Wednesday, April 15, 2009

McNaughton 150 Mile-Entering Unchartered Territory

4/10/09 Pekin, IL

This is going to be a long report. So grab a cup of coffee, or two, or three and read on if this is the kind of stuff that pushes your buttons, and if so, you are probably just a little sick like me.

This race really snuck up on me. After 2008, I backed off on racing every weekend and April seemed so far away. Before I knew it, it was here. But after a good run at Pac Rim One Day with a strong recovery, McNaughton seemed doable.

I took the day off before we flew to Illinois to pack and get as much rest as possible. Turned out that it was a pretty hectic day and I didn’t get to sleep until about 10:30pm, which was restless of course. We had to get up at 2:45am to be ready to leave at 3:30am and drive over to Tony Covarrubias and Shawn Lawson’s house where Shawn’s brother was going to drive us all to the airport so that we could leave our car at their house. They had signed up for the 150 mile as well. I hardly got any sleep on the airplane, even though I was very tired. Ken got to rest his eyes while I watched the movie Marley and Me on the screen. We picked up our rental car and headed to Pekin from O’Hare, a 3 hour drive. We stopped for lunch partway. I stole a few moments of sleep with my head bobbing and my mouth propped open, but it was not refreshing. The drive was not very stimulating with flat, mowed corn fields. As we approached Pekin, there was one hill.

We got to Pekin and Shawn and tc were just checking into the hotel. Ken and I headed over to Walmart to get supplies for the race, including a chair, large plastic container for all my drop stuff, Frappuccino, cup-a-noodles, Gatorade, water, and food for him. Poor Ken. He and Walmart are not a good match. But he was such a sport all weekend, returning there if I needed something else that I didn’t have. We returned to the hotel room and I got all my race stuff ready. We were going to meet tc and Shawn for dinner, but they were going to Appleby’s and Ken declined, saying going to Walmart was enough of a stretch for him that day. We found a local pub. The food was okay. It did the trick. We retired at about 10pm. Sleep again was poor for me in a strange surrounding. So two nights of poor sleep before my race. Also, it started to rain overnight, and that got me worried. We woke up at 7am and finished getting ready. Originally, I pulled out shorts to wear for the race but changed my mind, remembering how cold I got at Pac Rim and how difficult it was for me to get moving again after getting cold.

We ate breakfast and headed over to the race start at 10am. The race was to begin at 12pm. It was rainy and windy and people were running back and forth to their cars to try to stay dry and warm. But there was a glimmer of hope since the forecast was calling for good days for Sat and Sun, perfect for the 100 mile and 50 mile runners. We just needed to get through the start of a nasty day. I said hi to several people I knew while getting my spot ready where Ken was going to be every loop to crew me. I checked in and got my race number and goodie bag. The 150 and 100 milers got a tech tee and a fleece pullover, both very nice. I put them in my car hoping that I would be able to wear them, contingent on my finishing. I was dressed for the cold, including a long sleeve with hoodie, my red shell, gloves, tights, shorts, gaiters, gore-tex wind and waterproof mittens, and a plastic poncho. I was cold standing there at the start but was wearing a Nathan pack without the water bladder and knew I could stuff excess material that I could easily discard after the first lap. I carried one water bottle, as there were two aid stations on course.

There were forty nine 150 mile starters and a handful of 100 mile runners getting an early start. Apparently, two of the 150 milers were already on course since the day before-Thursday. I kissed Ken goodbye and ran off in the middle of the pack. The rain was still falling and the wind was strong at times. That morning the wind was 15-20 mph with gusts of 30mph. It was less noticeable in the woods, but there was plenty of open field running. I almost fell on my butt immediately after the start where we headed down a steep slick hill with deep ruts. Footing could be found if you bounced back and forth from side to side. After about 100 yards, you turned and ran clockwise on the outside edge of a flat field for about a mile. This part became increasingly hard with each loop, since it was a part you needed to run because it was flat and walking it meant losing quite a bit of time. Since I’m not a very good power walker, I did lose time here walking, but I tried to use this spot to eat and walk. It was tempting to run across the field after so many loops instead of around it but at the pre-race briefing, race director Andy Weinberg, who is quite an endurance athlete himself, having done double and triple Ironmans, stated that littering and cheating were grounds for disqualification. Okay, so that’s obvious. But he also said that he had recruited high school students to hide in the bushes and if anyone was caught doing either, they were given permission to peg us with paint ball guns. Apparently cheating has occurred since this very challenging 10-mile loop can really get to ya. Andy had traveled from Middlebury, Vermont, his new home to direct this race one last time. It must have been hard to put on a race from afar, but it sounds as if he had a good group of people in Pekin to mark the trail and get other details ready.

Next was “Tanner’s Pass,” a short but very steep hill. It started with ankle deep shoe sucking mudd (my new four letter word) that never dried up over the entire weekend. So very early on for each loop, you feet were covered in mud. The mud was either sopping wet or heavy clay-like mud. You crested out on an open grassy field before hitting the first section of the Red Trail, also known as the Potowatani Trail. Now came several ups and downs here which included running through a boggy section of above ankle water and mud, which became worse with each loop. The sides of the trail started out as areas that you could plant your foot, but eventually, all that was turned into a mess too. You were better off just going through the shortest route. You encountered another steep hill up and after that a section of several steep ups and downs mixed in with rolling hills and not much flat. On the first day, it was treacherous to run down these hills because of the rain and very slick conditions. There was plenty of mud on people’s back sides. You’ll notice a trend here that there was very little flat running. The down hills were harder than the up hills.

The first aid station was at 2.5 miles and known as the Totem Pole aid station. I did actually use the aid stations on course so that I only needed to carry one water bottle. Usually I filled my water bottle here and grab light snacks like cookies, banana, pretzels, or chicken noodle soup at night. More rolling hills in open grassy fields followed, across a “Blue Bird” section where there were several bluebird houses. Then came “The Beach”, a section of sand. I have to say, this was not as much of a “beach” as it could have been. There was enough moisture to keep the sand packed down. We crossed some water and I thought this was the first creek crossing and felt it wasn’t so bad. Then came the real crossing of Lick Creek at 3.5 miles, which for me on the first day was knee deep at the deepest sections where the water was rushing the most. I have to say though that it was refreshing initially but cold at night. It cleaned up the shoes nicely.

After the creek, which was just over 3 miles, we ran some flats and some more hills before arriving at “Golf Hill”. This had a rope to help you climb up, since the trail drops off on both sides and it is steep. More hills, including one called “Heartbreak Hill”. We ran down to the road and made a hairpin turn towards the next aid station including going up another steep section, running in fairly flat open grassy fields, and passing Meyer’s Cemetary. One runner asked the aid station volunteers if the cemetery had bodies of previous runners. Finally, we arrived at the second aid station at 5.8 miles, through “Heaven’s Gate”, which had great food and a nice fire. I made an effort to eat real food here, which included mashed potatoes with cheese and bacon bits, egg salad sandwich, or turkey and cheese sandwiches. These were good in the beginning, but at some point, I just got tired of constantly eating and no food appeared appetizing, even if I enjoyed it before. This aid station also got very cold at night, since the wind seemed to blow there more and stopping to get food further chilled me. I’m sure the wind chill fell well below 30 degrees. On the second night, I wore two long sleeves, one short sleeve, my red shell, thick tights, a pair of shorts over that, and capris over that, as well as a beanie, heavy fleece gloves, and a plastic poncho, and I was still cold! I would take my food here and eat on the run in a one mile loop that included some flat running along the creek as well as hills and a section of open field that was a tedious trip through more shoe sucking mud that never dried up over the weekend. It was “demoralizing!” The end of the loop brought us back to the aid station, but I usually did not stop a second time. This was now 6.9 miles that continued on with more rolling open field running, steep hills, and everything in between before arriving at the second creek crossing at about 8.6 miles. This was almost as deep as the first but not moving as fast. It was a welcome crossing, since by then, my shoes were really covered in mud and I would have a clump of mud under the ball of my foot that would wash out nicely, at least for a while. The last 1.4 miles had a decent amount of runnable terrain but also some steep hills and very muddy trails. You had to be careful not to be pegged by serious Frisbee golf players since we ran through their area.

Each loop had 1600 feet of elevation gain and same of loss. Multiply that by 15 and that’s 24,000 feet! Day one featured very slick conditions on the hills, but after drying out on Sat and Sun, they became hard as rock and painful to run down. At least the footing was better, but there were still plenty of sections that did not receive any sun and stayed wet all weekend. I finished the first loop in 2:01 and my body, especially my back, was already hurting. I was using so many dormant stabilizing muscles. Basically, my first 20 miles hurt until I figured out how not to fight the muddy trails. I forced myself to plant my foot securely before moving forward. I felt this saved me time and energy in the long run. I watched so many people slip and slide trying to move through these areas quickly but ended up slipping backwards and falling side to side. I knew several girls were in front of me and did not try to catch them because pacing myself was the most important thing I could to do finish. Besides, I let them duke it out and hoped they would wear each other out.

At the end of each loop, Ken was waiting for me. I wanted to drink a Frappuccino before the start of each loop and did this while walking through the start/finish area. He also handed me a new bottle with water or Gatorade and more Gu. I would change clothes if needed and he had my down jacket ready so that I could wear it if I stopped too long and got cold. I ate a cup-a-noodle a few times. Sometimes he would grab me a grilled cheese sandwich from the aid station or other food, but mostly, I stuck with my own stuff. I was peeing so much and didn’t realize it was from all the caffeine from the Frappuccino and Gu. Duh! I backed off on drinking the Frapps until I realized that I was low on calories and getting tired and started up again. I took salt about once an hour initially but stopped because I was peeing so much and thought it was too much salt when really it was too much caffeine. Fortunately, I had no problems with nausea or cramps, so I probably was getting enough salt in the soup and other sources. It was good to see Ken every 10 miles but hard to leave again to keep moving. I tried to smile and be positive and even gave him a kiss now and then before heading off. People were cheering me on and I waved and smiled for them too. I think it’s important to acknowledge people as much as possible since they are there either volunteering or crewing for other runners in the cold and dark. I also feel that even if you are feeling bad, forcing yourself to be upbeat might even help. Ken said of all the races he has crewed for me, I looked the best at this one. I did change my shoes once at mile 60, and almost was scared to look at the state my foot and skin were in, but it wasn’t so bad. I ended up changing it back to my original shoe after another 30 miles. Otherwise, I wore the same disgusting sports bra, tights, and undie for the entire race! Ken had washed my shoes before I changed them back to the Cascadias and said they were really heavy before he was able to get all the mud off them, which took him 15 minutes.

By the end of the first loop, I was 5th place woman. I stayed in 5th through the 6th loop. By mile 70, I was in 4th place and stayed there through the 9th loop. Shawn passed me by 100 miles and I was back in 5th place. But then everything changed. The four girls that were in front of me for most of the race had dropped out. Charlotte Vasarhelyi, who set the women’s course record (46:21:29) last year in the 150 mile in worse conditions than what we were having, dropped at 90 miles. When I lapped her on her 9th loop and I was on my 10th, it looked like she was having nausea problems. Tracy Thomas, who held the 100 mile record for this race and is a very accomplished 48 hour racer, quit after 100 miles due to painful feet. She was a whole loop ahead of me when she quit. The two other women who I didn’t know or remember seeing during the race also stopped after 100 miles and were also a loop ahead of me when this occurred. So that left me, Shawn, and another gal named Nikki Seger. I spoke with Nikki after the race and this was her third try at the 150 miles. The first year she made it to 100 miles, 2nd year 110, and this year 120. I can’t imagine going that far and having to quit. I couldn’t believe that after 70 miles, I had already been running almost 23 hours and I was not even halfway done! At that point, I was really starting to worry if I could finish.

It was sunny Saturday and I was even stripped down to a t-shirt but still wore my tights since it would have been impossible to take them off and put them back on again. It got warm enough that I needed to wear a hat to shield my face, which was quickly getting bronzed. I had made it through the first night without sleeping and all day the second day. I was told that people who took a quick nap felt refreshed and returned running stronger. So after lap 11, I tried to take a 15 minute power nap but was too cold to ever fall asleep. Besides, Ken had found a pacer for me and he was patiently waiting in the cold. This loop had the longest elapsed time from my attempt to sleep and I had crossed the timing mat before heading to the car. I was glad to have a pacer because I was scared the first night on my own. I was running along on the trail with one headphone in when I heard a “Grrrr.” I yelled out “Go on! Get out of here!” I ran away fast from that spot thanks to the rush of adrenaline. In a little while I heard some howling. I came up on a slower runner who had a dog with him. He said the dog had followed him from about mile three at the first creek crossing but was friendly. I figured that was the dog that had growled at me from the bushes and did all that howling. But since I was moving faster than this other person, the dog decided to tag along with me. It was okay that he was friendly and all, but he was running back and forth and circles around me, running and bumping into me. It was getting old. I arrived at the second aid station and asked if they knew this dog. They found out later for me that it belonged to a woman at the first aid station and had gotten loose. It followed me for another mile for a total of 3 miles before tagging along with another runner. In all, it ran with 4 other runners before his owner got a hold of him. Anyhoo, I now had a pacer starting loop 12. His name was Jamie, and he was a GREAT pacer. I learned a lot from him about how to be a good pacer. He had come to pace Charlotte 80 miles, but when she dropped, he had only gotten in 30 miles. He still needed 50 miles. I only had 40 miles to go and he joked that I’d have to run an extra loop. Jamie ran behind me and held his strong flashlight above my head, which was nice because my headlamp was not that powerful. Or if he could, he would run on the side of the trail to light my way. He asked me frequently if I was eating or drinking. He encouraged me to run the flats and down hills, which I was having trouble getting motivated to do in the flats and thus lost a lot of time.

In the 12th loop, my right knee was really starting to hurt when it didn’t hurt before. It made it very difficult to run the steep down hills. I had never taken any anti-inflammatories during a run, having heard too many horror stories of kidney failure or stomach bleeds. But I had been peeing a lot and Jamie encouraged me to take one of his Aleve’s with some cookies. I decided I had better try it since I still had over 35 miles to go and these loops were already taking me 3 ½ hours to complete. I’ve heard of loops taking 5 hours, and that could seriously jeopardize finishing under 52 hours for the cut off. It started to kick in after ½ hour enough to dull the pain. I was exhausted though using extra energy to baby that knee.

By the 13th loop, about 39 hours into the race, I started to yawn, the first time since waking up 7am on Friday. Then I said something like. “I’m so cold, I wish I could sit on some seated heats.” “Heated seats,” Jamie corrected me. Then the hallucinations started. I was stumbling a bit, but not enough for Jamie to reach out and try to grab me. I had to force myself not to look at stumps, bushes, or trees. I was seeing too many figures and tried to focus my attention on the trail. Jamie was getting tired too and started to take caffeine pills. Next thing you know, he’s stopping every 10 minutes. But he kept talking to me and me to him and we kept each other awake until the sun came up. I had tried a knee brace on this loop and ended up taking it off because my whole body so swollen and it was too tight. Jamie gave me another Aleve before the end of this loop and it really helped the rest of the race. He also encouraged me to pick up the pace, not only to stay awake, but also to potentially win this race. I had no idea where Shawn was, but I knew she was behind me from taking a longer sleeping break than my 15 minutes. However, I also knew that she and tc were moving faster than I was the last time we ran together when she passed me and got to 100 miles first. I was whining to Jamie that I didn’t care if I won. I was tired and hurting and wanted to walk. I considered taking a nap at the end of this loop. But by then, the sun had come up and we realized that I had a good chance of staying in front of Shawn, so I kept going.

At the start of the 14th loop with only 20 miles to go, Jamie told me that he would only be able to run half of this loop with me since he had to get Charlotte home. He was going to run with me to the second aid station at mile 5.8 and take a short cut back to get to Charlotte by 9am like he promised her. That was totally fine with me and I thanked him for getting me through the night and pushing me. He really did help make the miles go faster. I would have preferred the company, but I simply pretended he was next to me telling me to run when I wanted to walk, eat, and drink. We really picked up the pace in those last 6 miles he was with me. My split for that lap was much faster. But because of the increased pace, my shin splint came back and I was in quite a bit of pain in my 15th loop. I made the mistake of tying my shoe tighter, thinking that my right foot was swimming in my shoe, causing the problem. What I realized later was that tightening me shoe caused more pressure on my tendon, more friction, and thus more inflammation. Still I kept the pace up and hit the aid stations in really good time. I was really hobbling though by mile 4 in the last loop and was walking by mile 7-8. That was about the time I caught up with tc and Shawn and was about to lap them. Realizing I had this much of a gap to win, I walked and let them go ahead. Shawn had long been dealing with blisters. I had a couple, but they were not slowing me down as much as her. Somehow, I managed to continue at a decent pace and finished my last loop with the 4th fastest loop time of all the loops I ran. But the fast time probably had to do with my spending very little time between loop 14 and 15 and it being the last loop without any need to re-stock for another loop. My last loop was also the second fastest last loop of all the 150 and 100 mile finishers except for one guy in the 150 mile who ran his in 1:56:10. However, my last two loops combined were faster than any 150 or 100 mile finisher. The first place 150 mile finisher’s last two laps combined were 19 seconds slower than mine. I CRANKED in the end!

I ran in the last stretch to a roaring crowd of a dozen people or so. Ken took pictures of my exhausted face. Jess Mullen was there and I ran into her arms and burst into tears. I was so physically and emotionally drained. I did not sleep the entire race: 47 hours 39 minutes, and 12 seconds, first woman and 6th overall of 12 finishers and 49 starters for the 150 mile race. Race director Andy came over and gave me a hug and my 150 mile buckle. Jess ran incredibly well, beating down her DNF demon from last year at 70 miles. She finished 2nd woman and 8th overall with a time of 28:27:22. Shawn and tc ran together the whole time and finished in 51:16:30. All the Washington state runners finished! We are one tough as nails group!

Ken and I headed back to the hotel and grabbed some Quiznos and a shower. I was really hurting by then in my ankle/shin, barely able to put weight on it. I even thought I might have a stress fracture. We returned to the race to see Shawn and tc and a few others finish and Ken had to support me while I walked because of such sharp severe pain. He even had to give me a piggy back up the stairs at the hotel. I was not the only person who burst into tears when finishing. There was a 19 year old who finished the 150 miles about 10 minutes before Shawn and tc who cried upon finishing. He had run the 100 mile the previous year and the 50 mile the year before that. What an accomplishment for a 19 year old! Shawn also shed some tears.

We decided to get together for dinner in the evening. Ken and I laid down our heads to try to get some sleep before dinner, but I was not able to due to the pain in my right ankle and knees. We drove quite a distance to find a restaurant because most places were closed for Easter. We came back to the hotel and proceeded to pack because we had to wake up at 4:30 in the morning for the 3 hour drive back to O’Hare and return the rental car. Finally, we went to bed by 10pm after I had been awake for the last 63 hours. I did get some sleep but nodded on and off during the drive to O’Hare. Ken was a lifesaver for me on this weekend crewing me and doing all the driving. The weather when we awoke Monday morning was severe. It was raining hard and wind was blowing 40mph sustained. The drive was very stressful for Ken. I kept thinking how fortunate we were with the weather for the race. We had a pretty good window. It was rainy and windy at the start, but that seemed to have subsided after the first 2 loops. Yes, the nights were cold, but it certainly could have been worse.

The flight back was very uncomfortable for tc, Shawn, and me. Shawn and tc had lots of cuts and a pretty bad rash on their legs, probably from horse manure in the creeks. I fared better, maybe because I wore tights the whole time and they wore shorts most of the time. Tony said he was hardly able to take off his tights because they were stuck to him. Another lady had the same problem. It was hard for me as well but I think I fared better. Tony had weeping from his legs the morning after the race and Shawn had very red legs. We all had significant worsening of calves swelling on the flight, but particularly tc. Plus, he had to leave for India for three weeks for work, just 2 days after getting back from McNaughton. I told him to take some aspirin to prevent blood clots. I had one blister on the top of my middle toe on the right foot, the same foot as my inflamed ankle tendon. That blister now was filled with pus and my toe and right foot were very swollen. While sitting at the terminal at the airport, I drained the blister (gross!) and the redness and swelling of my toe improved from then. The swelling of both my ankles took much longer, more like a couple days.

Finally got home, ate, and went to bed by 7:30pm. Sleep was very restless for me because of my swollen calves and sore ankle. I tried to sleep with my feet on a pillow to get it above my heart and help with the calf swelling, but that was hard to do. I have been ice massaging my creaky tendon, which at its worse felt like BB pellets rubbing up against my tendon every time I flexed and extended my ankle. It seems to be getting better every day but might not be good enough to run a 50K by the weekend.

So, I did it. I set out to run 150 miles and somehow I was able to get it done. Although I didn’t have a bad race, I certainly had problems. I had asthma problems starting at 50K. I had back pain, knee pain, shin splints, and an inflamed tendon. I was not able to keep my body temp under control when it was cold or when it got too warm for me. I attribute my ability to finish to my fitness level and my will to succeed. You too can succeed with the right attitude!

Happy trails!