Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Bimbler’s Bluff 50K Race Report 2011

Wow!  This is late!  Thank Snowtober and my 1 week of no power!

    If you read the race report below, three weeks before Bimbler’s Bluff 50K, I had a very difficult time at the Nipmuck Trail Marathon.  I saw The Wall around Mile 3, and I was beginning to rethink this experiment in distance running.  I was afraid that if I went into winter with memories of my awful time at Nipmuck, I’d never run longer than a 5K again, ever.  So I signed up for the Bimbler’s Bluff 50K.
    This was probably not the best idea.  Although it seemed I had recovered from Nipmuck pretty well, a week before Bimblers I hurt my foot.  I have no idea what I did to it, but I could barely walk, and most certainly couldn’t run.  Oops!  To add to my misery, 5 days before, I caught a bad cold.  The day before the race, I was still sick and hurt, and I was giving some serious thought to taking a DNS.  It was a two hour drive down there, and a 4:30 wakeup.  That seemed an awful lot of inconvenience if I was just going to stagger three miles into the forest and bag it. 
Before picture - actually worse than the after picture!
    But I got up anyway, and hit the road at 5AM for the trip down to Connecticut.  I arrived at around 7, picked up my packet, and got settled in for the race.  Around 7:30, I ran into Jason Robillard from Barefoot Running University, and his wife Shelly, who would be running the 50K while Jason snapped pictures.  While Shelly was in line for the portapotties, I told Jason I didn’t think I stood a chance at finishing, because of my foot and my cold.  He shot me a dirty look and shook his head.

Jason and Shelly Robillard

    At the pre-race meeting, the race director informed us that the trail was very well marked – which was a huge relief, because the 8 page course description was beyond intimidating.  The course was a lollipop shape, with an approximately 6 mile stem that we’d run twice and a 20 mile loop on the bluff.  Shelly and I made our way to the back of the pack for the start.   We sang the national anthem, and then we were off.  We made a loop around an elementary school, and then headed across the road into the forest.   
    After the conga line spread out, I fell in running with a group of really nice women.  In addition to Shelly, there was Sara, who lived down the street from the start, and had gotten the bold idea to train for the race and sign up for it after her son had reported having witnessed a 50K at the Elementary School.  We also had Hillary, whom I had met at Nipmuck.  Hillary’s parents run 100 mile races, and this was her first ultra.  At some point, we picked up a kindergarten teacher named Jen.  We were occasionally leapfrogging with a man named Suresh who was doing a run-walk strategy. 
    I can’t describe how beautiful the trails were.  I think this was peak foliage, and the weather was great – upper 40s or lower 50s at the start, and partly cloudy.  We ran for a while on some woods roads,  which throughout the race were covered in large puddles that necessitated some bushwacking to get around.  They were big After some woods roads, we entered into some rather technical trails.   They were full of sharp pointy rocks.  We hit a crowded section at a creek, and everyone was trying to cross over logs.  I tried to go through the water, but this was a mistake as it turned out to be up to my thighs.  I slipped and ended up getting wet and bruised.  Oh well!
    Around mile 9, the group I was with slowed down to a walk to cover some of the rockiest section.  I asked to go in front, because I felt like running like a wild animal over those things.  The ladies wished me luck.    Over the sharp boulders I bounded, like a superhero out of a cartoon.  Whee!  Then I heard noise in the distance, which I presumed to be the aid station at mile 10.  I lost my focus, caught my toe on a rock, and sailed through the air.  You know the spill is going to be bad when you’re numb before you even hit the ground. 
Some of the damage

    I was pumped full of adrenaline from the fall, so I was back up and running before I had a chance to assess the damage.   All the lower parts seemed to work.  Unfortunately, a sharp rock had sliced the tip off of my left thumb.  It wasn’t a huge injury, and the flap was still hanging on, but it was bleeding gloriously.  By the time I rolled into the aid station, my left hand looked like it had been involved in some sort of a violent crime.  Due to the wicking action on the handheld material, some of the blood was even getting dry. 
    I was still all hopped up on adrenaline when I rolled into the aid station, and freaked out by the blood on my hand, so I sincerely apologize if I was unpleasant to any volunteers.  It took a lot of effort to get some first aid.  The aid station was really busy, and the volunteers were hopping.   I didn’t want to approach the food and drink with blood dripping from my hand.  I yelled from 10 feet away, “HEY HAS ANYBODY GOT A BANDAID!”    I watched all the women I left behind hit the aid station and start back out on the trail while I waited for help.  It took a few yells, and a few rebuffs of offers of food, before a woman went into the truck to get the first aid kit.  She wasn’t very comfortable with it, though.  She was trying to get me to clean up my hand, which was caked with blood and still gushing, with a ½” square alcohol wipe.  This wasn’t even remotely effective, and wasn’t going to stop the bleeding, because there was already some dried blood that needed to be removed before the flap could be pushed back down.  I was able to convince her to give me a paper towel, which I got another volunteer to dump some water on.  In the mean time, another volunteer tried to take my handheld and refill it; I tried to stop him because it looked like Dexter’s handheld, and I pointed out the blood, but he filled it anyway.  Thanks!  Once I got my thumb cleaned off, which ended up being a two-paper towel job, she was able to put the flap back down, secure it with band aids, and stop the bleeding.  
    Luckily, I still had adrenaline in me when I started back on the trail.  I saw everyone climbing up a cliff face, but the trail markings pointed off to a path on the left.  I asked for guidance from a volunteer, and he said that the path on the left was for “chickens”.   This was the toughest climb, and is rumored to require hands.  I made it up hands-free, though, because the left was out of commission and I had a PB&J in the right.  After a few minutes, I managed to catch up with Shelly, but burned past her.  I figured I was still going on adrenaline and she’d eventually catch me.  After another few minutes, I caught up with Sara and Jen.  This section of trail was absolutely gorgeous, and mostly single track on top of the bluff.  There were great views of the foliage.  Sara had done some of the trail before, and told me that once we hit the 16 mile aid station, there wouldn’t be much more climbing and the trail would get a lot less rocky.
    I grabbed a few salted potatoes and two cups of coke at the 16 mile aid station, and made a few sock adjustments (they were sliding down), and Sara lit out in front of me.  Did I mention my foot?  It had been bothering me a little at the start, but by 16 miles, it had stopped hurting completely.  Apparently, all it needed was a good long run , I guess.  I headed out at about the same time as Suresh, and ended up running most of this section (and the next) near him.  This section passed through some fire roads with more enormous, deep, muddy puddles.  We had to do a lot of climbing through the underbrush to get around them.  Other than Suresh, I didn’t see many people during this section.   I could see Hillary ahead of me, but didn’t catch her till the next aid station. 
    The 22 mile aid station had a cutoff of 7 hours, and I managed to make it there in 5, at the same time as Suresh and Hillary.  I felt great, and I was so hungry.  The volunteers were great about reminding us to fill up our water and EAT, because there was no aid for 8 (suspiciously long) miles.  Everything looked good at this aid station, and I crammed an absurd amount of food in my mouth.  I ate some potatoes, rice crispie treats, Swedish fish, and even broke down and ate a chocolate brownie (I am boycotting most chocolate due to the child slavery in the Ivory Coast).  I thought this would make a good snack:
Trail snacks

Mmmmm!  I was guessing that I’d regret my pig-out in about a half hour. I sorely regretted the two additional glasses of coke I drank here, though.  I couldn’t get to sleep at night because I had so much caffeine in my system.
    I spent the next hour leapfogging Suresh.  Drat those guys and their long legs!  When he would start walking, I was only barely faster than him at a run.  The trails through this section included a lot of fire roads, and were generally not difficult at all.  Suresh and I passed a handful of people during the first hour.  An hour out of the aid station, Suresh told me, “Only about an hour to go!”  “Really?”  I said.  I didn’t much care about time.  I was having a lot of fun, and wasn’t thinking very much about the end of the race.  As we approached hour seven, Suresh pulled ahead of me.  I don’t know if he was going faster or if I was going slower, but it took him a long time to get a lead on me.  I suspect he was going faster, because I passed a couple of guys after Suresh pulled ahead. 
    Somewhere around that time, I saw a guy in a red shirt gaining on me quickly.  It was a man named Tim, whom I ran with for about a half hour at Nipmuck three weeks before.  We ran together for a while again, until we hit the 30 mile aid station.  Tim was in a rush because he was going to miss his ferry home.  He thought he’d be done in under 7 hours, but it looked like our time was going to be closer to 8 hours. Bimbler’s Bluff is suspiciously long for a 50K!  Tim’s really tall, and every time he walked, I still had to run to keep up with him.  Okay guys, I’m jealous. 
    Tim didn’t stop at the 30 mile aid station, but I did.  Gummy worms, and another half cup of coke.  Yum!   It was over 7 hours since the start, and I asked a volunteer if I was the last one out there.  She laughed and said that no, there were still plenty of people behind me.  I guess I should have known that, because after all, I’d been passing an occasional person during that section.  The sign on the trail said 2.5 miles to go.
    The first mile of this section went pretty well, but then I began to have some stomach issues.  I was a bit upset about this, as I had made it so far.  I really wanted to run it in through the finish, but I was struggling.  I was gaining on a nervous random dude with a nervous dog, and the guy kept looking over his shoulder waiting for me to pass.  But every time he went over a rise, I ducked into the little ultrarunner’s room.  I wonder if he had any idea about why, since I was running, it took me so long to pass him?  After passing the dog guy, I was sure I was going to vomit, so I slowed to a walk.  Five minutes later, Jen passed me and saw I was struggling.  She asked if I was okay, and I said I had stomach problems.  She said, “Well, at least it waited until now.  You know you’ll finish!”  Jen was right, and I instantly stopped feeling sorry for myself.  About thirty seconds later, my stomach recovered and I was able to start running again. 
    It wasn’t much farther until I heard the finish line.  I came up over a rise, saw the finish line at the bottom, and then heard Jason’s voice.  He yelled out, “Hey Heather!  Think you’ll finish?”  I had completely forgotten that I had told Jason that I was almost definitely NOT going to finish.  I cracked up, and asked him if he thought he might be able to bring his truck around for me.  I was still laughing when he snapped this picture:

Here’s me after the finish:

Shelly finished about 15 minutes after I did – it’s amazing how close she was, but I hadn’t seen her after mile 9. 

Total time:  7:59:49.  Initially, I was disappointed with my time    , since it seemed like I was pretty close to last place.  But then I counted up – I came in 112th out of 127 finishers.  172 people registered.  I don’t know how many started, but I think it was over 150, which makes 112th place not really all that bad.  My husband claims he can’t believe that there were 172 people willing to register.   
    In the end, I’m really glad I did this race.   It was a beautiful course, and I enjoyed nearly every moment of it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Nipmuck Trail Marathon Race Report

On October 2nd, 2011, I ran the Nipmuck Trail Marathon.  What a spectacular course, and the weather was pretty good, too.  The race director, Clint Morse, the Shenipsit Striders, and Nipmuck Dave put on an excellent race.  The volunteers and aid stations were amazing, and the other participants were all incredibly supportive...  if only I could have enjoyed it.  Maybe next year? 

It was a relaxing, foggy drive down to Ashford, CT from Worcester, MA, and I had plenty of time to get settled before the pre-race meeting.  I picked up my very lovely race T-shirt and a bib with the traditional "High Fall Risk" sticker, indicating that this was my first attempt at Nipmuck.  Clinton Morse informed us that the normally muddy trail was even muddier due to the wettest August ever in Connecticut, and what may have possibly been the wettest September.  He let us know that there would be a beaver pond with 8 - 10 inches of water to wade through.  Nipmuck Dave got up and gave a rousing, hilarious warning to us against leaving Gu packets on the trail.

Then we headed down to the starting line, and at 8:12, we were off.  The start and finish are in the middle of the course, and it consists of two out-and-backs on single-track trails.  I dutifully got into the conga line.  Was it ever muddy!  After a mile, we crossed over I-78.  Clint said that cars wouldn't be stopping for us, but on the way out, they did.  I can't imagine that anything going on at 8:30 on a Sunday in Connecticut is half as exciting as 150 muddy runners crossing the road!

Shortly after crossing the road, still in the conga line, I slipped and fell in the mud.  I heard some people laughing, and someone behind me said "Looks like ya got THAT out of the way!"  And someone else said, "Better you than me, this time!"  I was okay, and barely missed a step.

The crowd thinned out a bit by mile three, and then it began pouring.  This was my favorite part of the race.  I love running in the rain!  As I got to around mile 4, the lead runners began coming by in the other direction.  When a whole pile of fast guys came through, I stepped far to the right up a slope and slipped.  The guy who was probably in 10th place stopped, letting about five other runners pass him, and helped me up.   What incredible sportsmanship!  (#27?  Who are you?  You are my hero).

I hit the turnaround at mile 6 in 1:10, apparently somewhere in the middle of the pack judging by the amount of traffic before and after I turned around.  I was feeling kind of tired, but thought I'd probably feel better later.  However, when I approached the mid-point of the course, which is also the start and the finish, I was seriously considering a DNF.  I talked myself out of it, though, because I genuinely couldn't figure out what was wrong.  I checked over all my parts, and they all seemed to be feeling well.  I hit the portapotties for good measure, hoping that would help.  I convinced myself that it was all mental, downed some Coke, and headed out onto the second half of the course at 2:28.

The beaver pond was the best part of the second half of the course!  I don't know where Clint went through where it was only 8-10 inches deep.  The water was above my knees, and by the time I hit it, very murky and muddy.  There was also a long, very pretty section that wound between laurel bushes.  That section caused me to take a nose dive on a training run, but didn't catch me during the race.

By mile 16, it was turning into a death march, and I began to have a vague idea of what was wrong.  I remembered how I woke up three times in the middle of the night, chugged a glass of water, and went back to sleep.  Odd.  And then, at the beginning of the race, I wasn't cold in a tank and shorts, even though it was only 55 degrees.  My neck and throat hurt, and I was pretty sure I was running a fever.  What a wonderful time to get sick!

All the other parts seemed fine, so I figured I'd at least try to finish the race. The mossy covered rocks were starting to look like a good place for a nap.  I'd run for a while with some other runners, and chat with them, and then start to feel worse and they would blow past me.  I have no idea what my time was when I hit the turn around for the second half.  I didn't care much anymore.  But I kept on running.

I finished with a not-spectacular, but not-embarrassing time of 6:09:24, and collected a truly unique finishers' award, handmade by Nipmuck Dave.  It's emblazoned with the same color paint as the Nipmuck Trail, and it's making my basement smell deliciously like birch beer.

I didn't end up staying for any of the post-race festivities.  I intended to go back and socialize after changing, but after getting to my car, I just couldn't resist the desire to drive home and go to bed.  :(

When I got home, I confirmed my suspicion that I was indeed running a fever.

I can't wait to come back next year and try the course again - without the orange High Fall Risk sticker.  I'm sure I'll have a wonderful time.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Newton Hill 5K Race Report!

Hey Worcester!  Do you know where Newton Hill is?

It's in Elm Park, behind Doherty High School, and it's a big old hill.  There's a halfway decent disc golf course there, in case you didn't know.  The Central Mass Striders and the Friends of Newton Hill run a 5K series on Tuesday nights at 6:30 in August.  For the past two years, every day, twice a day, my husband and I would drive past a sign advertising the event on the way to and from daycare.  And I always said,  "I want to do that race!"  But I always forgot. 

Today, my husband remembered for me while we were at a small party at work.  I wasn't sure I could do it.  My daughter had a piano lesson from 5:30 to 6:00.  It was already 5:00, and I was still in my work clothes, we didn't even have the kids picked up yet, and the piano lesson was a couple of towns away.   Plus, I had a belly full of brie and champagne (rough life, I know).  I was feeling bold, so I figured I'd at least try to make it.  On the way to pick up the kids, he slowed the car down a few blocks from home and let me out to run back to the house, get changed, and get the piano books together. 

We made it to piano lesson, then I dropped my daughter off at home and headed to the race.  I had to run up to the tent to register, but on the plus side,  I got a decent warm-up.  I forgot my watch, though.  Oh well.

What a fun course!  Newton hill park isn't that big - apparently, the perimeter is only 3/4 of a mile around.  In order to have a 5K there, obviously, the course has to loop around and climb Newton Hill a few times.  Newton Hill has about a 200 foot elevation change, so that's somewhere near around 500 feet of climbing in a 5K. 

There were just over 40 people racing, and I got started near the middle of the pack.  There was one woman ahead of me, and she appeared to be a teenager.  About a half a mile in, another woman shot past me, but somewhere before the halfway point, I saw her jogging slowly back the wrong way.  I don't know what happened to her, but it meant I was the second woman!

I leap frogged with a handful of guys for the rest of the race.  I'm a very fast downhill runner, so I was able to get to the front of us every time we went down, but they'd keep passing me on the uphills.

Just a warning that the last 20 yards of this course is extremely steep and rocky!  I passed two guys, and tried to catch a third, but he came in a few seconds ahead of me.  My final time was 26:30.  The woman that beat me was indeed a teenager, so I won my age group (20 to 39) and took home a Friends of Newton Hill Pint Glass.  Yay! 

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pineland Farms Race Reports!

This past weekend, my family and I drove up to Maine for the Pineland Farms Trail Challenge and a bit of camping at Bradbury Mountain State Park.   I can’t say enough wonderful things about this event.  It was spectacularly run and lots of fun for all of us.  On Saturday, there was a 5K, a barefoot 5K, a 10K, and a 5K Canicross.  There were a few kids races and a couple of running seminars.  Sunday’s races were a 50 mile, 50K, and a 25K. 

My daughters got a kick out of watching the Canicross on Saturday.  We suspect that one of the top finishing dogs may have been carried like a football throughout most of the course.  I imagine that is not against the rules.

Next came the 5K – which my 8 year old and I ran together.   There were a whole lot of little kids in the race, which had me thinking that perhaps “ants in the pants” is heritable.  About a ¼ mile in,  we picked up a 7 year old boy that had outrun his mom and continued to run with us throughout the entire race.   The trails at Pineland Farms have been described as being like a roller coaster.  So true!  While none of it could be considered “technical”, one is also never running on a flat surface.  It’s up or down the whole time. The barefoot 5K started ten minutes after the regular 5K, so it was a lot of fun to be passed by some of the faster barefoot runners near the finish line, and they cheered us on as they passed.   Audrey never had to walk, and had a great kick near the finish line.  With a time of 33:03, she finished 129th out of 221.  Not bad for her third race!  I really love running with my daughter, and hope she doesn’t get too fast for a long time.  Or, at least, I hope once and a while she’ll return the favor and run slowly with her old lady. 

Her new running friend was willing to do the 3 legged race with her.   Awww!

After the kids races, my husband attended a free beer tasting hosted by Smuttynose, I took in a running form Q&A with Jason Robillard from Barefoot Running University, and my daughters tore apart hay bales and made robot costumes out of cardboard boxes with the other ultrarunners’ offspring.  

Then it was back to the campsite for a pasta dinner cooked over the whisperlite and an early bedtime.  One of the things I like about camping is that once it gets dark, there ain’t jack to do.  I got into the bag at 8:30 and managed to sleep to 5:45.  Yay for a good night sleep before race day!  

It was already above 60 when the race started at 8AM.   Do I look scared?   Were you this scared before your first 50K?

My spirits were high, though, and at about the 5K mark, I settled in next to four other runners.  They weren’t very chatty but seemed like nice people.  I suspected they might be serious ultrarunners.  Aid stations were well stocked with cytomax and other goodies, and I helped myself to a handful of chow at every one.  About 8K in, I got passed by the lead men in the 50 mile race, which started two hours prior to the 50k.   I recognized Ben Nephew.  They were so fast!   Drop bags were around 23K, and I spent some quality time with mine.  I changed into dry socks, reapplied BodyGlide and sunscreen, and hit the porta potty.  When I started on loop 2, I noticed that the four people I was running with were just standing there near the start line.  I asked them if they were coming, but apparently, they were seriously going to DNF and get their free beer right then.

When I reached the next aid station, at 31K, I noticed that the volunteers were wearing tank tops and shorts.   Eeek!  It was in the 80s, and I hadn’t had a chance to train in the heat at all.  Even had I been able to acclimatize, my body still doesn’t do heat very well.  I realized I would have to adjust my goals somewhat.  Goal 1 was to now to avoid a medical emergency.  Goal 2 was to finish the race.  I was pretty confident that if I could accomplish Goal 1, then Goal 2 would be a piece of cake.  But I wasn’t so sure about Goal 1.  I asked the aid station volunteers to fill my handheld with ice, and I passed it between my hands and armpits to try to cool my core.  I just kept in mind that if I got too hot, I would have to simply walk until I felt better.   And if I got dizzy or got dry heaves, I’d need to sit down.  It took a lot of discipline to slow down, because my legs really wanted to turn over.  But I knew that I needed to listen to my body and stay safe.  By 35K, I swore I that after today, I wasn’t going to run again until I saw snow.  At 41K, the course passes behind the finish line, and heard ambulance sirens.   Wonderful.  But I kept moving, ran when I could, and walked when my head started throbbing and my stomach felt sick. 

At an aid station around 45K, I mentioned to the volunteer that I was frustrated because my legs felt awesome, but I just couldn’t run like I wanted to because I was so hot.  A 50 mile runner suggested that I try putting ice in my cap.  I did….. and 30 seconds later, I felt better than I had all day.  I was dashing up the hills at a full-out run, and passed about 8 people.   I'm going to have to remember that trick.  I saw my family about 200 yards from the finish, and both of my little girls paced me to the finisher's chute.

Final time:  6:44:18, which apparently was only about 2 minutes slower than the median ladies’ time.  And I’m no worse for the wear!  One of the good things about having had to take it so easy during the second loop is that my legs still felt great at the end.

Starting a blog!

I started a blog for race reports!