The following is a race recap from our very own, Vikram Singh, at the Sri Chinmoy 12 & 24 Hour Race. That’s right, 12 and 24 hours! The race was held on June 12th and June 13th at Rockland State Park and it’s a great recap of having a strong mentality and not giving up when the going gets tough through any race.
The 24-hour timed race events are called “life in a day.” Just like the rollercoaster of life, people go through highs and lows throughout the event. While reading And then the Vulture eats you by John L. Parker Jr., the first story was about a 6-day timed event on a track that caught my interest. The book features stories about ultra-running in the 80s, which piqued my interest in timed events. Still, I don’t think I would have pulled the trigger to sign up for a race ‘till a QDR teammate, Dave Law, asked if I was interested in the 12 hours event at Rockland Lake. He had recently crushed his marathon time at the same loop, and I figured if he wasn’t tired of it after almost nine loops, maybe I won’t either. I also thought it would be mentally easier to run a 3-mile loop instead of a quarter-mile loop (most of these long-hour events are held on a running track).
My season so far consisted of the Hyner 50k in the wilds region of Pennsylvania and Rim to Rim to Rim (46 miles) in the Grand Canyon. With a long 10-hour hike in the Great Range of the ADK, I was pretty confident in my ability to spend time on my feet and keep moving. Unfortunately, I got rear-ended, and my car totaled two weeks before the race. It didn’t seem to affect me initially. Still, the following week was a stressful one dealing with the insurance and, combined with some long hours at the office, affected the quality of my recovery from workouts. My double-long run the weekend before didn’t go off too well, and I had some hamstring soreness on my left leg the days leading to the race. So I focused more on foam rolling the days before the race. I also started reading Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor, and it reminded me how important your mindset was. I took some of the lessons from the book to me on race day.
My strategy was pretty simple; I would jog for six minutes and walk for one minute. I debated this ratio a lot, but my goal was to keep moving, and I thought the one-minute breaks would help preserve my legs. Also, I thought it would be mentally easier when things got more challenging; I would simply tell myself to get through a 6-minute jog before getting a break. During the walk, I would try to mentally recharge and then make it through the next 6-minute jog. My A goal for the race was 60 miles, my B goal was 50 miles, and my C goal was to get over 40 miles.
Since I wasn’t in the mountains and had access to a small area along the course for my stuff, I decided to fuel up on real food during the race. On trail races where I have to carry my food, the weight to calories ratio is more of a factor, and I depend primarily on gels. Here I could always be 3 miles from my food and could motivate myself with having real food to look forward to eating. Unfortunately, I didn’t plan this out too well. I only had time to get a chipotle bowl, prepare a bagel with a veggie patty and a peanut butter sandwich. I also packed some Larabars, five ladoos, and some Enjoy-Life cookies.
I planned to get to the start around 7:15 am, set up, and then do some quick stretches and lie around, not spending time on my feet before starting at 8 am. Unfortunately, I got delayed and ended up getting to the race at 7:40 am. An overcast day in the low 70s made for ideal weather, especially compared to the weekend before. Still, on the drive over, the overcast looked more like a storm. While talking to a volunteer setting up, she mentioned spots with shade, but I failed to realize there were spots on both sides of the course. In my hurry, I simply placed my belongings in an area along the racecourse. I just didn’t want anything that would have required extra steps to get to. Besides my food, I brought three pairs of shoes and two chairs. One chair seated two people, and I used it as a table. Knowing that some rain was coming, I covered my food with a bag and kept my other shoes in a bag under a chair. It worked pretty well.
I walked over the start, not doing any stretches or a last-minute bathroom break due to lack of time. The race packet came with a bib belt where my bib was currently on. I checked in with the race director, who informed me about the counters -people who manually count a runner’s lap. He gave me an extra bib if I wanted to pin it to another shirt. I haven’t used a bib belt before, the only time I have considered using them was for triathlons, but I constantly just change to my singlet with my bib already pinned to it.
The start line was socially distanced, with tape markers separating people. Masks were required at the start as well. About 40 runners were doing the race split 50/50 between the 12 hours and 24 hours races. Another set of 12 runners or so were doing the 12 hours overnight race. I didn’t make it to a taped spot in time when the race started, so I just ran in, starting my watch as I crossed the start line. Since the bibs weren’t chip time but gun time, my watch was about 20 seconds behind. The start felt like any other race. As I started running, I immediately felt my left hamstring wiggle but felt good otherwise. It felt like the hamstring was in pre-cramp mode, as if it cramped up it would hurt, but then I would feel relief. A half-mile in, I was running behind three men who were talking. I overheard that this area we were passing was a good place to park your car. This parking lot was right next to the course, and there was a bathroom right there as well. I decided to make this the bathroom I would use if I had to go. Every step saved counts! For the first half of the loop, my jog for 6 minutes and walk for 1 minute worked reasonably well. I kept pace with many people who were also utilizing similar walk-run strategies. I didn’t make any effort to keep pace with anyone or follow or stay ahead; this was going to be my race.
The first loop went fast; running with the feel of the race environment with people made it easy. I made it through at a good pace and on track for the 60-mile goal. There were three-lap counters and one was assigned to each runner. This personal counter was supposed to make the race more personal to you. I didn’t feel it at first, but as the laps went down, it was lovely to have some people say your name and applaud you. My goal was to maintain a 12 minute per mile pace, and I effortlessly achieved that in my first loop. Based on my 50 mile PR at the 2018 Cayuga race, where I ran 50 miles on a hot day with 8,000 feet of elevation gain in 10 hours and 40 minutes, I thought it would be easy to get to the 60 mile goal. It didn’t seem far-fetched since this race was on the road on a flat course. Even with some loss of fitness, it should have been doable.
Slowly, the runners spread out, and by the close of the second loop, I was running alone. Now, the goal was to make a game out of running. I noticed the plants along the path and named some of them, noted the geese territory (sometimes a tense moment where I would keep a lookout to see if they would come flying at me). At one spot, two musicians were hired and performed 1970s rock about halfway in the course and their music echoed for a good quarter to a half-mile out. I heard that the organizers attempted to get more musicians but were unsuccessful. Then there were the rowing boats and, of course, there were the three aid stations—one about every mile. I created a list of things to look forward to on each loop. This is very different from trail ultras. Usually, when I’m not dodging rocks or roots, figuring out the straightest path, or deciding if I should charge or speed hike uphills, I wonder if I have enough food and water to make it to the next aid station. With this 12 hour course being on the road and well supported, all those variables were out leaving me to my thoughts.
On the third loop, I ran with an older runner. He said he has been doing 24-hour races for 40 years. He also mentioned that he once ran a 2:30 marathon. When learning I was doing the 12-hour event, he remarked that there was no 12 hour back in his day; only 50 miles, 100k, and 24 hours races. I noticed he left out the 50k distance as well. He emphasized to keep moving unless you need to go to the bathroom. Eventually, we parted ways as he wanted to say something to the band as we passed. Thanks to him, this third loop went pretty fast.
At the start of my fourth loop, I ate a bagel with a veggie patty. It tasted great! Soon my feet started to hurt and I decided to wear toe socks for the race, something which was new. I think my fear of road ultras was creeping in and I was afraid of getting some sort of blister, so I broke the “never try new things on race day” rule. Thinking about this now, this is bizarre since I have run many ultras through streams and mud and never gotten a blister. Fatigue started creeping in too on this loop and I started to wonder if I should have stuck to my usual diet of gels. I changed my goal to something between A and B, 52 miles. I thought it would be nice to do two marathons but would be happy with over 50 miles. The race didn’t have any soda to my disappointment which is my usual go-to for sugar in ultras. As I finished the loop, I saw the main aid station tent have brownies. I took one and also ate two of the ladoos. Then I switched shoes and put on a music playlist I made years ago based on suggestions on Facebook.
My body felt renewed with the sugar rush and music, and I got out of the mental stump I was falling into. For the next loop, I ignored the walk breaks and also decided on every loop I altered between brownies and “magic” muffins. For fluids, I started alternating between cryptomax electrolytes and a homemade maple water drink. I started the race drinking six fluid ounces of water per loop, but when I started feeling tired, I decided I needed more electrolytes to make it easier to digest the water.
On the 8th loop, I ran with a man from NJ. His longest run was a 50k, and he was a 4:00:07 marathoner (so close to breaking 4 hours). He had done the virtual NYC marathon last year as well. He wasn’t too confident about how far he could get. I only caught up to him because he walked a loop with his wife. We finished our marathon distance together. We clocked a 6:02 marathon, my slowest road marathon! By now, the hamstring wiggle was gone, replaced by my feet hurting. He stopped to rest after we finished the loop. I changed my socks and shoes. The change of shoes felt great; each time so far, I felt like my feet were a bit fresher.
On the 11th lap, I caught up to two guys that were suffering. One asked if I was having fun yet, and I said it goes here and there. They were one lap ahead of me (because I heard their lap count as we finished a lap). They took long breaks, which I interrupted as they were on the verge of quitting and that gave me a goal; it motivated me to beat them. At the end of my 12th lap, I learned that this was their 13th and they decided to trash themselves to finish it. That motivated me to do my 13th and my 14th to “beat” them. A young kid also came up to me on this loop and wished me good luck in my 12 hours which lifted my spirits for a bit. The route passes by a few picnic areas, so seeing people enjoying their Saturday was a typical sight throughout the race.
After the 14th lap, though, I was back in the struggle bus. My feet hurt so much that walking was starting to feel hard. I wear pretty light cushioned shoes on trails and my feet could last pretty long thanks to the softer surface of trails. I resolved just to walk a loop. Fifteen minutes after making that decision, I received a text from Nancy that she and Abby were coming. I told Nancy about the race the day before, and she mentioned maybe coming to support. I tried to discourage it by saying it was too out of the way. It wasn’t like I didn’t want support, but I find it hard to ask when it’s just for me. I’m here selfishly running my race, and it doesn’t feel like I should inconvenience others. I texted back stating that I felt pretty dead already. My thought was that maybe letting them know that I was pretty done would discourage them from coming. Instead, I got a text telling me to hang on till they got there. Like magic, this turned on a switch to me, and all of a sudden, I felt revived. I ran the rest of the loop, completely ignoring the walk breaks strategy again. With the option to do how much you want to, I lost internal motivation to push through the pain once I felt pretty bad. With Nancy and Abby coming, that external motivation made me keep going. I wanted to keep trying till they came and then hope their presence could keep me going.
Passing the main tent and aid station for the 15th time, I started thinking that I might miss Nancy and Abby (I assumed I could only meet them at the main tent area) and soon started feeling discouraged and feeling pain again. Another well-timed text from Nancy said that she just parked at the first water aid station which was just a half-mile from where I was heading. I got my strength back up and made it to them. I know Nancy wanted to run with me, but Abby did the NYRR Mini 10K that morning and wasn’t sure if she was up for more running. To my surprise, she joined as well, and I ran the final loop with them. Talking to those two made the time click fast, and I didn’t notice the effort. Nancy brought a bottle of Gatorade which I gladly chugged down. I’ve wanted something like Gatorade the whole day. We met the man I talked to on my third loop and ran together for a bit. I was amazed at his ability to keep a conversation going. Passing the main tent, the race director advised me to make it to the next aid station.
At the end of the 12 hours, you only get credit for the last aid station you pass. I started talking with a man in the 24-hour race during my final push. He explained that he now just speed hikes the entire time and could still hit some impressive mileage. Looking at my watch, at about 200 feet from the aid station, I saw that I only had about 7 minutes to make it to the next one upon making this one. The next one was a mile away, so it wasn’t possible in my current state. I was barely keeping up with this guy’s hiking pace so I decided to walk it in. After making a weak effort at stretching, I got a ride from Nancy back to the start. I also got assistance packing up and loading the car, which I was very grateful for. I made it to 48.3 miles. Not what I thought I could do, but pretty satisfied with the effort.
I knew that the mental game is crucial in the sport of running. Even on a 5k distance, if you start feeling like you’re struggling and don’t think you could hold on, you won’t. I applied a few tricks but I was surprised at how motivating it was to have people come to support you. I went from someone struggling to walk to someone who could run pretty strongly from just the idea that someone would be there. The mind is such a fantastic factor in what we think might be our physical limits. I realized I was also afraid of running long distances on the road (7 years of trail ultras before taking on this road race) and that made me act in a way that wasn’t right for me. Going forward, I need to look at my mental game and preparation and not just focus on the act of running. And on a daily schedule, I will look further into how my expectations of workouts and runs should be so I can do my best on race day.