Ya gotta love the concept of a fixed-time race: run and
walk as many miles as you can within the given time. Keep moving the
entire allowed time, or stop whenever you want.
There are lots of advantages to fixed-time races, especially to ultra
runners who are getting slower and slower and having more and more
trouble making the cut-offs in 100-milers (like me!):
- There are no DNFs from missing cut-offs. Every distance
"counts" in the scoring.
- You can stay on the course the entire time or take breaks whenever
you choose (naps are usually necessary during events lasting more than
- In a multi-loop course you can see and/or run and walk with folks
of every speed and watch their progress continuously. In most ultras,
you usually see only the folks going the same speed you're going (or
everybody once on an out-and-back course).
- You have a better idea of exact distance covered each loop than on
- If you pace well and keep moving forward relentlessly, you can
accumulate a lot of miles. Tenacity pays off.
Scenery along the loop at Hinson Lake 24-Hour Run
However, these same features also have a downside:
- Although there are no DNFs, runners can still come up short on
their mileage goals.
- You can waste a lot of time stopping at the official aid station(s)
and/or your own crewing point on the multiple loops. It takes a lot of
discipline to stay out on the course and not sit down, nap, etc. if
you have a serious mileage goal.
- You have to stay focused on your own goal and pace yourself appropriately.
It's easy to get sucked up into running either too fast or too slow
you get into conversations with other runners on the course.
- Knowing how far you've gone every loop can be discouraging at the
beginning and some people have major problems mentally with repeating
the same loop over and over and over again. (Distances of the loops
vary, depending on the race.)
Fixed-time races come in lots of shapes and sizes. Jim did an 8-hour
race several years ago (Howl at the Moon, in Illinois). Some other races last
12, 24, 48, or 72 hours. The 24-hour race is probably the most common,
as many runners have the goal of reaching 100 miles in that time frame.
Some multi-day races have a long history in the USA and England, such as six-day and
Venues vary from tracks to roads to trails. Loop distances range from
400 meters (standard track length) to several miles. Fixed-time races
are held throughout the United States and abroad.
JUST MY CUP 'O TEA!
I've toyed with the idea of doing a 24-hour race for many years, but
have never embraced the idea of doing multiple loops -- especially dozens
or hundreds of loops! Jim and I aren't fond of even two-loop 5K races,
let alone ultra distances. It
takes mental fortitude to keep going back out there when you cross the
start/finish line over and over again. My favorite course configurations
are point-to-point, one or more loops that don't repeat, or
out-and-back. But because of my problems in recent years with making
cut-offs at the mountainous 50- and 100-milers I love, 24-hour races have been
on my radar.
The race in which I've been most interested is
Across the Years
(ATY), held in Phoenix, Arizona in late December.
Lynn Newton always writes such interesting race reports about this
event, and it has become one of the premiere multi-day venues for 24-, 48-, and 72-hour races. But it's a long drive
from Virginia, especially after being in Wyoming and Colorado all
summer, so we just never got 'roundtuit until we received an
invitation to run it this winter. We felt honored and we eagerly
Logo for the Across the Years races
Since we want to do well at ATY and have never done a 24-hour race
before, we knew we'd better "practice" first. The
Lake 24-Hour Run in Rockingham, North Carolina, immediately came to mind because of its
timing, location, and the enthusiastic response we'd gotten about the race from
our Roanoke friends Anita and Jay Finkle after they ran the inaugural
event last year. They ran/walked 105 miles (Anita was first female) and loved the setting and low-key nature of the
Logo on this year's Hinson Lakes shirts
With only a four-hour drive and $24 entry fee --
most 10Ks cost more than that these days!! -- how could we go wrong
using this race as practice for ATY? We could test the equipment and
strategies we are considering using at ATY and see how crazy we got
going around and around in 1.52-mile loops.
NEW TRAINING STRATEGIES REQUIRED
We started strategizing while we were still out West, gathering
information from the race website and from friends who ran it last year.
The website shows a
map of the lake and the trails around
it. Photos linked to Mike Day's
NC Ultra site were very helpful, too. We could see
the surface of the trail and how very flat it is, the general scenery, and where runners put
their personal crewing items. It was easy to visualize the course before
we even got there.
After returning home a month ago, Jim and I began running and walking
more on the Wolf Creek Greenway in Roanoke. The crushed stone surface is similar to
the trails at Hinson Lake and ATY, and it is mostly flat -- certainly flatter than
we're used to running. Since we'd be using the same muscle groups over
and over (unlike the variety of movements on a hilly course), we
needed to train our muscles for flat terrain. We anticipated extra
soreness after the race because of this factor, and we weren't
disappointed. < grin >
Running Hinson Lake made for some schizophrenic training for Jim, however. He also
has the Mountain Masochist 54-mile race coming up the first
weekend in November. There's a reason it's called Mountain
Masochist. If he trained just on flat terrain for Hinson Lake
and ATY, he'd be an unconditioned, sore puppy at MMTR with its 15,000
feet of elevation gain/loss. Training for widely divergent terrain is as
difficult as widely divergent distances, like wanting to do well at both
a 5K and a 100-mile race a month -- the training is entirely
different and you're not likely to excel at both within a relatively
short time frame.
Mostly-flat and very smooth Lake Loop Trail at Hinson Lake
We signed up for Hinson Lake on August 8, just five days before I
my knee during a mega-climb of two 14ers near Leadville, Colorado (details in
previous journal entries). I remained on the race entry list because I wasn't taking
anyone's spot. There was no
limit to the number of entrants and people could even sign up on race
day. That's as unheard-of in ultra races as the meager $24 entry fee!
This gem of a race has a lot going for it.
Anyway, I knew full well my training would be lacking for any meaningful
distance during the race. I didn't learn until a scant two days before the race exactly
what my knee problem is. Since I was fearful of exacerbating the problem, I cut 'way back
on my mileage. My longest run/walk was only
seven miles in the seven long weeks I waited for the diagnosis. The most
in any of those weeks that I walked and ran was only twenty-five
miles. Had I
known that it was "just" wear and tear on the cartilage, I would have continued
running more in September.
Neither of us had definite mileage goals for Hinson Lake, which made
it easier both for Jim to putz around as he put in 50 miles and for me to
exceed my expectations.
Jim could probably have reached a hundred miles, or close to it. Even
though he hasn't been running a lot since we got home, he's had enough
50-66 mile runs this summer and fall to prepare him for the distance.
But he'd rather do well at Mountain Masochist than Hinson Lake, so he
estimated more like the 50 miles he did. He knew if he felt great at
that point, he could continue on for some more miles.
View of Hinson Lake through the trees on the North
Lake Loop Trail
I figured on running and walking about 15 miles total, perhaps spread
out over the entire day. Was I really well-rested or just under-trained??
Turns out I was
more over-rested than under-trained, and I comfortably ran and walked a
total of 39 miles in the race. I saved some miles for after dark and was
on such a "high" that I had to force myself to quit at midnight, knowing
I could be setting myself up for some overuse injuries if I kept on
going. What might sound like "no restraint" to some folks really was
restraint on my part!
LOVELY LAKE SETTING
We enjoyed the drive down winding, hilly US
220 on Friday from Roanoke, VA to Rockingham, NC, situated near the SC
border between Charlotte and Fayetteville. After checking into our
motel, we drove about two miles to the race site on the edge of town,
past many beautiful old houses along US 1. We wanted to walk the 1.52-mile
loop around the lake, find the parking areas we'd be using, and locate a
good spot for our canopy on race day.
One of the things that is different about a multi-loop
timed race is the opportunity for runners to have their own fixed crewing point
along the course, a place for their personal canopy or tent, chair, table,
sleeping bag or cot, extra clothing, special fluids and
foods, cooler, and other gear and supplies. A runner doesn't need a crew PERSON at this
spot, just a
space to call his or her own to supplement what is available at the
race's aid station. From photos we've seen and descriptions we've read, these areas
look like tent villages right along the track or trail. It's the same at
Hinson Lake, as you can see in the photo below:
Personal aid stations along the dam at Hinson Lake
on race day
We easily found the two parking areas that access the
trail around Hinson Lake. They are separated by a quarter-mile long
earthen dam. The trail crosses the dam with enough room on either side
for all the runners to set up their canopies, tents, tables, etc. just
past the location of the race's start/finish area and official aid
Below is a partial map of the park that shows most of
the lake and the trail we used in the race. The Rotary
Lodge is in the upper left corner with a pedestrian bridge just below it
that crosses the dam outlet. The timing table and aid station were just
past the bridge. The trail over the dam is the red line extending down
the left side of the lake, and a beaver pond is to the left of that. In
the bottom left corner is the second parking area. Runners put their
personal aid stations on the dam, between the two parking areas.
Now follow the trail CCW around the lake. At the right
lower corner it turns north toward the 300-foot long Leath Footbridge,
which crosses a marsh full of lily pads, other aquatic plants, and trees that
love to have their feet wet. The trail continues north to the upper
right side of the map, then turns left (west) back toward the lodge.
That whole loop is the 1.52-mile course for this race -- repeated as
many times as you can or want in 24 hours..
The lake looked very pretty from every angle on the
course. This view is from the dam looking east toward the marsh and long
footbridge. You can barely see a boat with fishermen toward the left:
Although there are some side trails, it's impossible to get lost
on this course. Tom Gabell, the RD, put out some arrows to indicate a
couple turns during the day and he had lots of chem-lights glowing at
night, which really surprised me because I didn't think they were
Jim and I walked the loop around 4 PM on Friday in
mid-80 degree temps -- similar to race day -- under bright sunshine. The towering deciduous and
pine trees (below) shaded 90% of the course, making it a pleasant excursion.
Shade is good -- it kept us cooler and we didn't need sunscreen during the race.
The course is mostly shaded even at mid-day
open spots are the long wooden bridge along the eastern end of the lake
through a marshy area and the parking lot and dam at the start/finish.
Water lilies blooming in the marsh
The trail is even flatter and smoother than it looks in
photos, with hardly anything for a clumsy person like me to trip over!
The almost-white crushed rock was dusty from the drought and soft like
sand in a few places, but in general the footing is as good as it gets
on a non-paved trail.
The "sixteen bridges" in the race description sounded
interesting. I expected to see lots of creeks flowing into the lake. Turns out there are only two wooden bridges with railings
on the course, the attractive Leath Bridge across the far end over the
marsh (below) . . .
. . . and a shorter bridge that connects the dam with
the lodge parking area:
Anita and Jay Finkle near the end
of the race on Sunday morning
The other fourteen "bridges" are bog bridges, wide and
sturdy boardwalks that cross areas that would be wet if it actually
rained around here any time soon (sorry -- getting a little cranky about
the drought in the East!). Some of the boardwalks, like the one below, are about a hundred
feet long. Most of them are much shorter.
The Lake Loop Trail winds around enough to be
interesting. I thought I might get bored with it, but I never did after
twenty-six loops. I was too busy talking to people all day and evening, taking
photos, enjoying views of the lake, marsh, and beaver pond, and reveling
in the fact that I could RUN again. I think I'll do OK with the shorter
loops at ATY. Jim's less sure but intends to train a lot on little loops
to condition his mind.
There isn't any pre-race dinner at Hinson Lake. We knew
our motel room would have a refrigerator and microwave, so we took our
own supper with us and ate it there. We got a quiet night's snooze and
enjoyed the fact that this race begins at 8 AM and not 4 or 6 like most
100-milers. And since our personal performance expectations were pretty
low, there wasn't the usual pre-race stress that makes us toss and turn.
Next entry: the race
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
© 2007 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil