I entered Jackalope Jam 24 Hour Race presented by Trail Racing Over Texas on October 17 with the following goals. I like to have three with ranging difficulty for every race. A. Podium B. 100 Mile Buckle C. 100K Buckle It was my first time race where runners attempt to run as far as they can within a given time. It is intriguing
as it is kind of opposite from a typical race with a given distance.
My logic was at a minimum I should be able to cover 62 miles in 24 hours. If my body holds up on the paved trail and I control the pace, the course is flat and smooth enough to reach 100 miles. Finally, if the day goes well and the body holds up, I really wanted to podium some day and with a limited field that could happen.
I chose to drive to the race in the morning instead of camping overnight. I had been traveling with work and wanted to spend a night at home and the course location was only a hour drive away. With race start at 7:00, awaking at 5:00 was not a problem as this my typical workout wakeup anyway.
After checking in I put on my bib and placed my drop bags at the start. I had two extra pairs of shoes, various shirts, changes of socks and hats. I had two plastic shoe boxes with gels, SkratchLabs powder and miscellaneous first aid items including my much coveted Trail Toes. I also had a cooler full of SkratchLabs portables, real maple syrup and a gallon jug of ready to drink raspberry Skratch. I was prepared for a long day, even wearing pink calf sleeves to honor Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
At the gun we headed along the asphalt trail. We passed under larger oak trees, a pergola and into an open area paralleling a drainage ditch. We crossed the ditch via an old wooden deck bridge and shortly thereafter reached the half-mile turn around. We headed back the way we came and looped around a picnic shelter, through the aid station and back to the start. 1 mile down, 99 to go.
A mile and half into the race, I struck up a conversation with the youngest runner in the field, Hans, a 16 year old from the Katy area. He had just finished cross country season the day before and wanted to run his first marathon distance. He was a great kid, and over the next 20+ miles we discussed many topics. I told him about running marathons and 100-milers. He told me about high school and his interest in classic rock. He was certainly a cross country guy because he continually was checking his pace and projecting his finish. I told him that it is way too early for me to start projecting a finish. He thought that since he was running so well and feeling so good, he may just upgrade to the 12-hour race and hit that 50 mile distance. I chuckled quietly and cautioned him about “the wall.”
All the while we spoke, I knew we were running well. However, I could feel my right calf muscle begin to bother me and at 10 miles, I felt it pop. Dang, way too early for that. A week earlier I was running without being properly hydrated and a pushed a calf cramp too much causing a serious strain. I tried resting and stretch all week and hoped for the best. I changed my shoes to the Altra Olympus from my Instincts to facilitate a softer landing and changed to a mid-foot landing instead of the fore-foot landing I was cruising with.
A few miles later, I rediscovered a grove with Hans and ignored the calf pain. We were consistently hitting 10-min miles. Way faster than I had planned, but the weather was perfect, the course was fast and with 6-hour racers burning up the course, the pace did not bother me. I soon found out I was in second place and chasing Matt Zmolek.
The teenager’s father joined us and eventually pushed the pace and I was happy to let them go ahead. At about 25 mile, I caught up to Hans walking and he told me, “I found that wall.” He ultimately finished the marathon distance before the 6 hour cutoff, so I was proud of him. I fully expect to see him running future TROT races.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Jackalope Jam was the ability to watch elite runners close up. Jeff Ball and Matt Zmolek are TROT Team runners and usually they are so far ahead I never get to see them crush a course. Jeff certain did not disappoint. He would pass by running so smooth and relaxed, yet fast (6-min miles) and with a smile say, “Good job, Mark.” Watching Jeff and the other TROT Team was inspiring.
The field thinned after the 6-hour cutoff. I was 33 miles in and happy to be past the 50K mark. My hip joints were feeling sore and occasionally I’d experience a weird loss of strength from hip to ankle. I decided to take some Advil since I felt confident I was hydrating sufficiently. I was eating Skratch portables while briskly walking at the beginning of a loop then crushing it on the back end. I passed the 50 mile mark a full 30 minutes before my PR for that distance, so I was confident in how I was running. I was running strong and pacing well while maintaining fuel and hydration.
This kept on through the 12-hour mark when darkness arrived. At that time I was at 60 miles and just under the 100K mark. I was beginning to experience significant fatigue. Physically my legs were tired. The early pace had caught up to me. Doing the pacing math I figured I had plenty of time to reach 100 miles. I had over 11 hours to run 40 miles.
At mile 68 mental fatigue set in and my thoughts unfortunately went negative quickly. I told myself that I had run well, had my fastest 50 mile split, earned a 100K buckle and was solidly in 2nd place all day. I decided I would make 70 miles and call it quits. I had walked 3 straight miles, unwilling to even trot a few steps. This 20 min-mile pace may have carried me to 100 miles before the cutoff, but the thought of walking for 9 more hours was excruciating. I announced I was finished at 70 and Rob removed my timing chip.
After driving home for an hour, I struggled to walk into the house, but showered
and immediately fell asleep. In the morning I discovered my performance has good enough for 3rd place male an
d 5th ove rall. Only 3 individuals reached 100
miles. I reached my C-Goal and my A-Goal, but I place an asterisk next to that considering I left the course early.
I was fine with my decision to stop when I did, but as the following week went on, I began kicking myself for not fighting through and competing all 24 hours. My next race will be Brazos Bend 100 and I will make specific plans to identify someone to talk with in that 65-75 mile area where I have repeatedly found myself losing mental toughness.
On a closing note, there were two family gatherings going on adjacent to the trail. I am confident some in those groups thought about how odd these runners were to keep running all day. I also hope that there was more than one who decided that maybe they could someday also run all day. Time will tell if we see them on a Trail Racing Over Texas event.