This is a tough report for me to write. It looks like my attempt to run 30 100's this year may be over. Liz is still going strong though getting her 8th 100 mile finish this weekend with a 3rd place finish in 23:17. I mentioned in my Graveyard 100 report that I woke up the Monday following with some achilles tendonitis. I rested, iced, and did anti-inflammatories and felt fine going into NJ. But by mile 20 I could start to feel something not quite right in that left achilles area and by 50 miles I was ready to stop. I decided to change shoes from some Solomon's to my Saucony Grid Roadster's and I immediately felt better. When I ran in these shoes I didn't have the feeling that I was irritating the injured area.
During my 7th lap, though, I again could feel that same area getting irritated. Shuffling easy on the pavement was okay but in the areas where the tread was more uneven each step caused just a bit of discomfort. All during that 7th lap I debated with myself on whether to drop or not. I never had any debilitating pain. I'm sure that I could have finished the race unless the discomfort increased a lot. I was taking Celebrex which does a great job for me for pain relief and what I was worried about was doing more damage to the tendon and putting myself in a position of 8+ weeks of recovery rather than a shorter timeframe. I debated and debated as I did that 10 mile loop and even came to the start/finish and told co-RD Rick McNulty that I was probably going to drop but that I wanted to sit and think about it first. I finally decided to drop after about 15 minutes.
As I told Rick, I was absolutely fine mentally, and my legs felt fine to finish the run. I wasn't even limping or changing my stride that much due to the achilles. My real worry was that I was doing greater damage that would cost me down the road. I had had two weeks to recover from what seemed minor irritation and it obviously was not fully healed. I've dealt with overuse injuries to my right achilles, my plantar fascii, my shin, my IT band, and my knees which has all made me pretty cautious. I knew that I could not just run through all this with my schedule and that I was going to need to take more time off. So my decision to quit this race was really damage control.
Right now my thought is to stop running and to rehab this thing the best I can and give it a try again at Salt Flats on 28 April. That gives me almost 5 weeks off. When I start back I'll also probably run with heel lifts which might well have saved me this weekend. I wish now that I had worn some but it's too late now. This means I'll miss 5 races in our schedule and these 5 are some of the easiest. I'm really interested in the Salt Flats course and the Zion run the following week so if I can get healthy and stay healthy through these I'll be happy and may be able to save much of the rest of the year. It seems a long shot right now but you never know what's going to happen.
So for me for the next month it is going to be supporting Liz, gentle massage and very gentle stretching, icing, and wearing my nifty new Strassburg sock to bed each night. It's not ideal to start back running with a 100 miler but I'm hoping with my experience it will be okay. I'll start slow, make sure my heel is lifted with inserts and/or shoes with a big toe drop, and keep my fingers crossed. Also on my radar is Hardrock which I definitely do not want to miss or to start injured. It's the highlight of my running year and it would kill me to miss it. Enough of the injury report and on to the race report.
As expected Jennifer and Rick McNulty, along with their entire family, put on a great race. They do this as their livelihood and they have it dialed. The Ultra Festival is an event featuring distances of 100, 62, 50, 31 and 26 miles. There were a lot of people on the trail in the early hours but the course was able to accommodate the numbers with relative ease. The 100 milers started at 7am, 15 minutes behind the 100k folks and we started around the familiar loop of the 3 Days at the Fair course. After 3/4 of a mile though we kept straight rather than turning toward the start/finish area and headed out to a 1 mile out and back, followed by a 2.5 mile out and back and then returned to the start on the back side of the fairgrounds on a combination of grass and asphalt.
The trail portion was more or less grassy and beat out but by midday it was in much better shape after the repeated travel of so many runners. There were a few muddy spots and even one stepping stone water crossing but it was easy to keep the feet dry. One other obstacle on the course were the old rail-to-trail trestles which had been reinforced with strips of particle board. In spots these boards started to break and several runners, including myself and Liz, stepped on a board and had the end flip up catching the front of the other ankle. The male leader even sprained his ankle on some of these boards on his 9th lap ending his race. Jennifer did go back out around sunset though and reinforced it all making it much more secure. Next year I'm sure they'll have a better platform built over these trestles.
One peculiarity of the festival format was seeing so many runners having finished their marathon or 50k while we still had 70 miles to go. Those beers sure did look good! It was nice to have so many runners out there though. It kept things interesting with so many people to watch and talk with. By even the 70 mile mark it had thinned out a lot though with the two out and backs you did still get a chance to see other runners pretty frequently. This was the first year at the fairgrounds venue for the Ultra Festival and I think it will work well for the races. The fairgrounds has a large concession stand that they use for the main aid station which really works great as it has a huge walk in freezer and fridge as well as great cooking facilities which they use to make burgers, pizza, hot dogs, taquitos and more! And it is, after all, all about the food.
The volunteer staff is not huge but Rick and Jennifer design things so that they don't need a lot of volunteers so it never feels like there isn't enough help. In fact, it's just the opposite. And Rick's sister Marie is a human dynamo worth 4 volunteers all herself! It was also a special treat to see Marcy Beard working at the aid station at the end of the 2.5 mile out and back. Thanks Marcy! While this is the family's business you still get great value with all the swag and aid station food. It never feels at all like any corners have been cut. I highly recommend any race they might put on. It's sure to be well run.
I won't have any race reports of my own to write for a while but I will still post with reports of any of Liz's races. Right now we're looking at possible schedule changes and Liz might end up dropping a race from this long stretch but no definite decisions have been made yet. This coming weekend we will be driving the Winnebago up to NC for the Umstead 100. I lived in this area from 1998 to 2006 so I'll get to see lots of old friends and work at my old post at Tom's Ptomaine Tavern during the run. Umstead was my first 100 back in 2002 and while I haven't run it since I did help out each year until I moved away. I'll post a report when we get back.
Race count: Liz (8) Scott (5)