Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Race Report: Virginia 24 Hour Ultra Run and Relay for Cancer - Team Awesome!

The Event: Virginia 24 Hour Run for Cancer:  Ultra Run and Relay for Cancer in Hampton Va. 4/16 - 4/17.     

Video by Peter Wolf  Please check out this video of the race.  

Team AwesomeJonathan Savage, Sabrina Moran, Tom Gabell, Cheryl Lager, Ray Krolewicz, Jessi Kennedy, David Lettieri, Jim Plant, Amy Perris-Schimmel, Alanna Garrison-Kast, Frank Lilley, and myself. 

OCD Shoe tying before the gun 
With a lot of help from Jim, I put together a 12-person team of really great people.  I had one secret criteria for the team selection process:  The capacity to endure endless hours of me once I became a cranky, whiny, starving, suffering, sleep-deprived zombie.

The Crew: Charles West, Todd Kast, Sidney Dos Santos and Cheryl's family.  They did an amazing job handling us while dealing with the impending Armageddon predicted to hit late in the day.
Sid, Me, Sabrina, Ray, Jessi, Charles, Dave, Jim, etc.
The Point: To work together to log high mileage drawing attention to our effort and this race in order to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Please consider making a donation to help all those who truly endure a much more difficult struggle than anything we could have faced running around the woods at night in a tornado.  Please direct donations at any time to this link: http://main.acsevents.org/site/TR?pg=team&fr_id=33505&team_id=843107

Pre-RaceI had a great start.  Sid rented a Cessna and the weather cooperated.  While Sid did his pre-flight check, I got cross-examined by the woman at the desk who was baffled by the amount of stuff I had packed for a 2-day rental.

Her: "What are you doing, moving to Virginia!?" 
Me:  "Uh, no. I have a race."
Her: "Hmm? A race?" (confused look)
Me:  "Well, it's kinda like camping.  It's a camping-race!"
Her:  "Oh! That makes perfect sense now!" (walks away.... seeming less confused)
Me:  (What? That makes no sense at all... a camping-race??)

Thanks to Sid, my trip took 1.5 hours instead of 7 hours of driving. 

My Goal:  I have not put in the work for high mileage and you really can't fake a 24 hour.  I just started a harsh medication, so I wasn't sure what was going to happen.  My goal was to run at least 75 miles and ideally to continue on for 100.  I figured 12 minute paced for the first 12 hours would get me to 60 miles and then getting 40 more in next 12 hours seems almost too easy. Ha!    

The Weather: Torrential rains with thunder, lightning, and tornadoes were predicted starting at 4 pm lasting a few hours.  At 4 pm the weather began to change, but nothing significant happened.  At our aid station, people were battening down the hatches.  I took some time from my running to sort out my essential gear. I gave Sid everything I was not wearing to put in the car to keep it dry. (Remember this!)

At 12 hours in I had ended up behind my pace plan by about 3 miles.  But nothing hurt and I had plenty of time. I was still hoping the rain would sneak by and miss us. I grabbed Sid and together we headed out into the dark.

Sid and I before the storm
At 8 p.m. we were less than 1 mile into the 3.75 loop when the sky just opened up. The WORST of the weather was upon us.  Water was falling in a sheet that was broken up only by the branches above our head.  Cracks of lightning lit up the woodsI was convinced I was hit with hail.  Runners were running in the opposite direction as fast as they could just to get out of the weather.  But together Sid and I moved onward commenting on how awesome our rain jackets were. :)

Within minutes the trail became ankle deep rivers.  I was in shock at how fast inches of water accumulated.  At first, the cold water felt good like a refreshing  mid-race ice-bath.  But over the course of the next 2.75 miles, my body temperature lowered too much and I was freezing cold.   

* * * * *
Links to weather related news:  News reports indicated that a storm had split forming two tornadoes. One had touched down miles north of us.  We caught the mess between those spiraling cones of destruction. We were very lucky.  See Video: Destruction from the tornado hitting just several miles north of our location.
* * * * *

Once safely out of the woods, I was shivering uncontrollably.  Jonathan had concerns of hypothermia and suggested I move inside. Together, Tom, Amy, Charles, Sid, Jonathan, Jim and I set up a little justified pitty-party in the one warm building we had access too.   My fingernails were blue and I couldn't formulate clear sentences.  I was not in a good mental place.  Sid ran to the car about half a dozen times to retrieve me some warm clothes. Charles ran to get Amy and me some coffee.  Thank you so much guys! 

The rain was a Mojo Killer!  Many had dropped out, packed up, and left once it arrived.  But I had  only 3 more laps for 75 miles.  I sent Sid back to the hotel to sleep so he could fly us home safely.  Jonathan was worried for us and schooled us on the signs of serious hypothermia before sending us off into the darkness, encouraging the buddy system.  I was so cold that I could not keep up with Amy and JimFrank hung back with me. Thank goodness for Frank!  His company during one of the hardest laps of the day distracted me from my misery.  

Still pre-storm - Jim, Alanna, and Dave
The beginning of my turn around:  On our way in, we saw Jim and Amy.  I asked about the female leader's mileage.  Sabrina had logged 82.5, gaining a commanding lead  before the storm rolled in and she went home.  Since the rain hit, most people either left, were trying to get back on their feet, or were moving slowly through the mud.  Some lucky ones had missed the it completely and were fresh and happy to run, but their mileage goals were lower, which allowed them to be safe and dry during the worst of the weather.

"Wow, I can still win this," I said.  I am sure the only person who believed that was me.  "My competitive drive is kicking in! I really think I can do it."  And then off I hobbled with Frank who handed me off to Alanna who immediately triaged my situation and took care of me.  My feet were soaked.  It was only now that I remembered I had sent Sid to the hotel with all my clothes, my extra socks, and my second pair of shoes (everything I asked him to keep dry in the car earlier).    

Jim, Alanna, and Amy
I saw Cheryl who was still ahead of me.  She decided she was done for the day.  I tried to convince her to stay out letting her know that all she needed was 2 more loops and a mile for the win.  She humored me by pretending to think about it, but for whatever reason Cheryl (who just got back from the toughest ultra ever invented, the Barkley) decided she was happy to call it a night at 75.  She gave me a hug, telling me the win "is yours if you want it, so go get it." I told her that is my plan and I will try. 
Cheryl and Tom
My teammates took great care of meJonathan covered me with his giant down coat.  Alanna had her husband Todd find me his hooded fleece. Some one grabbed my towel from inside to cover my legs. Someone propped my feet up.  Someone else grabbed me some more mashed potatoes.  I ate, sat, then decided to dip my chin to my chest, close my eyes and take a 25 minute power nap.
I then headed off and did two loops alone.

When I had only two loops left, Ray was just coming through the start/finish area as I was getting ready to head out again.  I had not spent any time with Ray, so I was happy to see him now.  I told him I could win it, but my feet are in a lot of pain.  As we assessed my risk of getting passed by any women, we caught up to my closest competitor who declared she was calling it a night.  I had the win if I wanted it, but by then my feet were a hot mess.  My painful fibromas have returned making every step increasingly painful.

Planning to use all the time I had so as to not unnecessary tear up my feet any further, I timed it so that at 6:00 a.m. I would be tied for the lead.  With no reason to rush, I sat down to take my shoes off and rub my feet. Oh wow that felt good!  I waited for sun to rise before I put my wet racing flats back on and finished this off.  

By 6:10, glimmers of sunlight began to peak through the trees and I headed out to the blue cone turn around (which was really the .625 mile mark.  The double orange cones were .5 mile mark, oops). This gave  me technically 83.75 miles for the day.  George told me I had time for 1 more and to not quit early! Ha! 

I found Sid at the finish with a huge smile and I knew he knew I won.  He had left me when I was just recovering from my worst low of the day and I am sure he doubted I would even finish the 3 laps for 75.  I was thrilled to be able to tell him I did almost 10 more miles in wet gear since I last saw him!  I was happy he was present to see me win something.

Keeping Things in Perspective:  This is not the highest mileage I have ever run in a 24 hours.  This is low mileage for an overall women's win on a flat course.  I believe that I was unlikely to go much more than 83 miles at this race.  I am not yet trained for a good 24 hour run and my foot pain would have come whether or not the rains did.  Regardless of whether I should have won or not, I somehow managed to endure longer than any other woman on the course (and there was some amazing talent out there!). 

The second half of the race was not as easy as it should have been.  After all I only covered 27 miles in those 12 hours.  However,  I was caught for almost an entire loop in potentially dangerous horrid weather.  I have never been outside for so long in worse.  I had to stay focused while taking time to recover from mild hypothermia (and thanks to my teammates I did).  I had to keep moving slowly when my feet were in excruciating pain.  I was fighting sleep deprivation and hunger-related mental and physical fatigue by the last hours of the race (but that is the name of the game).  Finally my shoes and socks, sports bra, and shorts were all soaked with sweat or water.  I desperately needed to change them but I had sent off ALL my gear to a hotel for the night!  83 miles may not seem like a lot for a win, but I am very proud that I was able to get it done.  Thank you to my teammates and crew for helping me secure this victory.
As a cancer survivor it means a lot for me to take home the winner's award since this a fund-raiser for the ACS.  I am also sure Team Awesome won the Team race, since we unofficially accumulated 813 miles in the day.  
Sid and Me


  1. solid race and effort

  2. STUD. Plus, you're a huge source of encouragement to all runners. Way to go, Shannon!

  3. When I last saw you, I was not sure you would be able to get up and finish 1 more lap, let alone 4 more plus a mile! I can't imaginge doing what you did! Maybe not huge miles for a 24-hour win, but this was DEFINITELY not your average 24-hour race give the weather and trail conditions! Probably the best mental toughness that I've witnessed in running. Congratulations!

    Frank Lilley - 'He-man Woman Haters Club' Ex member :-)

  4. Thanks Sabrina! I read your blog and I completely forgot about the "ice hockey" comment. He he "you want ice hockey?" hehe. Sorry I didnt get to say good bye to you. I am glad you made it back safely.

    Frank, LOL! I couldn't wait to tell you that I got back out there. :) You are the best!

  5. Wow, that just sounds brutal! Congrats on the win, that's awesome!