Monday, October 15, 2012

Glacial Trail 50K Race Report 2012

Sunday, October 14, 2012
Greenbush, WI

I wasn't even going to write a report for this race; this was just supposed to be a fun run where I limped to a slow 50K personal worst. Not only did I have no training cycle for this race, but I spent the majority of the summer sitting on my ass while injured.  Throw in some of the toughest trail in Wisconsin and I was going to be happy enough just to finish.

The Glacial Trail 50 races (50K and 50M) are held on the Ice Age Trail through the Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest.  It's a simple out and back course.  It's a bit of a hilly beast: 5,500 feet of elevation gain in the form of constant shorter hills.  Couple the constant hills with constant rocks that litter the trail, but you can't see because they're covered in a blanket of leaves and you've got yourself some fun.  I ran this same race in 2011 and it was ugly.  I stumbled through the last 5 miles last year like a drunkard at a slow walk and finished in dismay.  I just didn't want a repeat of that.

Elevation profile for the first 15.5 miles.  Turn around and do it over again.

Race morning was early.  I left my house at 4am to make the 2 hour drive North.  The forecast was pretty simple.  In the words of Ollie Williams from Family Guy: IT'S GON' RAIN! 

I found my friend Dan in the huge crowd of a 132 and we lined up on a street in the town of Greenbush, WI (population unincorporated.)  It was sprinkling as we started.  Just a half mile jaunt on the road until we hit the woods.  As we started running, people took off like jack rabbits.  Where was the fire?  Dan got sucked into the crowd and off they went.  I trotted behind everyone, bringing up the rear in DFL.  I looked down at my Garmin and I was jogging at a 10:30mm pace.  No worries, I knew I would pass plenty of those people later on in the race.  I pretty much suck at everything running except for pacing.  I'm a very consistent pacer.

So into the woods we went.  It was raining.  It was always raining.  It would rain for the entire race, eventually turning the trail into a mini river.  After a few miles, I caught up to Dan and we played leap frog for a while.  When he was running, he was running at a faster pace than me, but I was running more frequently.  Sometime during this time, he turned back to me and yelled, "How cool is this?!"  In the beginning miles of a rainy ultra when you're in the middle of the forest running through a fog, it I had to concur that it was pretty damn cool.

Dan dropped me after a while and took off, so I was running alone.  Early on in the race, I decided that I needed to embrace the suck.  At first you try to keep your feet dry, avoiding the puddles on the trail.  Then there comes a point where you just say fuck it, and splash right on through.  Make peace with the fact that you're going be muddy, sopping wet, and cold.  Embracing the suck is sort of the essence of ultra running.  For a while I passed the time by contemplating the pain associated with ultra running and wondered if that made me some sort of masochist.  Then I couldn't decide if I actually liked the pain, or just the feeling of the pain stopping.  Maybe a combination of both.

Speaking of pain, I took only fall during the entire race and it was a good one.  Coming into the 13 mile aid station, there was a set of wooden steps leading down to the aid station.  I slipped on my way down and tumbled down the rest of the steps directly into the crowd at the aid station.  Apparently I wanted to make an entrance.

I hit the turn around in 3:50, almost the exact same time as last year.  I popped my first 600mg of ibuprofen here for my aching groin and hip flexor.  Coming back into my slip 'n slide aid station for the second time, I managed to hold it together.  Dan was there and had just changed clothes.  He asked me if I wanted to go for a walk.  I yelled at him as he was leaving, "I'm going to catch you if you're just walking!"  I put on my iPod leaving this aid station with the thought in my head of catching Dan.  Shortly after this was my only true low point in the race.  My stomach wasn't feeling well and thought that maybe I needed to visit the restroom in the trees.  So I bushwhacked off trail, but was unsuccessful in my quest.  Back on the trail, I ate a ginger chew and increased my water intake.  That seemed to fix things after a mile or two.

Feeling better and rocking out to some tunes, I decided to go "hunting for wunners," in words of my dear, sleep deprived, 100 mile running friend Katie.  First on my list: Dan Stickler in his bright neon jacket.  20 miles into the race and I was feeling good.  I knew that I would be able to pick off a good handful of folks who went out too fast.  So off I ran.  Eventually I did catch Dan and I'm afraid that I turned into a "heartless twat" as I cruised by.  (His words, not mine.)  There may have been taunting involved.  I thought maybe he would try to stick with me, but I never saw him again until the finish.

The rain seemed to increase in intensity as the day went on.  At points it would just start to come down in sheets and thought to myself, "Bring it on, mother nature!"  I ran as much as I could and power hiked the hills with vigor.  I relished running through the puddles and the mud.  I was having a blast.  After Dan, I picked off more people.  Then even more. 

At some point, I realized that I was going to take a good chunk off of last year's dismal time.  But how big of a chunk?  I was pretty sure that I could finish in under 8 hours.  As the miles went by, I was constantly doing math.  Could I finish in under 7:50?  I think so.  And the closer I got to the finish line, the greedier I got.  Maybe I can even finish in under 7:45, I thought.  I ran.  Oh, did I run.  I pressed on, passing more people.  Holy shit, maybe I can finish in under 7:40?  7:40 would mean that I had run even splits.  Finally I settled on a goal: I'm going to negative split this race and finish in 7:30 something.  I was constantly looking at my Garmin and calculating those last few miles.  I was running well and breathing hard, pushing in a way that I haven't done during a race in a while.  A fast 50 miler passed me and kept looking back at me to see if I was catching him, thinking that I was also a speedy 50 miler in contention for a top 10 finish.  It made me laugh, but also gave me confidence that I must look like I'm moving well.

Finally we popped out of the woods and into flatter prairie land with less than 2 miles to the finish.  I was running at a 10:30mm pace on the flat grass.  Same as the start.  I felt too good at the end of this race.  It would have been a great day to run longer had my groin been in better shape.  I even had delusions of finishing, then turning around and backtracking to find Dan and run him in.  (Delusions, of course, squished by the prospect of warm chili and cookies at the finish.)  But the trail abruptly ends and plops you onto some easy road running for about a half mile until the finish.  I got choked up a little on the road, realizing that I had run an almost perfectly executed race, something I hadn't done in a very long time.

Finish time: 7:35:10.  Almost an hour better than last year and a 5 minute negative split. 

Running that time on that trail without training and through an injury gives me confidence going into 2013, knowing that I can run a sub-7 50K on an easier course.

I ate some chili, spent a while in the bathroom attempting to clean the mud off of me and changed into warm, dry clothes and waited for Dan.  Eventually I took my wet clothes to the car and happened to time it perfectly to see Dan strolling down the street to the finish.  I turned into a heartless twat and again and yelled, "RUN IT IN, DAN!"  He complied. 

Thanks to Dan for running with me, baking me forgotten bread (I'm sure it was delicious), and putting up with me in general.  You know where to find me when you're ready to run that 50.

Fleece and finisher's "medal."

Yummy shoes afterward.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

6 things I learned from being injured for 6 months

I have been running for almost 5 years now.  Up until this year, I had never been injured.  2012 jolted me into reality and hit me hard.  I haven't had a regular running routine since February and am just now getting back to "normal."  I lost an entire summer thanks to my stupidity and my decisions.  A brief background for those of you who don't know me very well: I am an ultra runner; I am a trail runner.  I spent my spring recovering from a nasty shin splint while training for a 50 mile race.  I spent my summer recovering from an abductor strain/tear after running a 100K.

We are all an experiment of one in this game of running, but this is what I learned about myself in the past 6 months.

1.  Not everyone can get a billion miles out of a pair of shoes.
I have friends who get 1,000 miles out of a pair of shoes.  Friends who wear their shoes for so long that holes start to develop in the soles.  Friends who don't need to rotate between 6 different pairs.  Friends who can run in a pair of Crocs and be fine.  I am not one of those people.  I wear motion control shoes on the road.  I am a heavy heel striker.  I have flat feet with no arches and am hard on my poor shoes.  I need to replace my road shoes somewhere around 350-450 miles.  If I don't, bad things happen.  I completely attribute my shin injury to wearing broken down, old, needing to be replaced shoes.  Don't be a cheapskate.  Replace your damn shoes.

2.  Roads are evil.
I say this semi-facetiously, but the truth of the matter is that my body is not used to road running.  This winter was very mild in Wisconsin with a lot of warm days.  This left the trails an icy mess and thus I retreated to the road.  I was putting in 50-60 miles per week on the road.  I was running long runs on the road.  I've never run that many road miles on a regular basis before. I've never run my long runs on the road.  Last year I ran about 60-70% of my runs on the trail.  My body is happy to put in a half marathon or a little more on the road.  Any more than that and it turns to me and says, "Hey lady!  What the f--k?  Where's my soft dirt and rocks to jump over?"

3. If you have a good base, it will carry you far.  (And why every runner should own a bike.)
I'm slow. No, really, I'M SLOW.  I couldn't tell you a thing about lactate threshold.  I don't do speed work.  I don't follow training plans.  Did I mention I'm really slow?  But if there's one thing I'm good at, it's consistency.  I run.  A lot.  All the time.  Oh sure, I am smart about my rest days, but I never took any significant time off during the first 4 years I was running.  I was consistent.  I had a damn strong base.  I had a lot of miles on my feet.  So when my shin injury popped up this spring, I didn't panic.  I trusted my base to carry me through.  I took 3-4 weeks completely off running and made friends with my bike.  I am a far cry from a cyclist.  I own a mountain bike that I noodle around the trails on.  But I pulled on my padded shorts and gloves and hit the roads with my bike.  I tried to bike as many hours as I would normally run.  My ass was not happy with me, but I told it to shut up and spent a lot of time on a hilly part of the Ironman Wisconsin course.  I didn't lose any cardio thanks to my bike and was able to run my 50 miler feeling like I hadn't taken any time off at all.  Who knew 6 week cycling tapers worked so well?

4.  Maybe running that goal race is worth it.
Maybe it's not.  That's your call.  For me, running that goal race was worth it.  I stood in the middle of my hotel room the night before the Potawatomi Trail 50 mile race, standing on my left leg and hopping up and down.  No pain.  Yet, I could still dig my fingers into my shin and find a tender spot.  It would have to do.  I resolved to run until I felt pain in my shin.  I finished the race and my shin has been fine ever since.  4 weeks later, I tried to PR the Ice Age Trail 50K (I never said I was the brightest bulb).  I ended up going out too fast, finishing 4 minutes off my PR and wound up pulling something in my groin area.  That groin pain would plague me for the next 4 months.  3 weeks after the 50K, I toed the line of the Kettle Moraine 100K knowing that I wasn't in peak condition.  I could feel...something...  Something wasn't right on the inside of my left thigh.  Guess what?  15 miles into the race and I was feeling like crap.  I had a pain deep in my groin.  I popped ibuprofen twice during that race and ended up finishing, although it wasn't pretty.  Running for 17 hours on an already sore groin was a recipe for disaster.  Was finishing the 100K worth losing my entire summer?  For me, it was.  I had been wanting to run that race for years.  I never thought I would do it, yet I did.  And my finisher's award, a small copper kettle, sits on my desk and reminds me that I completed a dream of mine.    

5.  Sometimes you need to just sit on your ass and drink a beer.
I tried to cross train through my groin strain with no luck.  After walking 2 miles around my neighborhood one evening in a lot of pain, I decided I needed to cease all activity.  For more than 5 miserable weeks, I did nothing.  I sat on my ass.  I hobbled around the dog park with my dog.  I didn't run, I didn't bike, I didn't walk.  I drank beer.  I baked cookies.  I read.  I did anything but exercise.  I went insane.  It was horrible, but it worked.  After those 5 weeks, I was complaining to a friend about not running and he said to me, "Look, if you're going to pace at Sawtooth Superior in a month, you need to be able to run now."  So I threw on my running clothes and ran a meager 2.5 miles around my neighborhood.  I huffed, I puffed, I swore, my quads were jello.  I felt like noob, but it was a run and it was mostly pain free.  Those 5 weeks with no activity clearly did the trick.  (And I did wind up pacing successfully at Sawtooth last weekend for 12 hours.  Again, I attribute this to my base.)

6.  You are not invincible.
I thought I was.  I thought I was smart.  I thought those getting injured were doing something wrong.  I waited 3 years to run my first ultra marathon.  (And to this day, I still haven't run a road marathon.)  I didn't increase my distance too quickly.  I didn't run fast very often.  I took 2 rest days a week.  I felt invincible.  The truth is, none of us are.  You run long enough and you WILL get injured.  I don't care how smart or cocky you are.  Inevitably, it will happen.  It's what you make of your injury is what's important.  How you react, your attitude, and what you do with your time off.  Was I cranky as hell sometimes?  Absolutely.  But there was no question in my mind that I would come back.  I am runner and I plan to be a runner for as long as I can physically can.

I'm still not 100% quite yet.  My cardio has some catching up to do and my daily runs leave my exhausted instead of invigorated.  I will run the very technical and very hilly Glacial Trail 50K in three weeks and probably put up a personal worst.    But I came home from work today, laced up my running shoes, grabbed my dog and headed out the door.  My feet hit the pavement and I felt...nothing.  I felt fine.  I ran down the sidewalks of my neighborhood and felt nothing.  I ran up and down the hills of the Ice Age Trail and felt nothing.  I stopped to refill my water bottle and felt nothing.  I continued my run and my feet hit the pavement back to my house and I felt nothing.  I ran 8.3 miles and felt absolutely nothing.  I stopped mid run and I watched the sun start to slowly set in the distance and felt alive.  I have 43 miles planned for this week.  I have piles of dirty laundry again.  My shoes are full of dirt.  It's good to be back.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sawtooth Superior 100 Pacer/Crew Report

Friday, September 8, 2012
Lutsen, MN


I first fell in love with the North Shore of Lake Superior last year.  There's something about that big lake that works its way into your heart; I can feel it calling me back continuously.  So when Thom and Katie both decided to run Sawtooth Superior as their first 100 mile race, I was overly enthusiastic about coming along to crew and pace.  I couldn't wait to head North and spend time with some of my favorite people in one of my favorite places.  Not to mention getting to meet one of the people I've wanted to meet most from Runner's World -- Tracey aka RunsWithWolves. 

Tracey flew in Wednesday night and we all left for Lutsen, MN (Practically Canada, eh?) Thursday morning, swinging by Eau Claire to pick up the lovely Miss Deana on our way up.  I was not surprised that I loved Tracey instantly.  I've always found these online friendships to transfer very easily over to real life.  Tracey was exactly as awesome as I expected her to be -- smart, kind, funny, and damn good runner, of course.  The more people I meet from our little group the more I am convinced of what a great community we have.  I am so thankful for everyone who I have met and those who I will meet in the future.

The Sawtooth Superior 100 takes place on the Superior Hiking Trail, which runs along the North Shore giving you fantastic views of the lake.  The slogan for the race is, "Rugged, Relentless, Remote."  That pretty much describes it perfectly.  I have never been on a trail more beautiful; I have never been on a trail more difficult.  Even Tracey, our Colorado runner, described it as the hardest trail she has seen below 10,000 feet.  It's not just the 20,000 feet of gain and descent over 100 miles, but the absolutely relentless technicality of the trail.  You haven't seen technical until you've seen this trail.  Roots that are almost as big as my body stretching across the trail.  Roots that completely cover the trail and seem to never end.  Big rocks, small rocks, pointy rocks, slippery rocks, loose rocks.  A plethora of wooden stair cases and planks.  It's definitely not a Hardrock qualifier for nothing.  It's been called harder than Leadville, harder than Massanutten, harder than the majority of most 100 mile races and yet it's still relatively unknown. 

A sampling of the trail.

Our first stop was the pre-race meeting and packet pick up.   The more involved I become in the ultra community, the more I realize just how small it is, especially in these longer races.  Standing around during the meeting, I recognized so many faces from my races and I have only been running ultras for a little over a year now.  You don't leave an ultra without making a new friend or two first.  I love the sense of everyone working together to get each other to the finish line in this sport.  Ultra runners are a family and families don't leave each other behind.  I was reminded how much I freaking love this group of people.  I plan on doing this for as long as my body lets me.

Hanging out by the lake before the pre-race meeting.

Race morning was an early wake up call and I didn't get much sleep even though I wasn't even racing.  I was worried about Katie, worried about my still semi-injured groin, and just worried in general about how everyone would fare, so I was up staring at the ceiling the majority of the night.  We drove the two cars down to Gooseberry Falls and prepped for the start.  Thom and Katie were both nervous, but who can blame them?  Finally our runners were off and we watched them trot off into the distance.  103 miles left to go.  Like I said to myself during the very beginning of my problem?  No problem.  Get it done.

Me, Katie and Deana in the cold before the start.

Katie and Thom before the race.

Tracey, our Colorado crew, and Thom.

Race start.

About to take off.

Tracey, Deana and I explored Gooseberry Falls for a bit before we took off, planning on hiking a spur trail to find Katie and Thom at a non-crewed aid station.  (We couldn't offer them aid, but we just wanted to cheer to and say hi.)  Unfortunately the spur trail ended up being a bit of a mess on our part.  The race info told us that they would be 10 miles into the race, but it turned out that the spur trail was somewhere around 6 miles and the aid station was much further up the trail.  So we hiked in, expecting to have a to wait for a bit, but completely missed our runners and watched as the sweeps went by.  Huh?!  WTF!  0/1 so far.  Shit.

Gooseberry Falls.

Reflections in the early morning.

Crewing involves a lot of downtime, so we decided to explore the Split Rock Lighthouse, which was on our way to the next aid station.  However, a cranky employee informed us that you needed to pay for a wristband to see the lighthouse, so we decided to skip it.  However, there was an open gate near our cars that we decided to wander through and found a nice view to take some pictures.  We meandered around some more, noticing that maybe we could get close enough to see the lighthouse.  I contemplated hopping a fence and bushwhacking through some weeds to get a picture (you know, being a trail runner and all), but was glad that I didn't, because the same cranky employee came out and found us and yelled at us that we needed to get out if we didn't purchase a wristband.  Whoops.  0/2.

Pretty views before we got the boot.

Queen of the world!

Deana didn't like having to get down.

Thankfully, the rest of the day we managed to keep it together.  I give credit to a hearty breakfast at the Northwoods Cafe in Silver Bay, which is a teeny tiny little mining town (no work boots in the dining room, please!)  We all met Thom at the next aid station and since Tracey was his official crew, she took care of him.  That was the last time Deana and I would see Thom as we needed to take care of Katie and they would slowly become farther and farther apart as the race went on.  Katie's spirits were high despite a small downpour and she seemed to be flying through her beginning sections.  We were slightly worried about her eating enough, but other than that she seemed to be building a nice cushion to fall back on.  Between crewing, Deana and I did a little exploring on the North Shore.  We climbed around Palisade Head, ate a veggie pizza at Jimmy's Pizza (not bad, actually), and finally I ended up changing into my pacing gear at a gas station in Silver Bay.  (Locals didn't seem too phased by a person wandering around with a backwards hat, headlamp, and calf sleeves, although some teenage girls did give me a look.)

Thom gets tended to at the aid station.

Rain was threatening in the distance.

Deana and I hike out to find Katie.

Here she comes!

I would start pacing Katie at approximately mile 43 (County Road 6 aid station.)  This aid station involved watching runners come in from a very short road jaunt (maybe a quarter of a mile.)  Deana and I sat in the fading light, looking for Katie.  Soon it was dark and the runners transformed into bobbing headlamps coming toward us.  I was cold sitting there in the dark, despite being wrapped in my down jacket and a borrowed blanket from a friendly fellow crew.  I was starting to feel tired, but hoped that running would perk me up.  We kept a keen lookout for Katie, as it was difficult to tell runners apart in the dark.  Finally we heard her voice from behind us, already at the aid station.  "Deana?  Mandyroo?"  I don't know how we managed to miss her coming in, but we did.  I leaped up and put on my pack and found my flashlight.  Katie and I both ate a little from the aid station before we took off into the darkness on the trail.  My plan was simple: pace Katie as long as my groin would let me.  I figured the worst case scenario would be 20 miles, most likely scenario would be 30 miles, and if I was feeling really good, I would take her for 36 miles until the point where Deana would pick her up.

I say this every time Katie and I run together, but damn, that woman can power walk even with a lot of miles under her belt.  Katie took the lead and I fell in behind her, climbing when she climbed, running when she ran, and walking when she walked.  We had a nice little 500+ foot climb in less than a mile to start out this section.  I warmed up quite quickly from my previously frozen state.  Once we were on top, I could feel the wind whipping at my jacket.  I'm sure there were amazing views of the lake in the distance, but I couldn't see anything but pitch darkness.  We were living in the little circles of our flashlights and headlamps.  I was starting to feel a little nauseous from the bubble of light emitting from my hand, in fact.  I started out with my flashlight on high, but ended up dimming it to low to help with the nausea.  That seemed to help a little, but I was still kind of queasy and had a headache.  I relayed none of this information to Katie, of course.  I wasn't about to worry my runner, after all.  Katie got quiet at the end of this section, struggling with her potassium issues.  I'd let her explain it if I could, but basically Katie's body is all sorts of screwed up regarding her potassium and she often has problems while running that result in paralysis, loss of vision and extreme swelling.  I have seen it happen first hand before in previous races that we have done together, so I knew what to look for and what to ask her. We were told this was a hard section.  The trail was ridiculous in places.  I remember a lot of rocks.  I took my first digger here, doing a tuck and roll and escaping with just a bruised and scraped up shin.  We crossed over a very long wooden plank section that took us directly through some sort of lake, maybe?  All I know is that I remember looking down and thinking, "You'd better not slip, because you'll fall into that water and who knows how deep it is."  I was thankful when we came into the halfway point at Finland.  We lingered a bit at this aid station and spent some time by the fire.  Deana took care of Katie while I chugged at least 3 cups of Coke and ate a random assortment of whatever I could find at the aid station.  Cheese quesadilla, potatoes, and Mike and Ikes?  Yes, please.

We were both in better moods leaving this aid station and Katie's potassium issues were slightly better, or at least that's what it felt like because we were laughing and talking again.  The caffeine from the coke that I downed seemed to help my headache and I was feeling a lot better.  We were chattering away and having a lot of fun on our way to Sonju Lake, which was an uncrewed aid station.  The trail in this section was more runnable, although we both took spectacular falls here.  It was the middle of the night and the rocks and roots were all horribly slippery, wet with dew from the damp air.  Katie was first, slipping on a rock, flying comically in the air, landing on her ass and then sliding down the rock.  Her headlamp flew off her head and we started laughing hysterically as we tried to collect the headlamp and realized that it had actually sort of fallen apart.  I preformed minor headlamp surgery and restored it to working order.  Score one for the pacer!  Not too much later, we were running on rock again and I took a flying Superman-esque fall, sliding on my stomach down the rock.  Both of my legs and an elbow got bruised from that one.  Occasionally I would stop to pee, and then turn on the jets to catch back up to Katie.  This was sort of a fun little game for me.  At one point, she was ahead of me on a winding part of the trail and her flashlight was so bright that I thought she was a porch light from a house in the middle of the trail.  Oh no, were the hallucinations happening already?  As we neared the aid station, I asked Katie what she needed here.  We planned for a quick little stop -- Katie was more concerned about getting back out on the trail and getting to Deana at the next crew accessible aid station.  We both ate soup here and I chugged even more Coke.  I also remember being excited about the Fig Newtons and took two to gnaw on while out on the trail.

This next section was only 4.2 miles and would put Katie at the 100K mark when we were done.  The problem I have with these shorter sections is that my mind says, "Oh, it's *only* 4 miles," and thus I think that it shouldn't take too long.  But somehow these short sections always feel longer than the long sections because my brain messes with me.  Katie was really starting to struggle here.  She told me that she was going to have a potassium dump at the next aid station.  She couldn't see out of her left eye and her right eye only had partial vision.  Her hands were swollen up to Michelin Man proportions.  At one point, she started talking about how the trail markers were "Wisps", which apparently is a reference to some Disney movie that I'd never seen.  She started rambling on about how we needed to follow the wisps and then would whisper to herself, "Wisp, wisp, wisp, wisp..."  For a while, I had no idea she was doing this and I thought I was hearing things or we were being followed by a ghost.

During the "wisp" section, we both managed to miss a marker and got off trail next to this loudly babbling creek.  We continued on until we hit water and no way around it.  Uhhh, this can't be the trail.  Back track.  Oh, here's where we lost it.  Katie asked me to lead her into the aid station from here since her vision was so bad.  I asked her if she wanted me to shuffle a little bit on the flats and she said yes, but I was losing her when I did that, so I slowed back down.  I was really worried at this point.  We decided that she had enough time to take an extended break here and she would nap for an hour.  After what felt like forever, we finally came into this aid station.  Deana and I got Katie settled into a chair by the fire with sweatshirts wrapped around her legs.  (Note to self: pack blankets next time.)  I got her some hamburger and she ate that and I think might have fallen asleep.  I took care of myself then, changing my shoes, eating a lot of quesadilla again and resting by the fire.  However, despite my down jacket and heating packs in my gloves, I was quickly losing the battle with the very cold air.  I was shivering non-stop and finally retreated to the car with the heater on full blast while Deana stayed with Katie.  I relaxed in the car and finally started to warm up.  I don't know how long I was in the car before Deana was tapping at the window.  "Katie's up and she's leaving in 2 minutes!"  Oh, crap.  I was instantly up and fumbling out of my jacket and getting my pack ready. 

This next section was a long one at 10 miles.  It was somewhere around 6am at this point and the sun would soon be rising.  Katie's break had breathed new life into her and we were off and moving well.  Katie had an aggressive time goal in this section and we hauled ass on a long, long climb.  The kind of climb that left us both gasping for air with our hands on our knees.  The sun was coming out and we packed away our flashlights and turned off our headlamps.  Katie took off her jacket and we packed it away on the bungee on her pack.  I followed suite shortly after.  This was my first time starting to run in one day and continuing on running through the night and into the next and with the sunrise.  Cool.  This was good practice for when I finally run my 100 miler.  I was very happy about daybreak and getting to shut off that damn flashlight.  We were moving so well in this section that we started passing a bunch of people.  Katie came alive every time we spotted a glimpse of a shirt in the distance.  She mumbled something about hunting and I asked her, "Are we hunting for wabbits?"  And she replied, "No, we're hunting for wunners."  In our sleep deprived state, this struck us both as the funniest thing we'd ever heard, because we started laughing and couldn't stop.  There's nothing like giggling down the trail pacing your friend to her first 100 mile finish as the sun rises.  It was a great moment.  We both started to get quiet after a while, however.  I was tired.  My running has been basically non-existent since my Kettle Moraine 100K in June due to a groin injury.  I wasn't trained enough, my groin was starting to ache despite the two doses of ibuprofen I popped during our time together, and exhaustion was starting to kick in.  I desperately wanted to continue on with Katie and take her for another section.  I debated it internally for a long time, trying to figure out what to do.  Then all of a sudden I felt a sharp pain on my upper arm.  "Mother fucker!" I yelled.  We had both gotten stung by a bee, Katie getting hers on a sensitive spot on her hip.  YOWCH.  I have only been stung once before in my life and it was a long time ago.  Not an experience I want to repeat.

The bee sting added to my doubts about continuing on for another section.  Then the hallucinations came.  I realize I was only running for 30 miles, but I had been awake all night and sleep deprivation was starting to kick in.  A hobo in the woods ended up being a tree stump.  Not too much farther along my dad's white tennis shoes were sitting along side the trail (birch bark.)  I saw a train depot.  I saw a closet full of hangers.  "Trees, Mandy, everything is just trees," I kept reminding myself.  I was feeling queasy again and my pack was low on water since I completely forgot to fill it at the last aid station.  I sucked down a gel and ate a ginger chew, which helped a little.  I was really lagging though and the hallucinations made me decide that I needed to stop at the next aid station.  I had it my head that the next section was 8 miles, when it was really only 5.6  Had I known that at the time, I might have continued, but Katie didn't seem to daunted about having to run a section by herself.  A testament to how strong of a runner she is.  I was slowly falling apart behind Katie and was more than relieved to come into the aid station and hang up my hat.  I had run for 12+ hours, outlasted my Garmin for the 3rd time ever, had completed an unofficial ultra, and most importantly had gotten Katie through the night.

We sent Katie off onto the trail alone for a short section.  I was so grateful to have Deana there to drive as I collapsed in the car.  (Deana has essentially crewed me twice now and I definitely need to return the favor at some point.)  We decided we had enough time to head back to the condo where I would take a shower and Deana would look for Thom at the finish line.  The shower was a success, but Thom and his crew were nowhere to be seen, so we buzzed back to the next aid station to wait for Katie and where Deana would begin pacing.  It started to downpour on our way to the aid station and I freaked out, thinking that Katie would be cold.  (Because I, again, could not get warm.)  We clambered around, trying to find her cold weather gear to bring to her and just barely made it to the aid station in time for her to come through and say that she was hot.  Whew.  Deana took off with her and left me alone to limp back to the car.  I hung out at the next aid station, Temperance, and had some downtime in the car, snacking on whatever I could find because it was probably wise to eat after running for 12 hours.  Katie and Deana came through and didn't need much.  I was trying to get Katie to eat more at this aid station and she got upset with me and looked me dead in the eye and said very sternly, "I ATE A COOKIE ON THE TRAIL, OKAY?"  Katie's patience was wearing out and at mile 84, she was "ready to be fucking done."  Amen, sister. 

I drove back to the condo (which was in the same place as the finish line) again after this aid station and met Dan (aka Metal, Cupcake, Big Boi, and Thom's pacer for 53 miles) hauling beer to the trunk of the car.  Turns out Thom and Tracey were running Thom's last 7 miles and would be finishing any minute.  Perfect!  We stood out in the rain at the finish line and chatted and watched a bunch of marathoners finish.  Come on, Thom, hurry up!  I wanted to be there to see him finish, but I also needed to get back to crew Katie and Deana at Sawbill (mile 90.)  Finally I had to leave, so I didn't end up seeing Thom finish.  Back to Katie and Deana I drove.  I hiked out on the trail to run them in.  Katie was slightly punchy here, yelling at some guys at the aid station about "female problems."  This was apparently after she has visited the outhouse that had a "lava lamp" of poop on the floor.  Um, yummy?  I soothed her by reminding her that she had oodles of time on cutoffs and so they took off onto the trail again.  And back to the condo I went again, hoping to find Thom finished.  Success!  Thom had finished in 31:22 and everyone from his crew was back lounging at the condo.  We shared some beer and some stories about his race before I needed to leave again for my last aid station. 

I arrived at Oberg, the last aid station at mile 95.5, and decided to immediately hike in and find my girls.  It was a nice walk during that time right before the sun starts to set on trail that I had run twice before (during the marathon last year and on my pre-marathon trail scouting), so I felt like I knew where exactly I was.  I probably hiked in a mile before I saw Katie and Deana.  I gave Katie and hug and walked them back into the aid station.  Katie had 4 hours to go 7.1 miles to the finish.  Granted they were probably the toughest 7 miles of the course, but she had 4 hours to do it in.  I was 100% confident that she would finish.  I showed her pictures of Thom finishing his race and she got a little teary eyed.  I was hoping that would give her a little extra strength for the last stretch.  I walked her and Deana out of the aid station and up the trail for a while before I left them, promising to back track from the finish and come find them.

Letting Katie go off to her final 7.1 miles.

And so I drove back to the condo for the last time.  The sun was setting and soon Katie would be entering her second night and her last few miles.  I geared up with lights and a Garmin again.  Thom and Tracey would be waiting at the finish line for everyone.  So I took off into the dark and ran the course backwards, expecting to find Katie and Deana shortly.  A lot of 100 and 50 milers were coming near the finish and almost all of them wanted to know how far they had left to go.  I was happy to provide mileage and descriptions -- some met the info with enthusiasm and others with despair.  Soon the trail started to climb and I realized that I was headed up Mystery Mountain.  I had to be running into my girls shortly.  And finally I did.  Katie called, "Is that you, Mandy?"  Because who else would be wandering up the trail with a headlamp and flashlight in the dark at 9pm?  "It's me!"  I called back.  Katie was pretty broken down at this point.  Every rock was a mountain, every root evoked a "fuck me", every stumble was a whimper.  But damn, she was doing it.  I told her, "Come on, let's get you off this mother fucking trail already."  We picked our way down gingerly, talking, them telling me how their last few miles went.  I told Katie once she could hear the waterfall, we were almost there.  Soon the roaring of the near-invisible-in-the-dark waterfall could be heard in the distance.  Just cross over the bridge and you're off the trail and onto the streets of the ski resort.  And Katie started to run again.  I was proud of her for starting to run then, with almost a half mile left.  That's a damn long way to run at the end of a 100.  But she ran and we didn't stop running.  We ran into a pair of slower moving racers just before the finish line and I urged her to pass them.  I didn't want her to slow down behind them, let's finish this strong!  And so she ran around them and through the finishing chute and directly into Thom.  103 miles done.  37:21 and well ahead of the cut off.

The finish line.

I am so proud of Katie for enduring and finishing her first 100.  And not just any 100, but Sawtooth.  You just can't begin to understand that course until you've ran at least part of it.  Katie is too humble about her running; she's a damn strong runner and I was confident in her ability to push through and finish from the very beginning.  I feel honored that she wanted me as part of her crew and I hope that she knows how much I admire her.  Me, Katie and Deana met just a little over a year ago at DWD - Devil's Lake in 2011.  Since then, we've crewed each other, run races together, paced each other, and I couldn't be more grateful to have such good friends.  The turtle trio holds a special place in my heart and I know the three of us will continue to have many adventures together in the future.  I'm pretty sure it's Deana's turn to lube up next, however. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Kettle Moraine 100K 2012 Report

Saturday, June 2, 2012
La Grange, WI

In case you ever doubted it, 100 kilometers is a long way to run.

I finished my 50 miler in April thinking, "Yeah, I could have kept running," which ultimately led me to signing up for this race.  Finishing this race, I was not thinking about more running.  I was thinking about sitting down and not moving again for a very, very long time.

The Kettle Moraine 100M and 100K is held in (wait for it...) the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest.  We would run 31.6 miles North from the Nordic parking lot, then turn around and run back.  So this 100K was actually 63.2 miles.  And yes, that extra 1.2 miles makes a difference. 

I am lucky that I have spectacular friends, and the wonderful Deana volunteered to come down with her 12 year old daughter, Leigh, to crew for me.  I've never had a crew before and I can't even describe how amazing it felt to see them waiting for me at an aid station after spending hours alone on the trail.  Deana was exactly how I wanted a crew to be: encouraging, but not overly sugar coating things.  Being an ultra runner herself, she understood the nature of running long.  Having a knowledgeable crew is truly invaluable and I am forever grateful to her.

I didn't really train for this race, nor did I expect myself to actually run it.  It was a dream from long ago.  When I first started trail running, I read about this race and saw the copper kettles that finishers got as awards.  I wanted one, but I didn't know quite how to get one.  100K?  No way in hell am I ever going to run 63 miles.  That's just crazy.  Heck, I'm never even going to run a marathon.  And so my dream got shelved.  Fast forward a few years and I had gotten into the ultra scene.  This race was back on my radar big time.  I registered for my first 50 miler in April, intending to run the KM100K if my 50 went well.  I ran a lot of miles earlier this year, then got injured.  I shelved the 100K dream.  I almost shelved the 50 mile dream, but decided to run the race off a 6 week taper.  You know the story.  I finished and I finished feeling great.  But I had missed a lot of training and was hesitant to sign up for this race.  Thankfully I have crazy friends and a certain friend, let's call him...Bob...convinced me that yes, I could indeed do this.  Ultras are more of a mental game than anything and if you know me, you know I'm a stubborn and tenacious mule.  So I signed up.  I lost $100 and whatever little sanity I had left.

The Start:
Who knew that the sun started to rise sometime around 4:30am during June?  Not me.  We arrived at the starting line sometime shortly after 5am, where I picked up my packet and fretted about nothing in particular because who doesn't fret about these sort of things?  We eventually found Thom and Katie before the start and hugs were exchanged.  I also got to see Todd, another forum friend, for the first time since October and grabbed another hug.  He's a damn fine runner and I expected great things out of him for this race.  I told him I'd see him again as we ran in opposite directions on the out and back.  Katie and I stood off to the side of the pack and joked that we would start after everyone else began running.  And soon we did.  Start running that is.  63.2 miles left go.  Intimidating?  Not in the least...

Mile 7.5 (Bluff Road aid station)  7:24am:
This first bit was just easy, zoned out running on the ski trails of the Nordic loop.  Slow down, walk the hills, relax, don't freak out, chit-chat, enjoy, don't freak out, oh, there's a pretty tree.  I knew these first 7.5 miles too well.  I knew every rock, every turn, every hill.  I couldn't decide if that was a good or bad thing.  I ran with a chatty man for a while and that would be the only time where I spent any significant time running with anyone during the entire race.  Smile for the camera, run easy, love this section through the pine needle covered trail.  We crossed a road and pulled into the aid station.  Deana, Leigh, and Thom were waiting for me.  "How are you doing?" they asked.  Fine!  Fine.  It was only 7.5 miles.  I'd better be feeling fine.  I took a quick Port-o-potty stop, exchanged my handheld for my pack and went on my way.

On the Nordic loop early in the race.

Mile 15.4 (Emma Carlin aid station) 9:50am:
The trail switches from the doubletrack ski loop to the singletrack Ice Age Trail that I again knew too well.  My groin started to hurt.  Really?  My groin is going to start hurting just a few hours into an all day race?  Fuuucckkk.  I pulled off at the unmanned aid station of Horseriders (miles 12.7) for another bathroom stop.  Are you starting to sense a pattern already?  You should start to sense a pattern already.  North of Horseriders, the trail was absolutely beautiful.  Smooth sailing singletrack with gorgeous purple flowers lining the trail.  I wasn't feeling great, but I wasn't feeling bad yet either.  Unfortunately my groin was going to start protesting soon.  The day was heating up and the hot, unshaded, open meadows loomed ominously in the distance.  I rolled into Emma Carlin feeling pessimistic.  It was too early in the race to be feeling badly, but I was.  Thom and Deana tried to keep my spirits up here.  I ate banana bread, a PB&J tortilla, and some other things.  I popped my first of many S! Caps.  I was slightly cranky heading into the meadows.

Mile 24.5 (Hwy 67 aid station) 12:17pm:
The infamous meadows.  9 miles of unshaded hell.  I only made it probably a half of a mile before I pulled off behind a lone tree to go to the bathroom yet again.  :facepalm:  I guess I'd rather be peeing too often than not enough, but it was mildly annoying at this point.  It's difficult to pull up sweaty compression shorts that are already covered in vasoline.  But into the meadows I headed with a lot of negative thoughts swirling around in my brain.  This was by far my lowest point.  My groin was hurting to the point where something needed to be done.  It was starting to get warm.  I had forgotten to replace my gel supply, so I only had one gel to get me through these 9 miles.  Everything felt misaligned.  This was the only time the letters DNF passed through my head.  But I did what you do during ultras -- I promised myself that things would get better.  You have to believe that things will get better.  So I ran when I could and walked when I couldn't.  And slowly the miles ticked by.  I came to an unmanned aid station that had a bag of unmelted ice sitting in a tub.  I just about cried out of happiness and shoved as much of it into my pack as I could.  Oh, cold water where have you been all my life?  I also shoved some ice down my back.  Onward.  More meadows.  Finally, less meadows.  More woods.  Then the long awaited aid station.  I think I shouted something about, "PEOPLE!  I am so happy to see people!" as I ran in.  Hugs from Thom as Deana and Leigh tended to my needs.  I'm pretty sure this was the aid station where I was eating watermelon and said out loud, "I told Bob that watermelon doesn't count as food.  I need to eat something else."  More potatoes.  I ate a lot of potatoes.  I grabbed my ibuprofen from my tote and told Deana not to yell at me and took 600mg.  I've never taken it in a race before, but something had to be done about my groin.  I left this aid station feeling slightly better, but still down.

Mile 31.6 (Scuppernong aid station) 2:06pm:
I had grabbed my phone before I left Hwy 67 and had it out on the trail with me.  I made a Facebook status update while walking up a hill.  I also read a lot of encouraging comments from people.  That lifted my spirits.  Runners were flying by in the opposite direction as they made their way back from the turn around.  It was a lot of stepping off the trail and dancing around people.  Todd saw me before I saw him and called out my name.  We exchanged a high five.  He was kicking ass and seeing a friend in the midst of strangers lifted my spirits even further.  Much later down the trail, I ran into Katie, who was absolutely flying and told me that I had only 20 minutes or so till the turn around.  Sweet.  Pick it up.  This section coming into Scuppernong was fairly flat compared to much of the rest of the course and I tried to run some of the smaller hills.  I made it to the turn around in around 8:06 or so.  A slow 50K for sure, but I am a steady runner.  I prefer this method to the banking time crash and burn.  I had mentally prepared for a longer stop here.  I sat in the "beware of the chair" chair as Deana took care of me.  A wonderful volunteer came over and asked what she could get me.  She made me a special cheese only sandwich.  Real Wisconsin cheese and white bread?  Heck yeah, that tasted amazing.  I reapplied Hydropel to my feet and changed socks.  I lingered for a little too long before I was finally ready to head back out.  My watch said that I left with 8:22 ticking away.  Only 31.6 more miles to get back to the car.  No problem?  No problem.

Mile 38.4 (Hwy 67 aid station) 4:04pm:
My mood was steadily improving after I Ieft the halfway point.  There's something about heading in the direction of the finish line that's encouraging.  I was gaining steam.  Soon I was running.  And running.  And holy shit, I felt great!  The ibufropen had quelled my groin pain to a dull ache and I was jamming to my iPod.  This was the best I had felt all race.  I had already run 35 miles and this was the best that I had felt all day?  That's ultra running for you.  I was flying high for these miles.  I passed someone.  Then I passed another person.  And another.  Oh hi, how are you feeling, keep it up, don't mind me, can I squeeze by you, I'm just running right now.  I came into this aid station on top of the world.  Deana told me that I was making up time and was back on schedule.  Awesome.  I'm just going to keep on kicking ass as long as I can.  But I have this blister forming on my left heel?  Sock change again, maybe?  Eh, let's just throw some more Hydropel on it.  I chugged my first Starbucks double shot and thought, "Get me out of here, I'm high on caffeine and ready to take on the meadows again." 

Mile 47.4 (Emma Carlin aid station) 6:15pm:
I went into the meadows in a much better mood the second time around.  I was still running well and listening to my iPod.  The late afternoon sun wasn't as hot and I was having a good time enjoying the beauty of the prairie.  I remembered Jason's mantra of, "I am the luckiest man alive."  And during that time, I felt like I was.  I had to duck into the woods for another bathroom break.  My shorts were so thoroughly coated in vasoline at this point that it was starting to ooze out.  Yum.  As the miles were clicking by, I started to pay attention to my Garmin.  I knew it was going to die soon.  I made a note that I passed through 45 miles in 11:46.  I was going to set a huge 50 mile PR in the middle of this race, but my Garmin would die before I would see it happen.  (It did end up dying at mile 48.66 in 12:39.  That means I could run a sub-13 hour 50.  I was ecstatic with this news.)  I ran into Emma Carlin at a 10 minute mile pace and thought that Deana would be so proud of me that I was ahead of schedule!  I sat in the chair again here and got my feet tended to by a very nice woman named Vicky.  She shared her beeswax blister paste with me and we slathered it over my left heel.  It was at this point during the race that I was allowed to have a pacer.  Deana's daughter Leigh was going to run the next 8.3 miles with me.  A distance PR for her and she was excited about the prospect of night running.  I headed back out into the woods, but this time I had company.

Mile 55.7 (Bluff Road aid station) 9:20pm (?):
I was still running relatively well during my initial time with Leigh.  She talked, I listened, we ran. We cruised through the purple flowers again and I was starting to feel the initial inklings of my unraveling.  I knew I couldn't keep this up for the next 12 miles, but I had to run while I was still able to.  We made it to the unmanned Horseriders aid station.  From here on out, we were back on familiar trail to me.  I knew every damn inch of that trail again. It changed into the hilly, rocky course from the Ice Age Trail 50K.  I could tell that I was coming undone.  My walk breaks were becoming more frequent and my power hiking up the hills was fading into a slow, hands on my knees struggle.  My groin was starting to ache again and a general fatigue was starting to set in. But I had Leigh to distract me and I learned that middle school hasn't changed much since I was there.  She was an excellent pacer.  Upbeat and always willing to tell me a story.  I'm afraid I rambled away to her for a while as well, telling her that most people grow up to be nice people, but sometimes people are still going to be assholes and you shouldn't be friends with the assholes.  We made it to the top of Bald Bluff just before dusk.  It was gorgeous looking out over the farmlands of my home state with hues of pink and orange in the sky.  I had come over 54 miles and here I was, standing at the highest point on the course watching the sunset.  It was magical.  Shortly after this, we literally ran into Thom, who was just starting his 38 mile fun run.  He shoved me and called me a "fucker" (and in front of a 12 year old, sheesh, Thom), which is his form of a term of endearment.  Leigh and I left his potty mouth and rolled into the last crewed aid station during those first few minutes of darkness.  There wasn't much to be done anymore.  I just needed whatever it took to get me to the finish line, only 7.5 hilly miles away now.  Deana earned crew of the year by touching my feet and putting duct tape over my now popped heal blister.  She took off my Garmin for me and switched my watch over to my left wrist.  She put a long sleeve shirt and gloves into my pack.  I felt like a little kid.  I hugged Deana and I hugged Leigh, thanking her for being an awesome pacer.  I felt very, well, for lack of a better word, blessed, as I left that aid station and headed off into the pure darkness of the night.

 Mile 63.2 (Start/Finish) 11:35pm
How hard can it be to run 7.5 miles?  Turns out that it can be pretty damn hard.  I made my way through the first few miles with one thing on my mind that kept me going -- I get to see Ian.  Ian was a friend who was volunteering at the Tamarack aid station and who I hadn't met in person yet.  So as I ran through the night, I thought about just getting to Ian.  Getting to Ian meant that I would visit my last aid station and have a mere 5 miles left to go.  I was still able to run at this point, but it wasn't pretty at times.  Slightly after 10pm, I heard a power generator in the middle of the woods.  Then I saw lights.  IAN!  AID STATION!  I met Ian and he gave me the greatest 58.3 mile hug even though I was sweaty, covered in salt and vasoline and thoroughly disgusting.  He talked with me the whole time at this aid station and I grabbed some cheese quesadilla for the road home. 

It's hard to put into words those last 5 miles on the trail.  There was a huge flood of people in the opposite direction for a while as fun runners and 100 milers went back out on the trail from the start/finish area.  Some of them were zombies, barely grunting in acknowledgment as I told them to keep it up.  Headlamps were constantly bobbing in the darkness coming toward me.  My iPod died with 3 miles left to go and soon I was alone in the woods as the flow of people had eased up.  3 miles between me and the finish line.  With no people, no pacer, and no music, I was down to mostly walking.  I would run for a minute and go back to walking.  Walk, walk, run, walk, walk.  Breathe.  I stopped every now and again with my hands on my knees and stood there, not moving.  But not moving is not relentless forward motion, so I would force myself to start walking again.  I started counting down by the half mile.  Half miles dragged on for decades.  I wish I could say that I thought about all sorts of inspirational things at this time, but I didn't.  I thought about moving forward.  Just keep moving forward.  It was a slow process.  Finally I came up to the 1 mile sign.  I was probably the most emotional here, seeing that sign.  But after that sign, I ran again.  I could hear traffic as the trail snaked alongside the highway.  It's emotionally draining in that last mile.  Physically, your body has nothing left to give.  Your legs will stop working if you stop, so you just keep going.  There was a lone headlamp coming toward me in the dark.  A voice said, "You're moving well, runner, keep it up."  Mandy?  Brenda?  I stopped to give my friend Brenda a hug and I yelled back at her as I took off toward to finish line, "I'm going to fucking finish!"  And so I ran with nothing left to give.  I knew I had to take a left turn before I would see the finish line and kept waiting, waiting, waiting for it.  It was agony mixed with excitement waiting for that turn.  Then there were red numbers of the clock glowing in the distance of the moon illuminated night.  I let out a yell as loud as I could and turned on my ultra sprint.  The finish line was quiet as I approached.  "What's your number!" someone called as I was coming, wanting to distinguish if I was a 100 mile runner heading for the aid station or a 100K finisher.  "348!" I called back as clearly as I could.  "100Ker coming in!" and the finish line cheered.  I don't remember quite what I did when I finished, but I'm pretty sure that I one of the first words out of my mouth was chair.  I sunk into one of our crew chairs and Katie accosted me with her phone camera in all of my salty glory.  Timo, one of the RDs, handed me my long awaited kettle and asked me if I drank beer.  I was coherent enough to say, yes, yes I definitely drank beer, and was rewarded with my new favorite bottle opener.

I officially finished 63.2 miles in 17:35:24.  I made it before midnight.

In Conclusion:
I am, indeed, the luckiest woman alive in many ways.  This race was a total dream and I can't believe that I made it.  To my friends and the people that got me here, thank you, thank you, thank you.  I have spectacular people in my life.  I don't know how I got so lucky.  Thank you most of all to Deana and Leigh, my amazingly wonderful crew and pacers.

So I know many of you are going to ask when the 100 miler is.  And I can safely say not for a while yet.  Could I have gone another 37 miles on Saturday?  No.  But could I have gone farther than I did?  Yes.  And that yes means that I will run 100 miles someday, but not this year.  Maybe not even next year, but someday.  I need the pain to fade a little more.  And I'm ready to be on the other side of vasoline again.  Who needs a crew or a pacer?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Ice Age Trail 50K 2012 Report

Saturday, May 12, 2012
La Grange, WI


The Ice Age Trail 50K.  I love this race.  I will run it every year for as long as I can.  Of course, the best part of this race is all of the lovely people who are there.

I woke up at 5am race morning, got ready, drove to the race, parked, changed into my shoes and wandered off to put my drop bag in its proper location.  I glanced at my phone and saw that it was 7:20am.  50 mile runners were coming through the start/finish area and Thom told me that he was going to pass through at exactly 7:23am, so I went to look for him.  I was standing there for approximately 2 minutes when I saw him and Jason come running up.  I yelled and waved and cheered and got two quick, sweaty hugs from them both.    Thom took off toward the next section, but Jason took a longer stop at his drop bag.  I promptly yelled at him about going out too fast.  "What are you doing running with Thom?!  He's on a 7:45 finish pace."  Yeah, nice to meet you too, Mandy.  I'm not good at this introduction thing.  Whoops.

After the boys were gone, I went to pick up my packet.  I ran into Tom (not Thom) and gave him a hug.  We ended up sharing the first mile of the race together.  I can't say enough nice things about him!  I'm disappointed he got tired of the Wisconsin winters and moved to Arizona.

To start off the day, the race director climbed up onto a ladder and made a few pre-race announcements.  Myself and about half of us were still off the side of the starting line behind the small crowd.  He said that we would start in 5.  And suddenly he began counting down 5 - 4 - 3 - 2 -1...WHOOPS, 5 seconds, not 5 minutes...we were starting!  I laughed and dodged through some people and made my way across the starting mat.  This is how we roll in Wisconsin, folks.

I was going into this race as a celebration of my first full year of ultra running.  It was just supposed to be a training run; the last long run I would do before the Kettle Moraine 100K in three weeks.  However, I had a secret desire to PR.  I ran a 7:07 last year with poorly managed aid stations.  I should have come in under 7 hours last year and I desperately wanted to do it this year.  However, I wasn't supposed to do that.  I was supposed to run this easy.  But my brain wouldn't let it go.  And when we started, I took off.  I'm normally a back of the pack kind of girl, but I stayed with the pack.  I ran with a group of people.  I ran like I was just out for a normal day-to-day run.  Yes, I went out too fast.  I'm normally a very conservative runner, but I threw caution into the wind and just ran.  I ran up hills that I would normally walk.  I let myself bomb down the hills.  I smiled.  I had fun.  I thanked all the volunteers and waved to everyone. I went out too fast. 

My tentative plan was 3-2-2.  (3 hours for the 13 mile out and back; 2 hours for the first 9 mile loop and 2 hours for the second 9 mile loop.)  I rolled through that first 13 miles in 2:49.  Whoops.

As I was coming through the start/finish area to start my first loop, I heard someone call my name.  It was Thom and he was resting comfortably in a chair on the sidelines.  I stopped dead in my tracks -- he was supposed to be on his way to a 50M PR.  "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" I yelled.  He yelled back something about his ankle.  I was still stopped in the middle of the trail.  I said, "WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?"  The crowd chuckled.  Damn ankle.  Sorry, Thom.

I grabbed some more gels from my drop bag, took a quick bathroom stop and was on my way for the first loop on the Nordic ski trails.  I hate the Nordic loop.  You leave the beautiful singletrack of the Ice Age Trail and get thrown on hilly, rocky double track.  Some parts are nice and flat and runnable, but the backside of the loop is just hill after hill after hill.  They are short, steep and relentless.  It's impossible to find a rhythm.  You go up and come back down and immediately go back up again.  Fly down...walk down...walk up.  But that's the first loop.  That description changes on the second loop. 

I made through the hilly section of this loop, drank a bunch of coke from the aid station, and promptly fell apart a mile or two later.  20 miles down and I was toast.  My legs turned into lead.  My quads said, "Uh, lady, just what are we doing?  We're sore.  You made us run 50 miles less than a month ago.  It's warm outside today.  You haven't taken in enough salt.  Sorry, but we're shutting down now."  I walked through one of the most runnable sections of the course.  I felt like shit.  I contemplated taking a DNF.  I was hot, I was tired, and 22 miles seemed like a nice, long run.  But I needed to make it back to the start/finish area first.  So I walked.  And a nice man came running up from behind and started chatting with me.  His brother was out running the 50 miler and he was just out running for fun, talking to other racers.  He asked me how I was feeling.  I said, "Oh, you know, okay.  I've been better."  We jogged together for a few minutes.  It was then I saw Thom and Katie sitting on the top of a hill.  They asked me how I was doing.  "I feel like SHHHHHIIIITTTTT," I yelled up to them.  I think the gentleman running with me at the time laughed as my answer to them was a bit different than the answer I gave him.  I asked them what it felt like to cramp.  "I think I might be cramping?!"  I had never dealt with cramps before. They urged me to get more salt and to walk.

I came through 22 miles in 4:54.  Ouch.  I was quickly losing my cushion.  I threw my sub-7 goal out the window and decided that I would take a longer break at the main aid station.  It became just about finishing and getting this race done with.  My friend Deana was waiting for me as I came through.  I sent her off to find me some S! Caps if possible, but no luck.  I did my first ever shoe change during a race.  I took another bathroom break.  I lingered at the food table.  I chatted with Deana's youngest daughter.  Okay, okay, I guess it's time to get back out on the trail.  I left with 5:02 ticking off on my watch.  2 hours and 5 minutes to get a PR. 

I am not ashamed to say that I ran with my iPod on for the last loop.  I leap frogged off and on with a nice man named Matt.  I ran when I could.  (I actually clicked off an 11:40mm somewhere in here.)  I walked when I couldn't run.  The hilly section became ouch, ouch, gingerly pick your way down...walk up...pick your way down...walk up.  My legs were sore.  My quads were screaming at me.  I ran as best as I could.  My breathing was fine and I could still run at a 10:XX minute mile pace, but holy crap that hurt when I did.  But I ran and I soldiered on.  The last aid station comes with 1.5 miles left in the race.  I just flew on by.  I didn't slow down or even look at the aid station.  Screw that crap.  Just get me to the damn finish line. 

With maybe about a mile left to go, I heard someone call my name from behind me.  Jason?  Jason!  We timed that perfectly.  We joked about it happening, but I never could have dreamed that we would have actually done it.  He was running the 50 and we thought that our times might coordinate enough that we could run that last mile in together.  Amazing how these things work out.  His adorable son was pacing him for the last few miles.  I could tell he wasn't feeling well and was hungry to be done.  He was a mad man on a mission.  I felt that way at the end of my 50 too.  Soon we came up upon Thom and Katie on the top of that same hill again.  Katie ran with us for a few minutes and then we heard the finish line.  I told Jason to sprint it in, and he took off.  I took off just behind him.  Sprint, baby, sprint!  I was ready to finish and have another ultra completed.  Last year I had tears in my eyes.  This year my quads were yelling obscenities in my head.  Oh well.

I crossed the line somewhere around 7:10.  3 minutes slower than my PR and 11 minutes off my goal.  For crashing and burning, I'll take it.

The gang hung around for a while afterwards.  We drank beer, ate, joked around, took pictures, and chatted with various fellow racers.  Some of Jason's Ohio crew gave me a sample of almond butter after it came up in conversation.  Got to talk for a few minutes with Shaun Pope.  It was a fun afternoon and I know I say it after every race, but ultra runners really are just a spectacular group of people.

Deana, Katie, Thom, me, Jason.

The best sign ever.  Because I have actually forgotten my drop bags before.