My first freakin’ 100 mile run FINISH!!!
|November 9, 2016||Posted by Melinda under Event Report, Ultra Running|
I was going to name this something reasonable like “Rio Del Lago 100 mile run report”. But screw that. You only have so many firsts right????
I didn’t run with a camera so please go over to FastCory’s blog here and look at some of the amazing scenery. This is just a FRACTION of the beauty. What about the American River as I was running down the Pioneer Express Trail? Or as I climbed a hill in the utter darkness of the wilderness and got just high enough to see the lights of the city shining way across the valley? Or the incredible beauty of the second sunrise over Folsom lake as we picked our way through the mountain goat section for a second time (yes pacer Jo, I was listening and did look when you pointed out the scenery and how I should be appreciating it.)
Today I’m going to tell the story of the race. Then, I’ll do my typical “what went well and what didn’t” post, limiting myself to a reasonable amount of topics. The post after that will be up to you – what questions do you have for me about running 100 miles or the experience in general? Maybe you want me to elaborate on something that I mentioned, or you have a question about something I didn’t cover at all. Nothing is off limits :).
Friday night I felt like was going to jump off a cliff and free fall into space. I’ve never felt such a mix of fear and excitement as I did prior to this race. I have never set the bar so high for myself that I couldn’t say with confidence that I was going to make it.
Did this race scare me? Absolutely.
The biggest question in my mind starting the race wasn’t how long it was going to take me – it was a given that this would be an over 24 hour adventure – rather I was more curious of just how much it was going to hurt and how long I was going to be able to manage the pain.
FWIW, because I wrote that statement as I lay in my hotel bed the night before the race, I can assure you this isn’t some romantic statement my post-100 mile brain is imposing on my past self. This actually *was* my biggest question. Pain is a funny psychological thing. Pain is so concrete and real when it is occurring and yet is largely something made up by your brain to make you do what you what it thinks you ought to do. I was prepared to scrape to the very bottom of who I am to make this race happen for me. How was that going to alter my perception of pain?
There’s only one way to find out.
Jump off that cliff.
The first 19 miles were paved bike trail. I think a lot of people were expected to make time on this section – as did I – but with my background of road marathons I had no illusions the toll 19 miles of relatively flat pavement was going to take on my body. I took it very very very conservative. Able to talk in whole sentences complete with proper punctuation and 3 min/1 min run/walk intervals where there were no inclines to break it up to make DAMN sure I didn’t do something stupid. I got off the pavement onto the shoulder as much as I could, and was very careful not to get lost.
(All pictures courtesy of awesome crew Aurora)
Even so I got to the first aid station (6.5 miles) faster than plan, which was rapidly mitigated with an emergency pit stop at the vault toilets available. THANK GOD. While I questioned my decision-making skills at not grabbing some extra toilet paper as I set off down the trail again, that was the last of my problems in that area and I left the first aid station right on time.
I was given a piece of advice by Jack M. prior to the race:
Go as slow as possible and save everything for the back end!! Eat, eat, eat, keep going slowly, drink, drink, drink and slow the F down!! Ask yourself as often as possible if you can maintain your current pace all the way to the finish! If you can’t answer yes, SLOW DOWN!! Remember that it’s best to go slow in the beginning before you’re forced to go slow in the end!!
Be ready for the back end and embrace it for what it is! There really isn’t any way to experience running for over 20 hours than to do it! Remember how fortunate you are to be able to do this and what a gift and honor it is!!! Along with that, go nice and slow during the day so you’ll have a gear at night!! At night, temps will be more suitable to running! Be ready to increase your intensity (even if speed will be slower) and take advantage of cooler temps! Last year at RdL, I saw a trend of runners putting on way too many layers, bracing for cold temps instead of pushing! I also saw a corresponding slow down of pretty much everyone with a jacket… Even if you pace well, you’ll notice that things will get a lot more difficult on the back end and 80% effort won’t yield the same speed as it did at mile 20! This is part of the fun!! Fatigue is inevitable! Be ready for it and embrace it! Don’t freak out about losing time and learn how to deal with your new friend! You’ll be surprised at what you learn about yourself on the back end!! Magda Boulet gave me a great quote recently: “Sports don’t build character, they reveal it!”!! Remember that the back end is an incredible opportunity (that most folks in the world will never understand or appreciate!) to really see who we are!! I’ve seen a lot of amazing things on the back end and even some stuff I wasn’t proud of (great growth opportunities)!
This is what played over and over in my mind for the first 30 miles. I took it seriously and I executed it, especially because I felt like I had significantly under-trained for this event. Over and over I slowed down. I knew if I got to the Overlook (mile 44.5) where I picked up my first pacer he could get me through the loop back to the Overlook, and once that happened I WOULD be able to get to the finish. My job right now was to get to the Overlook in the best shape possible.
I’m going to talk more about my crew chief (Aurora!) and pacers when I talk about what went well and what didn’t so I’m not going to spend a lot of time singing their praises here. Suffice to say at this point that everything was going perfectly. I was dashing in and out of aid stations like the cut offs were minutes, not hours away – and yet I had everything I needed every time and left feeling refreshed and ready for the next station. I was still way ahead of my expected pace when I saw her for the first time at mile 19, but she was there and ready for me.
Around mile 30 I was helped along on my “go slower” plan by 2 things.
- The IT band on the outside of the left hip was slightly unhappy.
- I bonked.
Pain on the outside of my hip is NOT normal for me and I KNEW it was a result of a bonk and my body working its way through the idea of doing some very long miles. Didn’t make the pain any less in the moment, but I knew that if I just kept going forward there was more of a chance that it would go away than it would get worse. And if it didn’t? Well, I knew *something* was going to hurt during this 100 so it was time to get real. I found a way to do a shuffle forward without aggravating it and kept going.
I kept looking at my watch. The dreaded 1-3pm bonk had started – less than in the past but it kept going and going….and going. 4:00 came and it was still there I just couldn’t shake it. This was the most tired I was for the entire race. Then I had to climb a giant asphalt hill to the overlook. I was not in a good mood, knew it was a bonk, and yet still optimistic that because I was had continued to take it easy all the entire first half, something magical would happen after the sun went down.
At the Overlook I picked up my first pacer, Martin, and off we went. Besides the fact he was pacing through the longest and most difficult section of the course, and I had never met him prior to race day there are a few more things you should know.
- He is a complete bad ass. He also “ran” the whole time in sandals.
- He is an uber-experienced 100 mile runner and pacer.
- He taught me how to pull myself out of a bonk, work myself through a bonk, and how to eat through the night when I don’t want to eat.
- He then explained this well enough to my next 2 pacers (first pacing and ultra experience for both of them) that they executed like pros the rest of the race.
- If Jack Meyers gave me the recipe for how to pace the first half of a 100 mile run, Martin gifted me with 2nd half of the instructions.
- I want to be like Martin when I grow up.
Going out of the Overlook, like magic I un-bonked, my hip pain deserted me, and I ran, chatted, and laughed with Martin as the hours flew by. Soon I was running numbers I had never seen before – miles in the 60s, 70s. Hours in the 15’s, 18’s. If the key to the first half was slow the F down, miles 50-70 were to run as fast as possible with a low heart rate. Sometimes that meant I was hiking, sometimes I was shuffling, and sometimes I was honest-to-goodness running. Yep – RUNNING. Sometimes up hill, sometimes down hill. It didn’t matter as long as the heart rate was low and I wasn’t “digging deep”.
It was the craziest thing. Totally unpredictable. You had to run when the running was good because you never knew when you would have to shuffle or hike or for how long.
I mostly was able to keep the bonks at bay for the middle third of the race. Bonks would start as a reluctance to eat when my alarm went off, my stomach feeling “off” between the alarm, or (the weirdest) a 1 second delay between me saying something and my brain hearing it, which usually came with some slight disorientation when I was trying to concentrate on the trail. With Martin’s help I developed a plan that worked really well for keeping the stomach and brain happy! Beyond some food and drink tricks, I also started taking ibuprofen on the trail. “Vit I” is something I’ve stayed away from, but honestly, I think it made a huge difference during the second half of the 100, and at that point screw any incremental lessening in conditioning that my body will do, and I knew I was well hydrated.
How? Because my body was busy flushing out a bunch of water I had retained during the day and I was having to pee every 20 min. It was SO ANNOYING. Martin assured me this was something that happened to other runners too. Even weirder, when the sun came up, I started retaining water again!!!!!!!!!!!
Anyways. Back to the G-rated portion of the story.
Lest you think that this middle third was some sort magical section where the running was easy, let me share the elevation map….
See that “little peak” after mile 40? That’s where I picked up Martin. Then do you see the “little peak” after mile 70? That’s the end of the section I’m currently talking about.
The elevation changes are only part of the story. Multiple stream crossing, some uphills that a friend told me she had trouble getting up without falling backwards, some gnarly single track where there wasn’t a flat stable place to put my feet. Pretending I didn’t see the bears and cougars lurking behind the trees (they were there!!!! I swear!!!!!)
I averaged about 15:30 min/mile in the first half of the race, to the peak that represents mile 44.5 (these times are all total times and include time spent in aid stations). In the section from mile 44.5 to mile 74.7 I averaged somewhere around 14:48.
I can’t even wrap my head around it.
Martin kept assuring me that I was doing great (“easiest first 100 miler I’ve paced!”) and that soon I would be seeing people in a bad way in the aid stations, but that I was going to keep going and start passing people. It was true. I started seeing people sitting on the side of the trail, people puking, and people telling the aid station volunteers “I’m dropping”. He also started to prepare me for the last 1/4 of the race where he wouldn’t be with me.
- from miles 70-80 I needed to push, but not too hard. I had to save something for miles 80-100.
- Especially after miles 80 it was going to get hard. Much more hard than it had been so far and I needed to be prepared to keep pushing.
- Push on anything I could that was flat or “runnable”. Even just a shuffle. Every little bit would help.
- I had to keep eating and drinking, just like I had been.
- It was OK to sit and take a break in the aid stations because it was allowing me to go faster out of them.
At 2:20ish am I was back at the Overlook ready for a shoe change, a pacer hand off, some hot food and to get the last 25 miles of this race DONE. I had started to get ouchy/sore as I came into the Overlook the second time, but I knew there was a good chance that just like the first time I would leave feeling good.
I had prepped my friend Holley who was pacing this 9 mile section to expect a very “whiny, hurting, puking runner”. To both of our surprise we got through this section in 2 1/2 hours – only 30 min slower than our easy run a couple of days ago, and 30 min faster than I thought was my probable race-day time. I had a really good stretch of actually running through this section, but near the end, around mile 80 I could tell that I was starting to enter that time in the race that I was going to have to push and just make it happen. Holley, having got her instructions from Martin executed perfectly – reminding me to eat and drink, which I did compliantly when reminded.
Rattlesnake bar was just over 83 miles and brought not only my final pacer hand off, but the last time I would see my crew before I finished.
Jo was the lucky one to get me through the last 17 miles, and I feared she had drawn the short end of the stick. Gone were the easy running miles. I was lucky to be able to do even my ultra “shuffle” and Jo and I compromised/had an ongoing negotiation about suitable pace.
“this is a good place to pick it up”
(10 min later, as I mustered the will to enter the pain cave and stay there, I take off at a shuffle).
“I’m walking as long as it’s a good pace until Granite Bay”
(10 min later)
“this is a good place to pick it up”
(I pick up a shuffle)
“It’s time to eat something”
(Briefly consider whether screaming and tears would convince her not to make me eat something, decide she’s going to win anyways, and I shouldn’t waste the energy)
“I’m eating applesauce”.
(5 min later)
“Are you going to eat that applesauce or just hold it in your hand?”
She told me to enjoy the beautiful scenery, babbled on about books and endurance and vet school. She ran up to the aid station to get me a cup of coffee ready, and she willing did a bunch of math in her head while I was trying to figure out, just how much I *had* to shuffle or run to make it in by the cut off.
While in the first 75 miles (and really the first 83 miles) I was never in pain, it was always just degrees of “uncomfortable”, the last 20ish miles I had to be willing to go into the pain cave and stay there to make time. It took me longer than it should have to realize that is what Martin had been warning me about, and it was time do this.
Every little bit that I could move out did help and even though I felt like I was putting in such a hard effort for such little gain. Yes some people did pass me in the infamous “meat grinder” F’ing-mountain-goat-trail (it’s nothing to look at on the elevation map, but after you’ve stepped over your 100th boulder you are so done with that sh*t), but in reality I was motoring through this section as fast or faster than the majority of the people who were out there with me in these last hours of the race.
As I climbed up the levee and could see the finish I handed my pack and beanie to Jo and started shuffling to the finish. I couldn’t keep the smile off my face and was trying to choke back tears. There’s a gate and a turn and a down hill to the finish. I started sprinting in with tears streaming down my face. There was Aurora, my faithful crew chief, and further down Matt and little Fig. Finished! In 29 hours and 20 min.
A race well run. Perhaps I wasn’t as under trained as I thought?
Looking at my placings and my splits, I think that it wasn’t that I slowed to 29:20 finish, the whole time I was probably going to be comfortably a 28:30-29:30 finish. At every check point I was improving my placing – either people in front of me were slowing down, or the people around me were slowing relative to how fast I was able to go. Yes, we were ALL slowing and this was to be expected – it’s 100 freaking miles! – but I think I was able to not slow as much. Every time I passed someone on the trail my pacer would tell me that person had been at the last aid check 20 min or 30 min or 40 min ahead of me. It was so motivating that I was making significant progress.
I’m so pleased with how this run went for me. Not all of them will be this easy, but now I have the confidence that 100 miles IS possible!!!!!!!
Up next is where I somehow limit myself to three things that went RIGHT and find three whole things that need improvement.