Friday, August 20, 2010

Burning River 100 Race Report - A Study In Stubbornness

You would think that after making you guys wait three weeks for this race report, I would have a well polished piece of prose. Alas, that is not the case. The reason for its lateness is that I finally got around to writing it. My thoughts and feelings about this epic feat are still in a jumble and as a result this race report is also a jumble and a long one at that. Thank you for reading it and sharing in my accomplishment.

Race Overview

This was one of the best organized, well-run races I’ve ever participated in. It began with the event website that not only had course maps and descriptions, it even had videos of each section, so you knew exactly what to expect. It continued with great communication. Joe was quick to answer all questions and there was an online community both on Facebook and Yahoo that were wonderful sources of information. There were also maps for crew and pacers, so everyone involved knew exactly what to expect. The course itself was a good mixture of roads, bike paths, towpath, horse trails, and of course single track trails. Whoever marked the course deserves a gold medal because it was the best marked course I have ever run. I saw one guy take a wrong turn, but that was only because he had zoned out and didn’t see the arrow right in front of him. The aid stations were also wonderful. Even though I finished second to last, I was treated like a rock star every time, with workers filling my bottles, asking if I had a drop bag, and answering questions. Also, the stations were well stocked even for us back of the packers, I never felt like I was picking through leftovers, everything was still out and in adequate supply. Finally, I was surprised at the number of ordinary people out on the paths and trails getting in their Saturday or Sunday exercise that seemed to know what the heck us crazy people were doing. I had lots of words of encouragement from random folks along the course.

My Care and Feeding

I carried one handheld water bottle filled with water and wore a fuel belt with two 10 oz bottles that I kept filled with Gatorade. I had my Garmin set to buzz me every 10 minutes and I alternated taking a sip of Gatorade with taking a sip of water. If I was thirstier, I would take a drink or a gulp depending on thirst. I was able to tolerate the Gatorade for about 14 hours, and then switched to just water, and drank a cup or two of Coke at the aid stations to keep taking in calories. I was able to eat something at all of the aid stations, taking in a variety of cookies, chips, grapes, watermelon, turkey sandwiches, peanut butter sandwiches, whatever looked appetizing at the time. During previous ultras, pizza had hit the spot, but for some reason, pizza did not look good to me at this race. The one food I did bring as backup in case nothing at the aid station looked good was Clif Shot Blocks. I ate about three packages of those.

At FANS, I developed blisters at about the 65-70 mile point that really slowed me down. In an attempt to prevent that from happening again, I changed socks every 15-20 miles and shoes every 30-40 miles. I also did a complete clothes change as night fell because I was pretty much sweat-soaked and didn’t want to take the chance of getting chilled during the night when I would be walking. In hindsight, I could have done away with that and saved about 15 minutes.

People I Met Along the Way

One of the best things I like about ultras is the people I meet on the trail. I was able to meet a bunch of fun and interesting people during the 30 hours, unfortunately I am terrible with names ordinarily, and with ultra brain, forget about it!

The first dude I ran with a bit had done an Ironman the weekend before with his girlfriend. She was a much faster runner than either of us and he mentioned that she was on the Clif Pace Team. I later found out that she was the pacer I ran with a bit during my meltdown at Grandma’s marathon last year.

I also ran a bit with a couple of gals from Canada, there were about 6 Canadians running this race.

The most memorable guy I ran with was Fred. We matched paces at about the 40 mile point for a bit, and he passed me, I passed him, and we ran together several times in the next 60 miles. Fred was 62 years old and 12 years ago he had run his 50th 50-mile race in 50 states finishing up on his 50th birthday in the 50th state (Hawaii, where he was born) wearing bib #50. I think there was another 50 in there somewhere, but I can’t remember for sure.

Another memorable runner was a gal who had quit mentally. She was still moving well, but her mind quit when she realized it had taken an hour to go a little over two miles. (Which was the pace I was moving at.) She reached the next aid station only two minutes after me with plenty of time ahead of cutoff, but she had already quit mentally. That drove home the point to me that 100 miles is much more than a physical effort.

My Race

I had a plan all worked out and written down ahead of time. I made cards for each section with planned pace and time and my virtual pacer's name. I had written down my planned sock and shoe changes as well as where to put on my headlamp, change Garmin, etc for my brother. I knew that things would probably change after the first hour and throw everything off, but my OCDness needed a plan. I wanted to be about 2 hours ahead of cutoff at the 50 mile point because I knew I would be walking most of the night.

Amazingly enough, things went according to plan throughout the day. The first 10 miles or so were on the road and it was cool, so I was able to bank some time. Then the course started on trails and I was still able to run according to plan. The scenery was great, and at one point a group of six deer bounded across the trail. I and the guy behind me actually stopped for a few seconds in envy of their effortless movement through the woods.

One amenity at this race that you don’t find in too many other trail races was the availability of bathrooms. There were facilities at all but about two of the aid stations. Also, most of the stops had crew access, so my brother could meet me and have my water and Gatorade bottles filled and ready to go.

At about the 40 mile point, I reached the two sections I had run several weeks ago. It was nice to be on familiar trail and it wasn’t as muddy as it had been earlier in the year so I made better time. The “piano” stairs (named that because there are 88 of them) looked steeper than they had before, though. After the piano stairs it was about a mile to the Boston Store aid station and where my brother would start pacing me.

After Boston Store, the course had a 5.4 mile loop back to Boston Store where we could pick up our pacer. My brother had done a lot of research and saw that he could drive to Covered Bridge which was 30 miles worth of the course, but was only 5.5 miles away by road. So, while I was running the 5.4 mile loop, he drove to Covered Bridge, then ran back to Boston Store in time to pace me! We didn’t need headlamps yet, and the trail wasn’t too technical, so I was still able to do some “running”. The reason I have quotation marks around running is that at this point, my brother’s fast walking pace was the same as my “running” pace.

When it got dark, we also came to some more difficult single-track trail sections, so I walked 99% of the time through the night. There were a couple of times where I could see that the trail was smooth for a dozen yards or so, so I shouted, “I’m running on trails in the dark!” Then silly ultra brain kicked in and it became, “I’m running with scissors!” whenever I broke out into a trot. Ok, it doesn't seem funny now, but it was hilarious at 3 AM.

I wish I could have run some of these sections during the day because you could catch glimpses of incredible rock formations and coming into one aid station, there was a massive field of wildflowers. I’ve read others describe it as the “Sound of Music” hill, but it reminded both of us of the poppy field in the “Wizard of Oz” where Dorothy, Toto, and the rest of the gang lay down to sleep (it was about 2:00 AM after all).

I was losing time to cutoff, which I had planned for, but there was a difficult section after the first time through Covered Bridge and despite my best efforts at blister prevention, I was developing blisters on the balls of my feet. A podiatry college supplied students for foot care at the Pine Hollow aid station, so I stopped to let them treat my blisters. This ate another 15-20 minutes of my cushion and both my brother and I started to worry about cutoff times. Coming into Covered Bridge I was about 40 minutes ahead of cutoff and we were informed that I had two hours to complete the 4.8 mile loop back to Covered Bridge. However, I didn’t want to be right at cutoff. We figured I would need at least 20 minutes ahead of cutoff because there were still 16 miles left to the finish line after reaching Covered Bridge.

We started out optimistically. My brother determined that I would need a 20:30 pace on this next section. This section was used by horses and had a lot of deep mud, steep climbs and descents, and also technical sections with roots and rocks. My brother led the way and told me the best path to avoid the deepest mud and kept a few paces ahead in order to light the way and encourage me to keep a good pace. Unfortunately my blisters were really started to bother me, especially on the steep downhill sections. Instead of the required 20:30 pace, I was doing 21, 22, even 23 minute miles. I was never thinking of quitting, but we were realistic and discussed options of where to pick me up if I made the cutoff at Covered Bridge (which is where the car was) but didn’t make the next cutoff time at Oneill Woods which didn’t have crew access. We eventually came up with the plan of my brother asking if he could drive to Oneill Woods since we were near last place and there wouldn’t be a lot of runners and pacers there. If that didn’t work, he would drive to the aid station after that and run back.

Here is where the stubbornness gave me the added boost. It was the wee hours of the morning, and everything I had read about this time of the race was correct. My body wanted to slow down, my brain was slowing down, my blisters were hurting, I was losing time to cutoff, I didn’t know how long this rough (but beautiful) terrain would continue, and it would have been very easy to just give up. Then I remembered that I had trained for this event for almost a year. Every race I had done prior to this was either a test or a training run for this main event. More than training, more than ability, more than determination, by brother accurately figured out that it was plain old stubbornness that kept me on my feet during this difficult section.

Finally, we returned to Covered Bridge, and my cushion had dwindled to about 20 minutes. Oh boy, this next section will make or break my race with less than 13 miles left to go. My brother wished me luck and drove to the next aid station and I was on my own. Not knowing if there was more trail, I started on my way. There was road! Gloriously smooth, relatively level road! The sun was also rising as I broke into a slow run, once again optimistic that I could do this thing. Before I knew it, I saw my brother running back from the next aid station and I was able to report to him that I had busted out some 15 minute miles and was actually gaining a bit on the cutoff time.

For the next few sections, my brother continued to leap-frog pace me, driving to the next aid station, then running back and pacing me to the car. I think he ended up with close to 70 miles. I could not have done this race without him, especially during the night. He kept my mind occupied and my body moving, kept track of where I was vs. the cutoff, and made sure I was eating and drinking. I know with 98 and ¾ percent certainty that my completion of this race was due in a large part to his pacing.

Finally, we were on the last section. I knew there was a bit of trail left and also stairs. After 98 miles Joe the evil RD decides that the runners need stairs. And oh there were stairs. First a long group of stairs, then some more stairs, and then yet some more stairs. Did I mention there were stairs on the last section? We eventually made the last turn for the last mile to the finish line. Two bicycle riders came out to escort us in, just like I was leading the pack. I felt like a rock star. Since there was an award ceremony following the race, there were a lot of people at the finish line cheering me in. I didn’t cry, but I did remark to my brother that I was definitely feeling verklempt. As I crossed the finish line with my brother, Joe announced my name and my finishing time, then presented me with my buckle. I am a 100 mile finisher.


GeorgiaSnail said...

You ROCK!!!!! Great RR. Congrats on finishing!

Beth said...

I've been waiting for this report. Congratulations, Joja :) You're awesome. And apparently, so is your brother! Wow. My brother wouldn't drive 70 miles with me much less run it. Just awesome. Really, you're very lucky to have a brother that cool.

I'm proud of ya! Never did I have a moment of doubt that ou would not finish. The stubborn gene is a requisite for ultra runners, don't you think?

What's next?? Hope you're wearing that buckle everywhere you go - I would.

johnmaas said...

Congrats again - you ARE a 100 mile finisher!
I know with 98 and ¾ percent certainty that your completion of this race was due to your determination!!!
And... OK I'm going to admit it here - my eyes swelled up with tears when you crossed the finish. Good thing I was wearing sunglasses.
Great race report, sis!

RunKathyRun said...

You are a rock star! I am sitting here getting all misty eyed as I read your report. This is a huge accomplishment and I hope you are relishing in it and are savoring every moment.

I plan to do a 50k in the Fall of 2011; reading your report makes me want to try a 50 miler and follow that with a 100 miler!

Jessica said...

saweet! I have been checking for this. Great, great job! So proud of all your hard work and achievement.