Saturday, September 29, 2012

UROC 100K Race Report

It has taken my legs and my mind a while to recover from this race and finally get this thing posted, but I hope you will be entertained:-)

Here it was, finally here, UROC weekend! My first elite invitation to a race and hopefully some excellent elite stalking to be done this weekend. My crew and my pacers did an excellent job of pampering me before the race, which actually made me fee like the elite I wasn't. They made sure I had everything I needed, and that they would have everything I needed at every aid station. We had gotten down pretty late on Friday because of school and just in time for the elite panel followed by a late pasta dinner and I hadn't really slept well the night before so I hoped it wouldn't hit me at some point during the race. 

The morning of the race was just the normal pre-race rituals...bagel with almond butter, banana and coffee, kinesio tape on, lubed up, clothes on, plus the new addition of some UDee tatts for the special occasion. Dan and Sean who are with the UD Triathlon club traveled with us to do the half marathon and Alan to do the 50K that day starting later. We got to the race early enough for my start.  Then the morning was just elite stalking, nervous stretching and waiting. The race started at a pace I would probably start a marathon, which was actually not as fast as I thought. I hung back with the few elite women, minus Ellie. As expected, my ITband was painfully stiff starting out. I expected it to loosen up eventually but I had to do my best not to limp as we passed the crowd and the camera man.

I knew it was going to be a rough day when we entered the woods on from a wide rocky path and the first thing we did was descend a steep rocky mountain for about 2 miles, turn around at the “turn around here” sign at the bottom of the mountain, then head right back up the hillacious thing.  I was not enjoying this part of the race. Not only was the downhill not favorable to my knee at the time, but the steep rocky technical downhill did not play my strengths. Additionally, the cold air rushing by on the quick decent was making my eyes water and blurring my contacts, obscuring my vision a bit. The rocks were slick from the previous night’s rain, and the zero  traction combined with my relative clumsiness with technical descents were the bad combination that led to my crash in the first mile. I landed hard on my left elbow and hip on top of a rock. I got right back up and continued running beside Crystal, the girl about my age who finished 5th in UROC last year. I was playing the rocky stuff more cautiously now. The pain wasn’t too bad, but I landed directly on the same spot on my arm I had landed on my epic bike crash a couple weeks previously and within a minute blood was steadily flowing from the reopened wound.  So things didn’t start great, but it was enjoyable to run with Crystal and have some company for a bit. I found out (or rather, after my pre-race stalking, she confirmed) that she was an ultrarunner from Florida, who had run a number of 100Ks in Florida, usually winning the smaller races for the women. As we got closer to the bottom of the mountain the lead pack guys and Ellie came charging back up towards us. They were all still lumped in a pack at this point, with Ellie in the middle and all of them looked strong. I tried to take note of the rocky ascending strategies they used to plow up the mountains.

At the bottom of the mountain I had to make a woods bathroom pit stop so Crystal pulled ahead. I set off again headed straight up the rocky plummet I just came down, now running alone. There was actually only one woman behind me from the elite start at this point and I soon saw her on the way back. I ran up all the sections I considered runnable, focusing on my effort level rather than my pace. I hiked up everything too steep and/or technical. The woman behind me caught up to me about halfway up, as she charged up a section I chose to power hike. “Wow, you guys took off down that hill!” Hmmm really? Then she told me she was having issues with her contacts blurring too and she couldn’t see the rocks so had to slow down. So she charged on and I kept with my power hike, just telling myself that this was the smartest thing for me to do right now. I don’t really know how to run up steep mountains and didn’t think it was a good time to learn now.
So I emerged up to the next aid station, the left side of my body covered in the blood that had dripped down from my elbow, making a spectacular sight for the injury that looked far worse than it actually was. I saw my parents there ready to exchange my hand held so I held my bloody arm up proudly to display. After all, I needed some kind of explanation for being the last elite starter to come through the first aid station! Bryon Powell was also at the top with his clipboard and gave me a look of concern mixed with amazement as I help up my blood-dripping arm. I warned him to look out for the bear down there, which was the more interesting story than a clumsy Delawarian on a slick rock.
I switched out bottles when I saw my parents and aunt, dependably waiting at the first aid station at the top of the mountain, and blew through the aid station, taking off towards the next steep road hill, which was only a couple grades less than a vertical challenge. So power hike it was. I saw the blonde girl who had been in 3rd place coming back towards me on the previous section just ahead. I passed her quickly with my power hike and had to wonder how badly she was feeling at this point if she was crashing already. I thought she had been pretty far ahead just a couple miles ago. As expected,  I wouldn’t see her again that day.

Soon after the top of the asphalt ascent the course led back down the mountain partway, only this time the section was less steep. Right before the turn to the descent, I saw a guy who I recognized to be Dave James walking slowly up the hill ahead. I knew he must have been having a bad day and dropped out early, but he still pointed me in the right direction at the upcoming turn in the course to ensure I didn’t follow him off course back to his condo. Thanks Dave! (Although quite a legitimate elite stalking opportunity).  This low grade road descent would have otherwise been a section I would have loved to pick up a good bit of speed on, but I found that now my quads had already taken a good beating and felt a little like rubber bands after the previous couple hours of mountain climbing. I checked my watch..less than 2 hours into the race. Man, I was screwed…

Soon the course turned off onto a single track path, which was flattish and gently rolling. I did a little celebratory dance in my head to be off road and comfortably picked up some speed. For a short time, this section was the closest thing I found to WCC trails so I tried to imagine I was home. My ITB had finally loosened up a bit and I was finally feeling like I was getting more comfortable, but not yet in my ideal rhythm. There were still some brief technical rocky sections, some stairs, some log hurdles. The trail seemed to be traversing the woods behind the condos and little houses in the resort. I recognized it from the 50K the previous year and was looking forward to the would-be upcoming smooth rolling section around the lake that I loved last year that unfortunately never came this year.

Soon I was on road again and at the next aid station. I swapped out bottles with my parents who had everything ready  so I didn’t need to stop for long, which I was grateful for. I had not been eating much up until this point and wasn’t very hungry but I forced myself to down a gel and a bit later some block shots so avoid a potential crash. At this time one or two guys from the open field had caught up to me (and had been horrified by my bloody arm). It actually took them much longer to catch up to me than I had thought. They each ran with me for a few minutes before they pulled ahead when we hit a hill but overall, I was by myself on this section. After the single track section we were back on the road for a very long section on the Blue Ridge parkway, the long long highway that much of the course ran on to get out to the Dragon’s back 4 mile out-and-back section. I had finally caught back up to Crystal on the beginning of this long road section, who was running with one of the guys from the elite start that I didn’t know. I saw her in the distance and it did take me a few minutes to catch them. I exchanged a few words of encouragement as I passed them. I had been by myself for a while and it was too early in the race yet for me to be too concerned with placing in the race and so I would have liked the company, but my steady pace felt good right now so I passed them and kept chugging along.

In case you needed another reminder of the 15% grade you're running up...

I was by myself again for what felt like a very long time on the parkway. It was better than running on your typical highway because of the spectacular views of beautiful autumn cloudy skies streaked with deep purple, blue and white clouds against colorful leaves of the trees surrounding you on top of all the climbs up the road. The course on the parkway was not marked at all, and there were large gaps between myself and the lead runners and the runners behind me so I found myself completely alone running through mountains, following nothing. People like myself, who have a history of going off course, tend to like “confidence markers” littering the course, so after a few miles of seeing nothing and no one I was beginning to become paranoid. At one point there were some pink ribbons tied to the trees leading onto what looked like a single track into the woods, so I was immediately excited to see this and followed it into the woods for a short while only to come to a pit of nothing less than a quarter mile in. So I figured I must be off course and continued back on the road. Now I was reallyyyy paranoid and even flagged down two old ladies in cars driving towards me to ask if they had seen orange flags of ribbons back in that direction. No, they hadn’t noticed they said. But the one old lady and her friend did turn their car back around, to my surprise, and drive back to look for me.  To my relief, a few minutes later my parents drove by and of course I flagged them down to confirm that I was on course. They said I was as drove back to confirm with me that I was, just after the two old ladies drove back towards me flashing me a thumbs up out their window. . Bless their hearts (and forget pediatrics, just to add to the list of reasons why working with old people is awesome!).  I was, in fact on course.
Before I reached Dragon’s back I started seeing the first elite guys, Max King and Sage coming back towards me on the out-and-back section of the course, which had now turned off onto a gravel road. They both looked like they were pushing the pace, but holding themselves together still looking strong. A few miles later back on a road, I saw the other lead guys, and soon afterwards Ellie Greenwood chugging along on the road back towards me. The final road section coming up to Dragons back was what I considered a barely-runnable climb. So basically when the irunfar camera man van came rolling up right next to me with a big video camera to document this precious moment, I was running like a fat kid up the mountain. Sure enough it was broadcast on the web in the section highlights later. God I hope not too many people watch that video. 

Finally I had reached the anticipated Dragons Back out-and-back section of trail, four miles each way, with the promised vertical challenge in the middle. I saw my parents and aunt at the aid station just before entering the trail head. I was not hungry, and if anything slightly nauseous, but I knew I needed something of substance in my stomach right now, so I took a Cliff back into the section telling myself that it had to be gone by the time I came back out. Coming into the aid station was a bit of a rough stretch. My legs felt like they were done already and I was only 31 miles in. I thought this could be a very long section ahead.
Surprisingly, when I got back in the single track in Dragons Back, I felt somewhat rejuvenated for a few miles. I really liked this smooth rolling single track and tried to find a rhythm in it. I started thinking out Geoff Roes’ race report from last year’s race and how he had been uplifted on this section and made a few passes and a comeback here to win the whole race later. I prayed that I too would be uplifted here.
Overall, the whole section was pretty up and down for me. I was feeling relatively good when I went in, then I hit the more technical rocks and the vertical challenge, which was steep, but also short, and I seemed to fade a bit again. Then when I thought the turn around was close I picked it up a bit more. Then when it came much later than expected, I faded a bit. I saw Ragen Petrie, 2nd place woman and the woman who had passed me going up the big climb in the beginning here. I calculated that the 3rd place woman was about 16 minutes ahead of me at this point. She looked good when I saw her. Better than I must have looked so I did not have high hopes of catching her.

Finally I reached the turn around point and headed back, feeling pretty much the same as I had headed out. I took note on my watch when I saw Crystal coming back towards me that I had about an 18 minute lead on her. Then, to my surprise, I saw a woman in the open field not 10 minutes behind her, meaning that after the 15 minute head start I had on her, she was 20 mintues of less behind me now, and there was no telling if she could cut the lead. Yikes! Now I felt a little bit like I was being chased, so I picked things up a bit. The terrain turned more gentle after the vertical challenge, which for me was a controlled fall back down, so I was able to pick things up a bit.

I came out of that section feeling better about myself than I had when I had entered, and minus a Cliff bar that my stomach was handling well at the moment. I saw my parents again and the was back to hitting the road.

The road made everything hurt again. My feet my quads my Sis my back…ughhh this sucked. I was thankful for the little gravelly jeep road that came up a couple miles later. It was a lonely section, but much better than asphalt right now. Although now, about 45 miles in I was coming to realize just how trashed my legs were and how untrained for this course I really had been. Then I had to pee. Suddenly, like really badly. I took a quick assessment of my legs. Nope, squatting was not happening right now. So, right in the middle of the trail for lack of better available location, for the first time in my life, I peed standing up. And, for the first time in the race, I realized I had rhabdomyolysis! Must mean I am working hard! Happy moments make me smile.
Not much longer after my pee-standing-up experience, one of the guys in the open field who I had met at a Trail Dawg race a few weeks beforehand passed me. We ran together for a short while and it was good to see a familiar face. Then, we hit the road again, I got excited about the caffeine  Powerbar gel the woman at the little water station had, and picked up the pace on the road and he fell back a bit.

A few more miles of road then I saw my parents before entering a technical rocky hilly single track trail section that would turn out to be my official least favorite part of the whole day. I moved slow and really struggled on this section. My trashed legs just couldn’t coordinate the rock gardens jutting out of the steep descents and everytime I tried to pick up speed and run down one I would stumble. So I was forced to walk (or hobble) a good bit of this section. Every time the trail looked like it was becoming smoother and more runnable, more rocks would emerge around the corner and I would be forced to walk again. The Delaware guy was apparently loving the trails, hating the roads that day and passed me again on the trail. The one elite guy that I had passed with Crystal 20 miles back also flew down one of the rocky descents and passed me here. Ughhh. They seemed to move so gracefully here, but when I tried my legs just wouldn’t let it happen. More confirmation that I was not well trained for this course. This section was long a frustrating and I was actually very happy to see the road on the other side where it emerged. 

When I saw my crew with my parents, Dan, Sean and Alan at the other end of this section I must have looked pretty rough. I remember being a bit disoriented at the aid station, and later do not remember hearing things that they claimed were said to me. Opps. Anyways, Dan offered to pace me here and I would have liked him to, but I was paranoid about pacers being permitted here since I was in 4th place and eligible for prize $. So I declined, which made for another long section of road ahead.

This was a tough section. I was in that part of the ultra where every single stride sent pain shooting through my quads and even into my Sis and back, which made for a less than pleasant few miles. I tried to come out of it mentally, to think about anything other than the pain and the seemingly endless miles to go at this point. I thought about my ice bath tonight that would numb my whole lower half. I thought about getting massaged later. I thought about my best training runs and feeling on top of the world. I thought about my worst training runs, which had given me the strength to push through miles like these right now. I thought about standing with the elites at the finish line, standing on the podium next to them if I could hold my position. I thought about how good my left shoulder was feeling right now (strategy adopted from Marshal Ulrich..jeez even that was hurting though…)  I thought about the shot of liquor that Alan would probably offer to me again at the next aid station and which I would probably accept…

And then there it was! The last aid station. Just 3.5 miles and one mountain to go. I downed the shot of Kentucky bourbon Alan had waiting for me, which was a whole Dixie cup full and actually more like 2 shots. It burned the whole way down my esophagus and felt warm when it hit my stomach.  At that point I was so sick of sweet things it actually tasted good.

Of course the next thing the course had in for you was one final plummet down a mountain on asphault just before you ascended the final 15% grade climb mountain just afterwards. I have gone down some pretty quad busting hills on some pretty busted quads, but that particular mountain at that particular moment has to be one of the most painful that stands out in my memory. The good news is that the bourbon started kicking in about halfway down and took the edge off just a little bit. Enough for me to laugh out loud about how much this course had kicked my ass today, say what the hell and keep hammering down. When I got to the bottom, it was right back up straight to the top of the mountain to the finish. This was the road with all the 15% grade signs, which were great reminders now, as I had temporarily forgotten how insane I was for signing up for this thing while training in the state of Delaware.

Checking my watch I was approaching that time of 12:08, my Bandera 100K time which I had really wanted to beat (despite Ian Sharman’s warning about how tough this course was compared to Bandera). I knew it was going to be close and that I most likely wouldn’t make it, but I thought I could try to cut it as close as possible. And the bourbon was actually doing a pretty great job right now, so I put my head down the drove up the climb running. It was steep, it was tough, it was a section that I would have done a good bit of power walking at any other point in the race. I didn’t let myself look up towards the winding road and the seemlingly endless climb to get to the top or to allow myself to judge the steepness in the process. I simply stared at the road 5 ft infront of me and just ran as hard and as fast as I could. This actually felt a hell of a lot better than descending that mountain before had felt.

When I did finally look up when I heard music of the finish line, my dad was standing at the top of the mountain to greet me. When I reached the top of the climb I opened up my stride to the little decent to the finish ( almost making a wrong turn again this year in the process). I crossed in 12:13. I think I hugged everyone there, but again, I was a little disoriented at the time. Then I sat down on the asphalt just past the finish line, just like I had been thinking about doing for the last 10 miles. It didn’t feel quite as good as I thought it would. Things still hurt and were starting to stiffen up. And just as soon as I sat down, one of the RDs came up to me and told me the awards ceremony way about to start and I had to get inside.

It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to get to stand up there next to the elites at the awards ceremony like I was one of them. Plus I got a plaque for making top 5 and  $1000 check, my largest race winnings by far to this day, which was also pretty nice.

Women's Results: 
  1. Ellie Greenwood - 9:04:19
  2. Ragan Petrie – 9:51:15
  3. Anne Spillane – 11:02:00
  4. Jacqueline Palmer – 12:13:40
  5. Krystle Martinez – 12:53:59
All the women in the top 5 ran pretty much uncontested, with EG crushing us all. 

Although I do not consider UROC one of my best races, it was certainly one of the hardest and has also made me hungry for another 100K competition. I had been looking forward to competing in this race, but really wasn’t adequately trained with enough climbing and most likely mileage for this course. Throughout the entire 12+ hours I was running, I was aerobically unchallenged. But my legs were done so early in the race that they really limited any aerobic strength and advantage that I could have had. But I did work with what my body gave me on that day and I am satisfied with that, and I do know that I am capable of better. I also got a pretty good battle scar and some bloody race pics that make me look pretty bad-ass J

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