Wednesday, March 3, 2010

You Can't Bitch About The Weather

(Ryan, Jim, and me just before heading out to the snowy start . . . note: smiling and dry . . . smiling would be the easiest part of the run; staying dry would be another story!)

My brain probably thawed-out several days ago, but with the sun and temps in the high 30s-40s range around here I have to admit that I have been more tempted to be out running than writing on my blog. But I have been doing a lot of thinking about the race and thinking about what an experience it was and now it's time to put the thoughts down in writing.

First of all, let me just say that the inaugural Beast of Burden race was all that I expected and more. I originally registered for this event because I have never done a winter ultra (or a timed 24-hr event) and I really wanted to see what I could do in some extreme weather. Well, then Mother Nature pulled a fast one and gave us a lot of not-so-snowy days - and aside from a couple of wickedly freezing days - pretty balmy temperatures. Now, running in the cold is not too challenging for me; I like it a whole lot and I actually breathe better in the cold. So if the snow was not going to be a factor and all I had to deal with was the cold, maybe this Beast thing wouldn't be too tough after all. And then, two days before the race, we got WHOMPED with snow - like 3+ feet of it at our house! Holy crap; now I had to wonder if I was really ready for this! Well, the weather is what it is, so hence the title to this story - you can't bitch about the weather. I mean, really, what did I expect when I signed up for a WINTER ultra?! Let the games begin!

Once we were able to get out our front door - and then out of the driveway - it was off to Lockport. We drove up in rapidly falling snow for 100% of the drive. WOW - Cowgirl Up! It continued to snow during dinner, after dinner, and when we got to the hotel and went to bed. And then we woke up on race day to what? Rapidly falling snow! Temps seemed to me to be in the very high 20s-30s, which made clothing choices difficult. How to stay dry without getting too warm? Well, I would have the first 15+ miles to consider this and then make changes when I got to Joe in Middleport.

With a starting field of 42 I spent a lot of time running alone, which gave me a lot of time to think - and rethink - my goals for the day. Eventually I managed to run for 16 hours, 50 minutes, completing 63.79 miles. A respectable run in my book, earning me my very first ultra buckle! This race posed many new and different challenges that no other ultra has provided me - a unique experience that I will definitely try again. Here are some of my highlights of the day (and night):

* Starting the race in absolute snowglobe effect. This was probably the best of times, getting to run as a group and talk with each other. This lastest for maybe the first 3.7 mile add-on loop. Then it was into my own head.

* Race Director Sam Pasceri ran in the 100 mile event. This was really fun to have the RD out there experiencing the same torture as the rest of us! I got to see much more of him this way than I would have with him just standing around at the start/finish area and he was so encouraging and fun.

* SNOW - lots of it! I was certain that the flatness of the course would be my major obstacle, since I love hills and the opportunities they provide me to walk, use different muscle groups, and a time to eat while still moving. However, the snow made the footing challenging (see my next point). Also, the blanket of snow on the surrounding area really did a number on my eyes. I started out without wearing eye coverage and the brightness of the whiteness noticeably bothered my vision during the first 15 miles. Thank goodness I brought shades! I tried the sunglasses but they caked-up too easily with the falling snow. I think they needed coating with Rainex. Glad I threw the ski goggles in the car - they were the ticket. I knew I would look like a dork out there running in ski goggles - but I had lots of good dork company with many others - including Sam - looking like giant bugs running with ski goggles on. This really shaded the white, kept the snow out of my eyes, and saved my vision. Do you know how much a snowflake in the eyeball hurts?! Blisters got nothing on this pain!

* The temperature - well, it was too warm for me. The temps were, I think, reportedly in the 30s, although it felt much warmer than that! At one point I ran with my jacket open and just a sports bra underneath. The warmer temps also wreaked havoc on the snow, making it mushier and the footing more difficult. My ankles definitely got a workout!

* Three aid stations - it was a mental game during what seemed like long looming miles before getting to each oasis of warm food and drink. The volunteers were always cheerful and provided some really great eats of HOT pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches, and soup. The hard part was having to leave the aid stations . . . after running alone for so long it was so nice to talk with someone, which made it was really tough to leave.

* I managed to keep my energy at a pretty constant level with Hammer Gel. Who knew I could love a gel? I am so in love with Hammer's new Montana Huckleberry flavor - it rocks! And it tastes even better cold.

* I got lonely at times. 42 runners spread out over a 12-mile trail = lots of time running alone. I ran with my friend Jim off and on, but at one point I had to call Joe on my cell phone just because I was lonely and wanted to talk to someone.

* The cell phone - thank goodness RD Sam encouraged us to carry them. Joe was great driving from end to end of the course bringing my next change of clothing with him. However, at one time I was so interested in getting into my new dry clothes and eating that I forgot to tell him what to bring to the other end for me. So with my phone with me I was able to call him and tell him what I needed, which meant not having to run another 12 miles in cold wet clothes.

* Schwag bags - really excellent! We were just piled with great stuff - a fleece-lined running shirt, socks, all sorts of good running stuff, and a really neat flashing blue light. I wore my little blue light on my waist pack and Joe said he could see me coming from quite a ways out. And then a cool t-shirt when we finished. Let's see . . . $99 to enter the race, all the food and drink I could handle, a bag full of cool stuff to use and wear . . . basically the RD paid me to run!

* My downfall - the slush storm that occurred during the night. I really was having a good go at keeping myself mentally up and I felt quite warm when I headed out after completing 50+ miles, so I made the mistake of wearing just a light shirt with a light jacket. Unfortunately I was not moving fast enough to stay warm when the slush started falling from the sky. I got soaked and rather cold. I re-warmed at the Gasport aid station under a nice heater but just before hitting the Middleport station I was greeted with another wet, cold slush downfall. I hit the Middleport aid station a little worn and cold and that's when I decided to call it a finish. After three cups of coffee with Bailey's Irish Cream I felt way better and I think if I had this to drink about 1/4 mile earlier I would have had the mental boost that I needed to get dry clothes on again and head back out.

* Oh, the best part. I can't forget the clothes dryers! At each end of the course there were clothes dryers. Joe was so great - he took my wet clothes, got to the end of the course that I was headed to and dried my clothes so that I had warm, dry clothes to change into at each end! This was, by far, the best perk of the race and really helped my mental state. Because, in case you didn't know, I am all about being comfortable during the race. And if that means continually changing clothes, then that's what I will do. I know that I lost a lot of time doing this but I also know that if I didn't do this I wouldn't have gotten as far as I did.

So, did I have a good race? Well, it wasn't really a race for me as much as it was a challenge. And not even a challenge to see how many miles I could do, but really to see how I could handle the the changing elements as they came up. I think I had a good run, was able to stay fuelled and not mentally bonk, which has been my downfall in the past. My body can handle way more than my brain can, so if I can just keep my brain in it I feel that I can do well. So now that I have had my winter fun I am ready for the snow to be gone! It's time to hit the trails - as soon as I can find them!

Cowgirl up . . . the HAT Run 50K trail awaits!

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