Tuesday, October 23, 2012

New River 50k= New Time 50k

The New River 50k has become an annual trek up north on one of the prettiest weekends in October for me and some of my closest running friends in Charlotte. This is the race that started it all for me in the world of Ultras. The New River 50k is a flat out and back course that allows for some of the most beautiful fall sights on the trail that runs along the New River in Fries, VA. This year a few things were different. First off, I decided to stay in Charlotte instead of at the race sight the night before. Budgets and time dictated this decision and seeing that its just over a 2 hour drive ( and Speedy Steve offered to drive) I decided to try the early morning commute. Secondly, was the first time that Tom Patch was not running with us. He has a scheduling conflict and just couldn't come race. As for me, I had peeked at the entrants list earlier in the week and honestly had a little bit of nerves because of it. The pool of women coming to race were some of the fastest people in Charlotte and the surrounding area and familiar faces. I was seeded somewhere near the top 20% of the females but I knew looking down there list there were more than a few with no official times. One of those happened to be my good friend Mo Hoffman, who happens to be a sub 3 hour marathoner.  Not to mention the fact that Annette Bednosky, the RD, got the course certified by the USATF as a Boston Qualifying race and the 50k would be an official distance.  It was going to be a fast race.

The morning was a cool one in Charlotte but looking at the weather for the race (and past experience to count on) I knew the start was going to be very chilly. I decided on capri tights, my saweet One2Tri race jersey and flaming arm warmers courtesy of Saucony. I hadn't decided on my hydration set up so I had everything in the bag I needed. Pack, bottles and everything in between. I really hadn't taken the time to prepare mentally for this race as I usually do so a lot of prep was last minute, i.e. that morning at 4am. Steve and I left on the trek at 5am. He zoomed in to pick me up, windows down and Snoop Dog blaring...this was going to be fun! We covered all topics of the race, including pacing. Tom had given me a race plan that basically called for negative splits through the aid stations so Steve and I discussed the need to stick to the plan in order to get me my 15 minute PR and a time of 4:30.

We pulled into the race start just past 7am and climbed out into a very chilly and foggy morning next to the river. We met up with Mo, Jinnie, Stan, Megan and my super speedy Umstead co-racer Shannon. Freezing cold, we all made last minute adjustments to gear and headed to the starting line. As the 8am start creeped up the fog began lifting off the river and the true secret of this race was revealed. The sunrise on the trail is breathtaking. Its like a perfect postcard for the fall season as the colors of the trees, the fresh dew and the sparkling sunshine all are so crisp visually that you can't help but utter a few "wows" and thank God you are blessed enough to enjoy a few hours with nature doing what you do best....run......but I digress

Speedy Charlotte Ladies
We went out fast...I tried to pull back but as we cruised through the first 5 miles we were averaging about a 8:40 pace. Turning out over the bridge, I maintained that as best I could. This course is almost 100% flat and is a soft dirt trail so it is ideal running conditions for speed. Steve and I picked up a runner named Eric who hailed from just outside of Boston, MA and was on his first 50k. We ticked off the miles and before we knew it we were at the second aid station at mile 11(ish). Steve wanted to stop for some fuel so he and I grabbed a few PB&Js and kept trucking. Shortly after that station Steve wasn't feeling the race and Eric and I found ourselves alone counting off 8:30 even miles.  Eric picked my brain for advice for his future Ultras and I was happy to give it. As I said before this was my first race where I learned so much about my racing and I wanted to share that love of the race with Eric. As we closed into the turn around point we passed the leaders of the race. Doing some counting I was sitting at 12th female. Not where I wanted to be, but I was content with about 15 miles to track some down. I passed Megan, Mo and Stan who made it look effortless and Shannon and Jinnie were close behind. I love this part of the race because it allows you to see where you are sitting in the race and cheer on the leaders and friends. Eric and I ducked into the station, refueled and headed back out.
Eric and I just before the turn

Around mile 18 I noticed that my right foot was making some noise. The same spot that had given me issues at Hinson Lake was now rearing its ugly head. I decided to take some Tylenol and see if it helped, praying that it would hold out. Just past the 20 mile aid station, I was forced to stop for walk breaks. My foot was screaming at me and I slowly saw the time begin to add up. This (as I informed Eric) is where you will decide if you are an Ultra runner. When things hurt and you are forced to walk...can you pick yourself up and finish with the same dedication that you toed the line with. I was questioning myself and my foot at this point and seriously thinking there may be a stress fracture with the amount and location of the pain. I decided to push ahead to the next aid station and decide then what I would do. I kept thinking one step is inches closer to the mile that will take me to the finish line. Somewhere around mile 23 my Garmin ran out of batteries and I was running blind. Before that I was taking no more than 30 second walk breaks but then was forced to instead count my strides on my walks. 30 steps then run....as I crossed the river bridge and turned to the long last stretch home I had no idea what my time was going to look like.

As I crossed the marathon mark, they read out "3:52:33" I was shocked to learn that I had not lost that much time with my walking. This stretch home of miles has always given me a hard time. It winds riverside with turns that make you think the crossing is just around the next bend only to reveal more trail. I set my mind to the fact that it would hurt but it would be over soon. Putting my head down I trudged on, soon I was at the crossing that markes just under two miles to the finish and caught up with Eric who was dealing with a few issues and had slowed. I caught another female runner but knew I was still sitting out of the top 10 finishers. I promised myself right then that if I got a PR by more than just 3-5 minutes, I wouldn't put myself through this another year. I pushed home through the foot pain and to my surprise as I looked at the clock, I had not only set a PR but had accomplished it just 8 minutes short of my original goal. I crossed the line with a time of 4:38:26. Which was exactly 10 minutes and 32 seconds better than last year. I was stoked! Every year I have run this race I have achieved a PR, I realized at that moment that I would have to keep coming back here to race.  I thanked the RD Annette for a wonderful race, changed into some flip flops and waited for Steve to come in.

Beers by the river
Overall I finished 11th/47  female and 28th/125....yes I wasn't very happy with placing but damn it was a fast race. The winner- Megan Hovis of Charlotte- ticked off a 3:42 and Mo smoked it in second at 3:53...My best effort last year was good enough for 6th female....this year at 10 minutes faster it was only good enough for 11th...you catch my drift.

My toes had sustained some minor damage but my main concern was the swelling on the top of my foot. With Steve done and our beers poured, we headed down to the river to soak up the sun, ice our wounds and enjoy the beautiful riverside view of what is home to the New River 50k.

Post race foot- courtesy of Shannon :)- it ain't pretty

Side Note: The foot is doing well all things considered. Thanks to the great care of Dr. Kahn over a Greenapple Sports Med in Charlotte. They keep me truckin and I can't thank them enough.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Race Season

The air has become crisp, the temp has dropped...this can only mean one thing; It's Ultra season. This year I have to say my schedule is a lot lighter. I have been dealing with some ups and downs in my life so my focus has changed. No huge risks, unfamiliarities or need to prove myself. So it is racing at its purest form for me. A few weeks back I joined the crew at Hinson Lake. I joined my good friends Tom Patch and Steve Grace who talked me into yet another 24 hour race. Let me preface this by saying I'm not a big 24 hour race girl, but I agreed based on the company to go the short 1.5 hours to Rockingham to jog around the lake. Somewhere in the weeks before at a NoDa Brewery Running event, I met and talked fellow Ultra runner Jamaar Valentine into coming out to join us. He wasn't sure about coming but after some friendly chiding he agreed.

Race morning, my bags were packed with all the unnecessary evils for a 24hr race (everything but the kitchen sink) and we headed out with Steve behind the helm and Tom anxious as ever to "get a good spot." I was racing in Georgia last year when they ran it so I had no idea what I was in for. I was getting an overwhelming amount of information from the race page that was created on Facebook so I knew that if anything, this race was going to be one big party. As we pulled into park and carried the armloads of gear down to the lakeside, I reminded myself that what comes up must come down...not in elevation but in the fact that in about 24 hours we would be hauling all of this back to the truck...sleep deprived, sore and with no less that 60 miles on our poor feet. I seriously questioned my decision on coming when Tom piped up "this is gonna be fun kids." We managed to find a spot near the end of the "homestretch" of the course. As I peered down the straight away I can tell you that it was a sight that puts the tailgating for the Panthers to shame. Tents lined both sides of the path, people were out in full force with banners, coolers, grills, dogs and a plethora of food that would rival a Sam's club. This was going to be a fun time.

As the morning crept in and we set up the aid station, I began to see familiar faces from my past races. A crew from Florida with my friend Bruce, the Gastonia crew of Patrick, Bill and Becky. Fellow Charlotteans Nicole and Rob and countless others that I had raced with, talked with or knew of. We all gathered at the starting area for the race briefing just before 8am and prepared for a long day/night.

The course is a beautiful and mostly flat 1.5 (give or take) mile loop out and around Hinson Lake. The path is a soft path with a few wooden foot bridges including one over the water. It really is a very mindless and pretty course. I had resigned myself to complete 78 miles in honor of a dear friend who had recently fallen ill so I knew I was going to be there for at least that much. I didn't quite have the training under my belt recently but I knew I had 24 hours to get the mileage in so I would be fine.

The race began and the crew took off. Laps passed with stories, jokes, hellos and lots of trail chatter. As thee day ran on I rotated my running partners from Jamaar to Tom and Steve, to Bruce (for about a quarter lap) and then finally solo for a while. I kept a steady stream of fluids and snacks in my diet to keep my energy levels topped for the upcoming night hours. As the day went on the home stretch morphed into a family friendly row of support. Grills were fired up and food was offered, beers were cracked and enjoyed, family was everywhere and it was awesome.

Physically I had felt pretty close to 100% at the start of the race but a lot of things did not go as planned. The weather was humid and after the second lap, I was not comfortable in my top, which I stopped to change. As the morning laps ticked off my right foot had begun to ache due to my shoe so I decided to switch out and go with another pair that I brought. As I capped the 30 mile mark I could feel that I had a massive amount of blistering on my right foot and seriously questioned my ability to hit the miles. I popped some ibuprofen and like a good runner, plotted on. As night fell I found the pain to be hindering my stride and resolved myself to a walk. I picked up Nicole who was also where I was physical and we set off into the night with headlamps and stories to tell.

The walking and talking did wonders to tick off the mileage and before we knew it, the leader board was up and low and behold my name was on it. Somewhere between 8th and 5th I played as the night crept on and the need to race and win started to nip at me... I wanted to race and I wanted to finish well but I needed to be reasonable. This wasn't a "podium" race for me so there was no need to kill myself and suffer. My feet were probably the worst they had been and I had New River 50k in two weeks time with a PR in focus and the toughest field of females I would ever race against.  So at 79 miles, I tapped out. I was proud of myself for letting go and just reaching my goals.

In the meantime, Steve had come to Hinson with a 100k on his mind. With a breathtaking amount of dedication and perseverance he had managed to hang in for that and I crossed paths with him at the aid station on his next to last lap. I agreed to go out for his victory lap with him to celebrate and began to pack up my stuff. Let me remind you that it was about 3am and most of the runners had either left, gone to sleep or stopped for a break. The course had less than half still out there putting in the miles and my heart and head were content not to be one of them. Tom and Jamaar rolled in and agreed on the decision to pack it up. Jamaar was feeling good but Tom had some issues that he was dealing with and didn't want it to worsen.  I took the final spin with Steve, thanked the race volunteers that were diligently counting laps and changed my  clothes.  We slowly dismantled our camp and noticed that the wind had begun to pick up significantly and in the distance the rain clouds could be seen moving in. We hurried to get the car packed and on the road. I pulled my socks and shoes off at the car to discover that my right foot had suffered just as much as I thought. Toenails would be lost and blisters were bigger than ever. They didn't hurt but I knew that the sock and shoe choice just hadn't been right. It's all part of Ultra running.....not a whole lot of pretty in it. We piled in the car for the ride home and shared the stories from the day. At just shy of 6am I climbed into my bed and slept.

The crew

Jamaar and I getting some laps in

View from the back-Crazy socks=crazy blisters
The final results sat me at 9th female overall with 80 miles under my belt. I was pretty happy considering that I hadn't come to race or win. Sure the little devil had been sitting on my shoulder telling me I could, but for the first time I ran content. Having left the race with almost 5 hours left in it I couldn't complain with a top 10 finish.