(Written in McCarran Int’l Airport, Las Vegas, NV. Just a hint – try not to cram yourself into a plane the day after running an ultramarathon. You just might stiffen up).
WARNING: This is a fairly long race report, with lots of details. So for those of you pressed for time, here’s the Cliff Note version: Bang!, straight, turn, up, down, right, left, up, down, left, right, “on your right”, “on your left”, up, up, up, right, down. Wash, rinse, repeat three times. After the third time, turn, straight, go fast, finish. Whoo Hoo!
Now on to the details.
This run was never an “A” race for me. It’s always been a “B”, with the overall goal of just finishing. I’ve run this distance before, but never on trail and never with this much elevation gain. I did have a vague time goal, but that was mostly to give Goddess a guesstimate on when I’d cross the finish line. Then she could gauge what kind of day that I was having. If I didn’t show up around that time, she’d know that things were not going as planned. If I showed up before, well that was just gravy.
So how did it turn out?
In the week leading up to the race, the forecast was bouncing back and forth between raining or not. So of course it was raining as Goddess and I drove out to the course. Looking at the radar before we left, it looked like it would rain for the first few hours, then dry out. Which is exactly what it did. I wish it had rained the entire time.
Since we had a big ice storm in early February which closed the entire Land Between the Lakes (LBL) park, I never had a chance to go out and preview the course. It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t, because it would have made me nervous. Instead, ignorance truly was bliss. The course was a challenging one, gaining 3,017’ of elevation in the 60K race. Luckily it wasn’t steady climbing, but constant ups and downs. The constant change in the trails did a great job of spreading the load over all of my legs, so I never had a significant fatigue issues.
The rain continued through the start, as expected. Here I am, just moments from the start. You can see plenty of rain drops in the picture (and some of the sailboats in the background).
Since it was 39 degrees and raining, I definitely had to wear a jacket. As you can tell in the picture, it’s an lluminite treated jacket. In plain daylight, the entire jacket is red. But when the flash of the camera, or more importantly, the headlight beams of a car, hit the jacket, the Illuminite reflective cells bounce the light back in the direction from which it came. This specific jacket is covered all over the sleeves as well as down the back.
So if you’re running, riding or walking at night and you aren’t wearing Illuminite, you’re wrong. Hundreds of square inches of reflective material covering your body can’t be wrong. I bought my first Illuminite treated cycling vest back in 1997 and have been a huge fan ever since. And no, I do not work for the company. Nor do I get any kick back from them. But if they were to offer…
Anyway, back to the race.
After a quick huddle at the start line, where the race director used a bullhorn to pass on messages, but pretty much everyone chose to ignore and talk to their friends instead, the gun went off. And the pace was blistering from the start, with those of us towards the back of the pack holding at solid 13:30/mile pace. No sense in rushing into these things, right? Besides, just under two miles into the run we’d all jam into a single-track trail, so there really wasn’t going to much room to move. With a long day ahead, I found a comfortable spot and stuck to it. This stuck well with my plan of “Start slow. Then throttle back”.
But the one thing that I did for this race was revisit my friend, the run/walk strategy. This time was more aggressive than long runs past, with a six minute run, one minute walk. The other part of this strategy was that I was going to walk any significant hills, regardless of where I was in my run/walk cycle. It turned out that on the first lap of the trail, I really didn’t have a choice, since everyone else decided to walk the uphill’s too. And with no room on either side of the single-track to pass folks, I just fell in line.
Here’s the smoothed elevation map, which is two miles short thanks to my Garmin issues (explained below):
Now that’s a sawtooth!
As expected, the single-track was slickery. Lots of mud and a few water crossings. Each would become more significant as the day wore on. What made it even more interesting were the constant tree roots and rocks. Some visible, some hidden, all slick with mud. I saw a couple of impressive face plants during the day; luckily no one was hurt. And luckily I was not one of those people.
So it was muddy, slick and there were landmines (roots and rocks) everywhere. To make it even more entertaining, most of the turns were off-camber and the switchbacks were steep. It did make for many interesting moments. But at no point did my hands touch earth, unlike the ones who went sprawling.
The loop was about 11 miles long, with aid stations set up every 3-4 miles. The length of an individual runner’s race dictated how many loops – the half-marathon was one loop, the full marathon was two, the 60K was three and the 50-miler was four. So as the run went on, the trail emptied considerably. By about mile 8, we had spread out far enough that I could keep an eye on the folks ahead, but they were far enough away that I didn’t have to worry about them. Same behind. But we’d all get bunched up again right after the aid stations. By the end of the first lap, a huge chunk of the runners headed to the finish line. So the second loop was pretty sparse as far as runners go. By the third lap, I’d go for 10-15 minutes at a time between seeing another runner. It was quite tranquil. I loved it!
Throughout the course the evidence of last month’s ice storm was apparent. Trees down everywhere, including across the trail. Over the past month, a bunch of volunteers got out and cleared the trail, cutting down the unsafe trees and cutting a way through the tree fall so that we wouldn’t have to climb over every single one. Some stretches of trail were still quite treacherous, especially where the root ball had undercut the trail, then the tree fell in the storm, up heaving the trail and leaving a huge hole . That situation made for an interesting shuffle through the hole, especially in the mud.
But the conditions didn’t slow some folks down. I was lapped at about the 22 mile mark, so the couple of guys that cruised by me were either running the 36- or 50-miler. The third passed as I was swapping out for clean socks at the end of my second lap – he was headed for the finish line for the 60K. That means he finished at least 2.5 hours ahead of me. Talk about humbling, but he was not my race. My race was totally internal. At least until the end.
So when I’d come across another runner, I had choice to pace off them for a while or just try and get around. The toughest part about pacing off of someone was that you didn’t know what race they were doing. Thanks to my easy pace at the beginning (start slow, throttle back) I did more passing than being passed.
I had only a couple of physical issues during the race. At about mile 19 I realized that both of my watches were getting really tight. I wear my Garmin Forerunner 305 on my left wrist and my Timex Ironman on my right to keep my on my run/walk cycle. Anyway, they were starting to get uncomfortable, so as I went to adjust them I realized that both of them getting tight. That meant that my extremities were swelling. That’s a situation that I recognized immediately as a possible early warning sign of hyponatremia. I had been drinking frequently, probably more than necessary in the low-40’s and wet conditions. I had been taking my Endurolytes, but not enough to balance out the amount of water I was taking in. So I made it a point to not drink anything else for the next 3-4 miles, which worked out well. The swelling subsided and I made it through with no ill effects. I continued my feed cycle throughout that period, and luckily didn’t have any gastro issues from not drinking with the food, so apparently I had plenty of fluid in my stomach. So from that point on I made it a point to not drink as frequently as I normally do.
Right around that same time I felt my right foot starting to get a hot spot. No surprise, since my shoes and socks had been soaked for the past four hours. So as soon as I hit the drop bags at the end of the second loop, I swapped socks. I stuck with my standard – Injinji’s as liners, Thorlo’s as outers. The combination has served me well for a year now and this day was no different. With the dry socks, I never had any more foot issues.
Those socks managed to stay dry since the rain tapered off during the second lap. While this was a good sign, it made conditions much more interesting. A few of the stretches already had thick mud that had tried to pull my shoes off. On the third lap, most stretches of mud were that way. Every foot step was a fight against the mud to get it to release my shoes. It sure wreaked havoc with trying to keep a rhythm. But the mud didn’t win.
By the last half of the third loop I started passing the walking dead. Some folks out there were having a rough go of it. During one of my walk cycles I talked to a guy who was also doing the 60K and he asked how I could be so fresh. I explained that it had to be my run/walk cycle. I quickly explained the concept to him, then the watch went off and it was time to run again. He tried to keep up, but that lasted all of 10-15 steps. I didn’t see him again until he walked in to the food area after the finish.
How good was I feeling at this point? I seriously considered stepping it up to the 50-miler. They had provisions for racers to step down a distance, but I’m not sure about stepping up a distance. Plus, Goddess and I already had dinner plans and I still had to pack for this trip, with an early morning flight the next day. So I stuck to the 60K. But I’m pretty sure I could have done another lap and kept it under the 11-hour cutoff time.
By the last quarter of the third lap, I was picking up the pace. Unfortunately, this stretch was also the most technical part of the course, with lots of roots, several drops, a few deep ravines (with some water) and a wall of mud. I knew that there were other 60K racers in front of me and I made it my mission to hunt each and every one of them down. They were to be my “victims”. At this point the race was no longer internal, but totally external.
I hit the end of the third lap, grabbed a quick drink and moved my drop bag to the delivery pile so it would make it back to the finish area. My first “victim” was dropped right there. The next was up the road a hundred yards or so and he was dropped quickly. Over the rise and I saw a string of folks, almost all walking the walk of the dead. Those that weren’t walking were doing not much better than a shuffle. Me? I felt great. Matter of fact, over the next two miles to the finish line, mostly uphill, I averaged a 7:35/mile pace and pushed my HR right up to my lactate threshold. And I had a smile on my face the whole way.
I still managed to say a word of encouragement to each and every “victim” as I blew on by. One guy even exclaimed “Jesus Christ” as I went flying by. That made me run faster.
In those last two miles I passed seven runners. I had my sights on two more, but ran out of distance. Had we had another quarter mile, I would have got them. But that’s OK. I crossed the line grinning from ear to ear. And that’s the important part.
On the left is me right after my finish. I told you I had fun!
On the right are shoes, socks and a Road ID (left ankle). Really, there’s no need to run in anything else. And some could argue against the socks and the shoes, but not the Road ID. If you don’t have one, get one. Now!
– All three laps I had to laugh at my reptilian brain. One single root in the path, at first glance, would trigger the instantaneous “snake” thought deep down, just before my eyes would snap back to it and register it as a root. The same root. All three laps. The shape and color mottling were perfectly boa. Even though this is definitely the wrong part of the world for a boa.
– At one of the outlying aid stations, I came up upon a women running the 50-miler (I could tell by her race number). She was having some gastro issues and took advantage of the peanut butter crackers that were offered. As she ambled off into the woods, she let out one of the loudest belches I have heard. A few minutes later as I was coming up behind her, another one. I heard one last one as she faded behind me. I never did find out if the crackers helped, but she definitely stepped down to the 60K, since Goddess and I saw her in the post-finish food area about 40 minutes after I finished.
– After one of the other outlying aid stations, someone had hung a pair of well-used panties off a tree limb. Although the sight of them was quite disturbing, it did lend itself to a laugh once each lap.
Official Results: 7:38:31 for 60K. (here it is Monday evening and the official results aren’t in yet, so I’ll have to wait to post the AG and OA results).
The GBU rundown:
The Good – Everything. The course, the volunteers, the conditions. Even my Garmin Foot Pod worked throughout the entire race, even after being dunked in streams over and over again as well as being completely coated in mud. Run/Walk definitely works for me at these longer distances. I was fresh, fresh, fresh all the way to the finish. No bad stretches at all. And while I’m tired today, I’m not sore. That’s huge!
The Taper – Thanks to some good tools that I’ve discovered recently, I’ve found that I had been peaking for my races about a week too late, effectively cutting in to my taper and meaning that I was entering my races fatigued. Along with my modified schedule thanks to this this discovery, my carb and salt load in the days prior were spot on. Without having a clue as to how I’d do on this course, I finished just eight minutes slower than my guesstimated time that I told Goddess that I’d finish in. Not too shabby.
A huge hat tip to the several ladies who walked the marathon. I met the first ones as I finished my second lap. I passed several more during my third lap. They were out there for a long day, but each and every one had a smile on her face.
And an even “huger” hat tip to the volunteers. Every single one was smiling all day long, even in the cold and pouring rain.
The Bad – Technical issues with my Garmin. It turned off a few times; twice my fault, a few more times for some unknown reason. Also, I lost my HR for a good 2.5 hours in the middle of the race. I figured that I had pulled a rookie move by not replacing the battery in my HRM strap. But it came back all of the sudden. Then dropped out again. Then back on again. Then on the rest of the race. Very strange. But I’ll change the battery anyway.
To the few that wore their headphones on the single-track and had the volume high enough that they couldn’t hear the calls of “on your left” or “on your right”. I’m all for using whatever works for you to get through the day, but if you’re gumming up the works because you can’t hear someone calling to pass, you’re wrong! Full disclosure: I took my mp3 player along, figuring I might need some motivation during my third lap. I put the buds in my ear for about three minutes, then took them out. I hate running with them at any time (except on a dreadmill), so it was more of a distraction than a help. And at no time during my run with them in was there another runner in sight, either ahead or behind.
The Ugly – Not a single thing. Well, those panties were, but…
So where does that leave me? Poised very, very well for my “A” race in just over five weeks – The Country Music Marathon. Last year’s CMM was a huge PR for me (which I’ve since broke on a much, much hillier course). This year I’m shooting to beat my PR yet again.