Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Iron Horse 100

As the journey for 30 100 mile races in one year continues, Liz and I have been pleased with our abilities to recover and survive successive races.  Of course we've only begun and the real heavy lifting will be starting soon.  As our schedule shows, starting 24 March with the NJ Ultra Festival we will be facing a stretch with 10 races in 11 weeks.  That, will be interesting.  The short story is that Liz and I finished the Iron Horse together in just under 23 hours.  The long version starts below.

The big challenge in this race for me came from my work schedule since Rocky Raccoon.  With 12 days between races here early in the year and much less opportunity for work later in the year I'm trying to pad the bank account a bit and so working quite a bit.  I worked 96+ hours (all 12+ hour night shift 7p-7a) in between Long Haul and Iron Horse with 84 of those hours coming in the 7 day stretch ending on Thursday morning before the race.  I slept well Thursday night but on Friday I went to sleep at 10pm and woke up at 1am - wide awake.  This often happens when trying to transition from night shift.  It's as if my body thinks I'm just down for a nap.  I didn't toss and turn, sleepy but unable to sleep.  I was WIDE AWAKE!  Oh well, at least I had Thursday's good sleep in the bank.  I'd just have to tough it out for the race.

We flew down to Jacksonville on Friday and made the 1.5 hour drive to the race briefing at 6pm.  RD Chris Rodatz gave a thorough and humorous briefing warning of the threats of dehydration and alligators.  The course is on a rails to trails corridor and at one point there is a long and old trestle that we were required to walk (and not run) so we wouldn't fall off and get eaten by an alligator.  Seriously.  Disqualification loomed for those daring to run the trestle!  The course consists of a 12.5 mile section of trail that we would run out and back on 4 times.  Approximately 1/3 of the course was paved which was very nice, and new since last year.

It was good to see Jay and Anita Finkle, Tyler Peek, Joe Lugiano and others at the briefing.  After the meeting an internet motel search found us an affordable room at the Budget Inn and the Golden Corral filled our bellies.  Drop bags would be delivered in the morning.  The weather forecast called for 50% chance of showers Saturday day and 40% at night.  As I said above we went to sleep at 10 but I was awake from 1am on looking at the internet and just relaxing.  I was a bit worried about not sleeping but not too frustrated really.  I was enjoying just doing nothing after a busy few weeks.

At the start it was very humid and warm.  No need for a thermal shirt or gloves.  We started on the pavement with a 1.75 out and back before heading to other end of the course.  I had heard some horror stories about how the rocks could beat up your feet but I really only found about a mile of the course to be uncomfortably rocky.  That being said though, at the end of the race and post-race the feet felt quite pulverized.  I think that even the sections where the railbed rocks were not exposed or loose were very hard.  That plus the pavement made my feet and joints feel as if I had run a road marathon rather than a trail 100.  After passing the start/finish line we had about 2.5 miles to the end of the pavement end and then a mile and a half or so the next aid (aid station 2).  This section between the pavement and aid 2 was where the rocks were loose and hard on the dogs.  The stretch from aid 2 to the next aid station (#3) was the longest of the race.  It ran about 5.5 miles and seemed to go on forever.  The course has very little elevation variation and few turns so it can get monotonous.  There is a stretch coming from aid 2 to aid 3 where, at night you can see the light of the aid station from about 2 miles out.  It made me think about stories I've heard about Heartland.  Finallly, past aid 3, where we could have our second drop bag, we did a 1.4 mile out and back.  This was the section with the trestle we had to walk.  It actually seemed quite safe to me but only due to the dual ribbons of 2X6's that had recently been nailed to the cross ties.  I'm assuming this was done for the race - it sure did make crossing easier!  Thank you to whoever did that work!

I felt terrible as I started the race.  It was warmer than I like and I just had no oomph.  The first lap wasn't too terrible but on the second lap I was really struggling.  I was sweating like crazy, sleepy, lacking in energy and just not having much fun.  At one point about 6 miles into the second loop I got so sleepy that I was weaving all over the place and moving way too slow.  As I've done many times in past 100 milers I laid down on the side of the trail to take a quick nap.  I use my water bottle as a pillow and can usually drift off in a couple minutes when I'm this sleepy.  I had just started to drift off when the inevitable runner from behind caught up and, worried about this body lying on the side of the trail, asked if I was alright.  I said, clearly, "I'm just trying to sleep."  Usually, people will just move on but not this person!  Are you sure you're alright?  More grumpily, I replied that I was just sleepy, thinking that this person would let me be.  "Do you want me to send someone back from the aid station?"  By this point I was wide awake and grumpy.  I sarcastically said "Thank you for waking me up" and ran off down the trail.  For whatever reason, I didn't struggle with sleep again until after dark.

I continued to struggle through the second loop finishing in about 10.5 hours.  As the sun went down and the temps moderated a bit I felt better.  At least until the sleep monster hit again.  This time I went off the trail into the woods and got a solid 10 minute nap.  That nap along with liberal doses of 5 hour energy, Starbucks double shots with energy drinks, and caffeine pills I managed to stay awake the rest of the race.  Throughout the race Liz had been ahead of me and despite my napping and a porta-pottie break she had stayed consistently within a mile or two in front of me.  We'd see each other at about the same spot at each end of the trail.  I finally caught up with her a bit after aid 2 on the way to aid 3 on our 4th lap.  We chatted and told each other about our respective races.  We were both moving slower, spending more time walking and less time shuffling as most people do at this point in a 100 miler.

The section coming back from aid 3 to aid 2 seemed to go on FOREVER!  Finally, we reached aid 2 and walked the rocks back to the pavement.  Once on the pavement, we moved better though our feet were on fire.  Finally the finish was in sight and Liz's watch said that we had about 7 minutes left to break 23 hours though she wasn't sure how accurate it was.  So we punched it.  We were probably doing 8 minute mile pace for that last 1/2 mile or so.  Results are not out yet so I don't know our exact time but it was 22:57 give or take a minute or two.

Myself, RD Chris Rodatz, and Liz a few minutes after
finishing the Iron Horse 100 mile run.
I have to give cudos once again to a superb crew of volunteers.  We were well taken care of at the aid stations with some volunteers there for the entire race, taking numbers and times, helping with drop bags, filling bottles and whatever else needed doing.  The food was mostly standard fare but there was some out of this world (I would love the recipe if the chef reads this!) gumbo at aid 2 and some excellent burgers and brats at the start finish line.  These races can't happen without the volunteers and as I try to tell them at the race, we all appreciate them very much even if we don't always think to say it during the race.  Thank You, Chris and crew!

Finally, a word about the swag!  The sub 24 hour belt buckle is very nice - a picture can be found on the event website.  And the technical race shirt will be proudly worn at the our next event the Doubletop 100  just an hour from home.  Nice.  No airplanes or rental cars!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Rocky Raccoon 100

As many of you know this race is part of my and Liz's quest to run 30 100 mile races in one calendar year. We both did the Long Haul 100 in FL two weeks ago.  On the Monday after the race we flew home to GA and went right to work that night, needless to say, a bit sleep deprived to start a 12 hour night shift.  That may have been part of our downfall or maybe not but later in the week we both started suffering from a nasty infection in the lungs.  I'm pretty sure it was a bacterial infection but I'm not sure if we picked it up in FL, at work in GA, or perhaps we had been hosting it and our immune systems got weak enough that it was able to establish itself.  In any event, we both had terrible coughs, fevers, and could only sleep with the aid of Nyquil for a week or more.  I started feeling better on the Wednesday before the Rocky Raccoon 100 and by race morning was feeling okay though a bit tired.  Liz, on the other hand, coughed through the night before the race and struggled throughout because of the crud.  Hopefully we can both get past this soon as we have a busy schedule ahead......

Our alarm went off at 5am for the 6am start but we hardly needed it as the thunder was shaking the foundations of the hotel!  I looked outside and the rain was coming down in buckets.  I looked at the radar and it showed a very strong line of T-storms just moving through the area.  It looked to probably be raining by the time we started but the worst should be through.  Then I remembered that RD Joe Prusaitis had offered an early start so there were folks starting in this deluge ... I'm glad I wasn't one of them!  We packed up and I got soaked just dashing to the car 50 feet from the motel overhang.  It was shaping up to be a race to remember.  A quick stop at McDonalds for coffee and it was off to Huntsville State Park.  There was a backup at the park gate where they were collecting park fees for spectators so we were held up a bit.  Liz headed to the start area to drop her drop bags off and I followed here about 1 minute later, planning to meet before the start.  Well, I heard the countdown just as I was approaching the corral where the drop bags of 750 runners were.  I missed the start but was able to join in with the latter part of the pack. I never did see Liz at the start line.

As we started it was raining pretty good and while the trail wasn't too terribly narrow there were a LOT of runners!  I just settled into the easy pace knowing that there was plenty of time and that I wanted to try to start really slow to warm up anyway.  We always say that we're going to start real easy but then get caught up in the excitement and adrenalin of the crowd and go faster than we plan.  My only real goal beyond just finishing the race in the allotted time was to go sub-24.  With the flat and fast course I expected to have a comfy margin for a slow start and time at the aid stations to eat well.  As we continued along the course in the continuing rain it became evident that there was going to be some sloppy going.  In places there were good sized puddles as well as some soft muddy spots.  I realized that keeping the feet from getting soaked was not going to happen so I soon just started splashing through the puddles rather than spending the time and energy to pick my way around them as most everyone else was doing.  Later on in the race when things started to dry out some and I changed shoes and socks I did start to work to keep them from getting completely soaked but early on it was just raining too hard - the feet were guaranteed to get soaked.

It rained for about 2-3 hours and then stopped until mid afternoon when it rained again for an hour or so.  The course drained remarkably well though there were places where the mud bogs never did drain out.  I found the course to be a bit harder than I expected but that was probably from all the wetness and mud.  The roots were rarely bad enough to slow you down  but you definitely had to pay attention and have a good light.  I found when I used a headlamp alone I wouldn't see the roots always and kept stumbling.  With a handheld I rarely tripped on the roots.  The course has several sections where traffic goes in both directions and the 50 mile course differs slightly from the 100 mile course but the markings on the course were amazingly well done.  Staying on course really was a no brainer.  In the spots where you could go wrong there were multiple signs including red "wrong way" signs as well as runner corridors that channeled you where you needed to go.

The volunteers were also really excellent.  There were plenty of them and they were ready to help you in any way they could.  Some of the aid stations also had a wide array of homemade goodies in addition to hot soup, sandwiches, wraps, breakfast burritos and more.  My hat is off to all the volunteers!  Thanks you!

Getting back to my race, I ran steady and easy through 52 miles before stopping to change shoes and socks.  I ran the first 52 miles in my new NB MT110's and absolutely loved them!  This was my first run in them with the only break in being wearing them the day before while flying out from GA.  I think I need a half size bigger than what I wore with the MT101's but these shoes feel so much nicer.  I well definitely be using them as much as I can through the year.  I liked the lower heel but the most noticeable thing was that they fit like a smooth glove and the rock plate provided great protection.  They also had MUCH better traction in the muddy conditions.  I used the MT101's in mud and snow at Hardrock last year and slipped all over the place.  These MT110s stuck like glue in the mud.

I changed into some Saucony road shoes which were more cushioned but much less tractiony.  I kept these shoes on to the end though I did change socks one more time just because my feet felt so waterlogged and I wanted to feel something dry.  I think it was worth the 3 minutes it took to change.  My energy levels felt a bit low all day but never got real low.  I attribute this to the sickness and work more than Long Haul.  I was able to chug along pretty steady though.  I'm guessing my laps were about 4:20, 4:30, 5:00, 4:50 and 5:00.  This is just from memory so it could be off.  My finishing time was 23:31.

I was impressed with how many first time 100 milers there were.  And so many of them finished well.  It's very encouraging and inspiring to see so many coming into the sport.  There are so many young people and folks so psyched and excited to be achieving something as big as running 100 miles.  I heard a lot of great stories and saw some amazing feats of determination.  One thing that I have noticed on the other hand as the sport has grown is disrespect for the outdoors.  I don't know if it's coming from shorter distances, mt biking, triathalons  or what but people just seem to dump their trash these days wherever they please.  Not only do you see gu wrappers (especially the small top section) but you see cups, bowls and wrappers literally miles from the aid stations.  In my mind this is totally unacceptable and has to change.

For any new (or old) ultrarunners reading this let's try to change this mindset.  I'm guessing people think that the race volunteers will clean up after them.  But this trash can be missed by the cleanup crew, it can blow into the woods before they get there, or get mushed down into mud or duff only to pop up later.  It also gives a bad impression to other users of the race site as well as park officials.  It's not that hard to get rid of your trash in the bins 100 yds outside the aid station or to carry it until you get to a trash container. I think RD's should make this kind of littering a disqualification offense.  (And some do.)  Sorry for the rant but being old school this trash thing has really gotten out of hand.  We can do better!  End of rant!

I saw Liz 2 miles or so from the finish on my last lap so I knew she'd be a while finishing.  She was moving slow but she was moving and I knew that she would finish.  When I got done, I only hung around the start/finish for a short while before I walked the 1/2 mile to the car and tucked myself into the front seat with the heater on for some rest before Liz came in.  I wasn't sure how long she'd be so I set an alarm so I could be there to greet her at 8:30.  She finally came in just before 11 to finish in 18:56, her 3rd 100 mile finish in 4 weeks and this after starting the race sick.  She is one tough cookie.

We flew home on Monday and as I turned my phone on after landing in Atlanta, it rang.  Work was calling....  Should I answer after what happened two weeks ago?  I did, and told them I would work.  So far I'm feeling OK - no relapse in sight despite a hellishly busy night.  Liz is still coughing like crazy but claims to be feeling better.  Hopefully she too is on the road to recovery and will have this bug licked before the Iron Horse 100 in 1 1/2 weeks.  The journey continues....

This now makes 3 100's for Liz and 2 for me.  Sorry for the lack of photos but with the rain and the lack of a post race breakfast I didn't manage to get one to include here.  Looking forward to the next one and seeing some new and old friends.  Be sure to say Hi if you're at Iron Horse!  Thanks for RD Joe Prusaitis, his lovely wife Joyce and all the most excellent volunteers at Rocky!