Monday, October 24, 2011

Javelina 12 hour night run

Where do I start? I won't try to start by explaining why I signed up for the race in the first place. I still haven't figured out what makes me keep going back to the marathon, much less wanting to run more. I think it has a lot to do with testing my limits, and maybe trying to confuse people that insist on putting me in "a box". Whatever the reason, I ended up at McDowell Mountain Regional Park near Fountain Hills on the evening of October 15th, waiting to start what I was hoping would be a 75k (46.2 mile) race for me. It was a 12 hour night run, in which runners get to choose 1, 2, 3 or 4 loops (each loop being 15.4 miles), as long as they can finish the distance in less than 12 hours. I knew that I could finish 3 laps (as long as I stayed awake and moving forward). I also knew that I couldn't finish 4, so that was nice not to have the pressure to try.
I have to talk about my support crew a little here... Originally, I had asked Steve to give us a ride to and pick us up from the race, because I didn't think Brian and I would be in driving condition. In the two weeks leading up to the race, that turned into Barb & Dale picking us up from the shuttle at the airport, after they had setup the tent trailer at the park in their reserved camping spot. It seems that they spent their whole Saturday getting things all setup so that Steve, Denise and Ryder could camp out while we finished up our laps. Not that anyone got that much sleep, especially Steve. I thank them all. They are truly the best support team anyone can ask for. Here's a pic of everyone (except Barb, who's taking the picture) before the race started.
So... the race. First, the high temp that day ended up around 96F?!? This is the middle of October! That wasn't supposed to be an issue. But it was. It especially was on the first lap. Whenever I'm running in higher temperatures, my stomach likes to tell me that I shouldn't be. But here it was, 6pm and it was time to hit it. The sun was still up, but Brian and I set out with our headlamps on, as the sun would set within the first couple of miles. Moon rise was not until 8:05pm, so I knew the first lap was going to be dark.
I ran too fast for the first 2 miles (always), and then settled into an awful rhythm of running until my stomach cramped and then walking until it felt bearable to start running again. I was really disappointed that my stomach was acting up, because my legs and lungs felt awesome. The sun set, my headlamp came on, and I had my first preview of how hard it was going to be running in the dark on uneven terrain. (Have I mentioned that I did zero training on trails? That's how I like to roll.) There were lots of runners strung out along this first lap, and it was really cool to look behind me and see the string of headlamps. Ahead of me, I could occasionally see a headlamp and knew that they were looking back at the same view. That helped a lot to prevent me from getting lost on that first lap. After the aid station (mile 9?), I started to have longer stretches of no stomach trouble, the slope turned mostly downhill and it was mostly sandy there in contrast to the sharp rocks of the first half. I picked up some time here, but a glance at my watch told me that I should start looking for Brian coming the other way. (Each lap this race has you change directions on the loop, so Brian and I would cross at least two times in the night, depending on how many loops he decided to do.) So imagine my surprise when I see in the lead - Brian! I was totally unprepared for him to be leading (silly me), and so I recognized him and yelled out his name after we had already passed. So much for that encounter. I had a little bit of a sprint I'm sure, since I was so psyched to see him running so strong. A few more walk breaks with stomach cramps and I come into the start/finish line to see Denise, Ryder and Steve cheering loudly for me. I got hugs from everyone, Ryder told me that this was "nutty", and I ran for the bathrooms. In the meantime, my awesome support crew switched my race number to a clean shirt and filled my water bottles with ice water. After listening to me complain about my stomach, Denise and Steve decide that I should drink ginger ale. This did not sound good to me, but I gave in to their (probably more sound) thinking. I'm glad I did. It seemed to start working on my stomach right away, and I was ready to start my second lap. Unfortunately, 2 bathroom visits and sitting with ginger ale added up to a 17 minute rest between laps, and I didn't have that much time to spare. I headed out after saying goodnight to Ryder and Denise and hearing that Brian was first on the first 25k and that Steve would be there when I finished my 2nd lap.
My second lap was looking more promising with the ginger ale working on my belly, and I was starting to think that I could finish 2 laps. (Did I mention that I was revising my goals and forcing myself to be happy with 2 laps?) It was a LOT quieter out there on the 2nd lap. 134 people started the race, 59 people continued for a 2nd lap. There was a lot more talking between runners on this lap, and I started passing a lot of people that had planned to run 3 laps, but were going to be lucky to finish 2. Maybe adversity is my motivator, because all of this talk from others about not meeting their goals made me start thinking that no matter how slow it was, I was going to get 3 laps done that night. I hit the aid station feeling pretty good, and even decided that I could eat something then. I ate one of my bean burrito chunks and two chunks of cantaloupe that was provided by the aid station. I started feeling even better after that and resolved to run as much of the sharp, rocky downhill as I could on the 2nd half of the 2nd loop. Just a mile past the aid station, who do I encounter but Brian! This time when I saw the first runner, I just assumed that of course it would be my super-human husband and shone my headlamp on my clothes, thinking he would recognize them if it was him. Sure nuf. It was him. Sounding more tired than I've ever heard him and carrying an empty water bottle. This was a little weird, because he didn't start the race with any water bottles. Apparently, the dryness had gotten even to him, because someone had taken pity on him and lent him a bottle. He asked me how close to the aid station he was (he ran without even a watch), and I mis-informed him that it was a "couple of miles". There was some confusion on counting laps, and I asked him if he was going to do 3 laps (he was past the middle point of his 3rd lap). Anyway, I gave him a peck on the cheek, told him to keep it up, but that he didn't have to win it, and went on my way. It occurred to me after we parted that I could have given him some of my water, but it was too late for that. I couldn't catch him if I tried. I guess it worked out because I finished my 2nd lap parched, having run out of water miles back.
My plan to run most of the downhill worked pretty well. I switched on my tempo music to keep my feet moving fast enough that I wouldn't fall if one foot went out from under me and started making good progress. I started up a conversation with a regular ultra-runner from San Francisco (I never got his name). He was super-impressed by my ability to run downhill without falling on such uneven terrain; but his racing schedule was even more impressive. He was doing this race as a practice run for the 100-mile Javelina race next month. And, he does a race that long about 4 times per year. He was taking an "easy night".
I run into the finish line of my 2nd lap and Steve is standing and cheering and Brian is sitting there looking like he is half sleepy and the other half in pain. Steve asks what he can do and I hand him my bone-dry water bottle to fill. I also ask him to fill my 2nd bottle which I hadn't carried on the previous laps, but I know my last lap will be the slowest and will need the water. Brian is mumbling something about how he should go out with me because "you're going to walk most of it, right?" He has only been done about 20 minutes, so I can tell that the unbearable cold that hits your body after exerting yourself for so long is about to hit him. So I tell him to change all his clothes, I find my jacket in my bag and throw it at him and direct Steve to find the Tylenol in my bag, because Brian should take some. I did all this in less than a 5-minute time period. I needed to get out there because if Brian is going to WIN 3 laps, then I needed to at least COMPLETE 3 laps.
So out I go.
(About Brian's race: He won the 75k with a time of 6:48:20 - truly an amazing performance for his first ultra-marathon.)
There is almost no one out there now (only 28 people start a third lap, and most of them are faster than me, and so started it much earlier). This means that I have no one to follow this time, and I remember from the first loop, the trail was harder for me to follow this way. I learned that Brian's headlamp batteries died, so I start worrying about this possibility. I turn my headlamp off when I'm walking and turn it on only when I'm trying to run.
At this point, I'm getting a little too sleepy to do math properly, but I spend a significant amount of the first 4 miles trying to work out the slowest pace that I could average and still make the 12-hour cutoff (I'm not sure that I ever completely worked that problem out). But it doesn't matter because my GPS watch battery dies. So I have no idea now how many miles I have left. Panic ensues (that I won't finish before 12 hours), so I start to run parts of the trail that I shouldn't. Lots of kicking of 10 pound rocks happens. Good times. No, wait! It gets better! Since I'm trying to run too much now, I have my narrow-beam headlamp on (to see the largest rocks to kick?) It turns out if you take a very bright narrow-beam headlamp and shine it on the reflective light sand/dirt between two trees, it will look like a trail. Between all the trees. BUT THEY'RE NOT ALL TRAILS! So when I find the trail narrowing to impossibly small and having to duck under much lower-hanging branches than I remember, I realize that I have made a bad decision and am no longer on the trail. I stop, turn my headlamp off and look around. I can see that I am in a wash, and I am pretty sure that I was supposed to climb the hill that has been rising to my right-hand-side. I contemplate trying to climb to intersect the trail, but then think about the likely result of a broken leg when I careen back down the hill, gathering a coat of cholla cactus on the way down. No good. So I turn around and carefully retrace my steps with my headlamp off. I luck out and spot one of the glowing blue LEDs that are supposed to be marking the course and find my way back to the trail. Sure enough, it veers to the right and starts climbing the hill. I give up on not tripping on the rocks and resolve to run the rest of the way without my headlamp. By the light of the moon, I can clearly make out which is trail and which is just a gap between trees.
Soon after I arrive at the aid station. (Hooray!) I know that I have about 6 miles left. For the last 3 miles, I've been thinking about how I saw a Coke bottle the last time I was at the aid station.
I mean it.
For 3 miles, I have been fantasizing about a Dixie cup full of lukewarm Coke. Luckily they have it. I ask them what time it is, sure that I'm going to hear that I have to run 9-minute miles to make it before the cutoff. The nice lady tells me the time, and the other two girls that are at the aid station tell me that I can walk the rest of the way and still make it. This peps me right up, so after a minute of drinking TWO Dixie cups of Coke, I head out running on the last 6 miles. I do a little more running and even more walking (but trying to walk as fast as I could), and I think I can see the glow of the lights at the finish line. I ask two guys that I pass if they know how far it is and they say 3.5 miles. Harumph. I was sure it was only a half mile. I keep moving and pretty soon, I hear Brian cheering for the guy in front of me. He had walked back a mile to meet up with me. I lecture him on why he is walking, because he should be resting (I will learn later that sitting around just makes it much worse to move later). Tired and hungry, I think my body starts to turn off (maybe it thinks that Brian is the finish line?) But Brian convinces me to run the last bit to the finish line and I hear him cheering for me the loudest of all. I finish with time to spare (11 hours, 22 minutes and 15 seconds)!
I won't bore you with the recovery details (yes, I was sore). But the soreness lasted only a few days. The memories... They'll be there when I'm 90. What an awesome experience!