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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Diaz-Gilbert

My 2023 Loopy Looper 12-Hr Race Recap: Heat, Fun, Inspiration, Leg Cramps, and a PR.

Updated: Jan 4

At the 7 am start August 5, 2023. Photo: Jon Gilbert.

Last year, I ran the Loopy Looper 12-hr ultra at Cooper River Park in Pennsauken, NJ. I collected 41.2504 miles on the asphalt and concrete 3.75-mile loop around the river on a super sunny, hot day. I placed 16th female and 31/76 overall. I enjoyed the event and came back this year.

It was another beautiful morning in the 70s. I began my twelve hours with a walk and was quickly joined by two fellow runners. Ali, to the right of me, had her sights on walking twenty-six miles. José, to the left of me, shared that he was inspired to run the 12-hour event after he watched my 2022 Loopy Looper YouTube video. José was running his first ultra. The three of us shared the course for about a mile, and then I moved a bit faster and took off.

I was happy with the pace of my first four laps: 12:38, 12:52, 13:01, and 13:08 and my first 15 miles. At lap 3, another runner ran up to me to let me know that he had watched my YouTube video and was inspired to run Loopy Looper, his first ultra. Steve had previously only run a half-marathon. We shared the course a few times throughout the day.

By noon, I was still covering each lap in under an hour. I collected 18.75 miles, but the heat and humidity was rising. It was in the 80s. By now, I had consumed five bottles of electrolytes and several slices of my homemade organic bread and organic beans. For twenty-six years I suffered food impaction episodes as a result of eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), a rare autoimmune disease of the esophagus.

Two years ago, I discovered the cause of my EoE: preservatives, additives, food coloring, antibiotics, steroids, hormones, pesticides, and insecticides. I no longer eat in restaurants. So, my husband Jon and I make and bake all of our foods. For fuel and nutrition at ultras, I eat homemade bread, beans, Halal chicken, grass-fed beef, and eggs that contain no chemicals.

I began lap 6 with Whitney, a fellow Dawn to Dusk to Dawn (D3) track ultra runner I met while she was talking to D3 co-race director Bill Schultz. Bill stopped by for a few hours to support his D3 runners.

I continued to run laps six through nine in under an hour. This left me with wiggle room knowing I would slow down a bit, but I set my sights on collecting 13 laps (48.75 miles). I was well-hydrated. I was getting my calories with more bread, beans, Halal chicken, and my delicious flourless dark chocolate-pumpkin puree brownies. I felt good. I tolerate heat and humidity well. I prefer running in heat and humidity rather than in the cold and rain.

At about 2 o'clock, Jon had to go home to feed Faith and Hope, our hens, and to let them out of the henhouse so they could forage. I started to crave Pepsi, which I no longer drink like I use to due to the chemicals in it. I called Jon and told him to bring me a bottle of Pepsi on the way back.

Lap 10 was my first slow lap. It took me 1:00:34. I'd logged 37.5 miles and my Garmin warned me - low battery. But I had another fully-charged Garmin, which I thought I had lost. But about two months ago, Jon found it deep in the cushion of one of our loveseats. It'd been tucked away for almost two years.

When Jon returned, I traded my 20 oz. hydration bottle of electrolytes for a 16 oz. Pepsi. About a quarter mile into lap 11, I began to feel cramping where my feet meet my legs. My toes started to cramp. Cramping when I'm not running is not uncommon for me, especially in my sleep and when I stretch my legs in bed in the morning. The only other time I suffered severe foot and leg cramps during an ultra was at the Great New York (TGNY) 100K in 2021. I had to be scraped off the sidewalk at about mile 40. I was in excruciating pain and could not stand up. I had a DNF.

I struggled to get to Albie and Ana's aid station. The cramps and spasms spread from my feet to my calves and thighs. I was dragging my feet and legs. They were locking up. I knew not to sit on any of the inviting black benches along the grassy parts of the park that would be burning hot from the scorching sun. I knew that if I sat on the bench, the cramps would intensify and I would not be able to get up. I'd be screaming in horrible pain under the hot sun with no hydration. I had finished the Pepsi. I called Jon to let him know and to distract myself as I walked like Frankenstein.

I finally got to the aid station which had the most delicious ice and refreshing watermelon. Thank God for Ana. She rescued me with a salt pill and gave me an extra one to take with me just in case. "Take another in about an hour if you need it," she said. I took the salt pill with a little water and two pieces of watermelon that Albie reminded me to take. "Don't forget your watermelon." I would not have made it without them.

Within minutes, my cramps went away. My legs started to feel normal. I called Jon and told him I was fine. I took it easy. I walked and slowly increased my speed. Lap 11 took me 1:10:57. By the time I started lap 12, it was a little over 5 pm. I had less than two hours before the clock ran out. But I was feeling great as I held my hydration bottle filled with electrolytes.

I was now maintaining a 15:15 pace on my Garmin. If I wanted to log a thirteenth lap, I'd need to move faster but not risk cramping again from fatigued muscles. When I arrived at Albie and Ana's aid station, I ran into Joel for the first time. We both ran Loopy Looper last year. I ran the 12hr and he ran the 24hr. We shared the course again at Hainesport on Labor Day weekend last year. I ran the 24hr and he ran the GOMU 48hr.

As Joel and I walked, moved a bit faster, and chatted, Khalil and Jason ran up to us from the opposite direction. There were hugs all around. Khalil and I met last year at Loopy Looper and shared the last two laps as we walked, talked, joked, and laughed. I crossed the finish line a tad before him. This year Khalil and Jason would be pacing Joel overnight in the 100-mile event.

It was great to spontaneously reunite somewhere on lap 12. We joked, caught up, and laughed a lot. I told them about my recently published memoir, COME WHAT MAY, I WANT TO RUN, and gave them bookmarks that my publisher made to promote my book. Eventually, Joel took off and so did Khalil. Jason and I stayed behind and shared a lot of stories about ultrarunning, hiking in national parks, our personal journeys, and more.

With Joel, Jason, and Khalil holding a mini-reunion and sharing some good laughs.

I am happy to say that chatting and walking with these "kids" - a term of endearment - helped me to finish my 12th and last lap a little bit faster in 1:08:11. I crossed the finish line with 45.003 miles in 11:14:13 (14:59 pace) for a 12-hr ultra PR, and five seconds faster than my 11:14:18 PR at the 2016 Jack Bristol Lake Wamaraug 50 in Connecticut, my home state.

Jason took a picture of me with Jon at the finish.

Jon took a picture of me with my medal and race directors Pete and Jen; with Jess, whom I met last year at Loopy Looper and who ran the 12-hr relay; with José, who finished his first ultramarathon; and with Melissa, who stopped by. Melissa and I met at Hainesport 24hr last year; she placed first female and I placed third. I didn't get to see Steve and Ali at the end of the 12-hr, but I'm so happy that Ali collected her marathon distance and Steve crushed his first ultra with 48.75 miles.

It was another great ultra event. Reuniting with old running friends and making new ones while circling Cooper River Park, which by the way celebrated its100th birthday this year, was great fun. I ran a few 5Ks and a 7-mile race back in the early 90s at Cooper River Park. I've been running a long time.

At age 64, I was the oldest female runner this year. Loopy Looper 12hr was my 35th ultra. I was happy to place 10th female and 38/80 overall. Age is just a number. And while I suffered wicked leg cramps, I went home with zero blisters and no body chafing. I did not need to take more than one bathroom break. I didn't take a rest break. I didn't sit on the chair. I ate while walking. And I wonder if I would not have gotten leg cramps if I had not had that 16 oz. Pepsi filled with chemicals.

I want to thank all who ordered a copy of my book COME WHAT MAY, I WANT TO RUN: A Memoir of the Saving Grace of Ultrarunning in Overwhelming Times. It means so much to me. Order your copy here.

As Jon and I were walking up the bleacher steps and packing our car, a young woman came up to me. "Ultra Miriam, I just want to tell you how much you inspired my boyfriend to run his first ultra." They too had watched my 2022 Loopy Looper video. Her boyfriend was running the 24-hr event.

Here's a video of memories that Jon and I made of some of my 12 laps and more on a hot, humid, sunny, cloudy Saturday. I hope it inspires you and others to run any of the Endless Endurance Loopy Looper events next year or any of the many ultras out there.

Train well. Race well. Keep smiling. We all inspire each other so, keep on inspiring.


Here are all the Loopy Looper 2023 results.

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