As of November 2020, I had never run a sanctioned time-based race. I was delighted to learn that there would be a 12 hour race at the Happy Hippie Harvest Run out at the legendary Gilcrease Orchard in Las Vegas, Nevada. And it would be be taking place the weekend after the general election, which meant I would have time to run it.
I picked up my packet the night before and decided to start the race by wearing a new pair of Brooks Ghost shoes that my mother gave me for my birthday. A decent night of sleep followed and I woke up the next morning ready to go.
The race started at 7am and ended at 7pm, assuming you didn't quit before the 12 hours elapsed (several runners did). The mission was simple - run as many miles as you can in that timeframe. We were each allotted a spot to set up our gear in an area where it would be available to us throughout the race. I brought a camping chair, a cooler full of ice and beverages, some bars and gels, and additional clothing/shoes to change into throughout the day. Because we would be running after sunset, we were also obligated to bring a headlamp. The weather looked to be perfect for running and not too cold, so in a last minute decision, I left my warmer gear at home, figuring I wouldn't need it out there.
The loop we would be running was a 5k (3.1 mile) loop consisting mostly of a paved path within the orchard, but also including a few rows of packed dirt through a mostly pumpkinless pumpkin patch. The orchard was closed to the public that day, which left the course just for the runners. A nice touch for sure.
I didn't really have too much of a strategy other than to rest when needed and be sure to drink enough water and electrolytes as well as eat enough food. I honestly had no clue what distance I might be able to cover, but I was excited to find out. I knew it would be painful and there would come a time where walking would be necessary. Here are some photos of the first few hours, as I got warmed up and ready for a long day:
One of the coolest things about running ultra events is the amazing people you meet. I feel very fortunate to have met Wally Hesseltine, who might be one of the nicest and most accomplished ultra runners I have ever met. Wally saddled up next to me to talk because he noticed my firm's logo on the back of my Stand Up To Cancer shirt - Battle Born Injury Lawyers. He was a lawyer from the Bay Area and asked if I was a lawyer as well. Once we got to talking, he informed me that he had run an ultra marathon every month going back some 25 years!! Because of the pandemic, some of his more recent ones were virtual efforts, but the streak was still alive. Ultrasignup shows Wally with 227 ultra marathons to his credit, dating all the way back to 1991. Click here to review his documented accomplishments. Wally was running the 6 hour race and he finished with 26.5 miles, good for yet another ultra finish. Wally and I spent about an hour together out on the course and that ended up being my favorite part of the day. I hope I am still running the distances that Wally is running if and when I reach my 70s.
So, about leaving my warm weather gear at home. That was not a good idea. As the morning turned into afternoon, I noticed some ominous clouds above Mount Charleston, not too far away for where we were. Sure enough, those clouds rolled into the Orchard, causing the wind to pick up and the temperature to drop substantially. Light rain started falling. I put on warmest article of clothing I brought, a light jacket, but I was still really cold, wishing I had brought a winter hat and some gloves. Lesson learned!
The intense gusts of wind made running through the pumpkin patch portion of the course torture due to the amount of dust and dirt in the air. I was inhaling it with every breathe. There was nothing to do other than to put my head down and just keep trucking, but I had to work hard to ignore the thoughts of quitting that were starting to become more pronounced as the weather worsened and I fatigued.
The pain really started to pick up as the we approached sunset. As much as I cursed having to run down the dirt rows in the pumpkin patch, it was probably a nice change of terrain for my body. There are advantages to running on pavement, of course, but the repetition can start to cause overuse injuries. The end was so close in sight that I was determined to stick it out and get as many miles in as I could. At this point, I was mixing running and walking, just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. The beautiful sunset lifted my spirits as the glorious end approached.
The darkness brought a new wrinkle as it was very dark in the orchard and fairly disorienting after running in daylight all day. I put my headlamp on and gave it all I had to the finish. If you were not able to complete a full loop within the time allotted, then you were permitted to do a partial loop, which is what I opted to do. I ran it as fast as I could, mostly because I wanted to be done. I was completely out of gas as I crossed the finish line, which is just the way you want it. I didn't have anything left to give.
My final tally was 18 full 3.1 mile loops and a partial last loop that got me to a total of right around 57 miles. This was good enough for a 7th place finish out of 34. Not bad for my first effort at the 12 hour race! It was the highest relative effort -937- that I had ever recorded on my Garmin watch up to that point. As a reference, most workouts are in the double digits when it comes to relative effort. Per my Fitbit, it was an 111,000+ step effort. Not a bad day's work at all.
When I finished the race, I sat down in my camping chair to take my shoes off. That is when the weight of the effort hit me. I started getting the chills, shaking uncontrollably. The walk to my car, which was perhaps a quarter mile away, was utter torture, with every step reminding me of the day's effort. When I got to the car, I turned the heat on full blast to try to get warm and I began the 30 minute drive home.
My amazing wife made me a homemade pepperoni pizza, which tasted like just about the best thing I had ever eaten. And, along with my medal, the race organizers gave me a caramel apple at the finish. That little treat didn't stand a chance against my post-race appetite. I enjoyed every bite of it.
I really liked the format of this race and I wanted to run it in again in 2021. Unfortunately, I was out of town at a conference and thus unable to. But I know I will run it again the next chance I get...and there are rumors of a 100 mile race at Gilcrease utilizing the same course. Now that would be mighty tempting!
Steve Yeager is an ultra runner who rarely turns down a challenge. When he is not out putting miles on his shoes, he practices law and serves in the Nevada State Legislature. Steve lives in Las Vegas, Nevada with his very understanding and patient wife, Bita.