Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Chris Goes to Taipei



America! PC: Senor Stern


There's a short(er) report at the beginning, and then A BUNCH of crap at the end. It wasn't just a race, it was a week-long trip, so I had to document a bunch of pointless crap.  Moving on…



Howie has a knack for capturing the essence of Chris Roberts.


Race Report:


Halfway around the world, there I was, over 17 hours into a race. Not just any race. The 24 Hour World Championships. Little ole me, representing the United States of America.


I limped my way around yet another 2 kilometer loop, resigned to speed walking most of it. As I dragged my non-responsive legs around the final few hundred meters of that loop, I started tearing up. Then I stumbled into the Team USA tent and immediately broke down crying. No. Not crying. Sobbing. Uncontrollable sobbing. Without a solid performance from me, Team USA was completely screwed. I just lost any chance of a podium for the team. I fucked up. I let everyone down. I let my country down. I don't belong here. I'm a fraud.


Grief, despair, self-hate … absolutely overwhelmed with every shitty feeling imaginable. I can only think of 1, maybe 2, other moments in my life that I have been that far-gone emotionally. It sucked. IT SUCKED!


Pam Smith and Bob Hearn, our team coaches / leaders / unifying forces of awesomeness, immediately came over to figure out what was happening, and then quickly transitioned to consoling me. They did their best, as I worked to regain some semblance of composure. I was laid bare emotionally, bawling into my hands, and they were there for me, immediately, kneeling beside me, wrapping their arms around me -- I could feel them holding me, protecting me, caring for me -- I can't quite put into words how truly meaningful that was. A kindness, a compassion, that I will never forget.




Within the weird running sub-culture of ultrarunning, there is this tiny little niche corner for timed events. The grand-daddy of that microscopic sliver of the running world is the 24 Hour event … run as far as you possibly can in 1 day. Simple. Straightforward. Dare I say: elegant. But also: unrelenting and cruel.


Oddly enough, there is a bon-a-fide World Championships for 24 Hours, typically held bi-annually, where some of the best (dumbest) runners from all over the world come together to act like hamsters in a cage in representation of their country. It's kind of like the Summer Olympics … in much the same way dual credit from a community college is kind of like getting a PhD from Berkeley.


The latest 24 Hour World Championships were just held in Taiwan, and somewhat miraculously, I found myself there, representing Team USA. 5 years ago I tried qualifying for the team -- basically, you post one of the 6 best men's or 6 best women's 24 Hour distances during a 2 year qualifying window and you're in -- but I failed miserably (here and on a black track in the middle of summer). This time around, I eeked out a performance good enough for the 6th and final spot on Team USA (at The Dome). It should be noted that by making the team, I kicked off Harvey Lewis. Take that, Harvey! You may have bested me (and my janky knee) at the Big's Backyard World Championships in 2021, but who's got the last laugh now, huh!?!! (oh, it's you? With the backyard world record? And it's, what, a full 24 hours more than what I did? Damn it….)


Can't wait to abandon these kiddos for a whole week!

I've been known to rail against flat running (honestly, if a 100 Miler has less than 20,000' of vert, why bother?!), and I have practically zero experience with the specialty, but I was beyond elated to have the opportunity to represent my country in international competition. I don't have the skills, mentality, dedication, or genetics to be an Olympian. And race distances for the World Mountain Running and Trail Championships are too short (aka: I can't keep up with young, fast whippersnappers). So my only options to compete with a big ole "USA" across my chest were to give it a go at 24 Hours or, I dunno, go work on my mini-golf skills (World Minigolf Sport Federation, it's a thing…). And so, I was off to Taipei to run around a 2 kilometer loop over and over and over again for the Red, White, and Blue.


I joined Team USA for all the Nike swag.

The whole experience was beyond anything I could have imagined. For me, it was all about being a part of the team. I had the chance to meet and get to know an amazing group of runners, and, when the going got tough, bond through our dedication to and support of one another. Plus … sightseeing adventures! Plus Plus … the guilt of abandoning your spouse with your two progeny for an entire week!


When the race ended I honestly wasn't sure if I wanted to try to be a part of the team again. I'm just not sure I will ever have the right skills to succeed at a flat 24 Hour race in a way that is needed to help the team compete for a podium position at Worlds. But the camaraderie and the memories of Taipei have me convinced that I owe it to myself and to the team to give it another go. So we'll see if I can get some good training in, and put together a better race plan, and secure a position for 2025. Bonus: it's in France next time around!


Freezing my butt off after the race, with Chad and Stella. PC: Bob Hearn?


Post-race team bonding, crammed into an Uber, desperately trying to get to the airport on time.

I just wrote a bunch about how I cried a lot in a race, so that should suffice for an obligatory race report. But for people looking to waste more of their time, here's a somewhat random run-down of my 24 Hour World Championships Experience (aka: that time Chris abandoned his family for an entire week to fly halfway around the world so he could eat weird food and run in circles while continuously shouting "America! Fuck Yeah!")


But before that, the thank you's:

  • First and foremost, to Kristin, for supporting me in pursuing this silly little dream of mine. I truly do not know what I'd do without you by my side. You should probably go book yourself a week-long solo trip to Europe, you've earned it!
  • Thanks to the family and friends who reached out about donating to support the team financially. It really meant a lot, to everyone on Team USA.
  • Thanks to my nutrition sponsor, Hyle Hydration. Man, whoever came up with that product is a genius!
  • Thanks to Squirrel's Nut Butter for keeping me well lubed.
  • Thanks to my teammates for their incredible support and for making the trip an all-around awesome adventure that I'll never forget!
  • Pam and Bob, you guys were incredible. We were beyond lucky to have you leading the team.
  • Nicole, thanks for taking care of my poorly conditioned muscles and tendons and for being such a cool person to chit chat and explore with!
  • Howie! Thanks for the awesome shots, and for being a cool dude that puts up with me.
  • Bill! It was so great getting to spend some time with you away from an oval. Thanks for all of the nutrition hand-offs!
  • Tracy and Dobies – hanging out with y’all is so much different than when I’m feeling like crap at Big’s. It was a welcomed change of pace!


Behold, the Jade Cabbage!
Seeking out dirt, prerace. I'll take the one on the left, thank you very much.

Temple lanterns.


  • Something like 10 of the Team USA members were on the same flight from SFO to TPE. That felt pretty cool, all hanging out in the airport terminal with our team gear on!
  • The team race kit is sponsored by Nike and USATF, so it's literally the same stuff "real" athletes wear at the Olympics and whatnot. Pretty freakin cool. Well, not getting financial support from USATF is pretty freakin un-cool, but I digress…
  • I backed out of Big's to make sure I was "fresh" for Worlds. I still feel that I have unfinished business with the backyard format, but my next backyard failure will have to wait another year. Also, my favorite race in the world, Hellgate 100K, was 7 days after Worlds, so I gave up any chance at a good performance there, all for the glory of the U S of A. I just need you, dear reader, to know how much I sacrificed for my country. It should bring a tear to your eye. And if you'd like to acknowledge my sacrifice with a tiny violin, then so be it.
  • I grew a mustache for Worlds, as one should. My mustache was 20x better than Harvey's Big's mustache. This is a fact.
    • In the lobby of our "hotel" (it was a youth hostel), Andrii Tkachuk of Ukraine (eventual 3rd place finisher) pointed to my mustache and said "You look like a Ruski". Interpret that however you'd like.
  • A majority of the 250+ runners were staying in this crappy youth ho(s)tel, and they served breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But it was fun cuz our food options were either bland "Chinese food" (fried rice, noodles, soggy vegetables) or a super fun spin on Western Cuisine (who doesn't love spaghetti and chicken nuggets for breakfast?!). Most of the westerners complained voraciously about the food situation. One day, I broke down and went to a nearby Subway for a mostly normal sandwich. And the beds were basically just a sheet of plywood. Yeah, it was so awesome!
  • I got all Cultured As Fuck out there. 2 days before the race, I went with some of Team USA to the National Palace Museum to check out buddhas and calligraphy and what not. Then I opted to be a loner and walk back to the ho(s)tel by myself. Along the way I stumbled upon a massive Chrysanthemum Flower Festival. In the days after the race, I checked out some more sights with the team, happened upon a random Reading Festival, and also got to see a parade in honor of some god's birthday at a temple (I think).
  • The day before the pancake flat race, I had to scratch my itch, and went for a hike up along a ridgeline in the city to seek out some dirt trails and good views. Specificity be damned.

Team USA Shakey Shake. PC: Pati Coury?


The beautiful Palace Hotel behind our youth ho(s)tel... some of us did book a room there for the final night of the trip, and it was glorious!

Race Stuff:

  • As the 6th place qualifier for Team USA, I fully anticipated being in a supporting role -- racking up miles for as long as possible to serve as insurance since team scoring only accounts for the total distance ran by the top 3 runners. I had no real race goals other than to help the team, but I settled into a somewhat comfortable groove that I thought might get me somewhere between 152 and 155 miles.
  • Somewhere in the evening, everything changed. 2 teammates -- Jake Jackson and Jeff Urbanksi -- had resigned to the tent after problems arose for them. I came into the tent for a minute and dawdled around, then asked how Scott Traer was doing. I got a look of sheer confusion from Coach Pam, who then informed me that Scott also ran into trouble some time ago and was sleeping in the back of the tent. I was now a scoring member of the team. A sense of panic came over me and I hastily shot out of the tent, awkwardly apologizing for pissing away a couple valuable minutes.
  • I soldiered on for some time, but had really weird stomach issues between 12 and 15 hours. My body seems to want a different nutrition plan for these flat races than what I've typically utilized for trails, and I still don't have that locked down. Or … maybe my body hated whatever the heck I'd been eating at that weird ho(s)tel buffet lately. At any rate, I got to spend quality time with the port-a-potties -- some of which were "Turkish style", which was fun!
  • After I got my gut back under control, I cleared 100 miles unceremoniously and felt like I was plodding along pretty well. But then the wheels came off. In the span of an hour I went from feeling perfectly fine, to having multiple joints aching in pain, to having full-on quad failure. And somewhere in there I got really queasy too … I faintly remember having a half-coherent discussion with Nick Coury's crew about mashed potatoes, maybe…
  • I then limped around the course and cried like a baby for an eternity, but you, dear reader, are already well aware of that scene.
  • Once I composed myself, I could see and hear Nick in the tent, discussing whether he should continue or not, due to problems he'd spent hours failing to remedy and with genuine concern he was on the verge of limping his body to competitively meaningless result at risk of prolonged injury.
  • Basically, Jeff joined Nick and I in a fun little self-pity circle now that there was only 1 remaining American dude still out there doing his job. Then I had our amazing team doc, Nicole Yedlinsky, give me a bunch of random drugs and try to "fix" my quads. Then we sat around some more. Then Nick and Jeff said "screw it, let's go mall walk!", so I threw on some warm clothes and joined them for a very, very sad lap of slow walking where we all complained about how awful we'd done and blah blah blah. Then we sat down in the tent for an eternity, ate a bunch of warm food, and continued the parade of self-pity. We ventured out once again onto the race course for another sad stroll in the middle of the night. Only, this time, at some point I decided I would try to shuffle jog. And I'll be damned if my legs didn't feel normal again. A miracle!
  • So I ventured on for the rest of the race, about 4.5 hours, logging a somewhat respectable pace, doing my best to let Chad Lassater know that he wasn't the only American out there suffering anymore. My mileage was nothing stellar, and without a 3rd runner out there putting in consistent miles too, we were completely unable to compete for a good team position.
  • But I'll be damned if it wasn't amazing to be out there in the final hours of that race. It was something special to be a part of.
  • Chad Lasater was grinding, putting in the work. He ended up with 155+ miles and 2 age group national records.
  • Nick, Jake, and Jeff frequently popped out from the tent to walk more laps and cheer on Team USA, and when they were in the tent they were helping with nutrition and cheering.
  • In the final hour or so, Jake even got back out there to help pace for a couple laps, which was friggin awesome to see.
  • Scott, honestly, looked like a bombed out shell of a human being, but when he arose from his mummified state, he did his best to provide emotional support for the team.
  • And the women. Good grief, the women! Absolutely inspirational!
  • Marisa Lizak flew half way around the world to be a part of the team, despite having a stress fracture and hobbling around in a boot. She put in a couple of ceremonious laps in the beginning and end, and spent the rest of the 24 hours up front in the tent being the world's most supportive teammate: cheering, crewing, working problems.
  • Mandy Holmes was dead and gone in the tent after her day went south. But then she revived in the final hours and started blasting out laps left and right.
  • Jenny Hoffman just finished running a transcon in record time and still found a way to pull her body to nearly 140 miles. Honestly, not a one of them looked easy. But she was persistently grinding it out, hour after hour.
  • Stella Springer was working her ass off towards the end. I finished the race pretty close to her and had the pleasure of seeing one of the most adorable scenes ever when her kids ran up to greet her with great big hugs.
  • And Aly Allen was on fire! For the first 18 hours of the race she just kinda seemed like she was doing her thing, nothing special. But at some point in the final hours, watching her go around those laps, it became apparent that she was really putting in the work and racking up the miles. She ended up with 148 miles and 10th place. Awesome!


Post-race temple explore.

More Non-Race Stuff:

  • Some of us were still in Taipei the day after the race. We made Chad and Aly walk up and down a bunch of stairs. Like, A LOT of stairs. They looked so miserable…1st time marathoner miserable.
  • I got to meet Laura, a member of the Canadian team, who lives a couple hours away from me in Missouri. I hope I can carve out some time for a long run with her one of these days.
  • Stinky Tofu smells like rotting garbage that's being cooked in an oven. That smell will haunt me for the rest of my life.
  • Bob tried ordering "drunken chicken" at lunch, but was forcibly told "no, you want the duck!" instead. Post-race duck … delicious!
  • After a week of salty, cliché chinese food, I was dying for a fresh fruit smoothie. The night before our flight out, I had to make due with sharing a few rounds of daquaris and margaritas with the team. That was pretty freakin awesome.
  • I upgraded to "bougie seats" on the 11hr flight back stateside. United calls it "Premium Plus" or something dumb like that. I didn't realize until I got on the plane that it was legit 1st class -- not business class fancy, but fancy enough that I immediately felt guilty for splurging when I've never, ever shelled out for first class seats for my wife. That guilt quickly receded after I slipped on my complimentary slippers, noshed on my superior meal, and stretched my legs all the way out.


Tracy knows *exactly* what he's gonna get. Bob thinks he's getting chicken...

Teammate selfie at Liberty Square.

Chang Kai-shek doing his best Lincoln impersonation.


Final Etc:

  • I called an audible and went with a new pair of shorts for the race. I've worn Patagonia Strider Pro's for years. I wore a pair of Rabbit FKTs for like 1 hour a week before the race and thought, "hmm, maybe I like these…". For about Hour 2 through 12 I repeatedly thought "these shorts don't feel right, they're going to ruin my race!" But they ended up working out just fine. I dunno…
  • I've only ever worn 3 types of shoes in races: Altra, Topo, Pearl Izumi (obligatory Rest In Peace). I went with Saucony Endorphin Pro at Worlds. I've worn them for most of my speedwork in the past year, but never tried them on long runs. I was afraid the toe box was too small, but that fear was more than made up for by the 8mm drop to support my achilles -- I've pretty much given up on Altra because I'm now convinced they've wrecked my achilles at Big's. The Sauconys definitely required a bit of a biomechanical change at slower paces while tired, but I mostly figured it out. Pretty sure I'll be using them or Topos in any flat races going forward.
  • Bidets with heated seats!
  • It’s possible to fit 3 people and 4 full-size suitcases in a compact sedan.
  • I'm forgetting a bunch of stuff. Oh well...


Fancy toilet!

Fancy balcony view.

Forcing teammates with trashed quads to walk up and down stairs for no reason.


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