Race Report: Self-Transcendence 12 Hour

Self Transcendence 12 Hour

Writing this report is a bit of a daunting task. Not because it was a bad race – on the contrary, it was a very good race – but because it was my very first 12 Hour and because, a few days later, I’m still processing information, emotions, and lessons learned.

It’ll take a while, I think, for me to sort everything out. In the meantime, here’s a first take. (There may be followups. Just sayin’.)


Louis Riel Dome track

Photo by me

An indoor track, 400 meters per lap. Covered by a huge white translucent bubble, with big fans going all the time. A track surface made of a thin layer of rubber laid over concrete. Warm, still air. There were 16 other people running the 12 Hour, 10 people running the 6 Hour, and 44 running the 24 Hour. And there were a whole bunch of volunteers on hand to make sure our needs were met.

It was a pretty impressive setting, a pretty impressive event, and there were some very impressive people there.

Ottawa 12 Hour runners

Photo by Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team

Above is a photo of some of those people. This is the 12 Hour group. The third woman from the left in the front row, in the dark blue shirt, finished first, racking up 112.8K in 12 hours.The tall fellow in the back, in the yellow shirt, completed 102.2K. My friend Pierre D., standing to my right, completed 82.2K. I managed a paltry 75.15K. (I don’t do well with getting my picture taken, which may explain why my eyes are closed.)


Here’s a photo of me waving to my counter as I went past her, probably somewhere around the four hour mark. At the beginning of the race, every runner was assigned a counter, a real, live human being who, at the completion of every lap, made eye contact and called out the runner’s name. It was a wonderfully human way to make data collection happen. My counter was a young woman named Eugenie.

Saying hello

Photo by Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team

And this is me, at somewhere around the seven or eight hour mark. Still hanging in, but differently focused, and a bit slower.

Hot, sweaty, and a bit tired

Photo by Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team

It was warm inside the dome. The big fans you could always hear were there to keep the dome inflated; they did nothing to make the air move around. And, as luck would have it, this late September day in Ottawa was a hot and sunny one. So the temperature inside the dome stayed at a more or less constant 25C or so all day. I was hot, I was sweaty, and I was tired. But I was still truckin’.

It all ended well, though, and I was ready, willing, and able to receive my certificate and group photo at the awards ceremony. (Upright and smiling, right?) Each entrant got a cotton (i.e., non-tech) t-shirt, while each finisher got a certificate, photo, and medal (the medal’s coming in the mail, as the supplier didn’t get them to the organizers in time).

At the awards ceremony

Photo by Chloe Duschene

I could care less about the medal and the certificate. And I usually pitch race t-shirts straight into the recycling bin as soon as I get home. But this t-shirt is different. I really earned this one!


So, a great event, wonderful people, and an excellent race. But what worked? What didn’t? What did I learn? And where do I go from here?

What Worked

Barefoot: This race was barefoot bliss, with a track surface that was absolutely made for skin-to-ground contact. At the end of 12 hours, my feet were a little dirty, but felt great. No blisters, not even any hot spots, and no swelling. And, since running barefoot means better form and improved running economy, my legs were surprisingly fresh at the end of the race. Sure, my quads were a bit sore, and lower back was a bit tight, but a hot Epsom salts soak back at the hotel quickly dealt with those minor issues.

I really don’t understand why more people don’t run barefoot.

Fuel: Low-carb, high fat all the way. I started the race fasted (had a tin of sardines, a couple of hard-boiled eggs, and an espresso at about 7:00 the previous evening), and mostly followed my LCHF regime throughout the race.

I had a bowl of mashed avocados at about the six hour mark, munched on macadamia nuts or biltong every couple of hours, ate some chocolate (the good stuff – raw, Ecuadorian, and 89% cocoa) later on in the race, and drank some home-brew espresso at the six hour mark and again at the nine hour mark.

(I say “mostly followed” because, in the last couple of hours of the race, I got into the watermelon slices that were on offer at the aid station. “Lots of electrolytes,” said my friend Pierre, and, let’s face it, all I needed at that point was an excuse…)

Morton Stretch: I don’t stretch except during ultra races. Then, I do something called the Morton Stretch. It refreshes the legs nicely, and is which is simple, and quick. Highly recommended! In this race, I did a Morton Stretch once every couple of hours. It only took a couple of minutes, and I was soon on my way again.

People: The Self Transcendence was full of good people. Ultra runners tend to be a friendly and upbeat lot anyway, but the Self Transcendence crew were above and beyond that. I’ve never felt so welcome and so supported at any race anywhere. I want to run with them again! The volunteers were incredibly kind and helpful, and the counters did an amazing job of keeping track of us all.

What Needs Work

Guts: I’m a wussy boy. I tend to run out of steam – both physically and mentally, but especially mentally – at the end of long races. I really lost both focus and pace in the last couple of hours of this race, and simply didn’t dig deep enough to tough it up. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if this is what “self transcendence” is all about – the ability to let go of the tiredness, the pain, and the negativity, and go beyond that. I need to work a whole lot more on that aspect of my running.

Walking: I started walking too late in the race, and therefore ended up walking too much towards the end of it. I need to discipline myself to start walking earlier, to power walk when I do it, and to keep my walk breaks to a reasonable time and distance. I watched other folks doing it, and was impressed at how they integrated their walking breaks into their patterns of strong and steady running.

What Next?

I’m going to run the Kingston Self Transcendence 12 Hour next year.

Part of me wants to say I’ll give the 24 Hour event a try. But, to be honest, the thought just scares me breathless. When I walked away from the 12 Hour on Saturday night, tired but happy, I looked back over my shoulder at the people who were still running round and round that track, and would continue doing so through the night and into the morning. I’m not sure if I have the gumption for that.

But I will run the 12 Hour, and I’ll run farther next year than I did this year. Maybe I’ll even transcend myself.

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20 comments

  1. With apologies for “finding” your blog much too late, Alan, this entry really interests me. I completed my second 50K this past weekend and posted a similar, if not quite as well-written, race report on DailyMile. (Remember that?) Anyway, fueling was the one issue that I would say “needs work” and as someone not yet keto-adapted, I really appreciate your insight. Actually, I appreciate them on more than just fueling, but anyway… Cheers!

    1. Many thanks, Wilt. I still don’t feel I’ve got the fueling thing nailed down. Hope to get a little more focus on that for the 8 Hour ultra I’ll do on January 3. Stay tuned.

      1. Well, if it was easy… One of the things I find most intriguing about the whole LCHF “thing” is that ultimately, fueling shouldn’t be the same type of “pagent” during long races. Hell, planning when to eat, what to eat, how much to eat, etc. takes some of the coolness out of just being out on the trail, passing people. ;-)! Anyway, we’ll be in touch, I’m sure, Alan.

      2. LCHF isn’t about planning. I only structure my eating on ultras so I can run them optimally. Besides, whether it’s trail, track, or road, I don’t pass people. They pass me. šŸ™‚

  2. Sounds like a super event, Alan! You make me want to try Ultra’s so bad. I think I’d need to work on my mental gumption as well. Funny about the walk breaks. A friend of mine http://ririnette.blogspot.ca/ just completed her first IronMan and we spoke about the race plan before her day. Her marathon plan absolutely included some purposeful and planned walking. I think it makes a lot of sense when you’re going to be active for so long. In fact, in all three of my marathon’s, I’ve tried to stick with purposeful and planned walking (through water), though as Peter could tell you, this year was a bit tougher. :-p Congrats again! What’s next?

    1. Thanks, Nicole. I think you’d enjoy an ultra – this one, the Kingston 6 Hour, or the Niagara 50 would be great. Hope to see you at one of those. Sorry you’ve been having a tough year. Perhaps you just need to change gears, and get away from the marathon frenzy thing.

      I have nothing more scheduled for this year except running for pleasure. Next year, I’ll do the Kingston 6 Hour, the Ottawa 12 Hour, and maybe a short trail race or two. Otherwise, just a lot of long solo runs.

  3. Wow, very good job done here. I can’t yet imagine running 12 hours in a stadium, it just scares me a lot (so very familiar thoughts, what you say about 24 hours..). And 12 hours barefoot gets it even more admiringly!

    1. Thanks, Tracy. My walking on ultras has been very unstructured. When I do near the start of a race, I tend to go for 200m at a time. Later on, it tends to get much longer; towards the end of the of the 12 Hour, I was walking 400m or even 800m at a time. I want to change that, and run 200m to 400m every couple of ours or so.

      1. Alan, I suspect you’re a bit of a proponent of “less planning is better” camp, and I can certainly identify with that. In some of the early research I did on ultras, I came across some very interesting suggestions about walk-breaking and why doing it early, often, and on a good schedule really worked wonders. I forget now where I saw it, and in fact, it may have been in a book I read, but bottom line, even semi-structured walk breaks, throughout an ultra event, including at the beginning, are gold! (From my own experience last weekend, walking every uphill did not cost me time, nor hurt in any way.) I look forward to your continued posts as you discover key insights and share them with us!

      2. Agree about the need for structured walking. The longer my ultra distances get, the more critical walking becomes. I know the theory – now trying to work out the practice!

  4. Great report Alan and congratulations again! When I hear transcendence in the title I immediately think of the mental aspect. Running on a track must make it even tougher (except on your feet). 24hrs would scare me too, but then again 42.2k used to scare me and now I’ve run 3 marathons and an Ultra šŸ™‚

  5. Great report. I had a good time chatting with you during the race…One of the biggest benefits of an indoor timed event…the people.

  6. Congrats to you…a great learning experience for sure! Hope to join you in Kingston and/or Ottawa next year!! Been trying to get to Kingston for 2 years but hasn’t worked out. Depends on what I do at Sulphur at the end of May.

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