June 07, 2012

NFEC 50 Mile Recap

Before the start with
my coffee
I'm going to start with the week's forecast leading up to the Saturday race. It rained on Tuesday, then was sunny for a bit, and then the forecast called for rain on Friday. I went to work with a little bit of a drizzle that quickly gave way to seemingly nice weather. It fooled me into thinking maybe there wouldn't be any rain as predicted. As I started my drive home from work, the sky opened up and dumped an ungodly amount of rain. It took a small break when I got home, then proceeded to downpour the rest of the night. Tornado warnings kept flashing on the tv and I grew increasingly anxious about the trail conditions. I've been out on the PHT enough times to know what it looks like after a decent rain. Muddy. And this was about twenty times more rain than I had seen before any of my training runs out there.

To say I was concerned is an understatement. I had a very bad feeling about things, but went about my preparations for an early bed time and an early rise to get going for the race.

At least I had a fantastic meal of baked chicken parmesan, whole wheat spaghetti with baby spinach, delicious asparagus, and garlic bread.

I woke up at 3:30am and got dressed and head to the race parking lot. I had my pb&j, a little piece of bagel, and coffee, a momentary freak out, and then before I could panic anymore the race was under way. At least I got close to Dean K on the way through the arch for the start!

Waiting for the Start

And we're off!
Not even a tenth of a mile into the run, everyone could tell the muddy day we were in for. The course takes you out a tiny bit on a 'trail' then you duck back to the open field where you see the spectators again about a mile in and then head down the paved road for a bit til you duck onto the gravel road at Algonkian where the baseball diamonds are...it eventually leads you to the PHT and the first aid station.

I stuck with my coworker for a little while during this portion until we approached the PHT. I almost slipped on a bridge that we crossed because my shoes were already wet and getting muddy. Not a good start to things, slipping only two miles into a fifty mile race...

The trail crosses for a little loop that I haven't run before with another slippery bridge and a double back to bring runners back to the aid station. By this point I was pretty much bringing up the rear of the pack, already having popped my tylenol for some minor pains I was starting to feel in my knee and hip. I stopped at the aid station for some pretzels and kept on my way to more familiar territory. I felt a sense of comfort in hitting the trails that I recognized.

The feeling didn't last long.

I thought Bear Mountain was the toughest race I would encounter for a while, but this proved to be a completely different type of challenge. While Bear Mountain burned my hams and calves and made me question the meaning of life, DC made me feel like I ran ten miles when I had only covered five. Muscles I didn't know I had were aching from the balancing act that was required the first quarter of the course.

Fifty miles is hard enough on a nice clean, flat trail. Factoring in heaps of mud that keeps trying to suck the shoes off your feet, makes you slip repeatedly, cakes onto your shoes so you have virtually no grip at all...well that's just not good at all. No good for your muscles, no good for your pace, and no good for your attitude and confidence level. I challenge you to find one person (who wasn't in the top 15 finishers) who didn't have a flicker of doubt of finishing in their mind at some point on Saturday. 

Yes, this is the trail...
I've run almost all of the course route before and have never seen this section so overrun with grass. I literally couldn't see where I was stepping, which creates a bucketload of problems when I knew this section has tons of roots and rocks along the bottom. I snagged my foot on a branch and tumbled forward a bit but luckily caught myself, though I think this is when things truly started to head south.

I made it to the next aid station feeling a bit defeated. The volunteers were so great and tried to pep me up by telling me not to worry myself with the first hard cutoff time, keep at it, that I was doing great, slapped a freshly made pb&j into my hand, filled my water and off I went after spending too much time standing around. I did pep up just a bit and started to run a little more than I had been...trying to get into a groove I wasn't able to find for the first eight miles. I had 6.7 miles until the next aid station and a lot of work to do. Eventually I came to what seemed to be a stream crossing with no way across but to wade across the waist-high- water. Not exactly what I wanted, and although it helped to wash the mud off my shoes, it also water logged them and brought on more weight and more possibilities for blisters.

Not very far from there I finally saw three people in front of me. That breathed new energy into me and I started to pick up the pace in pursuit of some company to run with. We griped together about how awful and muddy the morning was, and eventually we came to a small jump in the trail over a little stream of water. The two runners got there first and both immediately fell and slid into the water. The guy offered to help me across and I stupidly decided to go to the side where there was a tree that I thought would offer me support to get across. I ended up falling too, mildly hurting my wrist, definitely hurting my leg/ankle, and certainly hurting what little was left of my confidence and desire to continue. I let out some cuss words and shared sentiments with the other two runners. We managed to carry on and played rabbit for a while until I peeled off in front, not to see them again for miles.

I finally got close to Riverbend and passed a few injured and limping 50 milers...right about the time that the 50k leads were starting to come up from behind. They offered encouragement as I pulled to the side to let them pass, and I continued to make my way to Great Falls. I was just ready to get there, change my shoes, and see my boyfriend and best friends for a boost.

I started to feel like a runner again right before heading past the visitor center at Great Falls. I was finally surrounded by other runners and could feel their energy and excitment as they came in to the next aid station, ready to start their loop. I saw my friends and immediately felt overcome with emotion and sadness. I changed my socks and shoes, treated them poorly because of displaced anger, and had a chat with the aid station volunteer about the cutoff time. He told me if I really pushed the pace, I would make the cutoff and be allowed to continue into Great Falls for a second loop. I didn't WANT to continue...but I'm too stubborn to quit and I took off chasing a faster pace to continue the race.  That didn't last long. Soon I hit a long slow uphill and started walking and eating some crackers. I turned from the Old Carriage trail onto the Ridge Trail for more of an uphill, a bit of a downhill, a turnaround, and back across to the other side of  the Rdige Trail to a very oddly placed aid station. The route dead ends there and runners turn around and head down to the River Trail, but it was a bit of chaos at the station and I tried to get in and out quickly. My leg and ankle on my right leg were starting to seize up from all that uphill work and I had to start walking the River Trail, which bottlenecked with runners forced to walk the rocky sections, and bound around tourists who didn't understand that a race was happening. This is around the time I realized I wouldn't make the cutoff, and that it would be better if I didn't make it anyhow. Everything was hurting, and I know myself well enough that if I had made the cutoff, even if by mere seconds, I would have gone into GF for a second, and third loop...eventually dragging my leg behind me in the mud to get to the finish line, doing much more damage in the process.

When I came into the aid station, the volunteer told me I missed the time and I walked off to where my boyfriend and friends were waiting with their signs and beaming smiles of encouragement. I wanted to just curl into a ball on the ground and sob until the disappointment disappeared, but I tried to put on a brave face for the ride home.

I ended up crying in the car anyway, and had spurts of crying for the next day. After a tearful goodbye to my friend who drove all the way from Norfolk to not run with me, Helen, Jake, Ryan, and I shoved our faces and drank our little hearts out to try to cheer me up. Cotton Candy Vodka and Sprite is delicious, in case you were wondering.

I'm still finding it hard to deal with Saturday. I know I probably sound insane to people who haven't been through this sort of thing...like why is it so hard for this girl to cope with the fact that she didn't finish an insane distance race...and I'm okay with people not understanding. I'm nursing my wounds, letting my legs and pride heal, then I'll be back at the grind, adding muscle and strength to my body before starting the long road back to the start line and finish line (hopefully) for Bear Chase 50 Mile on Sept 30.

I will bounce back.

*TNF group puts on an incredible race. It's not their fault I had a poo time. The volunteers were so sweet and encouraging, the course was very well marked, the aid stations were well stocked with goodies. My only small gripe would be about the location of the Great Falls aid stations. Otherwise, I would most certainly do this race again, and I encourage first time ultra runners to try it out.*

No comments:

Post a Comment


You guys won't believe it but damnit....I got sick again. This time it took three rounds of antibiotics to kill my ear infections/super ...