Tuesday, May 23, 2017

3 Days at the Fair

Three Days at the Fair. We aren't talking county fair...although it took place at fairgrounds.

There’s a saying, “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

The expression that better suits this past weekend on my ultramarathon would be, “Embrace the suck.”

Don’t get me wrong, this was an amazing event and as much as I thought I would never do it again…well, let me set the scene for you.
First, 3 Days at the Fair is an event that takes place at the Sussex Fairgrounds in Augusta, NJ. A beautiful area where not much exists except the fairgrounds where 300 runners converged for 6 days. Yes, you read that correctly. Some people went for 144 hours of running! Pretty much you could choose anything from 6 hours to 144 hours.
Me? Call me crazy, but I signed up for the 48-hour option.

We check in at the aid station that you will be passing every mile. Yes, this is a one mile loop course, so if you ever wanted to know what a hamster feels like running on a wheel…come to 3 Days at the Fair.

Along with your timing chip that you will wear around your ankle like a person under house arrest and will eventually chafe and add to the suck, you will get your swag. The swag was a T-shirt and a pair of flannel pajama bottoms. And yes, eventually you will see half the runners sporting one or both of those items during the run.

You then set up tent. This is not a figure of speech. As you will be spending as much time on your feet as possible, you do and will need some rest. This becomes what I like to call “Tent City.”
Everyone has their own version of tenting. Some folks will be in RVs, others will have tents, and others like me will have a canopy and/or their SUV. Either way, this becomes your home away from home, your respite, your place of worship as you swear to heaven you will never do such a stupid thing again.
As part of this setup you place all the items you will need in just the right spot for easy access so when you stop for a ten or twenty-minute break you can quickly find the Squirrels Nut Butter for anti-chafing, extra shoes, socks, or even sandals to change into when your feet become so hot you swear they are on fire. Or you must rummage through for sunscreen because you didn’t apply any before it hit almost 90 freaking hot degrees! Or you need a jacket because the sun has gone down and now your body thinks that even though the outside temperature reads 70 degrees, your body screams, “It’s 45 degrees, you idiot, put some clothes on!”
Setting up your temporary home is the first place you have an opportunity to meet you new neighbors and your best friends for the weekend and if you’re lucky for the future. This is where I met Mandy, another runner in the 48-hour event and her friends and support crew for the weekend; Sandy and Heather. My first outing with my canopy and the girls helped me get it set up. Thanks, Mandy, Sandy, and Heather!

At last the event you signed up for begins! 9 AM and off to the races. Time to have fun.
The first part of the event was hotter than Hell! Not that I know how hot hell is, but I imagine running on asphalt in 90 degree temperatures where there is no shade AT ALL in a one mile loop is pretty close to what the devil makes you live in. But hey, you have fresh feet, legs and clothes so you are good to go and smiling the entire way.

You get a rhythm and see various runners moving along; some have been there for 4 days and others for less. You can tell the ones that have been there for longer than you because when you take the first turn past tent city to no-man’s land you come across this slight (and I do mean slight) incline and the runner on your left says, “This damn hill.”

At this point you’re musing to yourself, “Hill? Really?” 24-hours later you are thinking, “Not this damn hill! This very steep hill, again!”
Late afternoon you’re feeling good, but the sun beating down on you is starting to have an effect. You can’t get enough fluids, you’re either pouring sweat or stopped sweat, either way, the chafing has set in. I hear one guy as one of the support crews (not his), if they had any Vaseline he could borrow and clarified his request by saying, “The kind where you don’t mind where I stick my hands.”

Yes, folks, there is no shame in chafing and we are all good friends in an ultra.
I met lot of great runners and their crew or friends who popped in for moral support. Besides several laps with Mandy and breaks with her crew, I shared laps and had conversations with Allen who was at the event with his brother. I hung with Michele and her friend Cathy for quite a few laps, and met a runner named John who gave me some of the best advice all weekend.

His advice? Since my goal was to get a 100K, that’s 62 miles, John suggested to get 40 miles in the first 24 hours so the next day when I was beat up I’d only have to get 50% of that the next 24 hours. BEST ADVICE EVER!! I got 42 in the first 24 hours and my feet had started to blister but not terrible, just enough to feel like a constant nag and require taping.
Another runner that I swear never stopped moving all weekend told me to take socks and shoes off at every break to let the feet cool down and swelling come down. Wow! Another great piece of advice. The only drawback to this one was the one time I was stretched out in the back of my SUV with a blanket over my and my bare feet hanging out the door when the temperature dropped. Talk about ice cube toes! But definitely a good idea from the perspective of dealing with my swelling feet.

Did we take breaks? Yes. What do you think they put all those benches outside the bathrooms for? Some folks did little to no running in the heat of the day and then kept moving all night. My first 24-hour routine went something like this: a 15-minute break every 5 miles and 30-minute break every 10 miles the first day. At about 11 PM I sacked out for 2 hours…until the FIREWORKS went off. NOT kidding! All of us were fully awake after that 20-minute display from the local baseball field not far away.
I was up again for another two miles and back down until literally the roosters in the poultry center RIGHT NEXT DOOR sounded the alarm at 4 AM.
Day 2 officially started at 9 AM on Saturday and was a little more interesting or frustrating.

You wouldn’t think that after getting in 42 miles with a conservative approach that 20 more miles would take so freaking long. I swear by early evening the second day I wanted to die. I took a break every 2.5 miles and tried to take a longer break every 5 miles, but my body kept getting me up at 20 minutes no matter what. I’d set an alarm for an hour and my body would be ready after 20 minutes. My body was, but my feet were NOT!

I was putting food and fluids in my body, including fresh made pancakes and bacon. Breakfast on the go for runners. But I didn’t want it. Well, I did, but it wasn't helping my energy level. And oh, yeah, I was freezing. Since the evening of day 1, my body temperature was just cold. No, not cold. FRIGID! So cold I wore a fleece top and jeans over my running clothes, a rain jacket (and at one point event a vest), and two freaking hats.
Hey! It ain’t all about fashion. Although, there were some beautiful outfits on some of the runners. One guy had an airy shirt. Basically, he took a dress shirt and cut holes in it to keep the sun off his skin and at the same time made it breathable. Genius! One woman, Pam, was all in pink (head to toes) all weekend. And let me tell you about Pam…she never stopped and she was always encouraging. Another runner was like me and at some point, she went from running shorts to Hello Kitty fleece pants and a winter coat.

Early evening on the second day I was at mile 57, ONLY 5 miles from my goal and I was ready to finish. Except for my mental breakdown. I could have sworn the timing mat counted lap 57 three times!!! Yup, I am not gonna lie, I told myself there was no way I was going to do this. I was mentally and physically finished.
Then I ran into Michele and Cathy. These poor ladies saw me at my lowest. They picked me up outside the beautiful ladies’ room (no porta-johns at this event), dusted me off and shuffled me along like an old cowpoke and his trusty old mule. Thanks to their conversation and camaraderie, I made it to mile 60.

Then I had to have a break. I planned to take a two-hour nap and instead my body decided one was enough. I got up and made mile 60 to 61 by myself. Then I ran into John. Okay, more like sleep-walked into him, but John encouraged me and said, “Come on, we’ll get you to that goal.” John moved me along to mile 61.5 where Mandy was waiting for me outside our tents to take me the rest of the way to my goal. Mandy and her family all came along for the walk. More like a shuffle.
I am in tears right now as I write this, just as I stared to tear up when I saw that goal and that start-finish line. And yes, ladies and gentlemen I rang that bell like I wanted everyone to know that I had FINALLY achieved a yearlong goal. And as much pain as I was in it felt AMAZING!!!

Thank you: Mandy and family, Sandy, Heather, John, Michele and Cathy. You were my saviors.
On the way back to our tents, I saw John again and he told me, “I think you have more in you. I think you have at least two-thirds of a century in you.”

My response? Besides my jaw dropping?
“Are you nuts? All I want is sleep.”

And to be honest, that’s what I thought. I had planned to go back to my car throw everything in it and head off to a hotel for a good night’s sleep and a private shower.

What did I do?
I packed my car and was too exhausted to drive anywhere so I curled up in the front seat of the SUV, ripped off my shoes, socks, and tape and literally breathed a sigh of relief. The heat that had been plaguing my feet suddenly dissipated and I felt some relief. I pulled the blanket over me and slept. Not exactly the sleep of the dead, but I slept enough until I got too cold. That came to be a total of about 6 hours and then the sun was up and so was I.

I ran to the ladies’ room and noticed that without socks and tape on my feet, I felt pretty good. I mean, I felt fantastic! Legs were never an issue. It was all feet, all the time.
Hmm. Why not go for another mile?

So I joined the night of the living dead; the folks who woke up and decided to go for a few more laps in their pajamas or whatever was handy, like the flannel bottoms from our swag. Only this time I wasn’t hobbling along, I was moving. I was moving well!
I picked up Michele and Cathy who came out for coffee and to get Michele’s last laps. We got Michele to mile 62 and we kept on going.

All total, the last morning of my 48 hours, I got seven more miles in for a total of 70 miles! That is 70!! Seventy, hard-earned, embrace the suck, miles!! With some of my new best friends!!!
Thanks to the McNulty’s (race directing team), volunteers who stayed out there making us breakfast, soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, and just generally anything you needed. Thanks to all the friends and crews who came out to support their friends and family, but also supported every other runner, and thanks to all those runners who I had the honor and privilege to spend so many one-mile loops with just talking and laughing, and even crying with. You made this event!

When it is all said and done then you have the awards and that camaraderie you shared with so many amazing people continues as you cheer on everyone who left their head, heart, and feet out on that unforgiving asphalt. (That's me sitting down in the back wearing only one of my hats and I'm sure my very smelly clothes.)
Did I say I would never do this again? Well, there’s another saying, “Never say never.” And if you are a runner, especially an ultrarunner, you know that adage holds very true.
Cuz, yes, I will do 3 Days at the Fair again. Only I will probably do 72 hours and I will “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

It’s not about the speed, it’s about the adventure!!! And this was one heck of an adventure.

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