Thursday, April 26, 2012

Extremely late and uninteresting Mountains-to-Sea 50k report

This was my weekend of all things running-related.  It started with a mad dash out of work at 4PM Friday to head to BCRC to help with packet pickup, continued with a 6-hr shift at the Umstead 100 on Saturday, and concluded with a 31-ish mile jaunt through the MST 50k and some cleanin’ up/truck loadin’ afterward.  All in all, it was fantastic and exhausting.  I wanted to wait till I added some kickin’ picturs, but I also need to get this race report out the door as I’m still looking at a half-finished report from the Green Legs and Hamstrings half 3 weeks prior to this week (executive summary: Ronnie and I both got 2nd, and we learned that the triangle seems to have the edge over the Danville area in trailrunners if this race is any indication, as our crew of 6 came away with three of six overall awards and two more age group awards).  But I digress.
I still feel like a bit of a goober writing up a 50k after watching several friends and an even bigger number of total strangers embark on an amazing journey through Umstead Saturday and Sunday, battling early morning rain, mid-day heat, a surprise midnight thunder-downpour, and, well, 100 miles of running, but as this was the inaugural running of the 50k distance at Mountains-to-Sea, and Kim and Jason worked so hard to put it on, I figured someone might be interested in how it went.  Executive summary here: it went well.  Extended version below.

This is the start - a lovely crew, don't you think?
I was telling Kim on Friday that I have never gone into a race so mentally unprepared.  Which is not to say that I didn’t think I could do it or anything like that – just that I hadn’t been mentally gearing up for the past couple weeks (partly because we didn’t know if we’d be able to run until about 2.5 weeks ago due to Umstead volunteering obligations).  There is also something about a race where you sleep in your own bed and only have to drive 30 min to the start that makes the whole thing seem rather un-race-like.  This is perhaps why, when regular running buddy Nancy took off from the start, my immediate thought was “why are we going so fast???”  Fortunately, Nancy’s head was more in the game than mine, so I just latched on to her and we started off down the trail, settling into a position that seemed reasonable.
Having run the 12-mile the past two years, I had a pretty good feel for that section of trail, but the first 3.5-ish of the new 50k course was completely new to me, and thus kind of interesting.  Unfortunately, I was busy chatting through this section and failed to take note of landmarks or anything about where we were going or what we were doing.  Observe foreshadowing here.

About 35 min into the race, we popped out at the 12-mile start and got to run right in front of the 12-mile starting line, where I saw some friends, including eventual 12-mile winner Ben Godfrey (congrats!).  Then we dodged back into the woods, this time in more familiar territory.  Somewhere around 7 miles in, Nancy and I realized that we literally could not see another soul in the forest.  …and hadn’t for a while.  It was very odd.  I asked her if the race had been cancelled partway through and everyone but us had gotten the memo.  She wondered if something horrible had happened to all the other runners. We continued to develop increasing elaborate explanations for why there were no people around, but Nancy astutely noted that we had seen Kim at 6 miles and she hadn’t seemed upset, so we really were just in some sort of race limbo, running along at nobody else’s pace (thank goodness we had each other).  Around this time, I also began to appreciate the little game where I still referred to the aid stations according to their position in the 12-mile race, but then felt all special being able to add 3.5 miles because we started before the 12-mile start line.  It gave me a nice feeling of accomplishment (This is the 6-mile aid station…but we’ve run 9.5 miles!)  Also, somewhere along here, I hit my elbow on a tree.  Kind of like when you are walking through a door and clip your shoulder.  I have no idea how this happened; it wasn’t a particularly narrow or twisty part of trail, but it is a testament to why I don’t play sports that require actual coordination.

We also played the game through here wondering a) when the 12-mile fasties would catch us, and b) when the 50k fasties would start coming back at us.  We decided the 50k people would be maybe around 13 miles, and the 12-mile pass would take place maybe somewhere around mile 12 (our mile 12, not theirs).  Sure enough, somewhere in that range (can’t remember exactly where), I heard my name from behind, and turned to see Ben blazing towards us.  Finally.  Confirmation that the world had not opened up and swallowed the other racers.  At this point, we were pretty excited to see other people after over an hour of feeling like we were the only people left in some bizarro apocalypse that left all of nature completely intact.  A couple miles up the trail, we finally saw Ronnie and Ken, the 50k leaders coming back at us (and were gratified to note that we had made it farther than expected before seeing them).  From there, it was ~1.5 miles of dodging 2-way traffic and cheering on friends as we made our way to the turnaround.  After the solitude of the abandoned forest, this was quite the change, but thankfully we eased into it with the progressive increase in traffic before we pulled into the turnaround, which was bustling with activity like a hive of excited bees.  As we pulled in, Jason grabbed my water bottle and Mandi cheered for us as I dug into my drop bag looking for another precious Vespa (I may be bordering on junkie status here), and while Nancy grabbed a handful of sammich quarters, I downed some more Fluid (with a capital “F” – this was apparently the source of much frustration and slap-happy amusement at aid stations: “we have water and Fluid!” “Water IS fluid!” “No!  Fluid is a sports drink!” “What???” “Here.  Drink this.”)  Then we were off!  Well…almost.  It took a couple seconds of confused wandering around before we figured out that we were supposed to head DOWN the hill instead of back the way we came, but THEN we were off to do a little loop around some foresty area at the dam before returning to the main trail.

The way back started the way the way out ended (wrap your head around THAT little brain teaser): cheering for friends coming at us from the opposite direction.  Unfortunately, as we approached the first aid station, I started feeling that familiar bonky feeling, which I now refer to as “Vespa head”.  Fortunately, I knew what to do, so I let Nancy know I would be walking this aid station and I tossed a Roctane in my mouth, chasing it with a nice glass of Coke.  UNfortunately, I still needed to wait the requisite 15 or so minutes for it to take effect, and I knew that keeping up with Nancy during this time was not going to turn out well, so I convinced her to go on ahead and I slowed down to a not wholly embarrassing, but still a bit slower trot.  I also noted at this point that my fun game from before with the aid station mileage had turned around to bite me.  Now, passing the 9-mile aid station, I still had 12.5 miles to go.  Bummer.  Fortunately, my Vespa head cleared relatively quickly, and I resumed trotting along, twice stopping to pick up somebody else’s discarded Gu packet (SHAME on you, discarders of Gu packets in the woods!)  The rest of the way back to the 12-mile start/3.5 mile aid station was pretty uneventful – passed some people walking and/or running more slowly than I was.  Used eating an Accel Gel as an excuse to walk up the only really long hill.  Gave the stink eye to a couple whose off-leash full-sized poodles came charging at me on the trail.  You know – the usual.
Now it’s time to remember my foreshadowing from the beginning.  We were back in uncharted territory.  I remembered there being a road and that someone said it was at ~2 miles according to their Garmin (for what that’s worth in the forest on zig-zaggy trails).  I picked it up a bit because I had passed a girl in the last section and I didn’t really want her to catch me, but as I wracked my brain for memories of the way out this morning, I turned up nothing.  SO I plugged along hoping this section would pass quickly as I was getting kinda tired and it was getting kinda warm.  Finally, after about 15 minutes, I popped out on the road, but was very confused as I could have sworn we were supposed to cross over.  But I didn’t see the rest of the trail. muh moh.  Fortunately, as I scanned the area, I found some flagging peeking out of the forest down the road a couple hundred yards.  Nice job, faulty brain.  You remember one thing about this section and you remember it totally incorrectly.

As I turned back into the forest, I saw the sign indicating we were entering Blue Jay Point Park.  I reminded myself that we still had 2 miles left and not to get excited about the fact that I was entering the park that also contained the finish line.  This was by far the most diabolical part of the race, because about ½ mile into the park, I saw a bench.  “ooh!  A bench!  I must be close to the finish – they wouldn’t put a bench in the middle of nowhere!” (yes they would)  This was followed shortly by, “OOH!  A guy with two small children!  I must be close to the finish!  They wouldn’t have walked very far to get here!” (true, but you don’t get to go the way they came)  ..and then a bit further down the trail, “OOH!  Wood chips!  I must be close to the finish!  They would only make the trail this nice close in” (Oh.  The wood chips stopped.)  “OOH!  LOOK!  A trail that leads to the left!  I know the finish is to the left” (there is a line spray painted on the ground indicating I can’t go there).  “OOH! Another trail!”  (also no.) This mini roller coaster of emotion (magnified her for dramatic effect) continued on for literally tens of minutes until I was left with, “Oh good gravy!  Can I please just turn left???” (yes, but you’re going to zig-zag back and forth a couple of times before actually getting to that break in the woods, so don’t get too excited yet, my pretty).  I also internally chastised myself in here with “people ran much farther in hail and lightning last night – you’re going to have to seriously man up if you’re going to make it through 100 miles in July”  I think I also channeled my friend, Steve at some point in there and called myself a “wuss-bunny”.  

Finally, I started hearing music, which was a little confusing because I thought we still had to run all the way across a big field to finish.  Thankfully, Kim and Jason took pity on us and put the finish line right at the edge of the clearing.  Whew.  And so concluded my trek through the inaugural MST 50k.  The old MST guy at the end said I was 5th female.  Of course, he also told the girl behind me she was the 5th female.  And at least 3 girls were the 8th female.  So I won’t put too much stock in his assessment. I was pleased with my time, though, and am not feeling too terribly worse for wear today, so this bodes well for Vermont in July.  All said, it was a lovely, well-organized race, and I would totally recommend it to anyone looking for a local 50k.
happy finisher :)

And congrats, again, to the 100-mile superstars. 

Monday, April 02, 2012

The Umstead 100 - a random personal declaration

The Umstead 100.

I’ve volunteered at this race for (I think) the past 5 years, and it’s always been a moving experience.  The first year, we worked at the pacing desk, and though our job there wasn’t that exciting, we ended up being an improvised support crew for a runner and her pacer, who were both struggling after finishing.  The second year we spent 4 hrs from 2AM-6AM in the timing tent.  This sounds like a terrible job, I know, and it is hard – it gets deceptively cold at that time of night when your job is to sit still and type numbers, but it’s also an amazing job because you get to see the runners finishing.  It gets exceptionally exciting during those hours because, the winners long gone and in bed, these are the runners who set out to break that somewhat arbitrary, but universally understood and embraced 24-hour mark.  Running 100 miles in one. Single. Day.  At 2 AM, you see the people who surprised themselves and ran much faster than expected.  At 4 AM, you see the people who thought it was possible if everything went right, and everything did.  They are elated.  At 5:30 AM, you see the people who executed a plan and finished right where they hoped.  At 5:45, you see the people who spent that last lap battling demons, knowing they could do it, but trying to prepare mentally for missing the mark.  And at 6:03AM, you see disappointment and frustration.  These people will probably look back and realize they have accomplished something amazing, but they will also be back next year, with a bone to pick.  You see other people during these times as well, of course.  There are people finishing in 22 hrs, who thought they would finish faster, there are people who have finished several times previously and are just in it for another go – not terribly worried about where exactly their time fit.  But the people with the 24 hour goal have always seemed special to me.  Probably because I’ve always fancied that this is where I would fit.  Even before I had any aspiration of running that far (because that would be stupid), I saw people I had run with in other races finishing in that range, and thought “yes.  That’s where I should be in the lineup.” 

Since that first night shift, we have spent three more night shifts at the park, and with each year, I became more and more intrigued by this spectacle, and felt increasingly close to the runners out there, circumnavigating the park no less than 8 times.  You start to recognize people from previous years, and even though you’re not REALLY a part of their community, you feel like some small part of the greater Umstead community.  For 2 years now, I’ve been aware of the day when registration opens and this past year, my hand hovered over the mouse on that fateful Wednesday at precisely noon. But again, I did not jump in.  So this year was another volunteer year.  Due to a conflict with another, much shorter ultra (isn’t that a fun statement?), we needed a day shift, so we spent all of Saturday afternoon holed up in a cabin entering data from Aid Station 1.  We could see the runners out the window, and I managed to catch a few friends coming into the timing area, darting out the door of the cabin to encourage them, but I have to admit, I missed our night job in the trenches. 

This year brought another set of emotions to the table as well, though.  This year brought trepidation and inspiration…and I’ll admit…a little bit of jealousy.  Because after wavering on Umstead signup day, and inspired by my husband’s 100-mile finish at The Bear last September, I took the plunge and clicked ‘submit’ on the Vermont 100 page.  So as I watched my friends struggle through their journey, in the back of my head, I thought two things: “That’s going to be me in 3 months.  I hope I’m as strong as they are.” And “Boy do I have a lot of long, hot North Carolina summer runs to do between now and then.”  So I’m posting this as the official commencement to my Vermont training season.  I finished a 50k yesterday and don’t feel terrible.  I’m considering that a good jumping off point.  Now I just need to channel Mark, Shannon, Jay, Ronnie, Joe, and all my other 100-mile friends and commit to spending some quality time in the NC summer heat, cultivating both the mental and physical toughness necessary to take on this next challenge.  If you’ve made it this far in my weird cathartic ramble, I’ll ask you for just one more favor: if you see a Karen-shaped heap on the side of the trail this summer at Umstead, please just pick me up, water me, and send me on my way.

Thanks friends, and happy trails…