First things first: I did not run the Cornbelt Running Club 24 Hour Run. In fact, the idea of the race is really unappealing to me: run around a high school track for 24 hours. Whoever goes the farthest wins.
I have run two marathons, and for me, that's more than enough challenge. I have no desire to do an ultra (and I recognize that this is the kind of statement that may bite me in the butt later). And if I did run an ultra, I could more imagine doing some kind of amazing trail race, where the scenery and the terrain change. Over and over around the track sounds like some kind of torture.
But you know, who am I to think any idea my fellow runners could come up with is nutty? There are plenty of runners and non-runners who think my choices are crazy, so I do not judge those who relish the challenge of a 24 hour run.
In fact, when my running club asked for volunteers, not only did I sign up, but I signed up for the 10 PM to 1 AM shift. I figured any crowd support there might have been earlier in the day would be gone and that the runners could use some extra encouragement - and that it might be challenging for the volunteer coordinators to fill those spots.
So, instead of going to bed at my usual time, I drove to the track, with a bag packed full of blankets and warm clothes, as I had been warned that it gets cold during the night shifts.
My job was pretty simple. Every time one of the three runners I was assigned passed, I would note the time (16 hours, 30 seconds) on my sheet next to the lap number. I'd also call out the lap number to my runner, as in, "that's 205, Catherine!"
I quickly memorized what my runners looked like and what they were wearing. There was Catherine, a grey haired woman in a blue jacket, Heather, a young woman in an olive green shirt and white hat, and Pat, whose neon green arm warmers made him easy to spot. If a runner changed his shirt or put on his jacket, he'd actually tell his lap counter so we'd be sure not to miss him. The runners also let us know if they were taking a break - to eat, to go to the bathroom, or even to go take a nap - so that we would know it'd be a while before they were back around again. And when they returned to the track, they'd let us know that, too.
When my shift began, the runners were sixteen hours into the event. Most of them were walking (save the leaders, who both walked and ran), but were looking really strong and averaged a pace of 5 minutes per lap. Impressive.
I had heard that ultra events do not favor young men as much as shorter distances, and that proved to be the case at this race. The overall leader while I was there was a woman, with a 10 lap lead over her next closest competitor. With my own runners, Catherine was probably at least 25 years older than Heather, but had 15 laps on her. In an event like this, speed is a factor, but it's probably less important than smart race strategy (keeping hydrated, fed, and pacing yourself), endurance, and an immense mental toughness. Who knows - maybe Heather caught Catherine later. A lot could have happened in the six hours of the race that remained after I went home and went to sleep. (In fact, I've been checking my club's website all day, looking for results.)
While running around a track for 24 hours might sound tedious, it might also sound tedious to sit for three hours and watch someone else do it, but in fact, it was really a lot of fun. I got to know the other runners, too - Cindy, who was always smiling, Angela, who came all the way from Tennesee to run the race, Carl, whose doctor told him he couldn't run anymore and could only walk (something tells me that advice backfired on him), and the honeymooners (yes, really) who high-fived after every lap.
All of the lapcounters cheered for the milestones all of the runners hit. We'd go crazy for someone passing, say, the 75 mile mark. Any runner who makes 246 laps gets a plaque, so that was a big cause for celebration, followed by another at 247, when the runner completed 100K. By the time I left, Pat and Catherine had already earned their plaques, and Heather was well on her way.
About halfway through my shift, Stockholm Syndrome kicked in. I started thinking about what a cool challenge the race really is. Would I have the determination to keep going for so long? What an amazing test of mental resiliance and fortitude. But don't worry - I talked myself out of it by remembering how after my first marathon, I could barely walk for a week, to say nothing of the training hours it takes. Nope, for me, for now, I'm going to continue to kick ass at distances of 13.1 miles or less. But for anyone who's thinking about taking on the challenge of next year's 24 Hour Run? I'll see you between 10 PM and 1 AM next year. Now that I've seen this event in action, I wouldn't miss being a part of it.