Monday, June 30, 2014

You're Going To Do What? - Center of the Nations Series


5 Marathons in 5 States in 5 Days 
Center of the Nation Series
September 16-20, 2013

Spring of 2013 I stumbled across a posting on the Marathon Maniac race calendar for 5 marathons in 5 states in 5 days.  What the heck?  I’d never even known something like this existed.  Erick (my husband) and I had been considering a long road trip in our RV for the fall anyway, so I thought I would ask if he would consider taking me to this event.  Typically I say it is easier to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission, but this was kind of a big deal.  Five days in a row of running marathons in the middle of a vacation.  I don’t know many husbands that would go for that.  I poured a few beers into him and approached him with the idea.  To my surprise he said to go for it.  He told me to go sign up right now, I certainly wasn’t going to argue with that.  
I told a few people that I had signed up for the Center of the Nations Series.  I feel that if I tell people what I am doing it helps to hold me accountable.  If you think I got crazy looks when I said I was doing a 100 mile race, you should have seen the looks I got when I dropped this bomb.  
All of a sudden it dawned on me.  How do you train for something like this?  I searched Google, but didn’t come up with much.  I fired off a couple of emails to famous ultra runners.  I got one response, it was from Ray Zahab (of the Running the Sahara movie.)  In his email he said, here’s my phone number, why don’t you just call me on Saturday and we can discuss it.  It was like getting an email from a celebrity.  I told Erick about it, he was a little star struck too.  I prepared a list of questions for Ray, he an answer for each. Basically, I need to be used to running on tired legs.    I need to get up each morning and get those first few steps in, knowing that it will get better after a few miles.  Ray gave me some hints on how help speed up my daily recovery and tips for dealing with my stomach issues that I typically get at my ultras as well.  I took notes and was thrilled to get this advice from one of my running idols.  
My training went well, I had followed the Relentless Forward Progress  book plan for the Beast of Burden 100 Miler.  Shortly after Beast, I paced my friend David at the Hallucination 100.  I kept praying that I didn’t trip on something on the trail and get hurt.  I couldn’t imagine not being able to do the five marathons.  
Erick and Jersey 
Erick decided we would turn this trip into a month long vacation.  He took care of the logistics and we left Michigan in the RV with Jersey, our cocker spaniel.  We visited friends and family along the way.  I’d like to say the journey to the first race was uneventful, but it wasn’t.  We got a flat tire in the middle of nowhere and were unable to change it ourselves because the lug nuts were on too tight.  I’d also like to say that our roadside assistance was prompt and got us on our way quickly.  Well, let’s just say that in some areas of the country it can take more than 24 hours to get a tire changed. 

     The Center of the Nation Series (or CONS as we liked to call it), was a first year event.  The race got it's name as Belle Fourche, South Dakota is the geographical center of the nation.  The race was organized by a fellow named Clint at  He has several other multi-day events, but this was the first year for CONS.  The race would consist of a marathon in each of the following states: North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska.  The website said that the race locations should be less than 200 miles apart.  I started a Facebook group so people could start chatting about the event.  It seemed that there was going to be a good turn out for the event.  People could register for just select states or all five, they could also do half marathons.  Clint also offered that if you had someone volunteer at an event, you could run it for free.
     There was a pre-race pasta dinner in North Dakota on Sunday night.  We went and had a few drinks and met lots of the runners.  The organizers give you your bib, you wear the same bib all week.  You also got your race shirt and first medal.  The medal consisted of a red, white and blue ribbon with a medal that was a compass point that had a map of the United States on it.  The five states involved in this race series were raised on the medal.  It was pretty darned cool.  The medal had little clips at the bottom of it.  We would later learn that each day, in each new state, we would earn a new medal that would clip onto each pervious medal.  You also got a small bar that clipped on with the race year on it. By Friday, if you put the medal on it would hang down to your knees.
All the races are similar in the aspect that they were either a short loop or short out and backs.  When I told friends about this, they were horrified at the thought of running such a strange course, thinking they would be bored to death.  I felt it would be kind of nice to see so many people all the time.  If these courses were point to point you might not see anyone for hours at a time.  The way they were designed, I don’t think I went five minutes without seeing someone on the course.  

We learned to count rubber bands and not miles.  Each day there would be a poster that said how how many rubber bands each half or full marathoner would need to collect to finish the race.  As you completed each loop or out and back you would reach your arm out and a volunteer would slip a rubber band on your wrist.  When you collected the required amount of rubber bands you could turn them in and be done.  Now and again you would see a stray rubber band on the road and wonder if someone would do a few extra miles because of it.  On the last day of the race one of the few spectators had a sign made that had rubber bands taped to it.  It read, “High quality rubber bands for sale.  Cheap.  Credit cards accepted.”  
Jennifer and I 
We had every form of weather during the week of this event.  The temperatures were as low as 38 degrees, forcing runners to go to their cars and get jeans out to put over their tights to stay warm.  The following day would be almost 90 degrees and what little clothing you had on felt like too much.  We went from super calm days of no wind, to days of almost 40 mph winds.  We were very lucky that we only got a little sprinkle one day, the rest were clear.  A week after the race I was watching the news at home and saw that the location for the race in South Dakota had gotten three to four feet of snow.  I can’t even imagine what any of us would have done if that happened when we were there.  
Camping in South Dakota

Each of the towns that the races were located in were pretty small.  Ok, they were REALLY small.  No Five Guys Burgers and Fries or things like that.  Mostly it was small town businesses.  We stayed in our RV at local campgrounds.  Some friends had less than positive things to say about the local hotels.  As far as I know, only five people camped out at this event.  We were in our RV, one guy tent camped, the race director Clint and his wife stayed in their RV and his brother and sister-in-law had a camper on the back of a pick up truck.  The last guy slept in his car all week!  At night he would fold the back seat down and lay down with his feet in the trunk area and his chest in the back seat.  
     The races were very low key.  There was no first place prize and no tape to cross if you were the first to finish.  There was no time limit on the courses, if you came in last you got the caboose award.  I know some people are all about finishing as fast as they can.  I can agree with that at times.  Sometimes, for me, it is just about the experience.  I was far from coming in last on any day, I was also far from coming in first.   I can respect the people that stuck it out and were out there hours longer than I was.  We each fight our own battles in our own races.  Each of my race times were at least 45 minutes slower than my average race time.  I’m fine with that.  My first and last days times were exactly the same, I’m proud of that.  

I wasn’t sure how my body would handle doing five marathons in a row.  Yes, I had done 100 miles in a race.  I’d also done two marathons in two days before.  But five marathons in five days?  The first, as expected, felt pretty good.  Each of the following days were about 5 miles of shuffling until my muscles were really loosened up, followed by 21.2 more miles of shuffling.  After each race I would either try to get my feet in a bucket of ice water or put on some compression gear.  
Jersey couldn't resist a cold drink
After the first day in Bowman, North Dakota we had to pack it up and drive four hours to Belle Fourche, South Dakota.  We stayed put here for three nights.  The second race was based out of Belle Fourche and I was able to walk to the start.  The third day was in Colony, Wyoming and was only a 20 minute drive each way.  The fourth day was an hour drive to Albion, Montana followed by an hour back to Belle Fourche and then another four hour drive to Chadron, Nebraska.  Needless to say there was a little bit of driving on a few of the days.  Those were the hardest.  I was lucky that my husband drove the RV and I could just relax with my feet on the dashboard.  I had several friends that had a hard time driving rental cars without cruise control after running a few marathons.  
The courses were on varying surfaces.  A few were on roads with large chunks of gravel that tore up my shoes.  One was on a city sidewalk that was so boring.  Another was on a gravely/dirt road through a cattle ranch, I swear you could see forever in any direction.  The last was my absolute favorite.   It was on a loop in a park that was partly on tree lined roads through the campground and partly through the woods on a trail.  The weather was absolutely perfect this day.  The race director said we could run the loop in either direction.  You could change direction each loop if you wanted, or run them all the same direction.   Just collect your rubber band and go whatever direction you please.  This was pretty cool as the course looked different if you ran it the opposite way.  

I can honestly say the best part of this race series was the people.  The race director and his family welcomed you with open arms.  They provided a generous aid station each day with welcoming smiles each time you came by.  They gave you hugs at the end of the week and even gave my husband a small “thank you” gift for helping out at the aid stations.  By the end of the week, I had more than a dozen new Facebook friends.  They ranged from an older gentleman runner that did shots of alcohol instead of gels to an young, fit guy that by the end of the first day I was thanking him for taking his shirt off and inspiring all the ladies.  There was a husband and wife  that came in later in the back of the pack, but stayed together the whole way, every day.  I watched a lady in a walking boot out there each day, suffering from some kind of an injury but she refused to miss out on the series.  My favorite one out there, was my friend Jennifer.  She gave me a bracelet when I met her at the Beast of Burden in New York.  It is cute and pink and says, “Harden the Fuck Up!” on it.  She passed these bracelets out to various people at the race when they looked like they were suffering.   When we passed someone with a band on their wrist they would yell, “Harden the Fuck Up!!!!” at us.  It became a mantra.  I wear this bracelet at all my ultras.  When my spirits are low, I remind myself of my time at the Center of the Nations when bunch of runners went out and did something that they weren’t really sure they could do-until they did it. 

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