Thursday, September 30, 2010

Peace, Love, and 50miles of Heaven in Hell

Im going to start this with the intention of brevity, so there may be a few people who make it through this arduous race report.

Deciding to register for the 50mile race at woodstock was tough, especially since I had just experienced the ultimate runner's high after the North Country Trail 50.  NCT was a perfect race weekend-good friends, family, perfect weather, and a solid race resulting in a bullseye for my time goal of 8 hours. The long,overly dramatic race report can be read here on my blog as well.
I had qualms about signing up for the race because I was worried that doing the same distance 3 weeks apart would result in dissappointment at the best, injury or burnout at the worst. Upon registering online, I felt a sense of discomfort that was unfamiliar. I knew I should be playing it safe, focusing on 5k/10k distance, lifting some weights regain the 20lbs I'd lost since spring, and getting focused on swimming season. As I recently learned in a holistic health class, feeling physical discomfort upon making a tough decision is usually a sign of that decision being "kharmicallly inappropriate"(Holistic health, though I'd consider myself a fan and student of it, is referred to by many as "hippie-ology," touchy-feely, etc.). I was running short on funding and long on bills, but for some reason, there I sat, credit card in hand at the inviting "Run Woodstock" webpage.
I was so worried about the decision that I omitted my registration from conversations with Abbey and Alex, my close friends and training partners. The decision to run my second 50 ever 3 weeks from my first was seeming poorer and poorer.
Training between NCT and Woodstock went fairly well, with a scattering of hard tempo efforts with Alex(Note: Alex tempo=My eyes are about to explode), some good mid-distance runs with Gazelle Sports' Wednesday night group, and some good trail runs with Jeremiah,  Jason, Shelly and Mark. In case you can't tell by my name dropping, I have a pretty good support network. I peaked with a 91mile week that was punctuated by a double combo of 14and16 miles. The following 2 weeks were relatively easy and of unsatisfactory mileage. I wasn't too worried about cramming in training miles for fitness sake, but for sanity. Life outside of running took its toll and mileage dropped, and so did my spirits to a much lesser degree.
The week leading up to Woodstock consisted of very little running. I ran almost daily, but sometimes barely over a mile. These runs were not scheduled training runs, but runs with my group of middle school kids that I coach. The two runs of any quality were a great 9 miler with the Gazelle Group and a nice 5 miler with Alex, Abbey, and Shy the day before the race.
As I sat in class waiting to be done for the day and head out of town, I get a disturbing text. It was from my friend Ryan about another friend of ours. Apparently, Stevie had a mild heart attack while working at his job. He as two kids and a wife. I was immediately sickened by the news and was really shaken up. Rather than meeting Shelly, Jason, and Mark to depart for the race, I had to go home to make sure my friend was ok. A small price to pay for stopping to make sure my friend was alright and maybe lift his spirits. I hope it did.
Sam and I then headed for Novi...and then realized that we didn't know how to get there. My GPS car charger had quit working...I forgot about that until I had to use it again. We had to text Shelly to get directions to the place we were staying, and ask my crew to pick up my race packet.
After a nice ride with Sam we finally arrived at Ken's apartment. Ken is a mutual friend of ours that was so incredibly gracious that he offered us the use of his apartment, which was only about 30 minutes from the start line of the race. Upon our arrival, we ate pizza and wings, and drank some beer. The ultimate prerace meal that has yet to let me down.  I was also suprised when my crew even had matching "J Crew" shirts! I was officially legit.We laughed a lot and caught up with each other before discussing race logistics. It was then that I realized that I had no actual nutrition or hydration strategy. I went with my default plan: 1 bottle of water and 2 GUs berween aid stations for the entire race. I wanted redbull on standby just in case of a low, but other than that, no plan B. The logistics discussion was obviously quite brief. I would drop my empty bottle, and someone would hand me a fresh one with 2 GUs stuffed in the Nathan Handheld pocket. Easy in, easy out with no actual stopping the entire time. Time for bed.
Sam and I attempting to smile at 4am

standing around as the race is about to start

4am came really early. The race started at 6am, so we had time to get showers(seperately, to clarify), eat some leftover pizza, and drink some water. We headed out the door about 4:50, only 20 minutes behind schedule. Right on time. Thanks to the GPS, we arrived with enough time for me to change into my shorts, Mark filled my bottle with water, and then I stood there with about 3 minutes before the start. Good thing there isn't much of a "warm up protocol" for a 50miler.We saw our friend Todd. He and his wife Candy were our campsite mates last year at woodstock. We've commuicated briefly online and I looked forward to seeing them this year. I took my usual spot near the back of the pack and chatted for a few minutes. Its always hard to tell whether idle chat is welcome. I was excited to run the beautiful trails, so I just jabbered incessantly. Others remained very calm and stoic. Were they nervous and in need of some loosening up? Were they in the zone and in need of reflection before starting such a grand adventure? Were they on the verge of strangling me for my constant talking? I guess I'll never know, but hopefully I didn't step on any toes.

standing around as the race is about to start
We were given simple instructions: follow the pink flags. The 50mile race may have had the easiest course to read in the whole festival. Constatnt markings, confidence flags, and other banners were there to keep us on course as we wandered through the woods. A couple of people commented on their footwear, I stood there sheepishly as I stood there in the NB minimus, a shoe that hasn't been released yet. A couple people were talking about the value of trail gaiters. I wasnt even wearing socks. We stood around chatting for a few more seconds, then all of a sudden I heard it... "GO!"

I joined the shuffle and wandered past Sam, Shelly, Jason, and Mark. They smiled and wished me well as I wandered up the first hill and into the woods. It wouldn't be light out for almost 2 hours, so I jogged along in the cold, dark woods with what I assumed was the lead group. We had already made a few turns that were marked by pink flags. This section of the course had a few downed trees or logs laying across it. We hopped over them as we meandered through the woods. My terribly inaccurate GPS watch beeped off the first mile. I was substantially slower than my goal race pace, so I decided to kick it up a notch and attempt to get into my groove. I climbed and bombed a couple small hills, and they felt relatively easy, even on my cold legs. From the best of my recollection, this is where I pulled away from the pack. I thought, "they must know something I don't. I'll regret this" I always tell myself to run well when I feel well, so I continued on while the adrenaline was still in my system. I was hopping over the roots and rocks in the trail, trying to bend over to see the ground with more detail. I fiddled with my headlamp a few times to direct the light at a more downward angle. My vision is less than stellar as-is, so to run by a light that is far from the ground is not as easy as it could be. Im still grateful-Jason came through and loaned me his headlamp. It worked very well.

The next short section was a straight, flat path that connected us to another trail system. It was less than 1 mile, but I told myself to make good use of it. My rationale was to cover more ground while the ground was flat, and use quick, short steps in the trails to recover from the fast "road efforts." My pace read in the low 7:00min/mile range. I immediately thought I had messed up by running this fast so early in the race, but had to trust my body. I've been doing long runs all year, and listening to my body is a skill I'd like to think I've sharpened a bit. It wasn't long until I ducked into another trail and was making a small climb. The trails aren't the most technical I've ever run, but the roots, rocks, and debris certainly kept me on my toes. The ground was also very hard, almost like a very dry clay. I saw banners up ahead, and made the appropriate turns to head down the course. A couple downhills later, I was already rolling into the first aid station. Sam and Jason were there to hand me a full bottle with 2 GUs in it. It was then that I realized that I had barely consumed half of my water, and only 1 gel. It had only been about 38 minutes, so I guess that isn't so bad. My general strategy was 1 bottle and 2 gels between each AS. I'd have to remember to eat and drink more from now on. It was great having Sam and Jason there. I never even had to stop at the AS, I just rolled right through and checked in, then took off, hardly breaking stride.

Coming up one of the connector roads to a trail system
 Immediately after the Grace AS, I was on another connector road. I got a little lost on this one, and had to stop and think about where I was, then look up the road that forked. I could see a runner up in the distance up a hill on the dirt road. I ran up to them to make sure I was on the right track. The runner I approached was the woman who would go on to win the womens 100mile race. She looked amazing, considering she had the majority of a 100mile race behind her. She encouraged me as I passed, and I told her how great she was looking. I hit another pace that was faster than my short road runs. I saw a sign that read "Ultra" with an arrow pointing right, so I followed it. 1 minute or so, and I was climbing one of the first major hills for the course. It was covered in the plastic mesh used to prevent erosion, which made the climb more difficult. Soft sand encased in flimsy plastic makes for an interesting hill. The hill soon subsided and I was back into a good rythym of climbing and descending repeatedly. I ran one of the more technical sections of the course, with lots of singletrack, erosion, and roots. Some of the hills had a bit of a trench thing going on, so I had to emlpoy a strategy of pushing off of the embankments to jump back and forth over the eroded trenches as I climbed. It was rather enjoyable engaging the more lateral muscles, giving the hip flexors a bit of a break. The roots were kind of large on this section, but a little ingenuity helped me find the path of least resistance on the way up. Mountain biking and dirtbike riding has taught me to find the part of the root that is the lowest, and aim for that. The less I have to pick my feet up, the better. Hooray for my laziness! Feeling my feet molding around thesmooth, fist-sized rocks was amazing. The trails were still going by quickly, so I just kept rolling along.
I Reached the second aid station. I drained an entire bottle this time, but only consumed one of my GUs. Progress, but I still needed to focus on getting more calories in while my body was still under control.  As I rolled through the aid station, I tossed my bottle on the ground, picked up my other one, and stole a kiss from Sam. I was riding one of the highs that make me love running, and I was so happy that Sam had gotten involved in my crazy misadventures. I sped off into the next section of trail.
This was another hilly section. A couple of these short, steep ascents were dubbed "walkers." after some experimentation, I found that powerfully walking up, then speeding back down was more time efficient than a shuffle follwed by recovery. I find this especially effective on short climbs like the ones all over this particular course. After a few more miles, I was back on the connector road to the other network of trails. This was the only part of the course where I got a little firghtened by my pace. I don't entirely trust my Garmin, but as I felt like I was running just a little too quickly, I glanced down just in time to see my watch beep and notify me of my latest mile split. 6:30. stupid. Running that fast this early is foolhardy at best, dangerous at worst. I backed it off a little, but found comfort in a low 7 minute range. It wasn't long before I was back at Grace AS. I did the usual routine without stopping, and hardly slowing down. A few miles later, and I had completed my first lap. I think it was around 2:25. I checked into the main aid station, and grabbed a single pretzel and a fig newton. I ran up the hill with Jason. He told me to keep doing what I was doing and asked me if I would need anything at the next AS. I told him to keep the GU and water coming and maybe have some lube ready. 1 quick stop in the porta-jon and I was off. The course was much more beautiful in the light of day. There were some logs and things I didn't remember the first time around, but it was easier to navigate the second time around. I hit the bike path much sooner than on the last lap. I had a layout of the course now, I decided that my second lap would be a negative split. I forged ahead on the flat sections, deciding again to rest on the technical trail sections and keep my steps nice and light. I hopped back into the woods and kept going, upping the cadence and taking small steps. I was really enjoying running with speed and feeling like the trail was working with me, not against me.

Coming into Grace Aid Station

The rest of the loop was almost a carbon copy of the first, only the pace was pushed just a little bit more. Other runners from other races were starting to populate sections of the course. It was nice to see them and talk to them as I passed by. One guy blew by me as if I were standing still. Im not sure which race he was running, but I felt like I was moving. He flew by and was instantly gone on a technical section of trail. I was impressed and scared at the same time. "Is this dude running the 50? If so, I can kiss a W goodbye." I shrugged it off and continued on the trail. I could hear the band playing at the finish line. I had completed another lap! I looked at my watch, and it had been less than 5 hours, so I completed my goal of having a negative split for the lap. This is where the race started to get fun.

I picked up my 1st Pacer. Jason was still getting ready, so I forged on without him. He caught me in the first quarter mile or so, so I didn't have to go long without him. He asked how I was feeling. I told him I was feeling well, but starting to fatigue. He asked "do you want to know where everyone else is?" I replied, "no, Im good...well...ok...tell me." he told me I had a 9 minute lead on second place. I really was in first! I told jason I wanted to rest up on the first half of this lap, then run hard the last 8. Running with Jason made me feel more at ease, like we were on one of our fun training runs.
Fast forward to the next AS- I ran my "rest" section faster than I had in my last 2 laps, continuing the trend of 7ish min/miles on the short road section. and maintaining it for as long as I could into the trails. At the next AS, Jason traded places with Mark. Mark was now my pacer. We chatted a bit, and then started joking around as we normally do. Mark's sense of humour was very welcome on this 4 mile stretch. If I were to consider any part of this race to be my "low point," it would be this section of the race. I was happy to have Mark there. We pulled into the next AS, and Jason was ready to resume pacing duties. We picked up the pace once more, and I followed. I wasn't complaining, but I was hurting. Any pace felt uncomfortable, so I just gutted out a rough section of fairly technical trails with mud and swamp grass.

Getting schooled by Mark, flying down the gravel in his VFF Treks.

8 miles to go- definitely tired
My two great pacers keeping me in line in the final miles

 Back to Grace aid station. 4 miles to go. Mark came to greet us, and had some good news. He asked around and found out that it was legal to have 2 pacers. I was excited, so I said, "hop in this conga line then!" I dropped my bottle after taking another drink, then told Sam that I was going hard these last 4. I left the heavy water bottle behind and started my charge. Jason asked what I wanted for a pace. I said, "give me a minute to get warm, then give it hell and see if I can keep up!" He obliged. Jason is fast, whether he'd admit it or not. Mark followed, hot on my heels, saying generally encouraging and inappropriate things. I have great friends. We passed a small group of racers, one of which was a friend from our Runner's World Online Forum. "Jason?" he said. Jason replied, "Thats me!"  "Dogsnameisleroy from the forums! Which one of you is jscott87?" I said hi, and told him how great he looked. He was in great spirits and looke healthy. We had to get going, so we forged on. I walked a couple hills, then forged on to make up the time from my slight pace lagging. We were really starting to cruise, then Jason asked me a tough question. "You ready to start that kick of yours? We have 1 mile left." I said, "sure, lets do it." 2 more corners, and we were on the last hill before the Hell Creek Ranch. I ran in, rounded the curve of the gravel trail and kicked it into gear. "Give it hell, man!" Jason said as he and mark broke away to let me finish. I saw the finish. I had passed it 2 times already, and I actually got to cross it this time. I was too afraid to look behind me. I just ran. My legs opened up and I felt my feet covering ground with each step. Just in time to step on the blue mat. I was done.

Coming in to finish, about 40 yards to go.

coming in hot for a landing

I ran to Sam and gave her a great big sweaty hug. I was so happy! A legitimate win. My first win ever in any distance of race. I hugged Shelly, my crew chief and great source of motivation. Mark and Jason, my two pacers were there to greet me, and I was so thankful that I couldn't even say anything. I just hugged them both. I talked to a race official, who said she would go get my belt buckle. I was confused. I thought only 100milers got buckles. Apparently I was alittle ahead of schedule and they didn't expect me in so early. The checked to make sure that I checked into the aid stations, and told me that I was the overall winner. I collected my prize, which was a sweet hippie lava lamp. Sam grabbed me some food while I peeled off my shoes and put on my hoodie and my jeans. I was cooling off quickly and shivering quite a bit.

We hung out for the rest of the day. My friend and training partner, Ryan Hansard, had driven across the state after running his half marathon PR in Grand Haven to watch me finish. He was late, or I was early. Depends on how you look at it. Todd, our friend and campsite mate from last year, ran the half marathon and was camping out enjoying the day with us as we watched others finish and enjoyed the music. We sat there and drank the afternoon away. My crew still catered to me as I sat there like a bump on a log, laughing at some of the pictures taken throughout the day. I'm not the most photogenic person in the world, but at least I make some funny faces. There were plenty of shenanigans that I would later be filled in on, some of them documented with photos. 
Spending the rest of the day goofing around

I think my relative success in this race had more to do with mindset than talent. I was focused the entire time, not worried about where others were and fixated on feeling "right." I wasn't overly focused on pace. At NCT, I wanted to hit 8 hours, and I ran 8 hours and 30seconds. I think putting that number in my head limited my potential for that particular day. At Woodstock, I went into it just hoping to run strong. Without my crew, the day may have been a disaster. If you ever get the chance to be part of a crew, I would recommend it. I've done it before, and its a really intense and enjoyable experience.

End Babble sequence.