Sunday, August 31, 2014

The shortest farthest run of my life: Labor Pains 12 Hour Race 2014

I have to admit that I was not looking forward to this year’s race. Jeff and I had just returned from Oregon where I had put in a 150 mile week of mountain running just a week prior to Labor Pains and I had not really had a single good run all week since then leading up to the race. Also on the back of my mind was one of our tough training runs the last Friday in Oregon, just 9 days before Labor pains. We ran around the volcano Mt Hood, an gnarly grueling 42 miles that took us over 12 hours to complete, and I really tanked in the very last mile of the run before realizing that I had forgotten to eat anything and drink much for the last 3.5 hours, plus the Waldo 100K from 6 days before THAT had caught up with me a bit and my legs just felt overall dead after that trip. Though painful at the time, the Mt Hood training run did serve as a reminder I needed to take care of myself more out on the trails and convinced me that I needed a bit more rest than usual this week leading up to Labor Pains. Regardless, I was more nervous going into this year’s race than I had been last year, feeling more unprepared, knowing I had an expectation of myself to do just as well as I had last year when I had set the course record being in really good shape at the time so that I could prove to myself that I was just as ready for Grindstone now as I was last year. But really, I was almost dreading the thought of running for 12 hours at the time. 

Team Jackie captain reporting for 12 hours of crewing duties!
Despite being a bit run down from Oregon training, going into the race this year I knew my mistakes from last year, the same mistakes I had made at Mt Hood, and the mistakes I was already determined not to make today. I needed to take care of myself. Make sure that I was eating and drinking all day and not getting caught up in the hype with running too fast at the start. Really this stuff seemed like such common sense for attempting to run any ultra and it’s almost shocking that I actually keep needing real-life scenario reminders about it, but apparently I do! 

So there we were, this time Jeff and I standing together at the starting line of the race where we had met just one year before. The celebration of the anniversary took a little edge off the pre race nervesJ Just like last year, a large herd of jackrabbits took off at the start of the race, including several women. Jeff hung back with me and we both laughed at how fast some took off, especially since there was no relay team this year. Even though I had not run the course since the race last year, every section on that 5 mile loop was engrained in my mind from running around it 13 times. I had a pretty good idea of all the hills I wanted to walk up, and when we came to the first short steep grassy uphill in the first half mile of the race, I was the only runner in sight who walked. Even Jeff didn’t stop and pulled ahead of me a bit, slowing at the top to wait for me. It didn’t feel good to have people passing me like that so early in the race, to see so many people ahead of me that I knew I could catch, but today I was racing no one but myself. I knew exactly what I had to do to get what I wanted and I didn’t let myself get caught up in the race hype.

All year leading up to this year’s race I had a goal of running 70 miles here this year. I knew that I really died last year while I dug myself into a deeper and deeper hole of dehydration and caloric deficit and was forced to slow down a lot in the end and I also knew that if I had finished 65 miles just 12-15 minutes earlier, then I would have had time for another 5 mile loop. We calculated that I would have to run each lap in 51:22 if I wanted to get in 70 miles within the 12 hours. I wanted to give myself a bit of a cushion for the end and any unanticipated stops so my plan was to run each lap in just over 50 minutes. And no faster! So I found myself coming into the first lap in just under 50 minutes. Well, close enough.
Jeff leads the final uphill grunt at the end of the first loop with me clawing at the dirt behind him.
 Jeff and I ran the first lap and most of the second lap together (I left the aid station before him but he caught up to me when I made a pit stop on the 2nd). It was fun to reminisce on our initial meeting on my favorite section of the course, a slightly rocky and gradual straight downhill section. This section was nice for a couple reasons… it’s my favorite type of terrain and one that I can still generally run fast on even with tired legs, it signified we were about 10 minutes out form the close of the loop and, of course, on every lap I could think about Jeff and I meeting then and how far we have come together in just one year.

At the start of the third lap Jeff had dropped back at the aid station and I knew that this would likely be the start of the rest of the day running solo, aside from my mom pacing me for whatever fractions of the laps she could. I was ok with it. I settled into my rhythm and started feeling really good. I could tell that I wasn’t exactly fresh, but I just put myself on autopilot and let myself cruise. For the first 30 miles I never got hungry, but felt like I could eat something solid, so slowly chewed down a couple Cliff bars over a couple laps. Then the food started getting a little dicey in terms of what I felt like would agree with me, so Gatorade, gels and ginger chews it was for the rest of the day. Yum (except probably not so good for my teeth!)

Before I knew it, I had hit the “halfway point” of my goal distance at 35 miles at 5:50. Perfect. This meant I had a bit of time to spare at the end of the race for a few inevitable stops that were coming (i.e. bathroom). My dad, mom and aunt were crewing for me at the start/finish of the lap all day and made it easy and quick for me to get food and swap out handheld water bottles filled with Gatorade.
If I had a hard lap all day, it was probably the next one, from miles 35-40. It is that just over halfway point, but not close enough to the finish yet to feel like you are going downhill into it yet ( I still had 5.5 hours to go). That JUST over halfway point has always been the interval number during a track workout that I hate the worst. I had also been running solo now for what felt like a long time (about 25 miles). My mom had started the lap with me but had fallen back within the first mile and a part of me wanted to stop and wait for her. Perhaps it was a little psychological that I felt this lap was just a little bit harder. But I stayed steady and even with my splits and  when I hit 40 miles and knew that I had less than a 50K to go, it was the first time all day when I had really convinced myself I am going to do this today! 50Ks are short and fast and I felt like I had barely run! On top of that, it has started pouring rain, which actually felt really good in the humidity of the day. Feeling that good physically at 40 miles and having that new found confidence in myself was really was an amazing feeling. It was really mostly downhill after my “50K to go” milestone. 

Somewhere between miles 40 and 50 I passed two runners who warned me about an “escaped convict” on the trail. I thought they were joking, until they reassured me that they were not kidding. Convicts had been doing roadwork locally and one had escaped and was seen running through the woods in an orange jumpsuit. Yikes. At the halfway point aid station, I asked the people there about it to confirm because I had been looking around in the woods all paranoid for a mile. No, they told me that the “convict” was actually a runner in costume! Well good thing I asked, because I came up beind the guy running in an orange jump suit a few minutes after the aid station and if I had not known he was a runner, I might have ran back towards that aid station! I ran past him to find the RD sitting with a police officer at the next road crossing. Though puzzled at the time, apparently the guy had caused some kind of ruckus because the firetower called him in and the police had shown up threatening to shut down the race to find him. My aunt said afterwards that she is pretty sure they would have had to taser me to stop me from running that race though. Glad it didn’t happen!
Mom ready to pace, me gulping down more water into my very hydrated Gatorade/water belly.

Three laps to go (mile 55) and I was getting a bit tired, though not the kind of tired that I really feared that I was going to crash and burn for the rest of the race. Though I kept reminding myself that for just running 55 miles, I actually felt pretty freakin good! When I thoughts of time kept creeping into my mind about exactly how long I had been running, I refused to think about it anymore and quickly pushed the thoughts out of my mind. When three more laps because too tiring of a thought, I broke it down in my mind. At four laps to go, really I had only the rest of this lap, which was nothing, and one more lap. The lap after that lap (the 3rd to last lap) would be considered my victory lap (2nd to last lap). Afterall that is all I needed to do to break my own course record and that would be a good day. Even though I knew in my heart that there would also be one lap after that, we’ll call it the glory lap. Of course now it seems like a ridiculous and confusing way to tick down my miles, but the mental game was working for me so that’s how it stayed broken down in my mind. Actually, in thinking about the race this way, I had no idea how many miles, what lap I was on or how much time was on the clock when random people on the course and at the middle water station would ask me. So when asked I would usually be caught off guard and have to resist talking in “laps to go” language and usually just said something like “Ummm I don’t really know.”
Still raining out there made things a bit slick and muddy on the trails, but I was still moving pretty quickly!
 All day I really only knew how long the clock was running when I came through the aid station at the end of each lap. Otherwise, I was stopping and restarting my stopwatch at the beginning/end of every lap. The only time I let myself know was the time of the lap for consistency. I would only look at my watch at specific landmarks on the loop which let me know if I was ahead or behind pace. All day I was hitting all landmarks within a minute of each other. Sometimes I would fall up to a minute behind at a landmark that had to be near mile 2 and was after a longer gradual uphill that I would run mostly up, and I could tell towards the later laps that my uphill running was slowing a bit. But after that landmark, I was hitting all other landmarks (water station, last big climb, last road section…) with dead on consistency, which was encouraging. 

I came though mile 65 with 10:59 on the clock, which is 23 minutes faster than I had run it last year, and feeling 100 times better than I had last year. There was absolutely no question in my mind (unlike what I had been telling myself to get me to this point!) that I was going to run 70 miles today, the absolute farthest distance in miles that I have ever run in my life. There was something different about that last lap that made it special from all the others. At mile into the lap, I knew I had hit mile 66, which was “officially” the farther I have ever run and it just all felt too easy. I felt great. I felt like I could run another 30 miles right then and there. I was determined to run this whole entire lap feeling this way and cross the finish line feeling just the same. Dusk was just settling in on the trail and I was alone out on the trail. The crickets were starting to come out and a bright orange glow blazed brightly through the trees. I enjoyed every step of the peaceful tranquility of that trail, which was something I never thought I could say about the end of a 70 mile run. And I did come through that finish line still feeling like I thought I could run another 30 miles. Seventy miles, 11:52 and new female course record. Also, I was apparently only 25 minutes behind ultrarunning lengend Jimmy Blandford, and came in 2nd place overall, which I will take any day!
It felt great to set the record, and even better knowing that it was my own record from what I had considered to be a really good race last year at the time. I am as ready for Grindstone now as I will ever be, given the Labor Pains trails are not exactly “Grindstone material,” all I can do is see what the adventure will bring. So bring on the big triple digits!