Tuesday, June 28, 2016

2016 : 3 Days at the Fair 72-hr Event Report

Early on during Day 1

I have come away from my 4th showing at the annual NJ 3 Days at the Fair 72-hour event.  In other words, I've now run in circles on a 1-mile paved course for 288 total hours.  It seems every year I participate in this event I somehow expect things to just sort of "be the same", but yet always come away with a profoundly new experience.  That's not to say that there aren't components of the event that carry over year-to-year...and that I arguably look forward too, but just that there's always something about this event that manages to surprise me.

I spoke last year about my strengths and weaknesses at this sort of event.  Here's what I wrote:
"My biggest strength at 3 Days is my consistency. Over the past two years, I've learned that I can survive on little sleep, and simply keep on plugging away. Other runners will come out after sleep and run faster, but generally I always catch back up just because I keep on moving....always.  I take very few long breaks, and simply keep making forward progress. One of the 3-Day'ers that I admire the most at this event is George Biondic. I didn't run in 2012 when he put up a solid 241 miles, but all the accounts of his race are that he was insanely mathematical about it. He knew exactly what his pace needed to be for optimal efficiency, and how much sleep (and when to take it) per night, and how many calories to eat and when. He proves my point that if you are consistent, and somewhat mathematical about your race, even with a lot of walking, it's very possible to push upwards of 250 miles. You just have to keep moving, stay on top of nutrition and calories, and take very few breaks.  I like to think that like George, consistency rather than speed is also my strong suit.  Going in to this year, I figured I was at least probably capable of 220's if not 230's depending on how much sleep I took, as long as I kept moving. BUT, like I wrote earlier, I didn't set a hard goal."

This year would be no different.  I felt going in, that I was more trained than last year, and that maybe, just maybe I'd finally pass that mythical 250 barrier.  For me, I knew that it would mean less sleep, and more running.  I was admittedly a little annoyed at myself for having acquired 725 total miles over the past three years.  In other words, unless I busted out some insane performance of 275 miles this year, I would have to wait until next year to join the 1000-mile club and finally get the big coin.

The other surprise going into this year's event was that my mom agreed to join in the fun. She was always careful to say that she "had no number goal", or was just going to "have fun", but I suspected she was eager to try for 101 miles (the requisite miles needed for the belt buckle).  She had been walking nearly every day for weeks leading up to the event and was ready to at least give it a go.

For me, my strategy was simple.  I had learned enough from the past three years to know exactly what I wanted to do:

- Run the first day through until morning and hit 100+ by 23 hrs.  Then sleep while still "in" the first day, and try to be up running again by 9:00 and the start of day 2.  Historically I had always gone up to 9:00, and then stopped. My specific goal was to hit 105 miles by 7:30 am and sleep for 90 minutes.

- On day 2, try to keep up the running through the teens and twenties, and take shorter sit-down breaks.  It seems it's on day two that I have really made or lost time in the past.  I wanted to get ahead of my "curve" early on day 2, and stick with it.

- Sleep a little on the 2nd night, but then focus on speed walking through most of day 3.

- Try to push through the sleepies in the 220's, and settle for shorter spaced-out naps rather than a full sleep.  

- Finally, start my final push an hour earlier than usual if my body permits.  This would allow me to get up 15 miles in under three hours at the end if needed.

Day 1: Daily Miles 105; Total Miles 105
My mom and I rolled into the fairgrounds at a relatively early time after a nice breakfast of bagels and coffee at the local Fireside Cafe.  It was nice to spend the night before the event in a real bed and not in my tent.  I definitely felt more rested.  We rolled in about 7 am, two hours before the start, and I took my time staging my "aid station" area in my usual spot.  This year, I had to set my tent up in a different location as there was a second race scheduled for the weekend up on the grassy area where I usually pitch it.  It would turn out not to matter, as I actually never slept a wink in my tent the entire race (more on that later).  Once things were staged, we made our way over the starting area and picked up our chips/bibs and got signed in.  I said "hellos" to all of my friends and tried to take in the calm before the storm.  I wished my mom luck and we eventually lined up at the starting area in our preferred locations.  We had an understanding that we would each "run our own races" and not interfere with the other unless asked.  At 9:00 promptly, we all began our long 72-hour journey of running in circles around the one-mile loop.  As I was beginning my first mile, I couldn't help but think that it was really my 726th of this event if you include all 4 years.  I knew that 1000 would likely be out of reach, but I really wanted that 250.

The first day is always tough in that I always feel like I'm not really "in the game" until after I reach 100 miles.  This means that all those early miles I need to rack up early on day one, just seem to go on forever.  The good news is that I can usually run solidly for the entire first day.  I settled very quickly into a moderate pace (about 10 min miles), and started ticking off loops.  Soon 10 had gone by and I was aiming for the marathon mark. I was passing my mom every 2.5 loops or so, and we would exchange a quick "how's it going?" or a "you doing ok?".  She was power walking just great and showed not indication of slowing down.  I passed the marathon mark, and only really took my first break after the 50k at mile 31.  Here, I was able to sit for about 10 minutes to enjoy a well-earned break, but also to help my mom with some foot problems that were already starting to develop.  She learned quickly the skills of proper taping and lubing of feet, and she was back on her way in no time after popping a few blisters. I decided rather than pushing too much, to start on my "10 breaks" at mile 30 (with the next being at 40...and so on).  My solid goal, was simply to try and make 100+ by 23 hours.  I really wanted about 105 at 23, so that I could sleep for an hour and start the 2nd day fresh.  I kept my breaks to a minimum, and the day progressed on.  I started with music early, so I let my mind wander....and it did....for hours.  

Moving on into the evening of day 1, and on to the next few days....the writing of this becomes difficult. Compiling a report so long after an event has ended is always hard, especially a three day event.  I can't remember which hours it rained, when I was most depleted or dehydrated, and when I was firing on all cylinders.  Suffice it to say, things have become somewhat of a blur in mind regarding this run.  The end of the first day went very smoothly though, and I was able to make my way into the early evening on satisfactory pace, right where I wanted to be mileage-wise.  My mom had managed to push out 28 miles by 6 pm, but was worried about here sore feet and joints.  Some doubts were creeping in to her mind as I think she had hoped to bang out 33 miles each of the three days.  She left to get some sleep, and I settled in for the long evening.  Miles went by and I enjoyed my first night as I whittled my way towards 100 miles. At promptly 7:30 AM, exactly 22 hours and 30 minutes into the first day, I hit 105 miles and sat down in a reclining chair for an hour nap.  I had Dave's comfy chair off of the course for the rest, and I knew by avoiding my tent, I would probably only get an hour of shut-eye.  Just before 9:00 am I awoke, shivering, and ready for day 2.  I walked the remainder of the lap to get my legs working again, and made it back to the start right as the 48 hour folks were bolting from the starting line.

 Day 1...enjoying the nice weather and early miles

Day 2: Daily Miles 78; Total Miles 183
The second day is admittedly foggy in my memory, but the key for me was that I was able to comfortably run more than usual on the 2nd day.  Day 2 is always my make-or-break day, and when comparing previous year's statistics, it's always in the important second day that I either build my cushion, or fall back permanently.  This year, I pushed harder than normal to build that buffer so that I'd have a better shot at 250.  In previous years, I had made mile 160 before taking my second real sleep.  This would require a solid 55 miles for the day before going down..which seemed doable. I had set a goal of trying to better that mark by 5 miles.  As the day marched on, I slowly fell into "auto-pilot" mode, ticking off miles one at a time, and losing count.  My mom was back walking again, but I wasn't as aware.  She had taped her feet and was looking good when I noticed.  Mostly though,  I focused on my music, and on getting through the slow 120's.  I kept thinking about mile 175, and how once I made that magic number, I'd be at 900 total miles...just 100 away from the mythical 1000 miles.  It rained during the afternoon, and I remember donning my rain shell for several hours and into the evening  It didn't bother me though and frankly, can't really remember it.  I just remember having wet feet for many long hours. Hours ticked by and I never really bothered to check my placement.  I honestly never felt like I was racing anyone but myself.  I knew Serge was way ahead as was Clayton, so just sort of assumed I was probably in 3rd or 4th, but really didn't care.  A heavy fog rolled in during the evening and persisted all the way until the last morning, setting up some very spooky running.  There were many times throughout the night that it looked like a scene from Night of the Living Dead.  At some point around 6 pm, my mom left again and around 55 miles to go back to the hotel.  I kept plugging away, taking many integrated speed-walking breaks. As I began to approach the 140's and 150's though, I noticed I had built a considerable cushion on last year's stats...just as I had hoped.  When I finally felt the need to get some sleep, I had hit mile 164 and was considerably ahead of my 2015 time (was really about 5 miles ahead). I decided to hit up a reclining chair again for my down time, so as to avoid the temptation of my warm sleeping bag.  I chose a chair near the start of the loop under the pavilion, and curled up under a blanket.  I told some friends to wake me if I wasn't up in 2 hours.  After an hour and 40 minutes, I was back up and ready to go on my own.  I wolfed down some breakfast foods, and my 3rd cup of coffee and was off walking the next mile to warm up.  It was about 4 am, and I still had 5 hours left on the 2nd day's clock. I was hoping to top 180 miles for the 2 days.  My best 48-hour total for the event was the 177 miles I hit last year.  At promptly 9:00 am, just as the 24-hour folks were starting off, I crossed the line with 78 total miles for day 2, and 183 for the first 48 hours (besting my distance from last year by 6 miles)

Early Morning Fog

Off into the Myst


More zombies...

Day 3: Daily Miles 74; Total Miles 257
Day three always comes with a lot of walking, but also a lot of excitement knowing it's the last day.  I took a nice long breakfast of pancakes and coffee and purposely eased into my miles.  I didn't want to lose my 6 mile cushion, but at the same time, I earned a little "slow-down".  My mom was back on the course putting up some decent miles still and was on track to end the day with 85+ miles.  This meant if she went back to the hotel on the last evening, but came back early enough on the final morning, she could push out 101 and get the buckle, provided she stayed injury free.  Team Fegy was on a roll for sure.

Day three goes slow, but I had a goal of hitting 200 by as close to noon as possible.  Generally I tend to hit the magic number between 4 and 5 pm, giving myself about 16-17 hours total remaining in the race to rack up what I can in the 200's.  The morning went slowly, and it seemed like forever before I hit the 190's....but I eventually did.  With single digits remaining before 200, I pushed a bit harder to get to it as soon as I could.  I wouldn't crack noon, but I did manage to hit it by about 2:00 pm, a solid 2 hours earlier than my previous best.  It came with a price though, as the effects of sleep deprivation were hitting me hard.  It was going to be a very long night pushing through the sleep temptation to get to better/higher numbers.  I was hoping I could somehow push through to the low 220's again, but it would definitely not come easy.  The afternoon and into the evening is now a total blur, but I do remember my mom leaving after dinner with about 188 miles.  She was planning on coming back to the course at about 2 am to finish her last 13 miles before 9 am.  I was super proud of her, but in such a sleep-deprived stupor, that I didn't really say much.  I had tried to run a few miles, but my knee was acting up badly.  Apparently, my gracillis muscle decided it was time to be a real bastard...and flared up like monster.  It was extremely painful, and meant I was destined for a lot of walking.  During the later miles, my walk was so slow it was almost pathetic, but somehow I managed to keep plugging along.  At mile 221, I finally pulled the plug and decided it was time to sleep.  It was sufficiently late (about 11 pm), and I just couldn't make any decent progress any longer.  I was out in seconds in the reclining chair, and told some people to wake me if they saw me still sleeping in an hour.  It seemed that my cushion might be fading away, and that I was going to fall apart in the final 12 hours.

I awoke suddenly, just 30 minutes later though, and was back out making laps...feeling surprisingly refreshed.  For whatever reason, I just couldn't stay asleep.  At 2 am, my mom returned and began working on her final miles.  She was on a mission, and I honestly couldn't keep up with her walking pace. I was struggling, but was also hoping when the sun came up, my pains would ease and I'd be able to make my final running push.  At my current pace, it was looking like I'd end up right at 250...but it would be very close.  My total fear was that I'd hit 249, besting my distances from my previous 2 years, but again coming up short of my asymptotic 250. I refused to let that happen.

Night slowly gave way to dawn, and I was filled with the warmth of my final race sunrise.  I began to feel really good, and was ready to run.  My knee though, had other plans.  Every time I tried to run, it screamed at me.  I was so utterly disappointed. I wanted to run so badly.  I put on my favorite tunes...but it didn't help.  I was relegated to "go out with a whimper" in 2016 it would seem.  The good news is that at my walking pace, I'd just hit 250, if not 251, so was confident I'd finally break that number.  I had gone down for one other short 30 minute nap just before sunrise, so felt ok to push through the sleep dep till the end.

As I crossed mile 240, I slowly started trying to incorporate tiny segments of interval jogs just to see if I could "fake out" my knee.  Every few hundred meters, I'd run for 10 seconds.  I had been so eager to just turn on the afterburners, that I didn't even consider trying to ease in to it, rather than to just GO.  By the time I hit mile 242, I was able to run over half the loop at an easy pace...and by mile 243, I was jogging the entire loop.  I decided to give it a go and turn on the jets.  I left the start line on my 244th mile running a good pace, and completed it with pain, but bearable pain.  So I as left for mile 245, I fired off my good music, looked up at the sun and finally was hit with the warmth and the goosebumps of the final push.  I ran hard and it felt soooo good.  I had been wanting to run like that for hours, hoping somehow I'd get my magic moment again. I love that feeling in the final few hours...the rush of adrenaline, the euphoria of something so poignant and profound.  I was quite literally giggling as I ran around the track.  245....246......247.....248....

and then, 249.  Uncharted territory.  I looked at my watch and I had definitely started my push a bit early.  I still had almost 2 hours of time left.  There was no way I'd be able to sustain this level for 2 hours, but whatever....I had only to make one more lap to finally prove 250 is possible.  

It was a perfect morning, and I rounded the track with the knowledge that I was on my 250th lap.  The grass smelled just a little bit sweeter, and the birdsong was just a little bit lovelier as I made my way back around to the start.  I came up to the timing mat, let out a very loud howl, and was nearly in tears...knowing I'd finally done it.  I'd topped 250.  Everything now was just sugar on top.

I blew past the mat and kept right on going.  I starting picking out random other runners that I could team up with for a lap or two.  "Hey, that runner looks like she's on her final push and running hard, I'll run with her for a mile".  "Oh and look at that guy, he's doing like 8 minute miles, I'm gonna run with him for a mile as well"....this went on for about 4 miles, until my knee finally had enough and began shutting down.  As I started mile 256, I was shutting down monumentally fast, and decided to just walk.  The lap was somewhat of a victory lap as I debated whether or not I had time for another.  I would have almost 20 minutes left after the lap, but I honestly didn't want to go out for another.  In the end though, I decided I would not go out early.  When I crossed the line at 256, I had 19 minutes to walk out a final lap.  I thought "no problem", but like last year, my body already knew it was time to shut down.  The last lap became a battle of literally staying on my feet as every part of me said "Nope!".  I had to stop several times just to keep from falling over as I limped my way around the loop.  I recall heading around the final turn hearing the race director yelling "90 seconds!".  Needless to say, I crossed the line with 257 miles,  in 71 hours 59 minutes, and got my money's worth.  My mileage was enough for 2nd place.  Serge won the event with over 300 miles, and Clayton was just behind me with 250.  My 65-year-old mom finished her 101 miles and got her first belt buckle.  I'm still in awe of her accomplishment.

Next year I need 18 miles to hit the 1000-mile club.  I am considering changing things up and running the quad-zilla, but then again, there'll also be a 6-day event next year..........

Crossing the finish line with 257 miles, and less than 60 seconds left.

Celebrating with mom

Getting my award (stained glass rooster)

All of my awards from 3-Days thus far...

This year's mileage and time breakdown

Stats comparing my 4 years times/miles