) and members of other relay teams. There were several powerful lights casting the way to the first refreshment tent.

Segment 3 (Refreshment Station 1 to Refreshment Station 2):

I decided to park here for 1 minute to grab a cool towel and a couple of banana pieces. At each refreshment station (or the R station, R1 in this case) there was a latrine as well as tonnes of water, food, pizza and other goodies, and at least 5 volunteers manning each of those stations. Everyone was very welcoming and after getting a cooling towel, I continued.

Progress further up West River Drive was straightforward. More overtaking of runners, another dark underpass. The second station (R2) was closer to the East Falls Bridge, where we’d hang through the bridge and back towards the finish on Kelly Drive. Same deal. Replaced my water bottle, kept my cold towel though, and grabbed another banana bite.

It should be noted that for some people, the mile markers were slightly off. The race had their own 2 mile signs at each way, but the chalk markers were slightly different. This didn’t affect me though, as I took to the race in segments, namely by refreshment station. Not surprising for someone with dehydration problems.

Segment 4: (Refreshment Station 2 to Water Station 2):

Another short segment. Crossed the bridge easily. Since I’d just gotten water, I skipped this station. Onwards I’d go. For those of you living in the Philadelphia area, Water Station 2 is around the 3.5 mile mark, that distance away from Lloyd Hall.

Segment 5: (Water Station 2 to Refreshment Station 3):

The beginning of the homestretch. It was a slight downhill coming by the regatta stands. Traffic was still pretty shockingly thick on Kelly Drive so it did not feel so dank and isolated as it did on West River Drive. The miles went quickly as Steve and I talked about the sticker shock of some of the marquee marathons and how quickly some races sold out.

Segment 6: (Refreshment Station 3 to the finish):

At this point, I hit the check in area by the next set of regatta stands. Two miles from the finish. I gave the officials my bib number and our team name. I was off. It felt good closing in on 50% of my commitment to the team and as I pushed past Lemon Hill, the finish got closer. I recognised instantly the area inside the 1-mile markers on Kelly Drive. I pushed harder and then I saw Boathouse Row. The finish was near and I saw Caroline awaiting my arrival.

Coming home in the distance. 14 July 2012.

Alright, I told myself as I crossed the finish, one down, one to go.

After the First Lap, Around 11pm EDT:

Now, I had to get myself some rest and kick off the kinks in between. I made a line for the medical tent to get some aspirin to ward off sensations in my knee and took on some bug spray. I noticed that one participant was receiving saline on a stretcher. Not good.

By the time I was ready to get to bed, the participants for Midnight Madness were lining up and getting off to go. Many people ran this one mainly because there are very few races out there where one runs at night, let alone the middle of the night. I knew several people that were running this race alone, but there were so many people on site and with my fatigue I wound up missing them all.

Midnight Madness underway. 14 July 2012.

We’re 14 hours in, from the 10am start. 15 July 2012.

I took more snacks from Lloyd Hall and set them in our tent. Dennis and Al were up, Amanda was completely out in her sleeping bag, sleeping outside on the grass. Brave soul she was, I never would have done that myself being annoyed easily by ants.

I set my alarm for two hours time of sleep – not anywhere what I wanted, but better than nothing – and changed my clothes into another dry kit inside the tent. My second kit was a white shirt and light shorts as it would be after 4am by the time I got going again. The team as a whole was training our original penned times by 15 minutes, largely because I had taken a couple of minutes to cool and drink and Amanda went slightly slower than normal. I wasn’t surprised though as I knew myself the weakest runner by far in the group. It was okay though. Just get through this. After some time, I fell asleep.

Readying for Lap 2: It was around 3:40am that Caroline woke me up. I had no idea whether I had missed my two mile warning (it would turn out that I actually did) even after asking Dennis and other friends who chilled out by our tents. I figured I wasn’t going to leave it to chance. Took a quick trip to the loo and got myself ready with a bottle of water, asking for my second escort of the night.

Segment 1 (Start to Water Station 1): No issues here. My legs felt slightly more sluggish, but for some reason my eyes were even more alert than normal, mainly because it felt weird running a little after 4am. I crossed the bridge and across the river again, the campsite was not visible in the pitch black, only illuminated by the lights on the palladium.

Course at 2am. 15 July 2012.

We pushed on to the first water station. The attendant was blasting rap music loud as ever and dancing to it. Hilarious and much needed at this time of night. The Lone Rangers that were roving were all walking or limping, having run on and off now for a whopping 18 hours. Relay runners were also going much slower, as was myself.

Segment 2 (Water Station 1 to Refreshment Station 1):

At this point I completely ignored the mile markers. Just trying to push through and not be too worried about much else. Rob and I talked about racing and such; he was a very casual biker and he couldn’t run well at all. But he enjoyed volunteering for events and meeting people as well. About this point, I heard people talking over his walkie-talkie and the volunteers were markedly fatigued as well. “Well these guys were a lot more cohesive 12 hours ago.” Rob himself had done a 7-11pm shift, slept for a few hours and would finish from 3:30am to about 9am, all stops as an escort.

Pretty impressive in my view, the volunteer effort all around was excellent.

Segment 3 (Refreshment Station 1 to Refreshment Station 2):

By the time I came here, I did the same: another cold towel. They were out of bananas, so I pulled a few tangerine pieces. At this point though, the critical issue was loss of salt and sugar. There was salt all over my face. I must have consumed 3 cups of Gatorade but the stinging feeling was that I needed more. A lot more. I had made another trip to the loo again before I started but still I feared I’d have to go again whilst on the trail. (Thankfully I didn’t have to.) The cold towel I found did help greatly.

Segment 4: (Refreshment Station 2 to Water Station 2):

It was around this time, that dawn was beginning to break. I was honestly sick of the darkness, so this was excellent news for me. It was about almost 5am, which means given how behind time I was, I would hit the slew of dawn runners running the PJ race at 6am.

I turned the bridge quite easily and saw the same fishermen that had been there all night. All of them gave me a thumbs up.

Segment 5: (Water Station 2 to Refreshment Station 3):

Pretty soon, I came to the second water station. I dawdled ever so slightly but swapped my cold towels and exchanged my water bottles and continued. I powered on, more encouraged by the daylight, although my dehydration I knew was getting worse. Just a little more distance to more Gatorade, I told myself. I would be okay. It was going to be alright.

Rob continued to radio in to more volunteers hitting road patrol and despite how incoherent some of them were they all powered on, doing their thing.

Finally, the regatta stands. All this conversation I was having took my mind off my knee, off my legs. And finally, there it was, the final checkpoint.

Segment 6: (Refreshment Station 3 to the finish):

Ironically, despite my being desperate to finish, this turned out to be the most uplifting part of the course. It was just before 6am, which meant that I would hit the oncoming slew of PJ runners. I closed in on about half a mile to go when I heard the horn – loud as ever – go off in the distance. Had to stay to the right now, behind my escort. The leaders flew by to the left, but those that followed cheered me on and that uplifted my spirits more than anything.

Yes as far as morale was concerned, the lack of crowds cheering you on was a factor. It’s one I find uplifting but at the same time if you get in the zone, so to speak, you want peace and quiet to think or to drift away or just to focus on your run. But the fact that the runners were cheering me on coming from the opposite side made me now appreciate the fact that I had crossed their path. And I knew Caroline would feel the same when she would meet them on her leg as they would finish up.

And speaking of her, there she was. I was done. My knee wasn’t screaming but it wasn’t feeling great either. Guess where I was headed?

After the Race:

Site at 6:30am. 15 July 2012.

Upon the finish, I made a beeline for the medical tent. I was extremely paranoid about my knee. The people on staff were medical residents who were in rotation from multiple hospitals. They stretched my knee out, and gave me major massages on my calves and parts of my quads. I got a bag of ice. Had no issues with the medical tent – they were always staffed and on hand both at the main area by Lloyd Hall and on the course as well.

We unwound with post-race mojitos around 7am. Paul went light on the chardonnay given the dehydration issue with folks. But it was much deserved after all our efforts. It had been a great bonding experience, one that I would never forget.

Mojitos! 15 July 2012.

After we wound down with mojitos, we went upstairs for our post race massages, which we gleefully took advantage of. After this we went home. I was personally spent but I’d never complain at all of the experience I had. Different, unique and extremely enjoyable with friends, even for someone not that big into camping out.

Massage time! 15 July 2012.

Post-Race Thoughts:

The humidity was killer than expected, but I was very pleased overall with how this race was run. The only other complaint I have was the lack of finisher’s medals for relay teams. That is something I will definitely bring to their attention. All ultra folks deserved theirs but if the 8-mile Midnight Madness and and PJ Run folks got theirs, why didn’t we? It made no sense.

The professionalism of the volunteers was outstanding and I had really appreciated the efforts of the escorts who stayed up and were willing to patrol the course, keeping everyone safe. That includes all the lads at the 3 refreshment tents and 2 water stations. Also cheers to the medical staff at the medical tent working my legs after my second lap.

If I cannot run this as a participant next year I will do what I can to volunteer. The camaraderie was very solid I could tell even amongst the volunteers and it definitely seemed like a very rewarding experience for everyone involved. And the fact it did well to raise money for a cause made it just that much better. The time spent with my friends was one I’d never forget, regardless of how we did.

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