Received email on Friday, signed up Monday, ran that Saturday. Sometimes, impulse decisions turn out to be the greatest ones.
As I read the Full Bloom 50Ks description one word kept haunting my thoughts of the upcoming weekend, you know like those creepy echoing voices at haunted houses “FLAT….flat…flat…flat….fl..”, you get the point. As my race season opened up with a challenging mountain course, I have to admit my ultimate weakness and greatest challenge still to this day is: FLAT TERRAIN! All this means to me is, “sorry buddy, there’s no power hiking to the top of that mountain, it’s just straight running…so get on it!”. For those of you who know me well, you are all aware of these French quads, they hail from the French Pyrenees mountains and were made for slogging my way to the top, not run 6:30 miles for 50K ha..ha.
After a crappy night of tossing and turning, I decided to call it quits around 430am and get ready for the race. The drive to Greenbrier Farms Nursery was a foggy and eerie looking one. The fog actually proved to be a blessing in disguise because it kept temperatures nice and cool for the bulk part of the race. Checked in, and waiting around for the start, I talked to my good friend Carter who had come out to cheer on his French buddy with…..drum-roll…a huge cowbell and the ever famous Tour de France cries of “Allez! Allez!”. Trust me this later on proved to be a huge morale booster for me because it made me laugh every time I came to the Start/Finish aid station. A race volunteer came up to me and asked if I was running the 50k and if so that I was aware that the start line was a little down the road. I confidently replied “Yep, thanks man!”, five minutes later he looks back over at me and goes “uhhh dude you know it’s 6:58?”, CRAP! I completely didn’t catch that he was trying to tell me to go because the race was about to start!! I sprinted to the start line just in time to hear a little hoot and holler and a count down, made it just in time and off we went at 0700 am. The common strategy for slower runners like myself is to not get caught up by the pack mentality of the uber fast elite guys/gals and jump out of the gate. Kick it in cruise control, start off slow and speed up towards the end if you feel like it……what did I do? I pulled a newbie move and latched on to some much faster runners than myself. The course was a double loop with a final 5 mile out and back, and my first loop ended up being my fastest of the day(no surprise there). The running pack thinned out about an hour in as we ran along the edges of the tree nurseries, navigated across wet grass fields and jumped over super muddy drainage ditches. I didn’t expect the ditches and was so glad I made a last minute decision to switch trail shoes from NB MT101s to my Inov8 Roclite 295s. There were a few times where the mud sink holes wanted my shoes more than I did, but after a little mud vs. Loic fighting I always came out triumphant, earning the right to keep my left mud covered shoe(left foot totally got it the worst) and ran on.
After coming back from my first loop, I realized I was smoked and needed to slow my pace down or I would never finish. So far the only race strategy I had followed, was to race through the aid stations like a Nascar pit stop. Opening my handheld bottles as soon as the aid stations came into sight, I would ask the volunteers to top them off and grabbed a few chips or snickers marathon bars and started walking off. Temperatures were still nice and cool at this point so Heed in one bottle and water in the other. I set off on to my second loop with a much more controlled and slower pace. My mind started going to it’s dark place, I was hitting a low thinking of the long winding path on the edges of the fields, the gravel road and became a little overwhelmed. Then came a running epiphany: I had been running for over 2 hours without my Ipod on, BOOM! Problem solved. Music = BIG time motivation for me. I only recently started training with one, most of the time I prefer listening to my footsteps and breathing but when the going gets tough, music soothes the aches and pains. As I began to pick up the pace again, I started setting mini goals like last year at Leadville; Run to 1 song, walk to 1 song…EXCEPT that this time I didn’t allow any walking. I would run slow for 1 song, run fast for 1 song. This totally helped me power the next section and all I had left was the second part of my loop, and my last out and back.
Everything felt good, and when you finally feel like it will be a nice ride to the finish…something goes wrong. I set off to finish my second loop and the fog had burnt off…
Stage cue: Sun comes into the scene.
Me: “..oh…hey Sun, whats up?”
Sun: “Wasssaaaap, just gonna beat on you for a few hours, don’t mind me brother!”
Me: “oh, thanks buddy…”
I think anyone reading this who lives in this area can agree that we have had some funky weather lately but being that the bulk of my runs has been in moderate to cool temps, heat was now a serious factor to worry about. As soon as I reached the next aid station, I dumped out all sugary “crap” that I normally would be drinking like Perpetuem/Heed etc. Race strategy changed up, I was now going on water only, Endurolytes (salt capsules) and eating whatever I could stomach. This last 8 miles proved to be a little more challenging than I wanted it to be. Despite making a quick switch to easier hydration and nutrition, I started too late and battled a super upset stomach for about 40 min. As I exited the aid station I grabbed a cup of ginger ale which proved to be a savior later on and revived me to pick up the pace. On this next stretch I met Michaela, this was her first 50K but she had been doing marathons since 2005. She had a great pace and I asked her if she minded me latching on for a few miles, she kindly allowed me to and we talked about ultras, running, life and this made the miles go by much quicker. Our second to last time through the out/back aid station, I was out of water so I stopped, wished her good luck as she kept going. She finished really strong and ended up 3rd Overall Female, way to crush it Michaela! When I came one last time to the Start/Finish point, Carter and Jeff cheered me on and said I had made great time on that last section, I totally blamed my speedy new running partner! I set off on the final 5 mile stretch, lightened up by ditching one handheld, popped some electrolyte pills, took a gulp of some redbull and off I went. I’ve read this in many race recaps, and it’s so true: when you’re super tired, focus on your form. I immediately kept thinking of Robert Tuller’s advice of quick swift feet, leaned forward and the miles floated by. The heat was getting worse but a combo of water/potato chips/salt pills kept me well oiled. I ran past a few people who were bonking and couldn’t help thinking of how many times ALL of us have been there. Offered some salt pills, a little motivation and off I went. When I knew I only had 2 miles left, I looked down at my watch…I could get a PR as long as I kept this pace and made sure I was well hydrated. I went for broke and decided to kick it up a few notches and try to finish sub-6, which for me would be a 30min-ish PR. My heart and lungs were burning but the endorphins kicked in and I felt like I was floating to the finish line. On that final turn, the sight of the big truck trailer on the side of the road was when I knew it was finally almost over. The sound of Jeff’s cowbell never sounded sweeter as I crossed the finish line and saw my time- 5:37:19!
In the end it’s really not about how much I improved, or how lucky I was that I didn’t blister up or the other million reasons that can slow you down in an ultra. I attacked a weakness(flat terrain) and did a decent job of kicking its ass. I still have some major areas for improvement, but in the future I definitely won’t hold back in signing up for “Flat as pancake” courses even if it is last minute. I had an awesome time, met some great people and would do it all over again this weekend if I could 🙂
A Big shout out and huge thank you to Race Director: Brenda Carawan
[Wondering why I couldn’t sleep the night before? waiting for this crazy girl’s phone call: Jennifer ran Grand Canyon R2R2R ]