• I didn’t die! •
When I saw my work schedule gave me the day off, I figured I could survive in the woods for 31 miles and not die, even on limited training. So I signed up. The SOB 50k averages about 6500’ elevation • has about 5000’ of climbing / descending • is mostly single-track • and is run in late-July. None of these things is my strong suit and all of them together with a lack of training could have added up to a complete cluster f*.
Mid-March I was hitting long runs of 14-15, then crazy work / life schedule kicked in. I didn’t hit another run over 12 miles until June 16. I did manage bike rides of 2-5 hours once a week during that time and many other shorter runs, but nothing that was going to fill me with confidence. Oh and I was running most of this time on flatter roads rather than trails or climbing trails for that matter.
June 22 to July 13 I got long runs in of 16, 17, 24 and 14 with climbing and some single track. The 14 was an out and back on the first 7 miles of the racecourse. This would be one of two runs I did on the course (at altitude). The altitude made me feel like I was running on two flat tires.
On one of my runs I was out at first light before a baby deer had woken up:
Forecast high wavered between 85 and 105 the two weeks leading into the race. In any scenario there would be suffering. Wind kicked up with 12 hours to spare and we got some reprieve from the worst heat, but lightning sparked many fires the night before the race. Driving to the start it tasted like burning. Temp on race morning at my house was 62 (it would be 48 the next morning, damn). I’d say high temp on the course for the race was in the mid to upper 80’s.
Not really a walk in the park.
A single drop bag would be left at the two low-points you see (mile ~9 and ~22). I froze three water-filled handhelds rock solid. Two went into the drop bag along with two small frozen containers of chicken broth, two mini-cokes (8oz), a set of pop tarts, some beef jerky and extra sunscreen. With me I carried one hand-held of water, three vanilla powergels, two sets of cliff blox and an iPod nano for after the first ten miles.
I had asked over email to have an early start but got the nice version of ‘no’. Met a few friends at the start. Field was 300, but I think there were some no-shows. The race director told people they could step-down to the 15k if they wanted (I declined this – go out in a blaze of glory!)
The first ¾ of a mile makes you feel like a God of Running, so I was careful to slip to the back of the pack. After the ¾ of a mile we hit the single track. I was at the back of the peloton with maybe eight people behind me 100 meters back. Perfect. I hate getting run down from behind on single track.
For the next four miles the course climbs progressively steeper up. As this happens about a dozen over-zealous folks drop behind me. Once at mile 4 the trail drops down for three miles of quad burning decent. I’m still far enough back that I’m not in many peoples way.
I was hoping to hit the mid-point of the race quickly so I could manage the second half before the heat of the day got out of control. I hit mile seven at 1:22. We hit the drop bag area at mile nine. I trade my hand-held for a chilly hand-held. I slurp down about four ounces of coke, start up my iPod and back onto the course.
Mile nine to fifteen ladders up jeep road and single-track while rather exposed to the sun. You can see the saddle we are headed toward for miles. You can also see folks who are doubling back on the jeep road (fast bastards). Volunteers at the aide stations are super nice. They have your bottle out of your hand quickly and are asking what you want in it before you know what’s happening. I ask for a salt capsule and they try to hand me three. I take one. I don’t use these in training and haven’t ever felt the need for one in a race, but something is telling me one is a good idea at the mid-point. Porta-loo break (yay, my kidneys work!) and back on course.
Mile 15.5 at 3:22, about 10 minutes slower than I thought I might manage. From 15.5 to 17.5 the course drops down steadily but not too steeply. I take this opportunity to eat half a pop tart and chug down most of a water bottle. At 17.5 before going back onto the single track we hit an aide station where they are OUT OF WATER. I have four ounces left. Next aide is in 3.5 miles.
18-19 is a bitch of a hill that we all have to walk. It’s surreal red clay that I’ve never seen in this area. After we top out at 19, the trail turns rocky and along the edge of a ridge for three miles. This is an unexpected nail biting decent. Half way down my hips and knees are aching and people are passing. Oh and the first 50 mile racers start flying by at warp speed. I’m starting to get cranky from my inability to make gravity my friend and the lack of water. This would be my low-point for the race. At ~21 a truck appears with just water. I fill up my bottle ½ way since we must be close to the drop bags at 22. A mile later we hit the drop bag area. I grumble a bit about my under-hydration as I tear into my bag – then I let it go. Shit happens.
The next thing I do will either be the smartest or dumbest thing I have ever done during a race. In my drop bag are the two semi-frozen containers of chicken broth. I peel back the tab on one and drink about half (4 ounces); I think I hear an aide station volunteer gasp. I could have as easily asked for another salt capsule I guess, but hey this comes in fluid form. I set the rest of the container aside on the table (for anyone else to use later) and chase the chicken broth with about 6 ounces of coke cola. Yeah, I did. I have either done something wicked smart or very stupid inside my stomach. My experience is that my guts are really really good during a race (Ironstomach) and get a bit green right after I finish. Last semi-frozen hand-held in hand and I squirt onto the trail. Time ~4:50.
If I can make it to ~23.5 by 5:00 race-time I have a chance of going sub-7 for the day. Get there right at 5:10:00 on my Garmin. Now before me is the 2.8 mile / 1200’ climb up to the marathon point aide station. Fortunately it is shady. I put on my best Jason power-walk and run the few sections that I can hope to finish this section in less than an hour. My race has started. I quickly pass three people who are strolling along. The chicken-coke mixture seems to be working magic on my insides.
About a mile in I see a friend of a friend who had passed me at mile nine. She was walking very slowly up the hill. I ask if she’s okay and it’s clear she has been watering the trail with her face. We are two miles from aide in either direction. She’s talking okay, but her eyes are a bit glazed over. I give her a gas-x tablet and tell her I’ll let the aide station know. I tell her to, “manage the situation, keep moving and stay out of the sun when possible”.
I power on.
At the top of the climb I hit the final aide-station, which is manned by volunteers dressed as pirates. They refill my bottle with ice water as I check my Garmin. 6:09 a new personal worst marathon time. Woohoo! I mention that there is a lady on the trail in need of assistance. Luckily, friend-of-friends husband is there and asks after his wife. I suggest he go down the trail after her (he had long since finished top 10 in the 50k) and off he went.
I ask for additional ice for my bra. The heat of the day is biting hard right now. Without blinking the volunteer hits me with ice and wrings freezing cold water over my head and chest. I almost have a heart attack and want to marry this volunteer at the same time. Invigorated, I return to the race for the last full measure.
Four point six miles left of mostly mild downhill single-track. Likelihood of making sub 50 minutes on this section is dim. With classic rock tunes screaming into my ears I plow on. There is a fallen tree making an archway over the trail with one mile to the finish. I don’t check my watch until there. At that point I have exactly ten minutes to make sub-7. That ain’t gonna happen. There is a ½ mile climb once you come off of the single-track, which takes you to the parking / finish area. As I hit the parking area I see friend of friend safe and happy at her car. Besides two fast 50-mile finishers, I haven’t seen a living soul ahead or behind me for about an hour. I am the end of the middle of the pack / beginning of the back of the pack. With that I cross the line in 7:02. Job done.
Glad that is over. Wish I’d had a better chance to train. Not sure I’d race this course again as it’s relatively difficult. I’m looking forward to reaping the cardiovascular benefits of having done this race over the rest of the summer and fall.