I am very proud of what I was able to accomplish at Tally in the Valley in the summer of 2018. Not only did I complete 12 hours of nonstop running, but finally, in all my years of endurance racing executed a perfect nutrition strategy and did not succumb to a single episode of GI distress. Furthermore, I finished with a smile on my face knowing fully well that I could have easily continued running.
For me that was the epitome of a ‘nearly’ perfectly executed race.
Race morning started with a 6am wake up, two bathroom visits, one cup of light brewed coffee, one cup of Greek yogurt, 1/2 cup raspberries and a toasted honey and peanut butter sandwich to take with me on the drive. I was a bit anxious as this was a new venture for me with several unknowns. But I welcomed the adventure with open arms and a smile. We reached the race sight, unpacked all of our gear and started pitching the tent, chairs, and even set up my own personal aid station with my nutrition laid out to the finest details.
My Achilles Heel…
My GI distress is my Achilles heel. I knew I had to dedicate a good amount of time researching and developing a revised nutrition strategy. I needed to implement a strategy that would help me overcome the issues that caused my previous gut-wrenching experiences during Ironman.
I started by taking out all forms of refined sugars from my diet back in January. As a result, I substituted my glucose requirements during training by consuming dates
, and a mixture of maple syrup, ginger, salt and water. The only exception to this dietary modification was during a race in which I would use a diluted mixture of Skratch Lab as my liquid nutrition.
I spent Thursday night cooking up my home-made nutrition. This consisted of Arborio rice balls with scrambled eggs and thyme and another rice ball version with sautéed ground turkey and sage. Soft boiled baby potatoes with salt rounded off the buffet menu.
Not having to constantly consume sweet energy bars, gels, and concentrated sucrose liquids was a welcoming change. The rice cakes provided a steady fuel of savory carbohydrates and the egg/ground turkey was a light protein source that my body natural loves. The addition of the herbs added a nice fresh taste and was a pleasant change from the tooth decaying hit of sugar experienced with a Cliff bar or Gu gel.
As a result of the nutrition change, I did not experience the nausea and food avoidance I usually do. Rather, I happily welcomed another rice cake or two at every lap. Nine ounces each of water and Skratch Lab, and one salt pill per loop, I was on autopilot and loving it.
Run Loop. Repeat.
At the end of each 7 km loop I would stop at my ‘home base’ where my husband would put one salt pill in my mouth, hand me a water bottle to flush it down with, then change out my fuel belt bottles with one of water and one of Skratch. I would take another rice cake or two and off I went for another loop. Which I repeated 14 times!
The strategy was to keep each loop as consistent, comfortable and steady paced as possible. Laps 1-4 where mentally easy. My legs were still fresh, and I knew what 4 laps of that course felt like from my training run 2-weeks prior.
Lap 5 was completed with a fellow runner. This helped to pass the time and mentally push through the anxiety I started to feel knowing that I was only 5 loops in and still had 9 to go. I told myself to finish lap 5 at which point I would change out my shoes from the Inov8 to my new Hoka’s. A pleasant change that kept me looking forward to something positive.
Lap 6 included a shoe change which ate up a few extra minutes compared to my previous laps. I then told myself that I had to complete Lap 7 before I would allow myself access to my music. Another motivational tactic to keep me staying positive and moving forward.
Lap 7 and 8 were spent listening to music and getting mentally lost in that. I was starting to feel the fatigue set in at this point and was concerned I had fallen behind in my nutrition. When I approached my aid station at the end of lap 8 (56km), I was greeted by a dear friend of mine, Bernie, who would be joining me for my 9th lap. I reached the 60k mark in the middle of lap 9. I turned to Bernie and said, “how the hell did I just run 60k and I feel completely fine and unfazed by that fact”? Bernie laughed and replied, “You are a natural at this, a freaken machine, Steph”.
Lap after lap went by. I stared to convince myself that I was only going to do 12 laps then call it quits. It would get me to 84km (50Miles) and I would be happy with that. I convinced myself so much that at the end of each loop I would tell my husband, “just 3 more laps and I am done…just 2 more laps…this is my final lap and I’m done”.
I am not sure why I did that to myself. I knew full well that I banked enough time that even when I finished the 12th lap I would have plenty of time to complete two more and reach my 14 lap goal (100km). But the mind loses strength at times.
Fatigue can convince you that stopping is more comfortable and enduring the pain. But ultimately your body is so much stronger than your mind. I was not going to let myself quit and I knew neither would my husband. I just needed a little push. My husband knew that very well and helped me recommit to my original goal of 100km.
This is why I mentioned earlier that my race was ‘nearly’ perfectly executed. This slip in motivation and alteration in my goal was my weakness showing its ugly head. I needed a bit of help to shut that demon out of my head and recommit to my original goal. I am disappointed in myself for that slip up. But I have also learned from it.
At the end of Lap 12, I told David that I would only do 1 more lap so as to put me into the 90 km range. David joined me for this 13th lap, which ended up taking me the longest. I was allowing myself to take longer walk breaks and run at a slower pace, unfortunately as a tactic to eat away time from me having to do a 14th loop. I was allowing myself to break down and I was (am) very disappointed in myself for that.
The Final Stretch
At the conclusion of lap 13, David proceeded to follow the routine we had orchestrated all day. Salt pill and water bottle in my mouth, change out my fuel belt, give me a rice cake and push me off to my next lap. I looked at the clock… 55min remained. I knew that if I put my mind to it, I would be able to sprint out a final lap and make it in before the 12-hour mark therefore completing my 14th lap.
I got angry at this point, because I was so close to my goal, but had allowed myself to slack off in lap 13 with more walking and recovery than I needed. I sabotaged myself and now I was furious. That anger was my fuel to sprint out the last lap. I was not going to let this goal slip away from me at this point.
I knew that if I put my mind to it, I would be able to sprint out a final lap and make it in before the 12-hour mark therefore completing my 14th lap.
12 Hours with Tally in the Valley
Furious at myself, I hammer through my final 7 km loop completing it in 48 min, making it one of my fastest loops. But I knew I wasn’t done. I came to the finish line with seven minutes remaining on the clock, and it was sufficient time for me to make it to the 1 km marker of lap 15. All I needed to do at that moment was to commit to it. I dropped my finishers metal that was handed to me just seconds earlier and ran as hard as I could to the 1 km marker. I banked my final kilometre taking me to a finishing time of 11:58:55 for 99 km.
At the same moment, the Male 12 hour first place finisher was doing the exact same thing, sprinting to gain the lastkilometre before the 12th hour clocked over. We shook hands in the middle of Dundas Valley, standing beside a tiny 1 km marker anchored in the ground, both of us keeled over trying to catch our breaths, rejoicing in our fortitude and our completion of such an event. A single race official stood by, cheering us on as our one and only spectator to an epic a sprint finish.
…ultimately your body is so much stronger than your mind.
Simplicity and peace in the wake of overzealous triumph.
All in all, I had fun, in the most diabolical definition of ‘fun’. Everything that I worried about, my GI issues, chafing, blisters, extreme quad fatigue, were never really an issue at all.
I finished the race knowing full well that I could have kept running. Though at that moment I had absolutely no interest in doing so, I physically still have the fitness to push the pace and run harder for longer. I guess I know what my next goal is.
To my coach, thank you as always, for building me to this point in my athletic career. You reveal to me just how capable I am.