Sunday, March 11, 2012

Way Too Cool 50K Race Report

What a day for a trail run! Perfect weather with a start in the high 40’s, no wind and perfect trail conditions all of which are unusual for this race.  Typically, The WTC, in Cool, CA, is a wet, muddy, often stormy race in the western foothills of the Sierra where only the most obsessed trail runners flock to test their skill.  It is mostly single track through beautiful California woods with some steep climbs, but some gloriously long rolling trail along the contour lines of deep canyons and sometimes even paralleling the American River.  This year was ideal and for sure, a course record was set at 3:27 or so.  Mere mortals like me were happy with an hour or several behind that!
Typically nervous before any big race, I calmed myself with positive affirmations of confidence and visualized myself running through the finish line.  I had slept very poorly the night before in a bad bed.  I kept dreaming that I had woken up after the start of the race!  Breakfast was minimal since the butterflies in my stomach refused to land.  I chose stretch shorts (lycra/cotton combo) and a long sleeved Patagonia shirt, DryMax socks and New Balance 110s.  A Nathan waist pack with a 20 oz bottle filled with half strength Nunn solution to start, a bag of S caps in case they didn't have any at the aid stations and a couple of NutriGrain bars.  Throughout the day, I filled my bottle with water and supplemented with S Caps (that were at the aid stations) about 1 to 2 per hour.  Temps rose into the 70s.

 Me and the WTC Frog before the start

A few minutes before the start, I positioned myself fairly far back in the pack with the intention to “start slow and taper off”, but my intentions faded quickly as I went out at a 9 minute pace feeling strong and relaxed.  I thought that this could be a great day.  10 minute miles?  No way, I am strong, I am woman!  yeah right.

The first miles were down hill on pavement, and then changed to dirt trail and steady uphill climbs on mostly single track.  I found myself hovering around an 8:30 min/mile pace and still felt fine.  The first 8 miles is a loop that takes you back to the starting line and I found myself going through that 8.1 miles in 1:21.  Wow, a bit fast, but I still felt good.  I even went through an ankle high stream to avoid the line of runners crossing over the rocks.   Minutes later, I hardly noticed that my feet had been wet.

As I headed into the 11 mile aid station, I was still doing sub 9 min miles and was amazed at my speed given the terrain, however I began to feel some twinges in my right calf and hamstring.  My focus intensified on relaxing my lower legs and allowing my pelvis to rotate easily.  I realized that even tho I was quite relaxed I had not done any real speed work, so the energy that was required for each foot fall at this speed and distance was beginning to take its toll.

Sure enough, approaching 13 miles, the pain in my calf intensified.  By mile 14, I was at a full blown hobble.  I wondered if I would have to quit.  How could I possibly do another 17 miles?  I heard Ron’s voice in my head, “this too shall pass.”  Don’t quit, I can’t quit.  Can I get to the finish walking?  My slow pace eased my calf, but uphills were torture and even running the flats was painful.  I could jog easily downhills, but the worst uphills were still ahead.  I pushed the thought of Goat Hill out of my mind for the moment.  Did I have a strain or was this just a cramp that would pass?  All I could do was wait for time to pass and see.

So a few miles went by.  People passed me.  The calf pain backed off from 8 out of 10 to a mere 4 or 5 out of 10.  I could run on the flats.  Uphills still hurt.  By mile 19, I was moving better.  Hydration was good throughout, high energy bars and coke at all the aid stations kept me going.  My stomach will take anything!

Around mile 20, I hooked up with another 5 runners who were averaging a nice 10 to 11 min pace.  The leader, Daniel, was walking in all the right places and running swiftly on the flats and downhills.  Together we ran about 5 miles to the base of Goat Hill, a ¾ mile slug up an extremely steep climb where the 26.3 mile aid station is.   Short strides and big arm swing took me past my group that had pulled me for the last hour.  My calf pain had receded to a tolerable 3 or 4 out of 10 as long as I Chiwalked the uphills and ChiRan relaxed at a slower 10 min pace with a very short stride on the flats and downhills.  Norm Klein was serving soup and celebrating his birthday at the top!  (Norm was the Western States 100 Mile RD for many years.)

I later found out that Dave, my husband, had run back from the start to the top of Goat Hill and missed me by 5 minutes or so!  I had not seen him since the start and didn’t see him again until the finish.  He had underestimated my aid station times – I was running way faster than I told him I would!

The last 5 miles were spent changing leads with a couple of young women who could fly uphill, but I passed them going down.  I heard my phone go off and when I was walking up a hill, checked to see who it was.  It was Mary so I called her back.  She was amazed I called while I was "running" and it was good to hear her laugh as I told her I had about 3 miles to go, I was wiped and I'd call her at the finish!

The last aid station came and went in a blur and I was told there was only 1.4 miles to go.  My Garmin was lying to me!  Happens when there are so many ups and downs on a trail; the Garmin loses a lot of distance.

The last hill was brutally short and steep, only 4 tenths from the finish.  A guy with a bullhorn at the top shouted encouragement.  I looked at my watch and realized, despite my calf pain, I was actually going to make my goal of finishing under 6:30!  I poured my mind into the present and focused on relaxation with every step and an arm swing that kept my pelvis rotating freely around my center.  Only a few more minutes to go!

The last 50 yards, a woman ahead of me slowed to a walk.  I touched her shoulder and said, “Come on girlfriend, let’s finish together!”  She began to run and followed me in across the line.
A woman hugged me for getting her to run to the finish
My dad and Dave were there waiting.  My dad had dried blood all over his pants!  He had fallen in the middle of Highway 49 when Emily (his Golden Lab) kind of got in his way.  He took himself to the ED, got a stitch in his finger, and an x-ray confirmed he broke a rib!  Then he drove himself back to see me finish!

Dad at the finish with me!  Back from the ED, no less!

I did it!  Met my goal of under 6:30 with an official time of 6:27:44
Lessons learned, notes to self:

  • Do speed work if the goal is to go fast.
  • Skiing may not have been the best way to taper – I had been sick with a cold only 2 weeks ago as well so my last real training was the 26 miles 3 weeks before the race.  If I had not been sick, a 15 miler would have been good in place of some of the skiing.
  • Don’t go out faster than you know you should.  Stick to the plan.  In this case, 10 min miles.
  • Have your dad take a picture of you before you start so he can remember what to look for as you come through aid stations and approaching the finish.
  • Remember that “this too, shall pass.”  Stick with it and remember that the goal is to finish and finish well, not hurt.  The only competition is me.
  • S Caps worked well, again. 
  • Make sure the bed works for me before I settle in the room for the night before.
  • Stretch shorts work to prevent chaffing!!!
A fabulous day despite the lows.  I am so grateful for my friends and family support!  When it gets dark, those are the ones you think about.  It gives me a reason to never quit.