Aug 7, 2007 7:00 PM
After my nasal reconstruction surgery on June 15, I had to take 2 weeks off from
all exercise. Mind you, for about 4 days, I didn't even want to walk anyway, so
running was the farthest thing from my mind. So how well would I be able to
rebuild myself to prepare my fall docket of races, even those in October and
November? My friend Melissa signed me up for Catoctin a couple of months ago
and she has always talked about how brutal it is and how much fear she has
leading up to the race (what does that say about what she thinks of me?) But I'm saying, ok, it's only a
50k, so what's the big deal? Rebuilding myself in training has gone well.
I had recovered most of my endurance through my July training. Unfortunately,
I'm still far back on the heat acclimation curve. 70 degrees - wonderful, 80 degrees -
no problem, 90 degrees - ok for the first 5-10 miles, greater than 90 for a long time -
well that's a crapshoot. Most of my running is done in the morning while biking is
all I get done in real heat. It will have to do.
We show up at Gambrill State Park in Frederick at about 6:45 for the 8 am start.
When picking up your number, you must show your hydration system, a minimum
of 20 oz. I decided to carry my two amphipod 20 oz bottles, first because I knew
it would be hotter than hell, and second, they make great padding to protect
you from a massive face plant when you fall on the rocks.
The race starts up at the top of the mountain (that's not where you want a race
to start, unless it's point-to-point). It's not point to point - it's out and back - downhill
(with some huge bumps) until the turnaround, then uphill on the return. It's pretty
much all rocky trail, much of it not (or just barely) runnable. This is a very low-key
race, for the most part unadvertised, but yet it fills up pretty quickly after registration
opens. The race description is quite entertaining and frighteningly accurate:
I really didn't have much idea what to expect as far as a time for this race, but
this is barely a mountain, less than 2000 ft, and the course is out and back, one
time, so how bad could it really be? Looking at previous times for comparable
ultrarunners, I was thinking 6:20 - 6:30, perhaps conservatively. Promise Land
had 2000-3000 ft sustained climbs and descents, over and over again, and
that was just under 6 hrs for me. However, the weather was cool and all of the
course was runnable at PL. Also I was at my peak at the time. In either case, it will
be what it will be and it's not as if I'm trying to run by pace.
As the pre-race briefing appeared to come close to the end, we suddenly here
a "GO" so I guess that was the queue. It was about 70 degrees at the start, quite
comfortable, but we knew that wouldn't last long. Knowing that it would be
cool at the start and mostly downhill, with the first aid station at 6 miles, I didn't
bother to fill my bottles at the start. Big mistake. Even the first 6 miles were very
grueling and although they were net downhill, there were some killer climbs.
After the ~1 hr 10 minutes and 15 degree increase in temps, I was drenched
from head to toe and already dehydrated. Not a good start. I drank about
10 cups of Coke, loaded my bottles with gatorade, and moved it on along. I
would say about every 1/4 mile in this race was another close call - I would
kick a rock or root hard, in many cases losing control forward and chasing
my torso with my feet, having my ankle collapse, or bending my toe backwards.
About 15 miles in, I kicked a rock so hard, I thought for sure I broke my toe.
I had to walk for about 10-15 minutes until the pain subsided. This type of
incident recurred at least every half hour. At about 13 miles into the course,
I noticed myself hitting the end of a steep downhill trail, entering a fire road.
I hadn't seen a trail marker for a while, there was no one around, and this seemed
to be very unusual for this race. Already probably around 85 or 90 degrees,
I became dejected. I trudged my way back up the hill very slowly in search
of the last course marker. After about 5 minutes or so, I came across some
others heading down this path and told them I think we all missed the turn.
They turned around as well and we found the missed marker and made the
correction. According to GPS, I had added around a mile.
At about 3:10 into the race, I reached the turnaround. GPS said 17 miles,
which was probably about right with my extra excursion. The segments
were surprisingly accurate given the terrain and tree cover. \ The heat had taken
a toll. At least I could be thankful for the shade (which unfortunately, couldn't
dilute the mugginess.) The gatorade in my bottles was roasting minutes after fill-up. There was
a large stream at the turnaround and I stomped right through it, without
any desire to avoid getting my toasted feet wet. As always, the heat was
really preventing me from being able to eat. I've learned well many times
that without eating in a race over 4.5 hours, I will pay the price. I did my
best to force down some olives, fritos, and potato chips at the aid station,
but that was it. I knew it wouldn't be enough, but I'd prefer a burnout to
major stomach issues. I drank about a liter of coke at the stop, which really
helped me feel better, but at over 90, I knew that the uphill climb back would
be brutal. I carried a popsicle with me, which made for interesting running
on technical trails, but it became a habit after each aid station.
At this point also, I threw out any thoughts or prospects of a
desired time and thought to myself I'd be happy just to finish this thing.
The kicks to the rocks continued. The pain continued. The heat was wilting
me away. I was having a lot of difficulty on footing on the long stretches
of jagged rocks. The climbs became more and more brutal and the descents
were just as bad, since I lost all confidence to run down quickly. At around
28 or 29 miles in, I hit my lowest of lows. I have never wanted to quit a race
as much as this. Not even close. Everything was working but I just didn't
want to move. I walked every uphill segment and then hit appoint where
I really didn't even want to walk anymore. I just forced myself. Fortunately,
the GPS maintained good signal and I was able to do some counting down,
which seemed to help. I would still be able to force myself to run the moderate
terrains, albeit very painfully. My feet were killing me, feeling absolutely
destroyed. Most of the last few miles are a relentless and painful climb.
Even in my misery, I was still passing people, some of whom were more
miserable than I was. Few were passing me, which was very surprising.
I was at one of those points where I thought I had to be the most miserable
and downtrodden person on the earth. I scrounged my way through the
last climb and puttered through the finish somewhere in the 7:10s, the longest
I've taken for any 50k by over an hour. Every race season, I need to have
"that race" that humbles me and brings me to my knees. This was it.
Let's hope there are no more. 101 finished within the 9 hr 15 minute time
limit out of the 132 starters. I was thrilled to find out I was #31 given my absolute
misery. I've never had so many bruises all over my feet after a race. It looks
like someone has been playing whackamole with my feet.
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