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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Rocky 50 Race Report - Running like I stole something.

Last Saturday I toed the line for the Rocky 50 Miler. My intention was to run around 8:30, give or take.  I knew I was fit, and having previously run a 9:09 on a much hillier course, I figured this was doable and would be a huge accomplishment.

Cruising into mile 45.6
As Jeff and I got ready at the start and I told him good luck I figured we'd probably run at least the first lap together, as he is also really fit right now, and could definitely go sub-9 as well.  But when the gun went off I immediately lost track of him as the start was very crowded and there were some people in front of us that should have probably started a little further back.

As I found my rhythm in the first few minutes, my excitement quieted a little and I enjoyed watching the snow fall through the light of my headlamp.  Due to it being dark at start, I had really no idea how I was doing position wise.  This was fine by me. I knew there were some fast girls registered and was content to go about running my own race.  The first 3 miles really were without significance, other than I realized that the crowd has thinned out and I was comfortably running with 1 other person near me after about mile 2.
Sooner than I expected we reached the first aid station, and Jose was there to cheer and offer support.  My mind was focused more on my husband than on myself at that point, so my only request to Jose was to keep me updated on Jeff's progress the rest of the day.

Over the next 3 miles to the second aid station I enjoyed the mildly technical terrain, and the winds of the trails, and had some conversation with a guy I caught up to shortly after the start of this section.  As we approached Damnation at mile 6.2 I asked the guy how far this aid station was because we got to it much quicker than I thought we would - around 56 minutes or so.  Upon realizing that I was 6.2 not 5.8 miles into the course, I decided to hang back a little and let the fellow go on without me.

I proceeded along at my own pace, and even let a girl go on without me as she caught me going up the one hill on the course that I hiked all 3 times.  At this point, I still thought I was averaging about 9:40-10:00 pace, depending on the ups and downs and terrain of any given mile and really hadn't a clue as to the incredible journey of a race I was embarking upon.  As the course wound back to Damnation and I saw all the folks behind me, I started to realize that my run was perhaps going better than I planned.  I was pleased.  I slowed at Damnation to ensure that I hadn't taken a wrong turn, and we really were supposed to come back this way as I was running solo at this point and then continued on my way to the next aid station.

The next section of the loop is the most boring and for me, as well as the most disconcerting section of the loop.  It winds back through the woods on some of the trails I had already seen that morning and then spits you out on a undulating and very dull fire road.  Having not looked at a course map ahead of time, I was unsure if I was supposed to be on the same trail as earlier again, and was slightly worried that I was going the wrong way!  But once I got on the fire road I knew I was gong the correct way and proceeded along to the next aid station.  At this aid station both Jose as well as my co-worker Maryann were there to cheer me on.  I was feeling solid, and was happy to hear that Jeff was only a minute or two back at mile 3.  Without slowing I was through the aid station and on to the last section of the first loop.

This section is my favorite section of the course.  It has a few inclines and then eventually winds back into the path that we are on at the beginning of each loop.  As I got nearer the end of the loop I was the leaders heading back out for loop number two.  I determined that some 7 girls or so were ahead of me.  Huh, I thought I would be higher up than that!  Then once I got to the loop end aid station and saw my time, I was in a little bit of disbelief.  2:31 for 16.7 miles, and in either 7 or 8th place.  Wow. Weather was definitely on our side today.  I quickly got my pack refilled, and Jose helped me sort out my food for loop 2 and off I went at 2:34 elapsed.

A few minutes into the second loop I saw Jeff coming in to finish loop 1, he looked strong and after passing quick cheers for one another as we passed I continued on to what would be another excellent loop.  I felt strong. I sort of just bopped on down the path, and paid a little more attention to the distance between the aid stations this time.  This loop I stopped at Damnation to briefly down some quick fluids before continuing on to the little lollipop section of 2.? miles before arriving back at Damnation.  This time I saw Jeffrey on  my way back to the aid station, and as I told him he was doing great, he replied that "you're doing better!" his encouragement helped lift my energy as I cruised back through Damnation and through the halfway point of the course in under 4 hours.  At this point it hit me that so long as nothing went wrong the last 25, I really had a solid shot at finishing right around 8 hours.

En route to the next aid station at mile 29 I started to have some serious cramping in my right quad.  This was unexpected, but not surprising since I was pushing pace quite a bit as compared to my last 50 milers, and I had a few minutes of cramping in my left hammy earlier in the loop. A few minutes later, I was happy to see some folks up in the distance to try to catch and worked to ignore the pain and try to close the gap as I approached Jose and Maryann.  At 29 I had to stop and get some vitamin-I in hopes that it would help lessen the pain in my quad.  It didn't much, but on I kept trucking and by playing games with myself I got myself through the lap, passed another girl, and finished the lap around other words my lap splits were almost DEAD EVEN 34 miles into a race!  WHO DOES THAT?!  After a bit of  a mishap at the aid station resulting in a quarter of my pack being spilled on me, I was off for lap 3!  If I could hold pace again, I'd come in nearly an HOUR ahead of my goal, and if my quad didn't loosen up, I still had nearly 3 hours left to break 8, and 3:30 to break my goal.  No matter what, I was going to PR today.  If that doesn't get your adrenaline flowing, then you must be a corpse already.  I was ready to tackle the third loop and set off down towards the first aid station.

The last loop was by far the hardest.  I knew exactly how much distance I had to the next tree, or so it seemed, from having already seen the course so much that day.  And my legs were getting tired.  I added in a few fast walk segments, and made it past the first aid station by about 1 mile before my garmin finally gave out.  As a side note, I hadn't really been using my garmin for much more than controlling my pace early in the race, and then helping to keep myself moving as my legs got tired on loop 3; but once it gave out, I knew I just had to push more if I wanted to meet my goals.  I kept winding through the woods and eventually made it back to Damnation, at which point I asked if anyone had the total distance and was told that I'd be at 25 miles when I came back through.  I couldn't do math in my head at this point, and just tried to keep moving and trying to get back to Damnation before too much time had passed. Somewhere on this lollipop I started to feel good again, I was slowly catching people that were still on loop 2 and this gave me energy to feed off of and keep pushing.  I was still taking very brief walk breaks here and there; but they were shorter and fewer.  After I went through Damnation for a final time, when I knew I had less than 9 miles to go I was ready to start pushing again.  I took one final short walk break and then started pushing until I heard the party at mile 45.6.

Leaving mile 45.6 and talking strategy with Jose
This was my longest stop at an aid station other than the end of each loop all day. I needed to eat; but couldn't suck down any more Gu, and needed water as I knew I was almost dry in my pack.  While I was trying to sort out what I needed in my head, Jose got me psyched up by telling me that I was in 5th, and within striking distance of 4th.  He also is a big liar and told me that she looked rough, and was going to be easy to catch.  Newly motivated, hydrated, and fed I started down the trail with 2 goals in mind.  Break 8 hours, and catch the chic in front of me.  I was going to run until I couldn't run anymore.  Somewhere about 2 miles into this section, my pack went dry.  Crap.  But okay, 2ish miles from homes, and I could manage that, right?  Soon after that I caught glimpse of the 4th place girl.  She looked strong and was simply enjoying the day. Double crap. Okay. Time to rethink this.  I knew I could make it through without the water, but I needed to pass her with conviction.  So I slowed up for a minute and took stock of what was in the bank, and then I picked it back up, passed her and never looked back.

Now I just had to make it home! Dang I was thirsty though, and I needed to eat something, but only had Gu's on me that weren't going to go down without the water to chase them.  I started figuring out how far I was, and eventually realized that the worse thing I could do right now was not take in anything.  So, I took off my fleece ear warmer and sucked some of the salty sweat out of the band.  Yeah, I did that.  Yeah it sounds disgusting.  But, it worked.  I got both the fluids and salt I needed and felt much better as I got closer and closer to home.  When I crossed the road about a half mile out, I turned on the jets, and when I crossed the final road and started down the chute, I turned on the turbo, especially once I saw the clock.  I sprinted in to a final time of 7:45:06, 4th place female, and 12th overall.  I was and still am ecstatic over how well this race went! I can't wait to line up for my next 50 Miler in a few months.

So elated about this race!

Some end notes and credits:
-Jose may simply be the best crew anyone could ever ask for.  He was quick and got me what I needed as I needed it, and crewed for both me and Jeff for the majority of the race, running back and forth between the aid stations to see us both multiple times.
-Jeffrey also had a fantastic race, and a 20 minute PR, and I'm super happy and lucky to have such a great motivating training partner every day.
-Seeing Maryann each loop and knowing that I had all of Luke's Locker in Katy cheering for me, as well as the entire Houston Area Trail Runner crew was also incredibly motivating. I was happy to be earning points for the HATRs!

-Alternated filling my pack with Gu Brew, Water, and HEED (on course electrolyte drink) this plan worked perfectly with not going overboard on the salt and staying hydrated...until I ran out of fluid on the last lap!
-Ate 1 bonk breaker bar and 3-4 GUs per loop.  The bonk breaker bars worked fantastically as did the Gu until my stomach said no more!  I'll have to have more bland food in my pack for later stages of my next race. I think eating more would be helpful.

-Wore the Nathan Intensity Women's Specific Pack.  I love this pack; but I hate that people at aid stations can never figure out how to open / close it.
-Black Diamond the Spot headlamp clearly illuminated all of the roots early in the morning without weighing me down.
-Wore the Brooks Pure Grit 2 which did an awesome job protecting my feet, keeping them nimble, and gripping the few muddy spots.