Monday, October 15, 2012

Fiddy (the Rock’n River 50-Miler Race Report)

So. On Saturday I ran fifty miles. All in a row, without (too much) stopping. That was pretty crazy, in case you were wondering. But it was also really amazing and awesome and inspiring. You’ll probably want a drink and a snack for this race report, since it’s just about as long as my race, which, btw, took me twelve and a half hours.


First, a quick update about the goings-on this past month while I unintentionally didn’t blog: professionally and training-y, things were quite splendid. I happily took on a few new clients and enjoyed an uncommonly trouble-free training cycle. I’ve never had so many successful long runs in one cycle and I think I’ve discovered the secret to running injury-free: slow way, way, waaaaaaaay down. And then ease up a bit.

My training for this race was slightly abbreviated, due to the Rock’n River 50 being a month earlier than my original target 50, so I tried to make some compromises between training thoroughly enough and not building too fast too soon (a classic mistake of mine). I’ve always been a “less is more” runner, generally running three days a week and peaking at around 30-ish miles a week while training for a marathon. I mention this because I don’t want you to freak out when I tell you that my peak week was about 45 miles and my longest long run was 22. I paired each long run with a second long-ish run to get the feel of running on tired legs. I didn’t do anything even remotely resembling speedwork or tempos, and instead I did anything over ten miles as a run/walk (five minutes running, one minute walking). I didn’t recognize the numbers on my Garmin, but I woke up every day ready to run more. I felt good about my plan because it was more or less (okay, a little less) the one UltraIronHubs used for the AR50.

Up until a few days ago, the course was described as the AR50 in reverse, so I was excited about knowing the whole course. In case you’re not familiar with the AR50 course (and why would you be?), there is a short out-and-back at the beginning before the point-to-point up to Auburn. Based on the RnR50’s website, it didn’t look like they were planning on that out-and-back part, so I couldn’t figure out how the miles were going to add up. As it turned out, they actually redesigned a few parts of the course, mostly at the beginning, and particularly the descent of Cardiac Hill. This change was worthy of a complete freak-out on my part. The AR50 climbs Cardiac on this nice wide fire road. It’s a brutal climb, don’t get me wrong, but the path itself is easy to navigate, so I was cool with managing that downhill. The course change for the RnR50, however, meant that we would be descending Cardiac Trail. This is an important difference. I climbed Cardiac Trail when I ran the She Rocks the Trails 25K and it was so steep I actually feared falling backwards while trying to go up. It’s a descent of about 800 feet over a mile and a half on rocky single-track. The thought of mincing my way down that hill in the dark made me clammy and sick.

RnR50 Text MessageThe text conversation I had with my husband the night before the race.  He’s a little more level-headed than I am.

Friday night, I put together my backpack full of essentials and what-ifs:  four Honey Stinger gels, money, feminine hygiene stuff, water, toilet paper, pretzels, and my GymBoss.  I had decided to carry a handheld as well, with Gatorade and my phone, both of which turned out to be real lifesavers.  I had three more gels stuffed in my skirt pocket also, just in case.

Ready or not, here came race day and depending on which minute you asked me, I either felt really confident and very excited or completely terrified.  Mostly I felt good.  Until I thought about that hill, and then I felt terrified.  But excited!  And a little terrified.

I woke up in the middle of the night (3 am, of course) to get ready and head up to Auburn for the 6 am start.  We arrived about 5:15, plenty of time for several successful trips to the (flushing! and indoor!) bathroom and a complete meltdown in the car.

RnR50 Start 001Smiling on the outside, totally flipping out on the inside.

RnR50 Start 002Yes, this was the entire field of athletes!  It was a very, very small race with about 40 participants.  I was pretty happy about a guaranteed Top-40 finish!

After some terrific and thorough race instructions and a few questions from the runners, we were off on our wilderness adventure!  Most of us stayed pretty well clumped together for the first few miles, which was really nice because the ambient glow from all those headlamps made sighting a lot easier.  I’ve been practicing with my hat light here in town and on the nature trail near my house, but this was my first foray into the “real” darkness of a trail before the sun came up.  It wasn’t as scary as I feared (note to self:  almost nothing is).  I stayed behind a guy who was running a perfect pace and wore very, very reflective clothing.  In my mind I called him Reflecty Guy and he was like my beacon to sure footing on the trail.

Until we reached Cardiac Trail.

Pretty much everybody had passed me by the time we got to the edge of the mountain.  I was totally okay with being in DFL place because I was sure anybody caught behind me would be pissed at my grandmotherly pace as I minced my way down that steep path.  I hoped, though, that somebody was at least close enough to hear me scream as I fell to my inevitable doom.  I literally chanted – out loud! – “I’m okay, I can do this, I’m okay, I can do this, I’m okay, I can do this” the entire mile and a half down Cardiac Trail.  It was scary and awful, but I did it!  I didn’t fall, I didn’t cry (mostly because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to see, but whatever) and I only screamed a little bit one time when my feet started skidding on some loose gravel.  GAH!  But there I was, at the bottom of the hill and – BAM! – there was aid station number one!

Rock'nRiver ElevationCardiac Hill is no joke. (More on why my Garmin thinks I only ran 37 miles in a bit)

I hadn’t made a real point of memorizing the locations of the aid stations, but apparently I had looked at that chart on the race director’s website enough to absorb it, and good thing.  For a race this long, you really can’t think about how far you’ve gone or how far you have left to go, so it’s perfect to just concentrate on getting to the next aid station.  After #1, I knew I had nearly seven miles to get to #2, the longest stretch in the race without aid.  Happily, it was also one of the most beautiful sections of the race, too, with the sun rising and the peaceful trails which seemed pretty flat.  Maybe just by comparison, I don’t know.

Misc iPhone Pics 016The beautiful American River, my constant companion for this race.

Misc iPhone Pics 017We’re still getting temps in the 80s, but somehow the trees know it’s autumn.

Even though I knew the terrain would dictate walking breaks, what with the steep hills and treacherous declines and all, I set my GymBoss for intervals of 5 minutes and 1 minute and used the alerts as a reminder to drink.  Dehydration has spoiled more than a few races for me and I was determined not to let that happen on Saturday.  When GymBoss buzzed, I drank like it was my fricken job.  I have a medical condition known as “Race Day Stupidity” which causes me to think I’m drinking and eating more than I am, and the GymBoss really helped me control that.

I made it to aid station #2 with a big smile on my face.  The morning air was still pretty cool and the terrain wasn’t kicking my ass too much.  Every step I took was bringing me closer to more familiar ground.  I was managing a respectable-for-me pace.  My stomach felt good, my legs felt strong and I had actually caught and passed two other runners.  Life was good and aid station #3 was just a few miles away.

The volunteers at the aid stations were absolutely incredible – they filled up my hydration pack (yes, I needed a refill of almost all 70 ounces by Mile 14), asked how my day was going, told me I looked great and cheered me on my way.  I’m pretty sure I remembered to thank them all while I was there, but just in case, I’ll say it again here:  THANK YOU VOLUNTEERS!!

The going got a little rough between aid stations #3 and #4.  It was a pretty long way between them (6.47 miles) and the terrain was, in my opinion, the hardest on the course.  Or at least the most consistently difficult.  There wasn’t any big monster of a hill, but there were constant, never-ending hills and no flat sections at all that I can think of.  I remembered walking a lot of this section with UIH during the AR50, too.  I’m pretty sure this was the section of the course where he declared he would never run another 50-miler.

When I arrived at aid station #4, I was so happy to see (indoor! and flushing!) toilets.  I was pretty liquified by then, but I knew it was going to make the difference between a good day and a puke-fest, so I kept on drinking.  At this point – Mile 20 – my stomach was still feeling good, so I knew I could start taking in something solid.  I grabbed a few animal crackers and some potato chips and headed off down the trail for aid station #5.

I was really looking forward to the next aid station for a lot of reasons:  it was the halfway point, it was the beginning of the American River Bike Trail where I do all my long-run training, and – most importantly – I would finally see my family!!  I had been texting them when I could get cell coverage (which was spotty at best), but it would be so nice to see their familiar faces and draw on some of their energy.

The five-mile stretch between Granite Bay and Beals Point has become a lot more familiar recently as I’ve done some of my trail training there, so it was one of the easier parts of the race for me.  I was starting to see other runners more frequently as well as dog-walkers and people on horseback.  I could tell I was nearing civilization and it was a welcome change from the solitude of the trail.

I cruised into aid station #5 at just about 6 hours and was absolutely delighted to see my mom, my sister and my sister’s boyfriend!  They greeted me with hugs and cheers and made me feel like a rock star.  I checked in at the aid station and grazed a little at the buffet, but still no sight of UIH and the kiddos.  My mom called them and they were at Beals Point, but didn’t see the aid station.  Here’s where the “slight” course modifications from the AR50 really made a difference – none of the aid stations were in the same place at all!  So poor UIH, thinking he knew where to find me, was in the wrong place.  Thankfully, it wasn’t a huge problem and I only waited for a few minutes.  I really wanted to see them and I had texted UIH asking Little Boy to run with me as a pacer until the next aid station four miles away.

RnR50 HalfwayThis is a perfect representation of the halfway point – my mom, my sister, and her boyfriend are all cheering and smiling, I am grimacing and probably saying, “owowowowowowowowowow,” because we are going downhill, and Little Boy is saying, “You’ve got this, Mom!”  Little Boy is still wearing his cross country uniform from a meet earlier in the day, by the way.

I was so, so, SO happy for Little Boy’s company at this point.  I had updated my status on Facebook to let everyone know I was halfway done, but I couldn’t let myself dwell on the mileage and he was a great distraction.  We didn’t talk all that much, actually, but having him there helped me think about other things.  I asked him about his meet (he did great) and if Daddy was yelling at everyone because he was nervous for me (only a little).  About every minute or so he would say, “You’re doing great, Mom!” or “You’ve totally got this, Mom!” which probably would have been annoying at any other time, but was exactly what I needed to hear just then.

The entire four miles with Little Boy was descent and lemme tell ya, my quads were really starting to argue with me about running downhill.  We were on the paved AR Bike Trail, so I was using the GymBoss as a drink reminder and walk interval, but every time we picked it up to a run, I was moaning and groaning.  It was tough going, for sure.  By the time we arrived at aid station #6, I was at a distance PR (29 miles – I had never run more than a marathon before!), in need of a bathroom, and really, sort of exhausted.

RnR50 Aid StationMy shoes were so full of dirt and rocks I had to take them off and empty them out.

RnR50 Aid Station 002I swapped Little Boy for Big Boy as a pacer to the next aid station almost five miles away.  I look like I’m checking my Garmin, but time had really lost all meaning for me at that point.

The stretch between aid stations #6 and #7 was the last of the dirt trail before I could run to the finish on the paved AR Bike Trail, so I asked Big Boy to accompany me.  I knew this part would be tough, but it was approximately a bajillionty times harder than I expected.  I really, really had to pee.  I was completely done with dirt and hills.  I was unfamiliar with this trail, and somehow the course markings got messed up and as far as I could tell, we were lost.  Even though we were probably less than a mile and a half from the next aid station, there were no pink ribbons (course markers) anywhere that I could see and there was no other trail to take.  We kept going in the same direction, but I was getting more and more freaked out about the lack of markings and I finally just flipped.  I mean I LOST. MY. SHIT.  Full-on ugly face, high-pitched, hysterical, panicky, screamy crying.  And more crying.  And more freaking out.  Poor Big Boy, I probably scarred him for life.  He kept his head about him and was telling me to calm down, but I was free-falling into Looney-ville.  We turned around to retrace our steps and figure out where we lost the course markers while I called UIH.  Thankfully, he could understand me through the wailing and gnashing of teeth.  He checked the course directions, found me on the Find My iPhone app (if you don’t own this, go get it NOW!  Having UIH able to find me totally saved my bacon) and helped me get us oriented the right way.

As we approached the intersection where the last marker was, I was calming down (a little) and we ran into a group of three other runners, who were also trying to figure out what was up with the course markings.  Luckily, the girl whose name I never caught had called the Race Director the day before and still had the number in her call history.  She called and got us sorted out and we started making our way to aid station #7.

Getting Lost at the RnR50You can see how we were almost at the aid station (bottom of the screen, near the blip of water) when we turned around.  I’m still not 100% sure if we were on the right path at any point, but at least we made it to the aid station.

I lingered at aid station #7 for a bit, drank some Coke, filled up my hydration pack for the third time, ate some food and tried to gather my wits about me.  It was not an easy task.  I was rattled and tired and even though I tried not to think about it, I still had a really, really, really long way to go.  UIH had to get Big Boy to a birthday party, so I knew I wouldn’t see him for a while and my mom wasn’t going to see me again until an aid station 10 miles down the road.  I had to get my head straight and gut this thing out.

I put my headphones in for the first time all day and tried to zone out to the music.  I changed my GymBoss from buzzer to beeper and eventually changed the interval to three minutes of running and one minute of walking.  I bargained with myself to keep moving forward.  I tried to smile back at all of very, very friendly runners and cyclists who said things like, “You’re doing great!” and  “Awesome job!”  I wondered if they knew how far I had already run or how far I had to go.  My phone buzzed almost constantly from text messages and comments on Facebook, which helped keep my spirits up more than anyone could possibly know.  I kept putting one foot in front of the other and – lo, and behold! – there was aid station #8.

I grabbed a granola bar that I knew I wouldn’t eat, but thought I should carry just in case, and I got right back to it.  I couldn’t let myself stop anymore because I was pretty certain that if I stopped I would never move again.  Just the tiniest way beyond the aid station, I got the very nicest surprise – my mom!!  She had looked at the directions and figured out that this aid station would be easy enough to get to before going to the one she had told me.  Oh, what a boost that was!!  She walked with me for a little while and made me feel so much better.  I ran on, carrying some of her energy with me.

I had long since stopped paying attention to the time, or my pace, or even the distance because it wasn’t doing me any good to fret about any of those things, so I didn’t even notice when my Garmin gave up the ghost.  Apparently it was around Mile 37, outlasting its advertised nine-hour battery time by over 30 minutes.

When I got to aid station #9, I asked them more than once if this was Mile 40.  They assured me that, yes, it was.  It was actually Mile 39.84, but I didn’t know that at the time and I didn’t care.  I started to feel…well, not better, exactly, but definitely like the end was in sight.  Ten miles left!  I’ll see my mom again in four miles, then one more aid station, then the Finish!  I changed my GymBoss again, this time setting the intervals for two minutes of running and one minute of walking.  It was getting harder and harder to pick it back up to running, but I really couldn’t stand the thought of walking for ten miles, so I kept at it.

Right before the aid station #10, at Mile 44, I passed that group of three runners I had met when I got lost.  They were doing a lot of walking at that point, too.  At the aid station, a guy I had been chasing all day long was sitting down and stretching.  I checked in my bib number and set off at what seemed like a brisk pace to me but was probably a middling shuffle.  Hell to the yeahs, I was passing people!  It was probably a little early to start celebrating, but I could feel myself getting closer to the finish and I knew without a doubt that I was going to get there with a smile on my face.

I ran and I walked, I ran and I walked.  I tried desperately not to walk longer than the intervals, but I finally switched them – one minute of running and two minutes of walking.  I just had to keep going.

The group of volunteers at the Mile 47 aid station started screaming and clapping and cheering for me as soon as I came into view.  They were AWESOME!  I didn’t need anything at that point except to get my butt to the finish line, so I checked in my bib number and hustled away.  OMG, three miles to go!  I texted UIH and told him to expect me in 45 minutes because I was sure my pace was glacial by then, but it felt like mere seconds later when I saw the most glorious thing in the world:

Guy West BridgeGuy West Bridge, a.k.a. The Finish Line!!!

I saw my mom and Little Boy and I started my finishing “sprint.”

RnR50 FinishMy only goal for the day was to cross the finish line with a smile on my face.  Check!

UltraPYes, you may now call me UltraP.

Results were posted today, my official finishing time was 12:24:34

I placed 30th out of 40 finishers – LOL! – but I would have been just as happy in last place, because I did it.  I did it.