Sunday, May 6, 2012

24 Hour Relay for Cancer, Hampton Virginia. 4/21/12-4/22/12

This has been a tough report for me to write.  The truth is I have started and stopped writing it several times.  I trained quite well for this event and seem to have suffered another disappointing performance regardless of my preparation.   I understand that sometimes things just don’t work out.  I believe that the 80 degree day was just too much for me to adjust to, since I was used to training and racing in the cooler north.  Regardless of what excuse I can muster to explain how I could run so well in the recent past and not be able to put things together when it matter is really not important. 

Of greater importance is the reason we go to Hampton in April.  I am on my way to 7 years of cancer-survivorship.  I have run Hampton since 2009, when I was struggling with biopsy after biopsy and fearing a recurrence.  I had not run an ultra and did not plan to that day in 2009, but I ended up staying on my feet for 100k.  I was not sure what I was doing that day, but running through the woods at George’s race changed me forever.  I came home an ultrarunner. That next week I had the tumor surgically removed and discovered it was benign. Thankfully, I was still cancer free.

Since that day, I have run many ultras.  Some very well.   Some very poorly.  When I stand at that starting line, it is almost as much of a surprise to me what will happen as it is to my competition.  I can run well off poor training,  Run poorly off great training.  Rarely does anything make complete sense. In general, good training leads to good racing (especially in the shorter stuff), but I have not been able to figure out what I need to do to ensure a great  24 hour race.  What I have figured out is that for me,  I just need to roll with the punches and survive.

This weekend was about the Race and the Team and helping to bring more excitement to a race in hopes of helping to raise more money for the American Cancer Society.  George puts on a no frills run and most of the money goes to the ACS.  He still gives out T-shirts.  He still gives out plaques.  He marks his course well and he makes sure we have water and an indoor bathroom. It is currently my favorite 24 hour, although Hinson is making a run for the title ;).

George’s race is special.  He is the only RD I know that has an Ultra Relay competition where a team of up to 12 runners get to accumulate mileage.  Last year my team set a new record at 802.75 miles

This was my second year putting together a team for the 24 Hour Run for Cancer.  It is a tedious process for me because I don’t just take the first 12 people I can find.  I don’t even really care about how far someone can run. What I really want is to put together a team of runners who will offer a kind heart, generous spirit, and endless patience, regardless of how exhausted they become.  I want a team that has some connectedness to cancer and compassion for the cause.  I want some runners that bring years of experience who can mentor the newbie runners along the way.  I want a team of peaceful people who are kind in general and passionate about running regardless of what pace they move.  

Even though my race performance bombed, I hit a home run with my team. I would like to thank John Price, Frank Lilley, Tom Gabell, Tony Mollica, Jim Plant, Mike Senko, Ladonna Kapustensky
Alanna Garrison-Kast, Kati Craig, Cheryl Lager and Tamra Jones for being part of the ultra-journey that has become my life.

I am so tremendously proud of my team. I can’t say enough about how Awesome our team mileage leader, course record holder, and this year's women's winner, Cheryl Lager is.  At 52.5 miles we were together as I was falling apart and she was just smiling and happy to be on pace.  I wish I could run the second 12 hours of a race like her.  

Tom Gabell is an inspiration as a person. Such a fighter and so freakin’ fast.  I ran the first lap with him trying to figure out how fast we were actually moving and wondering if it was humanly possible to slow him down.  

I can’t say enough about John Price, who spent many hours with me, quietly supporting and encouraging me as I tried to stay positive, while we walked.  It was so early to be walking and I was desperate to stay in a good frame of mind.  John was a rock.  He let me play with the pacing, try to add in minutes of running when I thought  I could.  He never once told me what to do, but was just present and a companion.  This is a trait I wish many more people in this world possessed.  As much as I like to talk, I was never more grateful to for the ability to simply walk in silence.

I always love the laps I get to do with Frank.  Frank was on fire!  Just months after hip surgery with his longest run of about 11 miles, he had often contemplated dropping so he would not hold back the team. I am so grateful that he came and hit that 50 mile mark!!!  Holy Cow, what a fighter!

Due the timing of our paces, and the length of the loop, I did not get to run as much with many other members of my team as I wished.  It is amazing how you can spend a whole day with people and not see them all that much. Although my path crossed with Kati, Matt, Ladonna, Mike, Tony, and Jim, never was it long enough.

One person who was a constant during my day, but not an official team member was incredible friend Tamra Jones.  I am thinking she could start a business for herself crewing people.  Although most members of the team said they wouldn’t need much help, I knew I was going to need someone to run off for coffee and mashed potatoes for me during the race.  Tamra also helped with all kinds of silly things like cutting up cantaloupe, finding crap that I couldn’t find, or letting me sit for a few minutes while she grabbed something I could have done on my own.  It was nice to have a helper.   She also managed to track all of our laps, make sure the official count was correct, take orders from other team members for little things they felt they needed.  She worked her butt off all day and still went out for a lap with me when I was at my worst and on the verge of throwing up.  

I had felt sick the entire race and I know historically that once I throw up the race is over.  I usually can get another lap done after that but my body shuts down.  It is better for me to walk and not throw up.  On that lap with Tamra, I finally got sick.  It was just only over 65 miles into the race.   

My memory escapes me but I know I ate some watermelon and tried to run again.  I ran past George who was walking with his daughter.  I was feeling so ill and was about 1 mile into the loop when I threw up everything I ate again.  My stomach was so irritated I had begun to throw up black curdled stuff I had not even eaten.  This is what happens when you throw up while wearing a head lamp. You can see exactly what you are puking and all I could think was “what the heck is that!”   Now I know to turn off the headlamp first, then throw up. 

That final lap was the most painful loop I have walked in a long time.  It took forever and I was not confident I was actually going to make it out of the woods.  Each step felt more impossible.  At the half way point, I had to sit on a bench.  I was wondering how long until someone found me if I passed out.  I found some will to get up and keep moving.  I recall trying so hard to get out of the woods and stopping at the .5 mile cone. 

I could not believe I still had an entire half mile to go.  It was amazing how far a half mile seemed.  I leaned over and threw up again.  Then like a cheerful angel, Cheryl found me stuck there, frozen in space, but hurling at the same time and I was never so grateful.  Her positive spirit was such a lift. She was frustrated about a part of her race and technically she was actually complaining about something, but even during a rant she was still incredibly positive. As she talked, I was able to move forward and focus on her issue.  Being able to think about someone else for a while helped me move on.

Once back at the HQ, I found my blanket, curled up in the dirt, b/c my chair had gotten wet, called Ray and told him I was having a bad day and going to sleep. I knew I wasn’t going back out there to run.  Once I throw up, it takes me about a day to feel better.   An hour nap wasn’t going to fix this.  I hoped to possibly walk some, so I set my alarm for 1 hour, took my shoes off tucked them under my back pack, used my pack as pillow and closed my eyes.  That is when the rain really started. The canopy was leaking onto all our gear.  All the bags of food got soaked.  My shoe bag was soaked.  I seemed to have found the one dry patch in a world of wet and had my dry shoes under my pack, so I was all good. 

Many amazing runners continued on, but I was not ready.  It was a hard fight to get out in the rain.  Tamra had left for the hotel, so I had nowhere to go get dry.  My tuper-ware container of clothes seemed ok, unlike my shoe bag.  I stayed under my warm dry blanket as the temperature dropped.   I heard some chatter around me about wolf spiders being all over the place and thought at least it is not as bad as the rats at NC24 last year.

At 2:30 am the rain slowed and I decided I wanted to head back out.  I walked to the bathroom and just that walk up the little hill caused my stomach to spasm. I was throwing up nothing but it sucked.  At that point, I let my team know that I was not going and they could go without me.

Frank and I stayed at the HQ while Jim, Ladonna, and Mike headed out.  Frank was so tired he started singing after he forgot I was there. That is one of my favorite memories of the night. He surprised himself when he turned and asked me how long I was sitting there, wrapped in my blanket, in the one remaining dry camping chair while he sang in the rain.  I had told him that I had never left. 

At some point between 4:00 and 6:00 am Jim and I decided to finally make a move to the indoor facility.  There we camped out on the floor in the warmth waiting for the sun to rise.  Alanna showed up just past sunrise, then Tamra made it back.  Kati came back from her hotel.  Cheryl was still moving as was Tom.  Everyone was there except Matt who lived nearby and drove home after he hit 75.

The team was in wonderful spirits and we had no idea how we did as a team.  It wasn’t until the ride home that we calculated that we could have possibly set a new Team Record.  George sent the unofficial results out and it was confirmed: Team Awesome 2012 set a new team record by .75 at 803.5! 

The bigger victory goes to the ACS that was offered a $15,000 donation from the race.  I hope to return next year with a new team, but I think my goal has already changed.  Rather than set my sights on hitting 100 miles, instead I would like to run a lap with each member of my team, thanking them in person for training, donating, and running with me at a very special race that I hold very dear to my heart. 

Thank you Team and George for spending that day honoring and supporting those truly fighting a battle with cancer.  After all, what we go through out there is all in the name of fun. It is nice to know that the money raised is being used to help those who really need help. 


  1. I know this wasn't an easy RR for you to write, but I am glad you did. I am so happy that you asked me to be on this team! I finally was able to meet Kati in person! I also have nine new friends as a result of being on this team. (Tamara I counted you!:) )

    I would like to salute Tamara also! I would not have made it sixty miles if she hadn't gotten me mashed potatoes. I was tired of my PB & Jelly and gels. They were just too sweet. Tamara got me three tubs of potatoes, and I was eating a half a tub each lap. The potatoes hit the spot! That got me through a very rough spot! Thanks Tamara! Love you!

    Shannon you are totally awesome! You know how I feel about you! I would have liked to spend more time with you; but I was grateful for the time I had with you. Thanks for asking me to be part of this wonderful crew of runners!

  2. You always do such a good job of digging out and then writing down you feelings. Wonderful report!

    I have to totally agree with you about the team aspect of a 24 hour race. It adds so much to the experience. Maybe our friend and teammate will consider adding a team competition to his world-class event . . .

    And Tamara was really a savior to all of us that day. And somehow she got away before I could really thank her. She is just plain awesome!!

    As are you Shannon . . .

  3. Great read my friend. I am honored to be a part of Team Awesome. I guess you and I both are going to have to put this one down to "crap happens". But oh well - being in the company of so many friends, new and old more than makes up for it.

    "Team Awesome 2013" has a nice ring to it.

    Congrats to George for raising a substantial amount of money for a wonderful cause.

  4. Thanks guys for reading my RR! You guys are all the best. I will let Tamra know we are all still talking about her :)

  5. Great report,,made me live it all over again.

    See ya next year!

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