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!