Saturday, August 27, 2016

Run-de-Vous by moonlight

For the fifth year, Veejar (not his real name) has put on the Run-de-Vous ultra race down in Harvey Bear Ranch in San Martin CA, using the infamous 2.01 mile paved loop for distances ranging from 50K to 100M.

There are two big issues with this race for me: It's not a terribly exciting loop and the heat can really be intense since there is no shade. I don't know if it was new for this year or if it had always been offered and I just never noticed, but there was an optional 8PM start for all but the 100M distance - this meant I could do most of the race in the cool of the night. So I signed up for the 50M race.

While I knew I wasn't really trained very well for that distance, I figured I could easily get it done in the 18 hour limit I would have. This would be my second 50M finish, and would either be a huge PR or a DNF (my other 50M finish was in a little over 22 hours - feel free to roll your eyes at that). One interesting thing was made clear in the pre-race email - dropping from the 50M to the 50K distance after you started was not an option; you either get the 50M done or you DNF. I really liked that since past experience has shown it's awfully easy for me to talk myself into being happy with the shorter distance when things start going badly. (And you can generally count on something going badly.)

For a trail race, the loop is pretty flat - there's about 90 feet of very gentle climbing per loop, which adds up over time. I like how the website's elevation chart makes this climb seem a bit terrifying.

My goal was to walk that climb then run the downhill bit and try to run as much of the rest of the loop as possible. For the first half of the race, that worked really well. Once the foot blisters became serious though, I ended up walking the whole loop.

That odd little bit by the start was when I headed to my car to grab a nap around midnight.
My hope was that I could finish before the battery on my Garmin died, and I came close - it died about a fifth of the way around my last lap.

Above are two views of my race's elevation chart, showing the 25 laps (minus most of the last one due to the battery issue). The top one is based purely on distance while the bottom one shows the actual time spent on each loop. With real skills, both of these would pretty much look identical, but, well, this is me, so the skill level is a bit dubious.

I showed up about an hour early and grabbed this shot of the start/finish area with all its tents and personal aid stations. The race had a proper aid station with more kinds of food than you could possibly ever want or need, but many runners brought stuff specific to what they would need (including me with my Tailwind), and so you end up with a small city.

Aicram (not her real name) is judging a yoga contest that was NOT a required part of the race (thankfully).

Soon the sun went down and it was nearly time for the 8PM runners to start.

"The wild pigs rarely eat any runners. The frogs, though, are intensely vicious!"
I was encouraged to see so many runners for the late start. As it turned out though, all of the 8PM starters were running the 50K - I was the only late start 50M runner.

It was still fairly light out for our first lap, so I didn't bother with my headlamp. For the second lap, it was significantly darker - many runners were not using headlamps, so I decided to go without one as well. That proved to be a dubious choice though - almost all of the runners were sticking to the pavement, which required very little light to see, but I was mostly on the dirt shoulder, and in the dark, it was really challenging to watch your step. More than once, something vaguely ominous on the trail would suddenly move as I got close.

At the end of the second lap, I paused to put on my headlamp and a light jacket.

"Hey Eyaf, not your real name!"
There are two things about running at night that bug me: Carrying my camera is mostly useless since there is little to get a picture of in the dark (and using the flash is a bit rude), and my body knows that I really should be asleep.

The aid station at night.
The cool things about running at night mostly involve looking at the stars and listening to the frogs and other critters as they come to life. Well, and it's cool out.

I ended up leaving the camera at my mini aid station, so I've got very few night pictures.

I got seven laps done with minimal issues. The eighth lap though, proved very challenging as I caught myself several times falling asleep.

I had a couple of options at this point - try to get a lot of caffeine in my system or take a short nap. In the past, caffeine has proved to be a bit dicey for me since it often leads to stomach issues, which was the last thing I wanted. So I chose to go sit in my car and try to get a short nap. That was also a bit dicey since I have horrific napping skills.

I ended up spending about an hour and forty minutes in the car, and actually slept for a lot of that, which surprised me. A bigger surprise was that, once I left the car, I really felt good. Additionally, the moon was now very bright and I no longer needed the headlamp, even for the dirt shoulders. I changed out of my sweat soaked shirt and buff, put on a hoodie, and got back to work.

I knocked out a pretty quick lap and caught up to Esoj (not his real name) who was running the 100M and had been going since 6AM on Saturday. I decided to do a lap with him, and it proved to be really interesting since, while I had been feeling drowsy before my nap, he was in much worse shape than I had been. This turned out to be by far my slowest lap, but was also pretty entertaining since I spent a lot of it convincing Esoj that he was trying to have a conversation with a shrub or that it would really be bad form to collapse on the pavement. We talked a lot (well, I talked a lot) and managed to get the lap done. Esoj promised to get some serious caffeine before heading back out - he would hang in there and end up getting his 100M done.

I was still feeling great, so I started listening to podcasts and kept on getting the laps done.

The top of the "hill."
About the time I hit the Marathon distance (5AM or so), I felt a small rock in my shoe, so I stopped to deal with it. But there was no rock - it was the start of a blister. It had been so long since I had gotten a blister that I had completely forgotten what it felt like. At this point, I made what may have been a mistake - I should have changed out my socks for a dry pair, but decided I didn't have the time to do that and instead just put the old sock back on and headed back out.

About four miles later, this process repeated itself on the other foot - again, I was shocked that this was a blister issue and not a rock in my shoe. And again, I chose to do nothing about it.

The blisters got significantly worse as I went along, and at times were extremely painful. Most of the time though, they were just annoying and I could keep going, and surprisingly, I was able to maintain a 15 minute/mile pace up to the end of the race.

Looking back at the start/finish area from the opposite side of the course.
All night long we had a bright moon and lots of stars with a clear sky. Around 5AM though, the marine layer came in and blocked the stars and dulled the moon. The great thing was that the clouds stuck around for a while - I was fearing how much time I was going to have to spend in the heat, and these clouds did a wonderful job of postponing that.

"Go Ahtnahs! Not your real name!"
By this point, there were not many runners still on the course, and nobody was doing much actual running. I actually managed to pass a few of these runners (keep in mind that they all had been going for 14 hours longer than me, and for a lot longer distance).

"Go Eifos and Esoj! Not your real names!" Esoj had rallied magnificently!
By about 10AM, the clouds had burned off and the sun started doing its thing. By about 11AM, I was roasting. Fortunately, the aid station had lots of ice - I would fill my bottle with ice and Tailwind and put ice in my hat at the start of every lap from then on, and that would be enough to keep me moving.

The Cones of Happiness.
Twenty five times I went around that course, and I got to know it pretty well. The happiest sight though were these cones. For the 50K, runners did 15 laps and then a 0.5 mile out-and-back to get up to 31 miles. These cones marked the 0.5 mile turnaround point for them. For the rest of us they were a sign that the loop would be done in a half a mile. They were always great to see.

He did it!
At about 12:33 I finished my last lap. Finally. This equals a 16:33 50M finish, which is not awesome, but is about a five and half hour improvement over my previous 50M race.

This monitor was awesome since it would show you how many laps you had done and how long your last lap took. You can see that there were not that many runners left at this point. Also note that my lap times were pretty consistent (and include the time it took to fill my bottle and shove ice in my hat).

Not long after I finished my 50M race, Esoj finished his 100M race! 50 laps done!

The shirt, bib, and an ice bandana!
The only issue with the race turned out to be that they had forgotten there was still a 50M runner still out there, and had already sent the medals to storage, so I will get it in the mail. But that's no big deal - I really like the shirt, especially since it is specific to my distance! The ice bandana was a really nice surprise - I wish I had remembered that I had been given it so that I could have used it for those final few laps.

This race is sneaky hard. The course looks easy, but the lack of shade can really get to you. When I had arrived, I talked to a number of 100M runners that were dropping to the 100K distance due to the toll the sun had taken on them. I'm pretty sure that if I had started my race at 6AM with the others, my finish time would have been worse since the heat would have beaten me down. On top of the heat, you had the bonus of being near your car, with it calling out to you with comfy seats, AC, and easy access to all kinds of fast food wonders.

But this is a great race if you are trying to stretch out to a new distance or set a PR. Veejar the RD is a great motivator, and PCTR Nhoj provides the timing and lots of encouragement as well. The aid station is well stocked - what you need to bring are a good strategy for dealing with the heat and some mental toughness to deal with the loopiness. I rarely listen to anything during races, but the podcasts and music were a great distraction when things started to get tough.

With a two mile loop, I expected to see friends on the course frequently. As it turned out, that didn't actually happen for two reasons:

  • If you are going at anything close to the same speed, you will rarely catch each other. There were a number of people that I almost never saw, but yet we were on the same loop for hours.
  • At night, it is REALLY hard to recognize the other runners. They put on jackets, maybe have bright headlamps on, and are busy trying to not step on frogs.

And that's about it. This was really hard for me, especially the blisters (it wasn't until five days after the race that my feet felt good enough to do any mileage) and the sleep thing. I want to develop my night skills, so I'll work on caffeine strategies.

A HUGE thanks to everyone involved in this race for making it so successful for me! The awesome volunteers were out there forever making sure we had everything we needed.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.