Saturday, May 9, 2015

"I'm only running the 50"

Who says that…well, me, because at the Potowatomi Trail Runs event, that is the short race (other than the 30 mile night time 'fun run').  I was finally getting my next goal race done.  I'd searched and searched to find an event that fit with what I was looking for in my attempt to complete the 50 mile distance.  I wanted something we could drive to, less than 7 hours from home just isn't too bad, and I wanted a very generous time limit to take that stress entirely off the table, and 34 hours most certainly fit that bill. Another ultra runner friend, Wendy Foote, had run this race previously and assured me I would enjoy it and it was a good race to pick for my first 50.
Done deal…signed up and committed…or maybe I should be committed??  We were going up and taking Alexis and Paige with us to help crew and cheer for me.  Training went like training always does, getting in the miles I can around work and family.  Luckily, there's a great group of friends in Topeka that are crazy and run at insane early times like 4am for long runs.  They're training for the OKC Marathon and then Pike's Peak later this summer, so I joined them in the early morning hours whenever I could.  It's so nice having local friends that you can grind away those long runs with and since I’m also running the Colorado Marathon the first weekend in May with another friend, I grabbed a couple long training runs with her as well.  All in all, not bad training leading up to a major race, for me anyway!

So PTR really is an ultra crazy event…besides the 30 mile 'fun run' and 50 mile event, runners can also choose to run 100, 150 or even 200 miles.  The 200 and 150 mile events were already underway by the time we lined up for the start of the 50 and 100 at 6am.  I'd been dropped off by the family, then they headed back to grab a few more hours of sleep before being out at the course the rest of the day to crew and cheer for me.  The first loop started off with everyone crossing the mats then making the turn to go down the first hill, then it breaks out into a meadow for a flat ¾ mile loop before turning back into the trees for the first major climb of the course.  They aren't kidding about these hills on this course, there's plenty of them and the RD's aren't kidding when they say 1600ft of elevation 'gain' per loop.  The trail then crosses another short meadow that is right behind the start/finish area before dropping back into the trees and going through what I referred to as the 'power line' district.  After that, a few more twists and turns and you're at the first aid station, about a quarter of the way through the loop.  From there, the course makes a change as you go through a real sandy  section, then leads you back into the trees for the first creek crossing.  Walking up to it the first time, I realize all that I've read is true, there is not way but to just power through it…so power through it is what I do…pretty refreshing that early in the morning.  After that, the trail winds through the trees on a very flat section leading up to "Golf Course Hill"...this is a monster with a rope to help pull your way up it and even worse, you get past the rope and you're still at a hands on knees climb to get to the top.  Once there, I was hoping for some nice gentle declines because what goes up, must go down…but no, that is not the case here.  I get to the first decline and seriously, it's steep.  All I can see is my clumsy self rolling in a heap to the bottom of the hill…so, I decide maybe to take it a little more cautiously.  It's no joke that there are quite a few places with a steep drop off that one misstep could send you barreling down, so I played it safe.  Another interesting note from this section…the insole in my left shoe did some weird bunching on the downhill, most likely from still being soaking wet from the dip through the creek.  I stopped to adjust because loop one is just a bit too early for any foot problems.  After several more ups and downs, we go past the "Beware – Friendly Dog" house (yes, they have that sign hanging by the trail) and down to a section by the road that filters back up and to the second aid station.  Leaving the aid station, you roll down through a meadow called "Cemetery Loop" for the Meyers Cemetery that sits right off the trail and take a little off-shoot in the  Heaven's Gate loop.  It's about a 1 mile loop that is pretty sweet.  One steep downhill, then a nice, long flat section (I liked to refer to this as the 'squishy tree' section for the few times the trail narrowed majorly to run between some small trees) and then one big climb and you're out of the loop and back at the meadow.  From there, less than 3 miles to go and this was by far the easiest section of the course.  It's pretty rolling hills and meadows, through some Frisbee golf area's (I talked to several groups of people that were playing that nice day – they all thought the runners were crazy). There was one more creek crossing and you could skirt it and get your feet minimally wet, which is what I did all 5 loops.  Quite frankly, by the end of the day, I let my feet get wetter, but still skirted to the side because of how muddy and swampy the side of the creek was where the runners that went straight though would step out.  This crossing is about 1 mile from the finish line and every time around, I knew I was getting close to another loop done by this point.  Of course, you think at this point you're home free, but no, there's some sick individual who thought one last major climb would be in order.  But then you break out into the meadow at the start/finish line and the loop is done.  The finish line area is awesome. 

No more blow by blow replays, just some other high notes from the day.  The start/finish area is amazing.  There were tents set up from other runners that camped out and people there all day cheering for everyone.  It was a wonderful feeling to run through there each loop knowing that was putting me a little bit closer to the finish.  Also, the aid stations had amazing food.  I can't say that I really ate a lot of real food, I'm still working on what my stomach can handle, but they had eggs, sausage, bacon.  At one point, the AS workers were pulling a fresh baked apple breakfast bread of some sort off the fire and it smelled amazing.  On my last loop, the fresh avocado and cheese quesadilla's at the first aid station were lifesavers!  Oh and the little guy (maybe 2 years old) that ran out from the second aid station on one of the loops and shared a gummy bear with me was a gem! When I finished the 3rd loop and was gearing up for my 4th, Justin handed me a Starbucks Frappe to start out the loop with (they could catch me a little over a mile in and grab the cup back from me) and I had another joy for the day by being joined by Bonnie Busche (look her up on Ultra Signup, she's a legend) for that first mile as well.  It was wonderful to talk with her.  At that point, I already knew I would finish, and was just hoping to hold onto enough pace to finish before 14 hours.  The 3rd & 4th loops got a bit warm for me, not bad, but enough to end up with some sunburn for the day.  I heard one local say that the temps were the highest they had so far this year.  On the 5th loop, I started out running in the meadow and passed a gal walking (later I talked to her at the finish line, her name is Andrea), we chatted and then I went on.  Her and I yelled encouragement to each other off and on the rest of the loop.  She'd get ahead, then I'd catch up a bit and we'd see each other, it was nice seeing a friendly face that often and when we chatted at the finish line, she said that I had been an inspiration for her to keep moving that last loop.  Overall, the day went exactly how I wanted it to go.  I never had any down points, no stomach issues and kept moving the whole day.  I'm already thinking about when my next 50 will be and trying to decide on when to try a 100...yeah, I'm a glutton for punishment!  Oh finishing time was 13:21:32, under both my "I need to be done by 14 hours" goal, and my "I want to be done by 13 1/2 hours goal" and gives me some thoughts to work on for getting my next trail 50 to be under 13 hours.

Crossing the finish line with Alexis and Paige will be one of my fondest memories of the day!  Being able to have them share this day with me is priceless.  These memories will help shape them into determined and resilient individuals.  I also love being able to encourage them to enjoy and embrace the outdoors.  Shortly after I finished, the RD (Rich Skocaj) came over to congratulate me on my finish and collect a hug…before he would hand me my belt buckle!  There was also some awesome chicken soup at the finish line (they had plenty of hot food ready for the runners still running and for the finishers), which was good because I ate very little the last 15 miles of the race. This is a very well run race, I'd encourage anyone to give it a try in the future.

The best memory of the finish line will be my girls telling me how very, very, very proud of me they are…

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Ice, snow, mud and muck...

Melissa & I - pre-50k
A journey that began with the question "What's 5 more miles?" has evolved into the question of what else can I do, where else can this take me?  It seemed fitting to start another year of ultra running at the same place it all began, Hawkeye 50k in Solon, Iowa.

Leading up to race day, there were many updates from the RD.  Course conditions were questionable, the course itself was questionable and what would Mother Nature bring for race day?  The Thursday evening message even included a suggestion to think about bringing traction devices for your shoes because there was still ice on much of the course.  Justin, Melissa and I headed out on Friday knowing we'd just take Saturday one step at a time.

Saturday morning started off good, caught a hot breakfast at the hotel before heading to the race start.  Picked up bibs and took a look at the course.  The course order was going to be changed for the race because the Park officials had laid down the law about runners crossing the spillway. Instead of 2 loops (kind of a big/little figure 8 style loop), the course would be run as a long out-and-back to the spillway (22 miles total), then another short out-and-back to the spillway (about 3 miles), then two loops over the last 3 mile section (6 miles total).  This would make for an interesting run as we would be running parts of the course in the opposite direction then what was normal.  Would some of the hills be worse from the other direction?  I guess we were going to find out!  After the normal RD announcements, we were off.  Instead of running the entire first loop with the 25k group, we would only be running about the first 3 miles.  This meant that the field thinned out quickly.  Melissa and I had decided on Friday that we were running together.  I thought that company for the 7 to 8 hours the race was going to take was important.  We planned to work hard with the hope of finishing easily under the 8 hour cutoff.

The first part was pretty uneventful other than stepping in a nice little water puddle about 5 miles in, it wasn't horrible, just meant the feet were a bit colder than they should have been.  Once we were a few miles from the turn-around, we started to see the lead runners on the way back.  We made it to the turnaround and as an 'add on' for having to change the course; we got to climb up this little 'mound' (see the picture Melissa took with the Lake in the background).  We didn't hang around too long, just headed back out.  We completed the first 25k in 3:19 which I think was a 25k PR for both of us.  That worked to fuel us to keep moving as we made quick work of getting almost all the way back to the main aid station (start/finish line).  I say almost, the last half mile or so before getting back was single-track trail.  What was firm at 11am was now at almost 4pm a mushy, sloppy, standing water trail!  It was horrible!  Really cut into our spirits.  We slopped up to the aid station, checked in and refueled and started out to the second, shorter, out-and-back to finish the big loop portion of the race.  We headed into this section at 4:49 and I had hoped prior to race start that we would be starting this section by about 4:45 into the race, so we really weren't off pace for making a sub-8 hour 50k (this was a big goal for Melissa because her 50k PR was 8:30 and she knew going in a race with an 8 hour cutoff was a risk and a challenge).  The downside, everything left for the last 9 miles was single-track trail!

Melissa really took off as we headed into this section of the course.  She was mad because the trail conditions really felt like our sub-8 hour goal was not even going to be possible.  She used that anger to keep us moving strong through the major elevation change in this part of the trail.  I'll admit it, from last year, I didn't remember this part being so steep, or maybe it was just that I attributed my difficulties to the 6 inches of snow, not the steepness of the course.  I don't know, but it was tough. When Melissa's steam finally wore off a bit, I took over the lead.  We met a couple others on their way back and they let us know approximately how far we were from the turn around, this really helped to keep us moving as quickly as possible.  We finished out this loop to one of the volunteers telling us the 'really steep' parts were done and just two loops to go. When we stopped to refill hydration packs and grab some grub, one of the aid station workers asked if anything was cramping.  Melissa mentioned her calves and he promptly kneeled down and started working on them…hmmm…I think I'll take advantage of that too, even if I'm not having any cramping problems.  The volunteer was more than happy to oblige and we both left the aid station for the first of two 3 mile loops with our legs feeling much better.  I checked my watch, 5:39, right on track.

The loop starts out going up a decent stretch in muddy slop then kind of leveled out.  We followed along some wider trail for a bit, but it was snow covered and slushy.  Around a bend, and then it dipped down into a very technical trail section.  There were parts of this that it was all we could do to keep on our feet.  We were sliding down from tree to tree in an attempt to not fall flat, then back up required pulling ourselves from tree to tree on the other side.  There were a few downed trees that we had to climb over.  This doesn't sound that hard, but try picking your feet up very high after 26 or so miles!  In and out through the trees we went, finally, I see the parked cars that tell me we're just around the bend from the start/finish and the completion of our first loop.  On the way there, we run past the Jeep, Justin sticks his hand out the door to hand Melissa some ibuprofen and I dig in the back for a gel.  We grab our stuff and head down to check in for starting our last loop…what!!!  There was no food at the aid station, they'd basically broken it down and just left a few cups of the different drinks at the table!  We asked the volunteer (the same guy that provided the calf massage) and he yells up to some others standing around that they needed some food down there.  Luckily, one of the people hanging around was a friend and 50k finisher, Wendy Foote, and upon hearing that we were needing something, she scrambled to grab some food and get it down to us…thanks so much Wendy!  Melissa got her leg worked on a bit more and off we went…just 3 miles to go!  We left the aid station at 6:39.

Much of the same for the second loop, but we were invigorated knowing we had only 3 miles to go.  As we were climbing up the first section and getting close to the bend to go back into the hilly section, we saw a runner in front of us.  Our goal became catching and passing the runner, which we accomplished by the time we reached the section with all the downed trees.  No looking back, we kept pushing the pace whenever we could.  Getting close to the end of the race, we saw another runner in front of us and started working on trying to catch him as well, we didn't quite make if before we ran out of race, but we were closing in.  Finish time, 7:29:25, we cut 10 minutes off our second loop and were just short of Melissa's secondary finish goal, not bad for what seemed to be impossible 2 ½ hours earlier! 

So what have I learned in this rookie year of ultra running?  I've learned that the ultra community is an amazing thing.  So many amazing people always there to cheer you on while at the same time they're working for their own goals.  I think just about every runner we met on the first out-and-back responded to our cheers of good job with a good job, looking great of their own.  I've learned it takes a lot of people to pull off an
ultra and the volunteers that come out to help are truly amazing in their own right.  They start work while we're still having coffee prior to race start and many are out there until the last runner crosses the finish line. They're willing to dig into their personal goods to find that 'one thing' someone may be looking for, they're seeing people tired and hurting, that may not always remember to thank them, even though each and every runner appreciates their help so much.  They're willing to massage muddy legs to help get that runner through 3 more miles.  They truly do so much and more!

I've learned I love the differing course conditions you have to handle running an ultra.  What could start the day as wonderful, can end the day as a challenge to just get through.  Ask me the day before what the course will be like and I'll tell you honestly that you just don't know until you get there.

So what's up next…you'll just have to wait and see…I'll tell you when I get there.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

50k Across the Prairie

The weeks leading up to the inaugural Prairie Spirit Fall Classic 50k/50miler were a whirlwind.  There was the Flat Rock 50k mud run in September, the Heartland 100 (my husband, Justin's, first 100 completion) and then the Pumpkin Holler Hunnerd (crewing and pacing for EPIC friend Zach Adams at his first 100 completion) in early October leading up to the event weekend at the end of October.

The race started with a quick out-n-back North into town before heading out to the trail on the South side of Ottawa.  All I can really say about this part is "Too Fast"!  After about 3 miles, the about 30 runner field was hitting the trail.  It was another 7 miles until Princeton and getting to see my girls for the first time since 3:30am. This part went fairly quickly, my pace was good and I felt good.  I arrived at Princeton, grabbed a couple gels, some water and some hugs…then back down the trail.

From there, it's about 6.5 miles to Richmond.  About halfway to Richmond, I realized I had not been drinking enough.  It was getting to be close to noon and now I couldn't get enough water and had nothing to fill my bottle with until I got to Richmond.  Overall, I was still doing well when I made it to Richmond.  Once there, I decided I was going to down a bunch of fluid!  I had something like 5 cups of soda, a couple cups of water, filled my water bottle and grabbed 2 gels, then headed out.  I believe Shawn Walters asked if I was doing okay, hmmm…wonder if he was a little concerned with the amount I was drinking??  I was, because usually, I shouldn't be able to drink that much in a race and not start to feel slogged down, and I wasn't feeling the least bit slogged!  Real food also wasn't sounding very good and didn’t think until after I was done that maybe I should have just grabbed a plain tortilla.  One of those live and learn moments, something to think about before the next one.

At this point, I slowed a bunch!  It was disheartening, because I just couldn't quite keep to the pace I needed to make my goal and each mile that I fell behind, I kept seeing that goal fading faster and faster.  Finally I made it back to Princeton and my family.  I made the decision on the way there that I was going to spend a little longer there, I was going to talk with Justin and Max (and whoever else might be there at the time), I was going to get plenty of hugs and kisses from my girls, then I would get fueled up to head out for the last 7 miles and the finish line that was calling my name.

Leaving out of Princeton, I worked out a plan to make the last bit more manageable.  I started with a .25 mile walk break, then ran the rest of the mile, then I wanted to run the entire next mile.  If the mile was fast enough, I'd reward myself with another .25 mile walk break, than repeat. It's a form of mind game to play on myself, something to break up the last bit.  I also talked with ?? for awhile during this point, although eventually he would move on ahead.  This plan would get me to the unmanned water station on the trail.  At that point, refuel, then, I decided to take to heart something I had heard Candi saying that she had told Zach at Pumpkin Holler Hunnerd the week before…who walks in a 5k?  So, at that point, no more walking for me!

Next thing I know, I'm heading out of the trees and ready to take the short climb into town and back to the finish line.  I remember watching the guy in front of me (I had talked with him for awhile coming out of Princeton) and thinking to myself, "turn, turn so I know where the finish line is".  To come into the finish line greeted by yells, bells, Sam Steele making the announcement, is an awesome experience.  I finished in 6:22:55.  I won't lie, it wasn't the time I had hoped for, but I have to keep it in perspective, it's still an hour faster than my previous best and I know I've got plenty of work to put in to continue to improve.  Rick Mayo from Mile 90 Photography was snapping finish line shots and Eric Steele came over to give me that coveted belt buckle!  I also got a congrats from the top woman finisher, Sandy Scott from Colorado, I had just met her that morning and she already felt like a long time friend.
Although this should be the end of the story, there's still a bit more to tell.  After grabbing a bite to eat (thanks for the delicious cheeseburger, it really hit the spot) and a change of clothes.  It was time to head back to Princeton.  First and most important, to see my girls!  They were such troopers, having left the house at 3:30am to go work at the aid station all day.  They cheered runners and rung the bells.  It's so nice as a parent to hear different runners saying nice things about the girls all day.  Then, I started helping as other 50 mile runners started coming in on the trail to the finish line.  I had two good friends out on the course, Reina and Melissa, and couldn't wait to see how they were doing.  First came Reina and she was looking strong.  She grabbed some food, a shot of bourbon while we refilled her water, than she was off again.  Shortly after, I see Melissa and Kodi coming down the road.  Kodi would be trading out pacing duties with Melissa's older son, Ryan, at this point and it was up to him to get her to the finish line. It feels like cheering on the sisters I never had.

Next step was to load up and get back to the finish line.  I've read Melissa's race report, and I agree, Libby is such a huge help!  During the wait at the finish line, she did so much to help with the girls that allowed me to talk to some other runners and just to rest!  She got them food, she got their coats when it cooled off some, she let them maul on her to give them something to do other than maul on me.  She was amazing! During this time, 50 mile finishers keep filtering in and after being at the Princeton aid station, Libby and I kind of know the order and have a good idea when Reina should be the next finisher.  A couple other volunteers are going out to the trail and watching to let everyone know when the next runner is getting close, and sure enough, right on track is Reina.  Shortly after and in under 12 hours comes Melissa.  An amazing finish to an amazing day spent with a group of ultra runners that I consider family.

There is one last important part of this story…the drive home.  After a long day of volunteering with my husband at the Princeton aid station, our twins, Alexis and Paige, were still wired even though they had been up for 15 hours.  I had thought they would fall asleep, but to no avail.  During the drive home, I was thinking about my venture into ultra running; why do I do this?  Why do I train for races spending hours and hours on my feet? Why do I push myself on race days?  Then I hear a voice from the backseat asking "Mommy, when I get older, will I get to run races with you?"…and yes, that makes everything so right and that's the reason I do this.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

No Luck Involved...

The ominous sky blazed with bright flashes of lightening as the clouds threatened imminent downpours.  On a course notorious for eating its young, I wondered what it would do to even the experienced on a day like this. Without time for second thoughts, the 50k runners huddle together for the last bits of wisdom before the walk to the start line.  A deep voice comes blasting out of the dark, "This is going to be Epic"!
My first Flat Rock 50k had officially started.  Reina and I were just tooling along and I was keeping an eye on Melissa as well.  Right before we jumped of the road and down to the trail, I noticed that Melissa had dropped back a bit.  I knew today was about her running her race, so I just kept moving along and knew I'd see her again later in the day.

I try to break longer races into manageable pieces, so for today, it was about going from aid station to aid station.  The first part of the trail is pretty technical, but with enough rocks, at least you weren't sliding around in mud.  The rain pelted down steadily, but the miles were rolling by.  Made it through the first aid station, then it's about the same distance to the next one.  Again, conditions weren't too bad, so overall I was happy with how we were moving.  The 25k turnaround came in roughly where I had hoped based on the conditions (and the promises from last year that the second half of the course was easier with many more 'runnable' sections of trail) and at that point, I was still hoping to have a good showing overall.  The next section from the 25k turnaround to Dana's Aid Station, proved to be much tougher than expected.  By this point, the mud was getting thicker and the rain was still coming down.  I walked much more than planned and didn't make it Dana's near as fast as I had hoped.  I still thought maybe, just maybe, the race could be salvaged.
Leaving Dana's, there's roughly 5.5 miles until the turnaround and it should be more runnable sections of trail.  But, the rain had done its work and instead of nice trail, runners were facing 3+ inches of watery mud to slop through.  There was no going around it; the best option was just going straight through.  Going through this section, I was amazed at all the positive comments coming from runners on their way back.  We met the second overall runner (Ron Lapoint) and he even made a comment about how hard it was to run in these conditions.  Not long after, I saw Zach and I will say he was  looking very good!  I knew the race was going well for him.  I also saw Candi and could tell she was not having the day she had hoped for, but she was still pushing herself to the limit.  One of the most interesting parts of the day was the warning of a Copperhead snake just off the trail, several runners warned us to stay to the left, wait, maybe the other left? I just prayed to not see it!  There's also a section where there's a metal ladder to cross over a barbed wire fence and I remember Reina saying "Really, they expect me to climb a ladder".  I just laughed.  About this point, I saw Justin and while he wasn't as far ahead as I expected him to be, he seemed to be in great spirits and not injured, both good things with a 100 mile race coming in just two short weeks.

Finally, we had reached the turnaround and Tony's Aid Station. Surprisingly enough, he didn't want a hug from this wet, muddy gal!  I asked him how Justin was and he said he was doing just fine, not complaining of any injuries and in good spirits.  We gathered up a few snacks and headed back out.  The first section of the trail back actually seemed to go by pretty quickly, so I had high hopes for the time back to Dana's to pass quickly.  Sadly enough, that was not the case.  This section really sucked at my soul.  It was slick, it was hard to even walk, it seemed like I was making no progress at all.  It's times like these that the mind will start to mess with you.  I was questioning the sanity of what I was doing.  Why am I out here?  Why do I do this to myself?  Then I remind myself…because this is fun!  I love running, I love trail running, I love the people I've met and become friends with through trail running and I love being that role model for my three girls.
Finally, back to Dana's and I don’t think I've ever been happier to see someone's face as I was to see hers!  I also learned a new tip for nutrition at this point.  I knew I needed to eat more, I think because of the rain through the first 6ish hours, I hadn't really focused on eating or even drinking that much and knew to make it to the finish, I had to do better.  At this point, nothing sounded very appetizing, so no PB&J or Nutella for me.  Another runner asked for a plain tortilla and I thought, that does sound good. But, then he did this amazing thing, he put Pringles in his tortilla, folded it up and started crunching away at it!  I had to try this!  I think I have a new favorite Ultra food now!  I took mine with
me as we started back down the trail.  Just a short section back to the 25K turnaround and then we're ¾ the way done!

At this point, I hit what Reina later called a very 'bad' place for me.  I don't deal well with being down during a race because it rarely happens. I'm not saying I always have good races, just that usually, I can roll with the punches and just keep plugging along, but I was having a hard time.  We had moved along with 3 other runners for a good stretch, but then stopped for a call of nature break and to get a little more fuel; I was in need of some motivation.  About this point, Adam and Jason happened across us.  Following Adam as he was trying to maintain a decent pace and listening to Jason telling stories and just making us laugh worked magic on me.  We even ran into Ken (the 8th Knight in the Hall of Pain) and trekked with him for awhile.  All of this combined made the trek to the last aid station much more bearable.

Finally, the last aid station and a little shot of whiskey and back to it for those last four miles to the finish line.  I think the sugar from my gels kicked in, because I found a bit of a second gear.  Then, I saw Rick Mayo and knew I was reaching the point to go through the rocks and then the final downhill to be back to the road and the finish line.  At this point, it's such a relief because I know we've done it!

My first Flat Rock 50k was a mental challenge beyond any I have ever done. To all the runners out there, from the first finishers at just under 5 hours to the last finishers, crossing the finish line with seconds to spare
to beat that 11 hour cutoff, we all won on this day!  Big thanks to Eric and all of the Epic Ultra Brigade for all the long hours you put in.  The smiling faces and kind words mean the world to each of us.  And to all the
other runners out there, the words of encouragement on the trail and the celebration for others at the finish line show what the trail running community means to each of you!  BE EPIC!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

What’s FIVE more miles?

Famous last words, right?  It all started with a trail 25k last September.  The Epic Ultras Flat Rock event in Independence, Kansas was a truly ‘Epic’ day.  I had a blast killing my quads on the rocks and trails.  I met another runner as she was falling down a hill and we ended up running the last half together and it all made for a great day.  My trouble started the next week when the promised “heads up” email and early registration for the 2013 event came out.  Then the messages started…if you sign up for the 50k, I will…I have to admit, I’m a sucker for a challenge and promptly signed up for the 50k.

Fast forward to early 2013 and I’m starting to think about my upcoming races and looking into good training events for Justin as he was preparing for his first 100 mile race.  I found a little jewel in Iowa called the Hawkeye 50k and I was in luck because there was a 25k option too.  Perfect, Justin could run the 50k and I’d run the 25K.  The course also looked to be really good for me for easing into more trail running, part was on the road, part on crushed gravel trail and then the last third was hardcore trail.  Then comes the ‘sucker’ part again as Justin calls me to say he’s signing up for the 50k and asked if I was doing the 50k too.  I said, “No, I’m running the 25k”.  And he says again, “The 50k right?”…finally I relented; I’ve run a couple marathons and thought really, what’s five more miles??

Training leading up to the event went well.  I had a good 16 mile run in very cold, windy weather and then two 20 mile runs in decent weather (a little snow, a little wind) and felt ready for the race.  Then, the week before the race the freak of winter storm comes through and dumps snow across Kansas and Iowa.  I admit, that got me a little nervous, but I was hoping for it to melt off and be gone come race day.

We drove in to North Liberty, Iowa late the Friday night before the event.  We even made a drive out to the MacBride Nature/Recreation Area to make sure we knew where to go Saturday morning.  Next thing we know, it’s race morning and it’s only 12 degrees out!  Cold and snowy weather, what a great race day combination.  After the typical pre-race milling around, we were off and into the snow!  No chance to keep the feet dry for even a little while because the race starts off in about a 1 mile trail section before getting to the road.  Once the road got us to Solon, the course headed out on a crushed gravel (or on this day, I’ll say ‘ice’) trail.  All was going well until I misjudged a section as far as the gravel coming all the way through the ice.  One misstep and I was landing on my backside.  I gingerly got back up…sore knee, sore ankle, sore toe, but I was walking and then running again.  Not doing too bad either, maybe it was too cold to feel anything, but I was moving and that’s what mattered.  Through about the first 10 miles, the course is relatively flat, then it switches over to cross county ski trail which was a wide trail, but full of 6 inches of powdery snow.  I had to slow down a bit at that point because I was having a hard time making it up hill through the snow, but still managed to make it around and to the last section which is single-track trail.  Once I was back almost to the finish line, I had to stop at the vehicle to change out my hydration pack for a hand-held bottle.  Then, when I got to the finish line, I stopped to change out my shoes and socks.  At this point was the big decision because through the single-track, I had spent a lot of time trying to decide if I was going to make the second loop, it’s a daunting thought after trudging 5 -6 miles through deep snow.   Finally, with dry shoes laced up and a bottle full of Gatorade, I tossed the bag with my wet shoes back by the wall and told myself to get moving.  The second loop wasn’t any better than the first, some of the ice was now mud, but the snow was still there and still took some trudging to get through.  The second loop was pretty lonely, other than the two aid stations, I had exactly one person pass me in the first 3rd of the course and I passed one person on the last 3rd.  The single-track area was packed and slick which made navigating it a little tougher.  I even fell again there, although the way my feet slowly slid out from under me and then I slid several feet down the hill, I would be hard pressed to call that a ‘fall’.  Finally, I could see the opening that leads to the last 200 yards to the finish line…I was going to make it!

So, what did I learn on this first go at the 50k distance?  Busting your backside on ice at mile 6 of a 50k is not fun, a Camelback is just a cold, heavy weight on your back if you let the tubing freeze in 12 degree weather, running downhill in 6 inches of snow is fun, trying to run uphill in 6 inches of snow is not fun, and crossing the finish line in a 50k is priceless!