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Glasshouse 100 Miles - My First Attempt
Article by: John Lindsay
I was one of 6 non-finishers from 14 starters at this years Glasshouse 100 mile race. It was my first attempt at the 100 mile distance, and I DNF'd 112.5 kms and 21 hours into the event.
I've DNF'd once before. I missed the last cut-off at the Six Foot Marathon in the Blue Mountains by 2 minutes, the first time I ever tried to go beyond the standard marathon. I've since done 3 Six Foot events within the time. My DNF at Six Foot was undoubtedly a stimulus for me to find out, and then do, whatever it would take complete that course within the cut off time.
So it's no surprise that my DNF at Glasshouse is having a similar effect, intensifying my desire to run a 100 mile race. But first I need to deal with the issues which caused me not to finish my first attempt at that distance. Here's how things unfolded.
Based on my past times for other distances, it was always going to be a big ask for me to finish Glasshouse within the 30 hour time limit. In virtually all events I have run from the 10 km to the 90 Comrades Marathon, my time ends up being pretty close to double the would best time for the distance. 100 mile runs in the US are completed by the best runners in around 17 hours, so my projected time based on this criteria would be something close to 34 hours, well outside the 30 hour cut-off.
So for me to have a chance at finishing under 30 hours, running to a pre-determined schedule was of vital importance. I felt it necessary to know where I was at all times in relation to this schedule, as to get behind by too much would mean I simply would not finish in time. This approach had worked well for me at Comrades.
I set my schedule for a faster first half in the certain knowledge that I would slow down during the 2nd half. My first half was fixed at 13.30 and the 2nd half at 15.30, giving me a 29 hour finish, with one hour up my sleeve, which I was sure I would need.
I also typed the official cut-off times for each aid station onto my schedule. I noted with interest that they appeared very liberal for the early aid stations, but got real at the end. For instance, the cut off for CP6 was 6.30 am. This was 3-1/4 hours later than my schedule said it needed to be for me to get to the finish on time. I concluded that these progressive cut-offs were not built around the pace of a slower runner like me, but were designed to give a faster runner time to make it, should he or she get lost or otherwise lose time out on the course. What was clear was that I had to disregard them for the purpose of deciding whether I would make the finish line under 30 hours.
I started slow and was soon running on my own. This was not new, and I was unconcerned about that as I knew I had to run my own race. I made it to CP5 thirty minutes ahead of schedule, feeling very fresh. I stood on the scales and they told me I needed to drink a bottle of water and then get weighed again. This surprised me as I thought I had been drinking OK, but the scales said I'd lost 2 kgs. I drank up and they let me go 1.5 kgs down.
I was still 30 minutes ahead of schedule when I did the loop around CP7 and back to CP5. This time I was 2.6 kgs down and they made me drink 2 litres of water before they would let me go. I was delayed here for 36 minutes while this took place and while they sorted out a potential blister on my toe. This killed my 30 minute margin.
By the time I left I was so full of water I couldn't face eating anything, and I headed out on that dreadful loop around Mt Beerwah feeling very uncomfortable. I drank like a fish in some discomfort but managed to maintain my weight at the end of the loop.
My stomach by now was in considerable distress. Burping and hiccuping constantly, I headed off towards the Base Station and crossed the half way line 3 minutes ahead of schedule. I rested for 20 minutes here and after about 3 spoons full of shepherd's pie, I left again.
Although I was running slower than on the first lap, which the schedule provided for, I was still surprised when I arrived at CP3 a full 47 minutes behind where I thought I'd be. I missed the same turn off that Sean missed between CP3 and CP4, and lost some time there, so my deficit when I reached CP5 was now 1 hour. The one hour buffer built into my schedule was now gone.
I considered what was happening, the fact that I now had no margin for error and was clearly running well below the schedule pace. I decided that I was still in with a chance, and took off down the goat track. I got lost once which cost me another 10 minutes. I was finding it hard to stay awake, even though I was puffing and exerting myself on the steep hills. The glass of coke I had at CP5 soon wore off.
I saw the light of CP6 in the distance, and was keen to see if I had maintained my time. I looked at my watch, and saw that I was now 1.40 behind. I had lost a further 40 minutes on that one leg alone.
It was time for some objective thinking here. In order to finish under 30 hours, I'd have to make up the 40 minute deficit, plus stay on schedule pace from then on. And I'd have to do this with an energy level that had seen me lose 1 hour and 40 minutes over the preceding 7 hours. It was crystal clear to me that that was never going to happen.
If I decided to continue, because of the way the cut-offs worked I'd probably make it back to CP5 again, head out around Mt Beerwah, and then be pulled from the race back at CP5 just before the last leg.
I had set only one goal for Glasshouse and that was to finish, which for Glasshouse means within 30 hours. In a normal marathon, if it becomes clear that my target time is not going to be met, my secondary goal is to finish in the best time I can, but more to the point, just to finish. At Glasshouse this was not an option, because the rules of the race mean that the cut-offs will eventually get you if you are not going to make it in, or close to, 30 hours.
Since I had never developed a secondary goal for this event, when the only goal I had became unachievable, the decision to withdraw from the event was automatic.
I got back to the motel around 3.15 in the morning. Olga's first response when I arrived at the door was to look for the blood, because I have some past form in coming home from trail runs with blood caked over me. Once that issue was out of the way, she said "Does that mean we're coming back next year?" At that time, I didn't want to think about next year, but I knew from experience that this would pass quickly.
I had a shower and went to bed. I didn't sleep much and got up around 7am and decided to walk the 12 km with Olga who had registered for that event. It was a very hot day (for a Melbourne person anyway). She set a cracking pace and I had to run from time to time to keep up. I had done some heat acclimitisation before Glasshouse by driving 1-1/2 hours a day for 2 weeks with the heater on full bore. I'm convinced this helped me, but Olga felt the full force of the heat and humidity. She made it to the end but required medical attention for heat stress once she got there. She has recovered completely.
On both the occasions on which I have had a DNF, I've felt afterwards that if only I had been stronger mentally, I could have done better. There may be some substance to that, but by any objective measure, on both occasions I was running close to my limit, given the need to maintain some reserve for the distance yet to be covered.
In the case of Glasshouse, something caused me to have a significant drop in energy on the 2nd lap. I reviewed my hydration and fuelling. I was OK with hydration, but only because someone weighed me and made me drink. I suspect that had this not occurred I would have failed later from dehydration anyway.
I added up the calories I consumed during the day, and it came to 2200. I wrote the US UltraList to draw on their experience. Rule of thumb ... you need 100 calories per mile. For the 70 miles (112.5 kms) I completed, I needed 7000 calories. I consumed 2200, which meant in simple terms that I didn't have sufficient fuel in my body to keep me going at the pace required to finish under 30 hours.
The reason for this lack of fuel is undoubtedly linked to the problems I had with hydration. With a gut full of water, and my stomach in distress as a consequence of this, I could only tolerate small amounts of food at a time.
I believe I took adequate electrolyte, so poor fluid absorption due to lack of sodium was not the cause. According to the advice I received from an experienced Leadville finisher, it's important to train your body over time to take into the gut, and absorb, larger volumes of water than you would normally drink. This is especially important if you are tackling an event at altitude or in hotter temperatures than you are used to, as the body's water requirements are greater.
This is what I will now work on before my next long event.
I guess in hindsight I was surprised how easy it was for me to take the decision to withdraw. As I said earlier, it was automatic. This has caused me to ponder the goal setting process with regard to and event like this, because the goals we set generally determine the way we act (at least that is so for me).
So, for a back of the pack runner, is it sensible to have a secondary goal in case the primary goal (to finish in the 30 hours) slips out of reach? And if so, what should that secondary goal be?
Two options present themselves for consideration. The first is to continue on as long as you can with the view to finishing, irrespective of the time it takes. To do this, you would need to breach the race rules regarding cut-offs, which according to the race book would mean you would be barred from future Glasshouse events. This is not an option I would consider.
The second choice is to continue on for as long as you can, and eventually be pulled from the course at one of the cut-off points. For me that would have meant a further 8-10 hours on the course, all the while knowing that I could not finish. It had zero appeal to me at the time, and it has zero appeal to me now.
Hypothetically, had the race rules allowed me to continue to an unofficial finish instead of withdrawing at a cut-off point (and I understand and accept the reasons they don't), I have no doubt I would have taken this option, because it is the "finishing" that is important to me rather than the time.
I've got a pretty full schedule for the next 6 months. We're planning to do the Jindabyne Marathon in November. In January we have Bogong to Hotham (first half), plus Mansfield to Mt Buller. Since I didn't complete the Glasshouse I think I'll let the idea of running Cradle Mountain ride for another year. In March there's Six Foot and Aura Dam 50 KM. Then in April, I'm playing with the notion of running my first 24 hour event at Coburg. Who knows, I might even complete 100 miles in that time, given the lack of hills, cooler climate and consistent surface. At worst, I'll get some more experience at a long run before tackling Glasshouse again.
John has also written the following articles that are published on CoolRunning Australia :
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