Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Can't decide on the title for this race report. Either "Flat and Fast My Ass" or "What the Hell Was I Thinking?"

Well, I expected this to be a tough race, and I was right.  But, as always, there are lessons to be learned.  I drove into Clinton, Mississippi, on Friday afternoon, and arrived just in time for the packet pick-up.  Many of you may have been to the packet pickups for half and whole marathons, and they look something like this:

This is what I was used to before I started doing trail ultra marathons. In contrast, this was the packet pickup for the Big Butts 50k:
Notice anything different?

And this is the kind of stuff you could expect to find in a marathon packet:
And for Big Butts, this is what we found in the packets:
We run so that these will never fit.
Granted, we also got a really cool micro fiber sweat towel, and a tech t, but the ginormous undies were the highlight.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that the reason I do all of this training is because I LOVE the race environment at trail ultras, and that was just re-confirmed at this race.  It started when I got to my hotel, which was about a mile from the race start, and was one of the two host hotels for the race.  Before I even got out of my car to check in, I could spot the ultra runners.  They are super fit, but slightly disheveled.  They carry themselves with a quiet confidence.  These are very talented athletes, minus any ego you may find in other extreme sports event.  You see more than your share of cargo shorts, sandals, and race t's.  There is also alot of handshaking and back slapping among the runners who recognize each other from other races they have done together. The ultra running community is small.  It is odd to go to any race near your home and not recognize people you have run alongside in the past.

In the last few days before the race, one of my trail running buddies and best friends, Christina Gravish, decided she would like to give it a shot.  She was definitely well trained for the race, it was just a matter of sweet talking the RD to let her in.  It didn't happen, but being the laid back guy that he is, and being that it is a public park, he said that although she could not officially participate, he gave her permission to bandit the race.  Yay!  I would have a buddy to suffer with!!

When we went to the race site for packet pickup, we noticed that there were NO park bathrooms.  There were also NO porta potties brought in for the race.  With this being a trail race, it wasn't like you could just duck into a McD's along the course either.  Can you say "One with nature"?  So, the idea of toweling off in the park bathroom sink was out the window.  Thankfully, my crew included Eric Gravish, King Supreme Take Care of Problems guy.  We went to Walmart and picked up string and a tarp, and I grabbed a few gallon jugs of water later that night. From this he fashioned our own private shower stall. Its good to have handy friends!!

Race morning was pretty laid back, as usual.  I got to see Lane and Erica from Pineville.  Lane is an excellent runner, but we both knew that this was going to be a tough one. Lane's pictures tell the story:

From the peak of fitness and health to on the verge of heat illness.  Everyone suffered in this race.

So, when it was about 8:00, we lined up at the start line - well, technically there wasn't a starting line.  The RD drew one in the dirt with his shoe and said. "Start here".  He gave us brief instructions about the course, and we were off.

There were runners doing the 50k (31 miles) and the 100k (62 miles).  There were a total of 80 runners on the course, 17 of which were attempting the 100k, which no one finished last year.  The course was a 6 mile loop, and after 5 loops for the 50k, there was a 1 mile out and back (on pavement - in the full sun - in the middle of the afternoon - after you had already suffered through 30 hot trail miles). The 100k'ers had 10 loops then a 2 mile out and back. Who says RD's aren't sadistic?  

The race started at almost 80 degrees and 96% humidity.  From the beginning, it was a struggle to keep my heart rate down.  We kept pretty even splits for every lap, with very little deterioration until the last lap when cramping and nausea set in.

The first 3 loops were a battle against the humidity.  We knew these would be tough, but the plan was to bank some time on these loops before it got hot.  (Get the sarcasm?  It was almost 80 degrees and 96% humidity at the start.  It was NEVER cool.  We were sweating standing at the "start line".) One of my fellow runners posted on the race site afterwards "The first 3 laps were like running in a sauna, the last 2 were like running in an oven".  Pretty much.
If fitness models were as tough as Christina,
this is what they would look like.

But, we stuck to the plan, and it worked out as well as it could.  Things didn't start to think about falling apart until the last lap.  This is where the cramps, side stitches and dry heaves started.  But, we knew what to do.  We backed off on the pace in the exposed areas, and tried to push it a reasonable amount in the shade.  We poured water over our heads and down our shirts.  We took salt, and drank lots of water.  And, WE MADE IT back to the start/finish for the 30 mile mark.  This is where Christina made the very wise decision to end her long run. She had been fighting nausea for the entire last loop, and since she wasn't an official participant, there was no official time for her and no post race schwag, so there was NO reason for her to do the 1 mile out and back on pavement and in the full sun at almost 3:00 in the afternoon.  She left that to the stupid people.  So, off I went.

This last mile SUCKED.  It was one of the longest miles I have ever run.  After 30 miles of steep climbs and descents and shoe-sucking, slippery mud,  hitting the pavement and feeling the heat radiate from the road while the sun beat the tar out of you from above was a special kind of torture.  On the 1/2 mile out, every turn was followed by disappointment when I didn't see the turn around sign.  All perspective of distance was gone.  When I finally saw the little white "TURN AROUND" sign, I had to laugh out loud.  There was no one anywhere near to see that you actually made it to the sign before you turned around.  In fact, there were no race officials on the out and back at all.  You could conceivably have rounded the first turn, sat down for a bit, then headed back in and no one would have known but you and God.  Guess that's all I needed to know to make me run just a few steps past the sign before heading back.

Before the race, my loose goal was to finish under 6:30.  When things went awry in the last lap, I amended that to sub 7:00.  When I reached the turn around, I looked at my watch and saw that I had about 12 minutes to spare before it hit the 7 hour mark.  I would be hard pressed not to make it a half of a mile in 12 minutes, so I slowed my pace some to avoid puking on my own shoes as I crossed the finish line.

And finish I did - in 6:53:30.  I was 6th overall female, 3rd in my age group, and 29th overall.  And what did I get for all that effort and pain?
What do you mean there's no margarita in it???

My favorite part - how the sun looks a little "off",
and the fact that "YOU FINISHED" is a big deal.
For this particular brand of stupidity, this is exactly what I would expect.  A mug to hold hot beverages.  The age group winners received jars of homemade pickles, and the winner of the 100k got a sweatshirt.  Not the kind of race that attracts medal collectors.  This is about memories and pride in the fact that you somehow survived to tell the tale.

31 miles in the heat and humidity of late July
in Mississippi over tough trails.
What's next?  Bring it on!!

So, it was into our makeshift shower stall (thanks again Eric!) to rinse off and drive home - about 4.5 hours.  A little longer when you have to stop to walk out cramps :).  Even as we were walking away from the finish line, Christina and I looked at each other and smiled and agreed that that was a horrible yet amazing experience that I am so glad we were able to share.  What a blessing to have friends that you can suffer with.  That is when you as a person are strengthened, and when your friendships are cemented.

Regardless of how tough the race was, quitting was never an option.  As I have said before, when it comes to these races, I make a plan and try to stick to it.  When that doesn't work out (it rarely does), I amend the plan, and try to stick to the new one.  This can happen many times during a race.  But, the plan NEVER includes giving myself the option to quit.  If I ever do DNF, it will be caused by injury or illness, not just from being tired of being tired.

So, there you have it folks.  My first and probably last time doing this race.  I say probably because I can be talked into a whole lot of stupidity by friends, so I can't rule it out.  But, stupidity shared makes for great memories!!

Happy Running!

Oh yeah - and if you are wondering if any of the 17 that signed up for the 100k finished it??  4 people did.  The winner of last years 50k, Sarah Woerner, won the 100k this year with a time of 10:49.  This was almost a two hour lead over the other 3 finishers (all men).  WooHoo!!  GO GIRL!!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Packing for Big Butts

Getting things together to hit the road for Clinton, Mississippi tomorrow.  Since this race is 31 miles, it takes a good amount of forethought, similar to packing for a marathon.  The only difference here is the temperature, and the extra considerations that brings.  The latest forecast from Weather Underground for race day is:

1 AM4 AM7 AM10 AM1 PM4 PM7 PM10 PM
Temperature / Dew Point (°F):
81 / 73
75 / 73
75 / 73
79 / 75
91 / 73
95 / 72
93 / 72
82 / 72
Humidity (%):

I am hoping for rain.  Luckily, I have the best possible crew meeting me there - Eric and Christina Gravish
I mean really - what more could you ask for?? :)

Also, meeting me there will be Lane and Erica Gremillion from Pineville.  Lane and I ran our first 100 miler at the same time, although he was waaaay ahead of me. Erica is a top notch crew chief and cheerleader.  It is always great to have her at races!

Notice the painted buckle - that means he finished his 100 miles in one day. 
I need one of those.

So, what do you pack for a warm-ish 50k trail race?? Here's a sampling:

2 handheld water bottles
-Salt Tabs
-Sport Shield (anti-friction)
-Blister Shield (for inside socks)
-watch (cheap Timex to track nutrition)
-Trail Shoes (2 pairs - if one gets soaked with sweat or mud, can switch shoes and socks)
-Running Capris
-2 kinds of run shorts (never know what mood I will be in on race morning.  Although, I will probably go with the tried and true 2XU Capris.  If it ain't broke...)
-2 of my favorite run shirts - so I can change half way through if the mood strikes.  It might be nice to be dry for a brief moment.
-run hat
-bandannas - to put ice in and wrap around neck for when the temp gets really ridiculous
-flip flops for after race to try to appease my pissed off feet
-bug spray (trail race, remember)
-iPod (don't always use these, even for longer races, but if things go south, it will be a nice distraction)
-chair (to sit in to change socks and shoes if necessary)
-cooler for start finish area - since this is a loop course, I will get back to it every 6 miles or so.
In cooler:  SmartWater and Ensure - one Ensure for before the race, and a few for after and the ride home.  
-In race med bag - Immodium, Pepto, Aspirin, Ibuprofen - because you just never know what might happen :)
-Towel and wash cloth for the quick bath from the park bathroom sink before the trip home.  No showers available, so the windows may have to be cracked a bit for the ride.

Thankfully, with this being one of the shorter races that I do, and being that I will be staying in a town with access to stores, I don't have to employ all of my OCD'ness.  When it comes time for my longer races, or those that I will be tent camping for, the list will be much more organized and detailed.  But for this one, if I forget something I can buy another one.  The only must haves are my race gear, and that is always the first thing to get packed in the truck.

And that is about it, except for the normal amenities you would bring on any trip. I will try to post pictures before of the packet pickup, and the race briefing the morning of, but if I can't I will do a blog post with the race report - the good, the bad and the ugly - as soon as I feel like it. Can't wait for this one.  It has the potential to be a spectacular torture fest.  Woohoo!!  :)

Thanks to everyone for their support!!  

Happy Running!