Friday, April 22, 2011

I Am an Ultrarunner! - Chapter Two/Chasing the Lumberjack

We looked so happy.  And clueless... as to what the Lumberjack would throw at us. 

About to put the VFFs on.  Almost time "to work".

Loop One:  The pack of runners started out steady and strong.  A few brought dogs, thankfully on leash.  A steady rain fell but I was not too cold yet, except for my feet.  I was wearing my VFF Treksports with Injinji toe socks.  One of the organizers said not to expect to keep our feet dry.  Truer words were never spoken.

As I said in the previous post the course was a mix of gravel jeep roads and woodland single track.  There were a few spots of running water across the jeep roads, but nothing major.  The single track was a different story.  Some of it was packed and firm.  

There is a trail in there.  I swear.  But I did miss this turn by a few steps twice.

Turns were marked with reflective arrows on paper plates and pink ribbon.  Overnight glow sticks were placed around the course.

Other areas were slick and muddy and hazardous.  Then there was a whole other kind of crap.  Some portions of the trails were truly epic in the shittiness present.

This picture does not show the little up-down-up again here.  Not very big but it sucked big time later.

Sometimes the trail forked off in a different direction.  Runners had to watch for arrows and "NO!" spray painted along the single track.

This little downhill chute was the subject fierce cussing on two separate occasions later in the race.  The first time through the pack I ran with went down pretty quickly....

Till we hit this hard right turn.  A couple of people nearly ran into the tree and turn marker due to the slick surface.  No traction to make sharp cuts.  I am surprised I did not fall but three or four times.

I flew through this loop.  I expected to finish in 90 minutes but I backed off that goal when I realized how tough the course was.  The first mile featured a lot of climbing (and sliding).  We picked our way through mud pits and searched vainly for solid footing.  There were bottlenecks and moments spent waiting for fallen runners to regain footing.

Including the start/finish area there were two other aid stations at mile 5 and mile 8.5.  Local volunteers worked the tents and also asked if I needed anything.  Sometimes a smile and "looking good" were plenty.  From the pictures you may have noticed I did wear a kilt.  It is slightly small due to a measuring error (waist measurement you twisted people) and was a bit snug.  I brought the kilt anyway because I ordered it for this race.  So glad I did.  During the course of the weekend I became recognizable for the Vibrams and the kilt.  Debbie and Jodi were able to keep tabs on me at the aid stations because of my attire.

The one aspect of trail running I vastly prefer to road racing is the camaraderie with other competitors.  If the runner ahead of me sensed I was stronger they moved aside at the first opportunity and let me by.  This may have been more to keep me from accidentally kicking their heels or mowing them down, but I appreciated it.  And as I shared the trail with a group of other runners we took turns leading or trailing.  The opportunity to speak with others on the run was awesome.  Hearing about other races was cool.  One thing I realized was that for some runners these races are a reunion of sorts.  A place to catch up and rehash life since the last race. I was told to shut up once in a 10k road race.  With the distance at an ultra and the emphasis on conserving energy the chance to learn or share running info was welcome.

Braveheart assholes!

I finished the first loop in two hours and fifteen minutes.  Not too shabby.  Our crew person, Teri, was waiting to set me up for the next loop.  I sat on my ass and texted/tweeted while she filled my hip bag (some bastards would call it a "fanny pack") with food and reloaded my handhelds with banana Nuun.  All the trail photos were taken on the second loop.

Loop Two:  At this point my confidence is VERY high.  Almost chronicly high.  I knew I would slow down, in fact I needed to slow down.  There was a fairly large amount of level grade or gentle slope on the gravel jeep roads.  I could run most of the course but forced myself to walk the up-hills.  The prize is finishing.  The belt buckle would not be extra shiny for a fast time.

Late in the run I stumbled and turned my knee a bit.  Nothing major, but I did have some concern on returning to the campsite.  I took another breather while Teri reloaded me with food and banana Nuun.  Thus far I had eaten peanut butter and honey sandwiches and Clif bars.

The second loop was completed in two hours and thirty minutes.  Total elapsed time was five hours and five minutes.  I started my third loop after one o'clock.

Loop Three:  OH SHIT!  The knee discomfort I came into the camp with was full blown knee pain on the way out.  It shot through the joint behind the knee cap.  The upper calf had a lot of pain across the muscle.  When I tried to run the pain stopped me cold.  Walking was now my plan.  Fortunately other runners would stop and walk with me for a few minutes.  Many reassured me that sometimes pain is temporary.  I may be able to walk through it.  Just stay calm and patient and maybe things with improve.

The real pain came during downhill movement.  Flats and uphills were fine.  But any downhills were murder.  I tried to breathe through the pain.  At one point I told myself "the pain was in my imagination.  My determination was greater than my imagination.  My determination would carry me to the buckle."  

My determination is greater than my imagination.

One thing that helped during this loop was my iPod.  I finally turned it on.  The old Nano would only have ten to fifteen hours of battery life but I counted on the distraction of music for my knee.  Did not work completely but it was good to get out of my head for a while.  The first real emotional break of the day came with the second song.  I threw a bunch of music into a playlist specifically for this race.  After starting with Heart of a Lion by Kid Cudi the shuffle kicked in So Hard by the Dixie Chicks.

This trend seems to carry on for several songs, which I cannot remember at present.  All the songs in that first half-hour seemed to speak directly to the moment and address the thoughts and emotions I expected to have that day.  So the tears I battled were emotional.  They were happy.  They were uplifting.  And the tears were gone almost as soon as they began.  The task of covering 12.5 miles as quickly as I could walk them was all I had to occupy myself, for as long as it took.

Three hours and thirty minutes later I was back in camp.  The next loop would conclude after sunset so I prepped for cooler temperatures.  I put the tights back on and changed my shoes and socks.

Damn dirty feet.

Let me plug Vibrams for a minute.  For the first three loops my feet were cold.  Then change in shoes and socks was merely for the sake of checking for blisters and chaffing.  I did not care to putting that muddy crap back on to I opted for the second pair of VFFs - brown Treks, and a set of gaiters purchased specifically for the race.  Let me just say - OMFG!!!  While the Treksports has a fairly open mesh upper, the kangaroo leather of the Treks kept a good about of water, mud and cold off my feet.  The gaiters helped tremendously as well.  The mudholes that left my chilled and wet now were merely a hindrance to time.  Only once over the final two loops were my feet cold due to the course conditions.  So glad I went with that set up later in the run.

I texted and tweeted some more while in camp.  I called home and said good night to my daughters.  I let Andria know everything was going OK.  After my food and bottles were ready I headed back out.

Loop Four:  Sweet reprieve!  The pain was gone.  Teri put some kineseo tape on my knee and I rubbed some of her horse liniment on the calf.  For this loop everything seems to quiet down.  I managed to run a few stretches.  However I recognized that this respite could be short lived so I chose to speed walk and keep any running to a minimum.

Since the course mileage is not marked on the trail I struggled to determine were I was on the course regarding my pacing.  During the first three loops I averaged one hour to the first aid station.  This was one bonus of the looped course.  Remembering the turns and crossings became vital.  By the second loop I figured out where the mid-point of the course was and felt that I was becoming comfortable with the terrain.

Because I felt better my spirits were very high.  I was resigned to walking the rest of the way.  Night fell and I only saw a handful of runners outside of the aid stations.  Got very lonely out there.  

I finished this loop in three hours and thirty minutes.  Not sure why it took as long as the last loop since I felt so good, but I decided not to obsess over it and let the miles come to me.  Because of the hour and darkness I felt it best to warm myself by the fire and chill for a while.  I was half way to the goal of one hundred miles and feeling good overall.  

Jodi suffered a pretty nasty fall and stayed in camp to rest.  Teri stepped up to keep Debbie motivated and moving.  She said Debbie and Teri should be close and that I could wait and roll back out with them once they were ready for their next loop.

Turns out that I spent an hour in camp.  I got to talking with a volunteer pacer for a little while.  He ran nine 100s last year.  Color me impressed - in permanent ink. (by the way, Debbie was taking suggestions off Twitter during the ride up on Friday for what to write on my head should I pass out during the run.)  He asked why I was waiting.  He said to get my ass back on the course ASAP.  During his times running ultras the best thing he learned above all other lessons is THE AID STATIONS ARE POISON!  Get out now.  Sitting around only makes it harder to restart the engine.  At the same time Jodi received another text that Debbie and Teri were three miles out.  At least another hour away.  Time to go.

As I prepared my gear for the fifth loop I spoke briefly with folks at the campfire.  The last words I said as I stepped into the darkness were "see ya in three hours".  I have never been more wrong.

Previous installment - Chapter One - Departure & Arrival

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