These are just a few of the thoughts that I struggled with during the 24 hours of HOSTELity, all of which would be answered as soon as I crossed the finish line…but where would that finish line be?
The 24 hours of Hostelity is set up on a .65 mile loop trail around the Hiker Hostel in Dahlonega, GA. Each loop covers single-track and double-track, with about 110 feet of elevation gain per loop. Now this is a debatable point. Willie Syndram, the RD, advertises the loop at 100ft of climbing; however, I heard altimeter readings from 110 to 150 feet per loop… any way you cut it, that kind of climbing adds up over the course of a day. In and of itself, the overall elevation for the day is not too bad, but given that it is all packed into a 1k loop makes the climb and the descent seem pretty steep.
Despite the rain the week before, the course was in amazing condition. The RD had put out mulch on the wet spots, and the dry air allowed a few slick spots to hold up over the course of the event. I was prepared with numerous shoe options to combat the mud, including yaktraks and an old pair of New Balance snow running shoes (complete with screw-in spikes), but none were needed, as my Stinson EVO’s did the trick. Not only was the cushion much appreciated on the steep downhill, but the tread gripped nicely, allowing me to run with confidence on some of the slick areas.
Following a breakfast of champions (two pumpkin pie pop tarts and a big cup of coffee) and a short drive to the Hostel, the 9am start time came with much excitement, as the RD led us around the loop for the first time: across the back porch of the Hostel, past the chicken coop, on a line beside the road, down an embankment, up the switchbacks, past the trailer with wood, up a slight hill, onto the double track, down the huge embankment, up a steep embankment, right onto the gravel drive, and back past the back porch… and then repeat!
My goal for this run was to keep moving non-stop for all 24 hours. I was not concerned with place or distance, just time, and I knew that, no matter what, the race would end at 9am on Sunday, and all I had to do was to keep moving until then.
I started out conservatively, running the loop while slowing down quite a bit on the steeper climbing portions. Being from the deep south, I generally have to prime my climbing legs for courses with significant elevation, and leading up to this event, I neglected this part of my training… so I knew that I was going to have to take it kind of easy in order to sustain motion for the day.
I kept this strategy up throughout the course of the day until I began to feel the fatigue in my quads, at which point I developed a pattern of walking/running dictated by the terrain of the course. I kept this strategy in place for the remainder of the race, up until the sunrise, at which point I went for it… more on that in a few.
Considering the set-up for the race, I was able to see numerous runners multiple times, and it was neat to share encouragements with one another throughout the day. A wonderful bonus was the fact that my wife, Bev, was doing the 12-hour portion of the race, so as the day wore on, I would slow down and do a few laps with her…what an encouragement it was for me to have her support! She even stayed out and rooted me on into the night and on through daybreak!
The aid station was fully stocked throughout the day, allowing me to stay on top of my nutrition, and not go into the red zone on either energy or hydration levels. I began the run by GUing every 30-40 minutes, and kept this strategy for the first 7 hours, at which point I switched over to solid food… oreo cookies, pbj’s, cheeseburgers, pizza, soup… whatever my body was craving, I ate it! The volunteers were more than accommodating to my needs, and this really helped me keep moving. Their recommendations for food choices were brilliantly timed, as the soup really hit the spot at night to help warm my core. I stayed hydrated by drinking the Poweraid that was supplied, and supplemented coke, mountain dew, and coffee for quick bursts of energy. Nutritionally, I was dialed in, and this really allowed me to keep on moving towards that clock!
As Saturday turned into Saturday night, the temperature began to drop, and the frequency of seeing other runners dropped as well. There were several moments in the night that I wondered where everybody had gone, and then I would see a light bobbing through the forest, and I knew I wasn’t alone in my suffering. For this race, I didn’t wear a watch… why bother? The race wouldn’t end until 9am on Sunday, and they would tell me when that was. This allowed me to stay focused on the here-and-now of the experience, staying in tune to my body, and staying confident to pursue the goal.
I was acutely aware of the achiness in my legs on the climbs, and the pain in my quads on the sharp down hills. This was a pattern that I became very familiar with throughout the night: ache and pain, ache and pain, ache and pain… but I knew it was going to end, sometime. I just had to endure, and so I kept on going.
I don’t have any idea what time it was, but at some point, the RD came onto the course and tempted me with the sight of a 100-mile buckle. I don’t remember how the conversation went, but he and a few others said that if I would average 10-minute miles until the end, I might be able to make it. “Maybe next year… my goal is just to keep moving for 24 this year… I will come back more prepared for the climbing and get the buckle next year.” This was good for me. While the allurement of the buckle was pretty strong, I knew that was not my goal, and any pursuit of it this year could ruin my chances of going for all 24 hours. I kept my goal in mind, and pressed on, knowing that the buckle could wait.
About an hour before sunrise, creation began waking up. The chickens began to rustle in their coop, and were more chatty each time I passed them. The resident dog at the Hostel came out and dominated me, sprinting by me, then stopping and staring at me, waiting for me to catch up, and then sprinting by me again. I talked to the dog for a while, telling him “oh yea tough guy?! How long have you been out here? I’ve been goin’ all night, and you come out here and own me now? Punk!”
I had begun to really lose it at this point. I was talking to myself, to the dog, to the chickens, to the trail… I had even gone off the trail twice, both times right between the big green arrows telling me which way to go! I really, really needed the sun to come up to refresh my spirits and get me right again…
Soon, the sky began to turn color, a light shade of rosy-pink that only the sun can make… and I knew the end was near. I came through the aid area, and was informed that I had two hours to go. At this point, I was in some real pain, but I knew it was time to go even deeper. I began to formulate a plan of attack for the last two hours. I wanted to go as hard as I could, and cross the finish line knowing I had poured out my all. I segmented up the course into speed walks on the climbs and running on the flats and down hills, even the huge one that was causing me so much pain.
I was ready to implement my plan, and so I did. I took off, determined to pour it out until it was over. Soon enough the sun was glowing on the horizon. With each loop the RD, my wife, the volunteers, and others gave me the encouragement I needed. The few that remained on the course were more than encouraging, as we all did our best to help one another onward with our words. As the time went by, my speed picked up, and the end was near. I journeyed deep into the pain cave, determined to conquer the demons and trample them underfoot. “One hour left!” No worries, just push it. “40 minutes!” Keep pushing… I had no idea how far I had gone, but I knew these were the fastest laps of the day. “30 minutes!” “22 minutes” Keep on… push it, faster! Two more laps! “16 minutes!” Almost there! Come on! VAMOS!
There it was: Sunday morning, 9am… the finish. I had achieved my goal of perpetual motion for 24 hours. And I was more than ready to sit down! My legs were in shock, and I was starving, having foregone food for the last two hours for the sake of speed. I went in to the Hostel for the first time, found a chair, sat down, and ate some amazing banana pancakes with syrup. Willie (the RD) informed me that I was the winner, and that is always a good feeling. My hard work had paid off with a “w”, but more importantly, I had really conquered some running demons out there that had been on me for a few months.
I had gotten in to a funk of being hard on myself, not allowing enjoyment of the sport due to goals that I would put on my performances. If I found myself failing at that goal, I was more apt to just quit, rather than be content with the love of the sport. This race allowed me to go for it in a way that I knew I could achieve. My goal was 24 hours… not miles, not a time, not a pace, not a finish position. And I did it, and in the process, I took another step towards learning to be content with my efforts, no matter what. I am not the fastest guy, and I am not the strongest guy, but I love to run, and I can suffer with the best of ‘em. ”Come what may, I want to run!”
Hours run: 24
Elevation gain: somewhere around 16,500 (I heard between 15,000 and 20,000)
Shoes: Hoka OneOne Stinson EVO
Shorts: Salomon Exo S-Lab II
Shirts: Lots of ‘em!
Poles: Black Diamond Z-poles
Facial Hair: Moustache
Thanks again to all who made this race possible…your hard work was greatly appreciated! And Willie “Nature Boy” Syndram, you are a stud!