Tuesday, September 11, 2012

How to DNF at D-N-F

This was my third year running the Brazen Drag-N-Fly trail race.

You'd think I'd know better by now.

There was talk before the Brazen Bear Creek race about which of the two was harder: Bear Creek or Drag-N-Fly. While they are both tough, I voted for Bear Creek being a bit harder. Now that my memory has been refreshed, I might have had that wrong.

The Drag-N-Fly Half Marathon course is a lollipop. (I like to picture the course as a simplified stick figure, which is easier for my simplified mind to deal with late in the race.)

I know of at least two runners that had an issue with the direction of the loop. (The green arrows on the elevation chart  show where the aid stations were.)
The stick part of the course is very exposed. When you head out early, it's not so bad, which is good since that's when you make one of the most difficult climbs. When you come back later, it's much hotter, but the climb is easier.

The lollipop bit is the fun part of this race. And also by far the most challenging part of the course. You have three significant climbs, some of which are on some tough, rocky single-track. You can make up some of the time coming down those hills, but a lot of that downhill is very difficult to walk on, let alone run on.

Would it kill them to plant a few trees out here?
The course starts out fairly gentle.

If you look hard you can see Mrs Notthat actually enjoying the heat.
That's the first big hill we have to get over. Being able to see it laid out in front of you so clearly tests your determination. (As I was slogging up it, I looked back down and saw the 10K runners heaving a sigh of relief that they didn't have to follow us up this hill.)

But before we head up that hill, we get some advice from Drannyl (not his real name); "Please don't make me go up that hill to scrape your melted carcass off it when you return."

Weird Haired Mom taking pictures as grateful runners finish coming down that first hill.
Early in the race, you get a bit of a break when you head down the other side of that hill since a lot of it is still in shade. And then you are done with the first pass at the stick part of the course.

WHM took this picture of Mrs Notthat flying down the hill. 
And this picture of me not flying quite so much.

And if you are fortunate, like me, your granddaughter will be waiting for you at that aid station.

"What took you so long? Grandma came through here 20 minutes ago!" (She was actually only 7 minutes ahead of me. Might as well have been a month though.)
And your grandson too! It  took me a bit to escape this aid station since I needed to see a new stuffed owl and some other miscellaneous things they wanted to show me.

The lollipop part of the course has some boring bits (including an odd stretch of pavement), but it also has some wonderful bits. A-Squared is showing her enthusiasm for one of the wonderful bits.

And then we ran into these two counter-clockwise challenged runners that like to lick their lollipops backwards.

And some more wonderful bits. A-Squared is muttering things wildly unsuitable for a family blog post.

A bit later, I heard a grizzly bear enthusiastically crunching a runner's bones up ahead.

It turned out to be the volunteers at the third aid station (mile 6.7 or so) crushing their empty water bottles.

A cloud! Come on little cloud, you can do it! Grow and give us some shade!
Shortly after leaving that aid station, you are at the top of the biggest hill on the course. Finally. The clear weather meant that great views were everywhere.

Yes, that's the trail through there.
It's at this point that the elevation chart gives you hope of being able to do the "Fly" part of the race's name. And you really can, mostly. But there are several stretches like this that make any kind of flying unlikely.

Finally I made it back to the second aid station, making it the fourth aid station (mile 9.9). And the home of the 11:00 cutoff.

Before the race started, Mr Brazen announced that there would be a 11:00 cutoff at the third aid station. I remember when he said that that I thought it wasn't right, but I couldn't remember why I thought it was wrong. (I later looked at the pre-race email and saw that it clearly stated the cutoff was at the fourth aid station, mile 9.9, and that was why I knew what he meant.)

I wasn't worried - I figured I would make any cutoff with no trouble.

As A-Squared and I trudged up to the third aid station, we talked about the cutoff and whether it was at the third AS or the fourth. I asked Nad (not his real name) at the third AS about it and he knew nothing, and since that aid station is not accessible by car, it seemed very unlikely that they would hold runners there.

By the time I finally pulled into the fourth aid station, I had forgotten about the cutoff. But seeing some runners hanging around worried me, and sure enough, I was about 20 minutes past the cutoff.

WHM had left the station to get cell service, confirm the cutoff time, and let the finish line know that there were going to be half a dozen runners needing a ride back. The aid station people offered to let me keep going, and I seriously considered it.

I was tired, and my stomach was a bit unsettled (heat and I do not play nice together), but otherwise I was fine and could have easily finished. I chose to stop for a number of reasons:

• I was well after the cutoff. Four runners ahead of me had already been stopped.
• I had already done the fun parts of the course - all that was left was 3.7 miles of hot sun while retracing my steps back to the finish. Ugh.
• I didn't need this race to satisfy the Rocky Ridge requirements.

So I chose to just stop and respect the cutoff. And watch what happened when A-Squared came through.

A-Squared needed to finish this race to qualify for the Rocky Ridge Ultra Half Series. There were not nearly enough volunteers here to stop her - I knew she would keep going no matter what.

I had not seen her for a while - she had been struggling up the hills, but when she came flying through, A-Squared looked great and VERY determined. Of course she was going to keep going.

She was warned that the next aid station might not be there (with only 3.7 miles left to go, that wasn't too big of a deal) and that the course markings were being picked up, so it was possible that she would have to follow trails by memory (which also was not a big deal since the course was pretty straightforward from here and we had already been on it once).

I considered going on with her, but I've been with her at the end of a tough race before and doubted I would be able to keep up - when she smells the finish line, she becomes a dynamo.

A bit after A-Squared left, the sweeper came in, clothed in course ribbons. A key for A-Squared would be to keep ahead of the sweeper.

If you look hard, you can see her most of the way up that last big hill already.

Our ride showed up and took us to the finish area just in time to see A-Squared come steaming in, ahead of the sweeper. She was beat. But she finished and is now qualified for the Ultra Half Series.

Photo by Brazen volunteer. Highlight effect patent pending. (I love it!)
When Mrs Notthat came through the fourth aid station, ahead of the cutoff (ahem), Grandkid Firstborn joined her to finish the race. This was not a trivial finish - it was 3.7 tough miles. (She also ran a 5K the next morning. The kid is really getting into this running thing!)

Brazen offers an early start for most of their races, giving slower people a chance to finish along with other runners. I did the early start last year and had thought about doing it this year, but I got lazy. This race is located near Antioch in Contra Loma Park (Swedish for "Trees? We Don't Need No Steenkin' Trees").  It takes us 90 minutes to drive there, which would have meant leaving the house WAY earlier than I wanted to.

In retrospect, that would have been the right thing to do though. And it's what I will do for Rocky Ridge.

This is my third DNF in three years, and the second due to missing a cutoff. Having volunteered at a number of races, I understand why there are cutoffs - it's not good to make a bunch of volunteers stand around waiting for one or two runners that are going WAY slower than the other runners. And having to make that fourth aid station, mile 9.9,  in three hours is reasonable. I was surprised and bummed that I was so far past the cutoff. But that's where I'm at right now, training-wise.

The race was a blast. It was not as hot as previous years, but it was still very warm. All the volunteers were awesome (as usual), and there were a lot of paparazzi out there.

And I managed to actually see several dragonflies! Take that Bear(less) Creek!

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.


mary ann said...

That looks hot and difficult. I think you did the right thing, cut-off wise.

Beth said...

Wowzers, I have never looked at the elevation chart for Drag-n-Fly, what a beast of a course!! We saw a DNF shirt at the WC run Sunday morning and my thought was "wow, she ran that yesterday and she's 10king today, what a beast"...plus she had a backpack on.
You'll getter done next year!

DAK said...

Those first few pictures convinced me. You're all so far over the edge you're crawling up the frame on the back. Running in a line of people in a treeless dessert. Convicts do that when they escape from the gulag. But I guess they don't have their grandkids waiting for them.