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.

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