Thursday, March 5, 2015

How to avoid needing to buy a new belt

On January 4th I decided that running my first 100K on February 28th, the Razorback Endurance Race that was two whole months away, was a good idea. I was not daunted by the fact that, for the last two months, I had run exactly one race with double-digit mileage (Coastal Malibu Canyon 25K). After all, I still had two months to get into 100K shape.

Yes, there was a DNF at a 50K, but for the most part, things went well. Until I woke up with a cold a little over a week before the race. And now I was a bit worried.

I had high hopes the cold would go away before the 100K, but it didn't. Fortunately, it didn't get any worse either, so while I wasn't going into this race as perky as hoped, I still felt that a finish was well within reach.

As I explained in a previous thing, there were a couple of reasons for me to feel confident:
  • I had a 36 hour cutoff. That's a long time. Lots of rest breaks can be taken.
  • I could always switch to the flat course from the trail "relentless" course.
For fun, I created a comparison of the elevation charts for the two different courses. This was the first one, and I posted it to the Razorback Facebook site. I suspect that within ten minutes at least a dozen people had emailed the RD to change their course selection.

The green bit is the 2 mile paved course and the red bit is the 4.75 mile trail course.
So that others (and myself) could sleep better at night, I created a second version with a less horrific scale. (According to my Garmin, each trail lap had about 780 feet of climbing. Each paved lap had about 91 feet.)

Still, the fact that the trail course had a LOT more climbing than the paved course was impossible to avoid. The trail course, though, was also about a billion times prettier and more interesting than the paved course. For 100K on the paved course, I would have to do 31 laps. For the trail course, I would have to do only 13 laps.

I arrived at Harvey Bear Ranch County Park in San Martin at about 5AM, which gave me time to set up my tent before the 6AM start. The forecast was for scattered showers over the day, and I would need someplace dry to change and protect my stuff. It would also provide a place to grab quick naps and such.

It was still dark out at the race start, so headlamps were in use.

The trail course had a number of these old oak trees scattered around.
Before my first lap was done, the sun had risen and we could see the views we would be facing throughout the day.

Note the solar panels to the right. I don't think they ended up creating much power on this remarkably cloudy day.
At the end of the trail lap, we would join in with the paved lap runners and pass through the timing/aid station area.

Motivational signs like this were scattered along both courses. 

The trail course's climb was actually broken in two, and it always felt great to get to this point where the first part of the climb was done and you got to cruise along on some flats and downhill for a short bit.

Note the view. It was amazingly green out there.
A lot of the trail course was made up of fire roads, but there was a fair amount of single-track as well.

There was one particular area on the flat bit where a gang of cows chose to hang out and torment us runners. On the first lap while it was still dark, they were off to the side. On the second lap, this cow decided to try to intimidate me. It didn't work and I went past him calmly, but ready to scream like a two-year-old if he made any kind of a sudden move.

Playing chicken with cows was not covered by the pre-race FAQ.
On my third lap, they decided to team up on me. Again, it wasn't an issue, and as I kept getting closer they grudgingly gave way and let me use one of the trails.

Photo by Leahcim (not his real name). Brave pose by Yar (not his real name either) who, because he was in the 72 hour event, ended up on a first name basis with these cows.
My favorite picture of the cows was taken by Leahcim a bit later. I swear these cows would do just about anything to get their picture taken.

One thing that happened on the second loop was that I ended up tripping over a rock that was sticking up maybe a quarter of an inch from the ground. Sadly, there was nobody around to get my picture as I was laid out on the trail.

I never actually counted, but my guess is there were about a half-dozen cattle gates we had to go through on each lap. And every one of them had their own personality. (And no, I didn't purposely time it so that Yzztik, not her real name, always had to open them for me. I'm not that good.)

It was hard not to feel like you owned the trail once you were nearly done with a lap. "Well done Etak (not your real name)!"
Picture by Ettedanreb, not her real name, but a real 100M finisher!
Aynwat (not her real name) had spent the past couple of days providing medical support for the 72- and 48-hour runners. When she saw me struggling to get the top off my water bottle, she stepped in and saved me.

All morning long we could see fierce clouds circling around us, but we seemed a bit blessed since we remained dry, and even had bouts of sunshine.

But that was about to change.

On my fourth lap (which got me to mile 19), I had really struggled and for the first time started to realize that going 100K (62 miles) was maybe not going to happen. I had fully expected to get to at least the halfway point before things started falling apart, and was now worried.

I took a long break before starting my fifth lap, hoping that some rest would help, but it made little difference. My cold was making it clear that it was not happy and my legs were whining about all the climbing.

Brazen people in the house! And raise your hand if you're going to get your first 100 mile buckle!
At the end of my fifth lap I had pretty much decided that I really needed to drop to the 50K, which was graciously allowed by Ycart (not her real name) the RD. Doing the 50K meant I had to go for one more trail lap though.

And by now, the storm was getting serious about adding some spice to our day.

Also by now, a number of runners that had run the reasonably nearby Brazen Hellyer race stopped by to take in the atmosphere. Since the atmosphere was largely filled with a cold, windblown rain, they managed to take in their fill pretty quickly, and most took off.

One guy though, Occor (not his real name), decided to hang out some more. He really wanted to see what the trail course was like, so I invited him to tag along as I made my last lap.

Occor is not right in the head.
The trails had been bone dry and solid all day. I figured that since the rain was just starting, they would still be in pretty good shape.

I figured wrong.

The trails fell apart very quickly. They became the kind of sticky mud that clumps on your shoes and won't let go, adding several pounds of weight and making each step an adventure.

Selfie by Occor. I couldn't believe how happy he was to be struggling up this hill. It's worth noting that earlier in the day he had run a sub-two hour Half Marathon.
The Endorphin Dude was really struggling with the mud. Occor gave him a hug, kicked him in the butt, and told him to keep moving.

We took advantage of every opportunity to scrape off the mud. It was fruitless though since it would just all clump up again about four steps later.

Cleaning the shoes off using a barbed wire fence seemed like a good idea at the time.

The further we went, the more it rained, and the worse the trails got. This is a sequence taken on a particularly hairy uphill curve that was about 100 feet from the top of the climb.

The Endorphin Dude is always giving back, and selflessly kept this hill from sliding away.

It was about this time that we realized that this was going to be everyone's last trail lap. Between the damage we were doing to the trails and the damage the mud was doing to us, this couldn't keep up. Even if it stopped raining right then, it was going to take a few days for the trails to recover. (And the trails were indeed closed at about that point.)

A coyote is not impressed near the end of my sixth lap.
Once my sixth trail lap was done, I still had to do one and a half paved laps to get the miles up to 31.

At first the paved trail seemed like a blessing - no mud caking on your shoes and no hills sucking the life out of your legs. But my heart was not in the paved loop, and I was thrilled when I was done.

This was the Sign of Turnaround that you had to go out to for your "half lap" out-and-back bit.
I loved the wooden finisher medal and the Ultra Gam buff swag.
This race was my first shot at a buckle, and it was a bit humbling. I finished the 50K in a bit under 12 hours (by far my longest 50K ever), which meant I still had 24 hours to go if I wanted to continue. My cold was starting to really make its presence felt though, and it was an easy decision to stop.

And since the trail loop was no longer available, I would have had to get all my remaining miles on the paved loop, and that would have quickly become torture.

Above is what my elevation chart should have looked like with reasonably even pacing.

This is what it actually looked like, taking into account the breaks and such. After my fourth lap, I took a long rest, but I had no idea that it was an hour and a half - I thought it was about half that. It always amazes me how fast time goes by when you're not moving.

What's also a bit funny is how I was convinced that my fourth lap had taken about twice along as my third, but in reality it was almost identical - it just felt like it had taken twice as long. Obviously my mental game is not good.

This shows the trails I went on, with the trail loop on the right and the paved loop on the left.

This is the start area zoomed in; I like that it shows the detail of me hitting the porta-pottie a couple of times and the one time I headed out to the van to warm up.

There was only one place, near the top of the hill, where there turned out to be uncertainty about what trail we were supposed to be on. On the first lap, while we were still mostly in the dark and still grouped together a bit, we came to a split in the trail and everyone just took the obvious trail that got you to where you wanted to be. It wasn't until much later, when I saw a runner go straight at that turn, that I started to wonder if that right turn was correct. When I saw the above I realized that almost for sure I (and others) had likely been slightly cutting the course. It was kind of an interesting tradeoff; the way I went was a bit (maybe 100 feet) shorter, but was much steeper.

The end result was not affected much, but I now wish I had gone the longer route, if for no other reason than to have had a gentler climb. This was the only part of the course that could have been marked a bit better (there was actually a third trail option here as well).

Now that several days have passed, and I've had time to reflect, I'm mildly second-guessing my decision to drop to the 50K. I love that many friends stuck it out and managed distance PRs, and I wonder if I could have managed one as well. But I've done enough races now that I know better, and have to be fine with my decision - it was certainly the right one at the time. But a buckle…

The event was a lot of fun - I can't recommend the race enough. This was the first year the trail option was offered, which made it the first year I was willing to run it. The trails were awesome, even when that climb became so tough later in the day.

I honestly have no idea how the RD and all her volunteers managed to keep it together for such a long time - the 72 hour race started at 6PM on Thursday and the event wrapped up at 6PM on Sunday; that's a remarkably long time to have to deal with a bunch of sweaty runners, keeping straight who was running what course, making sure we were all well fed, and always instantly being able to answer the question that was on every runner's mind:

"How many miles are done now? And please oh please make it a big number. Lie if you have to."

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.


Laura said...

You'll get that buckle eventually. You gave it a shot and there will be a next time. Thanks for sharing. I had wanted to hear how the race went for you.

Stephen said...

Great write up Alex! Congrats on the finish with the cold and all. Saw you many times on the loop. I sort of wish I had not given up on the trail after 3 loops. The monotony of the 2-mile loop just killed the enthusiasm, I completely agree. Maybe that is part of the mental game we play when running long distances. Best of luck in your next run.

Beth said...

Allen, the view at the beginning of the day looks amazing! I love your cow and coyote pictures. Hope your knee is ok. I agree with Laura above, a buckle is inevitable, it'll happen. For now, congrats on another 50k!

nw climber said...

What a great story and pics. I am hoping to do the 50K next year and am interested in trying the trail loop. Great job on the run!

mary ann said...

cows, coyotes, fall downs, mud - it
sure looks like a lot of fun!

Blogger said...

You may be eligible for a new solar program.
Click here to find out if you're eligble now!