Monday, May 12, 2014

Finding My Limits - the Gold Rush 50K Race Report

Astute readers will have looked at that title and thought, "Hey, I thought you were running a 100K!"  Yeah.  Not so much.

UltraIronHubs has this thing he says to me after a race doesn't go exactly like I had hoped:  Win or learn, there is no lose.  And the good news is that I learned a lot, so I definitely don't feel like a loser!  I finished a really tough 50K and I got to spend the day with my favorite husband - that's a winning combination right there!

But about that 100K...

For the first time maybe ever, I did a great job managing my nerves.  I knew I could run 63 miles.  I was physically and mentally prepared for a tough day.  My training had been fantastic and I had learned so much over the last few months about fueling and pacing.  I was as ready as I was ever going to be.

Parked car pre-race selfie!
The day started off very nicely, with perfect weather and relatively easy terrain for the first ten miles.  UIH and I kept an easy pace at the back of the pack and were eating and drinking so well that we both had to go to the bathroom by the second aid station at Mile 8, which was already closer to Mile 9 by my Garmin.  Hmmm, little bit of foreshadowing right there.

Cruising into the first aid station at dawn.
It wasn't much longer before things started coming unglued, unfortunately.  During our pre-race scouting runs, UIH and I had had a really tough run through this section and try as I might, I couldn't get that image out of my head.  My hands were starting to swell, in spite of what seemed like the right amount of water and salts.  We met up with some hikers who asked us if there was a race going on and UIH said, "Yep, but there's almost nobody behind us!"  He was sort of joking, but it was true and for some reason the idea of being in last place totally fucked with my head.  By the time we got to aid stations #3 and #4, my Garmin was significantly over the official mileage, even though we had been on the marked course the entire time.  I was giving it everything I had - in fact, I even worried that I might be expending too much energy too early in the day - and not only were we at the very, very back of the pack, but we were dangerously close to the course cutoff times.  This wasn't fun anymore.

I fretted, and my stomach started to churn.  I walked a lot, trying to clear my head and give my body time to figure out what was the what.  When we saw my sister at aid station #5, I burst into tears.  I was so disappointed!  The day had gone from awesome to crap in less than 18 miles, how in the world was I going to run another 45?  The answer:  I wasn't.  During the starting line announcements, the RD had told us that the 100K runners could opt down to the 50K distance at the turnaround, but I made the call right here.  I was going to finish the 50K, of course, but that was all.

Portrait of a day gone sour:  Me smiling through tears and UIH on the phone, cancelling some previously made arrangements for our kids.
We headed out of the aid station and even though I was throwing myself a little pity party about not completing my "A" goal for the race, my overwhelming feeling was one of relief.  I wasn't going to make the 100K in time, and now I could focus on just getting to the 50K before the time cutoff.  It was still going to be a stretch, believe me, but it felt a lot more manageable than trying to sustain my pace for 12 more hours.

On we ran.  The terrain was getting a lot tougher, but we were familiar with it, so I just focused on moving forward.  UIH assured me repeatedly that he wasn't disappointed to be stopping at the 50K, that he was just as relieved as I was.  He has been having some strange hip tightness recently that was flaring up pretty badly while we were running.  We both agreed that the full distance would be a lot more likely to result in injury.

You can't really have a bad day when this is your view.
When we reached the aid station that was allegedly at Mile 21.4, I was feeling a lot better.  We were way over halfway done, my stomach was starting to cooperate a little better, and even though the toughest hills were still ahead of us, so were some lovely long downhills and lots of runnable parts.  I refilled my hydration pack and grabbed some food at the table.  We were getting ready to head out and talking about how much time we had until the cutoff, when my sister, trying to put a positive spin on things, remarked, "You're doing great!  You're only six minutes off.  You've totally got this!"  Wait, what?!?  We were now BEHIND the cutoff time somehow??  WTF?  The average pace on my Garmin was almost a minute less than the advertised cutoff pace!  But my mileage was also well over a mile past the advertised distance of this aid station.  UGH!

Stupid long course!  Stupid cutoff time!  Now I had a real fire in my belly.  I may not be able to complete the 100K, but there was absolutely no fucking way I was going to run 50K of hard terrain and not have my name listed in the official results!  The next two miles were all very steep climbing, so there was no time to be made up here, but I picked it up to a good hustle every time I could.  The downhills were steep, but I ran them to the best of my ability.  Eventually, our average pace started creeping downward.  We were making up time, I just had to keep moving!

Sorry, Andrea!  This guy was super slow-moving, thank goodness.  He really couldn't have cared less about all the runners on his path.

More pretty views.  This is definitely one of the most scenic courses I've ever run!
I was getting tired, but on we ran.  At this point, the distance on my Garmin was so far over the course description that I was having trouble doing the math.  I knew we had gotten faster.  I knew we still had until 1 pm to finish, but what I didn't know was exactly how far we still had to run.  We cheered for the 100K runners coming back at us (it's an out-and-back course), and they kept telling us we were getting close, it was just another big hill away.  And finally, there it was!  We could see the finish line for quite some time before we reached it, but eventually we made it!  And we even had 12 minutes to spare!

Finished under the time cutoff!!  Official finish time - 7:47:59.  Yeah, the clock was a little off.  At the starting line, there was a countdown clock and when it reached zero, nobody said, "Go!" so we all stood around for a bit, not sure if we were supposed to start running or what.  It was sort of funny.

With our amazing crew, aka my sister!  Funny story:  she was taking our picture when this random guy came up and started offering all this advice about how to get the best shot.  Face this way, the background is prettier.  Put your phone sideways for a better view.  Finally, she just handed him her phone and let him take the shot.  It's a phone, dude, we're not professionals!  But this is a really nice picture.  :)
Well, I sure as heck didn't win, but I also didn't lose, so what did I learn?

  • My sister is, hands down, the best ultra crew in the world.
  • I'm pretty awesome, but I'm not quite awesome enough.  Maybe the 100K distance just isn't going to happen for me.  This isn't a woe-is-me, this is realism.  I'm not fast.  It took every single fiber of my being to make this 8-hour cutoff at the 50K, and that was only because I knew I would be done at 50K.  There was absolutely no way I could have sustained that pace to finish the full hundy.  I think my only chance of going the distance is to find a race with a much comfier cutoff.  Say, 18 hours or so.
  • I worry too much (you're not surprised by this revelation and neither am I).  I thought having UIH with me would make me worry less about the race and it totally did, but instead I fretted about everything else!  The kids, the timing, other people who were shuttling my kids to their activities, whether or not UIH was doing okay, if he was upset at me for cutting the day short... and on and on.  When I'm running alone, I know he has everything else in the world handled.
  • Sometimes your "A" race isn't really your "A" race.  It happens.
  • Fueling is a fine art.  The eating and drinking schedule that worked perfectly for me at the AR50 a month ago netted me a crazy overactive bladder and hands so swollen I almost couldn't bend my fingers at the end of the race.  I'm still not 100% certain what the dealio was with my fueling, but it was definitely off.
  • Three ultras in a row was a little more than these old bones could handle.  I feel completely fine today, soreness-wise, but I am burnt, exhausted, not excited about putting any more races on my calendar, and yet strangely restless and "unfinished" from not completing the race I had planned.  Post-race blues set in within an hour of crossing the finish line.  I think I am officially overtrained.  I'll give myself a week off to get my head back in the right place and cook up a plan for the rest of the year.

Just about 4,000' of upness is no joke.
I don't want you to think that everything about this race was sour grapes, so let's end this on a positive note, shall we??  Here are some things that I am grateful for:

  • Being allowed to officially drop down to the 50K distance.  Twenty-three of us who had registered for the 100K got to the turnaround and said, "Hey, thanks, I'm good here."  The RD deserves huge kudos for letting us still have the finisher's schwag rather than a big, fat DNF next to our names!
  • Ah, yes, the schwag.  A very nice gender-specific shirt and a pint glass:

When we were handed the shirts in the morning, I was sad that it said "Ultra," rather than 100K.  Later in the day, of course, I was very, very glad that the distance was non-specific.  I will wear my shirt proudly!

  • Family and friends who are willing to crew for us and are super awesome cheerleaders when the day gets out of control.  My sister really stepped up her game with cheer cards that involved stickers, beads and special cutouts.  My good friend S (who was supposed to crew, but instead got recruited into kid pickup), made this amazing display to greet us on our return home:

I get to see this every time I drive into my garage.  I'm a lucky girl!


Rebekah Dotson said...

I finished at Magnolia Ranch right before you, and I dropped out of the 100k race as well. I was ready to finish my first 100k, and was still riding the high from the AR50. I trained correctly and just knew that I would finish well within the cut off. The race was tough! Plus, a few times where the course wasn't marked very clearly, I had to double back on myself after choosing the wrong trail- adding even more mileage. I finished the 50k completely exhausted, wondering what went wrong.
I'm glad I found your race report and your blog! Congrats on finishing the 50k. It was a crazy day, and you were awesome out there.

Neil Richard said...

That 100k distance is hard so don't be so hard on yourself. 50k is no joke and you finished. For 2015, look at the Oil Creek 100k. It sells out fast but you have 30+ hours to finish. Perfect for a first 100k finish!

Kate Geisen said...

The email signature line for one of my friends says "there's no failure, only feedback". That was a super helpful perspective for me last year after my Dirty Kanza DNF. And I totally know what you mean about that bad run out there haunting you. I had a terrible 14 miler (a distance that was not a stretch for me at the time) last summer, and that experience weighed on me every time I thought about that trail.

Our brains (and stomachs) are so often not our friends! Chasing a cut-off -- especially on a long course, not to mention compounding that with math! -- is a terrible place to be when anxiety rears its head.

That sounds like a super tough day. My guess is that with all of your training you'd have done as well (or better) and been able to finish the 100K if you hadn't been stressed about the cutoff.

One Crazy Penguin said...

Some days are better than others. A 50K is still really freaking awesome, especially on that terrain. Maybe try to tack the next 100K on really fresh legs? I think you can definitely conquer the 100K. Just on a different day :)

Timothy Spencer said...

Great job on the 50K! My buddy Scott and I came into the halfway point with about 25 minutes to spare, then left 10 minutes later after getting some real food in us. We made the cutoff at mile 42 with about 7 minutes to spare, but not the very last cutoff. I am definitely coming back next year with a couple things I learned and plan to change. Great Race!

Jeanne Leone said...

I think its time to take the word "average" out of your blog title! What an awesome accomplishment! Congratulations!

Jeanne Leone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ajh said...

Thanks for the apology. I didn't click on it yet but I am assuming it's me. Or there are two Andreas who are vocal about snake hatred.

I love love love your husband's win or learn. What a great way to look at it. Personally I think doing 50K is amazing and a huge thing to be proud of. I am sorry you were disappointed. I love how you pulled out so many positives. I hate to be upset after a race. When you think of the time training and racing that just plain doesn't feel right.

Be proud! Marathons have lots of different cut off times. Do ultras?