For those not following my weekly posts, I haven't been running for the past 3 weeks, suffering from a painful inflammation on the outside of my left heel after a run in the cold in Columbus a couple of days after Way Too Cool. With that, I was quite nervous about this race, wondering how the heel would behave on such a long and delicate trail. Now, the entertaining emcee on the start line recounted a mental advice shared by Matt Fitzgerald at the pre-race pasta party, to replace nervous with the word excited: so, here I was, I was really excited to see if I could indeed race this Saturday...!
Speaking of excitement, the race was so professionally organized by Julie Fingar and her NorCal Ultras crew that we had the privilege to witness a full lunar eclipse right before the start.
After these 2 miles of trails in the dark, my GPS was indicating 7:30 min/mile. Apart for some roller coaster-type of road before Folsom Point, the first 12 miles basically have us going down the river, leading to quite a few fast miles on the smooth bike path. By then, my average pace was down to 6:55 min/mile. I was convinced that this was similar to my pace of last year but, re-reading my 2014 post, it was actually 7:12 last year, oops! At least my left heel wasn't complaining, so I was really excited to be running fast again!
By mile 12, something really strange happened, I started feeling cramps in both my calves, yikes! 38 miles to go, that wasn't looking good. I doubled my S!Caps intake at the end of the second hour (2 caps at the top of the hour instead of one in such vernal conditions) and grabbed a few pieces of banana at the next aid station. I kept the same rhythm and stride and was excited (again...! ;-) to see that I just had a 1:50 gap behind Karl and 2 other runners by mile 15 (Hazel Bluffs).
I stopped for a minute to refill my Gu2O bottle at Main Bar (mile 17) and, the cramps worsened as I left the station. At this point, I decided that it was more than time to slow down a little before all this turn to a carnage and prevent me from finishing. And I must say that I'm very please with the way I handled that this time as I'm usually pretty bad at slowing down slowly, that it just enough to keep a reasonable pace without bonking and walking.
I got to Beal's Point after 2:42 of running (mile 24) and took some Coke and banana to keep addressing the cramp issue. Agnès had made it to the aid station just in time to take a picture as I was leaving.
Of course, this is an opportunity to remind us how the original ultra runners raced 40 years ago without all the support we now get and I'm so thankful for getting ice at aid stations in particular. The stop at Horseshoe Bar was more than needed and, with cramps still nagging, I tried to drink as much as possible while running to make up for the earlier dehydration. The rest was fine: using Vespa, I just took one GU every hour, it's amazing how this works!
Respectively, Chikara, Bradford Avilla, Karl, Brian Miller and Greg:
I took more ice at the helpful and very well stocked Dowdin's Post aid station, as well as a cup of Coke, and thanked the volunteer who was manning the whole station all by herself! Keeping moving got me to the bottom of the Dam Hill without being passed and right on 6 hours and 30 minutes of racing. At this point, although my legs were hurting so much, I thought I might well try to hold my spot and even attempt to break 7 hours. With 3 miles to go, that meant 10 minutes per mile, for three uphill miles... Unfortunately, I reached the mile 48 sign after 12 minutes, it wasn't going to be a sub-7 AR this year... But I kept going, and running and eventually ran the next mile in 10 minutes with a very cool "no stop iced water refill" at the Last Gasp aid station (thank you guys!). I climbed the last mile with determination but not trying to kill myself and eventually crossed the finish line in 7:03:53 and, indeed, 5th place.
Chikara had won the race in 6:13:39, setting a new course record for this new course. Chikara has won many races but I don't think he got too many nice flower bouquets like this one though! ;-)
So, how did I feel about all this. While I felt great about this honorable place, more importantly, I was really happy that my heel seemed ok, at least that it had not bothered me during the run. Now, I didn't want to declare victory too fast because, after running 38 miles with cramps, I had so many pain points to process, it could be that the heel issue was only hiding. I wanted to see how my legs and joints were going to feel when getting cold.
First, I had to work on my muscles to get as many toxins as possible and as quickly as possible: stretching the calves, then getting Ve Loyce's super massage (Monsters of Massage).
Karyn Hoffman's RecoveryPump compression boots:
This Sunday, stairs are still painful, but not as bad as it could have been after so much cramping so I'm thankful to Ve Loyce and Karin for the extra recovery care which gives me a chance to line up and perform at the 100K Road Nationals in... a week!
Now, I have to admit that I put so much on my right leg to try to protect my left ankle that the outside of my right knee was quite sore and painful after the finish, and still this Sunday. That leg took its toll in the feet grinder section especially, when I was hoping over rocks or trying to avoid poison oak branches, all that while keeping the cramps under control, and I think I might have twisted my knee before Rattlesnake. At least I didn't fall, and I was very pleased with the mental strength I had which allowed me to keep moving all the way. I hope the knee recovers on time to bear 100 kilometers of asphalt this Saturday, and isn't the start of a new nagging injury... But, again, I'm at least grateful that the heel issue seems to have been taken care of with the last three weeks of non running and that the under training was worth it.
And special thanks to Agnès for driving, crewing, socializing, taking picture and waiting for me at this very special race!
PS: no, Agnès, nice catch, but Chikara didn't run 50 miles with a funny balloon striped to his back pack! ;-)