Monday, October 1, 2012

Race review: 8-Hour Run from the Ducks

The numbers will show I had a good run, but it will take a little more narrative to convey the real breakthrough I had in this race. I was given credit for 46 laps of the 0.95-mile course, or 43.7 miles, though I have a feeling I actually completed just 45 (42.75 miles). Either way, I was right around where I hoped I'd be.

I did not win. Who actually won is a matter of great controversy that is still being sorted out (I'll get into this later). I think the official results will have me as 4th of 12, for now.


There were thunderstorms and heavy rain in the forecast, so it was actually a bit of a relief to start the race in just a steady drizzle. The course was redrawn at the last minute to direct us away from some areas of the path where rain-weighted low branches were too much of an issue (but a couple dozen other spots remained where ducking or weaving were required, adding a measure of physicality to the run).

The path was just 8 to 10 feet wide in most places, so the start was just an easy jog with the pack as there was nowhere else to go. Eventually an opening came and 4 or 5 of us moved out in front and ran together for a few miles, dropping one runner for a bathroom break (you must not be having a good day if you're stopping for the bathroom barely half an hour in).

I was not paying attention to my pace, just running comfortably with the others. After 7 laps, about an hour in, I made a planned stop to grab a couple gels -- peanut butter Gu is every bit as disgusting as I thought it would be -- and headed back out solo. From there it was just me and the mist for a while. I'd pass someone every few minutes, and at longer intervals, someone would pass me. With so many turns and changes of surface, it was easy to break the course down into very small sections, some of which I enjoyed (the dirt straightaway under the shade trees) and some of which I hated (the flagstone stretch by the pond; seriously, that has to be the worst possible flat surface to run on).

In the third hour I started mixing in some walk breaks, and in the fourth hour I was walking up to 20 percent of the time. The drizzle had not let up at all, and by the halfway mark, the sock change I had prepared for was badly needed. I had to enlist some help from a volunteer to unhook one of my gaiters, so the stop took longer than I had hoped, about 8 minutes.

When I headed back out with a dry cap, shirt and socks, I felt better, and was back to steady running... for a short while. Passing the marathon distance, though, it was clear that I hadn't run this far in 4 months -- and definitely not with so much upper-body work. Walk breaks grew steadily longer... and then the rain started to pick up. Now I was slipping away mentally as well as physically. At 6 hours I was at 34.6 miles. I decided I would just plug along to get to 40 and call it a day.

A couple laps later, 3 shy of 40, I just had to sit down. I grabbed something to eat and sat there and dripped for 7 or 8 minutes, though it felt like longer (and I actually intended for it to be longer). When I got up, I started walking with the intent of just getting 3 more laps done. But then I noticed something: By getting my arms up and walking like I actually had somewhere to go, I was really making good time. I walked mile 39 in 14:01 and decided I would not stop at 40, which lit enough of a fire under me to walk mile 40 in 12:43(!).

Suddenly I had all this extra time on my hands -- 36 minutes left -- and now even my worn-out legs didn't feel so worn out anymore! I walked one more quick lap and now had 24 minutes to get 2 laps in. I knew some running would be needed because I'd be cutting it close, so I took off. This close to the end, I had no need to gingerly avoid the now-ankle-deep puddles to save my feet, and charged right through them. I charged by a couple folks like I was on my first lap of the day, and got back to the start in less than 8 minutes.

If I could have kept that pace up, I might've gotten yet another 2 laps in, but I was running so hard I started to feel it in my chest and pulled up to just walk off the rest of one more lap. In the end I hit the number I was going for, though when I made that goal I didn't recognize how hard it would be to reach. I was very happy with how I got there.

Last Labor Day, I ran a 12-hour race in St. Louis but sat down just after the 10-hour mark. In Austin last December, my 24-hour race came to an end in 12 1/2 hours. A selling point of timed races is that you can't DNF, but those experiences haunted me because I knew that really, I had quit. Finally, this time I got through my low point -- by figuring out how to walk, of all things -- and with the exception of a short break, kept going to the finish. This was a day I will need in the future.

Though I will remember this event for my personal breakthrough, it will probably be best remembered for uncertainty surrounding the results. Because of a scheduling conflict, the chip timer used in previous years was unavailable. So volunteers were called in count laps -- some local JROTC kids.

Having kids count laps is not a good idea, but frequently changing the lap counters is an even worse idea. I had 5 different kids counting my laps throughout the race. Often they switched without warning -- and mind you, in a lap-counted race it is always the runner's responsibility to ensure the lap is counted. There were several laps where I wasn't fully confident I had been acknowledged, but since I had my Garmin on and wasn't in contention to win, I didn't worry about it.

Well, either some lap counters did an incredibly atrocious job or something nefarious was afoot, because the guy who ran the most laps did not win. Last year's winner, Mark Henderson, was the early rest-stopper I mentioned earlier. Along with leaving him behind for that break, I passed him another 3 times in the early going as he walked and chatted with a female runner and then jogged alongside another slower runner. As the race went on, he eventually made up those laps plus a couple more.

But I never could catch the early front-runner, David Renfro. There was one very brief section where I ran by him as he picked something up from the aid station, but he quickly passed me back, and continued to pass me many times (I didn't keep a hard count but to say he passed me 10 times would not be a stretch).

As I came in to the finish, I wanted to catch my breath and congratulate David. Instead I caught him in the tail end of an argument with the race director, who just repeated, "Bye. Bye." David said, "It's no wonder you only have 13 people," and marched off. When the results were announced, David was not named at all (everyone's name and mileage is read), and Mark was announced as the winner.

I wanted to know what happened, but Tony Mathison, the race director, was clearly agitated as he concluded the ceremony. Every other race I've done where the RD was around afterward, he's chatted me up, asked about my experience, told me he'd see me next year and so on. But Tony just gave me a quick handshake and a quicker "bye", which shocked me because he had been so cordial and enthusiastic throughout the race. There could be something in the Dallas Morning News about this later this week, so keep an eye out.

1:00:18 - 7.01 mi
1:59:06 - 13.54 mi
2:59:27 - 19.51 mi
4:00:13 - 24.49 mi
4:59:05 - 29.72 mi
5:59:15 - 34.56 mi
7:00:29 - 38.10 mi
7:57:13 - 42.63 mi


You get a shirt. If you're chosen for the top 3 by gender, you get another shirt indicating such.

Santa Fe 5K, Oct. 11.


  1. So did the Mark guy fess up that he was indeed not the winner? He had to have known. And the race director sounds like a prick. I hope he gets called out for such.

    You are hard core. I like to think I am mentally strong, but running loops for 8 hours is a bit more than I could handle. Congrats!

  2. I haven't seen any comments from him. This is part of what David put on Facebook:

    "I ran more laps than him. Everyone at the race knows I ran more laps. Early in the race he stops running and starts walking with girl. Meanwhile, he gets lapped many times. At the end of the race the RD says Mark has one more lap than me. So I come up to Mark say " they are trying to say you have more laps. ( I expect him to confirm to the RD that he didn't.) he says " I tell you what I co-win with you" isaid "what about all the laps you walked with that girl while I was running" he said " I don't know what you are taking about, bud" that's when I said "this is bullshit i won" and got DQed for cussing. Just for cussing no other reason given. He straight lied so he could get the win. That's the definition of cheating is it not? This is the first time I have meet Mark Henderson or anyone at the race or that matter. Maybe he didn't like getting beat by a 205 lb nobody."

    And this was from Tony, the RD:

    "here is the summary: A, the runner did not ensure that his lap counters got all his laps by not following our rules to make eye contact and speak to the lap counter on each trip even after I gave him a free lap and repeated the directions to him in about the middle of the race. B, Anyone who curses with kids around is not entitled to any further consideration from anyone. C, His facebook reaction is hurting our sport of ultrarunning because someone who would have directed a small race might NOT do that now because they don't want the hassle of a runner getting this upset over volunteers (the lap counters) which leads to the next bottom line. D, At some point, a rd has to trust their volunteers. At the end of the race, I trusted them to the point of going with what they had counted. We had quality high school students and many were in the top of their class academically. E, The upset runner is hurting the same group that was treated so bad returning from Vietnam, our Vietnam Vets. If the upset runner succeeds in running down the future numbers in a race that donates all net proceeds to the National Vietnam War Museum, the only ones losing out are these vets that often returned to cursing and being spit on in the 1960s & 1970s. I think they deserve better than that as they are in their retirement years."

    Trust your volunteers, sure, no problem. But they are KIDS. I don't care if they are the highest caliber kids on the planet, they are still 15 years old (or whatever it was). Two of these "top of their class" kids very nearly decked me out on the course horsing around. A couple runners left immediately after the race but it would have taken almost no effort for Tony to consult with the rest of us afterward, at the very least to get more information if not actually overrule the counters.

  3. I would have been beyond pissed off. I didn't know they could DQ you for cussing? Well SHIT. As a race director myself I hesitate to use any teenage volunteers unless it's for a mundane task. Sorry, they just don't have vested interest (or really the attention span to count laps for something like that).