What: Dreadmill 48 Hour Endurance Challenge
When: November 24th 2017
Where: Technically anywhere, but Hendersonville, NC
|Finish||Absolutely No Idea||Yes|
|Sub 24||Absolutely No Idea||Yes|
|Sub 20||Absolutely No Idea||No|
In life, every once in a blue moon you run across something so outlandish you know that if you don’t give it a try you’ll regret it for a long time. That was the exact sensation that overtook me one evening a few months ago while perusing Ultrasignup.com looking for winter races. I happened across an event with this as the opening paragraph:
Too cold outside? Wind blowing too hard? Tired of sitting around? How about something different? 100 miles on a treadmill! What no treadmill at home? Split it up over two days! 48 hours to do 100 Miles (yes all on a treadmill). Welcome to the Dreadmill 48 Hour Endurance Challenge!
And just like that I was hooked. I have no idea how or why, but I knew that one way or another I was going to end up running 100 miles on a treadmill.
I didn’t register right away. This was obviously a virtual event, but it advertised that runners could complete it anytime during the month of December, which would be a bit difficult for me. I was really looking for something I could run over the weekend following Thanksgiving. Coming from a particularly large family, it’s difficult to get anything done around the holidays and I had projects I didn’t feel comfortable leaving undone at work so I didn’t want to take additional time off. I thought about it for a week or so, deliberated whether or not such a thing was realistic, much less possible (before this my longest run had been the Steep Canyon 50k). Eventually I mustered up the courage to email the race director.
The race director, Bobby, got back to me quickly and cheerfully answered my questions. We shot a couple of messages back and forth before I asked if it would be cool for me to run the event a little early. Turns out it would work out to Bobby’s benefit to have something of a “pilot runner” to test the whole thing with photo submissions of mileage and whatnot so I pulled out my debit card and registered.
When your longest run is a 50k, how do you physically prepare for 100 miles? Turns out there’s not really a good answer to that question. While I haven’t encountered a single ultrarunner silly enough to delude themselves into thinking there’s anything reasonable about the distances the sport entails, it’s a heck of lot less unreasonable to make the jump to 100 miles from running 100k events or perhaps even 50 mile events in some cases.
The best answer I could find was that if you can realistically last 50 miles, the rest is mental. I can’t recall exactly where I read this as I came across minor variations of the same sentiment in several places from several unique sources.
Steep Canyon is 3 times around a loop that is just shy of 11 miles. After adding in some stumbling around at the aid stations, I actually measured pretty close to 11 miles exactly for each loop. When I finished, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I could have run a 4th loop. My knees would have hated it and I wouldn’t have run it nearly as quickly as the first three loops, but I could have made it and still been in good enough shape to drive home. Going into the Dreadmill 48 Hour, I knew I could handle 44 miles of singletrack and steep asphalt. It wasn’t quite 50 miles, but it was close enough that I felt I could skip any special training.
I was significantly less worried about my mental state. Years ago I used to work strenuous 16+ hour shifts on a loading dock. These days I keep myself occupied staring at code for hours on end. I’m pretty good at tuning the world out and focusing on the task at hand. I figured as long as I had some sort of distration I could fall back on from time to time, I would probably be pretty okay. About a month before the event, I ran a treadmill marathon to see how it would go and it did nothing but solidify my confidence that I could mentally handle 100 miles on a treadmill.
After registering I made it a point to swing by the gym where I’m a member and make sure they were good with me occupying a treadmill for an entire day (it’s a 24 hour gym). The manager said it was cool and that I could pretty much lay claim to one of them so long as I picked one closer to the back, which I tend to do anyway out of proximity to the mens locker room.
My wife was good with the whole thing. Mostly she was curious as to why I would pick the day after Thanksgiving as we normally hit up the local pub on Thanksgiving after leaving the various family gatherings we’re obligated to attend. She agreed to stop in and check on me a couple of times and I rounded up some other friends and family to stop in periodically.
The biggest thing I was worried about was which shoes to wear. I knew that like in every race I was going to wear a white Nike Pro short sleeve shirt and my favorite Salomon shorts. This time around I was trading out the normal sock choices for some Injinji compression socks for blister prevention, but I was completely stuck when it came to shoes.
I’m pretty much all aboard the Altra train with the occasional outing in a pair of Topos I keep for gravel and mixed terrain (a hole in Altra’s lineup). Pretty much all of my road and treadmill running is done in a pair of Altra shoes called the One v3, however that particular model isn’t particularly well endowed in the cushion department. I’ve run marathons in them (which they’re great for), but I don’t know that I would trust them past 50k to not absolutely ruin my feet.
My affinity for the One v3 has almost everything to do with it being firm and lacking cushion. I did a fair bit of minimalist shoe running early on and I generally preferred racing flats for road running up until I starting running in Altras. This was a problem as the only road shoes I owned with any amount of cushion were a pair of Altra Escalantes I picked up to use as daily drivers. Ultimately it was the Escalantes that would go on to be my shoes for the Dreadmill Challenge as I didn’t think that I would be happy with something more heavily cushioned. Also the Escalantes are super comfy.
Beyond that I prepared my standard race fare, just more of it and stuffed into a backpack instead of my mouth. I had an entire box of whole wheat pasta (cooked), a couple boxes of Larabars, a big bag of Tailwind, a bottle of Carbsport, some juice packets, electrolyte tablets, etc, etc.
My only other concern was having some kind of distraction. Outside I don’t run with any music or anything and I typically leave my phone in the car unless I’m planning a particularly long endeavor. At the gym I typically used some fitness oriented Bluetooth headphones paired with my phone for music, but I didn’t trust the battery life of something like that in a 100 mile event. A quick perusal of Amazon and I had some wired earbuds heading my way along with an inexpensive refurbushed tablet that I could load up with stuff from Netflix.
On race day I woke up early as normal to pack in some last minute carbs and put down a couple cups of coffee. I was planning an 8:30 AM start and I arrived with plenty of time to get settled before starting. I picked my favorite treadmill, number 49, all the way at the end of the second row. It gets good airflow from a giant overhead fan and has stair machines behind it so I think it’s actually the closest treadmill to the locker room, though I’d have to measure to be sure. I was as ready as I could be.
Start through mile 39
I got crackin’ on the whole ordeal without much fanfare and the early miles seemed to fly by. I was listening to favorite playlists in between episodes of a Netflix TV show while maintaining a pace that fluctuated between 8:30 and 9:00. I saw and briefly chatted with my friend Ben, a pretty solid 5k runner but down due to injury. My friend Paul also showed up and we talked for a good half hour while he made use of the immediately adjacent treadmill.
I stopped at a couple of points to take a few minutes to put down calories, use the restroom, stretch the legs, etc. My father and step-mother stopped in, as did my brother, bringing me beverages such as coconut water (high in potassium) and Red Bull (an exception to my diet I’ll make only during ultras). Rachel, my wife, was able to stop in at mile 37, took a video as I crossed over to mile 38, and stayed while I took my break at mile 39.
This was, obviously and predictably, the easy part.
Miles 39 through 63
It stayed pretty easy through mile 47 when I took another quick calorie/restroom break. During the break I realized how sore my legs were and rubbed them down with Icy Hot (which helped quite a bit). Getting going again wasn’t quite a chore, but it was close. I reeled my pace back as I could no longer stay where I was without my form suffering dramatically (which can lead to injury).
I had some other visitors come through. My frequent training partner Ryan stopped in, as did my friend Devin (who also runs). My father and step-mother made another stop as did Rachel at about mile 52.
This was about the point where I started becoming extremely bored with the show I was watching. I powered through a couple of documentaries and tried (and failed) to start another show. At some point I realized that eventually the electronics just weren’t going to be doing it for me so I made up my mind to cherish what time I had left.
I hit 63 miles in 11 hours and 7 minutes.
Miles 63 through 80
This was, far and away, the lonliest section of the entire thing. I was hitting my limit with the “entertainment” I had on the tablet, my favorite music was running the risk of becoming hated, and my visitors all decided that sleep was maybe somewhat more important than checking in on a crazy person with a rather strange addiction to treadmill running.
I had a couple of segments where I didn’t get more than 2 or 3 miles between breaks. By mile 80 I felt like my legs were completely shot. The stretch between miles 75 and 80 was definitely the low point of the whole ordeal. The only redeeming qualities being that I was so close to being done that the light at the end of the tunnel was a bit more blinding and that the attendant at the gym was more enthusiastic about the potential of me finishing than I was.
When I breaked for mile 80 I knew I was going to finish, but it wasn’t going to be pretty.
Miles 80 through 100
After a slightly longer than normal break I got back to it, but this time sans video and sans music. I rallied pretty good for a couple of miles and then settled into an aggressive walking pace. It was maybe mile 85 when I realized that I could pull this whole thing off in under 24 hours if I kept breaks to a minimum and didn’t slack on the pace.
I enlisted the assistance of the gym attendant who was happy to refill my water bottles with Tailwind and Carbsport and my break at mile 87 was no more than a minute: just enough to grease up the legs with some more Icy Hot. I took my final break at mile 94. It was another quick one and I skipped any additional hydration or nutrition as I was just walking and not really consuming much of anything.
The last miles went quickly. Entertainment and distraction no longer held any meaning. There was but one thing: the finish.
23 hours, 25 minutes, and 36 seconds.
Mile 100 came without any fanfare. I raised my arms in celebration for half a moment before snapping the mandatory mileage pic and grabbing my things before heading for the locker room. The enthusiastic gym attendant had finished his shift half an hour or so before finishing and I was greeted by much of the same staff that was there the day before.
One of the gym attendants was a little worried about my ability to drive home so she offered me a free spin on one of the massage beds typically reserved for premium members. The massage bed was rather nice and it certainly helped loosen things up. I drove home maybe half an hour later after putting down most of what was left of the pasta. Rachel left a cute sign on the door that I was sure to see when I walked in. I hopped in the shower and then went upstairs to bed.
It was during the shower that I realized how completely destroyed my feet were. The combination of Injinji compression socks and Altra Escalantes had kept me completely blister free, but my feet were almost obnoxiously swollen and red. I knew they’d be sore, but I wasn’t prepared for this.
I ended up sleeping for almost 24 hours straight. I had two brief wakup periods where I hit the restroom and actually hobbled to the pub for a beer (maybe an hour awake, tops), but otherwise I was down for a solid 24 hours.
After resting and waking properly, I felt pretty good in spite of the fact that my lower body wished I was dead. It took three solid days for the foot swelling and redness to subside, then another couple of days before it wasn’t painful to walk. I actually hit the treadmill for a quick 10k before my feet felt completely normal, which was probably a good decision, if only to keep things moing.
A couple of weeks later and I received my 100 mile finisher buckle. I don’t know that I’ve ever been as proud of an athletic accomplishment as I am of this one. It was both a great and terrible experience and I’m on the fence about going for it again next year.
I just wanted to throw in a postscript noting that this event is technically a “get as many miles as you can in 48 hours” type of event rather than “get to 100 miles as quickly as possible”. I spoke with the RD a few weeks after running and checked the event’s Facebook page and it turns out most runners similarly stopped at 100 with only a couple of them going for any significant distance past the 100 mark. Due to some scheduling issues, some runners had to postpone their attempts into January so official results will likely not be posted for another few weeks.
It was also noted that most runners (even seasoned 100 mile veterans) had similarly wrecked feet, many having some pretty gnarly blistering going on as well. The RD offered the insight that when running outside, there are constant variations to one’s gait to accommodate the terrain whereas a treadmill pretty much demands the same gait the entire time, thus stressing certain parts of the feet more than in a non-treadmill event.