Tuesday, November 20, 2012

2012 Backcountry Wilderness Half Marathon Race Report

The plan was to test out altitude to see how it personally affected me as a runner, especially with my iron levels now regulated and normal. I was SUPPOSED to be flying into Denver, driving 4 1/2 hours west over the mountains, and then running the Rim Rock Marathon (road race) on Saturday, before the long drive back to Denver and then fly home Sunday.

The night before I was supposed to leave, sudden severe weather alert. 7-14 inches of snow expected all weekend over Vail Pass and the area exactly where I would be driving through. And I've never driven through snow. And I'm driving a rental car I'm not familiar with (a RAV4).

Um, NO!

So Thursday night, I'm scrambling for alternative plans. I'm cancelling hotels in Grand Junction, CO, and rebooking hotels in Denver. Suann and I find a trail half marathon in a Denver suburb. The Backcountry Wilderness Half Marathon. I have a plane ticket and a rental car. I might as well do the best I can with it. Roll with the punches!!

Friday, I flew to Denver in the morning. I went to Jelly for a late breakfast for a pork belly eggs benedict. I wandered around downtown. I enjoyed an amazing lunch at Euclid Hall, even sitting at the Chefs bar and watching chef Jorel Pierce work with staff while they cooked lunch.
Fueling right with a roasted marrow bone. One of my favorite foods!

Saturday morning was cold and windy. It was funny that a week before I woke up at 3:50 am for a 6 am 50K race start. But this weekend, I woke up at 6:15 am for a 30 minute drive to an 8:30 am race! It felt like I was getting up so late!

The weather forecast showed snow later in the day, but those rain clouds seem to be rolling in. It was supposed to be rain, because it was supposed to stay mid to high 40s the whole time we raced. The winds were almost 20 mph, and I hemmed and hawwed over what attire for my upper half between wind, somewhat cold, and chance of rain. At the last minute I settled for a short sleeve shirt, changing in the car, and my light but Cocona fabric so thick weave jacket. And in my haste, I never thought about the idea that with now zippable pockets, I should bring my nice gloves anyway. Gloves left in the car - rookie mistake.

The Backcountry Wildnerness Half Marathon was in Highlands Ranch, and my friends Courtney and Luke were very familiar with the race. It was rolling hills, but very runnable, with a nice downhill stretch.
Stolen from Becka. Rolling hills!
It's the plains, the foothills, the highlands, so not a lot of trees. And for this season, mostly yellowed scrubby grass. But you could see for days. And for an altitude test, this was perfect, moving between 6000 and 6500 feet elevation the whole time.
Great views! I could even see downtown Denver's taller building 20 miles away!

I met up with Becka and her sister L before the race. I'd just seen Becka a couple weeks before at Palo Duro 50K but it was great to see her again.
Me and Becka before the race
We all lined up and then had to all get re-sorted when they figured out they had lined us all up on the wrong side of the start line. The race advertised it was 95% dirt trail. Um, no. It was easily 1.3ish miles until we got off the sidewalk. Oh, and the first few miles are all uphill, which would be nice downhill at the end, but hard to get started.

The views were awesome, and I snapped a few pictures of the storm rolling in.

And then at 4 miles in, the temperature seemed to drop about 15 degrees. And the sleet started.

Against my Brooks earwarmer, I could hear *plink* *plink plink* of the sleet. And I could hear *crack crack* *crack* as it hit the grass. Miserable, and through mile 4 my hands got progressively more frozen.

Mile 5, and the sleet turns to blowing snow. Giant flakes. Blowing into my eyelashes, into my mouth, and I can feel it melting into the side of the earwarmer. And my hands are seriously cold and I'm so mad I don't have gloves.

From miles 5 to 9, I run mostly with my hands shoved deep into my pockets, and my handheld Amphipod water bottle shoved up between my shirt and my jacket, with my pocketed hands underneath it to keep it secure and from falling out. I'm amazed I keep a good pace. I realize that slowing down just means longer to be freezing.
You can see the flecks of snow falling against the backdrop of the bushes on the sides
Mile 9-10 has a nice more undulating, slightly more technical, single track section through some barren trees. Mile 11 I start speeding up. It's more downhill, and I know I'm set for a big trail half PR. I pass a handful or slightly more in the last two miles.

The last mile is back on sidewalk. So again... 95% dirt trail? No. More like 82% trail.

And then the deadly uphill for 20 paces. STRAIGHT uphill. And I've spent most of this race slightly pushing pace and huffing and puffing from the altitude. And my mind and body say "no, just no". And 3 people pass me on that tiny super short uphill, as I powerwalk up it. Because any more huffing and puffing and I may just pass out or throw up in the finish corral.

Becka and her sister are 2 of the 3 to pass me in that last second, which is at least nice to finish right behind them. A new trail half marathon PR by 18 minutes with a time of 2:51 in snow and altitude makes me so happy (previous PR was Grasslands Half at 3:09). Later I saw that I ran even splits over the course, and I'm very happy about that!

The medal is very unimpressive. An extremely cheap small dog tag with the race name and date. It was Veterans Day weekend though so perhaps that was the tie-in, although no tie-in to the date was ever mentioned.
Stole this from Becka's page. Don't even know where I've put this medal at this moment.

I'm freezing, and there's no post-race food left for us, which is fine for me since I don't normally want anything right after anyway. So a quick goodbye and then 40 minutes warming up in my car so that I could feel my fingers again. SO. FROZEN.

Oh, the shirt by the way, was an okay gender-specific technical shirt. Except I wore it the other day and the seam around the neck ever so slightly chafed me all the way around. I've never had a shirt do that before, so that's interesting.
Back of the shirt
I went for brunch to Rioja back in downtown. Started with a house made doughnut filled with lemon curd and marscarpone cheese with a blueberry compote, and then their eggs benedict. Delicious!

Next up? North Face Endurance Challenge Championship in San Francisco on December 1st. I'm running the 50K. Then a quick 18 hours in Napa of food and wine!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Rocky Raccoon 50K - The Aftermath

I knew I fell hard at Rocky Raccoon 50K (race report here). But my pride was hurt too. And I felt wimpy because trailrunners fall - it happens. So why did I have so much pain the second half of the race and drag myself to a sub-optimal overall performance?

A trip to the sports chiropractor Monday, two days after the race, was extremely revealing.

That unusual pain in my left foot, the foot that hit the tree root? The pain that caused my friend Dat, on seeing me at mile 19 on an out-and-back stretch, caused him to say I was walking "gingerly" and he wondered what had happened? The foot that the night after the race was over, I was wondering if I broke something in the middle of my foot, that was visibly swollen the day after on Sunday too?!

Looks like I locked up my navicular (I had to look up how to even spell this). It's a bone on the top of the midfoot. And if it's off, due to a shock or jarring action, you aren't going to do a good job of being able to flex and bend at the ankle. Which is kinda something as runners we do I don't know, a bazillion times, during a 50K?!?

Now what about the whiplash feeling that wasn't going away, and the odd asymmetrical pains? Right achilles, left hamstring, right glute, left glute medius? When I fell, my body got TORQUED. Never a good weird. I was twisted, from my hips to my shoulders, and had run/walked like that for 20 miles. And to show how twisted, normally when laying face down on a table, my normal out-of-alignment tendencies would have my left hit slightly raised of the table while the right hip is level. That's how my pelvis and sacrum normally get out-of-sorts.

Instead, this time, my left hip was against the table, and my right hip was listened. So I had twisted against the grain of my normal tendency to twist the other way. The biomechanical effects are traumatic.

Happy to say that the great people of Texas Chirosport, and Dr. Chris Miller, got me all fixed up after 1 1/2 hours of poking, prodding, neuro-stimulation, icing, muscle work, and adjustments!

Yesterday's 4.2 mile run I noticed how much more normal my body felt. So happy that it was a simple alignment fix. So so happy I already had a recovery appointment at the sport chiropractor and that I hadn't kept running and putting miles on a twisted torso!

The Harder They Run, The Harder They Fall - 2012 Rocky Raccoon 50K Race Report

Rocky Raccoon 50K was my goal race. I had laid out a couple goals, and since it was my 1 year 50K-iversary, I at a minimum wanted a course PR. Given my level of fitness since last year's race, that was considered totally doable. And I had a decent chance at pushing myself to a PR... Until I wiped out (but we'll get to that and then read the post here of the aftermath of how much the fall screwed me up!).

I was doing this race all alone. My buddies from last year, Corina, Fiona, and Alicia, weren't returning, which was sad to not have their company. Luckily, a 3 hour drive to Huntsville later, and I run into several friends (Crisann, Shauna, and Maggie) at the hotel's front desk!

We all carpooled to get our race packets and then went to dinner at the Farmhouse Cafe.
And I thought I was going to have microwave pasta in my hotel room! Friends!
I was sad to not be getting their delicious peanut butter pie, but I didn't need that the night BEFORE the race. I was asleep by 9:30 pm for my early wakeup call.

And it was early! 3:50 am I was up and getting dressed. 4:45 am I pulled into the park ranger station. With trail races, always plan extra time because of the bottleneck of the ranger station, especially as this time we all had to pay $5 to get in. The line moves fast but can get long quickly!

Parked and settled 50 minutes before the race start. Kathy and I scope out the race site. When Deborah and Anita arrive, we get our communal area set up with drop bags and camp chairs.
New friends Deborah, Anita, Kathy, and Robin

Loop 1 (15.5 Miles)
6 am, we start with headlamps on, planning to spend the next 6 or so miles in pitch dark. I know the course so I'm smarter than last year. Broken asphalt and a slow uphill for the first mile. Then switchbacks and roots for another mile and a half before coming out to the fire road.

Most of the first loop went really well... except mile 11. I'll get to that in a second. I had a goal to stay sub-14:00 pace to get a new Personal Record after my 7:18 finish 6 weeks before in Memphis at Bartlett Park Ultras 50K. Aid station to aid station, my paces came in... 13:51, 13:49, 14:13 (time includes a big fall), 13:53 (from fall to aid station), 16:52 (1.5 miles of ugh, something's wrong), 13:32 (0.9 miles to the base camp of "just get home" feelings). And then downhill from there......

The Big Fall
I'm rocking along at a great pace through a slightly twisty singletrack section of rooty sandy dirt trail. The top 25Kers are now passing so I'm on the look out for them. Luckily this section is wider singletrack, as is most of the course. Mile 11, I hit a root with my left toe. Bam, right foot step. Bam, left foot step, trying to get my legs back under me but can't and I'm accelerating. Boom, I must have tucked in my arms some because... OOMPH. Exact sound from my lips, and I slam to the ground on my ENTIRE right side and slide a few inches in the sandy dirt. Luckily, to me, I hadn't come down on a wrist, elbow, or knee, but uniformly as dirt covered me in one long line from my shoulder to my ankle. Luckily, no roots that I landed on. But note for the pictures below, there was NO mud. The caking of dirt engrained miles later for the race photographer shows how hard I hit.

The other indication of how hard I hit? 2 fast guys in the top 15 of the 25K were behind me when it happened. They stopped. One went to get my water bottle wherever it had flown to in front of me. The other helped me up. They looked me up and down carefully, with a lot of "Are you okay?!?" Checking for blood to emerge under the dirt. I'm obviously embarrassed and I feel really bad that I'm holding up two people who are competitive in this field. I scan myself and say, "I'm more dirty than anything else. You guys need to GO. I'm okay."

And I thought I was. I ran into the aid station a mile later still on PR pace. Aid station volunteers expressed big surprise at my fall and helped me use a gallon water jug to wash off my dirty hands from using the ground to get up and holding a filthy dirt covered water bottle.

I leave the aid station, and my stomach starts to turn. Something feels off. I slow it down for a lot of the next mile and a half assessing. I get a mile from the end of Loop 1 of 2 though and the "fight or flight" situation that just wants me to get HOME kicks in and I'm back at PR pace.

Into base camp, and I pour water down my arm to clean up a little. I hurry to change my shoes. I know in my head something's wrong but so in denial. Still shooting for the PR. I forget to leave my headlamp but luckily see Crisann a half mile on my way back out, and pass it to her to throw in my bag (such a doll to help!).

Loop 2 (15.5 miles)
And then I begin to feel whiplash. Like I had been rear-ended. I identify places that are wrong. Left foot, right Achilles, left hamstring, right glute, left glute medius, and interestingly left bicep throbs (I think from gripping my water bottle harder as I fell). I decide these are not normal 50K pains for me; the blessing of this being my 6th one is I somewhat know what to expect. My right side hurts from hitting the ground, and my left side seems to hurt from tensing or bracing while trying not to hit the ground.

The second 15.5 mile loop is miserable. And comes down to three stories...

1) Aid station nutrition. 
This race lacks in the things *I* want. No potatoes the whole time. I come into Aid Station 1, headed up by Tejas Trails Joe Prusaitis, and say "I will get you one of my children for a potato." My friend Kay comes in right as I say this, my first time to see her that day, and says, "But which child?!?" And I say, "The person with the potato can pick." They are also out of coca-cola.

Aid Station 2, no coca-cola, and I tell the volunteer, because now I'm in pain and miserable and have no happy endorphins, "If I had a pen right now, I would stab it into my jugular."

Aid Station 3, 20 paces from station, I yell, "Do you have coke?" "YES!" "Oh my gosh, you are my best friends ever" and I tear up and almost start crying. I needed that boost.

2) "You Must Be Jeff!"
Mile 19 is an out and back, a long one, on a jeep fire road. A guy coming back says a hello to his friend in front of me and then when he passes me says, "Now you keep up with Jeff!" Um, OKAY! Takes me 2-3 minutes to catch the guy, but I am on a mission of distraction from my pain. "You must be Jeff!" What a surprised face from the guy. I tell him what just happened, and we have a good laugh. We actually run together for another mile because we are both fans of scenic races and both working on marathons or longer in 50 states (he's at 35 states!). So we chat and compare notes on different races! Then he loses me at the aid station, but I had a chance to talk to him after the race and meet his wife, Sherri, who did the 25K that day. Great to make new friends!

3) New friends make miles pass faster! 
Miles 27-30 or so I spent with a guy named Richard. Super nice guy. His first ultra but he had been racking up the marathons this year. I want to say 17 this year alone! We had great discussions that helped the time pass, and we had friends in common, so again, nice to make a friend on the trail, and I hope to run into him at a future race.

In the end, I crossed in 8:04:30. Still an 18 minute course PR. But far from my 50K PR. And I'm okay with that. I'm proud that I didn't give up and pushed through a very uncomfortable 20 miles after an incident that happens to all trailrunners here and there!
Much nicer than last year's finisher item, I must say.
Then, I jumped in the car, drove 3 hours back hurried so I could shower, clean up, and run to see my friend Adam, and my girlfriends Lesley, Sharon, and Elaine to enjoy a yummy Mexican dinner before Adam headed home to Arizona the next day!
Love these people!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Palo Duro Canyon 50K 2012 Race Report

It's been 2 weeks since Palo Duro Trail Run 50K, but I thought I should put a few thoughts down for future reference. I was excited to go on this trip with friends, but I was not terribly excited about the race. My body had felt a little out of sorts since my 50K race in Memphis 3 weeks before coupled with the physical reactions I was having to race directing The Showdown Half Marathon. This was a 50K training run, no more, no less, before my goal race, the Rocky Raccoon 50k two weeks later.

It's a long drive. 6 1/2 to 7 hours-ish, and there's NOTHING along the way. Traveling with Monica (@thepurplerunner) and Lesley (@racingitoff), we played exciting games like "Name That Crop" (note: we need to learn to identify more than just cotton).

Road Trip!
A super sweet surprise at the hotel. A "Welcome to Canyon" bag with West Texas A&M University goodies  from friend Sarah who I had met when she did the New Years Double!

Pasta dinner was good standard spaghetti and garlic bread. I avoided the tiramisu since I don't do dairy the night before a race, but it looked good! Enjoyed seeing friends like Becka, Tony, Suann, Martin, Mark, Corina, and Hari. The race briefing was a little long-winded, but better too much info than not enough.
Martin and Suann look a little bored!
It's a 20 minute or so drive to the canyon in the morning, and we were there on the early side so parking was easy with great volunteers directing. Annoying that the start location was down a rocky eroded hill so my little rolling, heavy (since filled with ice) cooler had an awful time, so this is a warning for anyone reading this report! A cooler with a handler you can carry!

We started the race in the dark. Maybe 200 or so of us between the 50K and 50M. 38 degrees, and I'm in a race singlet. I knew it could get a little hot in the canyon so I dressed for later in the day. But we're huddling together for warmth and wishing we had gloves. I saw my friends Tim and Mark in the start corral. Luckily, it was only about 3 1/2 miles before dawn so not much headlamp time. The road runners out there made me feel like a super veteran trailrunner next to some of them, which is funny since I think of myself as still such a newbie.
Before the race start

Girl behind me in the first quarter mile to her boyfriend: "Why are we stopping?" "What's the hold up?" "Why's everyone walking?"
Welcome to the early bottleneck of a trail race.

Her to boyfriend: "If you need to just go, pass everyone. You just open it up and go!" Um, we're a quarter mile in. Really the time to be telling him to just "open it up". It's not a 200 meter dash.

Me: "First trail race?"
Her: "Second but this is my longest one."
Me: "Just take it slow. We have a long day ahead of us."
I'm sure she gave me a whatever eye roll.

1 mile in, a wider section and I go to pass the girl in front of me. And just as I'm passing her, she faceplants. Sigh. 3 people behind her stop immediately to help her up. My heart rate zooms up into the high Zone 3. No falls today, please!
Sunrise late in the mini-loop of 6 miles
I was able to run with my friends Gates and Becka for a couple miles on this 6 mile first mini-loop we did.

Next is a 12.5 mile loop. Doing well, feeling fine, I'm holding PR pace. I don't even realize it and end up running with friend Kevin for a mile or so at mile 10 - can't recognize anyone when they are wearing sunglasses, darn it! Thank goodness he told me the next day. I finish the loop, and I'm pacing okay, but I'm getting HOT at this point. I am happy though the aid stations had salted potatoes and coca-cola! And super nice volunteers!

Last 12.5 mile loop time. I get about 2 miles into it, and the heat suddenly hits me hard. I knew it was getting hot, but all of a sudden, it's like the heat is radiating off of every rock, grain of sand, and bush. And there is NO shade on this course. I am overheating and fast. My friend Matt is doing the 50M and passes me at mile 21. I say hi and almost burst into tears. He walks with me for a second. I vent, then backtrack as he has a much longer day ahead and self-deprecatingly talk about how unprepared for this heat *I* am.

I come into the aid station at mile 22 and have run out of water in my handheld a long 1/2 mile before that. They refill my water with ice cold water and sit me on a bench in the shade of a little bush and tell me not to sit too long. I tell them I'm thinking of DNFing. I have a bigger goal race in 2 weeks and heat exhaustion and recovery from that is NOT in my plan. We put ice all down the front of my sports bra, up my compression shorts all around the bottom, and inside my wristband (which worked really well to cool me down). The volunteer said, "What else do you need?" I said, "A pep talk." And he did a perfect job - I was already 22 miles in, I'd come all this way to just not finish?!?

So I decided to JUST FINISH. No more than that. No time goals. No cares. Just safety first. Move from aid station to aid station. In full sun. We were 5 hours in and the big thermometer at that aid station already showed 90 degrees, and the volunteers said the one across the parking lot was showing 95 degrees.
So hot but still smiling.
2.5 miles to Aid Station 2. I meet Julio at the early side who is a super nice guy and we chit chat through a mile or so of this section before he moves on. I'm seriously overheating again and drink all 20 ozs of water a few minutes out from the aid station. They put a ziploc bag of ice down the back of my sports bra. One of the nice aid station ladies takes a wet paper towel and completely cleans off my salt-crusted face. Another girl doing the 50K, a big time trail veteran you can tell, takes ice and wraps it in paper towels and tells me to rub it along my exposed skin as I go. It's the hardest 3 miles next and completely exposed in the blazing sun.
No shade to be found anywhere!
Bike medics come up to me a half-mile into this 3 mile section and follow me for a half-mile. I finally convince them I'm not doing anything stupid today, and I'm just walking it into the finish and they go ahead to find more overheated suckers like me.

Next aid station: more ice. And my gosh, the flies that have plagued the canyon all day (and yes, they are BITING flies) are all over this aid staiton. 1 more mile to the last aid station. A slightly shaded area, that's refreshing.

Last aid station I breeze through quickly, grabbing some ice for my bra again. Let's just get this done.

8:37:53, and my 5th 50K DONE. I'm relieved. It's now 105 degrees in the canyon. It was just miserable out there.
Photo from Monica
I will say the canyon was beautiful, but the temperature swing of 70 degrees over the day was exhausting. Big congrats to my friends Lesley and Tony who were out there to do the 50M and completed 37.5 miles in that grueling heat. And to my friend Suann who, even with a 35 minute slower time due to heat, cemented 3rd place overall female.

Interestingly enough, I ended up 8th female under age 40 of the 15 who started. Midpack with an 8:38?!? That's how you KNOW it was a hard day.