This race is directed by Chrissy Ferguson. Need I say more? She is a powerhouse and puts on top notch events. The MANY volunteers were awesome. The weather was extremely challenging, with almost constant rain, very heavy at times, wind, and temps in the low 50s. I don’t know how they kept from freezing to death waiting on us for hours at aid stations.
Advanced warning...this is the long version. This helps me go back and pick through my thinking and what I did so I can be better prepared for the next race. I try to do this quickly after my races so my thoughts aren’t modified by time and the ability to process and change how I perceive my race. It’s amazing how quickly those first thoughts are modified by time and reasoning. I can also remember details of what I did better, and the devil is often in the details.
This was a “train through” race. No planned taper, not much recovery post race. I had done longish runs the previous saturday and sunday with hard long intervals. I also did intervals and speedwork this week. This left me with tender quads through Wednesday. Thursday was my only really easy run this week and Friday no running. Race strategy was to keep things very easy and controlled for 30 miles, then race with constant focus for the last 20 miles. My goal race this year is Moab 240, a 238 mile race in October. We’ve been working on speed early this season to get the legs accustomed to “faster feeling easier”. The focus will shift later this season to translating that “faster feels easier” to “faster feels easier LONGER” in other words speed endurance.
With the predicted weather, I packed my 2 drop bags with dry long sleeve tech shirts, dry light, but waterproof, jackets and some caffeinated chocolate and various snacks I might decide I want. I knew from experience that even with a totally waterproof light jacket, with sustained wind and heavy rain, water would eek it’s way in over the hours around my head and neck, and along with sweat, gradually saturate me from the inside out. A heavier shell would keep the water out, but I would suffocate and sweat more. I wore shorts, as wet leggings are no fun. With the temps, rain pants would also suffocate me. If I could keep my chest and arms warm, I would stay warm.
Race start was 6am, so headlamps on, we headed out of the park’s shelter into the rain and onto the road. Fortunately, we had a couple miles of road to warm up and spread out a little before hitting the rocky, rooty, muddy, wet trails. Initially, the trails were saturated. There were frequent pools of mud and water, some stretching several meters. We crossed some small streams and made our way over to Pinnacle Hill. We climbed a little, but were restricted to the base due to the weather. The dogwoods, blooming shrubs, and other trees were on full display. The bright green leaves were almost glowing in the early dawn. My mood was good, but not particularly “happy”. I knew the nature of what lie ahead….50 miles of rocky, rooty, muddy trails and cold rain. My mind was not excited. The race strategy, which seemed like it would be nice and “ez” (compared to most of my 50 mile races), was actually going to be challenging. I knew I would be in this mode for the next 20 miles... not racing, but not dilly dallying. Being in this place still required focus or laziness sets in. I felt decent energy was, but knew I was not rested, and I wondered how that would play out over the long haul.
I was tolerating solid food and water very very well. I started with pb&js i had stashed in ziplock baggies. I was probably taking in 200-300 calories or even more per hour, due to pace and effort, my stomach was absorbing it well. Normally on a 50 miler, max caloric intake for me is closer to 200 calories, and usually in the form of gels. By 10 miles I was starting to realize this would be the scene for the next 40 miles. Rocks, roots, water, mud, wind, rain. I had to pull my jacket hood on which limited my view to my feet and about 10 feet around me. It also limited my hearing to only the wind and rain. It was somewhat like being in a sensory deprivation chamber. Normally, at races you have the varying terrain, the changing views, the noises of birds, animals, leaves, and the chatter of runners to distract the mind. Not today. The scene unchanging. Everyone dead silent. Only 2-5 word exchanges here or there between runners. My body felt fine, my mind not so much. I was amazed and frustrated by how limited my senses were wrapped up in my jacket and hood.
By mile 13, I was calculating how many more hours of the same shit. 8? 10? It’s always a bad idea to calculate how much farther/longer one has to go this early in a race. Not only that, but I had to return on the same damn trail. The nasty shit I was treading, I would be treading again. I typically shoot for courses that are point to point and mountainous, so this was a huge shift for me. Quite frankly, I was being a baby. I thought about how many people would love to have the ability to be on a trail for 5 minutes, and at that moment, I realized I didn’t care. Normally, that thought sets my head straight. That’s when I knew I was facing the biggest challenge of the day...my own damn candy-ass mind set. I knew it was off…. and I was wallering in it, thank-you-very-much. I knew at 16ish miles I could make the decision to drop to the 50k, that is where we would split off from them. Go left, day done early, go right and it’s the whole enchilada. I knew i just had to get my ass past 16 miles so I would no longer have a choice. As time went on and my head did not clear, I was actually nervous I might just take the 50k turn. Fortunately I passed it.
At 18 miles I hit an aid station and was informed I was now in 2nd place. The 1st female runner was dropping and I was about 5-10 minutes behind the second. I knew this was a good sign, and very possible for me to catch her if she was going at a less conservative effort than me. I knew the cold and the rain would catch up and slow everyone down, and that most people were probably exerting a little higher effort to stay warm and get done as quickly as possible. I also knew that the next female was probably 20 years younger than me. Youthful legs count, but so does age and experience. And today’s course and conditions lent itself to experienced legs. So I was cautiously optimistic. Unfortunately, this knowledge did not lift my mind/spirits.
At 18 miles my mind was struggling, but I was doing nothing to help it. “Well, that’s just dumb” I thought. If my belly is grumbling, or my feet are hurting, or I’m cold, I’m going to try and help myself right? You would do something to try and alleviate those problems, right Lori? You would be stupid not to. My mind was hurting, no different than my feet or my belly….so what was I doing? Throwing salt on that wound. Beating myself up for having a bad head game. Soon, I remembered that research shows that just talking optimistically to yourself actually boosts performance. This was shown in repeat studies to boost performance by 6-10%. That translates to speed. So just like calories make you faster, taking care of your mind makes you faster. I was at a loss for positive thoughts. “You’re doing really well….”. I laughed…. “is that the best you can really come up with?” Then I started thinking, what is the goofiest, silliest thing you can think of….and (don’t judge)...King Julien from Madagascar came to mind. The fuzzy, self absorbed, ignorant to the world around him, lemur. He is totally oblivious to his own ignorance and he dances. I visualized him dancing and talking in front of me, oblivious to the miserable conditions. The song he dances to in the movie?..… “Move It”. So I was singing, “I like to move it, move it” and following King Julien. I was not dancing, but it worked to put a little salve on my wounded brain. Then, I got out of myself enough to visualize how Todd would treat me at the end of my 100 mile races. He almost always paces me the last 10 miles. Always in front of me, with his black calf sleeves and black shorts. Making silly moves, shrugging his shoulders when I’d whine, saying “meh, you got this” Totally chill, totally confident. Just shake it off and lets go. Then thoughts drifted to my kids, oh man….I would not want them to feel defeated. One of my mantras in parenting, “show em how to be”. So, even though they couldn’t see me, I straightened up as if they were watching, to show em how to be, persist, be strong in adversity, finish what you start. By 24-25 miles I was back. I only had 5 more miles before I could “race”. I knew I could “race”. I was already passing people steadily and I knew I had a nice physical reserve just waiting.
Fortunately, I had restocked/refueled my mental tank over the past 5 miles as well. I ran in to good friend James Reeves as he was coming back. He looked great. I was worried about him as he did not wear a jacket, no vest. Shorts, long sleeve tech shirt and 2 handheld cold water bottles. He’s tall and lanky. I was afraid he was going to freeze to death, so I was really relieved to see how fresh and good he looked. This also boosted me. Damn, if he can feel that good/look that good, so can I.
About 2 minutes from the turnaround I met the lead female. She looked to be feeling really good and moving well. I just hoped I was moving and feeling better. I took my time at the turnaround and downed a full cup of warm noodles and a square of pb&J. I did not feel the need to change even though I was completely soaked. I was comfortably cool, and thinking my effort would increase, was worried I would actually get hot if I added layers. I also didn’t want to take the time to change, knowing where the lead female was. In 15 miles I would have another opportunity to hit my drop bag with fresh clothes, so I took off. I still had 4 miles before I was to “race”, but with the lead female not far off, and a small road section and easier trail, I picked things up just a little and ran more focused. My heart rate didn’t go up much if any, but I felt like I was moving a little faster and definitely more efficiently.
The new focus really helped as well. I was focusing on my effort, increasing it enough to be steady and strong and not fade. My only concern was my heart rate. It was not going up despite my higher effort and perceived faster pace. I knew it wasn’t lack of calories or dehydration. I knew it was likely the cold, even though I wasn’t “cold”. I was cool. I kinda let go of the concern about heart rate and just focused on the effort, calories, water. I added some salt stick and started picking some saltier crackers from the aid stations. I caught and passed the lead female around mile 29. We exchanged a few words of encouragement. I stopped looking at my watch so much, as I was noticing the awareness of my heart rate was making me too nervous. I just focused on effort, calories, water, not getting cold. I hit the aid station where our final drop bags were around mile 32. Here was my mistake. I was still not “cold” and the rain had let up just a little. I did not change jackets or shirts. I left in my saturated self. I knew I was soaked under my thin rainproof jacket. I had no gloves and I was really just completely soaked. I saw everyone else the same way, so I lulled myself into thinking I didn’t need anything more, I didn’t need anything more to sustain. But sustaining and performing are 2 different things. IMPORTANT. Sustaining and PERFORMING are 2 different things. I needed more, dry clothes, dry jacket to PERFORM better. The problem was, I was ok, but I could have been much better. And, later I would find out that I did truly NEED that dry shirt and jacket.
The weather deteriorated even further. The wind picked up and the rain become a more sustained downpour. There is definitely a significant difference between a steady rain and a steady downpour. The trail also changed. What was wet, rocky, rooty, muddy, frequent extended areas of water to ankles, was now a river. A muddy, rocky, rooty 3-6 inch river, with few exceptions of ankle deep mud where there weren’t rocks. The numerous stream crossings were now calf to upper thigh (on me) deep swift moving water. It was like cold immersion torture. I could feel my body temperature drop with each deeper immersion, which was literally every ¼-1/2 mile. This next stretch between aid stations was 8 miles.
At about mile 36 (halfway between aid stations) I ran up on a slender, 20 something, fast looking kid. He was weaving and had a very distant look in his eyes. I asked, “are you ok?” Shivering uncontrollably, he shook his head “no”. He was shivering so hard and uncontrollable he was groaning with each really hard chill. I gave him my most stern motherly look and said, “ok, this is going to suck and it is going to hurt, but you have to get on my heels and run with me”. “We have to get your heart rate up, that is the only way. If we get your heart rate up, you will get warm”. I made him eat 2 of my sacred oreos to try and ignite his engine...or cause him to vomit. Either way, the calories or the vomiting would increase his heart rate, I thought sadistically. “We are going to run hard for 4 miles, that’s it, just 4 miles to the next aid station and then you get heat” I reassured him, “You are way faster than me, you can do this, but you HAVE to focus!”. He shook his head yes and I took off. It hurt. And, concerningly, my heart rate was still going up only slightly. My legs were now cold and gelling. My mind was fine, I was full of energy, but my legs were rigging. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to run hard enough to get his heart rate up enough to get him out of danger. I could hear him dry heaving and groaning behind me. He faltered and fell back a few times at first, but after about 10 minutes he was doing a little better. I knew we had a good 40-50 minutes to the next aid station. He continued to groan and heave.
I was working hard and trying to navigate the very slick terrain. I didn’t feel like I had time to slow enough to dig out food for myself or drink. I did manage to get a few nibbles and sips though, as 2 hypothermic runners would not be of any use. At what I thought was about 2.5 miles left, I told him, “ok, less than a 5k, you got this, a hard painful 5k and it’s over”. About that time we passed another runner. He said “only a little over 3 miles to the next aid”. I was like, “shut the f up!, i told him less than a 5k several minutes ago”. Finally, we made it to the aid station around mile 42. Got him fixed up and grabbed a large zip-lock and threw a bunch of cookies in.
Filled my water bottles and took off. Time to get fueled back up and hydrated. That 4-5 miles of hard running was good, in that it gave me focus, but it was scary and hard. Hard enough that I needed to recover, I slowed down, telling myself, “just long enough to get your breath back and calm your screaming tired quads” The slowing gelled my legs even further and my pace was set. I couldn’t will my legs any faster and my heart rate dropped more. I got cold. Not dangerously cold, just miserably cold. But, I could see the barn. 8 miles left. I continued to stuff food in and water and ran as steady hard as I knew I could sustain without falling apart. Falling apart would mean walking, walking meant uncomfortably cold would become dangerously cold. I was so grateful to hit the last 2.5-3 miles of road. My feet and quads were not. The asphalt hurt. A lot. My legs were rigged, my feet on fire and my big toes screaming. I finished 10:27, first female 10th overall. I found out my hypothermic friend John was fine. He was pulled from the race and warm. I was so amazed at all of the runners. Like 180 people out there, amazed that most everyone did ok, amazed at the hikers. Amazed at the volunteers that endured those conditions to hand us food and drink and go above and beyond, taking my bottles, asking before I was finished with one cup of noodles if I wanted more and even asking, ”is the temperature of the noodles ok?” Seriously? You are freezing your ass off handing me noodles and worried that I might not like the temperature?! I was humbled….and so grateful. I learned much that I will unpack over the next weeks of training and reinforced things I already know. But King Julien? Really? I may have to watch Madagascar again. Hopefully I will have some pictures from the race to show how nuts the course was.