Wednesday, August 28, 2013

That Night I Dreamt of Rocks

"Philistines may think that we were madmen indeed to go through such suffering and danger to arrive at this lonely spot. What did you hope to find up there, they may ask. Glory? Nobody cares about young fools who waste their best years in meaningless combats far from the eyes of the world. Fortune? Our clothes were in rags, and the next day we would go back down to a life of slaving for the barest essentials. What we sought was the unbounded and essential joy that boils in the heart and penetrates every fibre of our being when, after long hours skirting the borders of death, we can hug life to us with all our strength." - Lionel Terray

I hit my time to taper down. Felt odd in that I was not really doing heavy mileage to begin with, but I knew that it was better to be under-trained than over. At least this is what I told myself each night as I tried to fall asleep.

I was under-trained. That was understood.

But would I be able to use the accumulation of miles over the last year and a half to get my ass through three rough ten+ mile loops. The race was put on by Rick at NJ Trail Series. I had run a few of their races before and found them to be well managed, well stocked, and tough.

Could I do it? One loop. Absolutely. I even imagined I could get through it quickly if necessary. Two, sure. Three… unknown.

That is the fun with doing a first ultra. One does not know how the day will go until one is deeply embedded in the situation. That is when you begin to understand what is possible.

So in my downtime where I wasn't running as much, I had to do something race related. I prepped. I pulled materials together and planned the nutrition strategy. I went through the hydration. Clothing needs, socks, shoes, contingencies. Over and over I laid it out and convinced myself that it was happening.

Night before the race I put it all out in the guest bedroom. I knew I’d be up at 4am packing it up and getting ready for the car trip to the start line. I could have done it in the dark by that point.

Like always, I got there early. The sun had not crested the hills yet as the first batch of runners left the start/finish line area. This group consisted of the few running the 100k (six loops) and a larger group taking on the 50 miler (five loops). There was an hour for nervous pacing and prepping before we 50k (three loops) runners lined up.

I had heard Rick’s start-line prep talk before. As he has mentioned on other courses, you aren't running by GPS distance, you are running his course. Don’t complain if is it is longer/shorter, rocky or rooty.

Loop one felt okay. It was hard but well within my wheelhouse. After the yelled "go!" we were off along a grassy stretch next to the road before we turned and headed up a rocky ATV road that headed into the Wildcat Ridge Management Area. After a brief climb we were onto some undulating single track that wound through the woods through weird Appalachian-style garbage dumps. Sadly, it reminded me of dump areas you would find in some backwoods areas of Vermont where I grew up. Eventually the trail climbed up and up as it made its way to the open ridge line. Few seemed to take in the overlook on the first pass, we were still bunched so it was hard to stop and smell the flowers. I did stop and pause on loop three on the cliff's edge for thirty seconds before heading off for the finish.

After the first top out along the ridge we wound down a rocky dirt road to the first water station (mile four & nine). From here we headed out into the real nonsense. Up and down and up and down through rocks that ranged from small and unstable to large and unstable. There didn't seem to be a piece of flat footing for four miles. I believe I thought this was interesting on the first lap. It got progressively more miserable on the second and third pass. Eventually the "Nam" business calmed down and we hit more rutty dirt road. We then moved onto a bizarre paved, steep downhill spell through a quite suburban neighborhood until we were eventually back at the start line.

Still feeling good at this point

I hit the full aid station in good shape. Reloaded my bottles, grabbed more gels and quickly took off for the next pass.

Loop two started strong. What I found, though, was that as I came upon each hill, each rocky descent, I had to suffer through the thought that I would have to do this one more time on much more tired legs.

It was a few miles into the second ten that something got out of whack. The sun came up higher in the sky and the temp began to climb. I found myself needing to drink more. I guess I let my salt levels go south because at around mile seventeen the cramping began.

Pain begins as a manageable force. It grows along the way. Eventually it becomes all encompassing but still something that you can push out and move through. I knew that it was either going to get much worse or I was going to find a way to let it dissipate.

The pain became comprehensive. I couldn't ignore it anymore as the fire worked from deep inside my hips down to the tips of my toes. My mind burned with it and I found myself emotional and foggy. You begin to question that damage that is being inflicted with each step, to the point where I found that I could barely take the steps. My legs were seizing up. I was at a very uncomfortable trot, a shuffle. I was deep into the death march.

I ran (walked) miles nineteen to the aid station contemplating calling it a day. I would be at my car. I could rehydrate, get things back in balance, sit and end the pain.

At the aid station I stood in front of the food not sure what to do next. Someone asked me if I was okay. I said no, not at all. Explained the problem. She forced some salt tablets down my throat. Put some fantastic salty chips in my hand. Told me to regroup until I was ready then get my ass back out there.

I sat next to my car for a few minutes going through a quit in my head. It just wasn't going to work. I couldn't comprehend it. I sent a quick text to my wife telling her that I was in a bad way but was going to walk the damn thing if I had to. I took off before I could get a response.

For loop three, I had the pleasure of knowing that everything I was doing would be the last time. It didn't mean that things were easier though. As my body balanced itself out, I found that I could trot some sections, hiking the steep stuff. I eventually came upon a fifty miler (I believe her name was Lara). When I told her that I was in a world of hurt, she laughed it off and told me that I looked great. That little bit of reassurance was what I need to keep the pace up to get me across the line. She and I ran off and on together for the last few miles. I mentally attached myself to her and felt like she was dragging me in.

10,000+ feet of elevation change. I got there in 7:47:11. A few minutes under my target.

I immediately started to feel better the moment I crossed the line on the pavement. I did not have to run anymore that day, and now I knew that I could do just about anything I put my mind to. I just wouldn't be doing much for the new few weeks.

Some of the gear that got me through:

Shirt - Proudly wore my Altra Ambassador shirt. After the race I had a few conversations about the shoes. I believe it came from me wearing the shirt because it definitely wasn't because of my stellar results (or form).
Shoes - Altra Lone Peak 1.5. Best mountain shoe on the market in my opinion. I thought my feet would be wrecked, but they didn't have a mark on them.
Socks - Injinji Run 2.0 Original Weight. Coupled with the roomy Altra's, these toe socks have saved me from blisters, damaged nails, and otherwise bloody feet.
Bottle - Ultimate Direction Fast Draw Plus. Packed it with Gu's and flattened pieces of sandwich.
Waste Pack - Some small Nathan pack I picked up that fit about five more Gu's.
Nutrition - About 15 Gu's, a few pieces of PB&J, some chips, and a few bottles of Fluid Performance drink.
Hydration - The Fluid and either too much or not enough water. Very rarely did I get the balance right.