Monday, September 5, 2011

Virgil Crest Ultras 50 Miler

ok, it's been a while since i have posted. not that i haven't been running; actually, quite the opposite. since VT100K i have had some fun adventures but have just been too lazy to write. i went back to the escarpment trail run after taking 3 years off from it. and i remembered why i took 3 years off from it. it's a fun and daring and challenging run for me, but it is mentally and physically draining. don't get me wrong; it's a great run, just hard for me ... i guess that's the draw. and then i got to crew for joe at the summer beast of burden, where he competed in the 24 hour race, completing 50 hard miles in the brutal summer heat. he's definitely got some heart for hanging in there through some really tough times.

and so that brings me to the present. this past weekend was the fourth running of the virgil crest ultras (100 mile and 50 mile runs). and for the third year in a row i completed the 50 miler which i have to admit is the toughest of all the 50 milers i have ever run. and extremely rewarding. i definitely get my money's worth on this course; i drag it out for as long as possible. more time on the trails = more fun! and so finally, a few days after the race, I am still recovering and getting my thoughts together. I have run this race three times, each time a slightly different version of the course. I have to say, this year's course was by far the best. the best for a couple of reasons ... 1) the climb up the lift house 5 loop going in the reverse direction (second time around) was much easier ... new route plus the use of trekking poles, 2) the temps were finally in my favor ... nice and cool, and 3) the mud!

FRIDAY ... arrived in virgil (all of 45 minute drive from home!). it was raining lightly but steadily ... CRAP! the good news was that this bit of rain wouldn't make any difference ... the trails were already saturated and the mud was already set. it was then off to a nice pasta dinner at the virgil fire department, hanging out with old friends and new. funny how getting ready for an ultra seems so relaxing now; no nerves, just a long day of running ahead. i love it. those short races (anything from the marathon distance down) just sends me to the bathroom endlessly leading up to the start.

i have also become quite adept to camping the night before running an ultra. i never thought this would happen. i like the comfort of a bed and a shower, but there is something to be said for waking up right at the starting line. and it makes you quite efficient. no lounging around, no dawdling. no reason to wake up any earlier than the time it takes to get dressed and get moving. it's good for me. so joe and i camped in the car-V at hope lake and i awoke just before 5am on Saturday morning feeling well-rested and ready to run. the only thing was that i guess i wasn't really as organized as i thought. usually i have all of my race stuff layed out and ready to go, hydration pack filled and food in the pockets. well, i overlooked that this time so i felt a bit out of sorts and scrambling to get things in order. once i finally got this done i headed down to the pavillion for some coffee, now really feeling comfortable. but CRAP again! no coffee. oh well, I brought some ice coffees with me, so one of these and a couple of No Doze and i was good to go. so here's the dirty on how the day went about ...

5:45am ... all packed-up and ready to go ... 2 liter hydration pack of water with pockets full of hammer perpetuem solids and hammer endurolytes. hit the restrooms for what i thought would be the last time and tried to relax and chat with friends, and waited for the start.

5:58am ... well, better make another trip to the bathrooms. CRAP! only 2 minutes to the start? who cares! does it really matter if i start at 6am or 6:05am?

6am ... made it in time for the start! woo hoo! we're off and running in a sea of headlamps. i love these dark starts, but i surely wish they weren't in the mornings! ugh ... i hate to get up in the morning! lots of good chat with friends, identifiable only by voice. wore my less-than-the-best headlamp since joe had my good one that i would get from him later in the day. perhaps i should have checked the batteries ... since joe used this light at the summer beast and the batteries hadn't been changed since i don't know when. so the freaking light kept going out but it was ok since it got light pretty soon and the road/trail we were on were not too technical. yet.

7:06am ... arrive at the gravel pit aid station. everyone was still pretty bunched together so it was a bit of chaos. put my light in my pack and got a few warm boiled potatoes with salt for breakfast. nice ... just what my stomach, which detest mornings as much as my brain, really wanted. carry on ...

8:20am ... after some really greasy muddy sections (forget even trying to have dry feet! i already realized that this was not to be, so get used to the squishy wet feeling) and then some easy running on the road (ok, i would rather be on a muddy trail!), i arrived at the lift house 5 aid station. the runners were still pretty tight at this point, so there were lots of people to chat with. some pepsi, chips, and a pb&j sandwich, and i grabbed my trekking poles from joe and set-0ff up the ski slope. man, i gotta say that those trekking poles are the bomb! i love 'em! they took the pressure off of my knees, my quads, and my low back. can't say as i was necessarily faster on the climbs because of them (and lord knows i wasn't faster on the descents ... i never will be!), but it was just way easier.

9:35am ... first round of the lift house 5 loop done. and i felt good. i was hungry but i didn't know what i wanted, so i went with more of the same, interspersed with a few perpetuem solids here and there. i had brought some gatorade with me, just in case i needed something different, and i was so glad that i did. joe replenished my water supply and i took a bottle of gatorade with me, which i sipped on as i climbed up virgil mountain in the good company of dean and jack. i have never run up virgil mountain and this day was certainly not going to be the time that i started!

11:21am ... still feeling good at the rock pile aid station! somewhere between van donsel road and o'dell road charlie and carter caught up to me and i had new company to distract me from thinking about how uncomfortable (not painful, just icky) my feet were from the wet and mud. charlie and carter were in the 100 mile race and as i fell into running with them i felt really good. my attitude was good and my fuelling was good. i had considered that if it was a good day at 50 miles that i may consider going on for the 100. my joe crew was there, my friend karen was willing to pace, and there was nothing to lose if i didn't actually do it ... so why not? i got into the rock pile aid station and talked with karen as she was working there and told her that it was feeling pretty good; today might be the day. i would definitely let her know on the return trip from daisy hollow. so i chowed on some really wonderful pineapple and joe was there to hook me up with some baby food. thanks jim for sharing this secret with me ... i can't tell you how wonderful this was. i hate to eat bananas during a race but that banana and rice baby food just hit the spot!

12:49pm ... hello daisy hollow! it was a super run in the company of dean, carter, and charlie and it was so nice to enjoy this super soft trail out here. i was still feeling really great, fuelled, and in good spirits. i had gotten used to that not-so-fresh feeling of my feet and just succumbed to the uncomfortableness, and just went with it. some more pb&j, cookies, and broth and i was refreshed. and some ginger beer to settle it all down.

2:49pm ... back at the rock pile. joe was there with some more of that really great baby food (seriously, it sounds weird but it is good stuff!). i have to really thank karen for keeping the pb&j sandwiches under cover so that they didn't dry out! those things were awesome! some more fruit, some sandwiches, and it was time to move on. i told karen that i would meet her at hope lake, and unless something drastic happened, we would go on. off with some more gatorade in the bottle and water in my pack. 'nuff of the perpetuem solids; they just weren't going to do it today.

4:17pm ... and back to lift house 5 aid station. i was pretty gross at this point. fell in a really stinky mud puddle, fell on my ass on the way down virgil mountain (ok, "fell" is a relative term ... there was no "falling" on this day, i simply just "slid" to the ground. ahhhh ... the wonders of mud). but i was feeling food and there was good food here. i refuelled with some cheese pierogies and soda, grabbed my poles, and headed up the mountain. the good thing is that i am a pretty speedy uphill hiker and can cover the ground pretty quickly ... the downside is that i really loose a lot of this time on the downhills. wussy? no. i am just not fast at descending and i like my knees. and the poles got me through this round again pretty unscathed. and i was still feeling happy. wow ... could this really be the day?

5:58pm ... back at the bottom of the lift house 5 loop. oh, they had the most excellent cheese quesedillas! and they were hot! i had to stop and get a pebble out of my shoes, so i took the opportunity to put some new socks and gaiters on (i knew they wouldn't stay dry long, but it was kind of nice to have "fresh" feet again, even if only for a while). more soda, more gatorade, more quesedillas, good chat with joe and melissa and a few of the relayers, and it was time to move on. this was the first time that i sat down since i got my butt off the toilet at 6am! sitting felt good but for once it didn't feel like a necessity; i was feeling really good.

7:45pm ... tough going to get back to the gravel pit. things had been going so great and then once we were back in the woods it definitely got tougher. the greasy mud in this section was simply treacherous! i slipped and slid all over the place. i was on my knees more than once (and threw out a few prayers since i was down there). by the time i got to the gravel pit i was feeling a bit worse for the wear and my left foot that i had injured the week before was now, for the first time all day, really annoying me. the week before i had put my foot through some wooden boards of a bridge while on a trail run. i tried to ignore the pain; had some eats and broth and got moving out of the aid station as quick as i could.

8:53pm ... back to hope lake; 50 miles completed. the run from the gravel pit back to hope lake, although just over 4 miles, is really quite tough in the dark and the mud. and when you're hurting it can get just plain ugly. and that's how i started to feel. my head was still in the game and my fuelling was good, so maybe karen and joe could fix me up. but when i hit vinnedge road that left foot just was, wow, unbearably painful. the pain started shooting up my leg. i didn't make any decisions at this point about stopping or going on; i wanted to talk to joe and karen. so when i pulled into hope lake i decided to just sit for a minute and think and talk with joe and karen.

8:57pm ... and then decision time came. really, it wasn't a tough one to have to make, except my brain was ready to keep going. i had done well with fuelling and pacing and the reality was that, for once, i really felt that i was in good shape to keep going. but the other reality was that i didn't want to really damage my foot when i had another race (100K) just 2 weeks later. CRAP on that damn foot! but i was content with stopping, mostly because i felt like i had really crossed a barrier ... i didn't want to stop, it was just the right thing to do. no regrets. so my finishing time of 14:57 didn't beat the previous year (nor would it have even if my time had been recorded at the very moment i crossed into hope lake), but things went so much better than i could have expected. and now i want that 100 mile finish; i have found the desire again.

so things will likely always continue to change with each and every ultra i run, but i have found some new realizations ...

1. baby food is good!

2. once i succumb to the reality that i will be running for a very long time and stop worrying about time, it really did get mentally easier.

3. joe is still the most awesome crew and karen, you rock for always being prepared to go!

4. wet and muddy feet are not the worst things ... just giving in to the feeling that you will be uncomfortable and probably even very disgusting is just a reality and it is what it is.

5. i think i can do this 100 miler ... and i will some day!

some pics of the adventure can be found HERE. (OK, the picture of Salem isn't from the race, but isn't he adorable?!)