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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hell's Hills 50M Race Report - What not to eat before you run 50miles...

Well it turns out there aren't all that many "hills" per se at Hell's Hills, but there's enough abrupt ups and downs, rocks, twists and turns, and "fun stuff" the last few miles of each loop to justify the name.

My Saturday morning started off pretty much like any other Ultra race day - EARLY.  By 340AM I had made it out to Rocky Hill Ranch in Smithville, Tx and was regretting not packing my typical gluten free PB sandwich also known as 2nd breakfast.  However, as I was getting situated, Rob Goyen (HATR president, and my Crew Master for the day) sent me a text asking if I wanted anything for breakfast. Thinking this was fantastic, I texted him back and anxiously awaited my eggs.  I figured this would be something bland, and packed with protein to keep me full awhile to boot.  I couldn't have been more thankful as I scarfed down an egg burrito, that while delicious may have turned out to be my stomach's culprit later on in the day.

The 50 mile edition of Hell's Hills started promptly at 5am, and off we went into the darkness winding our way through the woods and up and down some dirt paths riddled with roots and loose rocks.  I had been warned that the first few miles and the last few miles of each loop were the hardest so I settled into a 10 minute pace with a small group of folks and I was happy to have their eyes to help find the course through the trees.  We spent most of the first 7 miles to the first major aid station switching spots back and forth as one of us would just about miss a turn, and the ones behind would identify the correct path and move to the front of the pack until they also went the wrong way.

As we approached the first aid station, I didn't even slow down and took the lead heading into the next 5 mile section of the race.  I was very happy that this section was not nearly as technical, as the winding was reduced and the running surface turned mostly to soft dirt with minimal rocks.  I really enjoyed this section.  And it showed as I was clicking off 930-945 minute miles, and I maintained my position at the lead of the group.  What I couldn't get over though was that nearly 9 miles into a race, I was still running WITH a pack of folks.  There was still a solid group of 5-6 guys plus myself running within 45 seconds of each other.  As the trail winded on, and the path was nice and soft I forgot about the pack and slowly began to pull away from them as I began to focus more on my own race.  Somewhere around mile 10 or so as I had begun to gap the group of boys, I heard one of them ask another, "Is that a girl?".  I laughed to myself, smiled broadly and surged ahead a little harder to put a bit more distance between the pack.  Then around mile 11.5 or so, we hit the Blue Bonnets.  WOW.  It was amazingly beautiful - an absolutely massive field of wild flowers moving with the breeze like waves, it was stunning.  Pure joy of being able to run somewhere so special carried me through the aid station at mile 12 where I again, unlike some of the competition behind me, did not stop.  This was the last I heard of the group behind me, and I ran the next section to the end of the first loop pretty much solo until I caught a guy around mile 14 or 15.

Field of Blue Bonnet's at Hell's Hills
The third section was a mixed bag.  It started off very much like the second section - very runnable.  I enjoyed the sun coming up, running through some southern pines, and being able to click off some more steady miles.  About 3 miles into this section though, you hit the fun stuff.  The hills get steeper, and the trail gets a little bumpier again.  And then with about 1.5 to go in the loop you wind your way up and down and around a few short, but very serious climbs.  A few of these climbs are aptly named the Grind, and the Wall, and one of the descents has a XXX warning for mountain bikers.  Needless to say, I would not attempt that section of trail on wheels.  However, eventually I popped out onto the field and made my way to the aid station at the end of loop 1 in 2:45.

With crew-master Rob, I was refilled and on my way by 2:47.  While I was starting the second loop I took stock of where I was and noted that my hands were pretty swollen.  CRAP.  Too much salt, or too little?  I took stock of what I had eaten, and realized the answer had to be too much.  I didn't worry too much about this though, because it should be warming up soon, at which point my body would use the salt, and besides I had water in my pack this loop.  I continued on, trying to maintain my pace, and was soon rewarded by blazing past the 2nd place female.  Excellent I thought, my race was playing out just as planned.  Soon enough I passed the 7 mile aid station, at which point I thought about, but passed on the idea of using the port-o-john there as my stomach was really starting to talk to me.

A few miles into this section, I realized my mistake of not using the bathroom.  But, I figured the next aid station likely had a port-o-john also, and surely I could make it another 5 miles.  When I got there, I realized this wasn't the case and went off into the woods.  After a quick off course excursion, I felt much better and went about tackling the remainder of the loop.  After a few more miles though, I realized that my "much better" was about to be short lived, and I slowed down a bit making it back in to the start finish about 5 minutes slower than my first lap.

While at the S/F aid station, rob asked how I was doing, and I told him my stomach was sour.   But I knew I had over 3hrs and 20 minutes to make it home in under 9 hours.  I grabbed some 7-up, my gluten free annie's animal crackers and went off on my way.  The next 7 miles took forever.  I was very unhappy to be running the hardest section of the course on a very not happy stomach.  I took a few more bathroom trips into the woods, and walked more than my legs needed to at that point of the race.  It was incredibly frustrating.  My legs felt reasonably good still, but every time I pushed the pace, I had to head off trail for a few minutes.  Eventually, after 80minutes, I made it to the mile 7 aid station.  Here I grabbed some ginger ale and then made a stop at the portojohn before continuing on my way.

At this point my stomach was finally starting to be a bit more agreeable.  I was able to convince myself that the next section was runnable, and ran every step to the 12 mile aid station.  From here, I just had to make it home.  I continued to plod my way down the course forcing myself to run until I hit the harder sections, and then quickly hiked the hills.  But at this point, have to deal with my stomach for 18 miles had taken a lot out of me and my run and fast hike had slowed considerably.  But I knew I was approaching the end, and eventually I popped out onto the field, and although my stomach problem was starting to resurface from pushing again for so many miles, I was able to run it the rest of the way in.  Finishing in 8:46, good enough for 2nd female and 8th overall.

Showing off my 2nd Place Rooster Award :)
While I clearly didn't have the day I had planned on, I couldn't be disappointed with my performance.  Having never had stomach problems like that in a race before, I just needed to figure out what caused it.  After carefully considering my food, and the noticed salt spike early in the race I am fairly certain that the fast-food style eggs, plus the flour tortilla (which I eat minimal gluten to begin with) must have been loaded with more salt than I anticipated.  Plus some future research would list eggs as a source of magnesium which can REALLY jack up your GI system during endurance events.  So lesson learned.  Don't change your nutrition the day of an ultra!  And perhaps gluten has a larger impact on my intestinal system than I have been previously willing to admit.  That said, I am fairly certain that I can prevent having such an issue at a future race and will return to the race diet that has worked for me so well in the past!  I am looking forward to testing this theory later in April at Brazo's Bend 50 Mile on 4/26.

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