Let’s face it, if you’re running a 24-hour race, crazy is kind of an assumption–Marsden of RunningLonely.com.
When the clock neared midnight on New Year’s Eve, I spent the last moments of 2014 stuffing my face with Bull Frog Bagels. Meanwhile, Marsden of RunningLonely.com had already completed more than 62 miles. In fact, when midnight hit, he still had several hours left of running to go in a 24-hour race.
Marsden was competing in a series of timed multi-day ultramarathons held near Phoenix, Arizona on New Year’s Eve called Across the Years. The event consisted of a 24-hour race, a 48-hour race, a 72-hour race and a six-day race.
The race was one of many #ChallengeYoSelf challenges Marsden conquered since last spring. And prior to Across the Years, Marsden hadn’t run more than a 50k, which was just one month before the 24-hour race.
“Most people can’t go off practicing 70-mile runs, but you can do back-to-back long runs reasonably well,” Marsden explained to me about his training for the timed race. “So I did a series of those and it worked reasonably well for me.”
Photo courtesy of RunningLonely.com
The event took place at the spring training facilities for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox. Only 1.05 miles long, Marsden said the course was mostly flat and filled with crushed grave, similar terrain to the C&O Canal in Washington, D.C.
“You keep doing that loop over and over,” Marsden said. “Then after four hours, you turn around and run the other direction. My experience with timed races…is you get locked in to what you’re doing. If you’re running a marathon or half, you’re very interested in your split times and you’re looking very carefully at them. I don’t have that in timed races–I just kind of run (or walk, as the case may be) and all of a sudden ‘oh, I hit 50 miles, that’s kind of cool.’ If I was running a 50 miler, I would agonize over each mile time throughout the course.”
While running the same loop over and over again doesn’t sound ideal for an entire day (or longer), Marsden said there are numerous benefits to a small course.
“It was short enough to get support,” Marsden said. “In fact, they had an aid station halfway through, so you weren’t more than half mile away from an aid station to get water or anything if you needed it.”
Runners had access to their crew every lap, which meant they didn’t have to worry about carrying anything. They were never more than a mile away from a change of clothes or a pep talk, if they needed one. Getting lost, a nightmare for some first-time ultra runners, was nearly impossible on the one-mile course.
Being “locked in” to the timed race eventually led to Marsden to crossing the finishline (for the last time) at 85 miles after 24 hours of running–50+ miles more than Marsden had ever completed before.
Run the Race You Want to Run
“One of the reasons I like timed races is that I feel less pressure,” Marsden said. “If im going to be out there ‘X’ number of hours, you just go out there and do what you can do.”
Marsden added timed races are a great way segway into ultras because you can run as much or as little as you want.
“I think timed races are a great way to put your toe in the ultra water without signing up for some really hard ass trail race that may or may not be your cup of tea,” Marsden said. “There’s nothing wrong with those things, but I think timed races are a great way to get started. You can even try a six-hour race and then go from there. A 24-hour race sounds daunting on some level, but it’s not like everbody is forcing you to run the full 24 hours. Ya know, there were some people who’d go for 12 hours, sleep for a few hours and come back. It’s very flexible. You run the race you want to run, which is kind of fun I think.”
Photo courtesy of RunningLonely.com
Insider Tips from Marsden
Timed races can vary in scope but like most other races, there’s numerous ones to choose from throughout the year. In fact, Running in the USA lists more than 150 timed races on the 2015 calendar that range from three hours to six days.
Here are some tips Marsden for runners considering a timed races:
It’s Okay to Walk: From Marsden’s website: “Don’t underestimate the walking. Unless you are one of the top runners, you are going to spend a good chunk of time walking. Given that, add this to your training. I didn’t do enough of this and it does stress different muscle groups than running. Although I could keep a good pace walking, I didn’t have the experience trying to keep that pace for hours on end.”
Ultra Brain is Real: After telling his readers a hilarious story about dropping his gloves on the floor of a porta potty but visioning he was in the middle of the race, Marsden told his readers about an article he read about ultra runners losing six percent of their brain grey matter during an ultra race. From his website: “Around midnight I stopped at my table to grab a gel and wondered why some guy I didn’t recognize was at my table and why my table didn’t have my stuff. After an uncomfortable 5 seconds I finally realized it wasn’t my table. I looked at the guy and said, ‘Oh not my table. Sorry, I’ve got ultra brain.'”
Be Strategic on Stopping: “I will think more about when I need equipment changes versus things that are convenient. One of the risks you take with timed running events, is it’s so easy to stop and do something. I would have five laps where I would change gloves. Each time [you stop], you’re taking a few minutes and if you do that enough, it starts adding up.”
Dunk Your Gu in Warm Water: “Putting your gel in hot water, it warms it up nicely and makes it far more palatable in cold weather. Salted carmel [gu] warmed up, good stuff.”