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.

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