Warning, super-long self-indulgent race report ahead!
Welp, it was time. I was at Lake McMurtry and i had found what I took to be the start/finish area for the race. Only a handful of cars and nothing seemed to be setup. I was sitting in my car in the dark at 6AM before the 7AM start wondering what kind of fun awaited me as the night sky was lit up with the most magnificent light show courtesy of Mother Nature and the lightning streaking across the sky. The forecast had most definitely taken a turn for the worst. It looked like it was going to be a real mudfest (but was not).
After my long drive, I needed to find the facilities. I made my way to the bathroom in the darkness. When I made it back to my car, I decided it was time to put on my trail shoes. I decided to wear my flip-flops for the drive down so I wouldn’t have to wear my shoes any longer than necessary. I knew it was going to be a long day. I had to bring the flip-flops anyway as they are my favorite thing to wear after a long run. I first slipped on my maximum protection trail running socks by Drymax. By the way, these socks are my favorite. I own three pairs and have had zero issues with blisters, etc. An amazing product. Next I slipped on my gaiters and shoes. My shoe of choice for this race is the Brooks Cascadia 6. The shoes were outstanding. Zero footwear issues and great traction on some very slippery spots. Love these shoes! Anyway, after the shoes I strapped on my ankle RoadID (what, you don’t have RoadID? Better remedy that).
I stepped out of my car and started chatting with some of the folks that began arriving. The temperature was about perfect. Probably in the 60′s with a light breeze. It had sprinkled, but now it had stopped. And so had the lightning. Things were looking up weather-wise. The trails only got a little bit of rain the night before, but if the weather could hold off during the race, then all systems go. My pre-race strategy was to wear my 70oz Camelbak. The aid stations seemed to be fairly close together, but my last 50K was 106 (heat index) and I needed the extra water. A handheld would not have been enough. But things were just so mild and nice Saturday morning! My game time decision was to call an audible and chuck the Camelbak. My parking was so close, I threw it in the trunk of my car. I didn’t plan to go back to the car unless my footwear choice meant I needed to grab my road shoes. And as I said, I had no shoe issues, so I didn’t even need a drop bag. I had an Amphipod Hydraform Thermal-Lite 20oz handheld as well as an Amphipod AirFlow Lite belt. My belt had a single Amphipod SnapPod Endurance Module which I stuffed with organic Medjool Dates from Whole Foods Market. I like this setup. The pouch on the belt let me carry two rubber coin purses for my SaltStick Electrolyte Capsules as and a couple of doses of Tylenol. The last thing I had on my belt was my camera. It was inside a baggie to keep it dry. I had planned on taking a lot of pictures, but that was not to be. By the way, the simple reason I prefer my Amphipod belt to others I have tried is simple: elastic. The others tend to just slip down around your waist. If you properly tighten the Amphipod, it generally stays where you put it and doesn’t bounce around. Imagine that. )
I then wandered over to pick up my timing chip. They gave me two little fastener thingies to attach it to my shoe, so I did. It was almost show time. Where were all of the people? It looked like maybe only a dozen people opted for the early 7AM start instead of the normal 8AM start. Those starting at 7AM would not be eligible for prizes, so I would be running with the back of the pack crowd. The question was really how long it would take the speedsters to make up our hour head start and catch us! Everything was setup and ready to go. Wow, these TATUR folk are amazing! You would think that they had experience putting on races or something!
Here’s a quick picture I took of Brian Hoover just a couple of minutes before he fired his starter pistol at 7AM sharp:
I fired up my Garmin Forerunner 305 and got ready to hit my start button as soon as I heard the gun. That wasn’t too hard as Brian was about 10 feet away. Bang! And we were all off. I had planned on using my Garmin to run my own race. Pre-race I decided that a 13:30 pace would be great for the first 25K and then just reassess and see what I felt like in the second half. My strategy was to start slow and then either speed up, or just hold on for the 2nd half. The early group took off pretty quickly and I was instantly in last place. I looked at my Garmin and realized that at their current pace, they would be completing their 50K in just over 6 hours. So either A) they should not have chosen the early start, or B) they were going too fast. I was pretty sure that they were going too fast so I just hung back. I passed the pack when they slowed down in about 2 miles. There was only one person ahead of me at this point. He was pretty far ahead too. I couldn’t see him. But I kept trucking. But this time I decided that an average 13 minute pace was a better option for me than 13:30. I felt really good. I wasn’t pushing it at all. I would speed up to 9:30 down hills, slow down to 14:30 up hills, but maintained a sub 13 minute average. It felt good and felt like I could run at that pace all day. So yay. If I did, I would blow away what I was planning on doing coming into the race.
Things had cleared up and there was zero rain. The weather was perfect and I was feeling good. At five miles I reeled in the guy that was head of me. I found him in a cow pasture a little freaked out by the cows. I dont’ know how long he was there or if that is why I caught him. He told me that the cows (between 10-15) had tried to charge him. Heh. I waved my hat at them and charged on through. I told him that cows weren’t the brightest critters on earth and they just thought that perhaps you were there to feed them and that he had nothing to fear. I told him as long as there wasn’t a bull in the field we were good. I also told him that I doubted that there were bulls around or the RD would have warned us. City folk! So we took off together with him in the lead. In about another mile we hit an aid station. I don’t know what was going on with him, but he kind of hung back and I didn’t see him again. So onward and upward!
Leading up to this race, I felt fat and out of shape. I joked with friends that it must mean that I tapered correctly! Isn’t that the truth? After high mileage weeks, when you spend a lot of time not running and eating too much, it makes it seem that you won’t be able to do anything come race day. But your body craves the recovery and you are fresh for the race. That part was working great. I’m really enjoying the trail at this point. I ended up jumping over the Leap O’ Doom four times that day. Actually, the fourth time, I chose to step across it instead of jump. More on whylater.
Bang! What’s that? I notice the time. It’s 8AM and it’s the start of the regular 50K race time. The faster runners I guess. I wonder when they will catch me? I’m sure that they will catch me, but I could never tell. The fact is, there was also a 12K and 25K. Between all of the groups running different distances and start times combined with the different loops were were running, I had no idea if who passed me was a 12K speedburner or just some amazing 50K runner. I think that is why it pays to simply compete against yourself. You may be trying to compete against a person pacing themselves for half of your distance. Not good.
I kept running and hitting the aid stations. Pro-tip to anyone who runs this race: if it’s not super hot, skip your hydration bladder and just carry a handheld. The aidstations are numerous. I didn’t really keep track, but I would bet that you would never have to go more than 5 miles to one. Just refill your bottle and grab some goodies and off you go. Bonus! David Wood was manning one of the aid stations! I saw him maybe 2 or 3 times during the race. I also saw him post-race smoking a stogie.
During training runs, I’m usually with a group and as such we tend to do a 8/2 run-walk strategy. This didn’t even cross my mind for the first 10 miles. My Garmin wasn’t capable of that kind of scheduling so it would have been hard for me to keep track of. Not only that, but you end up power-walking up the big hills anyway, so I decided to just run the whole way. So I kept running. Finally, I see someone I know from the 8AM start heading toward me. Maurice Lee! Maurice is a pretty dedicated member of the Landrunners, a great OKC road running club, but he likes to live in both worlds and you are just as likely to see him on the trail. As such, he’s a dues paying member of OTRA. Great to see Maurice! I keep running and then who do I see? Henry Bickerstaff! Henry is a very dedicated trail runner who is making his way back from being injured. He raced, and finished, the Western States Endurance Run last year. I will always be thankful to Henry. I crashed and burned badly in my first ultra. A lot of factors I won’t get into right now. I finished the race, but I was so slow that I missed the eight hour cut off. So it’s a DNF. Henry was so thoughtful, he mailed me his finisher award. I keep it on my shelf at work. Pretty awesome. Thanks Henry! He looks strong going past me. I keep going and who do I see? It’s Nancy Shidler! Nancy is a friend and my coach/sounding board. She has so much experience that I know she will have an opinion on whatever I throw at her. I knew I would see her first as she is the fastest of the club members that I run with that I knew were doing a 50K today. She looked good and we slapped each others hands as we passed. She finished in a little over 6 hours for her 50K. I kept running.
The weather was still great. My nutrition was dialed in. My hydration was dialed in. My cardio was good. No problems with my legs. I was still averaging a sub 13 pace. Wow, could I really finish my 50K in the 6:30 range? I’m tooling down the trail and who do I see? My OTRA buddie and fellow blogger Julie Dolph! She looks great and I think she is moving pretty smartly down the trail. We say hey and I can’t wait to see her after the race for the scoop on her race. I’m sad to report, she had to drop from the 50K to the 25K due to illness. She probably shouldnt’ have raced at all with a fever, but Julie is a very tough woman!
I’m probably getting my chronology wrong here, but I did want to say that I saw my friend Janice Smith on the trail and we got to say hi to each other. She was running the 12K today. You looked great Janice! I saw Beth Combs on the trail too. Can’t remember where now!
I looked down and I noticed that one of the fasteners that was holding my timing chip in place had broken. Uh oh. The next time I passed near the start/finish area, I had to ask for a replacement. It took a couple of minutes. But I figured I would rather sacrifice a couple of minutes and NOT lose my timing chip! OK, chip attached and I’m off again.
Weather is still holding out. I’m running strong. At 10 miles I get my first hint of trouble ahead as my knees start to hurt. Not terrible and not enough to slow me down, but I notice them. I finally finish my first 25K. Half way there! I’m still at a sub-13 minute pace. Nutrition/hydration/cardio/lets all feel good. But my knees are really starting to hurt. I then decide to take my first dose of Tylenol. Two 500mg caplets down the hatch. Then it started to rain. It was actually a pleasant rain. I don’t mind running in the rain. If it’s a torrential downpour or thunderstorm, then not so much. But just a nice steady rain? No problem. But even the nice steady rain didn’t last. It would rain for awhile and then stop. Then rain some more and then stop. Not a big deal. It made the trail slick in spots, soupy in others, but overall had no impact on the trail. Traction was not an issue for me, though I did see a couple of people crash!
I keep running and my knees start getting progressively worse. I start slowing down. Ouch, step, ouch. They didn’t hurt nearly as bad when I walked fast so I started walking. The trouble with walking is well, that you are walking. I’m not a fast walker even when I try to walk fast. I can certainly run faster than I can walk, so this was not good. I would walk and then run. By mile 20, I took my second dose of Tylenol. Oh my. Really? Am I seriously going to have to walk the next 10 miles or so? Really? I should have raced the 25K. I could have really pushed it and gotten a pretty sweet time! But no. I want to go long. My goal is to run a 100 mile race one day. So today was going to be a 50K.
People were now passing me. “Good job”. “Looking good”. You know something? When you feel good and are booking down the trail those greeting seem very positive. Heck yeah I’m doing well and I’m looking good! But when you are forced to walk because it feels like knives stabbing through your knees when you run and you hear those some words, they sound condescending. A bone thrown out to the slow guy. It’s all very subjective. The person saying it doesn’t have a clue and they genuinely are being friendly and helpful. But how it is perceived by the hearer depends on how they are doing. When someone would say “how’s it going?” I would say “great” or “OK” because I know that they don’t really want to hear it. It would take too long and would be a downer. I know that “how’s it going” isn’t really a question and “great” isn’t really an answer. Have you ever asked “how’s it going” and then had the person go on and on about their Gout or how they just had their corns shaved or how they had a high colonic go south on them? When that happens, I’m thinking “I really don’t want to know this. It’s not a question, but a standard greeting”. But it does grate on you. I feel like I was just lying to everyone. “How’s it going?” “Great!”.
I did have one guy come up behind me and started chatting with me. He asked the generic “how’s it going?”. I decided to tell him. As it turns out, that was a good move. He asked if I needed any Tylenol. I begged off since I had my max dose and Tylenol has a very low level for toxicity. He graciously hung back and told me about his knee issues and how he deals with them. He was wearing calf sleeves and he recommended them. He recommended that I use my foam roller more and that I also take Glucosamine. The advice seemed pretty solid. I then told him to take off and that I didn’t want slow him down. We parted and off he went. Dangit! I forgot to ask him for his name. Oh well. Thank you anonomous runner guy with calf sleeves for your advice!
I kept moving. I would go about 1/2 mile and then when it felt like I could try running again, I would take off on a trot. I would get sometimes 50 feet and have to stop and go back to walking. The pain was intense. My left knee was worse so it was altering my gait badly when I tried to run and that made even my lower back hurt. I tried hopping. Hop on the right leg to lessen the pressure on the left. No dice. An ultrarunner mantra when you find yourself in a bad place is “it will get better”. That only frustrated me. That only applies when you feel faint because your nutrition or hydration is screwed up. Or you just are really tired and need to rest a few minutes. Then things get better then back to running again. I was frustrated because “it will get better” does not apply in every situation. I have a pretty high tolerance for pain, but this was getting ridiculous. Dropping was never an option. No way. But running was pretty much over for me. I saw my average pace just get worse and worse on my Garmin. Depressing.
But then, I remember my three goals:
- Finish in less than 7 hours (fantasy goal)
- Finish in less than 8 hours (doable and psychologically important since 8 hours was the cut off of the last 50K I DNFd)
- Finish in less than 9 hours, the even cut off.
I was encouraged because goal number one I felt that I most certainly would have achieved had I not had the knee issues and that amazes me. I was encouraged because even with having to walk about the last 10 miles, it looked like I had a real shot at finishing in less than 8 hours. I was encouraged because my most modest goal of finishing sub 9 was a piece of cake. I kept moving. Now I had about 5 miles to go. I’m doing the splits and figuring my potential finish time. With how I started, I would be seriously mad if I missed my 8 hour time! I hated that I had to push so hard, but push I did. I walked as fast as I could and when I felt able, I attempted my Quasimodo jog/shuffle until I felt like I would fall to the ground from pain (usually 50′ or less). But I pushed. I wanted sub 8!
I hear the music and I’m so very close. I just want the pain to stop. I keep moving. I’m good at that. I can put one foot in front of the other and that’ s what I do. I finally crossed the finish line. 7:35:13 after starting. About 10 minutes later I had a friend take a picture of me. Ignore the time behind me. I started an hour early remember?
I promptly downed a couple of cold beers (for medicinal reasons don’t cha know!) and starting chatting with my friends who had already finished.
The pain notwithstanding, I must say that I consider the race a huge personal success. If I can crack the code on the knee thing, it bodes well for my future. I need to figure it out, or Midnight Madness won’t be in my future. But I met and even exceeded my goals. I’m grateful.
And as fun as the race was, the period of fellowship and camaraderie after the race was even better. I think it’s all having that shared experience that brings down the walls and people just chill out together and talk about all manner of things. Shout out to Beth, Peggy, Henry, Maurice, Cindy, Matt, Julie, Nancy, Janice and all of the rest of the OTRA crew!
I changed into dry clothes and headed home. Mission accomplished.