Friday, November 7, 2014

Big Brad 50 mile Ultra/ Maine (7/50)

Beep. Beep. Beep. …Beep. Beep. Beep.…Beep. Beep. Beep.

4:30am. Time to get up. I didn’t sleep much to begin with. We had a dinner party with some friends and family the previous night and didn’t go to bed until a little after 11pm. Then Leiana woke up at least a couple of times and I myself psyched myself out that I would sleep in so I woke up another 2-3 times for good measure. On top of that, 4:30am Eastern Time. That meant, back home it was only 3:30am. I was contemplating blowing off the 50 mile (80km) race and sign in at 9am for the 50K (31mi) race instead just so I could sleep more. Despite the alluring warmth of the bed, I jumped out and stopped the alarm.

Half an hour to get dressed and get going. Christina took care of Leiana and her aunt was going to watch her until the race started and Christina would come back to take her again.

It’s 5am and we are sitting in the car. I had used up all the bananas the night before for dinner and had to improvise for breakfast. Therefore I ate some fried potatoes, cold mind you, from the dinner plate while Christina was navigating the hilly roads in Eastern Maine.

We arrived at the Pownal Elementary School, where the race would start, and signed in. I could see coffee offered everywhere, but no food that could’ve silenced my grumbling stomach.

A local reporter was filming a documentary and asked me a couple of questions, which occupied me and not get too excited about the impending race begin.

Outside of the gym was pitch black darkness. I had come out at 5am the previous morning to preview the race conditions at the start and to try out my new headlamp. Only it was so foggy that the lamp made it virtually impossible to see beyond 3 yards in front of me. I went off course within 2 minutes of setting off.

That would be a great indicator for my race day. At least during the race there would be people to follow if I couldn’t see the trail.

I had travelled the furthest distance to get to Pownal, as the majority of the other runners were from Maine or just across the border from Canada.

After my 2nd place in the Badlands Ultra 10 weeks prior, I chose to switch up my hydration strategy and used a backpack with a water bladder, so that I couldn’t run out of water and didn’t need to stop at every aid station, which is only 2-3 minutes each, but easily adds up throughout the day. With the projected elevation change in excess of 16,000ft (~5km) and an extremely technical trail, which was littered with rocks, roots and wet leaves as it had rained the night before, I targeted a finishing time of about 11 hours.

The runners at the start line were very relaxed and the race began very unceremoniously. We went about 50 feet before it went straight up to the first ascent of Bradbury mountain. I tripped within the first few minutes and skimmed my knee, which resulted in me slowing down a bit and losing contact to the leading group of 4. I let a couple of runners pass me so that they could lead the way in the darkness. I could feel the adrenaline warming my arms and legs and I quickly started to sweat through my shirt, despite the very
cold 48F (~9C). I was glad that most of the day would be spend in this forested area, as wind would make this indefinitely harder (and colder!).

Descending in these conditions was an extreme adrenaline rush and I had a runners high only 3 miles into the race. Knowing the length of the day’s task, I chose to slow down abruptly as I would’ve otherwise trashed my legs too early. We returned to the school after a 3.5 mile (5.6km) loop and set out to the first of three 15.5mile (25km) loops. Back up Bradbury mountain. This time around the sun was about the break across the horizon, but I could not stop at this point to enjoy the view as I tried to stick with a couple of runners in order to not get lost.

We ended up talking for a while in order to have some time go by. This part of the trail was a 4.7 single track portion that was very flat and runnable. I found out that one was training for a 100 mile race and the other guy runs a marathon in sub 3 hours. I had the sense that I shouldn’t be running at their speed. We entered the hillier portion of the course leapfrogged each other as I powerhiked the uphills, which they ran, but I sprinted by them, leaping from rock to root and back on the steep downhills. What an exhilarating feeling! I stretched my arms out like they were wings and let gravity do all the work. I called it controlled falling.

After we had crested Tryon Mountain and exited the Bradbury Mountain State Park, we had a 2-3 mile stretch of road to cover before re-entering the state park. This was the fastest 2-3 mile stretch of the day as I ran it at 8min/mile pace, which felt so slow, because I didn’t have trees and boulder whizzing close by. I let the two fast guys go here and lost contact to them, which turned out to be a crucial error in regards to navigating. Just one mile after re-entering the park I must’ve taken a wrong turn. I had no idea, as I was still running on a marked trail and the I didn’t know what the trail should look like.
I ran towards a group of runners and thought that I must be doing quite good, because I knew they were behind me and must be on an out-and-back section of the course. More and more runners came towards me and I asked one how long ago another runner had gone by going my direction. He told me that there hasn’t been one as he was convinced that I was going the wrong way! I was turned around and almost back to the last aid station. Turns out, I climbed and descending Tryon Mountain an extra time before realizing my mistake.

At a stage like this your emotions are pretty raw as your heart rate is high and I was already 2-3 hours into the race. I was so angry at the trail marking and at myself for not studying the course better. I should known when to turn or when there should be a hill or not.

Lesson Learned: Study the course!

I had gone from 5-6th place to 22nd. Trying to make up a few spots, I used the angry feeling and powered up the next few hills and sprinted down at an even faster pace. Here it happened that I twisted my ankle as I lifted my eyes from the ground for a brief second to check out the upcoming turns. Big mistake. That hurt like a ^%#^$#!
It seemed very tender and I was reduced to a walk up the next incline. I took a couple of ibuprofen and tried stretching it in all directions. It seemed fine and I began trotting some before falling into a slow comfortable jog. I finished the first loop after a little over 4 hours.

Here I learned that none of the aid stations would carry gels. This is the primary source of calories for me during these long runs, as they don’t upset my stomach as they are pretty much pre-digested. In order to not bonk later in the race I stuffed my pockets with chocolate chip cookies and tried to drink some ginger ale and coca cola. Now my stomach would have to do real work. After an hour or so, and eating some hummus tortilla wraps and turkey wraps I was very nauseated and forced to walk a good portion of the next 10 miles. This ended in a few unwanted stops at the side of the trail throughout the rest of the day. 4 stops to be exact. I told Christina after the first stop that I had "lost my gloves" and she understood after a couple of seconds what I meant. Luckily it "warmed" up to mid 40s and I didn’t need them anymore.

Lesson learned: bring your own supplies and don’t rely on aid stations.

I was about half way through the race when I met Christina, Her aunt and Leiana and was able to change shirts, as mine never dried from the first miles of the day. I had gotten way too cold and it could’ve seriously put my race into jeopardy had I gotten too cold. It is funny how small trivial things can make or break you during a day like that. The cold could’ve finished me off, but the gesture of Christina bringing me a change of clothes and the new found warmth gave me another energy spurt and I was able to catch a couple of runners. Christina had also driven about an hour and half roundtrip to get me some gels, which truly helped me settle my stomach and allowed me to continue moving in a speed that resembled running at least a little.
Course Marking example
The turn where I got lost earlier in the race was now littered with trail markings, which is a good sign of the organizers that they reacted quickly and tried to prevent more people getting lost. Throughout the the race I had heard of more people getting turned around. It is part of Ultrarunning, but unfortunately it does not allow you to measure you running ability with others 1:1 if you can’t rely on the markings at the local runners have the advantage knowing the course in and out. In the spirit of the matter, I promptly missed another turn and ended up running along a boulder line that I knew was too far off course.  After a half mile or so, I ran into a couple of hikers who showed me their map and pointed the way for me. Only that after another 6-8 minutes I was sure that something was still wrong. I turned around and ran into them again, only this time asked to see their map for myself. Then I asked what time it was: 12:56pm (7hours 56min on my feet at this point). Therefore I knew the sun currently indicate south and I could navigate my way through the forest back to a trail that was familiar. There another runner for the 50K distance told me the right direction and we climbed Bradbury mountain again. This was also wrong. At least I knew from here how to get to the aid station. That same runner never made it to the aid station and got lost again. I met him when I left that station a few minutes later.

Lesson learned: bring a race map

The pivotal point of the day came at the aid station as I told Christina that I was thinking of dropping down to the 35 mile race distance and calling it a day. The extra miles and the emotional rollercoaster had taken their toll. My leg had began cramping and I still had 15.5miles to go. My ankle was throbbing and I had no desire to walk the rest of the way. She told me she wasn’t interested in hearing me whine later as she knew I would regret this decision. I had told her before the race that I never want to drop down during a race as I consider it failing the race I signed up for and I do want to set an example for Leiana to follow through what you set out to do. No easy way out.

The race directors asked if I was done and I told him I’d see him in 4 hours. I kissed Christina and Leiana good bye and stormed back up Bradbury mountain. I went fast enough that I actually beat Christina to the next aid station. I ended up passing the same runner for a 3rd time today, even though I never so him pass me. That’s because he started ahead of me at the race beginning and must’ve passed me every time I went off trail. He was part of the running group that put on the race and we talked for a couple of minutes, before I decided to go for broke and run as hard as I could until I couldn’t run anymore.
I made the last aid station before the cut off where they require you to wear a head lamp again as the sun had begun to go down again and the forest made the visibility worse. I may have been better off taken that head lamp, but I ran right through the aid station. No mishaps at all on the last loop as I now knew the trail by heart and even though I could barely jog on the flats and had to hike the uphills, I could still fly down the descents. This got a little sketchy, because after my 8th and final ascent of Bradbury mountain I could see that the sun had gone down and I needed to still finish another 10 minutes or so of downhill running in the impending dark. I got another runner’s high and was elated when I popped out of the forest and sprinted across the finish line to see Leiana smiling at me and Christina giving me a well deserved kiss.

Anxiously I awaited my medal, like a puppy waiting for a treat, but ended up getting a much cooler token. A sweatshirt for every finisher. That means that only people that finished this 50 miler could wear this shirt. You couldn’t buy it. And it wouldn’t get lost in a box somewhere like other medals. Pretty sweet idea by the race organization. My day ended after 12 hours 1 minute and 14 seconds on my feet. A new PR for consecutive racing and it makes me feel positive for my plans for longer races yet. I got 15th overall and 2nd in my age group. I feel that I need to come back and give this race my best shot. Better preparation, my own fueling, a map and I should be able to break 10 hours. Time will tell.

A couple of days later we flew home and I was happy that Leiana slept through the majority of both flights as my legs had been extremely stiff and I needed the rest. My ankle has started thr throb again, which is weird, considering it was fine for the 3 days after the race, but maybe my sore muscles numbed that specific pain and as my soreness recedes that pain can stand out. Either way, I haven’t run since and only gone on the treadmill for a couple of miles of uphill walking to flush out the legs. I’m already eyeing the next race and plan on running a couple of more marathons this year to add to my state total.