Saturday, August 31, 2013

Sweat, Swear Words, and Snakes

Let's chalk this one up to another poor choice on my part...

Last year, I had a wild idea to run a night trail race out at Reveille Peak Ranch, a beautiful but crazy technical set of trails out in Burnet, TX. I had been recovering from piriformis syndrome so I controlled myself and signed up for the 10K. I did well, placing 6th and just missing out on an award. I hoped to do the 30K in 2013.

Oh, I signed up for the 30K all right.

And then failed to really train for it. A couple road 10 milers will get me prepared, right??

Cue the major nerves leading up to this race. My only consolation was that I had a couple buddies to run it with and that I was okay with walking as much as I needed. My only goal was to finish before midnight (race start of 7:15pm).

My friend Jamie showed up right before the start with a cooler of after-race drinks and some morale support. He took a few pics of me, Tony (this is all his fault), Todd (another runner friend who loves trail races), and Maxwell (Todd's friend, or as Jamie liked to call him, "Hairy Dude").

The forecast called for low to mid 90s at the race start, dropping to low 80s by midnight. Not exactly pleasant, but not unbearable in the dark. Hydration would be key, and I did very well with that leading up to the race, and during the race as well. My inhaler was probably going to be important, too, and of course I remembered it about a mile into the race (it was back in my car...oops). Watching my footing was high on the list of musts, and with the exception of 3 falls and about 5 near-falls....okay, I sucked at that. Because it was mostly in the dark, I wanted to make sure I was always with someone else. Check!

Can you see the fear??

Typical terrain, coming off a granite dome and onto a dirt trail. Photo credit: Carly Salinas

Great shot of the granite by runner Carly Salinas

Uneventful race start. I planned to run with my friend Tony, my fellow "poor choices are common" running buddy and coach. Todd and I are pretty similar pace on the trails, so we all started together. I led through the single track for the first couple miles at a respectable 11:50 pace, which looking back was too fast of a start (yes, I really just said 11:50 was too fast....this is a TRAIL, people!). Then Tony took over on pacing and so of course we sped up and didn't walk the hilly parts like we'd planned. The heat was already killing me so early in the race. By the time we got to the second aid station at about 4.5 miles, I had overheated and my heartrate had skyrocketed. A ton of icy water over my head and about 3 or 4 minutes of walking and I felt much better. I spent the next 3 miles until the next aid station alternating drinking ice water and pouring it over my head and neck. It worked like a charm.

Mile 1...still happy

I tried so hard to keep my feet up over the rocks, but managed to stumble pretty badly in that first loop. Everything felt okay, however, and we continued on. It was getting dark at this point and was time for our headlamps to be turned on. Now not only are we dealing with the heat and the rocky terrain, but now we are running out of daylight and relying on headlamps to get us through the course accurately and safely.

I told you this was a poor choice.

It was about this time that the people running right in front of us yell "Rattlesnake on the left!". Crap, what???  Sure enough, the telltale sound of a pissed off rattlesnake was very audible. I'm pretty sure my legs sped up A LOT right then. But we passed the snake without incident, although a little bit more freaked out.

See it? Yikes!! Photo by Jason Frankum

When we got to the third aid station, about 1.3 miles from the timing chip and end of Loop 1, my spirits were up a bit. I felt okay, but not great, but with the first loop almost completed I got the mental boost I needed. Tony and I both agreed, however, that it really wasn't any fun.

Halfway done! Todd is right behind me and Tony is on my right

A quick drop off of our shirts (it was damn hot out there) and my iPod (really, what was the point if I needed to constantly be communicating with my fellow runners?), and off we were onto Loop 2. It took us 2:07 to complete the 9.4 mile loop and I estimated that we'd complete Loop 2 in about 2:30. We planned to do a lot more walking in that second loop. My goal was to complete the race by midnight, and we had 2:38 to get that done. It could be tight, but I thought we had a shot at that. Other than that, my only other goals were to not break anything or get bitten by the pissed off rattlesnake.

The aid stations were such a sweet sight in this race. We'd get a refill of ice into our water bottle, they had plenty of water and perfectly mixed sports drinks (diluted, just the way I like them), a ton of food choices (you have no idea how awesome Coke tastes after 3 hours and a ton of sweating), chairs if we needed to sit down, and the best volunteers I think I've ever encountered (it sure seemed that way). There were times, especially when we pulled a couple 19 minute miles, that it was taking forever to get to the next aid station, but in reality they weren't more than about 3.5 miles apart.

I tried to seriously hurt myself during this loop. I don't remember at this point exactly how far into the loop we were, but I took a pretty bad fall and pulled what I thought was an oblique muscle. After about another mile it loosened up but my back started hurting pretty badly and that pain didn't ease up for the rest of the race. (By Sunday afternoon it was clear I had pulled a lat muscle in my back, not too bad but certainly not pleasant). My third fall and last fall was minor, however, so that's good. Tony joked that I was trying to outdo our friend Kalynn for number of falls (she fell 3 times running the 30K with him last year, but drew blood, so she still wins). He might have also said something about needing to find new, less clumsy running friends.

Mr. Rattlesnake got closer to the trail on this one and I was the lucky one to piss him off and have to warn my running buddies. That rattle sound is terrifying when you know it's about a foot away from you and can't see it. We also encountered Mr. Baby Rattlesnake, who Tony managed to JUMP OVER while on the granite. I didn't see him, and this is a good thing, because my scream would have surely made everyone deaf. Speaking of my awesome running buddies, we picked up some new friends during this second loop, including a really sweet girl named Amy who's run a billion ultras...ahhhmazing, plus we paced a 60k'er for a bit as he started out his second loop (they had 12 mile loops). I actually led for several miles during Loop 2, trying to keep a nice steady pace on the dirt tracks and take it easy over the rocky and hilly parts. I wanted to keep us moving comfortably (ha!) but not overdo it. I also had to concentrate on not taking a wrong turn, which meant I would take my eyes off the trail and then stumble as I looked for trail markers. Did I mention how freaking difficult it is to run in the dark with just a headlamp? We leapfrogged with a couple groups of runners and Amy and I both agreed that we really didn't want the group of ladies to beat us. We had Todd with us for about half of the loop, but he must have felt better because he pretty much was out of sight very quickly after the mid-point aid station. Amy took off with a few miles to go as well.

(Side note: I'm sure Amy beat all the ladies we saw, as she finished 6 minutes ahead of me, but I did manage to pass about 3 or 4 of them in the last mile - yay! She almost caught back up to Todd.)

For the last 5 miles of the race, it was pretty much just survival and trying not to fall and hurt myself. My legs were getting very heavy and keeping my feet up was getting exponentially harder with each mile. I had to will my legs to go over the jutting rocks so I didn't trip. I was hot, but I really do think my hydration was on point during this race. I was so good about consistently taking in water and electrolytes, and even though I felt thirsty I think I got the balance right. Nothing was cramping up. I was just fatigued and getting sore, but it wasn't unbearable and I knew I would finish the race. It would be a slow finish, but my body was going to hold up.

Tony and I continued to repeat over and over, however, our new mantra: "This really isn't any fun." I'm going to pretend that I never heard him say fifty billion times, "Why do I let you talk me into these things?" since it was HIM who told ME last year we would do this race. But really, this wasn't any fun. There were swear words. A lot of them.

The last aid station was such a huge relief. Only 1.3 more miles and we would be done. Most of that last stretch is dirt track, with only a few rocks, and even in the dark we could run entire distance. I looked at my Garmin as we left the aid station. 4 hours, 27 minutes...we had 18 more minutes until midnight. It seems like a lot of time for such a short distance, but I knew Tony was even more fatigued than I was and I'm sure he didn't want to run at all. But I had to do it...I just started running after telling him we needed to run so we could beat 4:45. I don't know if he heard me or cared, but I just ran and didn't stop until I crossed that finish line. I knew that he wasn't behind me anymore, and believe me, I felt really bad. He'd probably be pissed I left him, but then again he'd probably also be pissed if I stayed with him and missed my goal.

I crossed the line at 11:58 pm, 4 hours and 43 minutes into the race (placed 17 out of 46 women). After getting my medal and getting my breath back (heck, my final mile was a blazing 12 min pace (ha!), and sure as heck felt like 9:22) I went back out into the finish chute to wait for Tony. A few minutes passed before I could see his green light off in the distance. He crossed about 6 minutes after me and was completely exhausted....and pissed.

(He later wrote on Facebook "Damn good job finishing that bad bitch of a run." I don't there's a better description out there).

It was done, it was crazy, it was exhausting, it took forever, we were filthy and starving and delirious.

And we didn't have any fun.