Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lessons Learned from my first 50k Trail Race

I love to read, especially about other long distance runners. I find it inspiring most came from humble beginnings, only discovering their talent after years of training and trial and error. Frankly it gives me hope that I too can improve from a back of the packer trail runner to a mid packer at some point ;-)
This past weekend taught me so much about trail running, fueling, racing a trail race and the kind of crowd that participates. First and foremost, trying to compare a road race or road training time to what you should expect in a real trail race is just impossible. There is simply too much variation in the terrain to be even closely accurate with what you should expect for a pace. It's going to vary-alot. My garmin showed I ran anywhere from a 4:50 per km pace to a 9:18 per km pace throughout the 7 hours I was out there. I ran on packed dirt road, sandy trail, packed gravel single track, river beds (lots of leaping involved there), water-soaked moss, high grass ridge line and soft pine needle single track. Pure awesomeness, but nothing like what I had trained on. Thinking back, had I gone out and run the course before the race I probably would have dropped down to the 30k event option. I'm thankful that I didn't because doing those additional 20kms really taught me that I can endure and push myself to my physical limits, although I think with proper training those limits can be pushed even further.
I had a really rigid fueling plan all mapped out for the race. After completing the first 6k that plan was kind of thrown out the window. I couldn't walk and grab food from my hydration pack since I needed to keep my hands free in case I lost focus and tripped over something. The aid station stop was once of the few areas where you could stop and eat something so that turned into my plan, I would start each loop by eating a caffeine GU and a banana (or other fruit) re-fill my hydration bladder then head out. That worked ok, but I think next time I need to make sure I'm wearing pockets so I can take some GU or other food along with me since I slowed down during the last 9k loop quite a bit which caused me not to eat anything for a good hour and a half, not good when you're out running for 6+ hours.
The trail racing scene is one that calls out all sorts of runners. Some seem to be looking for their next adventure, others are there for the scenery and others because the road have beaten up their bodies too much and they'd rather run on the more forgiving surface of a dirt trail. Most of my fellow participants were at least 10 years older than me. I ended up running with Gordan, an Ultra veteran, who was about 62 I figured, based on his stories. He emphasized walking the steep hills, picking up my feet so I don't trip over hidden roots, how to correctly shoot a snot rocket and the importance of peeing during an ultra. He kept me at a decent pace and gave me a much needed boost at the end of my second 9k loop. I hope I run into him and his most awesome dog Tess again in another Ultra.
I realized after about 15k that I really didn't need or want my music. Here I had spent a few hours downloading new music, creating a playlist to take me through the 6 hours I expected to be out there, and I didn't want to listen to it. It took away from the scenery and  I found I would rather talk with my fellow ultra-runners than listen to some hyper-caffeinated music. I was so thankful when my husband, daughter and my mother joined me for the last bit of my third 9k loop and then my husband jumped in and ran with me through the last 6k loop. He hasn't been running all that much since a recent hernia operation, but at the pace I was going keeping up with me wasn't much of an issue for him. His joining me gave me that extra push to the finish. I enjoyed showing him part of the course that I had been running all day, he could later understand why my pace was all over the map after those 6k. It also made me hope that he and I could run a few more trail ultras together in the future. We both talked about how, when we were kids, these were the kinds of trails we enjoyed running on, so it kind of brings you back to your roots to get back out there in the woods, running like loons. I truly had a blast. I'll be back for more as soon as I can.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

WW 2 Race Report

I got it done. After training since January I was finally there, waiting for the race to start at the mid-point for each loop in my first 50k.
Welcome by the Race Director
Getting Ready to Start

With about 60 or so other runners, most much more experienced in trial running than I, we talked lightly about other upcoming races and which event length each of us was doing today. I found myself surrounded by other 50kers, but we quickly separated when the race director yelled, Go.

I should have seen this as a sign of things to come, but we started by climbing a bit of a hill, then another, before descending quickly to a hair-pin turn. Once we got down that turn we ran past our first water dam and along the hydro line we had been strictly forbidden to run up on. With all of the little hills along the side of the pipe though, it sure was tempting. Once we came to a small bridge we made a left and ran along an open dirt area and then up two large dirt road hills to a second dam. The first time up those hills I ran the flat section and powerwalked the hills. Later on, on loops 3 and 4 I would end up walking the whole bloody hill section. Once those nasty hills were done we ran up a smaller hill and into the forest. Up until now there had been a pretty distinct path, now the trail looked like a former river bed and hoping from rock to rock and across mud pools was more common than any clear stretch of single track trail. The scenery was gorgeous. I tripped a few times, quickly scolding myself to pay attention to what was in front of me and not the thick trees, moss-covered rocks and ferns everywhere. There was at least 6 different shades of green you could pick out immediately.
   Once the forest section was over I came to a tiny dirt trail and an open section to another forest trail, I was about to enter that forest when a woman behind me pointed out the ribbons we were to look for indicated a different way. Thankful for such a quick recovery which could have proven pretty costly, I tried to keep up a decent pace as I finished my first 6k loop. Richard and Hannah were there and after a quick conversation and a Gu another runner came by, read my name and told me to get back out there. With a quick good-bye to Richard and Hannah off I went, and quickly caught up with that runner as he power walked a huge hill. He and his dog, Tess, were running the 30k event, which meant he had to do each loop twice, as opposed to me who had to each loop 3 times and the 6k loop a fourth to equal 50k.

Starting the second 9k loop

Walking a hill with Gordan and Tess
    We made small talk for a little while, he passed on advice around walking all steep hills in a trail race and his preference for trails over roads, especially now that he was getting up in years. At one point he mentioned the Vermont 100, an historic and challenging race, so I asked when he had run it. He (Gordan) ran it not only once, but twice, then he told me, just a few years ago, he decided to start his retirement off by thru-hiking/running the Appalachian Trail-a venture that took him 6 months to do. Gordan has also been a two-time team member of the only Canadian team to participate in the Alaska 1000 mile canoe race. With this impressive resume I knew I was running in the presence of a running master.
  I stuck with Gordan and Tess for the next loop and a half. At the end of the second 6k loop I had to hit the porta-john so he and Tess ran off ahead. As I started my second 9k loop I enjoyed the scenery that this small dirt trail offered and was thankful for having the time and support to be even out here on this crazy adventure. I ran along the trial, confirming where I was every few hundred feet by seeing a pink and black ribbon and watching the footprints of my fellow racers in the sandy dirt. All of a sudden I couldn't make out any footprints. Mild panic set in as I considered going back to the last ribbon, but I decided forward was better than backward so I continued on, watching for a ribbon or white chalk on the ground. After a few minutes I finally spotted another ribbon. Thank God I thought and continued on for another 1k before spotting the beaver dam that indicated a left turn was coming up, as was another round with the woods.
   For all of its challenges I actually preferred the 9k forest section over the 6k. The 9k was more of a straight line, with its turns large and obvious. The 6k turns were bumpy and tight, causing you to twist and turn every few feet. The 9k forest section did have one huge obstacle-the water. What appeared to have been the original trail had flooded so running was only possible along the mossy sides of the newly made river. On this lap I tried to step over a well beaten tree that had been pushed well into the mud when my left foot slipped and the water was up to my knee. I grabbed onto the roots of the fallen tree and hauled myself out of the mud and water, trying desperately to keep my shoe on my foot. I grabbed a feet handfuls of long grass when I came to the next dry section and wiped the mass of muck off my leg. There wasn't much I could do for my water and mud-soaked shoe, so I continued on. Just after I crossed one of the last "bridges"-this one consisting of a bed frame with extra metal posts welded on-I caught up to my fellow runner and his dog. Tess had decided to start a game of catch so he was trying to coax her out of the woods when he spotted me. I slowed and we ran together back to the last few hills before the aid station. He was a bit too tired to keep running so he wished me a good day and let me go. Just as I finished grabbing more powerade at my drop bag he finished his 30k, running in with Tess. I was glad I was there to cheer him on. I grabbed my water pack and took off for my third loop of 6k.
By the end of the third 6k loop I was tired, sore and a bit lonely for company. I hoped that Richard my mother and Hannah would be back by the time I started my 9k but the timing didn't work out. I started the last 9k very thankful I hadn't been more ambitious to try the 80k.  I was at about the half way point when I got a text message from Richard telling me they had made it back. Pumped for company and more water I tried to speed up as much as I could to meet them on the dirt road finishing the last 2.5k of the 9k loop.

After at least 30 more minutes I saw them-taking pictures. Hannah ran down the road to greet me, I grabbed her and hugged her I was so happy to see her Richard and my mother. I told them all about the last 6.5 hours as we ran slowly back to the aid station. Hannah and my mother stayed behind while Richard took off his coat and got ready to run with me through the last 6k.
Hannah and I running up a hill in the 9k loop.
Hannah dancing and cheering at the aid station
The company made me forget how tired and sore my legs were at that point. Showing Richard some of the trail that I had spent the day on made me more energized to finish. We leaped and skirted massive mud puddles and power walked the hills. I checked my time and figured if I kept up my pace I could finish in 7:45. We managed to do it in 7:43. Not the time I had hoped for, but I hadn't based that time on anything close to the conditions I had faced. I'm a bit disappointed, but the fact I finished my first 50k on that route makes me proud to say I accomplished the Waskally Wrabbit. I got it done.

Hannah cheering for Richard and I

Me and Richard coming up to the finish of the 50k!

All Done!