Monday, May 27, 2013

Crampin' Calves and the Leona Divide 50k

So does this mean I can officially call myself and ultramarathoner?  It does right?  Hell yeah!

I don't know why it's such a big deal to me, but it is.  It signifies something.  Not many people are distance runners; even fewer are marathoners; even less are ultramarathoners, and now I'm one of them.

Yesterday was the Leona Divide 50k and 50 miler, and I was there to take the first step into the ultra-trail world, with a run at the 50k.

My wife, son, and I drove up to Palmdale, California on Friday afternoon to our hotel.  Apparently, it would seem that a good crew of the other runners were staying there as well, which was visible by the droves of people with Subaru's and Priuses in the parking lot (just an observation I've had, most ultra runners drive the same types of vehicles; myself, I've got a VW.  I suppose wanting fuel efficiency comes from the fact that we drive all over the place to get to trails and races).  Shortly after checking in, we drove the 40 or so minutes from Palmdale to Lake Hughes for packet pickup.

Side note:  We stayed at the Best Western in Palmdale, and I would recommend it to anyone in the future, just due to location.  It was literally a straight shot down the same road to Lake Hughes.  The hotel was clean, and, well, a hotel.  There is also a Holiday Inn about a block away, and if I run this race again next year, we'll be staying there (I collect the Priority Club points).

We got to the Lake Hughes community center for check-in, and surprisingly it wasn't too busy.  There was a pasta dinner taking place that evening too, but after grabbing my bib and race shirt, we decided to partake in my usual pre-race dinner of pizza and beer (hey, whatever works, right?).

By the time we ate, and got back to the hotel, it was a little after 8 pm, and since the wake up call was coming at 3 am, we called it a night.  Let me say, you get an interesting conversation from the front desk when you put in a 3 am wake up call:

FD:  Front Desk.  How can I help you?

Me:  I'd like to put in a wake up call for room 220.

FD:  Sure, sir.  What time?

Me:  3 am.

FD:  I'm sorry?

Me: Yes, for 3 am.

FD:  3 am?

Me:  That's correct.

FD:  You did say "am," correct?

Me:  Yes, that's correct.  3 am.

FD:  Ok, sir.  I've got room 220 for 3 am.  Is that correct?

Me:  Yes, that's correct.  Thank you.

So I wouldn't say I got any sort of solid sleep that night.  I woke up pretty much every hour on the hour from about 11 until 3.  I have a habit of worrying subconsciously while I sleep that I'm going to over sleep.  Better safe than sorry, I suppose.

We all woke up at 3, and after a shower, and a breakfast of a bagel, banana, and a cup of lackluster coffee, we loaded in the car and drove to the race start.  The pre-race info packet mentioned very limited parking at the community center, so in an effort to get a close parking spot, we got there just after 4, right before the crowds really started rolling in.  I had a cup of coffee, and went back and forth on whether or not to wear my buff to start, or just my visor, or both; should I wear my singlet?  or my tech shirt?; how many gels should  I carry to start?  Needless to say, I got it all figured out:  visor, no buff, short sleeve tech shirt, 5 gels.

I went to the check-in tables again, as it said in the race info that all runners would be required to check in the morning of the race.  Apparently, since I did my packet pick-up the night before, I didn't need to check in again, but it did get me the little drawstring bag that they didn't have the night before...I'm all about free stuff!

From then, it was just waiting around until the race start, trying to stay warm, wondering if I would be able to get a bowel movement in, and just trying to relax.  I will say, it's a good thing I never did have to go to the bathroom, as the lines for the bathrooms were SUPER long.  Oh well.  If nothing wanted to come out, then nothing wanted to come out!

We finally got the call just before start time to head down to the bottom of the parking lot to the starting line, were the hundreds of runners were standing around waiting for the start.  Jimmy Dean Freeman gave some words of wisdom before the start, most of which I couldn't understand, except for something along the lines of him mentioning it was going to be f-ing hot (which he turned out to be very right about).

The start sounded, and off we went!  Up through the parking lot, and then on to the fire roads.  I had full intentions to have made a trip up to Lake Hughes prior to the race to run the course, but it just never worked out.  I wish I'd done so, as I would have known what to expect for the first climb.

Right off the bat, the fire road started climbing.  I started out in the back of the pack, and slowly, but surely, started moving up through the pack for the first few miles.  Surprisingly, I felt pretty good running the climb, which I didn't really expect.  Where I live, we have some solid climbs, but nothing long, per say.  It was interesting to see how my legs would do, and they did pretty well.

I rolled through the first aid station, that was somewhere between 7 and 8 miles, loaded up on some oranges and coke, refilled my bottles, and downed a couple gels and moved on.  After this aid station, there was a pretty stout climb, which I handled with a combo of running and power hiking.  At this point, the sun was coming up, and I was quickly learning that Jimmy Dean Freeman was right, it was heating up quick.

After the next aid station (mile 12?), the fast part of the course came.  We got onto some nice PCT single track, and ran pretty much downhill for the next 4-4.5 miles.  I got into a good grove with a few other runners in this section, and the miles were ticking by pretty easy, despite the climbing temperature.

I rolled into the next aid station at mile 16-ish, and this was the first aid with crew access.  My wife and son were waiting when I rolled in, and I was feeling really good.  I don't know what my split was at this point, and frankly, I didn't really care.  I was having a great time on a beautiful course.  I topped off my bottles, got some watermelon and gels (by the way, EVERY race should have watermelon!), got a send off from the family, and was off again.

The next section to mile 20 was more than I was expecting.  I knew from the elevation profile of the course, but it was a pretty hefty climb.  There was a lot of power hiking that came over the next 4 miles, and the heat was killer.  I think at this point the temperature had already climbed to over 90 degrees, and on the exposed trail, I felt every bit of it.

I kept pounding water and salt pills, and was just trucking along.  I was trying to keep track of how many 50k runners were coming down the hill back at me, as I knew the turnaround was ahead of me at mile 20.  The first one I saw was Yassine Diboun, who just happened to come screamin' down the hill past me when I was at about mile 18.  That guy was not messing around, which was later obvious by his course record finishing time.

It was shortly after this point, that the cramping began.  There was a solid period in there on the climb, from around miles 18.5 - 20, that any time I tried running the uphill, I would get wicked calf cramps.  I drank more water, took more salt, popped more gels, and just kept on hiking.  I knew eventually this would turn into a massive downhill, and succumbed to just putting one foot in front of the other on the climb up.  I wasn't moving as fast as I wanted to be due to the cramps, but I was still moving, and that was something.

Finally, at the top of the mountain, I hit the 50k turn around at mile 20-ish.  I probably spent more time at this aid station than I should have, or than I really wanted to pre-race, but I just needed a few minutes to recover from that climb.  Not to mention, there was an amazing selection of fruit here, and they had ice, cold water, and sponges to cool off with.  I probably spent four or five minutes at this aid station, before I finally started seeing several 50k runners start rolling in, and I wanted to get out of there before I fell too far off my pace.

Even given the cramping, I was still only about 15 minutes behind my goal pace, and I knew I had four miles of downhill ahead to try and make some of that up.  I took off back down the hill, and I was feeling pretty good on the decent.  I'm no Yassine on the downhills, but I was running pretty good.  I was probably clocking off around 8:00 - 8:30 miles down the hill, and the cramping seemed to have subsided.

At the bottom of the hill, I rolled back into the aid station with crew, and saw my wife and son again.  To my disappointment this time, they were out of watermelon!  Nothing I could do about that, and I was feeling pretty good anyway.  I ate some oranges, downed a gel and some coke, and then tried some chocolate covered espresso beans.  Note to self:  chocolate covered espresso beans during an ultra = no good for me. I spit those up pretty quick.  I told the wife I'd see her at the finish, and started off again to finish out the last 6 miles of the race.

I looked at my watch at this point, and saw that to hit my goal time, I had to finish in the next hour.  In my head at that point, it seemed very possible.  That's only 10:00/mile pace, I was still feeling good, and I had the motivation of knowing that I was going to finish my first ultra.  As it would turn out, that was a bit too much to ask for.

What I seemed to have mentally forgotten, is that when coming into that aid station the first time, it was on the tail end of a long (around 4 mile) downhill.  Therefore, I now had a long, 4 mile uphill to the last aid station; 10:00/miles were not happening.

I ran probably the first half mile of the uphill, and then the calf cramps came back; this time with a vengeance.  There were literally at least 5 times I had to stop, move to the side of the trail, and spend a minute or two just to stretch my calves out so I could keep hiking up the trail.  This part of the race was very slow moving, and as I looked at my watch, I just watched my goal finishing time tick by, with about four miles left to go.

That's ok, I thought, because my "B" goal, was to just finish the race with out totally destroying myself, and I knew that was going to happen.  I hit the last aid station, about 3 miles from the finish, refilled my bottles, and took a minute or two to hang out in the shade and stretch my legs.  I didn't know at the time, and I don't know what the official temp was, but I know my Suunto read the highest temperature of the race at 101 degrees, and I wouldn't doubt it.

I remember at this point one of the aid station volunteers telling me "Only 1/2 mile up that hill, and it's all downhill to the finish!"  I remember thinking that even if my legs were cramping again, I would get up that hill on my hands and knees if I had to; luckily, it never came to that.  I didn't do much running in that half mile, but I didn't stop moving either.  After all, that's the name of the game in an ultra, right?  Right.

I got to the top of the hill, and looked at the fire road moving down.  At this point, I could see down to Lake Hughes, and that gave me some pretty good motivation.  I was able to run probably 90% of that last downhill, carried by the thought of crossing that finish line.

I came down that fire road, turned the corner, and ran across the finish line.  I was just over an hour past my goal time, but I didn't even care.  At that moment, I could finally consider myself an ultramarathon runner, and there was no place I would rather have been.

Considering all the cramping, and knowing how miserable I felt after the North Face marathon in December, I thought I was in pretty good shape at the finish.  I could still walk, I wasn't verging on hypothermia, and the weather was great in the shade.  Realistically, I felt amazing.  My body was trashed, especially my quads from all the downhill, but I didn't care.

We only hung out at the finish for a little bit, before we decided to take off and head back into Palmdale to the hotel for a shower and some food.  After some dinner, it was back to the hotel, slid into my compression gear, and tried to get some sleep early.  My wife mentioned to me that this is the best she's seen me look after a race, and it was easily the best I've felt.  In typical post-race sleep fashion, I didn't get much.  After stressing my body like that, I went back and forth in the bed between hot and cold, tired and wide awake, and tossing and turning.  Hopefully the more miles my body puts on, the less of an effect efforts like that will have on me.  If not, it's something I'm willing to put up with, because the juice is definitely worth the squeeze.

It still is just now really starting to sink in.  I ran an ultra-marathon.  I know it was only a 50k, but considering it's only my second trail race over 10 miles, I'm pretty pumped about it.  I'm looking forward to more ultra races and ultra adventures in the years to come.  There's something about pushing your body to the brink like that; it makes me wonder how far I can go, and in the coming years, I intend to find out.

Notes on gear and nutrition:

First, here's the gear that I ran with:  Adidas shorts, Under Armour short-sleeved tech shirt (grey was probably the wrong color considering the heat), Under Armour visor, Oakley half jacket glasses, UD Signature Series Anton Krupicka vest, Drymax trail socks, North Face Ultra Guide shoes, and my Suunto Ambit.  Everything worked well for the most part.  I should have tied my shoes a little better to lock my heels in, because I ended up losing a couple toenails from the downhills, but overall the shoes did really well (especially considering I only had probably 10 miles in them prior to the race).  As for socks, they did ok, but I now know I will never stray from my Injinji's again.

One thing gear-wise I think is important to note, that I didn't really notice until the next day, is that the UD vest caused some issue.  It wasn't until the next morning, when I woke up feeling like I had bruised ribs, that I realized that the bottle placement on the vest, doesn't really work for me.  Maybe I just had it too tight, but the bottles dug into my chest.  In the future, I think I'll just go back to handheld's for racing, and use the vest for longer, unsupported outings when I need to carry more gear.  Either that, or I'll just use the vest with a hydration bladder, because let's be honest, and extra 30 seconds at an aid station to fill a hydration bladder as opposed to bottles isn't going to make or break me at this point.

As for nutrition, fruit at the aid stations was money.  That was the thing I looked forward to most.  I may even have my wife (or whomever is crewing me) bring a cooler with watermelon in the future; that was the cat's pajamas.  On the run, I had a combo of Honey Stinger chews and Gu gels, and I think the gels were better.  They were definitely less sticky, and easier to down in the later miles.  I will say, I know that I didn't take enough of them.  I need to get more calories in on the run.  Looking back, I was probably taking in only 100-200 calories in between aid stations, and I need to work on taking in 300 calories plus an hour, especially early in the race when my stomach is primed for it.  I've never been big on taking in mass calories, but I know it affected my race, so it's something I'll work on.

I was taking anywhere between 2 and 5 electrolyte (salt) pills an hour, and I have to be honest, I'm still not sold on them.  The only noticeable result I got from them was crusty skin and clothing after the race.

Overall, this was a great race, with fantastic volunteers.  Even with all the people at this race (I believe it was around 700+ runners, biggest ultra in SoCal), they managed to keep it feeling very personal and "down-home" for all the runners.  I do appreciate the occasional "big" race feeling (i.e. The North Face Endurance Challenge Series), but there's something about having a very "peppy" race director congratulating runners as they cross the finish, and everyone sitting around the line at picnic tables cheering everyone in.  I appreciate the local feel of what was a fairly significant race size.  My hat (or visor, or buff depending on the day) goes off to Keira and her group of volunteers; you couldn't ask for a better group of people to run a race.

Will I go back to that race again?  Definitely.  Probably for the 50 miler.  I don't know if it will be next year; there are a lot of great races in California all around the same time in the spring, and I don't think that I'm at the point where I'll be doing a lot of back to back races....yet.

Even better than my race report, read my wife's!  It's awesome to see that she wrote a whole race report from her perspective...and she has pictures!

No comments:

Post a Comment