Sunday, February 05, 2012

Uwharrie 40-mile

Well, it's February again, which can only mean one thing!!  UWHARRIE TIME!!!  I entered this year's race in kind of an odd place mentally.  For whatever reason, work seemed to be taking more out of me than normal (whatever 'normal' is), and, of course, the holidays managed to disrupt my training schedule.  It would be much more convenient if we could put the holidays in October or something so December and January could be devoted to long runs.  I tried pitching this idea to my family, but they were somewhat less than supportive.  As such, I wasn't feeling super positive about my ability to dislodge the 9 hour monkey from my Uwharrie back.  ...and as a follow-up, I was feeling less enthusiastic than usual about the race, which made me sad.

In the week leading up to the race, alert friend Brandy posted an article about taper-induced depression to facebook and as I mentally checked the box next to all the symptoms, I began to feel a little better about the world, just hoping against hope that that last box (the one that says most people feel fine and ready to go on race morning) would also be checked off before 7AM on Saturday. 

I started my race day with a race anxiety dream (apparently Uwharrie was now in the jungle and it took my friend Shawn and I ~3 hrs to make it to the 5-mile aid station), which left me wide awake at 2AM.  Our upstairs neighbors must have also had an anxiety dream about that time and decided to combat it by doing step aerobics for the next 90 min, as that's the only explanation I could come up with for the noises coming from above.  From there, it was really just counting the minutes to the 5AM alarm that signaled it was go-time.

The hotel rooms were spacious, sure, but these ladies were LOUD!

We arrived at our appointed parking area a little after 6AM to find that there had been some confusion among the 20-mile racers about where to park, leaving some 40-milers with no space in the lot. Thankfully, we got in just under the 'lot full' sign, so we weren't directly affected, but this did lead to a ~20 min delay in the race start, which might seem like an irrelevant detail, but becomes very important later on.

I started the race with Mandi (fellow BCTC-er and Run at the Rock buddy), having touched base with Uwharrie friend Jay about starting "somewhere in the middle of the pack".  I suspected Mandi was going to lay the smack down on me at some point during the race based on her comment that she was hoping to automatically qualify for Western States, but I figured I might be able to hang with her as long as we were stuck in traffic walking up the big hill.  I was right, but traffic broke up faster than expected, and Mandi was off down the trail ahead of me before we got to the first mud pit.  Luckily, I also had managed to find Heiko around this time, and we chatted a bit before he, too took off down the trail.  At this point I began to wonder about my pacing, as Jay  also was not in my general vicinity.  I was feeling like I was just on the edge of exertion, though, which is a dangerous feeling when you're at mile 1.5 of 40 and those 40 are in the Uwharrie National Forest.  So I trucked on, thinking I would assess the situation when I hit the "2-mile" mark.  I hit that mark in ~26 min and realized I had no idea how long it was supposed to take me to get there, which left me slightly frustrated.  I did, know, however, that I had reached the 5-mile aid station in 45 min the year I went out WAY too fast in the 20, and had a vague recollection of taking ~1 hr to get there in the previous year's 40, so at least I had some guidelines there.

Around this time, the thought also hit me that we had started 20 min late, which I combined with my (as it turns out totally faulty) recollection that there was a head lamp cutoff of 4 PM at the 38 mile mark.  I did some quick math and realized that I was going to have really step it up or I was going to be pulled off the course for lack of headlamp.  I was irritated at my stupidity for not planning for contingencies by at least dropping a headlamp in my drop bag, but reasoned how was I supposed to know we were starting 20 min late?  In my head, my only choice at that point was to go hard to the turnaround and hope I had enough to get myself back in time.  I cruised through the 5 mile station in 56 min and the 8-mile station in 1:37 (note to readers - the "8-mile" station is well known to be closer to 4 miles from the "5-mile" station).  This, though, is where I had my first hard benchmark, as I knew I was close to 2 hrs coming into this station last year.  Yes, I was ~20 min ahead of last year's schedule, but as you'll recall (because I know you've internalized my writeup of last year's race), I went out WAAAAAY too slow last year.

I wanted my cheering for David to invoke this
In reality, it probably looked more like this.
I continued cruising along, wondering if the 20 milers had started late like we did or if I would have to readjust my estimate of where they would begin to pass us to account for only 40 min of head start as opposed to the full hour (one has to occupy one's mind somehow when one is in the forest for 40 miles).  Coincidentally (really, not just for literary effect), I heard my name being yelled from behind.  I wondered which of my 40 buddies was gaining on me and turned to find that the amazing David Roche was flying toward me.  I had heard he was planning to take it out hard, but my head could not process the idea that it took him a mere 9 miles to make up my 40+ minute head start.  I mean I know he's fast and I'm slow, but DANG.  Luckily, I composed myself enough to cheer wildly for him and quickly step out of his way before he disappeared over the next ridge.  This also got me thinking about how our late start would affect the logistics of the rest of the race.  I usually start seeing 20-milers around mile 15 or so, and start getting passed by mortals (meaning lots of dancing around so 2 bodies can pass on a single-track trail) after the big hill.  Getting passed by David at mile 9 meant there would be a lot more dancing for a lot longer, but meant that maybe there would be less two-way traffic on the way back (when we turn around and make our way back through the second half-ish of the 20-mile racers).  I was still pondering this as I pulled into the 11-mile station where I found Jay and his friend James.  Feeling fairly confident that Jay was good at pacing, I hitched my wagon to their train and we made our way onward.

As we passed through the 14-mile station, I noted that we were well ahead of last year's pace (mission accomplished thus far), but also a bit ahead of Jay's professed goal of 4:15 at the turnaround and a ways ahead of my goal of 4:20-4:25.  After a brief panic, I made a comment about being ahead of schedule and when they seemed unafraid, I took a breath and decided to go all in.  Even when James, spurred on by terrain that was "mostly flat or downhill" (lies) put in a fairly lengthy surge, I hung on and was surprised to find "the hill" at 16 miles to be less daunting than usual (what kind of crack was I on and where could I get more?  More importantly, when was the crash coming?)  At this point, we were seeing 20-mile friends pretty regularly, and our fast 40-mile friends were coming back at us, including Ronnie, who was leading the race!  Also around this time, I got my favorite cheer of all time from unofficial race photographer and previous year's winner, Shannon: "Holy Shit, Karen!!  You're doing awesome!"

I am like water skiing off the back of a jet.  It's true.

Riding high on laughter and profanity, we pulled into the turnaround around 4:08.  Jay and James had decided to forego their drop bags, so they were in and out in what seemed like 10 seconds, and I was left chasing after them, trying to stuff a vespa into my handheld without tripping over anything or running into anyone.  I finally got myself organized after a half mile or so, but by the 17-mile aid station (for reasons I can't explain, I don't continue counting up after we turn around, so I use the mileages from the start), I was starting to feel a little overtaxed and woozy, and was having a little trouble focusing.  I was hoping this was an electrolyte/glucose issue and not the beginning of a precipitous bonk, so I downed a Roctane, an s-cap, and some Mtn Dew, and wandered out of the aid station at a slightly more relaxed pace, reasoning that I just had to make it back in ~5 hrs to PR for the race.

I identify with these guys: we're not terribly coordinated,
but we sure can walk fast
James must have seen the look in my eye when we pulled in to the station as he and Jay discretely let me slip back without comment and moved on down the trail.  Fortunately, my electrolyte/glucose theory held up and I began to sharpen up as I made my way toward the backside of the 16 mile hill (see?  I really can't do the mileages back!!)  At this point, as I generally do during a long race, I started pondering my finish time projection.  Barring some sort of total meltown (which was still totally possible), I figured a PR was well within reach (I recalled - incorrectly - that I had finished in 9:12 last year), and a sub 9 finish was well within reach.  8:30 seemed numerically possible, but not terribly likely.  As I pondered such things and power-walked my way back up the hill, James and Jay came into view and I felt like I might not have lost as much as I thought with my little crisis (though I was reasonably sure their daring and my pansiness would lead to a widening of that gap on the ensuing downhill).  This diverging of paths put my pacing and strategy back in my hands and allowed me to run to my strengths (lots of long granny gear bouts punctuated with long, gangly-legged power-walking up the steeper hills), which was somewhat disparate with James/Jay's (fearlessly bomb down hills, surge on the flats, recovery shuffle up the hills).  Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on your appreciation for heckling - I think we were all pretty okay with it), this led to a fair amount of see-sawing, and though we really never ran together again, we were within about 200 yards of each other for the rest of the race.  At every aid station, I grabbed a Mtn Dew or Coke, and two fistfuls of potatoes, but still felt that familiar bonk feeling approaching shortly before the 5-mile aid station.  Remembering I still had a Roctane in my handheld and figuring it had been long enough since my last Vespa, I downed my final Roctane and another s-cap and waited (hoped??)  Fortunately, the magic still worked and I was able to power my way through the next three miles to the 2-mile road crossing.

Over the last 15 or so miles, I had been projecting aid station arrivals and adjusting my finish time accordingly.  With my bonk around 5 miles, I had figured I would hit the 2-mile station around 8:20, and slide in to the finish somewhere around 8:50, as I am notoriously bad at picking my way through the final rock field-y ledge heading back into the finish.  After my re-up with Roctane, though, I started feeling pretty fricking awesome, and invoked the inner football coach, who kept asking me what I was saving it for.  I picked up the pace and rolled into the 2-mile aid station at 8:13.  Then I got angry...or something.  Something in me decided it would be a grave injustice to cap off this performance with a 30+ minute pick through the last 2 miles (I think that's about how long it took me to get in last year), and I bombed down the hill with (for me) reckless abandon, constantly reminding myself to stay focused on the trail to avoid an epic collision between some part of my body and some relatively immovable piece of nature.  As Jay/James drew into sight again, I knew they would kill me going down the final hill, so I made it my mission to get as close as possible to them before that final descent.

THIS is why the last 2 miles takes 25 min
(photo credit to Scott Lynch)
I closed the gap to about 40 yards by actually running(!) up a good part of that last hill and then shifted my focus to keeping moving through the rocks.  I took a quick look around me and barreled off down the hill, alternately exhorting myself (possibly out loud - you weren't there, so you'll never know) to pay attention and to have quick feet.  As I made the turn on to the mercifully less rocky trail into the finish, I was tempted to check my watch, but refrained in favor of staying focused on the trail (and not breaking my face).  As the finish area came into view, I heard someone yell "Finisher!" and the customary cheer as the crowd encourages runners across the line.  This was followed by my friend Carolyn yelling "Ronnie!  Your wife!" as my husband apparently was otherwise engaged at the moment.  As such, I came across the line laughing, and upon checking my watch to find I had covered that last bit in ~25 min (still sounds long for 2 miles, doesn't it?), meaning I had finished in 8:38-ish, let out a "YESSSS" combined with a fist pump that I hope nobody caught on film.   

I am married to the wearer of the buffalo head in the foreground
(photo credit to Anthony Corriveau)

 All in all, with two minor blips, I'm absolutely ecstatic about this performance, as I have launched the 9-hour monkey into the next zipcode (but because I'm me, making sure he has a parachute lands comfortably on pillows among friends because I don't even want to hurt a metaphorical monkey - yes, I'm aware there's something wrong with me). The realization that I never have to run the 40 is a little bittersweet, though, wasn't so bad....
Awww... I love you 40-miler

Author's note: I actually ran a 9:21 last year, not 9:12, so this was a 43-minute PR

(/shameless self promotion)


Scott Lynch said...

That is simply badass! Huge destruction of your previous PR!

Karen said...

Thanks, Scott! You looked great out there!! I'm so glad you embraced the Uwharrie tough love :)

Anonymous said...

Great exercise of mind and body Karen.
Respect, harold

Jordan said...

Awesome Karen! I'm amazed at your ability to go "all in" and not bonk! Way to go!

Andrew B said...

Wow, great perspective on running the 40 miler. Congrats on such a great time. How do you like the Vespa? Did you use the ultra concentrate or the regular ones?

Anthony Corriveau said...

25 minutes for the last 2 miles is FAST. Up that horrible hill and down the f**king rocks after 38 miles is the hardest thing I have ever done. Took me 40 minutes this year, and probably the same last year.

Karen said...

Thanks, everyone!! To Andrew, I was using the regular Vespa (well, the Jr, actually) - haven't tried the concentrate, but I've made it through 3+ hour training runs on it and felt better the next day than with a normal gu routine. Despite what they say about it being made from bee something or other, I'm pretty sure it's made of magic.

Andrew B said...

Great to see another local Vespa user! I got some of the Ultra Concentrate just for this race. It's a heck of a lot easier to carry if you need it on the run. Tastes like bees, works like magic! That should be their slogan.

(Mary) Shannon Johnstone said...

WHAOOO Karen!! You are AWESOME!! And by the way, that wasn't Holy shit you are doing awesome (as if I was surprised at your awesomeness). It was HOLY SHIT! (punctuation) You are doing awesome! (punctuation) And AWESOME you are, and AWESOME you did! 43 minute PR is just mind boggling. You are one tough runner!!

Bill said...

Awesome job Karen!!