Tuesday, May 8, 2012

NJ Ultrafest

Still being a relative newcomer to ultra-running, I'm still learning what I need to do during a race. Two of my issues during these long races are usually GI (and more I than G) and nutrition. Both were an issue while running the 50 km distance at the NJ Ultrafest on March 24. And a third issue has resurfaced - a tight IT band. This was my forth attempt at the 50 km distance. Last year I ran the 50 km for the first time at the Ultrafest and finished in 7 h 11 min. This year I had hoped to better my time. My training was better - I've run more miles in 3 months than I have ever run in that time span and I had a 20 mile training run at the HMRRC Winter Marathon in February. Unfortunately that was my last long run except for the 10 miles at Febapple. None-the-less, I felt confident that I would finish the race and have a decent time.

I didn't start packing for the weekend until Friday morning (darn teaching job!) but I had Jessi's packing list that I modified so I was confident I wouldn't forget anything important. I couldn't find the Immodium that I purchased but I hoped I wouldn't need it. This year I would camp at the race site. I had a tent and a sleeping bag from friends so I was set. After packing I drove up to the race site stopping at the RD's house to pick up their oldest son. Arrived at the race site, got my parking pass and parked my truck next to the building and right along the race course. I had already volunteered to help where I was needed so I quickly jumped in to help with packet pick-up. Despite the nearly 260 people registered for the five race distances (marathon, 50 km, 50 mile, 100 km, and 100 mile), registration never got too crazy and I was able to get some dinner and socialize. Then it was a quick set-up of my tent and hopefully some sleep.

Not sure how many hours I slept but I know it wasn't a lot. The noise from the road and the movement of the tarp over the tent due to the wind (was that an animal??!?) didn't help. The sleeping bag was warm (thanks Tony!) but the camping pad was narrow (I think I may invest in an air mattress). But that's ok as I had plenty of sleep leading up to the race.

This year the race would be at a new location at the NJ State Fairgrounds in Sussex County so the course would be different than last year but still relatively flat. The course was a 10 mile loop starting on the fairgrounds then to the gas line. First a 1 mile out-and-back back to the fairgrounds (2 miles) for another out-and-back (6 miles) and then a loop through the fairgrounds back to the start. This last bit had two decent inclines that allowed a little break for the legs (walk the hills!).

The weather proved to be nice for a run - sunny and in the 50's to 60's. I got up a little after 6 AM, changed into race gear - shorts and a short sleeve shirt - and threw on some pants and a sweatshirt since the 50 km race didn't start until 7:45 AM - civilized! I had my breakfast - a bagel with pb&j and coffee (thanks Jessi!). I should have gotten up earlier to eat breakfast and drink the coffee as there is one bathroom stop that I wasn't able to take and later wished I had. I packed my Powerbar cut into thirds and my electrolyte drink. Rick had his usual pre-race talk, including the directions for the initial 1 mile loop. I made a quick dash to the bathroom and started about 30 sec behind everyone - oops! There was supposed to be a short 1 mile loop through the fairgrounds and the back to the start before we began our first of three 10 mile loops. But everyone forgot the directions and followed the front runners and the 3rd volunteer on the course failed to direct everyone in the right direction. Of course, I didn't really know this until later in the day but after 11 min into the race, and the fact that we were nowhere near the finish area, I knew that we missed some turn. So I and another runner made our way up the hill with everyone telling us to head back and continue on the course - that the RD had made the correction and that we should continue with the race along the gas line.

The first out-and-back is pretty uneventful. Some mud, no water, and very little in  terms of a technical trail. Then it was back to the water stop and the next out and back. I knew this section would have more uneven footing as I had run this part of the course in January. The only really worrisome parts were potentially the bridges and one spot where there wasn't a bridge. But the RDs took care of the uneven footing on the bridges by nailing down plywood. The one water crossing wasn't much of a problem - there were rocks that a veteran trail runner could use to prevent the feet from getting wet. I wanted to maintain a steady pace during the race, especially since I know that I tend to start out too fast. Not having a GPS watch or any mile markers on the course could make keeping pace difficult but I decided a 10 min run/1 min walk should be good. The first 10 miles or so seemed to go well. I felt good and tried to eat something early enough. Though at the first aid station (~7-8 miles into the race) I only took 1-2 orange slices and not much else. But I had the sinking suspicion that I was having a bit of an intestinal issue. I made it back to the start, refilled my water bottle with G2 and water and packed more Powerbars. And went to the bathroom - yep I had the issue again. Took care of what needed to be taken care of, grabbed a few gummy bears and had another orange slice or two, and started loop 2, which I thought would go well but it didn't.

My feet were killing me! With the Brooks Cascadias I was wearing I ended up feeling every little rock. And my left IT band started tightening up, especially on the last part of the loop. Damn! The IT band really bothered me during my 20 miler in February and I figured the last 10 mile loop was going to be painful and ugly! And I was struggling with keeping my 10 min run/1 min walk pace. Uh oh! The best part about this type of course is that you are rarely alone. There is always someone running past you or towards you so you can't get too bored. People encourage you and your encourage those who are also struggling. As I finished my second loop, I saw Ron, the photographer (Hillcrest Photo) who had gone out for a run during the race. I asked him how the run went, and he said it was painful. My response was - all runs hurt but some are better than others (or something to that effect - this is what I get for waiting so long to type up my report - I forget good quotes!).

Finished the second loop much slower than the first. I saw that Johnny and Marie were taking care of Jessi who definitely looked like she was struggling - which was not good as this woman kicks ass on the trails and her training had gone so well this year. Her accomplishments truly amaze me!  Johnny asked if I needed something but I don't usually ask for or accept much help during a race as I usually don't know what I need and I usually just get it myself. But given my struggles I accepted the cheese quesadillas he offered as well as the one Marie brought for Jessi who didn't want it. I took 3 ibuprofen, stopped at my truck to change my shoes and to get the stick to massage my IT bands (now both were tight!) and continued along the course to my tent to get new socks. As I was changing, another runner encouraged me to get back on the course and to run with him. I assured him I'd be back out there shortly after changing my shoes & socks.

So new shoes, socks, and more food and I was on my way. As I was running through the fairgrounds I was starting to feel better. I was running more and walking less and caught up to the guy who encouraged me to get back on the course. As I passed him at a nice clip - he was walking and seemed to be struggling - he asked if I was Nascar. LOL! Nope! Just new shoes, drugs, and some food and I was feeling like a new woman! There were times I actually was able to run 10 min straight! I would have to stop and stretch the IT band every so often but after a while that didn't even bother me. During this last loop, and with my renewed energy, I was determined to not finish last! I caught one 50 km runner while running the fairgrounds and continued on the out-and-backs. I handled the bridges without issues and traversed the rocks across the water without a problem. Tho I did tell the two guys that were gingerly making their way across the rocks they needed more practice. I had to wait for them and I wanted to run! As I was making my way to the last aid station, I was taking note of who was wearing bibs in the 100s (fellow 50 km runners). I knew there were at least 2 guys behind me so I knew I wouldn't finish last but I also wanted to see who I might be able to pass. Yes I was feeling 100 times better than I did in the second loop. At the aid station I was well taken care of by Jody (thanks!) and checked out my competition. I thought there were two women I had to worry about but it actually was only one (the second woman was running one of the longer races - the 100 miler I believe). I try not to stay too long at aid stations and got back to running. I passed the one female 50 km runner that I saw at the aid station, made it to the water stop and then up the hill on the fairgrounds to make my way to the finish. I was feeling pretty good but not enough to run up the hill - heck I was probably past the marathon distance at this point! But any time I was running, I was running strong and with good form. I barreled down the hills and occasionally walked. After passing the pond and making my way across the bridge I knew the finish was right around the corner! I passed another runner who was running the marathon and ran most of the back stretch. I made the right turn onto the road, passed the gate, and tapped the inspirational sign. Man was I feeling good at this point! So I picked up the pace. Mentally reminded myself of the potholes at the next turn - avoided said potholes - and sprinted through the finish line! 7 hrs 34 min. I heard Becky screaming for me (such enthusiasm!) and Rick handed me my finishers medal and fleece and gave me a congratulatory kiss on the cheek.

The 7.5 hrs was not quite the time I wanted but was much better than expected given how I felt during the second loop. Next race - 12 hrs at 3 Days at the Fair. But I've moved up to the 48 hr race. It'll be a good start for training for the Finger Lakes 50 km at the end of June. Keep on running!

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