crazy

The treadmill. Love it or hate it? They were invented back in 1818 to help prisoners cure their idleness. In those early years they were used for punishment and certainly in modern times they are still viewed by many as a way to punish yourself. In the late 1960s, my dad built a treadmill (without a motor) to exercise on. It was an amazing difficult machine to get moving and made no sense to me. Most trail ultrarunners despise the treadmill and consider using them as wimpy when you could be running outside. However many years ago I discovered the value of doing workouts on the treadmill to improve my footspeed and increase my mental strength. I’ve shared my views and experiences in a chapter of my running book at: http://www.crockettclan.org/ultras/treadmill.pdf

The furthest I had previously run on a treadmill in one session was 34 miles in 2013. On that day I hit the 50K mark at 4:31. That run included steep inclines, climbing about 5,000 feet along the way. I knew that some serious ultra long-distance speed was possible on the treadmill but I never was motivated to try running 100 miles on the crazy machine. But in my quest to reach one hundred 100-mile finishes, I discovered a virtual race being organized, the Dreadmill 48. This event allowed the runner to choose any day in December and seek to run 100 miles or more in a 48-hour period. I thought it was a great idea, a way for me to get another 100-mile finish without leaving home. If sucessful, it would be my 96th 100-mile finish.

Running ultra distances on treadmills isn’t a new idea. In my book, “Swift Endurance Legends,” I profiled Chris Gibson of Pittsburgh, an elite 100-mile runner during the 1980s. He worked as a hotel fitness manager and in the early 1990s ran massive distance treadmill charity runs for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. In 1991 he ran 137.5 miles in 24 hours. In 1997 he ran 50 miles in 5:40 and reached 100K in 7:28. The fastest known 100-mile time on a treadmill is believed to be 14:15:08, accomplished by Edit Berces of Hungary, a female runner.

I knew that a 100-mile run on a treadmill would require some serious training. My mileage base for 2017 was good, with nearly 3,500 miles during the first 11 months. I also had finished nine 100-milers so far for the year. But I knew that special training on the “flats” was required. Most mountain ultrarunners would crumble attempting that distance at speed without flats training. Each year I start my flats training in October to allow me to seriously compete in flat winter races. On October 28, I finished the very flat Kansas Rails to Trails 100 and two weeks before my treadmill run I ran 84 miles at Crooked Road 24 in Virginia. Also in the weeks leading up to my run I sought out long flat training runs near my home and also ran plenty on the treadmill to mentally get myself ready.

Two years earlier, I bought a sturdy incline treadmill. It is a NordicTrack 11i. Previous to that I would run on the treadmills in our housing development recreation center. However the machines would frequently break down and I was getting weary of the looks people would give me when they came in and saw that I was on “their machine.” So I bought my own for my basement and during the past two years I have run about 1,800 miles on my treadmill,

I planned very carefully for my “Dreadmill 100” run. Pace can be controlled by the touch of a button, so I planned the pace that I wanted to run based on paces I had run during my recent runs in Kansas and Virginia. Running on a treadmill is totally aided, so I expected that I could run 100 miles much faster than on roads or flat trails. My all-time fastest 100-miler was in 2011 at age 53, 19:40, a split-time during Across the Years 48-hour. My fastest 100 mile finish during 2017 was 20:48 on a hilly loop course near Las Vegas. Now at age 59, I knew I was finally slowing down, but I set me sights to run 100 miles faster than 19:30 on my treadmill.

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Using a spreadsheet, I planned the mile pace I wanted to average for every five miles and converted that pace to miles-per-hour, so I would know what to set the treadmill speed at. I built in planned rest times too. My target was to finish in 19:29. I really had no idea if I could do it.

Am I really going to attempt this?

Am I really going to attempt this?

Next, I planned my venue. I stacked tables on both sides of the machine so they would be high enough to simply reach out for things without slowing my pace. This worked out very well. The room was a problem. The treadmill faces a dull concrete wall in my unfinished basement. It was time to decorate. I put things on my wall to make it look more like a runners “man cave.” This really helped me mentally along the way so I didn’t feel like I was running in a boring cave. The light seemed rather dull and I worried that the dull light would cause me to become drowsy at night. I brought down a lamp and put some Christmas lights on the wall to liven things up.

My aid station, always within reach

My aid station, always within reach

Lastly I bought a cheap whiteboard and put my goals on it for various milestones and the average mph pace for each segment. I hung that on the wall where I could see it easily and planned to take pictures of it to post my progress on Facebook. Treadmills can timeout and lose statistics. Mine seems to be good for about four hours. I planned to stop at each milestone to save my segments on ifit.com which is connected wireless to my treadmill. I also planned to take a picture of the mileage each time I stopped, as a backup. I bought a count-up clock to put in front of me and also a thermometer to know what the room temperature was at all times. My treadmill has a fan built in which I would use and I also positioned a fan behind the machine to keep my backside cool. With the window opened, the room temperature would be between 57-61 degrees, a pleasant running temperature.

I decided to start my run right after work on Friday. I rushed home, bought some ice for my cooler along the way, and then quickly prepared my feet. I taped my forefeet with Elastikon tape. I knew the forefeet can shift around in the shoes during flat, fast 100s and develop bad blisters. I also taped the back of my heels. I finished without any blisters.

Chart of my speed settings for the first 10 miles.

Chart of my speed settings for the first 10 miles.

With everything ready and to no fanfare or cheers, I pushed the start button and started my clocks. I quickly eased the speed up to above 7 m.p.h. I would peak out at 8 m.p.h. There were no rules about the incline/decline for this race so after 2.5 miles I started to use a 1-1.5% decline for a while during the early stages when I was going the fastest. But I would eventually learn that my legs enjoyed incline better at times. During the entire 100 miles, my “course” had a net decline of only 1,798 feet so it was pretty flat. My total climbing along the way was 723 feet.

I was rather shocked at how comfortable an 8:15-mile pace felt for many miles. In typical 100s, now in my old age, I can only hold that pace for three miles or so during the early stages of a 100, but on this surface it felt very comfortable for a very long time and I wasn’t breathing hard.

Prepping for this run, I queued up items on Netflix and Youtube to keep my mind occupied, but I knew when pushing hard and running fast those would distract my attention, so for the first couple hours I only listened to music and got into my usual running zone.

First 10 miles done

First 10 miles done

My goal was to run the first 10 miles in 1:24 and I arrived there at 1:20, averaging a blistering 8:01-mile pace. What about holding onto the treadmill? For this race, there were no rules, but I fully knew from past experience that if I let the treadmill drag me, my feet, knees, and hips would quickly have trouble because of the unnatural running gait. I strongly believed that to accomplish this, I needed to maintain a very natural running form despite the moving surface. I concentrated hard on my form and proper foot pronation. Increasing pain would remind me, and I would make corrections. So when I did touch the treadmill it was very lightly to help keep my balance or let me close my eyes at times.

All continued to go well to the marathon mark which I reached at 3:45. My PR for a marathon is 3:23 but I knew if I tried to go that fast that my quads would get too sore because I no longer train at marathon speed. Normally during a flat 24-hour race, I reach the marathon mark at about 4:15, so arriving there at 3:45 was much better than expected.

I turned the music off and started to watch basketball, football games, and sports center. That was a good change at that time and I really enjoyed watching and running. My next focus was the 50K mark (31.07 miles). I pushed it pretty hard and arrived there at a surprising 4:28 beating my personal best road PR by ten minutes. I celebrated by taking my first longer break, sitting down in my chair, eating, and checking Facebook. I chuckled as I saw the flood of comments coming in and responded to a few of them. There were a lot of people watching my progress and that helped keep me motivated.

My progress posted on Facebook from my white board

My progress posted on Facebook from my white board

At the Riverton Hospital in Utah, my daughter Mindy was working the night-shift as a nurse. She let her co-workers know what was going on. They tracked my progress through the night and were amazed at seeing all the likes and comments coming in during the wee hours of the morning.

My legs were getting sore. As expected my quads were taking a beating from the unchanging motion. I tried bending my knees more to stretch them out, and run some inclines to mix things up. My right hamstrings were also a worried problem. Concentrating on my running form and foot pronation helped calm that down.

My next focus was to reach 50 miles. So far I was about 20 minutes ahead of my very aggressive goals. Midnight arrived and I was still running. I tried binge watching season 2 of “Stanger Things” but it required pretty intense concentration to follow the plot and didn’t relax me, so I only made it through the first episode. I went back to music. I was playing it pretty loud and wondered if the neighbors would start complaining. My college-age son normally sleeps in a basement bedroom but he wisely chose to sleep two floors up. I arrived at the 50-mile mark at 7:39. My road best is 8:07, set six years ago. I realized I was crushing it so far. I felt young and fast again.

My speed settings from 50 miles to 100K

My speed settings from 50 miles to 100K

It wasn’t time to ease up, I wanted to crush 100K (62.14 miles) too. A big difference between pushing it on trails/roads verses the treadmill is that on trails/roads you need to mentally push yourself to run faster when tired. On the treadmill you simply push a button and away you go whether you like it or not. During this next 12-mile segment I was very consistent. My plan asked me to set the speed on average at 5.7 m.p.h. but I was keeping it pretty steady, around 6.5 m.p.h. I averaged that segment running 9:48-mile pace which greatly surprised me at this point in the run.

Fueling was going fine. The ice-cold coke and ginger ale really hit the spot. The treadmill was estimating the calories I was burning and seeing that number would remind me how poorly I was actually bringing in the calories. My stomach at times stopped functioning and I threw up a couple times into a large cup which greatly helped calm the stomach down and start fueling again. I battled dehydration at times but knew the signs and made adjustments before things got bad.

I arrived at the 100K mark at 9:44, crushing my road best of 10:49. (The American record for my age group on a track is 9:13). I shut down the machine and was ready for a rest. The last 12 miles had taken a toll on me. I sat down in my chair feeling pretty poorly and tried to eat. It was 2:45 a.m. My wife came down to see how I was doing. She asked if I needed anything. My answer was “bacon.” For the first time I went upstairs and collapsed on the soft couch while my wife kindly cooked up the bacon. It felt so good to lie down. When the bacon was ready, I sat at the kitchen table and feasted. It was tasted so good. I had scheduled a seven-minute break at this point but I took a needed 20 minutes.

I went back to work. My schedule wanted me to average 5.2 m.p.h. but I set the speed at 6.0 to get some time back. In another six miles I was feeling really fine with renewed energy and ran for a while at 6.9. I watched some random old movies that were on TV, including “Home Alone” and “Where Eagles Dare.”

By mile 70 I was back to 47 minutes ahead of my goal time. I had less than a 50K left. I pushed harder as the 12-hour mark was coming up because I was crushing my road-best of 67.1 miles.  When the clock struck 12 hours, I had reached 73.4 miles. My runner’s high lasted until mile 74. With just a marathon left, I really started to struggle and I no longer could set the speed higher than 6.0. My quads were in great pain and I wasn’t drinking enough so I pushed the water some more.

I reached mile 80 at 13:25, nearly an hour ahead of my goal. A couple weeks earlier at Crooked Road 24-hours, this was the point where it all crashed and I quit at mile 84 with five hours left. I hoped that I could still hold on this time. I felt pretty thrashed and went back upstairs to lie down and tried to recover. After another long break of 15 minutes I painfully went back downstairs and pulled myself back up on the treadmill. I had 20 miles to go, but it seemed so far and I feared that it would take many hours.

The morning light arrived through my window. Back on the machine, I started the speed at 3.0 and tried to get my stiff legs going again. I eased it up to 5.0 and in another mile raised it to 6.0 m.p.h. for the last time, holding it for about a mile. Pauses and stops came more frequently as I concentrated on finishing five-mile segments. I reached mile 90 at 15:49, an hour ahead of my goal time. I stopped for 15 minutes.

Ten miles to go. It still seemed so far but I tried to visualize a typical ten-mile run I have done near my home. I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t really that far. I knew finishing before 20 hours was pretty much in the bag but could I beat my road PR of 19:40? My wife came down to check on me and I told her that I was fine with just ten miles to go. I got back on the treadmill, set it at a 3.0 walk (20-minute mile). I no longer wanted to see the treadmill’s speed and distance indicators, so I covered them up with a towel. I then slowly eased up the speed to the fastest speed that I could maintain at this point, which was 5.5 m.p.h. a solid speed. I watched College Game Day, listened to ESPN radio and then watched various random channels. I did my best to relax and just maintain the speed.

My little dog came down into the basement, something she never does. She must have missed me. Behind me, she jumped up on the treadmill to see me, tried to reach me, but as I looked back I saw her shoot off the end. Poor thing, but it was pretty funny. She next tried to go around to the front to get on, but I stopped her and she settled for a pillow nearby.

My speed settings for the final miles

My speed settings for the final miles

Mile 95 came at 17:03 and I knew that I would be able to break 19 hours easily. I focused on trying to beat my goal of 19:29 by more than an hour. After a short break I got back on, and eased up the speed above 5.0. The miles slowly ticked off and I imagined how close the remaining distance was from my home. With about a mile to go, I kicked up the speed once more to nearly 6.0 and went across the 100-mile finish time in 18:11:56.

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There were no cheers, no signs, no bells, no pats on the back. I turned the speed down to 3.0 and simply said out loud, “I did it.” I continued on for 0.4 miles just in case my tired mind had not kept track of the distance segments right, but it did. I posted my finish to Facebook and was very surprised to see all the attention my run had received. The kind comments started to flow in. I was very pleased to finish 100 miles in 18:11, and at 59 years old! Including stops, I averaged 10:55-mile pace. During the run I stopped for a total of about one hour and forty minutes which is typical for me during a 100-miler.

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I generally didn’t feel exhausted but boy was I sore. My quads felt really trashed and I truly walked around the house like a very old man. Typically I will finish 100s with nearly no leg soreness, but this run on the flats, and at that speed really stressed those muscles. I still had 29.5 more hours to run in the Dreadmill 48-hour race to pile up more miles, but that truly would be crazy, so I sent in my miles and time to the race director and felt pleased with my Dreadmill 100, my 96th 100-mile finish.

Was it boring? I have to honestly say that I was never bored. I had a goal to achieve, milestones to reach, cheering Facebook fans, adjustments to make, and plenty to watch and listen to along the way. Would I do it again? Hmm….perhaps, but I doubt I could ever again approach that 100-mile time again.

Fitbit chart showing my stops

Fitbit chart showing my stops

Update:  48 hours later.  Recovery has gone really well.  Unlike most 100s I do, I don’t feel at all energy drained and slept well last night.  The legs are recovering fast and I can now jog down stairs without a lot of pain.  I should be running again in a couple days, but I probably will avoid the treadmill and run outside.