Sunday, September 15, 2013

“What do you THINK about for 12 hours??”: Labor Pains 12 Hour Race

I want to preface this race report with my rationale for signing up this crazy race: Grindstone training. Peak long run. That's it. Time races do not really appeal to me that much..running of repetitive laps around and around a track for a specified number of hours..taking the destination out of it is not really my idea of fun. Plus, your reward for running faster, rather than be finished quicker--you get to run MORE MILES! Lucky you. But with my training schedule I really needed a 50 miler that weekend that was within feasible distance, and since there were none, and Labor Pains did offer this unusual component for the traditional timed races of an all-trail component, I was in. Although as the start date of the race grew closer, my motivation for running this race did change quite a bit (to be touched on later...)

We stood at the starting line about 5 minutes before the race would start, the RD informed us that he had changed the course this year to add another hill, with more rocks into the lap, making for a more difficult course than the years past. I kept that in the back of my mind along with my seemingly ambitious time goals and knew that with the heat and humidity of the day (temp highs around 90 with seriously high humidity), I was just going to have to take what the day would bring. 

Before the race, Mom stepping it up as an ultra pacer.
 I found my old friend Mosi before the race start and when he told me at the starting line that he planned to go out at around 10 minute pace, I planned to run with him for a little while to keep me tame. But when he took off like a bat out of hell at the sound of the start, my plans quickly changed and I ran by myself amidst the small crowd for the first few miles. The lap started out on a road for a brief segment then turned onto some gravel that led you to a short but steep grassy hill. I ran up this in the first lap, in hopes to avoid any anticipated bottle necking when we reached the single track, but would wisely power hike it in the subsequent laps. I managed to get into a pretty good position once we reached the single track. This part of the trail was pretty nice. Smooth rolling trail, non technical, minimal roots and rocks. Pretty easy. It started out going slightly downhill but quickly changed to a net of uphill.

To give a brief description of the  5 mile loop that I would be running around and round all day: There were three “big” hills on the course. The first had a long gradual and (usually) runnable start and a definite power hike up a pretty steep and rocky, but short. This was probably the only part of my first lap that I hiked. Then the trail would continue on a slightly uphill grade on the single track for a few minutes until you reached the second hill. The second hill was smoother than the first and less steep, just a bit longer, and warranted a power hike (on every lap after the first one!) in the 12 hour race. Then the course turned onto a road where you would dive bomb down an asphalt hill and in towards the mid-lap water station. After that, the next hill would soon approach, which was pretty short but steep and ended on a ridge-like crest of a hill beneath a pile of loose rocks, looking like it used to be a stone wall, you had to climb over. Even on fresh legs, that rock pile and the next steep little rock pile extension downhill forced me into cautious tip toeing as to not break an ankle mode. After that came a beloved (by me!) long mile or so section of very runnable downhill trail. And after that there was one more short but very steep uphill grunt over loose crumbly rocks to the start/finish area of the lap. Then it was just run through the pavilion to my crew, get reset, and head out for another. Then just repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat for infinity x12 hours. 

I am not one to gun it from the start of most races, but the first lap I went out a little fast intentionally and for a number of reasons. Firstly, I was pretty jittery about this race from the start and it wasn’t from the coffee. Prior to the race I had decided that I was going for the course record, which I knew was a lofty goal considering the individual who set it. However, I was somewhat aware of my fitness levels and training and was quietly confident that I had it in me. Originally when I had signed up for this race, I had through that getting in a nice, relatively easy paced long run and really just going for 12 hours of time on my feet in preparation for Grindstone. However (for reasons that go  beyond the scope of this blog post) I wanted to beat that CR and whether or not that meant winning the race I didn’t care. Anyways, all the jitters from this contributed to my need to just get some of those jitters out with some quick downhill striding on the first lap. Secondly, I was considering the heat and humidity that was predicted for the day. I wanted to go out a little quicker on the first few laps so that I could take advantage of the least miserable weather of the day (which was not even that great). And thirdly, I wanted to give myself some margin for error, potential bonkage, prolonged bathroom break, inevitable slowing of pace after the first 10 hours, etc. So there you have it, my excuses for throwing down a 46 minute lap right from the start! 

I met up with Megan Stegemiller, a friend of Mosi’s whom I was introduced to at the start of the race, towards the end of the first lap after I stopped for a brief pee break (I swear no matter what I do I will always have to pee within the first 5 miles of any race). We ran together for the rest of that lap and the second lap. I found out that she was the 2nd place female in Grindstone last year so I racked her brain a little bit with Gstone questions for a while. There were two women ahead of us at that point, or so I thought. One I had seen had straight up gunned it from the start, probably at 7 minute pace without hesitation. I thought she was doing the relay. She was not and that wouldn’t last very long. There was also a girl in black spandex who had also gone out pretty fast, but was mostly visible for the first lap at least ahead of us. 

Coming in from the 2nd lap, Megan behind me.
Megan and I ran together for the rest of the first lap and for the entire second one. On the second lap things finally started clicking and with the companionship and chatting I felt my jitteriness of the race start subsiding. I felt everything start to relax and the running felt smooth. I am grateful that I was running with someone too, because I think she slowed my likely too-fast for a 2nd lap pace down a bit with her wise choices to hike sections like the little steep grassy uphill at the beginning and the third hill along the course that I was otherwise wasting too much energy running up. 

I pulled ahead somewhere at the beginning of the third lap even though I was making a conscious effort to slow up the pace a bit on that lap and found myself running solo again. The heat of the late morning was beginning to settle in. My mom had agreed to pace me for the 4th lap, so since I had run most of the third alone I was looking forward to some company when I rolled into the start/finish area to start the 4th and round it in to mile 20. She stuck with me for about a mile and a half up to the first big hill (“Oh this is nice!” on the first mile of downhill trail..HAH!) She started falling behind on the first big hill and I tried to slow my pace to wait for her. I saw her just behind me for a while and I thought she would catch up but she never did, so on I went until I was through all the hills and flying downhill again into the start/finish and I knew I had lost her. But again, grateful that someone was there to slow me down a bit and keep my pace honest. 

By the time I had run 20 miles I flew through the start/finish area feeling like I had a pair of fresh legs. My dad praised my time for this last lap, 51:13—“Perfect, Jackie!” He had been concerned that I had gone out too fast. And so the 5th lap rolled by, pretty uneventfully. I continued to feel like a million bucks, confident that it was my day. The whole time I actually had not really been too concerned about the two women who I thought were ahead of me. CR time was all I cared about and I was well on track and feeling good, minus the heat factor. But apparently I must have passed the spandex chick on the 4th or 5th lap. Somewhere along at the end of the 4th or maybe 5th lap I flew by some woman like she was standing still, so I didn’t even recognize her as the original lead woman who I thought was in the relay. She must have gunned it to catch up to me because she ran with me for about a quarter mile and told me she had been in first, had gone out too fast from the start, and was planning to drop out of the race when we reached the start/finish area next. And so there it was that I found myself in first place for the women in the solo race. This wasn’t too important to me though, and I knew the race had not even started yet.  
Rounding in mile 35.
Somewhere on the 6th lap I really started feeling the heat of the midday sun and consciously slowed my pace a bit. I began to come down from my feeling good state to a “decent” feeling state. When I finished the 7th lap and thought “Hey I’m a little more than half way!” a little voice in my head just said “Ohhhh noooo…” My crew was there to give me iced towels at the start of each lap though, which I draped around my neck and tucked into my sports bra for the whole lap. I think those towels really helped to trick the thermoreceptors in my brain into thinking we were actually not so hot, and helped my body to manage the heat. I managed to hold my pace consistent for the 6th, 7th and 8th laps at close to 52 minutes each not feeling horrible and continuing to eat and drink with minor stomach issues. 

Somewhere on that 9th lap things started heading south. I had been running for about 7 hours, it was about 3pm in the afternoon, and I started getting really hot. My stomach started churning and an uneasy nausea started coming on. I suddenly realized that I had probably not been drinking as much as I should have been during those first 7 hours and became utterly aware of my growing state of dehydration. I had been drinking one 20oz bottle of water or Gatorade from my handheld per lap and eating some, but my fluid intake, which may have been just find for a 7 hour run through Colorado, was just not nearly enough to balance out the fluid loss from the sweat I was putting out on a day like today, considering I had completely sweat through my singlet and shorts on the first lap. This lap I did stop at the little water station about midway through the loop for the first time the entire race, refilled my bottle, tried to gulp down as much as my stomach could take and dumped Dixie cups full of cool water over my head and neck before setting off again. I actually tried listening to music during that 9th lap in hopes that Blink 182 would work their miracles for nausea like they did for heavy legs during Hellgate, but no such luck. If anything, the music actually made the nausea worse and it was a pain to have to coordinate my phone (due to my missing iPod) and my bottle at the same time. So about 2 miles in I just ditched the music completely and handed in everything to my crew at the end of that lap. Somewhere along this lap I passed Mosi and his pacer though, who must have died harder than I did! This was close to a 54 minute lap, which doesn’t sound completely aweful, but trust me, all that slowing down came towards the end of the lap when it hit me the most. I think I actually fell backwards during my final crawl up that rocky hill at the end of that lap.
Rock jumped out in front of me somewhere out there..
 The start of the 10th lap and now Jenna, my 2nd year friend from PT school, my pacer for the day was finally here! I was happy to see her and had actually made it my goal all day to be looking good by the time she got there. However, this was very much not the case. I felt like absolute death when she picked me up. It was actually kind of funny because this was not only Jenna’s first time ever to an ultramarathon event, but it was actually the first time she had ever run with me. Well, she was about to see me at my finest! I told her right off the bat, “I am going to puke. Just watch out.”

“Ok, that’s fine!” she replied chirpily. I love Jenna. I have been nauseous before during a long race, but I had honestly never felt THIS sick to my stomach ever before in any race and I really thought I was going to vomit. Somehow I came very close a few times but never actually did the whole works. I almost wanted to throw up because I thought that it would make me feel better based on race reports of ultrarunners who claim that after they vomited it was like starting a whole new race. However, I was unable to actually throw up, but just hang around that very uncomfortable margin of “almost” throwing up for the next couple miles and not being able to drink or eat anything. Somehow I managed to gut it out though (hah!) and finished the lap in a sloth-slow 59 minutes. 

The start of the next lap wasn’t much better, but Jenna stayed with me which made things a bit better. I felt like the energy way being sucked out of me and I was hiking up the hills sooner than I had during the previous laps. I just felt like my race was slipping away from me. Doubtful thoughts of failure were racing through my head. I thought I had lost my race and lost the CR for a little while. Until I did some quick rough math and realized that even if I held onto my sloth-like pace for the rest of the time of the race, I would still manage to finish under the course record by a few minutes. I may have felt like I was moving slow, but I knew that I was at least capable of gutting it out at this pace for another few hours. Hey, that’s what ultrarunning is all about, right?! So that’s exactly what I did. Put my head down, tried to ignore the nausea, and just ran when I could, hiked when I needed to. I still couldn’t take in much fluids or food, just trying to scarf down a gel if I felt any lapse in the intensity of the nausea, which was rare. I told Jenna that the theme of this lap was relentless forward progress. Relentless. Forward. Progress.
Keep on trucking!

In all my systemic stomach agony, I had somehow forgotten my legs in all the mess. Someplace along the way I did realize that my legs felt great. Pretty much as good as they did after running 20 miles! This was very encouraging, so I used the things in my body that felt good, my legs, my right elbow (I had fallen and landed on my left earlier),  to fuel me through the 11th lap. I stopped to used the woods someplace in the last mile of the 11th lap and as I came back out two guys were passing Jenna and I. They were moving well, unlike most people in the race at this point, and looked like they were feeling good and having fun. They had pulled ahead a little bit when I told Jenna that we were going to catch them. I wanted to be having fun again too! I picked up the pace a little bit, caught them, and the four of us ran together for a few minutes. One guy’s name was Jeff (or so I remembered later!) and apparently I was 5 miles ahead of him.

Running with our small group even for those few minutes lifted my spirits a bit and when we got to the downhill road section right before the start/finish area I unknowingly pulled ahead of them. I scrambled up the rock hill and towards my crew and exclaimed that I was feeling much better and ready to hammer out 2 more laps! My stomach even somehow felt better. I gulped down some precautionary Coke and headed out for the last 10 miles. 

I had lost Jenna at the end of that lap as I picked up the pace in my somewhat socially revived state and my mom started out the next one with me. Mile 55 and here we go! I had been informed that the 3rd place guy was only “a few minutes” ahead. A “few minutes” in ultrarunning I have discovered can mean anywhere from 1 to 20 so I wasn’t holding my breath about catching anyone. I wasn’t feeling that good. I was still glad that my mom was starting out this lap with me. Surely enough though, there was 3rd place guy less than a mile into the lap when we saw him plodding up the hill. My mom ecstatically pointed him out to me “Third place guy!!! LET’S CHICK HIM!!” I think she was more excited than I was. Maybe since, from what I could tell in my delirious state, he was young, fit (obviously) and good looking (or at least from behind to a girl in a severe state of dehydration). I passed him soon after the first hill and as I was running by he immediately asked was mile I was on. When I told him I was going on 60, his pacer immediately started laughing at him and from what I could tell, making fun of him that he had just gotten chicked by a chick. It was kind of funny J I also somehow dropped my mom in the process of passing them but apparently they had been kind enough to tell her a shortcut along the road to pick back up with me when I exited one section of the trail. So she got to run with me a little longer, until the next hill I think when I lost her again. During the hills on this lap, every time I slowed to a power hike, I started feeling light headed. I suspected it was because of my low blood volume from dehydration making me go orthostatic at any slight alteration in blood pressure, but still, it was a little scary. Soon, I was abandoning my power hike for fear that I was going to pass out and just running up everything. 

Towards the end of this loop I started getting excited. I knew I had a good cushion going into the next and final lap to break and CR but I couldn’t blow it. This was going to be a glory lap as far as I was concerned. I ran strong into the start/finish area and exclaimed “One more time around the merri-go-round!” My family was proudly cheering. I heard people around me saying that I looked great. And all day I had been thinking about some of my patients with neurologic injuries who I treat in acute rehab, and just thinking when I thought I was feeling miserable, This is nothing. NOTHING. These people go through a 12 hour race or more every single day of their lives. Except worse because even I have a finish line to look forward to and in several hours, and the whole thing will be over. My patients don’t have that. When they wake up tomorrow and the next day, they go through it all over again. So, to answer the question that I get from so many people, What do you THINK about for 12 hours?? For me, I thought about that. I used it all to fuel me (since clearly food was still not working out too well in that department).

I started the last lap again with Jenna, who had only guaranteed she would run 10 miles for the day but was still headed out for the 3rd lap. At the first little grassy hill I started hiking and my vision started tunneling black. At the same time Jenna told me that she would turn around after the first mile and head back to see me finish and I desperately pleaded for her to stay with me for fear that I would pass out on the next hill and never make it to the finish line. She agreed without hesitation. That is an awesome friend. 

My glory lap really turned into a lap with a mission of not blacking out before the finish line, because it only got worse. I had never had anything like that ever happen to me in a race before, although I had read about it before when people were severely dehydrated. Still, all I could think about was that sweet sweet finish line and my likely anxiously awaiting crew and this kept a smile on my face through the entire lap (or at least a smile that was in my head). I even did a little celebration at the halfway point water stand and got cheers from the volunteers there telling how awesome I had looked all day (to which I wanted to reply REALLY??) I was slow getting up the climbs, but when we got to that final mile or so of downhill trail and road into the finish line, it was game over. I was flying again, nausea, black-outs out the window, and there were my resilient legs underneath me, still feeling spectacular and comfortably clicking the miles away. And finally, finally, I scrambled up that last uphill grunt to the finish/finish area with a big smile on my face, hands in the air. Time on the clock was 11:22 and the RD announced that I had just broken the female course record by over 20 minutes (after I had to tell him, that is!). So, first female, new CR and third place out of all the boys. Game over. Day success.  (Video of finish ,courtesy of Auntie Ann).

 As always, I cannot thank my family, my dedicated crew enough. There is no way I could pull these things off without them, especially this race in the heat and humidity that there was. Even though my nutrition and hydration went to hell, they were key in helping me get all that I could on that day. Of course my pacer Jenna was awesome and stepped it up an extra notch to make sure I didn’t die out on the trail. And the other volunteers and spectators as well as my fellow racers made a challenging day a lot of fun, especially those ones that helped pick up my spirits when I needed it the most. 
Me and Jenna.

The whole crew.
 So, lessons learned from this race: 

1.     1.   Never run that long of a race in that much humidity again. Please. Ever. I hate the heat. Hopefully this will not be a factor in Grindstone.
2.       2. Stay AHEAD of hydration. When you are sweating out 2 liters of sweat each lap and drinking 20 oz of water each lap, you are digging yourself a hole.  
3.      3. Keep eating. For as long as you can. I wish I had started heading more real food around mile 15-20 when I could actually stomach it. It might have helped me.
4.      4.  Keep up the Colorado training (I wish!), 14ers, and mountain repeats on the MD heights trail in training. My legs felt fantastic all day!

That said, that was the longest long run before Grindstone and it’s mostly downhill from here in training. I recovered really well from Labor pains, and my legs felt so good that I actually wanted to run the next day (though I resisted the urge). So, even though I am both excited and completely terrified, bring on triple digit 1-0-0!!!

Splits and stats from the race, courtesy of Dad.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Cayuga 50Mile, Ithaca NY

Just about to run up a waterfall, nbd. Photo compliments to Jeff Hills.
Trained, Shmrained--I couldn’t turn down the invitation I received from the RD Ian Golden as an elite entrant in the inaugural Cayuga 50 miler, USATF National Championship 50 mile trail race in beautiful wine country Ithaca, NY! After that hellacious spring semester of full time PT school courses, full time Sports and Ortho clinical, and 20 hours per week of research on top of it all, my running life took a blow and I don’t think I have ever felt more unprepared to run 50 miles. This was the first long ultra that I had not been specifically trained for, and I had not done a single “back-to-back” long run days workout, which is usually the staple of my training for long ultras. Still, I was still somehow managing to get in 40-50 miles per week with some quality workouts and surprisingly, I have never remembered my speeds on the track to be faster than they are now. I clocked a new mile PR recently (5:45) with some still left in the tank, not to mention a new 50K PR (4:09 at Dirty German) and a very near marathon PR (3:11 at Delaware marathon) within the weeks leading up to the race. So, while my long ultra endurance may not be there, I was confident that at least I was fast and fit. My brain would have to get me through the last 20 miles! 
My good old JMU Tri teammate to join me for the adventure!
I drove up to Ithaca with Ian, who graciously agreed to join for the adventure and crewing, on Friday, arriving just in time to pick up my packet and get some dinner in the small town before the pre-race briefing. We met up with Matt Flaherty, an old race friend whom I had kept in touch with after UROC 3 years ago, Cassie Scallion (the large women’s favorite),and Ben Nephew and another elite runner. I felt like the biggest poser elite at this dinner table ever! I was forced to choose another dinner option other than my traditional (and safe) pre-race dinner of rice pasta and a small salad…actually there was no pasta option at the small food court where we could redeem our meal tickets, so, since Cassie Scallion was eating a double slice of some gorment pizza oozing with cheese, I went with Matt Flaherty’s choice, a vegetarian wrap with a just a few sweet potato fries, with the rationale that if the guy who would likely beat me by more than 2 hours was eating this pre-race, it must be safe, right?!

Ian Golden had rented out cabins for the elites to stay in and I was rooming with Cassie and Meghan Hicks, an editor from irunfar covering the race. When I got to the cabin, I realized this wasn’t really going to be quite the roughing-it experience I had anticipated. Our cabin had electricity AND a refrigerator! I stored my Starbucks coffee cup with a medium black coffee in the fridge next to Cassie’s cup for the AM. We all hung out outside for a little bit, then went to sleep around 10:30 or so. 
Race morning!

Race morning was a cloudy mist, not visibly raining and not too hot, but the air felt pretty humid. Race was a 6am start and I woke up at 4:15 with the intention of eating and drinking my coffee prior to the start and giving a little time to digest. I had been on major coffee withdraw ever since the semester was over, pretty much cutting myself off from it cold turkey, so really was looking forward to the caffeine buzz in the morning. And after just half the cup I was feeling pretty buzzed. I actually took a few drinks of Cassie’s since they both looked the same, and hers was loaded with milk. It was hard to taste since we were drinking them very cold from the fridge in the absence of a heating mechanism. I prayed that that amount of milk from the mix up wouldn’t be enough to set off my stomach during the race. I had chosen to sport my lucky JMU tri shorts for the day, which were spandexie, thinking they would probably be good for being rained on, my blue DRC racing singlet, and my Salomon Speed Crosses with heavy treading for anticipated muddy conditions. I had a rather late jaunt over to the starting line of the race but managed to make it just in time and the close call gave me a half mile warm up. And by that time, after ingesting about 10-12 ounces of coffee, I was completely jittery. Then, before I knew it the race was off at 6am sharp, and I and my jittering legs were off around a short field segment and into the woods!

The irunfar preview had predicted me to finish “just outside the top 5” so, just as I expected, several other woman jumped ahead right from the start. I predicted that I was probably just inside the top 10 during the first mile. I recognized one of the Nypaver twins running just several feet infront of me, and I went up to run next to her on the first segment of slightly uphill double track. I guessed it was Sandi Nypaver because I saw the other twin a little behind us. When I confirmed my suspicions, I tried not to sound too anxious to ask her what she thought of Grindstone 100, where she holds the course record. She said she blew out her legs hammering down rocky mountains in the first 60 miles and had little left for the last 42 miles. Yikes, noted not to make the same mistake in October!

We were running comfortably for the first couple miles, and even though it was uphill, I didn’t feel like I was pushing too hard. And just as I was wondering why Sandi was running with me for so long, we hit a pretty steep climb, one that was an easy power-hike choice for me and Sandi took off up the thing in full running stride. Well damn, that was then end of that company. I was feeling pretty good, but not THAT good. I was still uncomfortably jittery from all that coffee. My arm holding up the hand held was actually visibly shaking. Ugh. Well, no caffeine for me in this race for a while, as clearly my body had forgotten how to handle it.

Regardless of my caffeine high, I was enjoying the scenery of the gorgeous Cayuga falls as we traversed stone pathways next to waterfalls and climbed countless stone steps to the top. Actually, if I had known anything about this course prior to running it, I would have at least made an effort to incorporate a lot more stair-well repeats during my sanity breaks while in the lab this past semester. Ascending stairs can be deceivingly tough if you’re not used to them! Stone steps after stone steps with double track paths led the pack to get more closely knit again with intermittent single track, usually with some nice downhill and just the right amount of rocks mixed in. Here on the trails things were pretty muddy and I could see things getting pretty ugly here on the second lap.  
Dad keeping me hydrated

My parents, Auntie Ann, and Ian were crewing for me, along with my dad’s cousin Kristine, who, with zero previous running interest or experience came along for the winery tours on Sunday. When I hadn’t seen my crew at the first two aid stations, I was beginning to get a little concerned. Then there they were waiting for me in the middle of the road that connected two trail segments. Huh? I was a little confused and not prepared to see them, and all I could manage to say when my dad asked me what I needed was “NO CAFFIENE!”  HAH-Too bad the only gels I had thrown in my bag all had caffeine of some sort, and I had basically just delegated him an impossible task. I think I just started drinking Gatorade and nibbling on some salty margarita cliff block shots at that point to keep some calories flowing. 

Finally, about two hours into the race, my caffeine high was slowly coming down to a more controllable level. Whew, let’s never do THAT again please! Then I needed to pee, held it for about 5 miles till I came to a bathroom (with plumbing!) at the next aid station. There was my crew dutifully waiting for me. When they saw me they started screaming, Auntie Ann waving her signs, and when I veered a hard left straight to the ladies room they started screaming louder in protest “NO, JACKIE THIS WAY!” which basically announced to the entire small crowd at the aid station that I was entering the bathroom. LOL awesome. And to make it even more awesome, the stall I chose to go into had no toilet paper. Fail. This first 15 miles were not off to the greatest of starts… 
Headed back out

But I actually left that aid station feeling a lot better, downed some Gatorade and S-caps, swapped my handheld with my crew and was off again. There was a woman who looked a little older with thick brown hair and a visor that I was running with back and forth for quite a bit up to that point. She and I continued to run together, along with a few guys. The guys made some good company. The one guy kept talking a lot, and to be honest, I don’t really remember what exactly he was saying because I don’t even think he was talking about running. But I do remember laughing with him and being entertained. There was still slightly misting rain and high humidity and soon later I had ripped off my sweat-soaked singlet to hand off to my crew at the next aid. The course conditions were muddy from the previous two days rain and I was very happy with my shoe choice of my heavier treaded Solamons. I saw a few pretty good falls during the first half of the race. 

I guess none of the falls I witnessed were as good as the one Cassie Scallion took  though, because at one of the aid stations on the way back in to finish up with first loop, my dad told me that Cassie had been injured and she was now in second place and things were not looking good. Yikes. I felt really bad for her and hoped that she was ok.  The way back into finish up the first half, the muddy sections on the out and back section were even worse than initially and I knew that when the hundreds of runners repeated this things were only going to get worse. 

I had felt decent up until that point, but I never really started feeling “warmed up” until 20 miles in. Then finally, things started flowing more smoothly and I felt more rhythmic. Hopefully this was a good sign I wouldn’t crash and burn later! In the last mile of the first loop, I was surprised to see how close the leading women actually were. I thought I was going to be crushed by about 2 hours by the winning woman, but I calculated that the leading woman was about 30 minutes ahead of me. First place woman looked strong and had a big smile on her face. I saw Sandi about 10 minutes later, followed by two more women just minutes behind her. I had just picked off another woman not long before that point and was currently in 6th place. I saw 5th place woman leaving the aid station at the start/finish area as I came in and she was no looking great. I was confident I could catch her. 
As I approached that halfway point aid station, I was feeling pretty good about the race, thinking that there is no place any girl should rather be than running through beautiful wine country!  I took a couple of minutes at this aid station to try and get some calories in me, which had not been going too well for me all day, as my stomach was feeling a bit churney. Still, I was feeling pretty good for running 25 miles coming into that aid station, and if I wasn’t, I sure as hell was lying to myself telling myself that yes, I WAS feeling great! I ran into the aid station with a grin on my face when I saw Ian Golden, the RD and exclaimed “Let’s do it again!” Then I was off again, to catch my girl. On my way out though, I saw a girl who had been on my heels ever since passing her a couple miles back and Rachel Nypaver behind right behind her. Yikes, these girls were close! Usually after 25 miles, people started spacing out and gapping a bit, but this could be a really close race.

Early into the second lap I met my short-lived blue shirt runner buddy. I call him Rabbit. He was moving at a pretty swift place, and every time we came to a downed log or branch in the trail, he would do some crazy hurdle move over it. His pace wasn’t quite out of reach for me though, so I turned things up a little bit to keep his pace. He was also interesting to talk to, and soon we became buddies. We made secretive plans to even split the course and scrape in under 9 hours. We had about 18 miles to go and I really felt like I could. I knew we were going just as fast if not faster than we had during the first time through and everything inside me (with the exception of maybe some mild rebellion from my stomach) told me that I could. Then we hit the mother of all RBs (raging bitches) though, and unfortunately for Rabbit, he was purely hamstring dominant on every climb, leaning his trunk forward to a 90 degree angle and pushing up on his thighs with his hands. When we started the climb he actually pulled ahead of me in this fashion, but I knew better, and by the time we had grunted our way to the top of the climb, I had passed him along with another guy and dropped him for good when I barreled down the descent on the other side of the mountain and looked back to find him still walking to recover from the climb. Oh well, nice plan while it lasted.

Up until that point in the race my sole source of calories had been Gatorade, whatever Gatorade-like concoction they had at the aid stations, gels, and a couple block shots. It sounded like the recipe for disaster for a race this long. I knew my crew was concerned I wasn’t getting enough to eat because they kept trying to get me to eat Cliff bars and other aid station food. So, mostly to appease them, I took a cliff bar at the next aid station. My stomach still felt uneasy so it was a risk, but I started munching, taking a bite every 5 minutes of so, until when I was less than halfway through the bar I felt some esophageal reflux threatening to fully erupt, at which point I gave up hope on solid foods for this race. Soon later I had to take a couple minute pit stop to use the woods.  Surprisingly, my legs were feeling pretty darn good. Finally, I caught up to 5th place woman, who apparently was not going down without a fight since it took me longer than I thought to catch up to her. I passed her on a downhill segment and she was not looking good. I was more concerned with the chicks behind catching me at that point than I was that girl re-passing me. Apparently she was a sub 3 hour marathoner who was carrying no means of water or food with her during the race. Ek. I was on a particularly long section between aid stations at that point, and so after I sucked down the rest of my Gatorade (probably then energy source that saved my race!) I didn’t have anything to take in for 2.5-3 miles, which was way too long.

By the time I reached the next aid station I had been sucking water droplets and air from my bottle for half an hour and felt like I would either put my face in the mudd and start drinking at any minute or pass out from dehydration. So, of course, I binge drank at the next aid station all that I could. Cup after cup of water, Gatorade, soda, everything I could, popping a few S-caps in the process. (Ian noted that it was a good thing I had some years of practice with this at JMU!) I definitely had a water belly leaving that aid station. Better than dehydration though, and soon everything settled down a bit and I was back in rhythm. But still, my stomach felt uneasy. 
Mud christened.

Until I needed to make another pit stop in the woods. I came to accept the fact that my stomach issues for this race might not end. The places that were very mucked up with mud during the first two times over, definitely were now that a few hundred people had run over the section 2-3 times. It looked like a 10th of a mile section of swamp that was barely solidifying. There was no way around it either, so straight through I went. My feet sunk in deeply with each step and I had to forcefully flex my hip up to pull my foot out with each step, until one step I pulled and my foot didn’t come out and I landed belly down in the mud. I stood up and had to pull my leg out of the mud with my arms. I trudged on until finally I was out 20 seconds later. I had mud all over my hands, and not sure where to wipe it, smeared some under my eyes to proudly give myself some war paint.

The next several miles through the next couple aid stations I was alone again, the mileage was beginning to hit my legs, and I was running a bit scared, knowing those girls could not be far behind me. Here is where I could tell I wasn’t optimally trained for the long distance ulras, but I did my best to go into auto pilot and just grind out those miles. I think I can attribute my grinding abilities at 40 miles into a race to experience more than I can to any other race preparation. 

Finally, I hit the aid station that marked a 5K to go, woohoo!! I always love getting to this point in an ultra because that same thought always goes through my head, and that is Anyone can run a 5K! This last 5K was no jog through the park though; it had some painful descents and slippery stone steps beside the waterfalls to go with. Also, as suspected, I needed to make one more stop in the woods along the way. The last 5K was rather amusing in the fact that there were a number of tourists and regular hikers out now, who would usually give a look and a cheer to my sweaty disheveled mud-covered body hauling on through the trail. 
Last stretch to the finish.
One last final double track descent, the field to the finish line was in sight and I picked up my pace a couple notches  to cruise into the finish line as 5th place female in 9:16. Of course my crew was there to cheer and greet me which made me even more happy to be done.

I was very pleased with my results, considering my placement in the field and the fact that I had actually expected to finish an hour later than I actually did. The $ prizes only went 4 deep (it would…) but then I at least won my first place age group award by default and got a really nice $230 Scott jacket. As always, I am forever grateful to my amazing crew. Especially my Auntie Ann, who chose to spend her birthday weekend traveling to New York to follow me running around in the woods all day! They make the racing almost easy rolling into aid stations when I don’t really have to think or sequence my hydration and refueling. 
The entire race was also just a really good experience in not only meeting a few of the elite athletes that I always read about, but getting to hang out with them by a campfire drinking beer, reminiscing about the race and life, not to mention getting treated like an elite myself. And surprisingly, the aftermath of quad soreness from the race was not as bad as I thought it would be considering the hills and my relatively untrained state. At least I could move around well enough to make it to the wineries the next day to celebrate my Aunt’s birthday!
Finally, the moment my crew has been waiting for! Happy Birthday Auntie Ann!

Hammering down those rocky hills doesn't come without a few sacrificial toe nails!