OK, 2014 is here and it's time to get a new year of running and racing started. A new year means some pretty exciting things in store or me. First of all, I was accepted into the NUUN Ambassador program as a "NUUN fan", which means representing a company and a hydration product that I really love and really believe in. NUUN is great-tasting, has a clean and crisp flavor, and does not fill me up like other sports hydration products do; it provides pure hydration and allows me to eat the real food that I love to fuel the fire. To find out more about this amazing company and their products go to http://www.nuun.com/company/about.
So this year my main goal, other than trying to improve on some old races and running some new exciting ones, is to avoid the FOMO Syndrome. FOMO is the Fear Of Missing Out ... and I have it bad. Even when a race offers different distances and I register for a race that is not the longest distance offered, I feel like I am going to miss out on some fun. A lot of my friends will still be out on the course running when I have finished ... and what if they are having fun and I am missing it? So that is what makes me register for the longer distance, even if not properly trained and even if the race terrain is not completely compatible with what I run best on. This year I am determined to not just do what my running friends are doing but to register for what is best for me. We'll see how that goes ...
For many people winter means taking a break from running and racing; a time to recover and enjoy other fun like skiing, snowshoeing, or just taking a break. For me, January brings the start of my ultrarunning season with the Winter Beast of Burden 100 and 50 Mile runs. Typically I have signed up for the 100 miler and end of DNFing at the 50 mile point. This 100 miler is tough because it is FLAT and repetitive and generally I just can't keep my mind in it. And when things start to physically fall apart I just can't mentally overcome the problems. But that's the FOMO Syndrome ... all of my friends are doing the 100 and I don't want to be left out. That's what gets me in trouble. So this year I got smart and registered for "just" the 50 miler. But I have to say ... right up until the days before the race I so wanted to email the race director and try to beg my way in to the 100. Thank goodness for my good friend Karen who set me straight. At 37.5 miles I was ready for it to be over and at 50 I was just glad to be alive!
We had some great snow and cold in early January which provided some great training - mental and physical - for the race. And then just weeks before the race a horrible thing happened ... the snow melted. And it warmed up. As I watched the forecast leading up to race day I was totally convinced that this year the race would not be a Beast. But then Mother Nature came through with the forecast of some great winds. Thank goodness; there was going to be a challenge after all.
So here's the run-down on how things unfolded ...
Race morning came and it was mid 20s and just a little windy. As usual, I couldn't decide what to wear and slightly overdressed. Fortunately Joe was out along the course at around 2 miles and I stripped off my outer layer of wind pants and gave them to him. This made the first 12.5 miles more comfortable.
12.5 miles - 2 hrs, 15 min. I was soaked in sweat, since the wind had been at my back the entire way. This is my biggest issue with this race; I lose a lot of time having to change into dry clothes. It's a long way between aid stations and if not properly dressed, dry, and warm ... well, it can be pretty miserable if not totally hazardous to your health. So I quickly changed into dry clothes, downed some Ensure, refilled my bottle with NUUN strawberry lemonade, grabbed some chips, and headed back out.
In the middle of the 12.5 mile sections is Gasport and the midway aid station. You will hit it on each trip between Lockport and Middleport and it is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because there are great volunteers there and some pretty excellent food; a curse because going inside that heated tent feels so good that you don't want to leave. Leaving means you are now warmed up and a bit sweaty and having to go back out into the wind and cold. So despite how amazing the food and people are, you don't want to spend much time here.
25 miles - 5 hrs, 19 min. OK, this entire 12.5 mile section was directly into the wind. I was feeling a bit beat-up and cranky from hypoglycemia at this point. I couldn't wait to get in and have some hot food. My honey, Joseph, who is the most amazing crew man out there, was waiting for me with dry clothes and whatever else I wanted. Problem was, I didn't know what I wanted. I knew that I had to change my shirt and coat (knowing that the trip back to Middleport would have the wind at my back and I would be warmer and sweating more and I didn't want to soak my windstopper jacket, since I would definitely need it for the last 12.5 miles). So I got some dry clothes on, ate a luke-warmish grilled cheese sandwich (doesn't it figure ... as my luck goes, Lockport AS lost power and just got it back just as I was coming in, so the hot food that I was so looking forward to was not too hot). Oh well ... I needed to get out of there and give myself an attitude adjustment.
Once leaving the Lockport AS I was running into the wind, which I knew would not last long since I would soon cross the bridge and head the other direction. So even though I was cold with what I was wearing, I just hoped that once I crossed the bridge I would be warmer.
So I finally crossed the bridge and was back on the towpath. One big problem for me this year was that there really was no snow on the towpath; it was just a frozen gravel path and it was hard! At least with the snow there is some cushion under the feet ... this was totally unforgiving. Whenever I could find a patch of drifted snow I got onto it and it was heaven.
Once I the towpath the wind was again at my back. Now it was around 4pm and it really didn't feel as warm as it did earlier. And I didn't feel as warm. Fortunately, I had tied a windbreaker around my waist when I was leaving Lockport, so I put that on over my two layers that I already had on and just hoped for the best. As long as I was moving the cold was at least tolerable. The wind was still at my back and by the time I reached the Gasport AS my water bottle mouthpiece was frozen. I had hoped that the effervescent NUUN would help to keep this from happening but I guess the windchill was just too much. Fortunately, they had hot water at the aid station and were able to thaw the mouthpiece for me.
So I left Gasport slightly revived. Now it was getting dark. Headlamp on, front and back flasher lights on. I looked like a freaking Christmas tree moving down the towpath. Just as I was hitting a bit of a low spot I came upon some people who were waiting for their runner to come by. They were having a regular party out on the canal (which is drained down pretty low during the winter and frozen pretty solid in some areas). The guys were out on the ice running and belly-flopping and sliding on their bellies on the ice! It was hysterical and just a bit of comic relief that I needed.
I ate some more salty caramel GU which made me feel pretty happy inside. The NUUN was keeping me very well hydrated. But now the weird thing was that my face just felt cold and my sinuses were actually hurting. The wind wasn't even blowing in my face. So I just got to the point where I ran when I could, walked when I couldn't run, and just bitched out loud because there was no one around to listen to me.
37.5 miles - 8 hrs, 58 min. Thank goodness I finally reached the Middleport AS. I was hungry and grumpy and just ready for it to be over. Joe had gotten a ride out to Middleport so that he could run back to the finish with me. I knew that he would want to go out with me but I worried that he would not be warm enough at the pace I was moving. And we would be heading directly into the wind for the final 12.5 miles. So I grumped into the aid station (thank goodness it is in a heated building) and wanted to know who keeps allowing me to sign up for this every year. I was cold and miserable. FORTUNATELY, the ladies working this aid station know me and how I swing with this race. And they know how to take care of me. Nancey massaged my irritated IT band and Dani had some homemade Bailey's irish cream. So I had a nice big cup of Bailey's with some coffee to warm it up, some super hot chicken broth, got on some dry clothes, and got my spirits lifted from the group working there. These volunteers are, bar-none, the very best!
I really emphasized to Joe just how brutal it was out there but he still insisted on running with me. Thank god! At this point in the race runners are so spread out that you really end up running alone most of the time. I drank more Ensure and refilled the NUUN bottle, grabbed some hot grilled cheese, and we were off. I had gotten dry clothes on and additional layers, so I was very comfortable. Joe was moving a bit faster than me and I warned him not to get too sweaty because I was not moving all that fast and wet/sweaty plus a headwind could spell disaster. He slowed to my pace and I was actually starting to enjoy myself again. The moon and the stars were and it was pretty surreal.
We met up with friends Lisa and Gary who were running the 100 miler and ran with them for a bit. The cold was still pretty wicked and with about 7 miles left to go my headlamp faded to practically nothing (the cold really drains the power even though I had lithium batteries). I had a spare set of batteries but Joe's light was enough for the both of us ... and even if his went out the moon was so big and the towpath so flat and clear we would have been fine. The lights are mostly necessary on this course for the other runners to see you so that you don't run into or startle each other.
That last 6.5 miles from Gasport to Lockport always seems longer than it is. It just takes forever. And then, out of nowhere, I saw the lights of Widewaters Marina on the other side of the canal. This is the start/finish area in Lockport. Granted, even when you can see this spot you still have about 2 miles to go, but just seeing it makes everything better. I was feeling pretty good at this point but the hard frozen ground and the flat terrain were taking its toll on my right IT band. I really needed a beer to loosen things up.
50 miles - 12 hrs, 32 min. FINALLY! THE FINISH! I made it. After 5 years of running this event I finally had an actual finish and not a DNF. I got inside the heated tent and was right away given some pretty amazing beer ... an IPA with 12.5% ABV. Thank you, Jim! Joe did an amazing job of getting me to the finish; keeping me moving and running when I just felt like walking. All of the volunteers, race directors, other runners' crew people ... they all helped to get me to the finish. This is why I come back to this race every year ... the people are just simply amazing! Thank you to all of them for a wonderful time!
I had really hoped to run a faster time but then I realized a few things ...
1. The terrain of this course works against me. Flat is not my thing ... the repetitiveness on the muscles and joints is really hard for me.
2. I need to carry more food and eat better between the aid stations. They are pretty far apart and trying to eat enough before going 5+ miles until the next station is pretty hard.
3. I lost at least an hour having to change into dry clothes. I can't say that I wasted this time; it was essential for my survival. It can be below zero and I still sweat a lot. And sweat + wind + cold = disaster. It was necessary to take this time to make sure I was properly clothed and warm.
And what I learned ...
1. I laughed when Joe got me a box of 40 Hot Hands handwarmers for Christmas. Guess who knew what the right gift was for me this year? I love you, Joseph!
2. No matter how cold it is outside, nothing tastes better than a cold beer at the finish!
Aside from Joseph and all of the other wonderful people, what got me to the finish?
NUUN hydration tablets
Gu salty caramel gels
Butter Pecan Ensure
grilled cheese sandwiches on good old white bread
coffee and Bailey's Irish Cream (I could have used more of this!)
OK ... that ends my winter fun-run, just-survive-and-finish-no-matter-what-the-time run. Now it's time to focus. I hope to be better about posting after my next race (this took me 2 weeks to get this together!) I love the winter but I miss the trails ... maybe it's time to get the snowshoes out!
Pictures to come ... as soon as I figure out why they are not uploading!