Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"Just a nice little jaunt in the woods"

Let me start by saying I had no expectations by this race. Heck I didn’t even have a race plan other than finish, and somehow I managed to accomplish something I wouldn’t have ever thought…I won!!

This past weekend One2Tri Racing teammate Tom Patch and I traveled to Southern Pines, NC to run in the Weymouth Woods 100k. I spent the week trading emails with Tom on weather, travel plans and to buy or not to buy gaiters. On Wednesday night I was luck enough to attend a talk at Run for Your Life by Anton Krupicka, who is a semi-legend in the world on Ultra Trail running. If you don’t know him look him up…he is an amazing runner. I left there with a few things swirling in my mind. I need to have better intentions when I step to the line to race and I need to relax and live in the moment when I am racing. Those thoughts were in my mind constantly.
I packed my bags on Friday night and tried in vain to get sleep; which hardly ever happens the night before a race. My alarm sounded at 3:45am and I started with the typical morning pre-race routine. Donning my now-famous neon knee socks, I dressed in layers to accommodate the warming temps through the day. With the race being about a 4.5 mile loop, I figured the longest I would be uncomfortable for was about an hour. I then headed downstairs to meet my wake up crew of pups and very sleepy husband. Eating my standard breakfast of oatmeal with peanut butter and coffee…I chewed over what my body was going to experience. I hadn’t raced (officially) since October/November and my weekly mileage hadn’t topped much more that 50. I had also been fending off a sinus infection and cold that sidelined me for a few days the week before. All I could do was run and hope for the best. I had gone this far twice before (not pleasantly mind you) so I knew it was possible but had no expectations. I loaded the car and set out for Tom’s house at 4:15a. After picking him up, we headed out for the roughly 2 hour trek eastward. We discussed the race, what he thought would be a realistic finishing time (14 hours) and how we would handle the course.
We pulled into the parking lot of the Weymouth Woods preserve almost exactly at 7am and headed inside for packet pick up. The center is a beautifully maintained place with heated bathrooms, a rarity in Ultras. After setting up our station beside the track and sitting though the race briefing we headed outside for last minute prep work before the race. Up top, I had chosen to wear my Brooks Nightlife long sleeve shirt under my Nike half zip.  I also added my Mountain Hardwear vest, two pairs of gloves and a beanie to fight off the chill that was in the air. I knew I could drop them after the loop if I wanted to (love that about races) and wouldn’t be uncomfortable. On my feet, I decided to change into my Saucony trail shoes as opposed to my regular running shoes. The terrain was all trail and later on the the day, I would need that support and grip on the terrain. I filled my handheld Amphipod and headed up to the starting line. They had added an extra little jog (maybe a quarter mile) at the start that helped to relieve congestion on the course for the 75 participants that were brave enough to be out there.
  As we waited the last 5 minutes and said hello to familiar faces, I did something I almost never do, I counted the women who were racing and sized up my competition. Now let me digress for a moment about Ultras. This sport isn’t like anything else I have ever participated in. You cannot tell by looking at someone if they will race well or if they are fast. Ultra runners come in all shapes and sizes, wear a broad variety of clothing and age is nothing more than a number. They vary from stay at home moms, to engineers to lawyers. There is no common factor other than the ability to keep moving and pain manage. That being said, I quickly picked out a very athletic looking  blonde (later found out her name is Kelsey) and thought to myself…"I think she's going to be fast and competition." I surprised myself by sharing it with Tom, who chuckled at my competitive nature.   As the go was given, we trudged off the line and headed into the woods. The first lap was just figuring out the course. There were quite a few turns but everything was very well marked. We knew that as the day went on the roots that were everywhere were going to slow us down (especially in the dark) so we made mental notes on where those sections. Tom and I casually chatted, dodged piles of horse poo and met runners along the way. That is one part I love about Ultras, the ability to chat it up while running. The time out there is so long that you have to make friends or spend the long hours feeling very lonely. I kept a small mantra in my head of “relax” and “run in the moment” I picked up from Anton. Things were going smooth and as expected. Tom shared his race strategy with me and I agreed to go with it. I had no plan of my own for time, I really just wanted to finish and figured I would see what the day brought. We climbed and descended the front part of the course and crossed several plank bridges. This part of the course was nicely varied and allowed for visibility of other runners. We ascended one last long uphill that led us to the Frostbite aid station (which became the halfway point of the course in my mind) and were pleasantly surprised at the supplies. We had been figuring on water and Gatorade but they had a small buffet that would turn out to be a race saver for me later on. Tented next to a pick up truck with the water and Gatorade off the back of the gate, we quickly shuffled past saying a friendly hello.
We began to explore the back half of the course and I quickly decided that it was my favorite part. After you cruise out of the aid station, there is a slight long downhill/flat that leads you up to a hill. You quickly turn and go back down the hill and from there it is a fast track to the finish. You zoom around a few close trails, run across a bridge for Father Frank…head up a short hill and back down over the “speed bumps” of dirt the a slow steady climb in what I dubbed the “Pine Forest” that turns right and cuts across the landscape. There are a few hills and technical root parts on that back half but about ½ mile away you could see the center and it serves as a beacon for the finish.
Kelsey crossing just in front of Tom and ...check out the
 matching green socks!! 
After the first loop (which we finished in about 47 minutes) I dropped my bottle, vest and beanie. I put on my favorite running hat and headed back out. I snagged a pb and j from the aid station that is nicknamed “Mrs. Doom’s All You Can Eat Buffet”, and headed out for the second loop. We managed to be right behind the lead female and decided we would catch her to chat it up with her. Kelsey ended up to be one of the sweetest runners I have ever met on the trail. She has a fantastic life story we decided we were kindred spirits. We talked about family, religion and everything in between. She is a practicing acupuncturist (check her out online at kdpainless.com) and has studied in Nepal! We entertained ourselves for about 3 laps and decided to part ways.  She is learning conversational French so she decided to take a lap with her lessons. Tom and I hit the course together and continued trudging along.
 As the day wore on, I was feeling pretty good. At a little over 5 hours, my watch died and I was left to listen to my body for pace. I ran how I felt- smooth and relaxed. I took to fueling with at both of the aid stations with what would become staple foods for me. Early on I had some stomach issues. I decided to try the sage advice for ultra runners and drank cola. To my amazement, that and a pepto cap worked like a charm. The first few laps through the aid station at the finish,  I had  picked up a grilled cheese and/or cheese quesadilla. Later on it became ¼ of a plain bagel  softened by water and a shot of cola…gross I know but I didn’t want to tempt fate. It was the only thing that looked and tasted good. I abandoned by Stinger Gels and Gu Brew all together. On the back half of the course, I indulged in my new favorite...grits. They had tempted me early on as I passed but I finally broke down and tried it. The warm salty texture with just a little pat of butter did the trick. I started looking forward to it almost every lap and indulged greedily.
I was keeping an eye out for John who was coming to pace me. Tom had encouraged me to go out on my own as he stopped to refuel and get some rest. His legs weren’t where he wanted them so I had pulled a few laps solo with my ipod blaring in my ears. Kelsey had picked up her pacer and was trotting along. I assumed she had taken about a 5 minute lead on me. I had lost sight of her around the corners and decided that 2nd place was going to be a terrific finish for me. I hadn’t even gone to look at the splits and math was not working in my brain as I glanced at the timing clock. Somewhere around lap 8, I looked up and was right behind them. I decided to hang back and keep them in sight. As we finished that lap John was standing there to join me.  We took off ahead of Kelsey and trotted onto the trail. We decided that since he was recovering still from his race, he would run 2 laps with me split by a solo. It was nice to have fresh company on the trail and we chatted along through the course and I told him which parts were my favorite and what was coming up.
As we finished the lap, I grabbed food and he grabbed my ipod, laced me up and told me “I’ll see ya in an hour” I hit the path again, solo. I raced as fast as I could on this lap. I was getting closer to the finish and would only have 3 laps to go…one which I would have John to push me. I hadn’t spotted Kelsey for a while and was running a bit scared. Not only scared of the distance, but how my body was going to hold out. Four laps doesn’t sound bad, but  when you think of it in the context of miles….a lot can happen when you have almost 18 to complete. I reminded myself to deal with the race one lap/footfall at a time. If I felt good, I ran. When I was tired I walked.
Brief interlude at the aid station.
As pitted at the finish line, I was reminded to grab my headlamp and my heart sank. I despise running in the dark. I have a hard time seeing and am terrified of falling. It was starting to get dark and the route was filled with roots so lap 11 was slow. Between a weak headlight and constant tripping, we gingerly made our way through an impossibly dark path. John encouraged me to keep going and to my delight…as we finished the lap Tom was there at the table eating. I picked him up and we set off into the dark with the help of his "bright as day" lamp. Just before the 1st aid station…I was getting itchy to go. Tom was doing his best to recover and I couldn’t hold back…I took off alone. I stopped briefly for my last cup of grits and headed out. I was surprisingly catching runners who has slowed to a walk in the dark. I couldn’t believe how good I felt. “One more” became my mantra. I was a smiling fool as I crossed the line, grabbed my fuel and headed out for my last lap. I made the aid station workers promise that they would save me a celebratory cupcake…Boston Cream to be exact…and couldn’t wait to finish!
With the help of some great music and singing out loud (I’m pretty sure I sounded crazy)I whipped along the course.  I stopped briefly to thank Dough and Jimmy, the aid station workers, for all the wonderful help they had been and zoomed up the next hill. When I got to my favorite part (the cut across) It finally sank in…I was gonna win this thing and my time was going to be way faster than I could have predicted. I ran most of the rest of the way in and bounded across the line...immediately I went searching for my cupcake…true Anji style.
Lots of congrats followed and I was ecstatic. I had started my race season not only with a PR at a distance I had never run, but with a win. I couldn't have been happier. I changed into some much needed dry clothes and waited for Tom to finish. In the interim I visited Denise who was the massage therapist at the race. After a pleasant chat and a much needed post race rub down, I came out just to catch Tom finishing. We both were exhausted and happy to be finished. We de-camped, said our thank you's and headed home.

Warm dry stuff and packing for home
In summary, this race was an perfect way to kick off my New Year. The RD Marie did an amazing job! She and her volunteers: Susan Dummar, Mischel Niedringhaus, Mark Long, Maren Anderson, Caroline Sullivan, Tim Sullivan, Eric Fogleman, Vickie Fogleman,Darryl Banks, Tony Rouse, Tom Herbst, Tina Fasolak, Melissa Hamilton, Eric Chatham, Frank Lilley, Herb Hanson, Alexandra Majka, Sarah Jane Harmon, were simply put...awesome. Thank you all so much for selflessly attending to us! Doug Dawkins and Jimmy Ballard have a special little place in my heart for the grits and ever smiling faces at the Frostbite aid station. The timing was done by Lee Timing and Bruce is one of my favorite people...mostly because I run well at the races he times, lol. To all those who also came out to cheer their friends and family on, I cannot say enough. It means the world to us that you wait for us simply to clap or say "keep going." Your words are comfort to our ears and hearts on what is usually a very long day. Sometimes the sight of a smiling face or a four legged friend can make you feel better. To the lady with the beagle, I looked forward to seeing you every lap :)  This race will be on my favorites list for a while and I can't wait to come back. Cheers to a great start and hopefully a fantastic racing year!
Tom and I at the finish of the race

1 comment:

  1. Congrats Anji! What a great race report. Way to "wing it" (yeah right!). We're thrilled to have you on One2Tri Racing! Way to set the tone for what I know will be a stellar year for you and our team!