Wednesday, November 12, 2014

So I ran an ultra and actually it wasn't too bad

Remember how I said that if I could make it through the Owen-Putnam 50K in one piece, I might actually entertain this crazy 50-miler idea? Well, I'm in one piece. And honestly? It wasn't that bad.

I was a little worried going into this one. For the week before the race, I was out of town, working at one of the conferences that my company puts on. This meant I was on my feet for pretty much five days in a row (I usually sit at a desk), and my diet was out of whack. I enjoy doing these conferences occasionally, but they are exhausting for me because I'm an introvert. So smiling and talking and being "on" all day long for a whole week wears me down, let alone standing so much when I'm not used to it. Also (sorry boys), that time of the month started midweek, which doesn't exactly help. I got back home around 10:30 p.m. the night before the race, so tired that I went right to bed without doing any race prep at all.

The alarm went off at 4:00 a.m., and I immediately began questioning my own sanity. I already know Mark was! Seriously, I'm going to say this more than once--Mark deserves so much credit for putting up with and being supportive of this ultra running thing. As I worked on overcoming the immensely powerful gravitational field generated by the bed, I realized something.

"Hey Mark?"


"Did you by any chance pick up some coffee this week while I was gone?"


"Fuck. That's bad."


I need coffee or I will get a headache. We would just have to leave a little bit earlier and get some on the way. I got dressed and prepped my gear, completely on autopilot, but luckily my morning pre-run routine is pretty well set, so I didn't forget anything (although I wish I'd packed extra Tailwind). I think treating the Tecumseh Marathon as a "dress rehearsal" a couple weeks back really helped. However, I did forget to eat breakfast. (This is not as bad as it sounds--I actually often have nothing but coffee in the morning, but have been working on eating something in the morning more recently as my runs have gotten longer.)

I was not feeling confident about finding the start. It's located at a campground in the middle of the Owen-Putnam State Forest, and the direction looked potentially confusing. And that dark would make it more interesting as well. For these reasons, even though it's located just past Spencer, Ind., I gave us an hour and 10 minutes to reach the start from the east side of Bloomington. I wanted to arrive at the start by 6:00 a.m., so we left a little before 5:00. It was cold but not frigid, about 37 degrees, and partly enough to see a bright moon. It was supposed to be overcast later, but rain chances were very low, and the high for the day was 49. Pretty ideal!

Once I got some coffee in me, I felt better. We found our way to the start without issue. With all the turns and gravel roads, I was glad that we'd given ourselves plenty of time. We very quickly found our group of BARA/ITR friends. In a tent! With a fire! Genius level camping skills right there. I picked up my packet, took care of one last bathroom break, and got my layers and gear where I wanted them. I went with full-length tights, sleeveless BARA singlet, arm warmers, and a buff. I stashed my drop bag (minor flutter there--holy crap I'm running a race long enough to need a drop bag) and then it was time to go!

I wore a headlamp, which I was very glad to have for about half an hour, but then didn't need anymore. Another reason hydration packs with pockets are awesome. I realized almost at once that my legs were actually feeling very good. I tried to settle into a comfortable pace, fast walking on most of the uphills, and doing the best I could with the nearly constant mud pits. The race field was small enough that it almost seemed like a big group run, which I know helped me mentally.

The 50K runners were to do one full 14-mile loop, then two shorter 8.5-mile loops to round out 31 miles. The 14-mile loop consisted of the short loop + an out-and-back section. The first aid station was 5.5 miles into the loop. It was also the spot where the turnoff either onto the out-and-back section or the path back to the start/finish was located.

Pretty early on, I fell into step with two BARA friends, Craig and Rick. It was great to run with them; among the three of us we kept up a fairly steady conversation. We would stay fairly close together for almost the entire race. We negotiated mud pits and gentle but very long ascents as the sun came up. It was overcast for most of the day, but we did get a couple of hours of early morning sun that contributed to some really beautiful ridgetop views (of which I sadly did not get any photos). My favorite part of the entire course (luckily located on the part that I did three times) was a long, flat, mud free, fairly straight section of wide trail lined with pine trees. It felt like running down the middle of a castle or cathedral.

We rolled into the first aid station and I nibbled on pretzels and drained a cup of water. My friends Scott and Becky were volunteering there; it's beyond awesome to have people you know and highly respect as runners supporting and encouraging you in your very first ultra. Racing local is the best. We headed out into our one and only out-and-back section, which went by pretty quickly. I liked it because it gave me a chance to see my friends who were ahead of me on their way back.

On the way back to the main loop, I realized I had emptied my hydration pack. This hardly ever happens, and to have it happen 10 miles into a run is a definite first. We're talking two liters of fluid! That much usually covers me for four hours or 20 trail miles. It's not like I was excessively hot or anything. It was really strange. Maybe I'd just been "hungry" from the lack of breakfast and drank more calories than I'd been aware of. And I was definitely going slower than I usually went, both from the mud and the desire to keep from going out too fast.

Anyway, when I got back to the aid station, I decided to just fill it with regular water (I had been drinking Tailwind). Actually Scott took care of that, which was awesome. I emptied some gritty mud buildup from my shoes and socks, ate a couple of Oreo cookies, and snagged a fun size bag of Lay's potato chips to tide me over. My stomach was feeling super solid today, and I hoped if I ate the food very slowly and kept drinking plenty of water, it wouldn't rebel on me. I had a refill bottle of Tailwind, but at the rate I had been drinking it, it wouldn't be nearly enough to last for the rest of the race.

Back to the start/finish we went. I was getting out of the aid stations a little faster than Craig and Rick, and then they'd catch me. Then I'd take a quick break for a pit stop or to get a rock out of my shoe and then I'd catch up with them. It went that way for 25 miles or so. When we got back to the start/finish, I poured the rest of my Tailwind into my remaining water. It would be more diluted than I usually had it, but I'd supplement with potato chips, which were really doing the trick. I divested myself of my gloves and headlamp and headed out for the second loop.

And so it went. Hills and mud, mud and hills. Although the cumulative elevation gain was considerable, it was the mud that was more challenging for me. This race takes place on a horse trail, which is always going to have some churned up spots, but this was like nothing I'd ever seen. It's hard to adequately describe. Sometimes you could get around it without sinking too much, but this was often impossible, and of course conditions deteriorated as more and more runners went through. Sometimes it was cloaked by a layer of leaves and you'd find yourself shin deep before you knew it. It was necessary for me to pick my way through these patches because the mud wanted to suck on your feet and I was afraid of going all the way down and/or turning an ankle. It got to the point where I would just laugh at it because it was such an absurd amount of mud and slog right through it. I wonder how much my shoes weighed with all that mud on them. Whenever I got to a water crossing, I'd step right in to help wash some of it off...until the next mud crossing a few steps later. Like I said, a challenge, but I was still feeling good and in a good mood about the whole thing.

I finished the second loop hoping to see Mark and the dogs, but they hadn't arrived yet. (He had an errand to run before picking up the dogs and heading back out to meet me.) I'd actually tried texting him to bring more Tailwind just on the off chance, but I don't think it got through, and I wasn't relying on that happening. Oh well, more snackies! Alicia was there volunteering at the finish line aid station and she gave me a nice dose of encouragement which really helped. My pack had enough to get me to the last aid station, so all I did there was change my socks and head back out. Even though my feet of course got wet immediately, changing my socks made a pretty big difference and I'm really glad I did it. I did not get a single blister or even a noticeable hotspot the entire time. I used some 2Toms powder in my socks all day and it worked beautifully.

This time Craig and Rick were out a little ahead of me, but I caught them pretty quickly. In the next couple of miles, I realized that I still felt pretty much fine and at some point moved ahead of them for good and just kept going (they both ended up finishing just a few minutes after me). I was definitely tired and ready to be done, but I wasn't in much actual pain behind some localized, minor soreness in my Achilles and hips. I actually caught and passed a few people, and even got pretty close to who I later realized was the second-place woman before she dropped the hammer and left me behind again. At the last aid station, the volunteers topped off my pack and I had a couple more Oreo cookies. Only three miles to go! It was hard to wrap my mind around the fact that I had already run 28 miles and was still going.

And then, almost before I knew it, I got to the point where I could spot one of the campground tents from a ridgetop and I knew I had maybe half a mile to go. I slogged up the last little hill at a run and came in to the finish, where Mark and the dogs had indeed made it in time. Poor Mark...the dogs kind of monopolized me with kisses, but maybe it was for the best because I was pretty much covered in mud and horse poop and he was spared from that. :)

Alicia immediately handed me a beer (yesssssss) and informed me I'd come in third for women (wow!). And Adam had been third overall! After getting cleaned up a little and changing clothes, I alternately sipped my beer and my chocolate protein coffee milk recovery drink, which whatever, totally complement each other. There was a little propane firepit and camp chairs set up inside the aid/finish line tent, so I alternately hung out in there and came out to cheer for runners coming in and hang out with Mark and the dogs. I did have some soreness setting in, but it wasn't really that bad and I felt overall pretty good, so we decided to stick around and see the 50-milers conquer the day. That little firepit made all things possible.

So it was a really great day! Hanging with good friends, making new ones, and it's all so laid back and welcoming. Meanwhile, inspiring acts of human endurance were taking place around us, so that was awesome. Both BARA Chrises finished their 50-milers and we left soon after.

I'm really pleased with how I've been recovering. Most of the soreness was gone the next day, just a little lingering in my Achilles and muscles or tendons on the outsides of my ankles--which made sense with all that questionable footing. On Monday night I did a little shakeout run and felt great. I'd say that qualifies as being in one piece.

And so today, I registered for 50 miles at Jackson County. What the what. I feel like I'm all right to put in one more big week capped off with one more long run, and then it will be actual factual taper time. WOW!

Stats and stuff:
Official time: 6:43:03 (3rd female, 11th overall)
Moving time: 6:20:11
Average pace: 12:59/mile
Elevation gain: 4,270 (others had around 4,800-4,900; whatever, it was a lot)
Splits: Loop 1 (14.1 miles in 2:52); Loop 2 (8.5 miles in 1:56); Loop 3 (8.5 miles in 1:55)

Thanks to Terry Fletcher for the awesome pictures!

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