Monday, March 12, 2012

A Way Too Cool Adventure (3/10/12)

like i said when i did my marathon recaps, it's a long race so the recap is going to be long...but here you way too cool adventure...

Way Too first 50k...


Sometime last summer, while training for my first marathon, I signed up for the Run on the Sly 20 mile run not paying quite enough attention to the run description. It turned out to be my first trail race and my first taste of ultra-running.

My longest run prior to Run on the Sly was a 15 mile run, on the road. I had run on some trails but not of any significant distances. I went into the run blind thinking it would be a good training run for the marathon. Boy was I wrong! During the race, whatever expectations I had went out the window. I was hiking crazy steep hills for miles on end, crossing through creeks, sliding on crazy descents, grabbing trees to keep from sliding too much. I thought to myself, what the heck did I get myself into?

Around mile 11, I hit an aid station, an aid station I had been yearning for. I had run out of water. I get there and a lady offers to refill my water bottles and says I should help myself to some food. And, there's a whole table of snacks! This is strange. In road races, they just shove dixie cups at you and you rush along. This is nice! And, they have soda here! Being a soda addict, this is a major plus. I relished the Pepsi at the mile 16 aid station.

I truck along my merry way and encounter even more crazy climbing and crazy descents. But, I keep go along, enjoying the beautiful scenery. And, everyone is so nice! I am not getting trampled on when I choose to walk up a hill. Though it was one of the toughest race I had run at the time, it was a rather enjoyable experience...I think, if this is what ultra running is like, I kind of want to try this...and so the crazy seed to ultra-running was planted...;-)

So, after my first two marathons (I had to run a second one to get revenge on my first one), I decided I would try to do some more trail running and run an ultra-marathon. Someone suggested I try to get into Way Too Cool 50k. When the time came, I threw my name into the lottery. While I may never win the money lottery or the fancy car or whatever, I somehow seem to get lucky with race lotteries. I got into WTC!

The evening prior to the race, some running friends and I got together for a nice carbo-loading dinner at my friend's Paulo's house. It was just a nice evening of good food, good company, good conversations, and many great laughs!

Now, one thing we talked/laughed about was that in running, you really bond with your fellow running buddies. There's something about running for hours on end with someone. My friend David has joked in the past that his running wife is Cathy. Dave and Cathy are each married to different people but they have run together for so long, they are running spouses. I made a joke that evening that I think Scott has become my running husband. The majority of my training runs for WTC have been with Scott. While there have been big group training runs, the group spreads itself out and I usually end up running with Scott since we run about the same pace. I have gotten rather used to running the long trail runs with him. In fact, I am going to be Scott's pacer for when he runs AR50 (his first 50 mile race). So, that evening we joked and laughed about how we were running spouses.

After dinner, we watched "Unbreakable: The Western States 100." [For you non-runners out there, the Western States 100 is a 100 mile race from Squaw Valley To Auburn. It's pure ultra-running craziness but what many ultra-runners aspire to do!] For me, it was my first time seeing the movie. And, just the perfect movie to watch the night before my first ultra marathon. Very inspirational. And, the words of Gordy Ainsleigh (first man to run the Western States) stuck in my mind "keep putting one foot in front of the other"

The morning of the race, I got up extra early. My gear was already prepared as I didn't want to have another "chasing the bus" incident. After getting my usual pre-race Starbucks latte and oatmeal, I headed up to Cool pretty early. I see many of my running friends out there and just hang out. I think about how nice it is during my journey to this race, I have befriended so many amazing, inspirational runners. And, I have come to really REALLY enjoy races where I get to see so many friends running in it or just out volunteering and/or cheering runners on! Makes for a much more enjoyable experience.

We do a few frog pictures. Bruce kisses the frog for good luck. Then, we all gather over to the start line. I somehow lose sight of Scott at the start line. It is quite crowded but I am near other running friends so that's nice. We just stand around chatting away. Having fun.

The Race

The Olmstead Loop (first 8 miles)
We are all gathered at the start. Everyone is excited. We are talking and laughing and just hanging out. I do not even hear the gun go off or hear when exactly the race started. We just see people start to move forward so we start going along. I try to look around to see if I can find Scott but he's no where to be seen. I am a little bummed as I was hoping we would at least start off together. But, at least, I have my other running friends around.

Once we cross the start line, we start running. A nice group of us are running together. We are chatting and laughing and going out easy-ish on the road. I am running with Randy, David, and Sophia for bit. I can hear a few other runners I know behind me. But, it is pretty crowded and we are just trucking along up the road.

It gets a little crowded so I start weaving around some people. I am running at a pretty decent pace but trying to not go out too fast. These legs have a long way to go today.

We come down a hill and hit the little creek area. Many runners slow way down as some try to tip toe across the creek, balancing on the rocks. This creek isn't much of anything since it has not been raining much so I just go running across it. Got to get the feet wet at some point. Bruce is right near me when we go splashing through the water. We make some comment to each other about now that our feet our wet, the race has really begun!

I am running along pretty well. I try to keep near Randy for a bit. But, when I hit the single track, I just get stuck behind some slower-ish runners and lose sight of him. I have no idea what happened to my other running friends. This pack I am stuck in is running a bit slower than I want to run but I tell myself this is good that I are keeping me from running out too fast as I will need my legs later on. So, I just truck along at this easy pace for a couple miles. This is a nice area but I am mainly looking at the feet of the guy in front of me. I don't want to trip. He nearly does on a rock.

Eventually, the trails opens up a little and I am able to skirt around some people and get ahead of them. I get a little anxious being stuck in crowds and so whenever I have the chance to get around and break away from them, I do. I am feeling pretty good as I am running along. I pass a couple people I know as I go along. I start to think I am running perhaps a little faster than I should be running so early in a long race. I am trying my best to not get into full race stride.

The first hour passes quickly and I am happy with my pace. It's already getting pretty warm and my arm warmers come off pretty quickly. I am thinking about taking off my gloves but I keep them on a little longer.

About half a mile back to the Cool Fire Station and the first aid station (at mile 8), I am running through a field area and I can see the runners ahead. Ahead of me across the field, I see a bright green jacket! It's Scott! I am really happy his wife, Mary, told him to wear bright clothing! He isn't too far off for me to catch. I think I can probably catch up to him at the aid station.

Cool Fire Station to Quarry (at mile 11ish)
I get back to the Cool Fire Station and the crowds are cheering. This is fun! I high five two guys dressed as a gorilla and a banana! This is good. I remember a gorilla and a banana passing me in the NYC marathon when I was struggling in that race. At least I am not getting passed by a gorilla and banana this time.

I feel like the first 8 miles was just a warm up run. Here's where the real race begins. And, I will be running on the trails I have been training on, which I have come to know well.

I hit the aid station with my eye on Scott. He just passed the aid station. I stop briefly to refill my water bottle and take a quick shot of coke/pepsi. Then, I start sprinting after Scott. I am flying out of the aid station and down the trails. I hear some people cheering me and I think some people are looking at me like I am crazy for sprinting so hard so early in a race. But, I have my eyes on the back of Scott. I want to catch him!

I make the left turn and running down the trail as fast as I can until finally get to him. I am so happy to have caught up to him. I tell him it took me awhile but I finally caught you. I had lost sight of my other running friends. They just run different paces than me so we get separated easily. But, I am thinking I could run with Scott for awhile. At least to Goat Hill.

We run along chatting about the race, other runners, etc... We talk through what we have ahead as we have become familiar with the trails. We tell ourselves, we just go down to Quarry, then to the Dead Truck Loop, then the loop we know so well to Goat Hill. Up Goat Hill then back down to 49 and back up to Cool. We know this. Mentally, we are getting ourselves ready.

The run down to Hwy 49 & Quarry trails is mostly a downhill run so we go at a pretty decent pace. Though, we are thinking this is not going to be fun going back up at the end of the race. We are just enjoying the run and going along. The weather is really nice today! My gloves have come off!

We near Hwy 49 and can hear the cars. We turn the corner and head down this little decent before crossing Hwy 49. As we come around the bend, I hear people yelling out my name. But, it is so rocky that I am looking at the trail and not up. But, I am delighted to hear friendly voices.

I look up and see good ol' Steve right there taking pictures as usual. As I cross the street, I see my cyclist friend Lance. What a nice surprise! He had cycled out there and is watching the race and cheering me on! Seeing my friends definitely gives me a little boost!

I then see there is no one using the port-a-pottie so I zip my way down to it. I had been waiting for an opportune time to relieve myself (for the past 10 miles) and got lucky, there was no line here. Scott decides to de-jacket at this point and he kindly waits for me.

Quarry Trail
Once we are ready, off we go. We pass the aid station that seems to have some tropical theme. We don't stop.

This section going along pretty well for us. We are running along pretty well. I walk some hills, run some other hills depending on how I feel. Anytime Scott suggests we walk, I am all for it. Important to conserve our energy. When I do run the hills, I try not to attack them but run easy and use it as recovery time as my friend Bruce suggested to me a couple weeks prior. I get on my toes a bit and go lightly up the hill.

Around mile 15.5, I comment that we are halfway done! I am feeling pretty good and we've been running at a decent pace. Though now, I am really trying to focus on my fueling, making sure I take GUs and other food and drinking water routinely. I feel as though I have not been eating enough lately.

This section seems to go by in a blur. I remember passing a few people we knew but the miles on Quarry passed by quickly and easily for us. We made a quick stop at one aid station.

Dead Truck Loop
We get to the bottom of Ball Bearing and joke a little bit about taking the short cut up ball bearing. But, we turn and head onto the Dead Truck Loop. For the past couples, it was a little warm so I look forward to this section knowing it is fairly shaded.

This section of the trails, I absolutely love! It is simply gorgeous here! Canyon to your left and lush mountain sides on your right...beautiful greenery! And there are moments where you just feel like there is no one else around. My legs are feeling just good and I am just rocking and rolling through this section. I am happy that I am feeling so good as the upper teen miles often get to me. And, I just run along passing a few folks.

We get down to a creek crossing and hop some rocks to get over it. Then, it goes straight up for awhile. We hike our way up. I use that time to eat an oatmeal cookie and some shot blocks as I hike up the hill.

Then, the trail opens up a little and there's a slight (sometimes not so slight) incline for a bit. I am feeling good and strong so run along feeling great. I am not trying to push myself too much but I feel like I am running a nice comfortable pace. I am even running nice and easy up the hills (rather than walking). I pass up a number of runners. Scott is behind me for most of it. He sometimes gets stuck behind another runner but I know he's not too far back. I am feeling good and happy that we are doing a really good pace. We are right on track to getting under 6 hours today! I am also happy that I am feeling a lot better today than I did when I did the practice run in this section.

There's an aid station at around mile 21. I am looking forward to it. I want to drink some coke now, get my coke fix. And, I know I need to eat some real food. Maybe some potatoes. I think about what I am going to eat and drink at the next aid station as I run along.

I come around a bend and start heading on a slightly steep (but short) downhill section to the aid station. My left foot completely cramps up! I stop in my tracks. The guy behind me (not Scott) makes some comment about how I need to learn to descend better. I say I am sorry but my foot is cramping. I manage to get myself down and my foot is okay for a moment. Odd pain that I did not expect to get.

I drink some 3-4 little dixie cups of coke and as I am reaching for some potatoes, my left foot completely cramps up again. So painful that I yelp and grip the end of the table in pain! One of the volunteers runs over to me and asks me what's hurting. I say my left foot. And, she starts to massage my foot and stretch it out a bit while I eat some potatoes and salt. I think to myself, this is why I like ultras, people take care of the runners.

I grab some extra GU packets and eat one as Scott and I head out of the aid station on our way again.

ALT to Goat Hill
Since my foot cramped up, I am a little anxious about how the foot will hold up but we go along okay. Scott is running in front now and I am behind him. I am trying to be more diligent about taking GU more often and drinking more electrolytes/water. Every couple miles, I try to take something, either a GU or some of my cookies or shot blocks. I have had the hamstring and calf and was prepared to deal with that but the foot is not something I am used to and not sure what works best to relieve it. The only time my foot has cramped like that is when I wear high heels all day long.

I became a little more cautious on how I was stepping as I was running, especially when I was on a decline since the foot had cramped up on a descent.

But, I mostly run okay. I can feel a little twinge here and there but we are going along okay. I am counting down the miles now. We hit mile 21 and Scott and I are happy that we are in single digits now! He's always says it's always nice when we are in single digits. Every mile, I am counting down! 9 more miles! 8 more miles! etc.

This section of trails that we are running is a favorite of mine. It's really pretty with the canyons and the trees. Just beautiful trails. The trails are soft with leaves and pine needles in some sections so you can just really go on them. There are still some roller hills here and there. We walk some and run others but make sure we are saving our energy for Goat Hill and the finish.

We just go along. I mostly just stare at Scott's feet ahead of mine. Just have to keep going. One foot in front of the other. It is nice to be familiar with the trail.

Around mile 25ish, we get near the bottom of Goat Hill. Goat Hill is a beastly hill. Not very long but it has some very steep grades (over 25% and some reaching into the 30%'s). This is a hill you hike (or drag yourself up), not run. In the past, Scott usually gets up the hill faster than me. Then, he'll just take off running. I am usually so wiped out by the hill that it takes me a little bit to recover after climbing up the hill.

As we near the hill, I tell Scott he can just take off after the hill as I probably will hang back a bit. We refuel ourselves and make our way to Goat Hill. We mentally get ourselves ready for it and say "here we go." We make the sharp right turn and up we go. It goes up and up with some switchbacks. I stay behind Scott as best as I can pushing my way up this hill. I just stare at Scott's feet going up and try not to look up to the top of the hill. Just look at what's immediately ahead of me and keep one foot in front of the other.

Halfway up the hill, I tell him how glad I am that we went up this hill last weekend. For a training run last weekend, Scott, Gary and I went for a 10 mile run including Goat Hill. I had wanted one more practice hike up this hill to have my legs and brain better prepared for it during the race. I am really happy we did that. Goat hill does not feel so bad at this point. It is hard but I have felt far worst other times I have gone up this hill.

When I finally get up to the top, panting heavily, but feeling pretty good though tired. I run pass Scott to the aid station as I really want to drink more coke. I drink more coke, eat a few snacks and refill my water. There's a guy there sponging people so I get sponged a little bit. It feels refreshing. Then, off we go.

Goat Hill to Upper 49 Crossing
We start running along and it's mostly a downhill run for this section. I am happy that I am still running with Scott. He goes downhills a lot faster than me but I try to stay up with him. I can tell my foot is feeling a little funny on the downhills. I am nervous it might cramp up again.

We are going along pretty good but then on one descent, my foot cramps up again and I have to stop and sit on a little rock in the middle of this hill. Scott is just flying down the hill and around a bend out of sight that I figure he's just gone now. A couple runners come passing by me. One guy is really nice and asks if I want help or salt tabs or anything. I say my foot's cramped and I will be okay. Another gal does the same thing. The runners are so nice.

The cramp passes and I start to get up and I can hear the runners that had just pass me say "she has a foot cramp" or something. I hear them telling Scott that I had cramped up.

I get down and around the bend and Scott is there with a s-cap in hand to give to me. Then, we start going along. Scott gets a little ahead of me for some stretches but always in sight. I am getting really tired now. My legs are tired. I feel slight twinges in my calf and hamstring. I worry my whole leg might cramp up. I drop some fizz tablets into my water and just start drinking that.

I am doing whatever I can to stay with Scott but it's getting hard. I pass one runner, Marc, who looks familiar. He recognizes me and tells me I am doing well and encourages me on.

Oh man, I feel so tired. Scott seems to be running pretty strong but we're 28 miles in and I can feel it now. I have no doubt I will get to the finish but this is where the true heart of the race is. Where one has to tell oneself to keep going. I told myself at mile 10, when I was feeling great, the race hasn't begun yet. When I hit mile 16, halfway through, I told myself the race hasn't begun yet. Now, here is where the race is. It finally started somewhere around mile 28. In my head, I am just thinking just keep one foot in front of the other. I try not to think too much beyond that. Just one foot in front of the other. Keep going.

As we get near mile 29, I can faintly hear the cars on Highway 49. I can hardly wait to get to the next aid station. I know Paulo and maybe some other friends will be at that aid station. And, it's the last stop before the finish line. I am using whatever strength I have left to pick up my feet and keep moving them forward. I can tell Scott is tired too. We start to walk pretty much every incline, even the smaller ones. We are not saying too much to each other anymore. We just want to get to the finish.

But as we get closer to Hwy 49, we can hear the cars and people there. I can hear the cheering and maybe some cowbells. And, this gives us both a little boost. We start to run again. Much slower than before but we are running. I just want to get to that aid station. Then, get to the finish. That is all I am thinking about.

As we start heading down to Highway 49, we see some friends cheering. Mary (Scott's wife) is standing at the bottom taking pictures of us as we come out onto the road. She starts running behind us as we head to the aid station. There is something about seeing a familiar, friendly face in a long race. It was like that in my marathons and like that here. There's something that just gives you a little extra that you need to see someone you know encouraging you on.

I cross the road and get to the aid station. People are really peppy here but it is hard for me to pay attention to all that's going on here. I refill my water bottle. I drink some coke. Some lady puts three s-caps in my hands and tells me to take it. I see cheese-its and grab a handful and stuff all of it in my mouth. My brain is fried at this point. I am not thinking properly.

I see Paulo and I am really happy to see him though I am just far too tired to express that excitement. He is dressed in a cow costume and sponging people down. He comes to me with a sponge and sponges my head. He starts to tell me I am looking good but stops and says well, you don't look so good but you are almost done. I am amused that he told me I don't look so good because I know I do not look good. I feel like a zombie.

The final stretch
Scott and I start heading up the trail back to Cool. We are both clearly beat but we have to keep going. We are almost there and we are still on track to breaking 6 hours. Mary is right behind us. She is chatting away. She offers to carry anything for us and Scott gives her his jacket. She says she'll run with us back to Cool. That's nice.

I have cheese-its and s-caps stuffed in my mouth. I wasn't actually thinking very well when I put that all in my mouth. I am attempting to chew on the cheese-its but not the tabs and swallow it all. I tell Mary of this random dilemma kind of amused with myself. I eventually get it all down. Thinking is not working very well at this point. Clearly.

Mary makes a joke that Scott is with both his wives now. This amuses me. I am very grateful that she's there and talking away as that's keeping me going up this really tough final climb to Cool. I feel Scott and I are just exhausted and it is nice to have someone with some energy be near us encouraging us both on. We are mostly hiking this last stretch up. We run a little then hike some more. But, Mary is right behind me talking away. She talks about some of the other runners she saw while waiting for us. It is nice to hear about how the others are doing. I am beginning to understand why some of the longer ultra races have pacers. It helps to have someone there. It has been great having Scott with me this whole time but we are both so beat that it's nice to have another person there for the final stretch.

We get to the top and we just have to run about a mile back to the fire station. Scott takes off as I know he just wants to get to the finish. I am beat and just going along at my own pace. Mary hangs back with me and continues talking about this and that. It keeps me going. My brain is barely processing anything now except to keep one foot in front of the other.

At one point, Mary breaks away to the right so she can get to the finish line. I turn left and keep running along up this little hill. As I am running down it, my damn left foot cramps up again and I squat down in pain. Damn these downhills! My foot hates them. I rather run uphill now as the cramping seems to only happen on descents.

After a short moment, I pick up my legs and keep going. They hurt and want to cramp more but I can see the finish and I just want to get there. I run along the last stretch and some runners are along the side encouraging me one. I see Scott make the last right turn before the finish line. I drag myself along kind of running, kind of hobbling but going.

I turn the corner kind of gimpish and I hear some people cheer my name. Then, I kick it. My legs always know when the finish is near and when to kick into high gear. And, I sprint into the finish.

I cross the finish line and stop in front of Kevin standing there with water bottles. I stare at him for a bit as my brain is really slow at processing anything. I know this person but brain is having trouble processing what is going on. Then I think, oh, I should stop my Garmin now. I stop my Garmin and then, it really sinks in that I did it! I finished my first 50k! It was shorter than 31 miles but I sure as hell was not going to complain! I am happy that's over with.

And, both Scott and I finished under 6 hours! Scott wanted to break 6! I wanted to get under 6:10 and we came in around 5:45-5:46ish. We even had room to spare and still would have broken 6 hours had the course been an actual 31 miles. :)

The Post Race
Post race was a blast! Got to see so many of my running friends out there and watch some of them finish! Everyone seemed to have done better than they expected! It was a gorgeous sunny day! I was on a nice endorphin high! My legs were weary but I felt happy and accomplished! And, it was a really nice post-race party! Just hanging out and having a good time! And, of course, I go get and eat my frog cupcake! Oh, 30 miles for this yummy treat!

I made a few new running friends out there, which was nice. Trail races have a different vibe than road races I find. People are friendlier and it is more of a community than everyone doing their own thing. A couple of my Java Jogger friends, Dave and Susie, had come out to see me and other runners which always warms my heart to have the support of my Java Joggers!

But, as I am sitting on the couch with Bruce chatting away with Dave & Susie. I look up and see this guy. Is that who I think it is? I tap Bruce's arm and ask him if that's Gordy Ainsleigh I am seeing....he certainly looks like the guy in the movie I just saw last night. Bruce says yes it is and says let me go introduce you. And, I actually meet Gordy Ainsleigh and it's funny to see him kind of tease Bruce about this and that. Bruce tells him how I ran my first 50k today and I finished 5:46. Gordy says that's a good time. :)


I thank all the wonderful volunteers at the event as they were fantastic! Everyone was very cheerful and caring! I felt well taken care of out on the run, especially when I was not feeling so grand. :)

I thank all you wonderful friends who came out to cheer myself and/or other runners on! It does really help!

I thank Folsom Trail Runners for all the wonderful training runs they had before this event. It really helped to be familiar with the trails. I am glad that during this ultra marathon process, I have made so many friends through FTR and look forward to sharing many more fun adventures with you all! It has really been fun running with you all! Special thanks to Bruce, Scott, Bryan, Bill, and James for organizing some great training runs!

As always, I thank my Java Joggers. I wear the Java Joggers shirt in every race for a reason. You make me good to the last mile. Always supportive to me in my crazy adventures and always there cheering me on. I always feel loved by you all and continue to love you all so very much! And, I will always be grateful for you all making me into the runner first of all and then into the runner I am today. Extra thanks to Dave, Susie, Paul & Paulo for coming out for us! Also, thanks to Ralph Keith for talking me into this crazy event! ;-)

Big thank you to Mary for being there for Scott and myself during that last stretch uphill. Oh, I was so fried at that point. I think Scott was too. It was really nice to have you there encouraging us on and just talking away. I don't quite remember all that you were saying but it was comforting and really helped me keep going. I especially thank you for still hanging back with me when Scott started breaking away from me.

And, last and certainly not least, I express the utmost gratitude and thanks to Scott Engquist! I probably could have gotten through that race without you but it would have been way worse. And, I do not think I would have gotten as good of a time as I did had it not been for you being there. I remember in the latter miles, I would just focus on your feet to keep me going. Just follow Scott I would think and not think too much beyond that. It is always wonderful having your company on all the runs we've had and it has been a blast training for WTC with you! I cannot express how happy I was when I saw that green jacket of yours and I had to book it to catch up to you! All that training together really helped me be prepared for this race. And, I was really happy that I got to share my first 50k with you for nearly all of it. Thanks for waiting up on me at certain points in the run and giving me s-caps as needed too! While we didn't quite start together, I am very happy that we pretty much finished together. THANK YOU!!!! :)

1 comment:

  1. Helen, Very nice recap...ejnoyable reading about your experience and the Commaradarie of the Ultra community that sets us apart...congratulations on your first 50k finish..and a very desireable one!