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12 Hours

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.

The start and finish line of the 12 and 24 hour race.

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.  

The race tracker for all runners.

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. 

Vikram running.

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.

Vikram Singh

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Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc

The following was authored by Vikram Singh, an all-around great person to be around with. Besides running ultras, he has shown great improvements as an athlete and as a person. He won the Marisol Mendez Volunteer of the Year and Most Selfless Teammate awards at this past year’s QDR Club Night Gala event, and those are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to describing who he is. Read about his upcoming dream race and cheer him on in August 2019!


I don’t know how long I’ve been counting trail markers to pass the time. I had hoped that there was a quantified distance between trail markers so I could figure out exactly how much farther I had to go. I had been dragging my feet for the last few hours, barely feeling like I could walk. I knew I would make it to the finish but at my current rate, I knew I wouldn’t finish in time for the final cutoff. “Running 100 miles is impossible. It’s too long,” I concluded. This was the first race I ever trained for, the first race I followed a  training plan for. It still wasn’t enough. Runners who I had passed in the first quarter of the race were now passing me, around 88 miles in. The “good job” type of encouragements, commonly said when runners meet each other in ultras, turned into “hang on”. I was mentally defeated, it felt like my body was gone and I had accepted that I couldn’t make the final cutoff–that this would count as a Did Not Finish (DNF) at the Mountain Lakes 100.

I had used all the mental tricks, warm thoughts, and mantras I had prepared as pickups in tough times. Now, I was in survival mode. I knew that if I quit at an aid station, in the middle of a forest in central Oregon at the Mountain Lakes 100 race, I could get hypothermia. I had been in such a situation the year before in 2016 when I quit at mile 55 in the same race. I ended up spending time shivering in front of a heater, covered with a blanket for two hours after I stopped running trying to get warm. If I wanted to stop, I had to wait with volunteers for their shift to end, hike to a bail out point and then have a volunteer drive me to the start. The easiest way to get through this ordeal was to finish. 

In the nick of time, as I was leaving the final aid station before the finish at mile 97, a man told me that Martha wanted me to finish. Martha was one of the top female finishers of the Volcanic 50k, a race I did two months earlier and whom I got a chance to talk to after that race. She was volunteering at this race and she made sure to cheer for me whenever I saw her early in the race. From that small connection, I now had a reason to forget about DNFing and start trying again. After hours of feeling like I could barely walk, I started running.

On September 24th, 2017, after 29 hours, 47 minutes, I crossed the finish line of my first 100 miler, with just 13 minutes before the final cutoff.  I went through hours of gastrointestinal (GI) issues, running alone through the night, quads blowing out, and then shin splints to finish the race at last place. I didn’t realize at that point but the race also gave me a valuable 6 points towards a race called Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB). 

Qualifying races

In early November 2017, I decided to look up if I qualified for this European race called UTMB. The race follows the Tour du Mont Blanc trail around the Alps of France, Italy, and Switzerland. I’m not sure at what point I became aware of the race but the idea of running through the beautiful Alps had always been appealing. To my surprise, I found out that I was one point off qualifying for the lottery taking place in January of 2018! I earned 14/15 points in three trail races. I needed a race with 4 points to replace one of my 3 point races to get to 15. I basically needed to finish a 50 miler with some significant elevation gain. I immediately decided to see if I could find a race to make up the difference.

Ultra-running, simply defined as running longer than 26.2 miles, covers many branches and races that are drastically different from each other. From multi-day stage races in some of the harshest environments of the world, to looped timed courses (6 hour, 12 hour, 24 hour), to autonomous mountain crossing with no trail markers or aid stations, to last “man” standing types of events where competitors keep repeating a loop every hour till there is one person left (the only finisher). Of the many branches, the most popular and growing branch is mountain running. While Western States 100 could be considered the equivalent of the Super Bowl of ultra marathons in the United States, UTMB is considered the Olympics of ultra marathons. The race attracts some of the world’s best runners and the number of participants, crowds, media, and sponsors is unrivaled compared to any other ultra in the world.

I ended up signing up for McDowell Mountain Frenzy, a 50 miler outside of Phoenix, Arizona in early December to earn my spot in the lottery. To earn a spot in the lottery, you had to earn a total of 15 points within 3 races in the past two years. Races have to pay a fee to be considered for UTMB points so not all races give points. The points system applies to all runners, even professional and sponsored athletes need to get the necessary points. Gorges Waterfall 100K (which I did in the Spring of 2017 to help prepare for Mountain Lakes 100) gave me 5 points; Mountain Lakes 100 gave me 6 points, and McDowell Mountain Frenzy gave me the last 4 points. (Note that for 2020, the requirements to get in the UTMB lottery have been reduced to 10 points within 2 races).

I entered the lottery for the 2018 race but didn’t get in. Lucky, race results and points are good for two years and I qualified for the 2019 lottery without having to seek additional UTMB point races. Since I didn’t get in 2018, I also got two entries for 2019 (if you don’t get in the second year you get automatic entry the third year as long as you have the points). I entered the lottery again for 2019 using my 2017 races. On January 10th, 2019, I learned that I won the lottery for the UTMB race!

Descending down during the Escarpment Trail Run in the Catskills.

The race

Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc is a single-stage, 106-mile race with almost 33,000 feet of elevation gain. The race is the highlight of a weeklong festival at the end of August (26th until September 1st) in Chamonix, France. The festival also includes six other races, ranging from 15 kilometers to an approximately 300 kilometers relay race. UTMB is considered one of the most difficult foot races in the world yet it attracts more than 2,500 participants. While this number doesn’t seem high compared to road races, this is a huge number compared to your average popular trail race where participants may be capped at 400-500 runners.


100 miles is a daunting distance but it’s the massive elevation gain that’s the x-factor for this race. In addition, the remoteness of the race requires racers to have mandatory gear throughout the race. I will be dealing with twice the elevation gain I have ever done in a race (Manitou’s Revenge is 54 miles with 15,000 gain) and will have to do it with a pack, carrying more weight than I am used to. My experience ascending Mount Elbert, with QDR at Colorado earlier this year, taught me the usefulness of trekking poles in ascending mountains. I have long hesitated to use poles in trail races but 95% of the field uses them at UTMB and the advantage of poles increases with more vertical gain, so I’ll be using poles! The poles will help reduce the workload on my legs and help save strength for later in the race. Hill repeats will be a greater focus instead of track workouts for training. While I could do short hill sprints at Cat Hill and Harlem Hill to develop power, 45 minutes of climbing repeats is more difficult to get in NYC. I will be using some weekend days to get away to the Hudson highlands and Catskills to get vert (vertical gain) more similar to the race.

Speed hiking is another variable to work on. With the elevation gain, it’s not possible to run the entire distance. Hiking muscles are not the same as running or walking muscles. Simply being a good runner would not mean I’m a strong hiker. Practicing speed hiking would allow me to increase my slowest speed which could save large amounts of time towards the later stages of the race. Spending time hiking would also allow me to spend more time on my feet and gain training benefits in a low impact way.

For any 100 mile race, one has to practice running at night. UTMB, itself starts shortly before nightfall so I will be running two nights in the race. Training at night would be even more important this time around. I will be getting up in the dead of night to do a few runs with my headlamp on. NYC is well lit and the headlamp may not help much in illumination but practicing while I’m already tired and getting use to having the lamp on my head will help me be better prepared for the race.

Chamonix, the start and finish of the race, sits just under 4,000 feet and the highest point of the race is 8,323 feet so attitude is not crazy high but might be enough to bother some people. Other than getting there a few days early to allow my body to adjust, I can’t train for this. Items such as altitude tents are limited in their benefits.

I’ll be using a mental strategy similar to what I use during marathons: I will be breaking up the race into smaller, manageable distances, thinking of the race 10k at a time. My focus will be in the present moment. I can’t be questioning if I can make this massive climb or if I can make the next 62 miles. That is destructive thinking (negative thoughts compound over time) and will not help me take care of myself to the best of my abilities. I have to learn to focus on things under my control, not simply the outcome. This requires a consistent and deliberate practice of mindfulness, which I’ll be practicing 10 minutes daily.  

Complicating my training a bit is the Lake Placid Ironman the month before UTMB which forces me to spend half my available time on cycling and swimming. Cycling in particular may be useful as it would help develop the quads–the muscles that get the most impact on running downhill. Another important training tool, a staple of ultra-running, is the back-to-back days with long runs. The run on the second day will help mimic the feeling of running on tired legs.

The aid stations at UTMB are a step above the U.S. counterparts. Most have sport drinks, water, tea, fruit, chocolate, biscuits, soup, other standard race snacks, and lots of dried meat and cheese. Larger aid stations also have pasta and beer! On the other hand, there won’t be gels or salt tablets that U.S. ultras normally have. I might do a few runs after eating French bread dipped into soup to test what works with my stomach.

Looking Forward

This race will be quite different than anything I have ever experienced before.  The communities around the race come out to support the runners which itself will be quite the unique ultra-running experience. Unlike road marathons, ultras usually only attract some volunteers and a runner’s support crew as speculators. People have remarked that the finish line crowd experience is like if you are winning the race. I’m also looking forward to passing by the mountain towns and villages of Les Houches, Les Contamines, Courmayeur, and Champex, getting cheered by people speaking various languages, seeing the beautiful views of from highest point Col des Fours and the cool views of Mount Blanc, and watching the first sunrise during the race.

For those interested in ultras but not sure if they should take the leap of faith into it, I would start with the “why”. Even with perfect pacing, nutrition, and hydration, the body’s energy levels are unpredictable and hard to explain. You will feel downright awful at some point in an ultra. The longer the distance, the more variables and the higher chances of something going wrong. Expect to reach points where going forward feels impossible but remember your “why” and keep the faith: “it doesn’t always get worse.”  You may be surprised at how your body rebounds in a few miles.

See you out on the trails!

Vikram Singh

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