Tuesday, February 12, 2013

100 miles in 1 day

Wow, what a journey.  From being a non-runner 6 years ago, to starting out running a half marathon (which almost killed me, but didn't quite do the job), to moving quickly into marathons, then ultras, it has been one heck of a ride. When I first started running ultra marathons in 2010, I had no desire EVER to run a 100 miler.  I saw people doing it, and how bad they looked at the end and thought "No way!  That looks dangerous."  But, the 50 miler didn't kill me, and I still felt like I had not pushed myself all the way to my limit, so of course the next logical step was a 100.  So, I signed up to do my first one in 2011.  It was a horrible experience.  The entire plan I had laid out for the race fell apart when my pacer had to pull out at the last minute because of a family emergency, leaving me to cover miles 60 - 80 alone in the dark - NOT something I had planned for, and having a last minute pacer jump in for 80 - 100 who was in no way prepared, although good intentioned.

I finished that race in 27 hours and 55 minutes.  Pure hell.  The last lap was horribly painful, and I walked every step of it.  In no way was I prepared for the distance, and only sheer stubbornness got me to the finish line.

In 2012, I was ready.  I had worked my ass off getting ready for that race, including running 2 - 50 milers and a 50k as training runs.  I knew going into Rocky that year that there was a good chance it was going to be very muddy because of large amounts of rain that had fallen recently.  What I was hoping I would not have to deal with was this:
Start of the 2012 Rocky Raccoon 100 miler
But, that is what I got so I made the best of it.  Despite having to pick my way around small lakes in the trail, and occasionally having a shoe sucked off my foot by the mud, I finished that day in 25:28.  I didn't hit my sub 24 hour goal, but I did have a 2 1/2 hour P.R. at the distance, under very tough conditions, so I was satisfied.

This year I renewed my focus on a sub 24 buckle.  (Yes, you run 100 miles for a belt buckle.  If you run 100 miles in under 24 hours, you get a special buckle.)  My training season began in early May this time. This gave me 9 whole months of being "in training".  Many of my runs this season were with faster friends who drug me along behind them, in the process making me a faster runner. In this time, I ran 1 - 50k and 2 - 50 milers.  All of my times this year were P.R.'s.  I was even surprising myself at my ability to push hard early on in a race and hold steady until the end.  I had already built a solid foundation to go sub-24 with the 11 ultras I ran before Rocky, but this training season strengthened my base and gave me all of the ammunition needed to succeed.  The rest would be mental.

About 3 weeks out from Rocky, I did my last long training run - a 30 mile foot tour of Lafayette.  I know this sounds miserable, but it was actually a very pleasant run.  The weather was right, and I took off and just wandered.  If there was a road that I had not previously run on, I ran on it that day.  I discovered some beautiful areas of the city and surprised myself when I had a marathon PR in the midst of the run (4:11 - my previous best marathon time was 4:22).  BUT - even though this run felt great, evidently I pissed something in my hip off in the process, because every run I tried to do after that was very painful, and filled with lots of stops to stretch.  

One of my strong points, and I think one of the things that keeps me fairly healthy as a runner is my lazy streak.  Don't get me wrong - when it is crunch time on the schedule the miles are covered, but if its not necessary, and I am not feeling it - Hello Couch.  With my hip hurting (which I narrowed down to my hamstring), I indulged my lazy streak.  I barely ran at all in the last 3 weeks before Rocky.  I decided it would be better to start healthy and a little undertrained rather than fully trained and limping.  And thankfully, it was the right decision.

Brad Delcambre, Bobbi Parker, and Me before the start.

Click on the picture for the start video.  Pretty cool stuff.
So here began my 100 mile journey.  I had a rock solid plan in place, and I was going to do my best to stick to it for the first 60 miles that I would run on my own, then I would rely on my pacer, John Fell, to get me through the last 40 miles.  I knew that all I had to do was meet my mark, and John would do everything in his power to get me through the last 40 miles in time.  So, I ran.  I knew at the start that the day was going to get  pretty warm - over 70 degrees midday - so I decided to bank some time on the first 20 mile loop, figuring on some drop off during the hottest part of the day.  I had planned for a 4 hour first loop but ended up getting back to the start/finish in 3:43.  That gave me an extra 17 minutes to tack onto my second loop, allowing me to slow down a bit in the heat, and focus on taking in enough nutrition and hydration.  It did get warm - I got a sunburn despite the SPF 50 sunscreen I was wearing - but it wasn't really an issue for me.  My stomach was a little sour, but that is normal for me when I race in warm weather.  By the end of the second 20 mile loop, I was right on my 8 hour mark, and I could already feel it cooling off a bit.  I knew that once the temp dropped, I would be energized again, and my stomach would calm down.:

This race was different because there were so many Lafayette runners out on the course.  Liz Wooster would be running her first 50 miler with Christina Gravish, Jessica Amy was running her first hundred, as was Bobbi Parker who was running her first 100 with Brad Delcambre.  Every loop I got to see familiar faces, which always gave me a huge boost.

Part of the trail. Just a small climb :)

Damnation Aid Station.  We would see this aid station twice per lap.
Some of the nicest people on the planet as long as you don't mention anything
about dropping from the race, then they can get tough. 

Runners on the trail

Jeep Road.
Or, more accurately, "The longest freaking stretch on the course."

Start/Finish area where runners could set up their own mini aid station,
and friends and family could hang out.
Before I took off on my third lap, I had a little more preparation to do.  From past experience running in Texas, I know that the temps there change very quickly, and I knew that as soon as the sun would set, it would cool off, so I tied a long-sleeved shirt around my waist, and I grabbed my headlamp.  The last couple of miles of this loop would probably be in the dark, so I wanted to be ready.  I also got a nice surprise on this stop, with two people that I love dearly having driven up from Houston to cheer for their Lafayette running buddies participating in the race.  Bob and Emma Valentine are two of the most supportive, loving people I know, and it was great to get a quick hug from them before I took off again.

So I started my last lap on my own before I would pick up my pacer.  My times were right on the money, and even though that hip issue I had been fighting before the race had popped back up just as I passed the marathon distance, but it stayed at a manageable level, so it didn't really slow me down.  I did alot of self-talk on this run, especially on the last two laps (more on that later).  The first 60 miles weren't too bad, but I know how different it is after the sun sets, and how much more of a mental game it is.  Hopefully, I was prepared mentally as I was physically for the beating my body was taking.  There was only one way to find out.  

Start/finish area where runners could leave their drop bags.

Inside one of the aid station tents.  Runner getting his feet taped.

I pulled into the start/finish at about 6:35 - only 5 minutes behind my goal time.  Pretty damn impressive, if you ask me :).  This is when I started to see that my sub-24 goal was within reach (well, 23:30 to be exact).  I went over to our staging area, changed out of my wet shirt, and put on a long-sleeved shirt and tied a jacket around my waist.  I restocked my waist pack, added lube (I attribute the fact that I had zero chafing to the 30 seconds this took. One of my better decisions for the day.), and asked John if he was ready.  This is when I discovered that John had been very sick over the previous week, but didn't tell me because he didn't want me to worry.  He barely had a voice, and looked tired.  And he was getting ready to run 40 miles with me - the furthest he had ever run.  If this had been anyone else, I would have had a small panic attack, but since it was John, and he is very comfortable with suffering, I knew he would gut it out and kill himself helping me to reach my goal.  I understand the way John thinks, and I knew we both had the same thought at that point, "There is time to be sick later, we have a job to do." 

So we took off for our 40 mile run together.  John ran slightly ahead with his flashlight.  He would point out major roots, and guide me to the smoothest side of the trail to run on.  When the path was clear, we were running fast enough so that when it was really nasty and full of roots, we were able to walk through the worst of it, and take off again once it cleared up.  There was no use pushing through these sections and risking a twisted ankle or a face plant when we were able to make up the time on smoother sections.

I saw the determination on John's face early on, and I knew he had a plan to get us to our goal.  I have complete faith in John, and I knew that he was probably the only person who could pull me through this.  At this point, fatigue was really setting in.  My body clock said it was time to sleep.  I was very drowsy, and even when I was running, I was looking off of the side of the trail thinking about how soft the ground looked.  I even had a few moments when I thought "If I fall, at least I will get to lay down for a second".  Yeah, I was tired.  But, experience told me that this would pass, and my brain would wake up again.  And it did, thankfully.  I was still tired, but that heavy, sleepy feeling went away.

If you think we were tired, check out what the aid station workers go through. These aid stations are manned with experienced trail and ultra runners who know what you need before you do.  These workers are out there for 30+ hours tending to tired and broken down runners, giving them the fuel they need and kicking them out of the aid station before they get too comfortable.  Kind, caring, tough people.  Can't beat trail runners.

Very cool time lapse of Damnation Aid Station.

So, we finished our 4th loop in good time and got back to the start/finish.  This is where I discovered that even though John never had military experience, he must have been channeling a long lost relative who was a Drill Sergeant or something because he was very serious about us getting a move on.  While I used the porta potty and got some food in me, John was changing the batteries in our headlamps, and getting our gear ready.  Before I knew it, we were starting our last loop.  None of our crew was there this time, it was after midnight, and I had suggested that Randy get some sleep so that he could be there for the finish and be awake to drive John and I home.  Even though I can stay awake after a 100 miler, attempting to drive myself home after this distance would be very foolish.  It would be worse than driving drunk and very dangerous.  Thankfully, Randy agreed to play chauffeur for the crippled people.  

We took off on our last loop a little after midnight.  We had almost 6 hours to cover 20 miles to make it in under 24 hours.  John was on a mission, and I decided right there to just shut up and do exactly what he told me to do.  When he said run, I ran, doing my best to keep up with him.  This was a tough loop.  All of the little aches and pains that had kept me company all day were now amplified.  I don't know if they actually hurt worse, or if I was just too far beyond tired to keep them in check.  Every time we would start running again, I would moan from the pain.  It wasn't intentional.  I had no idea that I would make that noise, it just happened.  Every time.  A few times when we were running, I would tell John just to keep running as long as the ground was clear.  It was just too painful to start again.  This is where John started playing mental games with me.  He would say "You give me a minute of running, and you get a minute of walking."  I noticed early on that he never looked at his watch for this, so I knew he was blowing smoke up my a$% about the time, but I had decided to do whatever he said, so there was no questioning or arguing that was going to happen.  He was the conductor of this train.  I was just the passenger.

Here are some examples of what was going on inside my head during this last loop.  It was a very busy place:

When I would start giving in to negative thoughts, telling myself, "Dammit Edie, YOU are the only person that can stop YOU from achieving this!  Just shut up and run"  "Why are you here???  Did you do all of that work to crumble now?"  "You have been in some level of pain for nearly 20 hours.  It is not getting better, but it's not getting worse.  A few more hours won't kill you."

John told me some time during these last 40 miles that if I felt the need to curse him out, that would be fine, it wouldn't be the first time.  I didn't.  Well, not out loud at least.  I told him afterwards that a couple of times when he was making me run up the hills on the last loop, it did make me feel better to call him a "Fucking Nazi" in my head.  It's pretty funny now.

Before the race, I gave John a spreadsheet with my projected paces and lap times.  This is what I gave him (except I even had it broken down by aid station) :

Lap 1 - 4:00 (hours)
Lap 2 - 4:00
Lap 3 - 4:30
Lap 4 - 5:00
Lap 5 - 5:50

Finish Time - 23:20 - stretch goal; 23:30 - real goal; sub 24 - last resort goal

And here were my actual lap times for the race
I love it when a plan comes together!
When we were just around the corner from the finish chute, John reached out and grabbed my hand.  Just this simple gesture of friendship brought out all of the tears I had been holding back for the entire last lap.  I hadn't looked at my watch at all for the second half of the last lap.  I knew we were running strong, but I had no idea what my actual time was.  When we turned the corner and I saw the clock, John said "There's your finish line.  Go get it."  And I did.  Sobbing like a baby all the way across.  The first person I saw was RD, Joe Prusaitis, one of my favorite ultra people.  I have gotten  many finish line hugs from Joe and his beautiful wife, Joyce, and I have come to look forward to these as my races draw to an end.

Joe P.  - a true class act.
A very nice gentleman offered to take my timing chip off of my ankle - clearly, I was not in shape to bend over and do it myself.  Joe and I have become friends over the years that I have done his races.  At Wild Hare, he smiled when he gave me my 5th place female award and I cried, and at Rocky, he smiled and said "Here's your sub 24 buckle", and I cried and he gave me a big old hug.

As soon as I let go of Joe, the very next face I saw was one of my favorites - a person who is very dear to me, Randy.  He just smiled and I started crying all over again.  I hugged him (he was having to hold me up at this point), and said something like, "That hurt very bad", and kept sobbing on his shoulder.  I can't even imagine how bad I smelled at this point.  Then it was over to Christina and Liz who had come out to see me finish, even thought they were very sore and tired from their 50 miler the day before.  More tears - this time from Christina too.  She has a rule that no one cries alone in her presence.  Then, last but not least, it was time to see John.  I told him then, and it holds true now, that I never could have done it without him.  No one else could have gotten the results out of me that he did.  It is partially because I have a huge amount of respect for him as a person, but also because I didn't want to let him down.  I knew that he had given up his weekend when he should have been in bed trying to get healthy to come and run 40 miles through the dark with me.  I knew this meant almost as much to him as it did to me, and I was determined not to let him leave disappointed that I didn't give it my all.  The power of positive peer pressure.

So, Randy helped me get back to our staging area so I could sit down for the first time in over 24 hours.  Christina and Liz covered my legs with a hoodie and wrapped me up in a towel to keep me warm while Randy went to get the truck to pick me and John up.  It was surreal - in fact, it still is.  I learned so much about myself on this run.  I had the advantage of lots of experience to get me through the tough spots.  I learned that even in the last 20 miles, when I feel like I have been beaten with a baseball bat for the last 20 hours, I can still push the pain down and use it to propel myself forward.  I reinforced what I had already begun to learn over my ultra journey - "Not all pain is significant".  I was able early on to embrace the discomfort I was feeling, and actually welcomed some of the familiar aches and pains when they arrived.  These pains meant I was doing something.  Great things are not accomplished without a certain level of discomfort.  I also learned that if I can hit all of these solid PRs after the year of turmoil I have had, I can pretty much do anything. I don't stay down for long and I can not be broken.  I will continue to use this lesson in my life.

Now that I have accomplished my goal, I have no idea what my future race plans are.  They definitely include ultras.  I just love the journey of the race so much, I don't see myself giving those up for a long time.  
But, for the next few weeks, all I have planned is REST and RECOVERY.  9 months of the last year I was training.  I'm tired but fulfilled.  Time to rest and reset for my next goal, whatever that ends up being.

Thank you to everyone who has traveled this journey with me.  It has been one heck of a ride, and it was great to have everyone's support along the way.  Now it is time for you to do something great - whether it is walking a 5k or joining a gym for the first time.  If a little girl who grew up in Scott can do this, you have no excuse. :)

Happy Running, Y'all

More race pix:
Gotta love these goofy volunteers!!

Home base for the race

Where the timing strap was.  I think the dirt was the only thing
holding me together.

Before Liz's first 50!!!  Wonderful friend!

Trail marker

That sweet, sweet buckle.

Joe P giving the trail briefing the day before the race.