Sunday, September 29, 2013

31 Miles in a Nutshell

A long time ago, Crystal said after we ran our first marathon that she wanted to run a 50K trail race next. I told her she was crazy and that would never happen. Fast forward later, we are on our way to The North Face Endurance Challenge 50K trail run in Pine Mountain, GA. How did I get suckered into this? After all, I have done trail races before, the longest being a half marathon, and even then, I have sworn that it was pretty hard and I couldn't foresee myself doing another long distance trail race after that. Of course, when your training buddy has a bucket list goal to run a 50K, you can't just let them down.

So we signed up a little less than two months before the event. Prior to that we were just doing regular marathon training for the Savannah full marathon. TNFEC was simply an after thought. Plus we were able to take advantage of the early registration registration fee. I continued my RAG training at that time and incorporated a trail run as my second day run on my back to back run day. I had been racking up a lot of mileage in weekend runs with 100 mile run months and 8 hour run days and so on. By the time TNFEC came, I felt confident I could finish the mileage, just not so confident I could do it in the allotted time frame. I was correct. I did not finish in the 10 hour cut off. It actually took me about 11:30:00 to finish. Crystal had the misfortune of having to drop out at the second check point 11 miles in. She was having problems with her back and was worried about getting a serious injury. While she made it 1/3 of the way, it was probably smarter for her to listen to her body rather than shut up her ego and risk injury.

But, with what could have been fixed out of the way, I'd like to focus on what I believe did go right. First off, I think my training went right. As mentioned before, my timing sucked, but I finished, uninjured, and not as sore as I could have been. I had several close calls of running and falling into things, including one instance where my foot landed on some dirt along a hill with a very steep drop that was not very sturdy dirt but rather loose gravel. As my foot started to slip down the side, I was fortunate enough to have my left foot land and I sort of hopped to force myself back into a natural gait, picking up where I left off and not falling off the side of a mountain. (Let me also state that last night when I went to bed, I was extremely exhausted but did not get good sleep due to trail running falling off mountain side related nightmares.) 
I'm not going to lie. With this being my first Ultra, if I did it again, I would train different. I would definitely incorporate a longer training period and add at least two or more long trail runs. I think the longest one we did on the trail was 8 miles and only because we got lost. I did do almost 25 miles on an 8 hour run, but that was not nearly hilly enough to represent the run we would be doing, but more something to train for being on my feet for a long period of time. However, I believe that was a very good training concept to put in as I believe that was a huge factor in me finishing and feeling good.

Another important thing I was very happy with was my hydration and nutrition. I know the balance necessary for me when it comes to electrolytes, water, food, and so forth. I was very happy whenever I had to pee to see that my urine was of an average amount and anywhere from clear to pale yellow. (Yes, it sounds like TMI, but when you have soda colored urine, that's dangerous territory, so it is important to know what your pee looks like when partaking in strenuous activities!) And about the food, let me just say the food at this race was fantastic! Every aid station had pb&j sandwiches, chips, pretzels, Skittles, M&Ms, soda, potatoes, and of course the standard race foods and drinks like shot blocks, gu/gel, energy bars, bananas, oranges, water, and electrolyte beverages. So, being who I am, I would have my 50/50 water/electrolyte mix and a soda with some chips, chocolate, and fruit. (I'm such a healthy runner, I know!) If you consider all the crap I ate/drank, I probably very easily consumed about 3000 calories, which is great because I'm pretty sure I burned about that same amount or more. I'm a data nerd and love to weigh myself to see how much water weight I lose in runs and on this one, I wound up losing about 5 lbs in running after replenishing food/liquid.

Another thing that was good was that all the chaffing I received in training really helped prepare me for being able to run through chaffing. I know it sounds gross and wrong, but I have learned that unless it is fall or winter and cool enough for me to wear capris or leggings, I will chaff. Period. No matter what I wear, shorts, skirts, compression shorts, I chaff. End of story. I chaffed yesterday. To be honest, I knew it was happening and was aware of its existence, but my mind was in a good place that deterred me from the feeling of burned friction and stayed focused on the task at hand. Also, knowing that I could refuel my camelback at all the stops, next time, I will take my tube of vasoline with me.

Anyway, long story short, I felt like I did a lot of things right that resulted in me having a very pleasant run. Now for the fun stuff: play by play account of the day!

I slept in through my alarm and two snooze cycles. I was supposed to be up at 4 and on my way to Crystal’s at 4:30. Despite being late, I still woke up on time. I picked her up and we went to Dunkin Donuts so I could get a coffee and I also got a ham and cheese croissant because why not, right? The drive was dark, I almost hit a cat at some point, there were police vehicles blocking the road to FDR and all you could see were bright blue lights between pine tree silhouettes. It was super creepy. We got a parking pass that was super handy dandy and didn’t have to worry about bag check because the Big Dog tent was nearby with our favorite people who were more than happy to let us keep our stuff there. For some reason, the coffee was upsetting my stomach and I felt like I was going to throw up but never did. My husband told me to take my headlamp and I was like, “Nah, it’ll be light by the time we run.” I took it anyway and couldn’t thank him enough when I got home. It was dark when we started.

Now, we were hanging out and heard something about 15 minutes till start and were taken aback. Already? We just got here! So we went to the start and usually I get some sort of excitement or whatever before races and I didn’t then. It was almost like I knew I didn’t have time to be peppy because I had to conserve. Either that or it was just that we had done so many runs in training it felt like any other day and I wasn’t worried at all. Regardless of what the situation was, I felt like I was in the right place mentally.

The game plan for the day was run to aid stations, take a break. So we did just that. I’m not sure where we started but the first leg was 5 miles and pretty easy. The first check point/aid station was a nice area with a port a potty, food, drinks, and all the goodies. Joni was working there as a volunteer and apparently all the volunteers had been out there since a crazy stupid time like 3 am or something and had to be there till the end of the day! Bless their hearts! We got back on the trail and ran another 6 miles to aid station 2. This leg was the one that leads from the Country Store. I have done this one many times so I was really confident on that part feeling great and blazing away. The end had some ugly hills but we got to the top in one piece and 1/3 of the way completing the course. I’m guessing it was that bastard of a hill we dealt with, but this was the point Crystal had to drop out because her back was killing her. That meant I would be alone for the next 20 miles. I know she was really disappointed because this was what she wanted to do and her adventure, but her body wasn’t going to let her do it. So I decided I had to finish for Crystal. I gave her my car key at the rest stop and went back out.

After Crystal was gone, the next leg was another good one. 5 miles to the next aid station and they were pleasant and passed quickly on another beautiful trail. It was almost noon and I decided at that point to take my middle of the day break. I laid down for a bit to let my feet get a break and elevated them to let some of the blood flow. After 15 minutes there, I got back out on the trail and headed to what I knew would be the most difficult part of the trail: the 7 mile leg. Not only was it long, but it was hilly, on loose gravel or rocky terrain, and there was some fire damage and no shade coverage like the rest of the trail. I’m not gonna lie, that part sucked pretty bad. However, it wasn’t too horrible. It was on this part that I saw a doe dart in front of me and pause to look me in the face. I went to take her picture and discovered my phone was dead. I must have been about 18 or 20 miles in at this point and all of my devices died. I had no idea of mileage other than once I got to an aid station and mentally calculating my pace and assuming where I’d be next. It was around this time I also knew I would not be making the 10 hour cut off time, but as long as they let me finish, I was OK with that. I kept going and I saw Jonathon running back to finish up his marathon. He asked about Crystal and I briefly filled him in the details and told him I’d see him at the finish line and left him with some words of encouragement.

As I continued the 7 miles of misery, I saw a girl alone on a rock with her head in her arms looking like death punched her in the face. I asked if she was OK and she told me she was barfing and was told to eat some shot blocks but she wasn’t eating them because she was throwing everything up. I had seen this before at the Alien Half and gave her an electrolyte tablet. I told her just eat it. Even if she didn’t have water to mix with it, just eat it because it would help her out. She did have water and I also gave her some ibuprofen to help with her pain. She took them and said she’d probably just barf them out. I told her I’d let the aid station know to get her when I get to the next one and she said she appreciated it and to have me tell them she wouldn’t be able to finish the race. So, I did one more check up to make sure she was OK and wasn’t going to pass out or anything and continued on. This time I was on a rescue mission. I was the last person on the course and didn’t see anyone behind me or in front for that matter. When I got to the next check point, I told the people about her and they were like, “We just picked her up” and I assured them I was the last person and there was no way anyone got her. Plus, their gal was a red head in celery green and mine was a blonde in blue. So they called her in to their people and I kept going as the next stop was rumored to be 1.7 miles from them. As I trekked through technical terrain of rocks and steep descents and climbs, I started to see more people coming back my way and realized that maybe I wasn’t that far behind. Really, it turns out I wasn’t. I kept thinking I was so far back but looking at the finishing results, I wasn’t.

When I got to the last aid station, I asked how far I had left and they told me it was like mile 22.7 or something and I tried to look at it as less than 9 miles, knowing I couldn’t beat the clock, but that at this point it wasn’t about the clock but about just finishing. At this point, it was the turn around and time to head back. On my return, I ran into my neighbor, Stephanie, who was sweeping for the marathoners. She provided some encouragement to me and snapped a picture of me hating life for the moment. After that, I got back on the trail and continued home.

Here’s where it gets interesting. A man comes opposite me and asks, “Are you doing the 50K!?” and I tell him I am and keep going and he follows me and said he was the 50K sweeper and was told that all the 50K runners had come in! Someone forgot to report me! If it weren’t for this random chance run-in, I would have been labeled lost and possibly got stuck with a hefty search and rescue fee! Fortunately, he found me and we headed back in together. It was nice to have someone to talk to the last few miles. When we got to the next aid station they told me I only had a 10K left and I was in complete disbelief. I hate 10Ks, but I can do a 10K. I knew at this point I was home. This was no longer an issue of what if I can’t, but I can and I am almost there! It was the most wonderful news all day!

Me and the sweeper, Joe, continued on through more climbs. I felt bad for him because he did not have trail shoes. He volunteered to do this but was not properly equipped. He said by the time I come in he would have done 15 miles. I don’t know what his history of training has him at but 15 miles in road shoes on a trail just sounds like a bad time to me. But not only did he have to deal with that, he had to deal with me in a fatigued, dillusional state, talking about anything and everything to keep me from giving up. He had to hear about how I was convinced I was going to get my period that day because I had that back pain and I kept hoping it was a kidney infection instead. Then I was talking about the pains I was dealing with when I was pregnant and he told me about his wife and their son and how he was there during the birth and can’t imagine the stuff women deal with in terms of their bodies and abilities to handle pain. So because he had a woman he had to deal with, I’m sure I wasn’t a big issue at that point.

When we were almost in, they asked our whereabouts and we said we didn’t know. He was like, “Honestly, I don’t know the trails, we see markers and we’re going the right way, but I don’t know the names of places” and I was like “we passed a creek and I peed!” Because that’s where my brain was by then. Every time I turned around a corner, I had a hill and I was like, “let me guess, another hill is behind this hill…” I was right. By the time I got a down hill, I didn’t want it. The best part, however, was as it was starting to grow darker and the faint thumping of music could be heard. I saw the tents, crossed the stream by the pool, headed up the grass and said to Joe, “Thanks for sweeping me, now I gotta pretend to look fast again.”

I mustered up a shuffle run if you want to call it that and crossed the finish. My body hurt and I was tired, but I did it. I got my medal, I got a water bottle, and met my friends at the finish. Crystal was there with her boyfriend, who I finally got to meet, Jonathon was there, Stephanie was back and all over the place between her volunteer duties and working the Big Dog tent. Blake still was out and we were waiting to cheer him on when he got in. It wasn’t too soon after I got in that Blake came in from the 50 miler. We were standing around there to cheer him on. In fact, I recall running with Jonathon to the finish line as if I were OK again and had to be there for another friend who was finishing up. After he got in, we went to pick up our shirts and our BBQ dinner and then we gathered to take pictures at the photo backdrop.

We didn’t spend that much time at the post-race party. I went back to the car and changed and gave Stephanie a ride back to the North Columbus Big Dog store to get her car.

We hung out at the store for a bit because Rosana was working and she said everyone with Galloway was asking about me and hadn’t heard from me or anything and was wondering what happened. So I filled her in on all the nitty gritty details, and she updated facebook land with my info and I headed home to repeat the same stories to Jesse and Charlie in between unpacking my gear and cleaning up.

What would I do different next time? Well, other than a few previously stated comments like longer trail runs, a longer training period, and bringing vasoline, I definitely would add a core workout to my training. My arms and abs were sore! But other than that, I don’t think there’s too much I would do to change a thing. I thought it went great and look forward to doing it again someday. And for the record, two days before the race, I made this little doodle. I can easily say I have gone through every one of those phases along the training, event, and post race.

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