Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Chippewa 50 race report

So I ran my first ultra, and what a race it was. I'm excrutiatingly sore in my legs right now. My head is full of thoughts about yesterday.

This was a 50K with several inches of snow on the ground, probably over a foot in some places. I didn't know what to wear; I don't have any trail shoes, of course, so I just wore my normal Asics. I did think briefly about wearing hiking boots but didn't. At the start, there were several people wearing pretty normal running shoes so I figured I had made the right choice.

As usual, we got up too late and didn't drink enough. I didn't realize it until I peed - for the first time during the race - at 25 miles. So off we went through the snow, running, sliding, walking in a group of 7 people in the front. A guy I know from previous races, Matt, took the task of breaking the trail. He is a thoroughbred runner but probably didn't realize how much he was working compared to the rest of us. I have run with him in shorter races, including a couple of half marathons; I'm a little faster in those races but I know he has run some really fast marathons. Matt lead for most of the first 8 miles or so with the rest of us just hanging back. It really was not fair to let him do all the work. We got lost twice and probably added a mile to the course that way. I guess that's trail running for you: you run a half mile out and back in deep snow and when you get back, someone else latches on to your group and everyone smiles.

The little detour swelled the lead group to probably ten runners. I always tried to stay in last spot. For some reason, I would get really tired running right behind the pack. Instead, I would walk the deep snow and run faster on the flats or where there wasn't so much snow. I felt much better when I was opening up my stride a little. If there hadn't been snow, I probably would have tried to open up a gap. Of course, there was snow and some of the other runners would have gone faster if they didn't rely on someone breaking trail.

It was, thankfully, an out-and-back course, so the way back was trodden down. At the turn-around, I felt great. I hadn't really run fast yet and the legs felt pretty good. The Bois was being watched all day by mother-in-law; she was waiting there in her car. I walked over to the car while drinking some energy drink and told her, famously, that I thought I was going to win the race; that I felt really good. Let me explain that a little bit and let me reveal the fact that I didn't even get close to winning. Except for Matt and one other guy, the other guys in the front group didn't really look like runners. I consider myself on the beefy end of the runner-spectrum (road-running, at least) but most of these guys were really robust and strong-looking. Compared to this group, I looked like a Kenyan. Usually, at least at road races, you can tell who is going to be a fast runner and I thought my chances were good. My chances probably would have been good in a 1500 with track spikes - but not yesterday. So I swallowed some PBJ sandwiches and drank a little more and started running back. In retrospect, the trail on this section was very flat and the snow was not too deep but I thought it was going to be like that the whole way. I didn't know what place I was in heading out of the aid station. I felt great. After a mile or two, I saw the Girl. She was beaming, looking very spritely. I kissed her quickly and asked her how she was doing. She said she was doing great. Then came a good section where the running resembled, well, running. I put on some good tunes and passed Matt and a guy named Steve from Duluth. I wondered if there was anyone ahead of me.

This is where the story turns sour. The snow got deeper. Looking back, my legs were probably getting a little stiff but I still lived under the illusion I could press on till the finish. There was this little fence, made to keep in some animal I assume, that we had to climb over. I lifted my right leg up and the hip flexor and then the quad started cramping up violently. That was worrisome; now the right leg hurt with every step and threatened with cramping up again. My step became more shuffly and I was going slower. At the 21 mile aid station, the staffers told me that there were two guys ahead of me, two minutes up the trail. I told myself, and them, that I had stopped caring about who was in the front and that I just wanted to finish. I must have looked tired because woman asked me "are you OK?". Someone said that I was smiling so I must be okay.

This was exactly what I didn't want to happen. Standing there, with ten miles to go, crashing and cramping. I tried to drink and eat as much as I could, energy drink, water, PBJs, M and Ms, gummy bears. When I lef the aid station, Matt and a guy named Jim (I think) were coming in, looking strong. They both passed me pretty quickly. I was still munching on gummy bears and got really nauseated. With a belly full of energy drink, I threw up. So I pushed on. I would have dropped if I could but, of course, I couldn't. I walked and ran on and off; sometimes walking hurt more than running. I kept thinking that if I had torn a muscle somewhere my whole season could be shot.

Got passed by a few more people. People who were smarter or stronger than me. Maybe they had better shoes or they knew how to eat better. Or maybe, let's be honest, I am just not cut out for these races. Got in in 11th place and met mother-in-law. Got some dry clothes on and ate chili and cookies.

The Girl came in looking super strong. She had started in the back and, thus, had spent the whole day passing people. She said she could have kept running. I suspect she is, in fact, cut out for these races. We met Meghan, whom the Girl knows from her blog. Meghan won her age group and was third woman. She was definitely in her element yesterday, looking the part of an experienced trail runner. So what are my thoughts at this point? Well, I loved the atmosphere and camaraderie. Ultras usually come without snow so maybe I won't fare so poorly in a "normal" ultra. I do like running on trails. I will certainly do another one later this year but will have to put in some really long runs to prepare for them.

Day off

Life has been simple today. I had the whole day off and had nothing planned. The kids were here this morning, while the Girl was working. We went to the pool, which was fun. The Bois is such a well-known characted at the YMCA day care that they all, it seems, celebrate his arrival. No one knows me, of course. I think they thought the Girl was some unreal single woman before I brought him in today. This is our life in a nutshell:Well, at least the Girl's life. Biking with the Bois in the back; jogging with him in the jogging stroller. We have a system where the car seat straps into the jogger so his head is ok. The Girl has not changed into someone else, and yet she has become a wonderful, devoted mother. Her days are as full of exercise as they always were but now the Bois is along with her in various capacities. Soon, hopefully, I'll have more time to join in on their days. Today, since I was the one who go the day off, I spoiled myself with a bike ride up in the hills. My leg needs just a little more babying before I set out on a run. Job-wise, it's been a pretty interesting couple of weeks. In a strange twist, I am doing a rural pediatrics rotation in the same location I have signed on to do a locum tenens position later this year. I even got to work in the ER a few times, making some okay money in the process. It's such a small hospital in a small town. My "expertise" is so appreciated. Everything I do, every piee of advice I dish out, comes with a little bit of secret apprehension. There were a few times in the ER when I wasn't sure whether I was doing the right thing. Generally, I could tell the nurses were comfortable with all my decisions, though, so that's a good sign. They have been without an internist for a while now up there, so they are really looking forward to me coming up. Problem is, I would much rather work in the ER than do clinic. Honestly, internal medicine clinic is just so much harder than the ER and the ER is so much more fun. In any case, it's going to be wild, suddenly being on my own. I will make tons of mistakes but the learning curve will be super steep. This week after the 50K, I have been more tired than I expected. I remember being sore for many days after my marathons years ago but this time I was out doing bike intervals on day 3 and running on day 5. I have torn my left calf a little but it should be okay with a little more rest. The Girl and I have both been excited about finding our next ultra. I fared so poorly last Saturday that the easy thing to do would be to stick with shorter races. But yet I have a sense that I could do ok over long distances. Without the snow, I think my chances would have been better. We'll see next time. Meanwhile, we have a half marahton coming up in a few weeks. Here's my report from last yearlast year. It was a great race and the PR took me somewhat by surprise. I don't think I can run a 5:39 minute mile 13 times in a row this year but we'll see. The Girl ran a 1:34 last year and will be looking to improve that. We always talk about "chicking", the term used about women beating men in races. We wouldn't be us if we weren't a little competitive, even with each other. The Girl feels that she chicked me by finishing higher among the women then I did among the men. I, on the other hand, maintain that one should take into account that there were more men. Our arguments always get very heated and usually end with a little nudity. Anyway, the Girl will probably finish much higher than last year, when she opened up too fast. As always, my place will be decided more by which other runners show up than by my own time. Then the following week we are going to a race where we will do a two-person 50K relay. That should be fun. The Girl gets to do 20K on some very technical terrain and I get to run 30K on some wider trails. Oh well, talk about some scattered thoughts. Time to perform some "poop surgery", as we call it:

Summer is here

I had a great day. Went running with the Girl and the Bois on one of the local scenic bike trails. It was nice and warm out. The air was milky and there was barely a breeze. We had to disrobe almost immediately.

My left calf has been bugging me since the 50K last weekend but today it felt tight but safe. The Girl has had a sluggish week with some odd pains as well. We decided that we felt good today and planned a 14 mile run (7 miles out and back). I pushed the Bois on the way out and he slept peacefully the whole time. This is our contraption, consisting of a bungee cord, a car seat and a baby jogger. Halfway, I wanted to test the legs a little and took off. I ended up doing 2x3 miles of tempo. It works out such that I run 3 miles in only slightly more time than the Girl runs two, so we could predict where we would meet after each effort. I would run 2.5 miles out and 0.5 miles back and meet her back at the 2 mile spot. I think it made both of us run a little faster during the second interval. The Bois was an angel the whole day. The only problem was that his hat kept covering his eyes. We eventually fixed that problem.

What a great day. We have an even more ambitious day planned next weekend. We are planning on going camping Saturday night, followed by a long day of running (taking turns running on the trail and on the road).