Friday, September 24, 2010

Gunpowder Keg 50k at Gunpowder State Park Maryland 9-18-2010

on the trail

As of September 2010, I have one 50 miler to my name (as well as several pacing experiences at some high profile ultras).  As part of my training for the JFK 50 miler, to be held in November, I planned on running at least two 30 mile training runs.  I heard the Baltimore Road Runners were hosting a Fat Ass event on the trails at Gunpowder State Park, and thought this was the perfect way to not only get in a 30+ mile run, but also get myself out in the trails in prep for the 50 miler.  Little did I know what I was getting myself into.

The Fast Ass event basically requested a $5 donation to the state park and a gallon of water to share with fellow runners.  Nothing fancy, just come and run.  I packed up my car's trunk with some food, various Gus and other "ultra" stuff thinking I was going way overboard for a measly 30 miler that was solely functioning as a training run.

There were maybe 75 people there, if that ( I am horrible at eyeballing numbers), lined up in the parking lot.  The course would consist of 3 loops of about 10 miles each, with options of stopping after each.  I was debating whether to wear my hydration vest and carrying Gus since a simple aid station had been set up around mile 5.  Luckily decided to strap it on.  That 5 miles would take me much longer than planned.

In my Leopard print Moeben dress I headed off with the group into the forest.  We were reduced to a walk as we fell in line on the single track trail.  I felt some pressure to keep up my pace to not slow those behind me!  Gradually we all spread out and had plenty of room to navigate.  After one mile I knew my goal of a sub 6 hour finish was no longer reasonable.  This trail was more technical then I had predicted and, as I would soon find out, this early portion was the most runnable.

One of a couple sets of stairs
 I took that first loop to get to know the course.  I struggled to find a rhythm.  I was continually surprised at what was thrown at us and how much it varied mile after mile.  Rocks, boulders, roots, streams, large tree trunks to hop, mud, tall grass where the trail wasn't even visible and the steepest hills I have ever climbed in a race situation.  The steepest hill, as recorded by my garmin, was 65% grade!  Is that even possible?  The amount of climbing per loop was unexpected (for me anyway).

I am not a good technical trail runner, if only for the fact that I don't run on them often enough.  The last 50 miler I ran (North Face DC), I fell hard.  I was nervous there would be a repeat performance today and I was determined to stay sure footed.  However, I had a bad feeling, after a dozen stumbles and quick saves from face plants, that I would inevitably kiss the trail below my feet.  I told a runner, Charlie, behind me to watch out so I don't take him down too.  My toes started to hurt from all the toe jamming I was doing.  I start to envision creating a trail shoe with a steel tip.

After the first loop I stopped at my car for 5 minutes to apply bandaids where I could already feel blisters developing.  I guess the movement of my feet in my shoes going up and down such extreme inclines was rubbing some areas raw.  I also threw some Heed into my pack and took a few extra Gus along. 

stream crossing
Loop two actually felt a ton better than loop one.  Although I stumbled along, my ability to catch myself and spare eating dirt, amazed me.  I had fun on this loop.  I was mostly alone, which I enjoyed.  Me intertwined with nature.  Just the two of us.  I did worry a bit about the foliage that was constantly in contact with my bare skin.  "Leaves of three, stay away from me" kept running through my head.  I have never been good at identifying poison ivy or oak.  I saw many leaves of three.  I started singing "leaves of three are all over me"!

Some of the hills were a bitty.  There was no way I could run up these suckers.  And a few of the declines were so steep I wish I had skis to just slide down them.  Knowing you had to do it once again (for loop 3) was hard mentally.  The stream crossings were not bad.  I dipped my hands in the cool water to freshen up.  I finished the 2nd loop 10 minutes slower than the first, which surprised me.  I felt so much stronger and better that loop.  I was now 4:35 into this thing!  A sub six was out, so I set my sights on a sub 7 hour. 

see the man way up ahead?
up, up and away
I spent 5 min at my car again and assessed my body.  I added a few more bandaids and ate a rice crispie treat.  At this point I wished I had packed my ankle brace.  A while back my ankle was severely damaged in an accident.  As a result I have what's called a floppy ankle.  I have worked hard to rebuild strength and have only recently stopped wearing my brace religiously.  But my ankle was hurting now.  The technical trail was making mush out of it.

I was eager to start the third loop.  It looked like most of the runners had already called it quits.  I am not sure how many did the full 50k, but will post results when I get them.  I had a great mental attitude going in for my final dance with this forest.  I felt like I had gotten to know the trail enough to successfully navigate this last loop and get in under 7 hours.  I would run all the runnable parts at a good clip, and did just that for the first 3 1/2 miles.  As I was feeling like maybe I had this trail whipped, my foot caught a root or rock, and I hit the ground hard.  Left side again (as at NorthFace), but no rolling this time.  Just a solid thud to the earth.  Should a 39 year old woman be falling like this?  I was alone and there I lay for a moment figuring out the damage.  My knee hurt and quickly developed a swollen knot.  A couple scratches and a bruised hand was all I saw. I dipped my hands and knee into a stream to clean it up.  I was coming up on a portion of the trail that was within a quarter mile of the finish line and my car.  I seriously contemplated heading in.  Twenty-five miles is good enough, right?

As I crested the hill at which the decision to go home was to be made, a volunteer was standing there.  I told him I had fallen.  He said it looked fine to him and to keep going.  As simple as that, I did.  As I ran I realized that my left side was hurting.  I later find bruises on my clavicle, shoulder, arm and butt.  Not bad though.

in true ultra fashion:  a sharing of
the battle wounds
I'll spare you pics of
my bruised bum
Another 6 1/2 to go and into the woods I head for the last time to battle that damn 65% grade hill.  I saw runners coming back home and knew I still had the hardest part ahead of me.  Determined not to fall, I did slow some and was more cautious.  I started to notice things I had not before.  Was that a snake I heard slithering through the grass?  Did those happy boy scouts tubing down the river know I was 25 miles into this thing?  Why are there so many worms on the trail and why are they so big?  I mean baby-snake big.

I prayed, as I always do, for a safe finish as well as family and friends.  I started to get lonely.  I texted my husband and eventually talked to him.  I was ready to be done but knew I had at least an hour to go.  One step forward at a time.  Just keep moving.
Something snapped in me with about 4 miles to go.  I would run as much as I could, falling be damned, and get my ass done with this Fat Ass 50k.  I caught up with a couple runners, with whom I hiked up our last major hill.  Then it was down that super steep hill.  I don't know what I was thinking, but I let lose and barrelled down that thing like I was being chased by a cougar. As I came to more level ground, I kept up the pace.  This seemed like a good plan, and was going well, until that final climb the finish line.  The distance was maybe 1/2 a mile, maybe shorter, but the zigzag to the top reduced me to a walk right at the end!  I swore out loud and got going again.  Then walked again.  Damn.  One more run attempt and I ran into the finish area where one person clapped. 

felt worse than it looked
prettier as the days
went on

I had just run the toughest 50k, really any race, of my life and no one was there.  There were a couple race volunteers and a couple runners.  I felt like the last to finish, but a couple more dragged in after me.

That night my body had fits, reacting as if in mid fall. I dreamed I was still running the race.  Seeing the trail under me.  I would feel myself stumble and jolt awake just as my body hit the ground.  Do other runners have these dreams post race?

This race was a lot more than I bargained for.  But it also gave me a lot.  Who knew I could throw down 30 miles under these conditions?  I have no doubt that I can handle the JFK 50 miler after this.  And the Baltimore marathon, which I am also using as a training run, will feel like a freaking gift.

The day after I am sore but also thankful for the experience.  My quads are beat up after my downhill blitz.  My entire body aches from the effort.  But I welcome the pain and enjoy it.  Few people understand this.  Ultra running and trail running has taking me to places I would normally never venture.  The mental strength I gained, the drive to persist, makes me feel strong and able.  My only wish is that I cannot share it with my love ones more directly. 


Darryn said...

Hi Christine

I was the runner who finished the Keg around the same time as you. I had no idea you'd had so much adventure because you looked strong at the end. I agree very technical course and took longer than I expected. Good Luck at JFK,


The Running Coach said...

Hey Darryn:
I was very motivated to finish and end the run! Hence that burst at the end (that fizzled as you know when you passed me, that was you, right?).

Darryn said...

Yes that was me. I run there quite often, and have had many battles with the final hill back to the car park. So I was racing it, not you.

The Running Coach said...

you mean you and I weren't dueling to the parking lot finish line with the huge crowds waiting in great anticipation?
I appreciated your words of encouragement actually.
Thanks and hopefully we'll see each other out at a race again.