Monday, March 23, 2009

100 UNDER 20

(Warning! This is a long article, but what do you expect for a 100 mile race?)

After several years of running ultras and all the goals that I have placed on myself and achieved, one would think that I’ve done it all. But setting new challenges is what keeps me motivated to get out there to train and race. Setting PRs at various distances is a challenge that is hard to achieve the older and slower one gets. Yes, yes, I know I’m just a babe in many people’s eyes, but in terms of lifetime miles from the time I started running 7 years ago, I have put a lot on these tires of mine and feel as if the tread has been worn on them for a while. So where did I get this crazy notion of trying to run 100 miles in under 20 hours?

In 2007, when I was around the peak of my running, I ran Rio Del Lago 100 mile race in Sacramento. I finished in 21:48 (which fulfilled my goal of 100 miles in less than one day), but felt that my asthma, losing the trail several times, and running without a pacer in an unfamiliar city at night resulted in a slower time than what I was capable of. Since then, I have felt that 100 miles under 20 hours was within my reach. But after completing my 3 years with 51 or more races per year of mostly ultras and getting into the Maniac Hall of Fame, I was worried my speed was pretty much gone. I knew there was no possible way of running such a time in a mountainous 100 miler. I know of fairly “flat” 100 milers, but those races are pretty far away. I never considered running a 24 hour run but decided that Pacific Rim One Day was my best chance. Usually on this particular weekend in March, I sign up for Chuckanut 50K. I wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of running around a one mile loop at Pac Rim 100 times, but I thought that was preferable to a high school track.

Training leading up to the race was sub-optimum. I pretty much cannot run during the week due to long hours at work, and I just can’t seem to wake up at 3am to get my running in on my treadmill. I’m an outdoor runner. I was able to get out for long runs on a few Mondays that I have off, but the majority of my running has been back-to-back long runs on the weekends, often involving a race on one of those days. I didn’t do any type of speedwork. The fastest I ran before the race was with a couple other girls who I met at 5:45 on a Saturday morning to run 9 miles before the larger Cedar River Runners group met at 7:30am to run 14 flat miles. I ran with Heather, who is in her 40s, has 4 kids, and is incredibly fit and Sarah, who is younger than both of us and has a family of her own too. I was thinking we’d start out slow and pick up the pace. But Sarah with her bouncy morning person stride took off like it was a 5K race and Heather and I struggled to keep up (at least I was). Heather’s heart rate monitor and watch were beeping off letting her know it was too high. She said it was running 200! We slowed down, briefly. Fortunately, when we were done and met the 7:30 group, I could catch my breath and have a more leisurely run settling in the usual plodding pace that I am used to.

I took the day off from work the day before the 24hr, a luxury of resting before race day that I don’t usually have. Friday’s are always hectic at work with patient’s calling to get in before the weekend and being on my feet constantly. This type of being on my feet bothers me a lot more than if I had just run that day. My Friday off was still very busy doing chores around the house and getting ready for the race. I made garlic mashed potatoes and Rice Krispies treats to eat during the race. Boiled potatoes for me are always hard to chew and swallow, often because they are undercooked. I decided it would be easier to get mashed potatoes down, and I made it with lots of butter, garlic, and sour cream. I loaded everything I needed in a large cooler: extra clothes, shoes, Gu, E-caps, my inhaler, Imodium, Mucinex, the mashed potatoes in paper cups, Rice Krispies treats, vanilla Frappuccinos, Coke, my MP3 player, and extra batteries.

I had a restless night, dreaming about a very small circle that I kept running around and around on and the circle kept changing in size. I met Tony Covarrubias at 6am Saturday morning and we rode to the start together at Longview, WA. Many were already there set up. Tony felt there were more runners than usual, possibly because Chuckanut filled up very early. He also warned that despite what other areas were doing, this race is notorious for wind and rain. We had lap counters and there was an aid station at the start of each loop, which I only used a few times the entire race. There was also a Honey Bucket just past the ½ mile mark as well as flushing bathrooms at the end of each mile loop. The loop consisted of running about 200 feet on a concrete sidewalk before it turned into a fine gravel groomed path. Just a short distance after, you had to make an almost hairpin turn (my cooler was just before the turn), then very slight down for a short distance followed by a short but little steeper up on a section of the trail where the gravel was very loose and annoying. Most people walked this early on but I refused to do so. Then you had to run across a metal bridge over the water just about 150 feet that made a terribly loud noise, followed by 50 feet of concrete before getting on the groomed trail again. Then you ran straight on this flat section of trail for just over a ¼ mile before a short steep hill (just a few steps) onto another bridge over the water that was concrete (I started to walk this flat bridge after 26 miles because it was hurting my feet slapping against it). After the bridge, you could stay on the concrete sidewalk or run on the grass that people were stomping out a trail before turning right for another over ¼ mile straight section back to the start. This sections starts with a slight down, then flat, then slight up to a turn for the last straight section to the finish, which again was a concrete sidewalk that I ran on the grass nearly every time. So the loop is not completely flat and the turns and slight ups definitely slowed people down. I didn’t run one mile under 9 minutes, and my average pace for 100 miles is just under 12 minutes. It’s strange how the slight downs are imperceptible and at least in my case did not help at all, but the slight ups definitely were challenging, especially as the miles rolled by. The race was on the trail system around Lake Sacajawea. Although I recently cut 3 inches off of hair, I bet my pigtails made me look like the ghost of Sacajawea from behind. I bet she would have been a great Ultrarunner!

I started out conservative, averaging around 9:30 pace for the marathon distance. I covered that in about 4:20 including a couple bathroom breaks. The weather was very good, considering past runs. I was out for 22 ¼ hours and it only rained on us once, which even then only lasted 5 minutes. We did have breezy conditions during the day, but again, could have been a lot worse. After I stopped running, the rest of the people still out there had to deal with rain and wind while I tried to warm up in Tony’s car. I finished 50K in about 5:05 (PR 4:28). Someone asked me afterward how I managed to pace myself to meet my goal. I told her I didn’t have a plan other than having to keep my overall pace below 12 min/mi. So I knew that I had 2 hours to finish 10 miles, an easy way for me to keep track. Of course I knew I wouldn’t be running that slowly to begin with but I still found myself keeping up the pace to bank time because I knew I would slow down significantly in the second half. Now we all know that it is not wise to bank time in a race. Doing it in a marathon is unwise, and doing it in a 100 miler could be simply catastrophic. I have also told people asking me how to pace for a 100 miler that if they are feeling good, they are going too fast. My first 20 miles actually hurt, but I settled into a nice slower and less painful pace from then until 50 miles. Basically, I was throwing all the rules out the window and just kept moving forward. I feel that one of my gifts as a runner is my ability for relentless forward motion. For the entire 100 miles, I probably walked no more than 3 miles of it (such as when I started walking the concrete bridge after 26 miles, when I drank my Frappuccinos, and when my quads were shot from miles 94-95). Veterans of 24 hour races will tell you that a run/walk strategy like run 5 miles/walk 1 mile will allow you to keep going for 24 hours. But that was not my goal. My goal was to get 100 miles under 20. I hit 50 miles around 8:30 (PR 7:19) and 100K around 10:40 (PR 10:23). These splits are not much slower that my PRs for these distances, so I really was pushing myself. I stopped at 50 miles to adjust my shoes. My feet were swelling and my big toes were rubbing against the shoe, causing hot spots. So I sat on my cooler and took of my liner socks and slathered Vaseline on my big toes and more under my bra and between my knees. I didn’t have gaiters on. I had lent them to Olga because she forgot hers. I did have small rocks in my shoes, but Olga looked like she needed them more than I did. My hot spots went away and I had very little blisters at the end. After sitting about 3 minutes (the longest time I stopped moving) to do that, getting up and moving again was quite a chore. I had stiffened up a lot in that short period of time. That’s why I never sat down at CCC 100 miler.

The miles just dragged. Listening to music did help and I had it blasting at times. Many people tried to talk to me and occasionally I would take out an ear piece and talk back, but for the most part, I just kept moving. I had a plan and was focused. Plus, no one was really running my pace. Either they were going slower or faster. I needed to maintain my pace. After 70 miles, the music did not really help much anyway. It’s amazing that I was only able to get through 270 of the 470 songs on my player in the entire time I ran. I couldn’t believe that at 60 miles, I still had 40 miles to go. Hitting 70 was better to take, since I knew I only had 50K to go. At 70 miles, I still had about a 1hr45min cushion if I maintained 12 minute miles. But at that point, my mile splits were just about 12:40 pace, so my cushion was slowly disappearing. At 80 miles, that cushion shrank to 1hr30 min, and by 90 miles, it was just over an hour. But then, at about 94 miles, my quads just stopped working. I had done a good job up until that point of eating and drinking. My schedule was eating mash potatoes every 2 hours (after my marathon distance) and alternating a Frappuccino every two hours. The mashed potatoes in paper cups were great. I had a spoon and just scooped it out little by little and licked it like it was a popsicle. It went down easy and I could continue running. The Frappuccino required me to walk to avoid getting it all over myself or choking on it. I walked twice per loop to get it down, 20-30 seconds each. Next time, I will put them in bottles with mouth pieces so I can continue running. I also continued my Gu in between and took a Succeed E-cap every hour. I had a hand held bottle with Gu20 that I refilled every 5 miles and ran without it while I either ate mashed potatoes or drank my Frappuccino. I had pretty much a system down. I never ate any of my Rice Krispies treats. Between the Gu and Frappuccino, I didn’t want anything else sweet. Same with the Coke. I grabbed a cup of water every once in a while at the aid station to rinse my mouth out. By mile 94, I had run out of Frappuccino, the mashed potatoes were not as tasty as earlier, and it was starting to get cold. I think my body simply decided to shut down. I started walking/running. Regulating your body temperature was hard on this course because one side of the water was warm and the other breezy and colder. Finally, at 94 miles, I stopped and put on a pair of pants and long sleeved shirt. Up until then, I had worn shorts, a short sleeved shirt, heavy arm warmers, gloves on and off, and a Smartwool head band. By mile 95, I recuperated after adding clothes and eating again. My last mile was under 13 minutes and I finished with a healthy cushion in 19 hours and 31 minutes! I was elated! Finally, I could walk, eat, RELAX!

But as soon as I stopped, I froze! I was planning on walking the rest of the time, but I just couldn’t warm myself up. I went to the car and changed into a dry sports bra, couple shirts, shell, fleece pullover, and thicker long pants. I changed my socks but kept the same shoes. I put a new hat and gloves on and just started walking. With the clothing change, it took 45 minutes to finish that lap. I walked the next two miles, then had 3 or 4 good miles where I was actually running again, then hit a wall again at 106 miles. I dragged in another 2 miles of 20+ minutes each and called it quits. I needed to warm up again. I went back to the car and threw my sleeping bag over me. I was shivering and forced down some food. I watched from the comfort of the car people running in the last few miles and minutes before the cut off in the rain and wind. It was impressive to see how fast they were moving after running for nearly 24 hours. I brushed my teeth, which was great! My teeth were not sensitive, thanks to rinsing my mouth with water frequently.

Lisa Bliss finished first woman with 113 miles. I finished with 108. She continued on for the entire 24 hours while I ran 22:19. Although I finished 100 miles before she did, she ran a smarter race to be able to continue to the end. But I had a different goal for the day and was pleased I met it. Lisa was able to run this many miles despite nausea. She is such an impressive runner who is even tinier than I am! She has run much tougher races including winning Badwater 135 miles a couple years ago. The top male was her main squeeze, Tim Englund, with I think 126 miles. These were both new course records, and rightly so with the weather cooperating. *tc ran 108.5. I think we were all winners that day.

The volunteers were just great. Every mile I came in, I received a “Go Van!” or other cheer. And similarly, other runners were rooted on. The food at the aid station look appetizing, but I didn’t even allow myself enough time to stop and enjoy the selection. The lap counters sat in the cold keeping track of our mile splits. I was hitting my watch every time for my splits and it went over 100, but unfortunately, it only stores 30 splits! There were two “Pitch In!” trash containers after the start of each loop, which were these creative stands of a person holding a trash bag. What was nice about this was that you didn’t have to slow down to throw your trash away. They were right off the trail. There were garbage cans on the trail, but most of them you had to step 1-2 steps off the trail to throw something into them and I just didn’t have the time to do that-crazy as that may sound.

I looked miserable to the other runners after the race, hobbling along slowly to the brief awards ceremony. I could have used crutches at that point because my right knee and right sacroiliac joints locked up. Went to breakfast with a bunch of people but the food did not look appetizing when they brought it. I knew I needed to eat to help with the nausea I was feeling and picked a little at it. Tony drove us home with me bobbing my head and talking in my sleep. At first, he was not sure what to make of it but then realized he could ignore me. I was planning on helping him drive but I was useless. He did stop to catch a few zzzzzs part way home. I slept poorly that night unable to get into a comfortable position with my knees. Then I was in surgery and on my feet all day on Monday with 7 cases, holding retractors and big legs up. This was followed by being on call that night. So I had poor sleep the night before the race, no sleep day of race, poor sleep night after race, and on call on the 4th night. My first full night of sleep did not come until 6 days after the race. I was able to walk normal by Thursday without any pain and went on a run on 6 mile 9:30 pace run Friday. By Saturday, I ran 14 miles with the Cedar River Runners and had no pain anywhere. In fact, I felt good enough to run a 50K. That made me feel confident that I will probably be ready for my 150 miler after just over 2 ½ weeks of taper. Yes! This time, I’m actually going to taper!

Well, there you have it. It was the longest distance I’ve ever run. The longest time I’ve ever run was 35+ hours at Coyote 2 Moon. I know that if I finish McNaughton, I will have both run my longest race and been on my feet longer than ever before. I’m going to miss the Maniac Reunion at Yakima River Marathon since I’m on call for work! Best to you all and wish me luck as well in my 150 miler!