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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Rocky Raccoon 100 - because racing 1 ultra a month is just not enough... :)

Here's to another one. Photo Cred: Calum Neff
Last Saturday I completed my lucky #13 ultra, the Rocky Raccoon 100, in Huntsville, Tx just 3 short weeks after the Bandera 100K.  This race also marked my 3rd completed 100 miler, a distance that I have learned to admire, respect, and hope to one day master.  Thankfully unlike Bandera, we lucked out with perfect race day weather - mild and dry!

As we lined up at the start I found my teammate Matt Zmolek, and knew I'd be in good shape for the first of five 20 mile loops as he's great company until I tell him to stop letting me slow him down! The loop starts with nearly immediate double track, wide enough to get around people; but not wide enough to not feel crowded. I tried hard to run comfortable, but maybe a little quick to secure a spot where I could run a safe distance behind the person in front of me without ensuring a tumble if they caught a one of the many roots.  This navigation of people and roots occupied most of first 5 miles or so.  Somewhere around mile 4 or 5 Matt and I were able to get enough distance around us to really  run free and start enjoying the crisp, but not cold, morning.

At exactly the 10K point we ran through the DamNation aid station and we seemed to be clicking along right around 10 minute pace.  Perfect.  After DamNation the course takes you on the longest segment without an aid station, a 6 mile loop with the only "big" hill on the course.  This is my favorite part of the course.  It's terrain is pretty similar to the rest of the course, rolling hills and roots; but the hills and roots are perhaps a little bit better spaced as for whatever reason, it's a little more runnable than the rest of the very runnable course.  Also, when you get back to DamNation, you are over half way through the loop.

Upon returning to DamNation, I realized I hadn't been eating much, so I started making my way through my rations as we proceeded along the trail.  Matt and I were running very comfortably, and in the cool air I simply hadn't noticed. OOPS! Somewhere along this segment, I happened to check my watch to see where our splits were and realized that I probably shouldn't be clicking off sub 9 minute miles, no matter HOW GOOD they felt at the time.  So when we got to Park Road aid station, I told Matt to have a great race, and stayed at the station a minute or two longer than him to ensure I didn't try to catch him again, a nasty old road racing habit of mine that has taken a long time to die - I ALWAYS try to catch people running in front of me.

Park Road became my favorite aid station stop of the day.  Maybe it was because I'd see fellow Team TROT runner Cal Neff, and TROT owner Rob Goyen and fellow Houston Area Trail Runner Jose out there all day; or maybe it was because it was a giant party all day.  Either way, it was a fun little pit stop.

The segment between Park Road and the loop start/finish is another really enjoyable segment.  More of the same rolling hills, and the last 2.5 miles are the same as the first 2.5 miles of the course so it's a good chance to see where you are, and get a glimpse of the unicorns up front running sub 15 and 16 hour 100 mile times. Eventually, I came out of the woods, and crossed the road into the S/F chute. 1 lap down in 3:19 - almost exactly 10 minute pace.  Not too shabby.
20 miles down - photo cred: Jeff Ball
Thanks to my fantastic  crew of Team TROT runners and HATRs, I was in and out quickly and off onto lap 2.  My NASCAR style pit-stop made me realize again how lucky I am to be part of such a phenomenal running community.  Seeing them after the end of my first loop was actually the first time I had ever met Team TROT members Tracie Akerhielm and Jeff Ball.  Fellow HATR Mark Kenney was also there to help out.

Lap 2 went pretty similar to lap 1.  I felt good and was still clicking along at a decent pace.  The only hiccup was the catch up eating I had done, had well, caught up and I was a bit overloaded for the first half of the loop.  I took the volunteers advice and stuck to ginger-ale only, and by mile 32.2, I was back to feeling just about normal.  I would be a bit more conscious about how much I was eating the rest of the day though, and this little hiccup probably hurt me a bit later on when I didn't have the energy stores from steadily fueling all day. In fact from mile 15.7 to 35.7 the only calories I took were gingerale, 1 orange slice, and 1 hammer gel. But as Cal can attest, when I reached Park Road at mile 35.7, I was ready to get my calories back up and at least attempt to keep my energy levels back in check. I downed some stir-fried ramen, and was on my way.
Bacon grease stir-fried ramen. Don't judge me.
Photo Cred: Calum Neff
I finished the second loop in 3:32.  About where I expected to be, a little slower than loop 1; but still nice and steady.  The miles started to hit me a little as I headed out for loop 3. I still felt great; but I could feel the tiredness setting in.  I tried to keep fueling, keep moving, and started taking in a little bit of caffeine to get the extra pep.  I kept moving pretty well this lap and crossed the 50mile mark around 8:52 or so, and finished the lap in 3:53.  Upon reaching mile 60, I knew I didn't have another sub 4 hour loop in me; but hoped I still had about a 4:20-4:30 hour lap in me.

Another lap bites the dust. Photo cred: Jeff Ball
The lap started out pretty fantastic, with Tracie as my safety runner I was able to click through the 100K mark in 11:15 - a PR of about 1hr.  We continued on at a pretty decent rate until about 66 miles, and then I got tired.  REALLY tired.  The rest of the lap was a bit of a struggle.  I wanted to be moving faster; but was having a very hard time doing so, and the roots had grown to colossal heights, as had those small gently rolling hills from earlier in the day.   Eventually, we got through the loop about 40 minutes slower than planned (just over 5 hours); but still with plenty of time to spare to hit a big PR.

When I arrived at mile 80, Daniel my gracious impromptu pacer from Brazos Bend was ready to go.  After a few minutes of chair sitting, and being waited on (THANK YOU!) I was off for lap 5.
I should probably take a minute here to thank and apologize to everyone that helped me on Saturday - you all really help me to achieve my best, and patiently deal with me in my not so proud moments of barking orders and whining. So thank you, thank you, thank you.  And PLEASE give me the opportunity to support you in your ultra endeavors I'd love to crew and pace you all at some point.

Lap 5 sucked.  But so it goes.  I did my best to run what I could, and power hike the rest (most of the loop).  I think it's evident that I still have a lot to learn when it comes to running 100 mile races; but this one went the best so far.  At no point did I want to quit, or did it seem impossible - even if I did have bouts of being deliriously sad or tired late in the night.  I got small lifts from the aid-stations, and from seeing Jeremy and Rob at DamNation. I also got to for a few small minutes take in the beauty of the tall pines as I convinced Daniel to let me take lie down for a few minutes at mile 85. :)

At 22:35, we made it back around and I crossed the finish line.  A full hour and 48 minutes earlier than I had at Brazos Bend only 7 weeks earlier. True, the last 60K took me every bit as long as the first 100K. But I made some great improvements over a season that started with a DNF at Cactus Rose and ended with a sub-24 and huge PR at Rocky Raccoon as well as a USATF medal for 7th female in the USATF 100 Mile National Championship.  Can't be disappointed with that! And I have a list of things that I could have done slightly differently that would have maybe improved my time - so I'll be ready to head into my next hundo with an even better plan of attack.
Rocky Buckle and USATF National Championship Bling.
Time to rest up a little bit and start training for spring.  Next up, a few shorter races to get some leg speed back at the San Felipe Shootout a 5K, 10K, and 1/2 marathon triple event in 1 morning.

Thanks to Hammer Nutrition for fueling me with several Gels and Perpetuem and Heed along the Way.  Also thanks to EPIC bars for the delicious Lamb bar that was my unofficial breakfast. And Feetures Elite Merino wool that kept my feet dry all day.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Bandera 100K "But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate to say that for destruction ice is also great"

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice. - Fire and Ice, Robert Frost

I've now ventured out to Bandera State Natural Area which lies west of San Antonio on two occasions to run ultras.  And while the races have only been 2.5 mos apart, the contrast between the days could not be more stark.  In October, the trail was dry and dusty and the day was scorching hot, exactly how you would picture a trail outside of an old cowboy town to be.  This past weekend in mid-January, it was frozen, muddy, and grey with freezing rain, fog, and even a little snow.  Each day led to its own unique challenges and hells to overcome, and the first time out here - I lost. I DNF'd at mile 65 due to some tendon trouble and a bit of a wounded pride.  Thus, this past Saturday was a bit of a rematch.
The day started later than usual, with a 730am start, I was well rested and alert; but also fearful.  In the few minutes I stood outside earlier to get a cup of coffee and some breakfast, I had froze and had a hard time getting warm again.  Fears of hypothermia set in and I had added what under normal circumstances for me, would have been far to many layers for doing anything physical outside at temps hovering around 30F. At 730, the race started and we were off.  I tucked myself into the middle of the pack and hung back to chat a little bit with the excited mid and back of the packers.  They were all going on about who wanted a Western States lotto entry, who was just trying to finish, and who was just trying to have an enjoyable day.  I found myself in that last category.
As planned, after spending most of the day hating life during my last ultra, this one was for fun.  (Yes, I do find running all day on trails "fun", even in freezing cold wet weather.) And I was determined to enjoy the day.  In the early miles I ran for conversation and warmth, stopping early to remove and stow my extra layer before continuing on.  Around mile 2 I was lucky enough to run into Rob and soon thereafter my teammate Matt.  This was fantastic.  Time on the trails with friends is the best way to spend time on the trail.  We sped along, moved up in the pack, and enjoyed a little banter before Rob slowed down a little  bit and we hit the first aid station.  From there Matt and I continued on and ran together as the field spread out and we found ourselves running alone for decent stretches at a time.  The way hills stretch out a field is one of the most incredible things about ultras.  In most marathons, you always have a sense of the race; but in ultras, you can truly lose yourself in the peacefulness of being alone on the trail.
Matt and I continued along until somewhere around mile 12 where I noticed I was trying just a bit too hard to keep up, and told Matt to go have a good race.  From there on I ran mostly by myself a side from a short comment here or there from another runner as we passed each other.  A few miles down the road I was feeling chipper again and tried to catch him; but I spent a minute or two too long at cross roads aid station getting situated to go pay The Sisters a visit. (The sisters are a series of short steep climbs riddled with rock and Sotol - sort of like the rest of the park ;) .)  After a cup of broth that I traded a fellow girl runner who was hoping to get some noodles, I was on my way.  The next 5 miles went down easy.  I noticed the hills; but they felt much easier in the cold than they had in the 90 degree temps of October.  Before I knew it I was back at the Cross Roads aid station and had caught another female runner.  In 9 more miles and I would be back at my drop bag prepping to start loop 2!
The last 9 miles were the hardest of each loop for me.  There was a LOT of rocks, and mud.  Mud to the point of having to scrape my shoes so that they didn't fall off my feet, mud.  And the last 5 had some of the steepest climbs on the course.  Which was fine after having several runnable miles; but the climbs were rocky, and the descents were very muddy and riddled with slippery rocks.  I found myself walking more than I would have liked to be for so early in the race. 
Around 6:15 into the race I completed loop one and by 6:17 I headed out on loop two.  My mantra for loop two was "this is the last time I have to..." every time I came to a section I disliked.  My other mantra was "run the runnable" as 1000 runners had done some damage to an already muddy trail, and with the on and off rain that had started the trail was anything but dry and fast.  In fact, there were several sections, some of them quite long, that I walked mainly for safety.  Since my goal was to have a good day, I had no problem NOT falling in the cold black mud because I slipped on a frozen rock, or the peanut butter mud.  Plus, with the ankle tendon problems I had last fall and after Brazos Bend, I wanted to play it safe.  As loop 2 began to unfold I found myself catching people.  Between nearly every aid station I was able to rope in another runner or two.  This really helped to keep me motivated.  Around 10:30 in I clicked past the 50 mile mark.  From here, I started estimated how long it would take to finish and focused on trying to keep my speed up.  This was most challenging when I again hit those last 9 miles.  But eventually, I made it past the last few climbs and steep descents and was able to cruise back into the lodge with a final time of 13:36.  Not good enough to come anywhere close to placing; but this was after all the USATF 100K championship, so I can't say I'm not happy to have come in 13th female, and well within the top 25% of all finishers. :)  
All in all, I had a great day.  I had done exactly what I wanted to do. I nailed my nutrition, I got my Western States lottery ticket for 2016, I beat the trail that kicked my butt a few months ago (granted the course is different, but still!) and more importantly I finally had a race that I really, really, enjoyed - something that hasn't really happened since last April.  I can't wait to see what 2015 holds with my renewed love of the game.  And I really can't wait to go back and see what I can do on a day where more of the course is runnable, and less of an mud run!
The aftermath on my shoes / gaiters
A big shout out of thanks to Trail Racing Over Texas for their continued support and to Rob Goyen who was at the finish line to watch me come in.  Ya'll are like a trail family, and I'm thrilled to be a part of it.  And of course a big thanks to my husband who supports all of my crazy ideas like running all day in the freezing cold. Love you!

Some notes on nutrition and gear:
Vest: UD Ultra Vesta.  First time racing in this vest.  I really liked the bottles.  I had a hard time getting in and out of the front pockets; but hopefully that'll get easier as I use it more.
Fuel: Hammer Perpetuem stayed in 1 10oz. bottle the whole day, and Heed/Water was in the other.  I also consumed quite a few Hammer gels, and 2 lamb flavored Epic bars.  I really think the protein of the perpetuem and epic bars is a big help while competing for so long.
Shoes: Brooks Pure Grit 3.  These are my go to for technical trails.  Light, good lugs, snugger fit, and just enough protection with the rockplate.  With the soft ground they also were all the cushion I needed.
Headlamp: Petzl Tika R+ (great light, small on off button that gave me a few fits to get on)

Clothing: A lot of people wonder how to dress for runs like this.  So here's how I dressed:
-3/4 The North Face tights
-Zoot compression calf socks
-Montrail tee
-generic technical longsleeve (race shirt)
-Brooks thin, water resistant, wind resistant jacket (unlined)
-1/2 zip thermal (for first 1.5 miles, then stored in my UD Vesta)
-gloves that convert to mittens (Brooks)