Saturday, August 8, 2009

Running 50 Miles to look at a Bridge



Well. THAT was unexpected.
See, the thing I love about taking on these new challenges and unchartered distances is simply this: I don't know what the hell is going to happen. Therefore, I rarely look at a watch and go in with a goal of finishing. That's it. When my body says 'feed me,' I eat. When my quads say 'break, please,' I hike backwards. When my IT's say, 'stop charging the downhills, dammit,' I continue charging the downhills.

IT bands are stupid.

My first 50 mile adventure was no exception. My plan was to start conservatively and basically just do what I could. I put in a lot of work this summer, but had been plagued by some achilles and compensation issues that crept up during the three weeks where I went insane and initiated a training plan consisting of angry running 80-100+ miles a week. That was fun. Apparently it also turned me into a certifiable badass because I fucking KILLED it at Headlands. Here's how it all went down...

After a week of no sleep and working 14 hours a day, my good friend Katelyn and her Subaru showed up at 6 AM Friday morning. I only agreed to leave so early because Katelyn promised we could stop for chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast after we were out of LA and safe from traffic. We did and I fell in love with the waitress at IHOP when she let me make up my own meal consisting of nothing on the menu AND then only charged me $5. Oh yes... this is going to be a most excellent trip.

The rest of Friday consisted of driving on the 5, relaxing, perfecting the creation of pineapple pizza and people staring at my awesome new Vibram Five Fingers shoe-type items. Then I packed drop bags with everything I could ever need since I had no clue what I was doing. It was a hot mess...

Out of all this, I used: 1 powerbar, the body glide, the golden sunshine, 1 bag of gatorade endurance and a kleenex... which is ironic because my drop bags could have legitimately been their own aid station. For the entire race.

I slept like a champ and the morning of the race I was the most calm person ever. And I don't think anyone would necessarily define my demeanor as any derivative of the word 'calm.' I guess I had just come to terms with the fact that I was going to be spending my entire day running in some mountains and that seemed pretty alright by me. So we strolled up to the line and honestly, I don't even remember if there was a gun or a whistle or a "Go!" - all the sudden it was just time to run.

So I ran.

The start @ Rodeo Beach - I'm told this picture was taken from roughly 1/6 of the way up the initial climb. Now that you have a better understanding of the ridiculousness, read on...

Now the thing about Headlands is that it is NOT an easy course by any means. (Have a little gander at this if you will.) Accordingly, we began our day with a nice little thousand foot climb in the course of about a mile and a half. It. Was. Steep. I alternated running and walking to try and loosen up my screaming achilles, but they were not a fan of the hill and decided to just be annoying instead. That sucked, so I just focused on how epic the scenery was: cascading waterfalls of fog... runners vanishing into the mist... it was some live action motivational poster shit for sure.

I stole these from people off of Facebook... some of which I don't actually know. Moral of the story: if this is your picture and this also happens to be illegal; let's chat.

I told myself not to run too fast when I hit the downhill, but let's get one thing straight: I am a downhill runner. Haha, you say, everyone can run down a hill, silly! But not everyone can run down a hill like me and that's a fact. Downhill running is my jam. Therefore, I could not help myself and upon a post-race Garmin check discovered I was clocking 6:20 - 7:20 pace on this section. Good idea? Bad idea? Survey says: MOST AWESOME idea.

The race continued in this fashion: running/hiking up the hills; charging the downhills like it was my job. The cool thing about starting with the 100 milers was that I got to run with a lot of really talented dudes, since they backed off their pace for twice the distance. The other cool thing was that since the loop course was set up less like a circle and more like something I would liken to Nickelodeon Gak, I was close enough to the leaders to cross paths in and out of the aid stations. It was in this way that I realized that there were only a couple women ahead of me. That can't be right, I thought. I am just this dumb kid out here running 50 miles for the fun of it. I simply cannot be doing this well.

Well... I was. I waited to feel the burn at mile 17, and that didn't happen. Pretty soon, I was cresting the final peak of the 25 mile loop and heading back down to Rodeo Beach. I could see a final mile of decent and then a nice easy grade half mile or so cruise into the main aid station. Except for the fact that said "easy grade" was made of deep, soft pebbly sand. As if running 50 miles up and down giant mountains isn't hard enough... let's go ahead and throw a fucking sand trap in there. Just to mix things up. God, I love this sport.

I had originally planned on switching to my Nathan hydration pack at this point - but my arms felt surprisingly OK. Guess it was all the man push-ups courtesy of Coach Jimmy. By this point, I realized how well I was doing and was micromanaging the aid stations, refusing to spend more than 2 minutes in each. I had already been here 4 with the addition of my one and only bathroom break, so it was time to move. Now, the best thing about the aforementioned sand section is that I got to do it again! Uphill this time! I passed one of the only women ahead of me, due to a matter of differing opinions: I consider sand runnable. THEN I realized I had just run a marathon in 4:45 and again, was very confused. I honestly believed that Mr. Garmin had stopped working at some point and then magically started working again.

Either way, at this point - I decided that conservative Katie was over with. I had run nearly 30 miles and should be feeling a lot worse. So I started running up most of the climbs; during one of which I ran into Katelyn! She confirmed that Mr. Garmin was not, in fact, a dirty liar and that I really was running like a mad woman. This picture is bizarre, because I have run 29 miles at this point and don't look like I've done shit except ate a donut...

Oh weird. I am in a valley after running down a big ass hill and getting ready to run up another big ass hill. Welcome to the Headlands course...

No really. I did eat donuts. BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS.

I went through the 50k under 6 hours - which I guess is now my 50k PR considering that Shadow was actually a 55k. WHY AM I RUNNING SO FAST???? I don't know, but I think it's an excellent idea to continue running up sides of mountains. That is, until I hit what I will now refer to as "Bullshit Hill." If you are reading this and you have run Headlands - I am talking about the section on the Coastal Trail, right after you hit Conzelman Aid. Yeah. Bullshit.
I was hiking backwards, sideways and all whichways - anything to keep me from all but vertical climbing. The odd thing is that I don't remember coming DOWN this thing at all. And I definitely did a few hours prior. I. Am. Weird.

I also didn't remember it being so hot. Oh, that is because there was fog. And now there is no fog. There is only bright ass sun and it is very warm. Good thing I picked this exact time to hit a bunch of climbing up dusty fire roads with zero tree cover. As it got warmer, my will to eat diminished - so I started playing this little game: if I stopped to hike, I had to eat the Powerbar in my Moeben pocket. This did not sound delicious in any sense of the word, so I just kept running. Not to be completely stupid, I did hike for a few minutes at a time on the really steep parts and forced that bar down. I passed these old ladies that stared in glaring disapproval. I can't say I blame them because I'm sure I was quite the sight: drenched in sweat, legs covered in dirt, forcing large chunks of nondescript food item down my throat, randomly singing in between bites AND wearing a headband with skulls on it. Needless to say, they do NOT want me to marry their sons.

By mile 35, I was finally feeling it. I hit a downhill section and my IT bands screamed in rampant disapproval. Honestly, I was struggling to maintain an 8 minute pace on the descent and this was quite troubling. Plus, I was kind of dizzy and foolishly starting to focus on the amount of miles left and how long it would take rather than my prior "race strategy" of just living in the moment. (I am really starting to understand why people define me as a free spirit.) This next 45 minutes is to be considered my low point in the race. The funny thing is: it really wasn't all that low, because I realized that each step I took from this point forward was a victory. It was the farthest I had ever run, and regardless of the pain - it was pretty fucking cool. Then I almost got run over by an ambulance flying up a fire road to rescue a mountain biker. Said mountain biker's leg was a bloody mess and bent in the wrong direction. I did not throw up and I consider this hands down to be the biggest victory of the entire day.

Realizing that at least I wasn't THAT guy - I began charging again. I knew that if I just got to mile 40, I could mentally accept running 10 more miles. So I pushed the descent into Tennessee Valley and just literally screamed through the sharp pain in my knees. (I am also starting to understand why people define me as "fucking crazy.") At TV, I sat down for the first time, really just to bend over and stretch my lower back. You know how when someone asks you if you are alright and you are not exactly alright but you don't want them to know that so you just well up with giant-sized tears instead? Yeah, so that happened. This woman, who I have been told is both named Carol and a certifiable badass, understood my struggle and told me, "You're at mile 38 of a 50 mile race and you are one of the top competitors. It is going to hurt."

"That's why I'm not mad about it," I replied with a genuine smile. "I expected this."

I realize now, out of context, how sick that sounds. But hear me out naysayers: First of all, you are a naysayer and that sucks. Second, the pain I was feeling is the kind of pain that you experience when you push your body to threshold - not the kind of pain where you injure yourself. Trust me, I know the difference. (See aforementioned 3 weeks of angry running). And THIS kind of pain is beautiful. So I embraced it and ran the last 12 miles with a smile. When I came back into TV for the last aid, I was a new woman and I was ready to finish this thing. Fittingly (and epically), the last song playing on my ipod was My Favorite Highway's "Entertain the Pain."

"I feel just a little bit stronger; I'll wait just a little bit longer..."

Now the problem here is that I have amnesia. I thought, hey, i've only got 4 miles to run! I'm going to drop all my water, all my food, my sleeves, my sunglasses and apparently - all my common sense. That last four miles was filled with well over a thousand feet of climbing and some truly miserable old sets of stairs that threatened to wreck me. The result was me being out there for an additional hour or so with 0 food and water. Talk about a miscalculation. However there were some figurative high points in this section as well, including but not limited to: the crazy old hiker woman screaming at me, "You! Are! A! STUD!" like literally in my face, the hikers that thought my handhelds were weights - realized they were, in fact, just like weights - and then were absolutely horrified that I had been carrying them for 48 miles, chicking some additional legit looking dudes and DEFINITELY the point where I finally heard the roar of the ocean below. See, the fog rolled back in so I was running blindly once again. This is when I realized it was also an excellent choice to drop my Moebens. I must have done this because they weigh like 10 lbs each.

As I was heading down the final descent I passed some hundred milers* heading up for another lap. Two of the three guys said the same thing - "You look too strong. You need to head out for another lap." I guess that is a compliment??? Either way - fuck. no.
*suckas!

I caught up to three more people in the last half mile or so, including one woman. At a quarter mile to go, I could have easily passed as I was running much stronger down the hill, but I stopped myself. Because it wasn't about passing people at the end. It was about finishing this incredible thing we all started and who was I to ruin this amazing badass woman's finish by going all track star on her? What did 10-20 seconds matter at this point? I had been running for TEN HOURS. Instead, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and savored those last few moments of the hardest thing I have ever done.

For me, that was the finish - because the actual finish LINE was nothing more than a couple orange cones set up in a parking lot. Which is also why I love ultras. It's definitely not about the glory and the pomp. It's just a bunch of bat crazy people running around in the mountains all day and fighting their own battles. Trust me - there is a bigger party in a single orange traffic cone than a whole fucking parade complete with marching bands, confetti and probably beer.

So I crossed the cones, someone may have said good job and I walked over to a table of food and started eating cantaloupe. (Note: Cantaloupe, boiled potatoes and salt, and hunks of Baby Ruth bars were my JAM that day. And I don't even like Baby Ruths!) Sara, the awesome RD, walked over to inform me I had won my age group - the under-30 category - and handed me an awesome coffee mug as my trophy. (Which I immediately dropped and almost broke). And that, my friends, was it.

Headlands ended just as simply as it started and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Coaster for finishing. Coffee Mug for winning shit. Ultras are rad.

Awesome line from my DeSplinjinjis. (Credit goes to Peter B for that one.)

The lesson to take away from this happy photo is concerning the effects of micromanaging aid stations: Katelyn reapplied sunscreen. Katie did not. Katie is now eligible for certain scholarships and grants made possible by affirmative action.

After the race, I hung around the finish for about 4.5 hours so that I could see Katelyn finish her first 50 mile race. I was in such a damn fine mood that I took it upon myself to be everyone's personal cheerleader and high-fiver. I drank 3 Cokes, ice bathed it up in the Pacific, called all my BFFs who ran Mt. Dis and had awesome days as well and watched a beautiful sunset over the Headlands. My dear Katelyn eventually emerged out of the darkness with a headlamp and a smile. It was just like finishing the race again! Then we drove around for an hour and a half trying to find Tennessee Valley and my missing drop bag. Then I went back to the house and tried to shower through chaffing so extreme that it has scarred my legs for life. Then I sat on a kitchen floor and ate about 12 mini oranges.

Throwing up citrus fruit at 4 am is both fun and burns.


VITALS:
50 miles (holla!)
10,010 ascent/descent
10:11:28 - 12:12 average
Fastest pace - 6:20
1st Female 1-29
5th Chick Overall

Mr. Garmin's Etch-a-Sketch:

Check out Katelyn's Video Blog HERE.
Check out Headlands Results HERE.

The Word:
Once again, I went out extremely conservatively and know that in the future I am strong enough to run more of the initial climbs. No regrets though - it was a brilliant race and I am still in shock that I ran so well. I realistically expected this course, with this kind of climbing to take me 12 hours at the very least. It did not. Also, yes - I am currently drinking out of the coffee mug.



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