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.