Sunday, November 20, 2011

Wild Hare 50K Race Report: Rescued by a Banana, Coke, and a Trail Scaredy Cat

After finishing our first 50K two weeks ago at Rocky Raccoon in Huntsville, on the drive home the next day, Alicia (@trailscaredycat) and I excitedly decided to run Wild Hare 50K with travel companion and friend Corina (@UltraMamaC). Okay, it's my fault - I'm the crazy who suggested it.  For me, I already knew end of November and all of December were going to be somewhat of a running hiatus for me. I can't be a fulltime stay-at-home mom to two small children and direct a 2,000-person race weekend like the New Years Double without sacrificing running time for race preparation time. So Wild Hare was one more chance to just do a fun race with friends.

I'm not sure a lot of people realize how much time and effort I put towards my race recoveries. An ice bath directly after Rocky Raccoon 50K and another that night, epsom salt soaks 4 times a week routinely, easy recovery runs and very low miles the last two weeks. I strength train with my personal trainer 3 hours a week. Heavy hydration as part of my routine. And I never skip my weekly tuneup with my sports chiropractor.

So I went into Wild Hare Saturday feeling good. Alicia and I drove down Friday afternoon, Corina and Tracy (25K) drove down later that evening. In bed by 9:45 pm, then giggling and chatting in the dark until about 10:30. I tossed and turned all night, before we got up to alarms at 4:30 am. Yawn.

The race didn't start until 7 am, so the sky was just lighting up enough so that we didn't need any headlamps. Such an energy saver and mental help. We picked up packets about 6:15 am and caught up with friends. I had about 30 friends at this race running or spectating, many of whom I hadn't seen in forever or had never actually met (welcome to the running world thanks to Facebook and Twitter!).

Tracy, Corina, Alicia, and me
We lined up in the horse barn, yes, horse barn, and the 50M folks came running through the stable at the end of their initial 5 mile loop before our gun went off. So it was a great moment to cheer first time 50Milers like Rick and Tony and hug dear sweet Fawn. Then it was our turn, a quick out-and-back one mile then back through the start to begin the 4 loops of the course to bring our final total to 31 miles. Each loop was 7.4 miles.

It was a horrible race day in terms of weather. It was hot and humid, and so muggy with thick low-hanging clouds. 65 degrees at the start with 80% humidity. Humidity never broke but we got up to 80 degrees for the high. I've always said humidity was my kryptonite. I felt like I was breathing heavy air the whole day, making for a feel like there was a weight on my lungs. And had to use my wristband to wipe sweat off my arms and forehead periodically.

Field at the start of each loop. Look at that sky - this was about 9 am.
The Course
We thought we'd heard this was one of the easiest Tejas Trails courses. After having done Hells Hills (a Tejas Trails race) and Rocky Raccoon, I can say that in the first loop, I was kinda all "This is fun", but I hadn't thought about having to redo each terrain feature for FOUR LOOPS. Brutal. Severe hills, elevated bridge, creek drop-ins and -outs, awful switchbacks.

If you had asked me the course in my 3rd or 4th loop, I would have stared at you blankly. But now that I'm coherent again... After 1/2 mile of field around a pond, we would go through the longest 3 miles EVER of winding winding twisty turny wooded trails filled with rocks and roots. One section in there was called "Spaghetti Bends" even.

At mile 3.5, you come out of that to an aid station that's within sight of the finish line, makes it way too easy to DNF at that spot as I later learn. Then it's a small field before entering a major steep switchback on a big benchcut cut into the side of the hill. First, a concrete pour down the steep embankment with a sign "Enter Slowly". Then it's major rolling hills with a cliff a foot to your right, so step carefully.

Then alternating small fields and small woody sections. At mile 4.5, a massive uphill. So hard on the Achilles! Even the fast people were walking that one!
That's one big hill. And remember, all features are done FOUR TIMES!
Some more fields and woody sections before a giant swaying bridge of wood and wire.

You want to go across this? This uphill bridge elicited major groans in Loop 4!
Briefly spot the finish line at about 6.5 before being sent into a section of twisty turns in the woods labeled "Roller Coasters".

Come around a small fishing pond so that about 0.6 miles from the finish line you would hit the glorious cheering crew of friends. First and second loop, it was Stacy, who had come to cheer and wasn't running because of her gizzard leg (ongoing joke about her off-and-on injury she's been working through). Third and fourth loops, it was filled with friends!

And then through the horse stable to cross the chip mat and see the clock. Then you'd go 20 feet to your drop bag, make any adjustments and get anything you needed, and then do the loop again! and again... and again. ;-) 4 times total.

Loop 1
So 1.5 miles in, I ask Alicia if Corina's behind us, and she stops and turns to look, and is immediately in pain. She's managed to tweak her knee. We don't know what to do - I have her try a couple stretches, and trailrunners are awesome because everyone passing us is asking if she's okay. She's clearly in pain. She said it was like the knee needed to pop back into the socket. She gets running again, and we take some scheduled walk breaks and I can tell how much she's having to work through it. Poor thing.

This isn't posed AT ALL. ;-) Goofing off 2 miles into the race, when all three of us were still running together!
Corina falls quite a bit behind within the first 6 miles or so. But Alicia and I are still together. Finish the loop - I run to the bathroom, take a GU, refill water, take a little Gatorade, find my sunglasses, grab some potato chips, and hit the trail with a handful of chips. So far, so good. Just 3-4 minutes there and taking extra food, meeting my goals to 1) spend less time in camp, 2) eat more at each aid station. We're at 2 hours roughly, which is perfect pacing for us, with 8.5 miles done.
So happy to see Stacy at the end of the first loop at their camp site. I asked her to take our picture because "I don't know how much longer we'll be smiling"! Photo by Stacy
Loop 2
I can tell Alicia's knee is really starting to bother her. And about mile 10, I lose her behind me. I'm powering along and continuing to feel good for the weather we were having. I kept the pace consistent through this loop. At the end of the loop, I change into fresh running shoes, change from my 10 oz bottle to my 20 oz handheld since it's so humid and we're all sweating hard, refill the water bottle, have some Gatorade, and grab more potato chips as I hit the trail again. 8 1/2 minutes in camp. Not great, but I used the time efficiently. And I'm still keeping perfect pacing because it's 4 hours when I start the third loop, now at mile 15.8.

Finishing Loop 2. Photo by Claudia
Loop 3
I get passed in the initial field section by my friend Steve and his friend Billy. This is his last 50k loop - Mr. Speedy. I tell him I hate him. I regret that half a mile later. I'm a little moody, ya think? When we started the race, I thought the twisty wooded section was fun. But now I feel like it's the longest 3 mile section of my life. I keep an okay pace and make it to the aid station, which is mile 19.3.
A mile after this, doing the hard benchcut down the hill and then the hard climb back up the hill, and now I'm feeling super tired. Low back and feet hurt. My Achilles tendons feel the size of grapefruits. I call my husband, I tell him I hurt and I'm tired and I feel kinda woozy, and I might not do the last loop. He motivates some but also says it's okay whatever I decide. I'm walking now at this point. Feels like each mile takes forever.
I go over the massive bridge and then a fellow comes up from behind as I'm now walking and just starts following. We chat, his name is "Jimmy Choo" (name changed to protect the innocent, he doesn't want his friends to find out he walked his first 50 miler), and he's cramping bad. He has 2 loops to go and is happy at that moment to just follow someone and walk and have the company. Well, now I have a purpose. So I do better about lightly running the downhill and fast walking the rest. We hang together for 1.5 miles until I see my friends at the campsite 0.6mi from the finish. I tell them I'm not sure I can stomach another loop. I'm feeling awful. They try to motivate me but it's just not working.

The pics, and my hips, don't lie. Photo by Corina

But I can still muster half a smile. :-) Photo by Corina
I finish the loop and there's Alicia. Both Alicia and Corina have DNFed the race at this point. I'm the last of our small group of 50Kers. Alicia is asking me what I need. I still haven't decided to go back out, I tell her. She asks if I want to sit in the camp chair. And then I say, "If I sit down, I won't get back up." And that statement seals it - okay, I'm gonna do the last loop. I'm 6 hours, 19 minutes into the race. And at mile 23.4. Only 7.4 miles between me and the finish line.

Loop 4
I have zero momentum. "Jimmy Choo" catches up to me right after we start to thank me again for our time together walking and he's decided to try to keep a faster pace so heads off in front of me. NO! More time alone? Yes, I can run alone. But a total of 21 miles alone in the woods, and with no music, can eventually drive you bonkers on an already hard race day. I spend a half mile trying to catch up with him. I shuffle until he's close but he's really moving so I give up the chase.

The 3 flat-ish miles in the twisty-turny woods is worse at this point than the extreme up and downhills of the later miles. I'm down to a slow walk.

A runner goes by me and we exchange the usual "Good job", and then I realize it's Henry. He's doing the 50-miler and is a REALLY strong runner. I ask, "How are you doing, Henry?" And then he bursts out "I feel like crap!" LOL, such an honest assessment, and a nice relief that everyone is suffering today.

A bit later, a runner shuffles up behind me. He follows my walk, I have nothing more in me, but after a half-mile, I'm kinda surprised this person hasn't said anything. I make it a practice to NOT look behind me on the trails. I'm tired and don't want to fall. I'm feeling a little annoyed with my silent follower and I get to a major creek drop-in and -out and I move to the side and say, "Here, you go ahead." The guy turns to me and gestures and mouthes, "I'm deaf." Oh. Well, that would explain the silent following. But I'm so out of it at this point, I feel like I must be in an alternate universe, what are the chances?

Still 2 miles to the aid station. I'm really feeling ill. My Garmin has now died, probably about 7hrs,15min into the race. I'm still moving forward but I actually am starting to feel very strange. Almost out-of-body experience, like I'm dissociating completely from what I'm going through. I'm woozy and feel kinda like I could lay down on the trail and sleep forever. My head's really fuzzy, and I can't form good clear thoughts anymore. It's very hard to describe. My body feels stressed and I can't keep my heart rate down, I'm also really hot. And of course, everything hurts. I call my husband and tell him as I tear up, "I think I might DNF at the aid station." He wants me to take care of myself and says to do whatever I need to do. I actually don't remember the phone call at all except the reason why I called him. I pull out my phone (I'm now at 7 hrs, 25 minutes) and tweet that I think I'm going to DNF in a 1/2 mile at the aid station. Alicia tweets back, "You got this. I'm coming."

My hero!
 Alicia talks about what happened at the aid station from her perspective in her blog, but here's my version. I come around to the corner at the aid station, and I looked like death warmed over according to Alicia, and I can believe it because I felt like that. She asked, "Are you okay?" And all I could do was drop my head and shake it slowly side to side while tears welled up. I say, "It's a deathmarch."

Alicia: "You have 3 miles."
Me: "No, I have 4. It'll take me two more hours at this pace."
Alicia: "Then it'll take 2 more hours. That's okay." That's a relief when I'm her ride.

Alicia: "We should have him pour water over your head" as the aid station volunteer, a runner himself, jumps in to help me. I nod and he says to lean over and I do. I would have done anything he told me to do, I was completely out of it. He pours a whole pitcher across my neck of cold water. I gasp and gasp, but I immediately start to feel alive again.

He's asking me how many loops I have left, how many miles I have left. I'm so fuzzy I'm having a hard time answering so Alicia's filling in details. "Oh, you can do four more miles!" he says enthusiastically. He shoves two salt caps in my hand (which I never have used before) and has me take them.

Then he shoves a banana in my hand and says to eat it. While he attends to someone else, I say to Alicia, "I hate bananas." And I proceed to peel and eat the quarter banana.

The volunteer pops back over to me. "Did you eat the banana?" Turns to Alicia, "Did she eat the banana?" We both say yes. He says, "Okay, we're going to do a cup of coke, it will give you some energy." "Okay", I say. I turn to Alicia, "I hate Coke." And I gulp down the whole cup.

He says, "Want another?" I say, "No, it'll make me sick."
And I don't know how they did it, because neither of them laid a hand on me I think, but they somehow then pushed me out of the aid station! And I was running - slowly - but still running.

I ran most of the next 4 miles. I was passed by an older foreign gentleman, who passed me, turned around, and sang and danced a jig. That was odd. About a mile out, I saw him powerwalking the ridge above me, and he yells in a strong accent, "I am waiting for you!"

I pass the deaf guy about two miles out, and we exchange a smile and a wave.

I'm a half mile from the campsite my friends are hanging out at on the trail. I hear them all hanging out, they're loud, I'm guessing some having been drinking beer for QUITE A WHILE. It gives me a boost, and I yell "MARCO" (something Corina, Alicia, and I had jokingly done at Rocky Raccoon and at the early miles of this race when we were separated). And I hear a ruckus, but not sure it was a "POLO". I'm told they did hear me though.

I come around a bend and they can spot me but I'm not there yet. I'm told I looked like I was running strong.

Then I weave around and there they are. I'm so beyond exhausted and can't even focus on people's faces, but I'm loving the cheers and I crack a smile. They make an arch 4 pairs of people long with their hands, and I run through it. Love my friends! Corina's snapping pictures.

I tell them all this has been the 2nd most miserable experience of my life. The first of which was the labor to have my first child - which was 27 hours, epidurals that failed, and a broken tailbone in delivery. LOL.

I run the next 0.6mi, and then there's Alicia yelling for me as I run through the horse stable and across the finish mat. And I burst out crying, sobbing that it's over. 8:45:56 - almost 9 hours of straight running and walking. I placed 72nd out of 79 finishers out of 93 who started the race. Only 85% even finished the race.

So glad that's done! Photo by Alicia

Alicia and Michelle are asking me what I need, and I'm saying, "I want my medal. I want my freaking medal!" HA! They walk me over and my friend Jorge drapes the medal around my neck.

Earned every square inch of this medal!

So happy to be done. I just wanted to get home. I still needed to drive 4 1/2 hours to get Alicia and me back home! So we hit the road, and I'm happy I could be in my own bed that night.

I'm happy with my achievement, with doing what I could do with what was an awful race day. With doing my 2nd 50K only 14 days after my first, my only goal had been survival. And later when I looked at my results again, I was only 25 minutes slower than Rocky Raccoon 50K, which is only 48 seconds per mile slower for being 15 degrees hotter and more humid, and to me a much harder course.

And I'm so happy I had this experience surrounded by so many friends.


  1. I hate *double* loops, surely four loops would kill me! You are a rockstar. Way to go!

  2. LOVE LOVE LOVE IT!!!! And yes, no one helped you out of the aid station...You did that all on your own! You deserve every bit of credit for staying strong when you could have easily thrown in the towel and no one would have blamed you! Once again, you are an inspiration! :-)

  3. Congrats! So amazed you stuck with it. Such great determination. Excellent job!

  4. Congratulations for finishing a tough race! I guarantee the experience will help you out tremendously in future races. Just remember later that you've been through worse. Also, remind me to tell you my salty banana origin story, because it's very similar to your story of that last aid station.

  5. Lauren, I've decided I like double loops (like my 1st 50K) WAY better. 4 was a killer. I can't imagine the 6-8 loops you get for some 50 milers!

  6. Alicia and Sue and Tricia, thank you!
    Jeremy, you've told me the story, and I actually told it to Alicia on the drive home. It definitely made me think of your story after the fact!

  7. Great report and even greater job of sticking to it. So proud of you!

  8. Oh girl, I'm in tears!!! U are so strong and a fighter!! I'm SO proud of u!!! Your determination to get thru this race was one of those driving forces that got me thru Tulsa Sunday!! Thank u for going strong!! Luv u!!

  9. Great job on what sounds like a very hard day. You toughed it out even though you could of quit and been done after 2 or 3 laps! Congratulations!
    Humidity does me in EVERY time so that race would of kicked my booty.
    Loved the race report. :)