Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Race Report

WOW!  I did it!  I can proudly say that I am an ultra-marathon runner now.  Here is the play by play...forgive the details, but this is my official record of the whole event.

May 17, Saturday
Sarah and I woke early after a day of shopping Friday near Seattle and hit Starbucks before driving 3.5 hours across the North Cascade Highway to Winthrop.  We stopped several times to stretch our legs and arrived at the River Run Inn around noon.  Our cabin was ready so we checked in, dumped our stuff and headed into town for lunch and exploring.  We immediately fell in love with both our cabin at River Run, and the town of Winthrop. We were pleasantly surprised when we stumbled into Winthrop Mountain Sports, where I managed to buy 3 pairs of Merrell minimal running shoes and Marmot jacket for my son and I (combined).  What a jewel of a store, if not a bit chaotic.  Then it was back to the cabin for a 2 hour nap (what a treat!) and then into town for a pre-race Mexican meal that was just perfect.

The night before the race we spent almost an hour prepping our drop bags and getting all endless paraphernalia ready for race day.  It was to bed by 9:00 and I actually slept well that night!
All my stuff, ready to go...
May 19, Sunday - RACE DAY
Sunday morning dawned clear and bright, with a projected high of 19C.  We were up early, had breakfast, starting drinking water to pre-hydrate.  We arrived at the Chickadee Trail Head at about 8:45, giving us ample time to check in and get ready for a 10:00 start.  The 50 milers had started at 7:00, so there weren't that many people there when we arrived.  I must say that right off the bat this race had such a relaxed atmosphere.  I'm not sure if that is characteristic of all ultra-marathons, but the Rainshadow crew created a super mellow, well organized race environment!  Within 2 minutes we had our race numbers and shirts and the spent over an hour mentally prepping and in the potty line up.

Topic of conversation under our breath in the line up: HOKAS!  I have never seen so many marshmallow shoes in one place.  The Hoka One One trend has not really hit Canada yet, and I hope it never does.  I may be blasted by many on this one, but as a physio who heeds the research, I was floored at the number of people standing 3 inches taller on platforms who planned to run on the trails for the rest of the day.  I just don't get it, but I'm obviously in the opposite camp...nearer the guy wearing the Tarahumara sandals further up the line.  We ultra-runners are a diverse lot that's for sure.
Pre-race selfie
Kinda nervous!
The pre-race brief was a simple 2 minute affair telling us that this was not a road race (meaning do not litter) and with less than a 30 second warning before the start we were off!  I barely had time to start my GPS on my phone and stash it away before I was caught up running with the "cattle herd" for the first 30 minutes or so before we spread out more.  Sarah was gone from my sight after 5 seconds which didn't surprise me one bit.
Race start
The one thing that worried me before the race was my ability to stay clear mentally and stay true to my race plan.  To this point in training I had Sarah running with me keeping me on track in all ways - on course, with fueling, hydration, pace, etc.  This time I was ALL ALONE.  I had to stay clear and on plan.  I started a little fast for what I'd like but forced myself to pull back and let people pass me.  Even so it took almost a hour before I really felt like I had found my race pace.

The first 1/3 of the course was a slow gradual climb up to the first peak.  The first aid station was at 13.85K and I didn't leave anything there in a drop bag.  I carried all my race fuel, but I did replenish my water supply there.  It was pretty warm even at 10:00 when we started and my plan was to take 1 Succeed salt cap every hour.  By 1:30 into the race I realized I would need more as I was already feeling the hint of nausea that I now know precedes the need for salt.  Thank goodness for that horrific training experience because at least now I know what the warning signs are.  So I ended up taking 2 salt caps/hour which meant  much more water consumption too.

Out of the aid station there were a few more ups and downs before a loooonnnngggg stretch of downhill single track that felt so good!  The wild flowers were so spectacular along the course in this stretch, but I only pulled my phone out to take 2 pictures before the half way mark.

We reached the second aid station earlier than I expected which was a nice surprise.  It was supposed to be at 27K but came at 24K on my GPS at about 2:50 into the race.  My body had been feeling great up until this point, but my right big toe was feeling pressure.  I thought it was my sock, and took off my shoe to tug the toe of my sock down a bit.  I had my older shoes in the drop bag just in case, but thought that the sock adjustment would fix the situation.  I had only run about 100K on my new shoes and thought they were broken in enough, but I later realized they weren't.  I replenished my snack supply, filled my hydration pack, sucked back 2 orange wedges and continued on.  A few K out of the aid station I realized my toe wasn't better with the sock fix.  It wasn't bad then, but I questioned that maybe I should have changed shoes.

Then we started heading up the second peak which took us up absolutely gorgeous sunflower meadow covered hills to the Sun Mountain Lodge. The lupins were out too, which made for views that a phone pic just can't show properly.  I was carrying my phone at this point so I could keep track of mileage better, and take pictures with ease.  I had had it plugged into a small external battery pack for the first half of the race so that I didn't run out of power. 
This part of the course looped us twice around one section.  The first time around a team of three racer in matching jersey's passed me.  I thought to myself..."hmmm - you're not doing too badly if they are just passing you now!"  Later, when we looped by that same location again, I realized that they were on their second loop when I had seen them...oh well.  I never claimed I would win this thing.  At this point we were all both slowing a little on the climbs and getting bored, so there were some minimal conversations between racers.  I was sandwiched between a few 50 milers who looked pretty depleted.  Apparently I was only 1/2 way into a 50K race running an 80K pace.  I had left my pride at the door months it didn't bother me!

The last aid station came upon me MUCH earlier than I expected.  It was supposed to be at 40.5K and my GPS read 36K when I arrived.  I would much rather have it come earlier than later, that's for sure!  The guys at the aid station said that everyone was commenting about how their GPS's were off that day.  I was pretty dry by this time and for the first time ever I drank Coke during a run.  It was all that looked appealing to me at that point. I again filled up with water and pulled out my head phones preparing for the final 10K with another mountain to climb.  At this point my stomach did NOT want food.  During training the Oskri coconut bars had worked well, but let me tell you - in the heat when they have melted to oil and your mouth is dry - they don't go down very well.  Never again.  I still forced myself to eat but it wasn't easy!

Right out of the aid station we started to climb up above the lake.  As we got higher I gazed longingly at a boat ramp and pictured jumping off it onto the cool lake.  I thought we were almost at the top, and questioned a turn that the flag tape made me take.  I stood there puzzled for quite a while - not wanting to believe that I still had to go up.  And up.  And up.
Starting to climb the final peak.  Race central at the far end lake on the left of the picture.
Still going up.  Can you tell I'm tired here.  Taking a lot of pictures.
We came to this crazy ladder over a barbed wire fence.  My legs were a little wobbly but I made it over without falling on my face!
There was actually quite a bit of forest running but I didn't take any pictures of that. Boring.

My dreamy lake is getting farther and farther away.  Isn't the race supposed to be almost done?
Up and up and up we go.  I'm climbing hands on knees at this point.
At the top of the hill in the picture above we see this sign.  Thank goodness!
By now I've been running over 5 hours.  I took my first gel (loaded with caffeine) to get me back down to the finish.  As soon as I turned about and started heading down I knew my right big toe was in trouble.  A racer passed me on the way up and said something like, "it looks like it's going to be a long way down" as he watched me hobbled along.  My toe nail felt like it was jamming into the end of my shoe.  I was puzzled because I knew my toe nails were short.  I tried activating my foot intrinsic muscles to hold me arch up and keep my toe back but this only succeeded in macerating the area under the ball of my foot in the end.  I tried not caring about the pain and running through it.  That only worked for a short while.  I was mad because I usually excel on the downhills and can really let it go. But I was held back by my big toe.  Grrrr.
The final downhill
I finally made it back down to the lake and realized I was going to finished under 6:30.  I had thought realistically I would finish between 6:30 and 7:30 elasped time.  There was a little road section and I flew along that with my tunes and was at the finish line before I knew it in 6:16.  My first thought was - get these shoes off of me!  But first Sarah managed to snap this picture of me:
and then we took this selfie:
I think we look pretty good post-race!  Then I immediately headed to the car for my flip flops.

I am satisfied that I ran a close-to-perfect first race.  I ran the race in thirds, followed my fueling and hydration plan, didn't bonk or get hyponatremia (4L+ water and 10 salt tabs total) and was still smiling after the race.  My only regret is that my shoes were not broken in enough.  I now know that older, almost trashed shoes are better than shoes that are still too stiff for 50K.
The finish line - so low key!

Sarah ran a stellar race.  She was 2nd in her age class (by 22 sec) and 5th woman overall.  Despite all her "I'm not going to race it," "I'm not sure if I'm serious" chatter, I knew that she wouldn't be able to hold back and proved once again that she really can kick some ass out there.

The post race party was almost the best part of the day.  The band was just right, there was great pizza, it was sunny and warm, and everyone just hung out for hours after.  Probably because none of us could get up out of our lawn chairs! LOL  If this race if indicative of ultra-running culture, then I'm hooked.  If there was an awards ceremony, then we totally missed it.  If there were prizes and draw prizes (which I think there were) again we missed it.  No big announcements.  We didn't know who won until the next day.  People were out there simply for the love of running, to complete the race.  It was so grass roots, so laid back.  I LOVED IT! 

I have heard quite of bit of buzz about prize money and drug testing in some of the bigger races.  I hope that this sport stays small for as long as it can.  I really think I have found my niche.  I will never win any of these races, but I really don't care!  Even the people who finished after the 8 hour cut off still got huge cheers and had the RD there to greet them.  This race reminded me of what the tabloid track meets used to be like as a kid.  You got a pat on the back simply for coming out and that was enough.

I competed against myself and I won.

What's next?  I secretly signed up for the Squamish 50K a month ago when they opened up a few more spots.  So I guess I'm going to do that.  Why not?  I'll probably lose my big toe nail before then and then it won't hurt anymore :)

PS - Sarah and I stayed to volunteer for the clean up, then headed for more Mexican food and margaritas.  That night my legs did not want to be still, which meant for a very restless sleepless night.  The drive home was done tenderly, and I actually used the elevator on the ferry going down 1 floor (shhhh!) but today the only thing really hurting is my toe.  A bike ride and a hose down on my swollen feet felt soooo good after work as did time just spent sitting in the back yard with my family.  A few more days of rest and it's back at 'em!

Elevation gain: 1790m
Time: 6:16
Water: >4L
Salt: 10 S-caps
Fuel: 2.5 Fruitsource Bars, 2 Oskri coconut mango bars, 2 dates, 3 orange wedges, 4 oz Coke, 1 Gu gel, 1/2 cup mashed potatoes
Shoes: Mizuno Wave Ascent 8

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Taking Stock

Four days until race day.  At this point I have done almost all I can do to get ready for the race.  I've barely run this week and although in some ways it's killing me, in other ways it's been so nice to have time to spend with my family and catch up on yard work now that the weather is so amazing here in the valley.

This evening as I was puttering in my yard in 24 degree heat at 7:00 pm with energy to spare, I was intensely grateful that I chose an early season race.  We are not moving now as we had planned, but my choice of race date has worked out perfectly regardless.  I would much prefer to run in the rain and cooler weather than in the heat (although I don't plan to stop running this summer) and these past 2 weeks I've been able to enjoy time on the beach, camping, and a few sleep-in mornings that seem a total luxury.

So here is where I'm at.  I've purchased all the race fuel that I plan to use that won't be available at the aid stations.  I've had a hair cut.  I was getting seriously shaggy and now understand why the Anton-style hairdo's exist in ultrarunning - no one has the time or desire for grooming when running 80+K/week.  New shoes are broken in and ready to go. I've been getting to bed between 9 and 10:30 each night for 2 weeks which is a serious feat for me, especially when DH is away.  My weight is down - the lightest I've been since I was 26 and ran my first marathon.  The running playlist of almost complete short of Thunderstuck which for some reason has mysteriously disappeared from my computer.

Travel plans almost complete.  The North Cascades Highway just opened last Thurs and had 35' of snow to clear in some avalanche shoots, but it will save us some time getting there. My 2 girlfriends that were to come as our "crew" are unfortunately not coming now due to both work and health issues.  I am rather disappointed, but am supremely grateful that Sarah will be coming to keep me company and share the joy (and pain).  I'm sure she'll finish before me and hopefully will be able to get that elusive finish line picture (for free) that I am determined to one day get!

So that means I will be spending some time putting together drop bags tomorrow night for the aid stations and mentally preparing to boost myself through the race and through the checkpoints.  This race needs to happen this weekend.  I am getting too used to these taper weeks and need to MOVE MY BODY!  The best thing about racing any distance for the first time is that you are guaranteed a PR!

Wish us luck!

Sunday, 4 May 2014

You Know You're Ultramarathon Tapering When...

I am now 2 weeks into my 4 week taper until Sun Mountain on May 18.  I ran 20K today and it struck me as totally crazy that I now view 20K as an easy refreshing run, but it was!  I coached the first week of the ELM Off Road Half Marathon Clinic and then continued on my own for a bit to get some elevation into the run.  I finally ran Branch 21 without mishap - no cougar and no hyponatremia!  Three time's the charm.

It's kinda funny that people keep asking me..."it must feel great to be tapering now right?"  Actually, it's been really hard.  Mentally that is.  I'm surprised at how I feel.  I've been so focus on the training, then the climax of training.  Now that that's past and the race is still 2 weeks away I feel lost!  I feel like I don't have any focus.  It's surprisingly hard to stay on top of the mental game with such a long taper.  I'm trying to focus more on total health now - eating right, sleeping enough, drinking water, not getting sick.  I'm still running all my tempo and hill runs - keeping the intensity up, but decreasing the total mileage.  My legs still don't quite feel fresh, but they are recovering slowly from those back-to-back 40K long run weeks.

You Know You're Ultramarathon Tapering When

  • you're constantly hungry but know you can't eat all those things you really really want

  • you're having dreams that you show up to the race start in your underwear or without your running shoes

  • you're cranky from not running - seriously cranky

  • you're reading a lot of motivational quotes about ultramarathons and running on Pinterest

  • your friends and basically anyone you talk to runs in the opposite direction when you mention the word "ultra"

  • you keep flip-flopping between wishing the race was tomorrow and thinking it would be great to have a few more weeks of training

  • you keep looking for more songs for your ultra song playlist and try not to listen to it too much before the race so you don't get sick of it

  • you're convinced you've gained 10 pounds since you started tapering

  • you feel sluggish and like you could run forever...all during the same run

  • you've planned out three possible outfits for the race depending on weather conditions

  • you have random bursts of energy when you want to reorganize your closets or kitchen pantry (I just did my desk drawers)

Here's to taper time!

One of those aforementioned Pinterest quotes I like