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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Race Report: Six Days in the Dome

   

Six Days in the Dome (SDD) was one of the most intriguing events I have been a part of. Joe Fejes, the race director and six day competitor himself, is hoping to establish an annual venue in which folks from around the world can join in an environment conducive to very fast times in a variety of timed events. SSD is offers events ranging from 24 hours all the way to 6 days. As for me, I was graciously granted permission to enter with the intent to race for 12 hours. My reasoning for this was two-fold: First, with World 100k Championships taking place in November, I wanted my summer training to mimic 100k training relatively closely. Training for a fast 12 hour matched this protocol much closer than the training plan I would incorporate for a timed event of 24+ hours. Second, I feel I can recover pretty quick from a 12-hour effort and get back into the swing of training for Worlds, but I am currently unaware of how long a full-on 24-hour effort would take to bounce back from. My goals going into this event were to try to break the 100-mile world record (11:28:03), and extend my current 12 hour world record beyond 101.7 miles.

Photo courtesy of Jeffery Genova
The flight over to Alaska went as well as could be expected. I was arrived around 10 pm, which felt like 1 am from the time zone change. But because Alaska summers have extended daylight hours, it was still light out when I went to bed at midnight Alaskan Time, making the whole experience a little discombobulating. I slept well, though, and was fortunate enough to be able to run the following morning with Joe Fejes, Valmir Nunes, Richard Schick, and Jeffery Genova.

The night before the race, a large group of folks went out to a local restaurant to fuel up and chat about running. We capped off supper with a trip to the Dome to make one last analysis of the stomping grounds. With my event starting at 11 am, I wasn't in nearly as big of a rush to get to bed as the others. After casually preparing my race-day gear, I settled into bed.

The morning of the race was a bit strange, because typically these events involve waking up before sunrise and only having a light breakfast. However, with the 11 am start I wasn't entirely sure how to go about meal planning. I ate a slightly bigger breakfast than normal and headed to the Dome knowing I could grab a snack before the race if I needed. About an hour before the race I felt a bit hungry, so I ate some mixed nuts. Unknowingly, I may have been setting myself up for quite the experience. 

As soon as the race started, I began to realize there was something a bit off with my stomach. I felt overly full and bit bloated. I immediately attributed it to the mixed nuts, as they were the most recent thing I had eaten. Regardless of whether or not they were the culprit, I am nearly certain my stomach issues were pre-race related, as I had not taken in any fuel during the race yet, and my pace was not nearly fast enough to generate stomach distress this early. I was extremely hesitant to reach for my primary race fuel of banana chips cooked in coconut oil; the thought of solid food made my stomach turn. This was not a good sign, as the coconut oil–laced banana chips were my go-to fuel source at Desert Solstice when I set the 100 mile American Record and 12 Hour World Record. 

Photo courtesy of Jeffery Genova
I convinced myself that I didn't need solid food for a bit since I had just eaten a snack before the race. I took in some coconut water and Hydro-X. It was around mile 8 that I attempted to eat a small handful of banana chips. No good. I was in the bathroom for the first, of what would ultimately be many, bathroom trips. At Desert Solstice I stopped a total of four times, so I wasn't thrilled that I had to make my first stop before mile 10. I decided then that I would not take in whole food for a while. My second main source of fuel was Mountain Dew. Processed sugar and soda don't find their way into my daily nutrition, but on race day I often trickle in small amounts of sugar and caffeine. I turned to the Mountain Dew earlier than I had originally planned, but I was determined to stay away from solid food until my stomach settled. Unfortunately, I had to make two additional bathroom stops before mile 30.

It wasn't until the third stop that my stomach started feeling better. By mile 40 I was beginning to feel pretty confident that my stomach had taken a positive turn. After all, with three bathroom stops, I had good reason to believe I was "cleared out." When I reached the 50 mile mark I got really excited. I had come through in 5:41 and some change. My thinking was that I had gotten all the significant stops out of the way, so even if I ran slower the second half of the race, I would come in well under the 100 mile world record simply by not stopping as much. I felt great! My legs felt amazing. I had more faith that my training had my legs where they needed to be than I have ever had in a race of this length.

I cruised through mile 65 on a mission. Perhaps a bit too confident in my new-found settled stomach, I decided to try to eat something. I began to consider that soda the entire race might not be in my best interest, so I grabbed a handful of Swedish Fish off the aid station table. It was like instant energy. Or so I thought...

By mile 70 I began to feel my stomach taking a turn for the worst. I guess the Swedish fish weren't sitting as well as I had hoped. I was back in the bathroom. I tried to go back to liquid fuel and plain water, but after mile 70 anything I took in sent me straight to the bathroom. I couldn't even stomach plain water. I would need to look at my lap splits to get exact numbers, but I estimate I stopped approximately 15 times to use the bathroom; most of which occurred in the final third of the race. I was losing time at an alarming rate. It wasn't long before I was not only off world record pace, but also slipping further from being able to match my performance at Desert Solstice.

Photo courtesy of Israel Archuletta
I went from feeling like I had a brick in my stomach the first 30 miles to feeling like I was running with the stomach flu the last 30 miles. There were points where I thought I was going to double over in stomach pain before hurrying into the bathroom. Ultimately, I stopped eating and drinking anything at around mile 85. This eventually helped my stomach, but was definitely not a sustainable plan. More of a compromise.

I eventually reached 100 miles around 12:08. I was relieved to be done and hopeful that this meant I could finally drink something, as my mouth was completely parched. I stuck around a bit to cheer on the folks who were going to be on the track for at least twice as long as I was before heading back to my hotel to clean up and get some sleep.

I walked away from the Dome with mixed feelings. Obviously, a bit disappointing I was unable to get the 100 Mile World Record. However, I walked away knowing how good my legs really felt during the race, which made me confident about taking another shot at the record at Desert Solstice this December. I left with a drive to dial in my training and nutrition to a new level in preparation for World 100k and Desert Solstice.

Photo courtesy of John Price
I wanted to get up early to make it back to the Dome to cheer on the 24 hour finishers and help out in any way I could before my red-eye flight to Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City. It was really fun to work the aid station with master chef Andrew Snope, who eventually went on to break the Barefoot Running 24 Hour World Record (runners doing 24 hours had two starting options, either at the start or end of the six-day event). It was amazing watching the varying levels of morale amongst the six-day folks, knowing they had over four days to go! Traci Falbo was amazing as when I left she looked to be really working hard to maintain her effort towards the 48 Hour Track World Record and 48 Hour Overall American Record. An outsider looking in would have never thought she was going to make it by her body language, which is a true testament to her toughness and dedication. She ultimately broke both records, with a distance of 242.09 miles traveled.

Photo courtesy of Israel Archuletta
While at Outdoor Retailer, I was constantly checking updates on the race. Ultimately, Joe Fejes was able to rack up 580 miles to set a new American Six Day Record! Many others were able to reach their goals through many highs and lows—and surely countless stories to share. 

A big thank-you to Joe Fejes and Zane Holscher for co-directing this event, all the wonderful volunteers and event sponsors who worked hard to manage the countless logistics, and all the friendly participants who encouraged me and each other throughout the entire event.

In a sport full of inspirational stories this one stuck out to me. I feel it really highlights the "never say die" mentality of many ultra runners. This message is from Francesca Carmichael; one of the six day competitors, whom I was privileged to meet at Six Days in the Dome.

"Three months ago I got diagnosed with cancer and major surgery followed.
Yesterday I completed my first post surgery race and I covered over 300 miles. Every step I took in the Dome for the entire 6 days was a celebration of life."


Breakfast:

Pre-race:
  • Large handful of mixed nuts
  • 20oz water bottle with Hydro-X 
  • Vespa Junior

Race Fuel:
  • Vespa Junior (7)
  • Water
  • Coconut water
  • Mountain Dew
  • Hydro-X
  • Sweedish Fish (handful)

Products Used:


Photo courtesy of Mark Godale


Photo courtesy of John Price


Photo courtesy of Greg Ellis