Thursday, November 10, 2011

Race Report: Stone Cat 50 miler. 11.5.11. Sometimes you get the Cat, and sometimes....

Stone Cat.  One of the best race names going.  Fitting, as it’s one of the best races.

After a year filled with water falling from the sky making for some serious mudfests, the week leading up to Stone Cat was dry, and race morning was perfect.  Cold.  Calm. Dark (rumor has it that had something to do with the sun not being up yet).  Even the alarm going off at 3:55 am wasn’t bad since I was awake at 3:30.  We must be crazy to do this.  Crazy like foxes.

I’d prepped everything the night before--clothes laid out, number pinned, cooler stocked with beer and Perpetuem (one for during the race, one for after--you guess which was which).

No camping for this race, but the Comfort Inn in Danvers, MA does a great job hosting us and on this day, breakfast was out by 4:30 am.  Not that I would eat.  Coffee and Perpetuem (ok, I gave it away...see last paragraph).

Easy 10 mile drive to the race start at a local school.  Somehow lucked into a primo parking spot just a couple hundred feet from where Chris & Joe Reynolds and the Finger Lakes Running Club gang would set up court.  My friend Lisa--running her first trail marathon--and I checked in, hauled our gear to the FLRC site, and tried to stay warm in the 30 degree morning darkness (that thing with the sun again).

The nominal race start time of 6:15am came and went, but as we approached 6:30, some mysterious energy pulled our sea of headlamps together into a big group, a mix of excitement, confusion, happiness, anticipation, uncertainty, and family connecting us. Then, with a few quick words from awesome RD Marty Sullivan, the race was on, the run was underway, the party was started. We were off.  I love ultras.

A new twist this year was to group the 50 milers and marathoners side-by-side at the start, run them forward a hundred yards, then split them left and right with the 50s heading out to the first of four 12.5 mile loops and the marathoners doing a 1.2 mile baby loop around the school before banging out two of the big loops.  Made for a cool effect to watch the sea of headlamps bob apart through the dark.  Last year, the groups split a short way down the trail.  This year’s method worked much better--we all got to start together, but it was less congested as we hit the woods.

I was hoping to post a sub-12 hour time.  This was my sixth 50 miler (and fourth this year) so I’m still learning to race [sic] this distance.  I don’t have much natural talent or strength, I just love to run in the woods but I do run against myself, the trail, the weather, the clock.  Twelve hours is slow for most, but it’s what I got.  I ran 11:42 at Bull Run Run this past spring and was hoping to get back to that range again (ok ok, I was really hoping to run 6:15 and set a course record...then the drugs wore off...).  

I’d consulted with my local ultra god and IPA lover (is that redundant?) Doug Freese, whom I run with quite a bit, and he suggested about a 2:45-2:50 first loop.  Go easy to start with just a little time in the bank under that 12 hour finish pace. Based on that, my time to the first aid station--the famous Al Cat’s Lounge--should have been roughly 55 minutes.  I was there in 54+.  Check.  Right on and feeling good.  Then again, I’d spent five minutes early on helping a woman try to find her fluorescent pink running shoe that got sucked off by some mud.  Never did find it and as I headed back out I heard her saying “Guess I’ll just have to go on without it.”  Huh? WTF?  But that meant I was probably several running minutes too fast.  Not to split hairs here but it was still early....really early.

Oh, and last year’s water crossing about 10 minutes before Al’s, the one that turned my feet to size 8 EE ice blocks and made them cramp up, the one I thought might be dry this year based on recent weather?  Well, let’s just call it “refreshing.”  

Just another day on the trails.  I've heard some people run on the roads.  Why?
From Al Cat’s to Fast Freddies Cafe (AS 2), the running was pretty sweet and easy. Should have made Freds at 1:38ish, I was there at 1:34.  Too fast.  But it was too fun. No problem, I’d just dial it back for the 5 mile final leg to finish Loop 1.  With a goal of 2:45-2:50, the clock read 2:32 as I exited the woods and crossed the grass back to the S/F area. Fuuuuu....

But I felt great.  I knew my training hadn’t quite ramped me up to this race--I really was running mostly on base and my race season to-date, hoping something special could happen--nonetheless, I was moderately optimistic I could put up an ok time.  I made a pit stop in the school, downed a bottle of Perpetuem from my cooler, scammed some grilled cheese and thanked the volunteers, and headed out for Loop 2.  No physical issues so far.

I was back to Al’s in 55 minutes, which would have been right on schedule had I run the first loop slow enough--but since I didn’t, it was too fast.  The seeds of my destruction had already been planted, and I was watering them.  Cruised back to the S/F, mile 25, at 5:29, about exactly what my average time for two loops should have been--but that fast first loop had taken its toll.  My legs were already feeling a bit cooked, a marked difference from how I felt at mile 25 at Virgil Crest in September when I was remarkably fresh from a slower pace, despite the mud.

Miles 25-30 are my low point in most 50 milers, and this was no exception.  Plus, I’d seen the marathon finisher’s jacket.  It was nice.  If I was smart, I could have run the 1.2 mile baby loop, posted a decent (for me) 5:45 marathon time, and cracked a beer in the beautiful fall sun (yes, it had finally hauled it’s lazy ass out of bed).  No one ever accused me of being smart.

So, back out to Loop 3 I went.  I tried talking myself through those first few miles, reminding myself I always come through this and determined to just keep moving at something resembling a jog until the Second Coming.  But then my left knee, the one I tweaked at the Virgil Crest mudfest in September, started hurting.  Followed by my right IT band.  Right piriformis.  Right foot cramped up.  Neck and shoulders seized up hard.  WTF?  I was falling apart.  But the mental part was the worst.  I’m generally good at staying positive and recognizing that struggle is the nature of the beast in an ultra. But I vacillated wildly, minute to minute, between “Why am I doing this?” and “I can do this” types of thoughts.  I kept beating myself up for not taking a marathon time and calling it a day.  I mean, there was no way I was going to do the fourth loop, meaning I was stuck in the nether-land between finishing a marathon and finishing a 50 miler. Idiot.  Why didn’t I just drop?  You freakin’ idiot.

Then I got to Al Cat’s Lounge.  Someone said “Looking good 50 miler” (they could tell by the bib color).  I made a comment about how I should have dropped to the marathon.  Then someone--I need to find out who he was--took over.  He shook his head at me, handed me some grilled cheese and chicken noodle soup, put his hand on my shoulder and walked me out of the aid station saying “come on, keep moving, down the trail, we’ll see you on the next lap.”  I’ve never been “handled” that way, and it was cool.  This guy was not letting me give up.  He knew where I was at, and what I needed.  The tough love of the ultra family (even if it was only a 50 miler).

So down the trail I went.  I got to Fast Freds and someone said “Just grab and go...oh, you know the drill, never mind.”  Did I look the part?  Well, ok then (fooled them!).  But it was now about 7:40 into the race, with a 9:00 cutoff to start the final loop.   I had about 80 minutes to make the five miles back to the S/F.  I wasn’t sure if I could.  I also wasn’t sure missing the cutoff would be a bad thing.  I spent the next five miles debating this endlessly, all the while “secretly” pushing myself to make the cutoff just so I could have the option to continue if, by some dark majik, I wanted to.

As I left the woods and crossed the grassy field, the first thing I saw was Lisa charging at me.  She had her marathon finisher’s jacket on...Yes Yes Yes!!!!!!!  But then I realized what she was doing.  “Hurry up, hurry up, you’ve only got five minutes to the cutoff.”  Someday I’ll run one of these races and not fight the cutoffs.  But not this day. She ran me in--to wild cheers from the crowd that cared not about my slowness but rather celebrated the fact that I was there and running and giving it whatever I had.  I love ultras.  Funny part is, by this time, all my issues were gone.  No pains.  None.  I felt good physically but was shell-shocked emotionally.  I just didn’t expect to be this freakin’ close to the cutoff again.  It seemed like I should drop, but then again...why?  I felt fine.  It was 3:30 pm on a gorgeous fall day north of Boston.  I could sit down and have a beer, but I’d driven five hours to get here and it was my last ultra of the season. Lisa walked me over to the FLRC gang--most of whom had had a few beverages at that point--who made it clear that stopping was just not an option.  I looked at the clock.  8:59:57.  If I was gonna go, I had to go now.  I went.  

Lisa helped me get my headlamp and warm clothes.  She ran a mile with me while I drank my Perpetuem slowly and took the empty back for me.  I’ve never been crewed in any way before and let me tell you, this was a great experience, minor as it may seem.  She was the final piece of the puzzle.  I went out feeling like part of something again.  I don’t know what happened to my “issues” but they were gone.  My spirits were high and it was inevitable that I would finish.  

The only question now was whether I could still salvage that sub-12 hour finish.  I knew I was DFL as I’d left seconds before the cutoff.  I decided to see if I could catch someone, anyone--not to beat them, of course, but to beat my demons and push myself as hard I as I could.  I used lots of tricks.  Run 30 seconds, walk 30 seconds. Run to that next tree, ribbon, rock.  Run a hundred steps.  Mantras.  Through the water crossing and a sweep on a bike stopped to radio back that he had the last guy.  Fifteen minutes later I got to Al’s for the last time--they were closing up shop.  There were three other runners there.  “Do you want to hang with us the rest of the way?  We heard you were behind us and were hoping you would catch up”  I love ultras.  So I said “sure” and off we went, mostly powerhiking with small bits of running mixed in.  But I kept pulling ahead, and started feeling like there was some gas left in the tank.  Finally, I was off, running again.  

Just before Fast Freddies for the last time--where I was honored to receive the last grilled cheese of the day--I caught two more runners, one of whom patted me on the back as I passed and said “Finsh strong.”  I luv ultras.

On your fourth loop, Fast Freddiess is 45 miles.  Five to go.  I don’t recall my exact time out of the aid station, but I remember thinking I could at least put up about a 12:10. Just before I had to turn on the headlamp, I caught a guy I’d seen heading out on his final loop earlier.  Funny thing was, I caught him at a right angle.  Figured he was just coming out of the woods from taking care of business.  He casually mentioned I’d missed a turn.  “What?”  How could I have done that?  “How much time did I cut off?” “Not more than five minutes--but who cares at this point, don’t worry about it.”  I did worry about it.  We ran together for maybe 10 minutes, then I pulled ahead of him a bit, but I just kept thinking it wasn’t fair.  So, finally, I turned around and ran backwards. “Where ya goin’?”  “I’m going backwards a few minutes to make up the time I cut off.” I eventually came upon the guy who’d patted me on the back and his partner.  “You’re going the wrong way.”  I explained it all.  Eventually turned around and headed back in the right direction, trying to catch all of them again.  I never did.  That’s fine, because it felt fair.
As seen by headlamp somewhere north of 45 miles.  Hats off to the trail marking crew!

Finally, about a mile (?) from the finish, there was a light coming at me in the dark. Lisa!  She’d come to find me and run me in.  Wow! This was too cool.  Plus, my mind was clear, unlike many 50s when I’m a little delerious.  I knew exactly what landmarks were yet to come, in what order, and about the time between each.  It was weird.  Lisa and I ran/walked/talked/celebrated.  Talked about her race and mine.  Reached the “stick” of the lollipop on the course.  Then it was the concrete “bridge” just a few minutes from the finish.  You could see the lights of the school and hear the party. Runnable trail.  We ran out of the woods, onto the grass.  A line of flares led the way. Music was playing, people were cheering.  As I approached the finish line, it got louder and louder, despite closing in on 12 hours and 15 minutes into the race.  You would have thought I was about to win the race.  As far as I was concerned, I was.

In the dozen or so ultras & trail marathons I’ve run, Stone Cat has to be right near the top.  Well-organized yet still grassroots and homegrown, the G.A.C. (that crazy bunch of runners over in Topsfield), all the volunteers, and RD Marty Sullivan put on a super event.  The trail is impeccably marked.  The aid stations well stocked with both great food and knowledgeable, caring, helpful volunteers.  It’s an ultrarunner’s race where the volunteers know how to take care of the experienced runner and also welcome new runners into the family.  Great shirts and finisher’s jackets.  And at the end, nearly 7pm after a 6:30am start, back in the dark and cold, a guy named Kevin was working the grill and, with a smile on his face, he opened the lid and showed me the hot food he was making sure was still there for us final finishers.  A great finish to a great day, one of the most fun 50s I've had yet. Despite having a rough third loop and not quite running my goal time, I'd have to say that on this day...I got the Cat!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Race Report: Mountain Madness 50K, 10.15.11: Mad tough

This wasn’t on my radar until about two days before the race.  I ran quite a few races (by my standards) in the spring and summer and didn’t make any hard plans for fall races, though Virgil Crest and Stone Cat 50 milers were on my “maybe cuz I’ve done them before” list.  I took  August off after running my first Escarpment (Woo Hoo!!!) at the end of July.  Had to sign up for Stone Cat Aug 1 lest it close out (which it did in 36 hours).  So with Cat on my schedule, when September rolled around I had to start seriously training again.  Virgil Crest 50 miler seemed like a good place to start, so I did that.  Then what to do...

First, I ran a great race in Red Hook, NY, directed by Lisa Glick with a little help from Doug Freese.  The Harvest Half Marathon on Columbus Day weekend is a road race, but it has the grassroots, small-race feel that I love and a beautiful course.  Took that as a 13 mile tempo run, plus a few to warm up.

Then it was suddenly about to be three weeks from Stone Cat.  Like to do my last really long run three weeks out.  

As the week dragged on, I didn’t have it together.  Didn’t make plans with anyone to run long locally.  Rough week of not enough sleep.  Things were going downhill.  Didn’t feel like I had in me the 6+ hours of running I wanted as the weekend approached.  I remembered the NJ ultra folks talking about a race down there in October.   Google got it.  Mountain Madness 50k in Ringwood State Park, NJ.

On Thursday I started thinking about it.  On Friday I decided to do it--with only a quick skim of the webpage which said the course was “challenging but not impossible,” mentioned “rocks on almost every part of the entire course” and stated there was about 5,000 feet of elevation gain over the 50K.  For some reason, I interpreted this as “easy.”  What was I thinking?

So here’s how it went down.

Saturday Morning, 10.15.11:

4:55 am.  That CANNOT POSSIBLY be my freakin’ ipod going off.  No way I can go run 50k today.  Exhausted.  Feeling a little sick.  Hoping the coffee works some extra-powerful majik today.

6:00 am.  Why am I backing out of the garage?  Why is the GPS programmed for New Jersey? WTF?  

7:45 am. Arrived at Ringwood State Park after repeatedly ignoring the GPS exhorting me to go down a dead end road and then “turn around when possible.”  STFU already.

8:00 am.  Wrote my $75 check.  What?  It’s $95 race day?  Better be serving caviar at the aid stations.  

8:05 am.  No medium shirts left?  Ok, I’ll take a medium from 2009.  Even if I did pay $95.  Yeah, I know, I registered race day.  Actually like the 2009 design.  I’m good with that.

8:15 am.  Camelbak or handhelds and waistpack?  Camelbak.  It’s just a training run, after all.  I go through this every race.  Still figuring out who I am, ultra-wise.  

8:30 am.  Big bottle of Perpetuem.  Going all liquid or semi-solid fuel pre-race today.  Still working on that also.

8:50 am.  Pre-race briefing.  Complicated set of trails in the park, so the briefing went something like this (poetic license applied): “Follow this trail, not that one or the other one, except when you cross the first one when you should ignore the markings for the second one, which you’ll pass twice on the first loop, then pick up again on the second pass before you head back into the woods.  The trail is marked in yellow flagging, then orange, except for the part from AS 3 to 4, which is back to yellow, then back to orange after AS4, except for following the red trail markers part of the time, but sometimes the yellow trail markers mix with the red.”  Ok, maybe I should dash back to the car and get my headlamp just in case...

9:00 am.  Two orange chairs in front of the park restrooms are quickly dubbed the starting line and we’re off.  Doesn’t quite have the normal ultra vibe.  Not much talking.  Kinda weird.  I clearly don’t have my mojo working.  It’s breezy and cool, great running weather, but rain and wind all night have covered the rocks with wet leaves.  Dicey.  Some runnable sections though.  Waiting for those endorphins (endocannibinoids?) to kick in.  Not happening.

10:15ish am.  AS1, about, 7 miles, back at the S/F.   Still not feeling the love, but not entirely unhappy about how I feel physically. How I feel about finding the trail for the rest of the day...not so good.  Several very confusing and poorly marked trail junctions out there.  Runners coming at us when they shouldn’t be (or were we going at them when we shouldn't be?).  Frequent use of the F word by large numbers of people.  But we’re running in the  woods, so we’re happy.

??? am.  AS 2, 8.5 miles.  Still not feeling good, but moving forward.  Moving farther down the trail of no return--exactly what I needed.  If I’m out there on a big loop with no reasonable way out except to run/walk/crawl back to the finish, I’m forced to get my long run done.  Trail is runnable in spots, not so much in others.  

11:55 am. AS3, 14.75 miles (almost exactly halfway).  I’m out of the AS at noon, 3 hours into the race and still not feeling great but thinking “wow....even with some slowing in the second half, I can break 7 hours or maybe even sub-6:30.”  Why do I EVER think such things?

The rest of the day is a blur of rocks, hills, wet leaves, rocks, missed turns (not many but some close calls, lots of second guessing, and creative use of the F word), wet leaves, rocks, hills, and rocks.  Not to mention rocks, hills, and wet leaves.  And some knee deep wading through streams.  I love running trails!  And beautiful trails they were.

Gotta mention the volunteers...deja vu all over again.  I think it was the same 2 or 3 people jumping from AS to AS. Started feeling like the movie Groundhog Day.  But that was ok, and we couldn’t have so much “fun” without you guys so....Thank You Volunteers!!  As for the aid stations themselves...well, not quite what I’d expect for 95 bucks (or even 75 prereg).  Basic stuff and plenty of it--Heed, water, M&Ms, PBJs, coke, chips, gels.  Canned  I’ll never make that mistake again.  Nothing hot.  Well, it’s only a 50K, and a nice, grassroots affair at that.  I can deal.

4:57:35 pm (aka 7:57:35 after I started)..  Done.  Actually felt pretty good, despite taking about forever to run 50k.  A burger, some chips, and I was on the road feeling pretty damn good about getting a 50K long run in on a day I didn’t have it in me, about getting another race done (if you can call that “racing”!!), and about spending a gorgeous fall day exploring new trails and making new friends.  What could be better than that?  

Overall, I never felt good, but I didn’t really feel bad.  My legs seemed to have a little fatigue left from the Virgil Mud Fest three weeks ago (sounds like a good excuse) and together with my lack of mental focus, I just couldn’t run the wet, leaf-covered rocky stuff for fear of taking a bad fall.  I could run the runnable sections ok, just not the rocks.  And there were lots of rocks.   But was a trail run.  I got to wade a couple streams.  Got muddy.  Used my hands to pull myself up over big rocks.  Used my hands to lower myself down from big rocks.  Stubbed my toes.  Swore a lot.  Talked about religion and sex and marriage and divorce and politics and running with people I’d never met before in my life.  In other words, your typical ultra.  The trail was technical, gnarly, wet, hard to follow at times, hilly but not monstrous.  The volunteers were cheerful and encouraging (even if there only were 2 or 3 of them....or so it seemed....).  Another good day in the woods. Lucky me.  Now...on to StoneCat!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Virgil Crest Mud Fest 50 miler. 9.24.11. Short report on a long race.

Here I am again, a week plus after the race and I still don't have a report up.  I started working on a nice, long, detailed, cutesy report.  Started.  Since I didn't finish, here's what you get:

Drove to Virgil Friday night.
Great dinner at Virgil VFD.
Drank beer.
Laughed with friends.
Went to sleep (sort of) (not really).
Got up.
Felt great.
Gravel Pit.  Awesome.  Thank You Volunteers!
Lift House 5.  Mission Control.  Thank You Volunteers!
Alpine loop.  Done.
Cranked up Virgil.   
Rock Pile. Rockin’!  Thank You Volunteers!
Sweet running to Daisy Hollow. Thank You Volunteers!
Still felt great.
Back to Rock Pile.  
Back down Virgil.  
Back to Lift House 5.
Back up alpine loop.    
Evil alpine loop.
Felt like shit last mile.
Lift House 5.  Regrouped.
Walking a lot.  
Up Carson Road.  
Into the woods.  
Headlamp on.  
Tried running.  Not.
Felt like shit.
Kept going.
Felt like shit.
Kept going.
Felt like shit.
Kept going.
Felt like shit.
Had a beverage.
Felt like good shit.
Had another beverage.
Felt like better shit.
Slept (really).
Woke up.
Had a beverage (Breakfast of Champions).
Felt good.
Had another beverage.
Felt great.
Cheered in the hundred milers.  
Contemplated my first hundred.
Probably here.
Headed home.
No mud.
Stopped to eat.
Drove some more.
Stopped to eat.
Drove some more.
Stopped to eat.
You get the picture.
Got home.
Watched some football.
The End.

Once again, RD Ian Golden and crew put on a great event. Well-organized, great aid stations, even better volunteers, beautiful course with a little mud (ok, a lot of mud) thrown in just to take your mind off the hills. Only my second year running ultras, but this race has become one of "my" races--I'll be back every year. It's just that good. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Race Report: Finger Lakes 50 miler, 7.2.11: Fun (ouch)

If you don’t have a lot of time to read race reports, here’s the quick version:
  • Great race. 
  • RD rocked. 
  • Volunteers ruled. 
  • Sweet course. 
  • Hot day. 
  • It hurt. 
  • Roosterfish IPA. 
  • Life good.

If you’re still reading, here’s the rest, in a somewhat abbreviated form lest I never get this story finished:

Set in the Finger Lakes National Forest near Watkins Glen, NY, this race is, for me, the epitome of a trail race.  Home-grown, right-sized, and very well-organized by Chris Reynolds and her honey—err, hubby—Joe (if you know them, you know I was more right the first time).  More than anything, I love this race because it isn’t so much a race as a family reunion—where even newcomers are family. 

The view from my least, before others arrived.
The race is staged out of a peaceful campground in the National Forest.  The course is a 16.5 mile loop, mostly single-track, ranging from cool, deep forest to upland pastures (don’t let the cows out!) with great views.  Three race distances: one loop for an extra-long 25K, two for a long 50K, and three plus a half-mile baby loop for a true 50 miler.

In 2010, I ran the Finger Lakes 50K as my first ultra.  Life hasn’t been the same since.  In 2011, I returned to run the 50 miler.  This is my story, and I’m sticking to it:

The Meadow...with lots more tents to come

It was a dark and snoring night (before the race)—if you were camped in the meadow, you know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout.  Fortunately, the weather was fine. 

Despite the snoring—which actually didn’t bother me—I got a few hours of decent sleep, a rarity for me the night before a race.  Felt as good as I ever have on a race morning. 

Woke to clear skies and cool-ish temps (note I did not say “cool”….and so the beginning of my end was already upon me). 

Pre-race: coffee, half a Hammer bar, some Perpetuem.  Dropped my drop bag in a good spot.  Timing chips.  A cow bell.  And we were off.  Actually, they were off.  I was one hard-to-open new roll of TP in the porta potty behind.  Least of my problems for the day!  A little easy jogging and I quickly moved into and through the pack—and there were still several people walking to the start.  Hey, it’s an ultra…

Loop 1 (start – 16.5 miles)
Short bit of forest road, then onto the single-track and into the single-file.  This was fine, since I was being a geek and running on heart rate, and this kept me from “lighting a match” (spiking my heart rate) too early in the day.  Worked the woods, edged along and eventually crossed the first pasture.  Didn’t let any cows out.  Didn’t challenge any bulls.  Sun was bright.  Sun was warm.  You can guess where this is going.  But at this point, I was still fresh and feeling great. 

View from a pasture
This loop went, well, perfectly.  Stuck with my hydration/electrolyte/fueling plans (or so I thought….but keep reading) and I managed to hit my heart rate target dead on the entire loop.  Still hoping to break 10 hours for 50 miles someday (pitiful, ain’t it?), so I was aiming for about 3:00-3:30 for the first loop.  Ran 3:24—maybe too slow for a sub-10 hour finish, but not too fast, which was my bigger concern.  Life was good at 16.5. 

Loop 2 (16.5 – 33 miles)
Let’s cut to the chase: The wheels came off.  Things started off fine, but in hindsight, I think I’d loosened the lug nuts on Loop 1.  As Loop 2 progressed, and I stopped sweating, didn’t pee for an hour, two, three—I knew I’d screwed up my hydration and/or electrolytes.  After the long pull up Backbone to The Outback aid station—at a gentle grade I felt compelled to run as much as possible, in the close-to-noon sun—that’s when the wheels fully detached.  I’ve learned that miles 20ish-30 are the tough ones for me in 50 milers, and I’d hoped I could just roughly maintain my first loop pace through this lap, with the expectation that I’d be reenergized on the last loop as I started to sniff the finish.  Ha. Ha. Ha. More fool me.  I finished in 4 hours, a solid 35 minutes slower than the first loop.  Even that wouldn’t have been so bad, if I hadn’t been feeling so bad.  But I was.

Loop 3 (33 – 50 miles)
I never had any intention of stopping after two loops and taking a 50K time.   I came to run [sic] 50 miles and that’s what I was going to do.  And so it was that I headed out for a third death march….uhh, loop.  I will admit there were dueling little dudes on my shoulders in those first couple miles:
“This is stupid, you feel like shit.”     “This is an ultra, you’re supposed to feel like shit.” 
“Go back.”     “Never.”
“DNFing isn’t so bad.”    “DNFing sucks.”
“Take 50K and call me in the morning.”    “Not a fucking chance.”

The good thing about ultras is that you’ve got a lot of miles and time to get it back together.  The bad thing about this ultra is that I never did.  What I did have were some periods of really strong running, punctuated by some (long) periods of walking, with the end result a 4:40 final 17 miles (including the baby loop).  It seemed like I could either run, or not—there wasn’t much in between.  By the start of Loop 3, I was already readjusting my goals: from 10 hours (not sure I ever really thought this was possible—yet), to breaking 11 hours, to beating my 2011 Bull Run time of 11:42, to breaking 12 (fucking) hours, to Hey!  I finished another 50 miler and there’s cold beer!  Life is good.

So, this was my goal race for the year, and I ran, well…slow, even by my standards.  But I’m smiling as I write this, and feeling great. Why?  Well, first, because I went camping for a few days with lots of friends, and a 50 miler broke out.  What a blast!  Like so many other people have said in their race reports, this race is special not so much for the course (which I love), but for the people (RD, volunteers, runners), and the whole “this is what trail ultras are supposed to be” vibe.  I had a great time, even if I ran a not-so-great time.  The heat bit me, I made some tactical mistakes, and I struggled—making it a great psychological training run that will help me in future runs.  I’ve done another 50 miler—how can you feel bad about that?  And I always try to keep this in mind: I get to run.  Nobody forces me, it’s my choice, and I’m fortunate that I have the ability and opportunity to do so.  Don’t get me wrong—I put on my game face and give it all I’ve got every time—but I try to keep it all in perspective.  You take what each day, each race, gives you, and move on to the next.  That 10 hour finish may or may not ever happen, but as long as I can keep moving forward, then I’m more fortunate than many, and I will always be thankful for that.  Ok ok, off the soapbox…

Chris & Joe Reynolds, the volunteers, Search & Rescue—Thank You all for making such a great event possible.  This will always be my favorite ultra, due largely to all of you and the great karma you bring to this event.  Just wait till 2012….

Monday, May 30, 2011

Race Report: Sehgahunda Trail Marathon, 5.28.11: The Quagmire

The Race: Sehgahunda Trail Marathon, Letchworth State Park, NY.  Point-to-point from Mt. Morris dam to the parade grounds in Portageville, following the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) through the park and along the Genesee River gorge.

The Trail: Beautiful singletrack through mixed hardwoods and some red pine stands.  No killer climbs but 112 stream crossings (yes, one hundred and twelve) = run down to each stream and back up the other side.  Almost all dirt, very little rock.  Remember this for later....

The Aid Stations: All on roads.  An uphill run from the FLT along access trails that were often open, grassy swales, most of them probably at least a half-mile one-way and some seemed like a mile or more.  Of course, the volunteers all ROCKED!!  Thank You all!

The Set-up: One of the wettest April's on record. Followed by a wet May.  Race day preceded by a week of rain from a stalled frontal system draped over WNY.  And a hellacious thunderstorm the night before the race. With me hunkered down in my van trying to sleep.  Gotta love the night before a race.  It's always something...

The Result: Mud.  Mud.  And more mud.  Often to the shoe laces on 60-70% (?) of the course (seemed like 100%!!).  Ankle deep was common.  Those access trails to the aid stations?  Mid-calf deep in places, and I'm not exaggerating.  Not.  The stream crossings?  The "run" down was more like skiing in your trail shoes and picking out which trees to catch along the way to prevent a complete free-fall.  Getting back up often required digging in with your fingers or grabbing roots to pull yourself up.  In other words, a great day on the trails.

My socks were white before the race.  The little bit of skin on my right ankle is where they chiseled off the timing chip at the finish.  And note the sliver of skin where my shorts are pulled up on my right leg. But no picture could begin to explain what it was really like out there...

The Results: 6:20:05, not bad given the trail conditions and the fact this was just a training run for me, which I went into with very tired legs.  Good for 5th in my age group (ok, so there were only 20 of us ;).  I'm actually very psyched, great finish for a back-o-the-packer like me.  Guess I like it dirty.  And there were double the number of DNF's compared to last year.  Guess some people don't like it dirty.  Silly, silly people.

The Verdict: Not sure I'll run it again--at least, not sure I'd drive 4 hours to run it again, but if I was in the area I surely would.  FLT is sweet but those long runs UP to the aid stations--I wasn't likin' that.  Neither was anyone else I talked to.  Even though the mileage was part of the course (and thus the aid stations were required checkpoints, you couldn't skip any), there was just something really, well, miserable about getting to aid in this race.  I hated it every time I saw the arrow out to an aid station.  How's that for something different?

The End.  Yep, that's all I got.  Now get off the computer and go run a muddy trail!