North Coast 24-hour is one of the premier 24-hour events in the country.  It is held at a park in Cleveland, Ohio, on the shore of Lake Erie, on a 100% paved trail.   The winner of a fixed-time race is the person who runs the furthest. I had intended to run this race a year ago, but my busted leg caused me to defer my entry until this year.  The RD was kind enough to move it.  This race normally attracts some of the best fixed-time runners in country and is usually the National Championship, but this year it wasn’t, so competition was a little down but the toughness was up.

Blizzard right before the start - Charles Elkins photo

When I got to the park Saturday morning, the wind was terrible, about 20 mph.  Then, with just 30 minutes to go, a snow squall moved in and it was a blizzard for about five minutes.  Wow!   The snow went away but the wind never did, blowing off of Lake Erie.

My personal aid station set up, ready to go

I set up a little personal aid station to include some personal things I wanted to have available.   There was a fine race aid station that I used more than half of the time, but it always is good to have what you need handy.  I bought a $14 table and $8 chair from WalMart.  It turns out that I really didn’t need either because there were plenty of picnic tables.

The course

I only knew a couple people running, although several others introduced themselves to me as we ran for the next 24 hours.   The track is a 0.9 mile track and has a gentle hill going up on one side of the course.   But the hill really never bothered me, was a welcome change.

The cold start - Christine Cowen photo

At 9:00 a.m., we were away.   I wasn’t sure of the course, so didn’t sprint out ahead like normal, but hung with the top 5.  My problem hamstring was letting me know it was there and would do so the entire race, but it wasn’t terrible.

I immediately discovered that my pace time goals were not going to work because of the wind.  The headwind was on the side of the course where the gentle uphill was, and the tailwind where the slight downhill was.  So I treated the course like it had two sections and I adjusted my pace accordingly.  While others tried to keep a steady pace, I slowed a little with the headwind and then tried to push 7:00-8:00 pace on the tailwind section.  That seemed to work great for me much of the day.

Race headquarters at Edgewater Park, not far from downtown - Pat Dooley photo

I also concentrated on 5-lap segments.   I needed to reduce the time I stopped at the aid station, so early in the race I forced myself not to stop between those 5-lap (4.5 mile) segments.  Things went well.  I  ran the first 1/2 marathon in about 1:55, and hit the marathon distance at about 4:05.  I was about 15 minutes behind my goal time and slower than Across the Years a few months ago, but I was still feeling fine.

The waves crashed all day. - Pat Dooley photo

The main factor was still the wind.  Around noon, it really started to blow, probably more than 25 mph.   I had to stop to put on yet another layer.  The temperature was still in the 30s and the windchill was much lower.  I was now wearing three layers including a wind break.  I kept those three layers on for the rest of the way.  I also kept a ski hat on for all the way.   In the morning I had mittons on.   It was COLD.  But I enjoyed it and was just glad it wasn’t hot.

Video taken about mile 15

Me, wind battered, but still running

On the section of the course near the beach, the wind was blowing so bad that sand was blowing up across the trail.  Every couple hours a guy would have to come out with a snow shovel to clear the paved trail.  Other times we were running across sand in that section.

I hit the 50K mark at about  5:00 which was OK.  For the first time I left the course for about 50 feet to check the screen for the standings.   I was in about 8th place, but there were a cluster of 3-4 of us who were on the same lap.  It looked like the top four would be tough to keep up with, so I set a goal to finish in the top 5.

One thing I quickly noticed was the distance for each lap.  My Garmin was showing more.  I know they measure courses with the shortest possible route, but it is impossible to run that exact route, passing people and just not concentrating on tight lines.  It looked like I would run close to two miles extra across 100 miles.   That is quite a difference.  Others were showing the same with their watches.

In 8th place, mile 44

I hit the 50-mile mark (Garmin distance) at about 8:38.  While I was about 20 minutes behind my goal, I was pleased.  That was only 21 minutes off my PR time.  Despite the wind, I was still cranking along just fine with only minor problems to deal with.  My pace goal was targeted to hit PRs at all the ultra distances and reach 100 in sub-20-hours.  It felt like I was still on target.   In the standings, I was still doing fine, staying with that cluster of 4-5 runners, nearly on the same lap.  I was able to start identifying them.

Video taken about mile 56

Me, still pushing the pace in the wind - Mark Tichinel photo

One of the front-runners started to have trouble.   I stopped to try to help him as he was laying on the grass with stomach craps and feelings of bloating in his chest.   I tried to give him some advice and I think shortly later he quit because I never saw him on the track after that.

In 8th place at mile 56

I hit the 100K mark (Garmin) at about 11:06.  I was 30 minutes behind pace goals, but I knew I was doing just fine.   A runner, David Stores, from St. Louis, caught up with me and started to run with me.  He introduced himself, mentioning that he loved my Utah Lake run stories.   I noticed on the board that we could see finishing each lap, that we were exactly at the same distance, but he was running the 12-hour race.   As we ran, I could tell he was helping me a bunch, getting my mind off the normal pain.  I pointed out to him that I thought he was the leading 12-hour race..  He had not realized that.  I knew that I was doing fine if I was tied with the leader of the 12-hour run.  He later won that race by a couple miles.

Joe Jurczyk photo

The sun went down after a long windy day.  The wind also died down a little. The waves from Lake Erie were no longer crashing as hard as usual.   At the 12-hour mark, I had reached about 66.6 miles, 2/3rds of the way to 100.  To break 20 hours, I needed to run only 33.3 in the next 8 hours.  I was confident that I could do that.

I was still running constantly.  The only time I walked a little was at the aid station, but elsewhere, I was always running.  I don’t think in any race I have ever delayed walking stretches this long in the race.  Most every other runner, except for the top 10 runners, were now walking long stretches.   I was now in 6th place, doing well.

But a little confidence can be over-confidence when running huge distances.  It very quickly got colder.   There was a constant bitter cold breeze all night.  The wind shifted from the Northwest, to the Northeast, coming right off the lake.  There was a long section, along the shoreline that was now a bitter cold headwind.

I first dealt with the cold well.  One strategy was to jump into a porta-potty and sit for a minute, out of the wind, to bring my heart-rate down.  I had done that periodically for that past several hours.   I started walking stretches at about mile 75.  Because I was going slower, my body temperature went down.   By mile 78, things started to really fail.  I was becoming hypothermic, stumbling around, getting very drowsy, and struggling to keep a pace quicker than about 18-minute miles.  The track seemed deserted.   I wasn’t alone in my struggles.

Finally, I had no choice but to go warm up.   I grabbed the keys to the car and went to recover.  I grabbed bacon and orange juice and sat in the car, waiting for the heater to warm me up.  I first told myself to only stay 10 minutes, but that turned into 20 minutes.   I noticed that many others were doing the same thing.   My sub-20-hour goal went out the window into the cold and I knew it.

Back out in the cold, things improved for awhile.  I could run again. I noticed that two of the front-runners were still in shorts and one was in short sleeves.  I could not comprehend that.  I was now in four layers on top.

Struggles continued.  It was nice and peaceful, and at times it seemed like there were only about 20 runners on the course.   The miles clicked by slowly.   Miles 80-100 seemed like a crawl.   Soon, I noticed a serious problem.  My eyes seemed to be freezing up.  I think they were becoming wind-burned.   My eyes wanted to close and that doesn’t work well when you are so very tired.  Finally, no choice again, I had to go warm up again.  This time it was for about 15 minutes.

When I went back out, I decided to grab my sun glasses and wear them for protection.   When I arrived at the aid station, I noticed that they were giving funny looks to each other about me.   I quickly explained why I was running with dark glasses at night.  Soon I noticed others doing the same.   Later, I heard one of the front-runners comment that he could barely see.

At mile 91 I had to stop again.  This time my bad leg was hurting near the fracture area.  I had to rest it, but only stopped about 10 minutes.  I decided that I would walk most of the way to reach 100.  It was slow going but the leg started to feel better and I started to run again.

My long stops probably totaled about an hour.  I went to check the standings and saw a was in 11th place.  That was disappointing.  But, there was still a group of runners close to me.

100 miles finally arrived.  I believe by Garmin distance it was at 21:48 and by course distance about 22:15.   It was disappointing to not break 20 hours, but 21:48 is very respectable for the weather conditions.

Dawn arrived and the wind finally died down. I had only traveled 30 miles during the night.  It would be a beautiful morning.   After I did a lap past 100, I stopped to check the standings and it looked like at least three runners ahead of me packed it in at 100 miles and quit.  I was now in 8th place.  Could I climb higher?

Video taken during the last hour

Finally, without the terrible wind, I felt like a new runner.  There were 90 minutes left, time to run like crazy.  And I did run crazy, the only one running hard out there.  As I ran past the aid station, I would get cheers as people watch the board an saw how many miles I had run.  With an hour to go, I checked the standings.  I was now in 6th place.   The 5th place guy was more than a mile ahead of me.  Could I catch him?   Yes, I could.  At about mile 105 I passed who I thought was the guy.  I think he noticed when he finished the lap and probably saw my name on the board with the same distance as him.

For the next lap he really pushed hard to try to catch me.  I just pushed it even harder.  But by the end of the lap he was only about 30 yards behind and closing on me.  This was going to be very hard.  But as I turned the first corner of the next lap, I could not see him behind.   He indeed had stopped.  Maybe I crushed his will. 5th place was mine.

Me, finishing one of the final laps (finally no hat) - Joe Jurczyk photo

What about 4th place?  A half hour earlier that guy was close to 3 miles ahead, but he was walking.   I lapped who I thought he was.  I was now a full lap down.   I continued to push pretty hard.   It turns out that I finished just 0.2 miles out of 4th place.  Close, almost caught him.

I ran at total of 107.7 miles in 24-hours, finished in 4th place out of 52 runners, and won my age group.  Most of the top 10 runners were much younger fast guys.  Not bad for an old mountain runner.  I felt great at the finish, hardly sore at all, wishing I had more time to catch the runners ahead.  It will have to wait for another race.