Anne on course during a 2010 24-hour run.
This year, I chose an unusual way to spend New Year’s Eve. While my friends were at parties or celebrating at home cozied up next to the fire with a DVD, I was running laps around the almost one-mile loop at Morganton’s Freedom Park. One hundred and forty-two of them, to be exact. Why, in heaven’s name, you might ask, would I partake in something so mind-numbing, so exhausting, so absurd? I asked myself that same question many times that night, and I guess the best answer was “because it was there.”
Believe it or not, this activity that I participated in was an organized event, The Freedom Park New Year’s Ultra Run. I chose the 24 hour option and thirty-five other brave souls made the same brave — or foolish?– decision.
Many people, runners and non-runners alike, have asked me why I compete in 24-hour races. Yes, races plural. Last week’s event was the third of this type for me. Each time I’ve sworn to myself “never again”, because it is a pretty miserable experience in a lot of ways. I guess the best answer is that I have a deep inner need to challenge myself, and at this point in my running career and my life, this feels like a good way to do that. In the weeks after finishing an event, I find myself thinking about ways I could improve upon that performance, things I could do differently next time, and before I know it, I’ve taken the plunge and sent in an entry form.
I decided to run this race back in September, and in the months leading up to the event, my training was going well and I was super motivated. Then the holidays hit, and with them, the dreaded taper. I found myself completely out of my training routine and shoulder-deep in holiday treats – sugar cookies, fudge, cheesecake. By the time the 31st rolled around, I felt like a giant walking ball of sugar. Running for 24 hours straight was the last thing I wanted to do, but since I had already paid my entry fee, I figured I might as well go ahead with it.
For those of you who haven’t run or watched this type of race, let me be the first to tell you that it’s not an exciting event. It’s all about patience. For the first twelve hours, not a lot happens. For the runners, however, it’s a pretty important portion of the race. Races aren’t won in the first twelve hours, but they can sure be lost. I had my game plan, which was to run three laps, followed by a four-minute walk break. It was a challenge to walk that early in the race, especially as my competition was not. It can be demoralizing to be lapped, over and over again, yet I knew that if I was going to stick it out for the long haul, this is how I had to do it. One fellow competitor even remarked that he had confused me for someone fast until he saw me walking and realized that he must have been mistaken.
So that’s how it went – run for twenty-five minutes or so, walk for four. Over and over and over. The race began at eight a.m. and by mid afternoon, I was feeling tired and bored. Ready for the finish and knowing that a long cold night was between me and that finish line. The whining commenced. Each time I circled the track and returned to my husband, who, by the way, had to stay up all night enduring the cold and fatigue without any endorphins to lighten his mood, I would whisper in a baby voice, I’m not sure I can do this. Being the compassionate soul that he is, he would refuse to allow me to indulge in self-pity, instead giving me a little shove indicating that it was time to begin another lap.
By the time darkness fell, I knew that he wasn’t going to allow me to quit. And I knew in my heart that I would continue, no matter how much it sucked. I promised myself that this would be my last 24-hour race – actually, my last race ever – and if I could only finish, I would live out my remaining years as a couch potato. I grabbed my iPod and powered it up to the page-turning audiobook that I had downloaded the week before. And a miraculous thing happened – I began to feel good. Okay, not good, but at least not like I was at death’s door. I churned out the laps, one by one, cheering on my fellow crazies – err, competitors. Before I knew it, the faint glow of the sunrise emerged from the east and a new day – and year – was dawning.
I finished the race with a good attitude, helped in part by a shiny new PR. What a way to welcome in the new year! I have thanked my husband multiple times for forcing me to forge on when I felt I could not. As is always the case, I’m glad that I persevered, even though it was quite a challenge at times. As for my promise to never do this again? The competitor within me is already contemplating ways I could go just a little further next time…
Editor’s Note: Though she is too humble to mention it, Anne Lundblad won overall at the Freedom Park Ultra, set the course record, and turned in the fourth best performance ever by a North American woman. Lundblad covered 140 miles in 24 hours.