Desert Solstice 24 Hour

by Carilyn on December 20, 2011

The monkey is off my back – and safely back in the zoo.  I finished the full 24 Hours of the Desert Solstice Invitational – whew – and managed to win it in the process!  If you have read this blog before, you know that I have struggled for the last two years – both with the mental, and physical, aspects of racing 24 Hour events.  So, deciding to finally battle my demons at this “elite invitational” didn’t seem like the smartest of plans, but ended up being the only viable option I could come up with before the end of the year.

Although I wasn’t thrilled about running a 24 Hour event on a 400 meter track, several important factors outweighed the insanity of the venue.  First, my friend, Debbie Horn was going to be there, and I hadn’t seen her in a year.  I love running with Debbie because she is super focused, but also very supportive.  If you want to see a pro run a 24 Hour race, Debbie is the one to watch.  Second, Phoenix, where the race was held, is halfway between El Paso and Los Angeles, making it a very easy location for my family (i.e., crew) to meet.  Third, I knew that I needed to finish a 24 Hour before the end of 2011 so that I could “bookend” a really tumultuous period in my life.  Frankly, I had lost my nerve and I needed to get it back.

The race itself was one of the most organized events I have ever run.  Aravaipa Running pulled out all the stops to make this a truly elite event.  I actually felt guilty during the race for not relying on their extraordinary volunteers more because they were so attentive and positive, but I had learned the hard way that I can’t really eat much from aid stations in long, long events.  I have to be very streamlined in what I eat and drink, or I will pay for it later.  I ended up only eating a little fruit and lots of club soda from the aid station, but was still incredibly grateful they were there and cheering the entire time.

My only goal for the race was to stay on the course the entire 24 hours.  As much as I wanted to have a solid mileage goal, I knew that adding any further psychological pressure than I already felt would probably tip the scales against me.  I just set out to run and focused on my body.  I made sure that I stayed fluid and relaxed, keeping my stride as even and consistent as possible.  For the first 50 miles, I didn’t even check my distance or time, but just ran as calmly as possible.  Debbie, Suzanna Bon and I chatted periodically on the course, which was a really nice distraction.  The whole atmosphere felt very relaxed, except when the super-fast 100 milers would blow by periodically (both finishing under 14 hours! with Michael Arnstein winning and Jay Aldous setting an age group World Record – dang!).

At the 50 mile mark I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I was at 8:06.  I still felt fresh, so even though that was faster than I expected, I wasn’t concerned.  I continued on, Debbie checking on me periodically.  She told me that if I could get to 70 miles in 12 hours, I could break 130.  What?  Really?  I told her I was just going mile by mile, and that my next goal was 60 miles by 10 hours. When I hit that goal with time to spare, I started thinking maybe I could have a PR.  I’ve never been one to pay attention to my splits before 100 miles, but now it was getting fun.  Now I was looking forward to the 10 mile increments so that I could see if I was on pace. Instead of being a cause for stress, it became a game, giving my mind something to think about every now and then.

When I hit 72 miles at around 12 hours, I wanted to cheer.  I was so, so excited. But I was also starting to get mental.  The gremlins were moving in – “You can quit at 100.  You’ll have PR.  That’s good enough.  You don’t have to finish.  This is too hard.”

I told Tim that if I PR’d at the 100, I was going to stop.  He said, “No you’re not.  You said you were going to stay on the course no matter what.”  And he was right.  That is what I had said. My kids were watching.  And I knew this was the moment that would come back to haunt me forever.  No matter how I finished, I couldn’t quit.  I’d spent two years doubting myself, doubting my abilities, doubting my passion for running, doubting my sanity for wanting to do it.  If I quit now, I might as well just quit for good.

I went back out on the course.  At 100 miles, I barely registered my split (I think it was somewhere around 17:30), because I couldn’t afford another gremlin voice telling me it was okay to quit.  I just had to keep going.  The last 6.5 hours are a blur.  I remember Dan Rose cheering me on, which really helped a lot – what a nice guy!  It rained off and on, people dropped, and eventually there were only two of us left on the course.  It was very lonely, but I just put my head down and tried to stay as focused as possible.  I only had one goal, and that was to finish.  I’m sure I missed a lot going on during that time period, but I developed almost tunnel vision, blocking out all unnecessary stimuli so that I could finish the race.

Finally, it was the last two hours of the race, and I allowed myself to look at the mileage clock.  I was 9.5 miles away from 130.  Could I do it?  On paper it doesn’t seem all that difficult to run 9.5 miles in 2 hours, but after 22 hours and 121.5 miles, it felt like the hardest thing ever.  I kept telling myself it was just a “morning run” – I just needed to stay relaxed and get it done – no drama, no whining, no thinking.  Just run.  The last two hours went by both excruciatingly slow, and unbelievably fast.  I desperately wanted it to be over, but I equally desperately wanted more time so that I could hit 130.  Round and round I went, looking at my splits on each lap, feeling like I was hardly making any progress.  At some point, I stopped looking.  I knew I was doing the best I could, and it would just have to be enough.  But as we got closer and closer to the end, and people started congregating around the clock, I couldn’t help but look.  I was at 129.  One mile to go.  I tried to do the math in my mind, but nothing was making sense. I couldn’t figure out if I had enough time or not.  So I just ran.  Then Nick Coury’s wonderful mother was beside me, running the last lap.  She was my “marker’ – the person who marks your spot when the horn blows so they can certify the exact distance.  We were running, me trying to go as fast as possible, hoping I could get all the way around the track one last time. The horn blew and I stopped, almost toppling over with the abrupt change.  My family came out to grab me so that I didn’t do a face-plant onto the track.  It was over.  I hadn’t quit.

When it was all said and done, I had run 130.92 miles.  I was first overall.  And I was really, really happy.

At the awards ceremony, I found out Debbie set an age group record for her 100 miler (17:14) and Suzanna Bon set 3 age group records (50 miles, 100k, and 100 miles)!  Those women were absolutely incredible!

Happy Running!


olga December 21, 2011 at 8:22 am

Way to stay on track! Literally!:)

Carilyn December 21, 2011 at 9:09 am

Thank you! My body hurts in places I didn’t know existed from turning round and round so much 🙂

SteveQ December 21, 2011 at 9:20 am

Congrats and welcome back to the winner’s podium! So many people have trouble imagining running on a track that long. Things look pretty good for the USA 24 hour team this year.

Max December 21, 2011 at 9:39 am

Wow, so Amazing! Felicidades! So happy for you. Way to go! You are truly an inspiration.

Carilyn December 21, 2011 at 10:02 am

Thanks Steve! The track venue is a little “mentally challenging” 🙂 It would be fun to go to Poland!

PS – are you back to blogging? I miss reading it!

Carilyn December 21, 2011 at 10:03 am

Thanks Max! It was from all the fun, fast running with you guys! 🙂

Luis Z December 21, 2011 at 10:06 am

Carilyn, congratulations on such a huge accomplishment! You are truly an amazing and inspirational athlete. Your hard work and training paid off. Running 131 miles is amazing, especially on a track.

Carilyn December 21, 2011 at 10:20 am

Thanks Luis! It’s great to hear from you! We’ll have to do some fast walking over the holidays since I won’t be doing much running 🙂

Jay December 21, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Congrats on a great day Carilyn!! It was an honor to be able to share the track with you and the other ultra-distance greats. You’ve got me thinking that I need to add a 24 hour run to my running bucket list. Cheers – Jay

Nicolas Silva December 21, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Fantastic post! Glad to hear you had such a performance, 130.92 WOOO; Congrats on 1st Overall and to all the elite competitors setting personal/age/american bests! Wish I could run with my foot/ankle/tendon/etc issues, but ATY may have to be a walk/crawl-athon for me. :/ O well, I’m alive, so I am grateful. Plus, pumpkin pie makes anything better, haha.

Best Wishes,

Carilyn December 21, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Great to hear from you Nico! I’m sorry you’re injured, but ATY is such a fun race, I think you will enjoy it no matter what. I’m jealous that you are doing it! Hope to see you on a run in EP soon!

Carilyn December 21, 2011 at 4:14 pm

Hey Jay! I responded on your blog. Great report! And congrats again on your World Record!

Debbie December 21, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Huge Congrats! I knew you could do it. You looked strong the entire race. I feel very guilty for leaving 🙁 Next time — notice I do say next time– I will NOT leave you alone!!

Carilyn December 21, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Please don’t feel guilty! After your phenomenal performance, you deserved a hot shower and a bed – not another 8 hours sitting outside in the wet and cold. You were so helpful in the race, and I am so proud of you!

Dan Rose December 22, 2011 at 7:46 am

Congrats on a killer 131! Your long-awaited return to the Team will surely happen in Poland next year. I can’t wait to cheer you along!
Also, it’s totally my fault Debbie stopped at 100. I was missing Roger so much I decided to fill his usual role on the sidelines by being the guy to say “Sure you can stop, I’ll take you back to the nice warm hotel where you can shower and sleep instead of running in the cold rain all night.” Really, I was a bad bad bad crew member in that regard.
Of course, I also recall being less-than-helpful to you as well, Carilyn. At one point when you asked for two Fig Newtons, I believe my parental response was “You can have ONE Fig Newton, and if you finish that, maybe we can talk about you having another one.” Probably not the best time to fool around when you’re grinding out mile 110 or so in the rain at 2:00am! Next time I promise I’ll stay out there on the track and be much more helpful to you both so you can say “Wow, I thought I felt tired, but that guy looks WAY worse than me!”

Carilyn December 22, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Actually, Dan, your funny one-liners were welcome comedic relief in the middle of the night – it just took my addled brain awhile to digest in the middle of the night! It was really great to have you out there. I know it was cold and boring, so you are really a trooper.

KEV December 26, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Greetings from Houston!

Congratulations on your WIN and slaying your Gremlin!
I’m so impressed and proud of your progress as a runner.

I find your website wonderful – I love your writing.
I’ve been telling local ultra runners to check out your site and learn from the pro.

Norma (her 1st) and I are preparing for the Houston Marathon this Jan.
Angie, Larisa, Jim, Joaquin, Javier… and at least 1/2 dozen more Run El Paso runners will be running this race.

Hello to Tim! Sounds like he’s a good coach 🙂

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!
Kevin & Norma

Carilyn December 27, 2011 at 9:02 am

Kevin! It is so great to hear from you! We miss you so much in El Paso! Thanks for stopping by the blog 🙂

I can’t wait to hear about Houston – all our “fasties” running should yield some great results. I hope to see you soon. Please give your family a big hug. And how fun that Norma is running!

Happy New Year,

Erica January 1, 2012 at 6:30 pm

Hey Guera! I just read your story on such a great accomplishment. I know you told me the story at Starbucks last week but reading it was a different feel. I just thought I would drop you a line.

Nicolas Silva January 5, 2012 at 2:01 pm

After volunteering at ATY (aid station) for two days before my first 24 hr/second ultradistance race ever, I can fully understand now how truly amazing the organization(Aravaipa)&supportive ultra family is. It still boggles my mind how I did it [RayK advised me early on to run/shuffle rather than walk; “less injury, less pain: more efficiency”], but I cranked out 53+ self transcendent/injured miles on the beautiful Camelback Ranch course (Wish it could have been 100km+, o well; Seeing the doctor/xray tomorrow, haha). I will be back next year for a buckle in the 48/72. Unforgettable. Being able to provide professional hydration/nutrition/support/encouragement/clapping/whimsy/etc [with a constant grin from ear to ear] to world-class runners/badasses will forever be a part of me and my new journey into multiday racing! Yay, 2012 Season! Happy New Year and hope to see you either in TX/CA or at a race! Best Wishes, Nico.

Carilyn January 6, 2012 at 4:17 pm

I’m so glad you had a good experience! I hope you heal up soon. And yes, RayK is the man to listen to 🙂

Carilyn January 6, 2012 at 4:19 pm

Hey Erica! Thanks so much! It was great seeing you over the holidays! Can’t wait to see you at Salvador’s 100th!

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