Sunday, October 14, 2012

Armed Forces Freedom Run 2012, "Revised to 7 hour", Burlington County Fairgrounds, NJ. 10/13/12

Alanna and I had a great day at the Armed Forces Freedom Run "7 hour" Relay  (originally planned to be an 8 hour) put on by the Burlington County Military Affairs Committee.

I stumbled upon this one night while combing the race calendars, as I so often do.  This was a brand new event.  First it was advertised as a Relay with a humorous comment that read, "Maximum team size is 8 runners (Minimum size is 1 runner, but that will make for a long day!)" After reading, what I clearly interpreted as "Teams of ONE are allowed", I mentioned this to Alanna to see if she wanted to show up as solo runners and race against teams of runners for 8 hours.  Of course she said Yes.

Race Day:  So Mother Nature was messing with us a little.  We woke up to temps below 30 degrees. Brrrr!  My car windshield was covered in ice. I had to revise my racing wardrobe to include some winter gear for the start.  Temps were only supposed to reach the 50's.  This was about a 20 degree sliding difference btw the 50-70+ degrees it has been lately.

Because this was an inaugural event, I expected glitches.  The first issue was that parking was in a different part of the fairgrounds, a few minutes away by foot.  Not a big deal for a 5k, but when they advertise that you can set up a canopy or tent for your supplies, it would have been nice to park at the race location to unload (where parking was extremely plentiful along the entire course).  I had my rolling cooler, and some clothes.  But Alanna had a large bin of her ultra gear.  She just pulled out the essentials (fuel, clothes, a chair and her cooler) and this was manageable.

We had a pre-race meeting where the Timing Guy, Mike, asked each team to grab a clipboard so we could manually record each lap time as we completed it.  There was chip timing, but this was his back-up. This is not an issue for teams handing off running duties at the end of each lap, but for Alanna and I we had to stop each lap to record for ourselves.  At this point, it was starting to sink in that Alanna and I would be running Solo.  Mike asked if we had friends to help, which we both sadly reported that we have no friends (hehe).  He suggested we recruit others to helps us.  We opted not to.  This was not actually a big problem at all and took about 5 seconds to swing by the table, stop, look at the clock, write down the time, and go on.  No biggie.  It broke up the lap. The only negative thing it did was make us both acutely aware of exactly how long we had been running and exactly how far we had run.  Sometimes it is nice not know.

I expected Alanna and I to be the only 2 ultra-runners present.  To steal Alanna words, "We get to be ambassadors of the sport today." We tried very hard to not seem too crazy.  I personally tried my best to not throw up and scare people.  ;)  (I found out later that one other guy decided to run the 8 hour as well, although he was also part of a team?).

As the run started, for maybe the first 2 hours I was asked to verify to my fellow runners that Alanna and I would actually be trying to run this entire run solo.  People seemed to not believe us.  It made me appreciate just how extreme ultrarunning is in some ways.  It also made me aware of how people tend to set artificial limitation on what they perceive as possible or impossible.  Ultrarunners know that 7-8 hours of running is not truly a HUGE deal.  It is a lot, but not impossible.  But for people who only run a few miles a day, a few days per week, the concept could seem unimaginable.

A another issue was that we needed to wear a D-tag on our shoe b/c there was chip timing.   I had two pairs of shoes so swapping the glued-on chip strip could have been an issue.  But it wasn't.  I just safety pinned it to my second pair of shoes when I needed a change.  I was hoping to just pin the D-tag to my shorts but I was told it had to be on my shoe.

Yet another glitch was the loop.  It varied for the first 4 laps.  The volunteers were a little confused as to which way the relayers ran vs the 5k'ers and we were getting a chance to explore various sections of the course. :)  By lap 4 we had sorted it all out and the loop was about .96 miles.  Alanna and I were tracking our own mileage with our Garmins, so out total distance run is unofficial.  The race was scored by counting completed laps, since we all ran the same lap distances, regardless of the differences between the first few.

As we ran along, I believe many expected us to stop after about 2 hours or so.  By 3 hours in people started to comment that they were impressed by us.  By 4 hours in, we were getting positive comments.

The RD did arrange for some games and raffles to take place during the run.  Poker cards were handed out and the best hand would win.  There was a bingo card and a person pulling numbers each lap.  I didn't participate in the games because I didn't want to stop to wait for winners to be announced.  Had I had a crew with me, I would have played more games.  There was a band for the first few hours.  A DJ from a radio station for the the afternoon.  There was a Car Show and food vendors.  It was a little like time lapse photography for me out there.  I watched everyone set up, do their thing, and then break down and leave... all in snippets of time 10 minutes apart. The fields were empty when I started. Empty when I finished.  But full of life during the 7 hours of the event.  Families would have had fun.

At 4 hours in a decision by the RD was made to reduced the event by 1 hour.  I am not sure why, but I didn't complain.  I was tired.  We now had 3 hours to go and not 4.  I was glad for this.

But at 5 hours in, I noticed some concern for me developing.  I fully believe that some did not think it was safe for a person to run 5 hours straight.  I had an odd conversation with one person who stated that he was concerned about me because I was not sweating and he worried about dehydration.  This was odd because I was standing at my cooler drinking a gatorade at the time, smiling and telling him I was feeling great.  I was at about 28 miles at the time, which is really not excessively fast at all for me (but he doesn't know this).   I didn't want to try to explain that I wasn't sweating b/c it was about 48 degrees and I had shed all my layers so I was running in a sports bra and capri pants.  I was cool.  I also know what it feels like when I am dehydrated and that was not a pressing issue at the time.  Others were still in winter gear (because they were not running the whole day and standing around was cold).  People running in more layers will be warmer and sweat more.

I did my best to assure him I was fine, and raced to find Alanna to ask if she was getting any flack for running for 5 hours.  She said No.  But she was taking more breaks than I was.  Maybe they didn't realize she was only a little bit behind me in distance run.  I asked her if I looked OK.  Maybe I appeared like I was struggling and didn't know.  I actually felt great considering I was approaching 29 miles and logging 10 minute laps almost with perfectly even splits.  She assured me I looked ok.  I told her I was getting a vibe like they may ask me to stop running. I did not want to get pulled.

Sid had a break from his duties at McGuire AFB (a few miles away) and appeared.  He ran a lap with me.  I told him my concern that I might get pulled simply because I don't think others understand that people do actually run this far.  He told me to tell the RD to google my name, race results, and ultrarunning magazine. That would be a good idea if I needed to convince others that running far was not unhealthy for those trained for it.

However, by 5:30 into the race, the Timing Guy seemed more supportive. He had checked the results and reported that I was leading for the most laps.  I made every effort to "not look tired" when passing the timers and the spectators, but I was very tired and it was tiring to try to not look tired.  Heck, who wouldn't be tired after 5.5 hours of running at a 10 minute pace.  LOL.

I had my heart set on a "leisurely" 40 miles for the day, and this was back when I thought I had 8 hours to do it.  I really felt 45-50 was possible in 8 hours if I really gave it my all.  However, with this not counting for anything official, trying for 50 miles was not going to happen.  I spent more time chatting with runners than focusing on hauling butt.

There was a med tent set up on one side of the course and at this time, they asked me who else was running with me.  I reported "no one" and they became very supportive of me.  Each lap, they asked how far I had run and cheered as I passed.  This really helped.

With 6 hours to go, the crowd support became awesome.  People started to realize that I was, in fact, going to run the entire race solo.  People began cheering for me by name.  They counted down the minutes for me (50 minutes to go!).  Some asked if I needed any fuel or water.  The Timing Guy logged my laps when he was there.   The Army guys in uniform applauded as I passed.  A woman carrying her toddler rushed to the side of the course telling her child "Here she comes! Clap for her! She has been running for 6 and a half hours!"  I was appreciative and motivated.

At 6:48, I crossed the 40 mile mark and knew I could get one more lap in before the end.  Alanna had stopped, completing 34 laps.  She met me with a few yards to go and kicked it in with me.  I finished that lap and ran the balance so my Garmin could flip to an even 41 miles in 6:58.

I walked back to the clipboard recorded my lap and sat down.  People clapped and someone gave me a water.  It was really a great day.

They gave out a prize for the most laps completed by one runner, which I won with 44 laps.  Alanna a was second.  I did notice the military team won with 66 laps and the civilian team won with 55 laps.  They each had teams of 8 runners.

I think we did a good job introducing the sport of ultrarunning to a crowd of people who thought we were crazy at the start.  By the end, they realized we were just a little extreme.  I was tempted to report that both Alanna and I are also Cancer Survivors, just to add one more layer of awesomeness to our day, but decided we did enough. :)

I did talk to the RD about suggesting to him some changes that could make this event a very attractive option for ultra runners.  There were glitches, but all were manageable.  He was very receptive to making changes so next year's even will run much more smoothly!

I look forward to returning!

41 miles - 6:58
Most Laps award

My award from today. Reads: Armed Forces Freedom Run 2012. Burlington County Military Affairs Committee.  Most Laps.  (41 miles worth in 7 hours)


  1. I'm a HS XC runner. My runs are nothing like your runs. But i was at this Freedom Run for the 5k, and seeing you running afterwards and finding out your story really encourages me to be a better runner. Thank you (:

    1. Thank you Abbi! What a nice message :) Good Luck to you and your races! I hope you had a great 5k!