A Day in the Life
by Greg Minter
When I was eight or nine years old, my cousin Dave bet his brother Glen five dollars that he could do 700 sit-ups in a row. It was right before Christmas or a birthday and he needed the money to buy a present. Well, Glen took the bet, and Dave proceeded to do the 700 sit-ups. He ended up with sores on his cheeks for the effort, but he got his $5. and he bought the present. At the time I didn't understand how someone could push himself to that point, but over the last few years, I think I've found out.
On Nov. 18-19, Steve Matsuda and I ran in the San Diego 1-Day, an event where you go around and around the same running track for 24 hours. In a row. The race was actually held in El Cajon, about 15 minutes east of San Diego. We drove down the day before with Diana and stayed overnight, managing to turn in early and get a nice long sleep.
The race didn't start until 10:00 AM, so we went to a little coffee shop and ate some pancakes, then showed up around 9:00 AM. All the crews were lined up along one side of the track. The surroundings were pleasant enough to look at. We were enclosed on three sides by nice, green hills; the fourth looked over a valley ringed by mountains. The track's surface, however, was poured rubber, much harder than what we have at Birmingham High School, and covered in sharp, little rubber nubs that had broken off. This would end up causing me lots of problems.
Now, neither Steve nor I had ever participated in a track run like this before, so we did a little research before we left. The basic recommendations were to walk a decent amount early on in the race so you'd have something left for the second half. We decided to run 20 minutes and walk 10 minutes for as long as we could, them re-evaluate from there.
Right before the start, they held a brief pre-race meeting. There were 29 participants, including two world-champ age/sex division holders: Sue Olsen, who was shooting for 200 kilometers (124 miles) and Dixie Madsen (who had set 7 age group records the year before with a 107 mile effort). Dixie had just returned from a 100-mile stage race (spread out over 5 days) in the Himalayas, so she was there basically to support her local club. Lots of t-shirts from other ultras but, as it turned out, a first time for a number of runners.
Once we got started, things settled down. Steve and I started out great, staying around 4.5 to 5 miles an hour. Diana was there from the very start and would ask us every lap around if we needed anything. It was great! You could run without carrying a thing, and you were never more than 400 yards away from getting what you needed.
At the start/finish line, there was a big sign with everybody's running (ha ha) total. Having the sign there was great... they updated the totals for everybody at every hour. For me, at least, I wasn't interested in figuring out how far I had gone that hour, I just wanted to see the total get bigger and bigger.
As the evening progressed, a few friends dropped in. It got dark (and cold) quite early. Paco and his wife, Rosie, stopped in for an hour or so (I think... time gets all squashed and stretched when you're out there that long), but it was a nice surprise to see them. They even brought tamales.
At around 10 hours, both Steve and I had covered around 40 miles. Steve was having a great day, but I had hit a rough spot or two and had dropped back a bit. The little nubs on the track kept getting into my shoes and I started to get some blisters (which is extremely rare for me on trail runs or marathons). I ended up wrapping duct tape over them, but I knew I'd have to get my feet fixed at some point in the night.
Nancy and Larry arrived around 9:00 or 10:00, and I told Nancy that I was getting some bad blisters, but hadn't brought anything to fix my feet. This was a mistake on my part, but I figured the track would be much more forgiving (it wasn't!). She and Diana shot off to the local Target and got some blister covering material and some tube socks to improvise some gaiters (basically, these wrap around the top of your shoes and keep pebbles from getting into them, like a pair of "spats").
At the halfway point, Steve and I were both around 50 miles. I took a break and let Nancy do the first round of blister fixes on my feet. By this time, it was really getting cold outside, but after she fixed me up, I managed to get going on a good run/walk cycle again. We made a try at some gaiters, which worked well for a while...I looked like a surgeon with my white socks taped around my shoes and ankles!
As the night progressed, it continued to get colder and colder. Sandy and Jerry Gitmed showed up to lift our spirits late in the evening, and stayed all night as well. Everyone in our crew was great! They'd sneak off and try a little nap either in a chair or in the car, but it's really just as much of an endurance event for them as it is for the runners. At least we have something to do.
At around 2:00 am, someone said that it was 32F. It was officially freezing-ass cold! One guy said he had thrown some ice out on one of the outer lanes of the track a couple hours before and it was still sitting there. It eventually dropped to 29F, and Steve and I were layered up (like everybody else) in just about every piece of clothing we had.
Steve managed to stick with the 20/10 plan for about 16 hours, then ended up doing some more walking. The amazing thing about this is that Steve had only done one 50-mile race before, and he was chugging along just like he was at the start for the equivalent of two days work! Both of us got a little sleepy at points... I ended up taking a 15-minute nap in a chair, Steve powered through. All of us were just praying for it to get light (and warm!). Both Steve and I had some chafing, but this is pretty common for ultra runs. Thank heaven for Vaseline!
When the sun finally came up around 6 am, we'd been out 20 hours. But it was just like a winter thaw... as soon as people felt the warmth, the layers started to fly off with each lap, muscles warmed up, and walkers became runners again.
The strong runners had been easy to spot from the start. They tended to keep a good, steady pace most of the way and take minimal walk breaks. But I walked for a bit with both the eventual men and women's winners, and they were just great. Very encouraging, and just "out there" like the rest of us. Some people actually took naps of 2, 3, even 4 hours then came back. The race director, John Metz, was leading for the first half, but then ran into knee problems and took a long break at night before returning in the morning to finish a few more miles.
When they posted the mileage for 9:00 am (hr 23), I had just passed the 80-mile mark. That put a big smile on my face, because at that point, everything else was going to be gravy.
The last lap or two before time ran out got really hectic. Suddenly, just about everybody on the track broke into some sort of run. The muscles behind one of my knees were so tight that I couldn't even extend my leg out, so I was really hobbling, but I was suddenly fixated on hitting 83 miles. Then, with a minute or two to go, a volunteer was assigned to each runner and given a piece of masking tape with his/her number on it. I heard "3 minutes!" then "30 seconds" then "3-2-1-STOP". I didn't move one step further than I had to, and Nancy said that not one other person on the track did either! Larry and Nancy were there and marked my spot. Diana marked Steve's spot and we turned around.
When they tallied things up, Steve had run 91.33 miles and I had run 83.32. We were both extremely happy, and extremely happy to sit down. The top man finished with 132 miles. Sue Olsen fell a couple miles short of her goal (she made 122+ miles), but still took the top spot for the women.
I have to be sure to thank our top, super A#1 New Basin Blues/UltraLadies crew at the event: Diana, Nancy, Larry, Sandy, Jerry, Paco, and Rosie. Diana crewed us for the first half of the race all by herself, a feat in itself. Nancy and Sandy were great reinforcements, giving Diana a spell and staying up most of the night themselves. There were runners there with no crew at all (I found later), so I feel myself doubly blessed.
So for the last couple of days, Steve and I have been moving kind of slowly, but it was definitely worth the effort! It's always an adventure! The question everybody seems to ask us is "why would you run so far?" I guess I'll be able to answer that when someone asks Marion Jones or Maurice Greene "why would you run so fast?"Back to story index page