Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Ice Age 50-Miler Race Report

Well, this isn't exactly the race report I hoped I'd be writing. I of course wanted to be celebrating the completion of my first 50-miler. But it was not to be. That said, I am very proud of what I did accomplish (both with my fundraising and in the race). I am proud of the way my body held up physically and how I handled the hills and trails. For whatever reason, despite drinking what I thought was a lot of fluids, I got very dehydrated, which led to dizziness, and the decision to call it a day at the mile 40.3 aid station. Yes, I was/am disappointed - I wanted more than anything to finish! But I left it all out there...and I even impressed myself with what I was able to do out there. I'll take it. For now.

I read race reports where people go mile by mile, or section by section, and explain exactly how they felt and what they were thinking and doing during that part of the race. I have no idea how those people remember with such detail and clarity. I'd like to think that I can't remember specifics because I was so in the zone, in the moment, while I was out there...not thinking about how I will report back, but just enjoying the "being" on the trail. Whatever the case, here are some random thoughts and memories of what happened out there:

I completed law school - literally - on Thursday (May 8th) at about 4:45pm. I walked out of my last final exam and it felt a bit surreal...I wanted to celebrate, but I had to pack! My flight departed for WI at 6am the next morning!

I arrived in Milwaukee at around 8:30am and met my mom, who had flown in from Duluth, at the airport. We got in our rental car and drove the 40 minutes to the hotel, which was about 15 miles from the race start. Once there we just hung out and relaxed. I got my drop bags and crew bag ready for the next day, laid out my clothes and I was ready to roll!

My race fuel!

My mom hanging out in the hotel as I got ready for the race.
At around 4pm we went to packet pickup which was held at a restaurant just up the road from our hotel. It was very low-key and painless!

Sign on the restaurant where we went for packet pickup

My race number: "Lucky" 13!

The alarm(s) went off at 4am on Saturday. I was definitely anxious before the start, but I felt ready to go. I strangely had an excellent night's sleep the night before so I felt rested and solid before the start.

It was still chilly in the morning when we arrived at the start.

Right before the start! Ready to go.

The race has 3 distinct parts: The first is a loop on a XC ski trail and the second and third are two "out and backs" on the single-track Ice Age trail. If you are interested in seeing how the course is laid out, you can click here.

The race course.

I felt really good from the start, which was on a nice grassy trail. The trail was nice and wide here so I was able to chat with several different runners - something I love about trail running culture: the people. They are all so down to earth, so supportive, and friendly. Not that there aren't friendly people in road races, of course...but it's just, well, different. It's different in a way that I find preferable. Even the people who were out there looking for a specific time (as opposed to those of us just hoping to complete the race, and before the cutoff) don't take themselves quite as seriously as road runners do. I just love it.

After that first loop, the trail got more challenging. It was now "single-track" (only enough space for one runner at a time, so no running side by side) and since it was out and back, there were people going in both directions.

The trail started off reasonable enough, but sometime after mile 17 it started getting very hilly. At least for this girl who trained on the flat paths of Washington DC. I knew the course would be hilly...but I wasn't prepared for how steep and constant they were. That said: I realized right away that I was handling them really well. I hiked all of the uphills (everyone around me did this). This is a common way of handling the length and terrain of a trail race, especially an ultra. People were talking about taking the downhills easy because they can shred your quads after a while...but I pounded them all. I am not exactly built for distance running...but what I do have is lots of strength in my rear end and quads! I've never had trouble with downhills: I am built for them. And I take them aggressively. It's extremely fun and exhilarating.

Side note: It was pretty cool, on the first out and back, to jump out of the way when the elites flew by me. The speed with which they run the trails is amazing. And even though they were racing for more than just completion, they still made a point of saying something encouraging ("nice work" "looking good" and the like...) as we passed each other on the trail. Pretty awesome.

In the end, both a men's and women's course record were set that day - pretty amazing considering how warm it got in the afternoon. But they, of course, were done before the afternoon! For the approximately 6 hours, give or take, that they were running the weather was pretty great. You can read about the elite race here.

In general: I loved this race. I loved the course, I loved the event, I loved being out there. I was inspired by my mission (and success!) to raise money for Jacob's Ladder and I was excited that the race was finally happening. My body felt great and I realized I really was in great shape and ready for this race. I have never trained as long or as consistently for anything and it really paid off. Additionally, I did core/strength classes at the gym all semester and I think that really helped both my endurance and my ability to handle the hills and the technical parts of the trail. And I am proud of all of that.

But around mile 35, I started feeling dizzy. This happens, so at first I thought I'd be able to figure it out by doing something with my food or fluids. It was definitely warm (though I didn't really feel overly hot) and I had been running for a long time. And I thought my nutrition had been going well. I found that what I was craving most were the PBJ sandwiches at the aid stations and I had 1-2 pieces of those (they were cut in quarters) at nearly all of the aid stations. In between, I had Gu Roctane gels and Gu Chomps. But not that much. I only had 2-3 actual Gu packets and I think 3 packs of chomps during the whole race. For fluids, I was drinking water and water mixed with Nuun electrolyte tablets. I made a point of drinking a bunch of water while at the aid station and then filling up my 20 oz bottle before leaving the station. It's hard to imagine that I didn't drink enough, or how I could have had more, but clearly my body needed more. I was, of course, sweating a lot. I took a LOT of salt tabs (S-Caps), more than I ever have before, because I could feel the salt drying on my skin. The only other symptom I had that something was wrong, other than the dizziness, were my swollen fingers: they were HUGE. Very puffy - so much so that I could hardly bend them. They looked like huge sausages. This is not completely abnormal, but I have never seen them this big before.

At the mile 37 aid station I tried everything. I had some banana, salt, tons of water...I took off running again but I just didn't feel right. By mile 38 I was walking and trying to decide if I could push through. During the whole race I had been making good time without feeling like I was putting in too much effort. I had hit the half way point (aid station at 24.4) at 5 hours, 15 minutes. And at that point I still felt realy great!

I was feeling great at the halfway point!

But as I was walking mile 38 I realized I was losing a lot of time and knew that if I was going to push it through to the end and make the cut offs, I really needed to start alternating running. I tried over and over again but I was just too darn dizzy. My peripheral vision was fuzzy...and it was just too hard to run and dodge the roots and rocks in this kind of shape. I was probably around mile 39 when I decided that I had to stop at the next aid station, mile 40.3 (the point to the far right on the map above) and drop out. It was a terrible decision/feeling. And a very long walk to get there. 

I think the most frustrating thing was that I otherwise felt really good - physically, that is. Yes, I was tired. And yes, I had soreness (my hamstrings and lower back were definitely talking!). But I felt like I could do it...if I could have just figure out what was going wrong with my nutrition. But it wasn't meant to be.

When I got to the aid station I found my trusty crew: my mom and step mom, who had been so incredibly amazing all day! It had been so great all day arriving at the aid station and having them waiting there for me...snapping pictures and getting me whatever food and water I demanded! They were amazing, especially since they had never done, or seen, anything like a trail ultra before! I was so grateful to have them there all day. They had been so impressed by how strong I felt every time they had seen me up to this point. As such, it sucked to tell them that I had to stop. I sat down for a while and finally pulled off my timing chip and gave it to the volunteers. I wasn't the only one doing that...but that didn't make it any easier.

Here are some pics that my mom took at the aid stations:

I really did have a lot of fun.
See? Fun.
Loved those PBJ sandwiches
See? I drank a LOT!
I had the best crew - even when I got grumpier and more demanding. "GIMEE CHOMPS NOW!"

The whole experience was just so incredible: training for an ultra, fundraising for a cause I really cared about, and focusing on it all for so long - it was really a full year's journey when all was said and done. Thank you, again, to everyone who supported me through your donations to Jacob's Ladder (I raised $3,635!) and for your encouragement through the long training process.  It was truly one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had. And even though I technically didn't "finish," I definitely completed an incredible journey. My thanks to everyone who was a part of the journey with me.

Up Next? On Sunday I graduate from Georgetown Law. A pretty great couple of weeks.

All gussied up in my graduation garb