Monday, January 6, 2014

Harbison 50K

Race reports are not my favorite thing to write (or to read to be quite honest). They are often long and chock full of mundane details. This one is no different, but the details are necessary to tell the full story. I'll try to keep you entertained with pictures, courtesy of Brian Guzik and Viktor Trukov.

I'm jumping a little ahead of myself with this race report. I have yet to write the race report for One Epic Run back in December. But for those that know me will agree, I have a pretty foggy best. So I'd better write my thoughts for Harbison ASAP before they disappear into thin air.

Before Epic I didn't understand how some runners allowed themselves to sign up for ultras for back to back months....risking burnout and injury. After Epic, I knew I was hooked on ultra running, and discovered how that happens. Almost immediately, I began scanning through the Ultrasignup calendar. I had eyeballed Harbison 50K before I decided on Epic, but never once considered doing them both. Two ultras within a month of each other? My body was feeling pretty worn down, my knees hurt, it was a dumb idea. Angela (RD for Epic) insisted I should signup, which ignited a desire to throw caution to the wind. I watched the remaining spots dwindle down to just 6 left. I finally caved into the peer pressure and pulled the proverbial trigger and signed myself up for another dang ultra.

Originally, Angela and I were going to just make the drive to Columbia the morning of the race, which meant we would be departing around 4 a.m. Thankfully we changed our minds when Angela had the bright idea to go down the night before. As an added bonus, another friend Jessica would be joining for this adventure!

So we loaded up and made the the trip to Columbia Friday night. SOMEBODY (ahem...Tim and David!) had the bright idea to go to Hooters for dinner because it was close to the hotel. I think us girls were worried #1 are hot wings and buffalo chicken sandwiches a good idea for our prerace meal? #2 most importantly, the beer selection was going to suck! But, against our better judgement, we went anyway.

We made our way back to the hotel, full of crappy bar food, and even crappier beer. The temps were originally supposed to be pretty mild. However when race day rolled around, the forecast was about 10 degrees colder than we anticipated. Us girls were a little conflicted on our wardrobe choices. I opted for my trusty Salomon skirt, my new "just run ya'll" t-shirt, arm sleeves, and a light Brooks jacket...knowing I would ditch the Brooks jacket within the first 30 minutes. My knees have bothered me since Epic and have had to go back to using my knee sleeves on both knees. I was conflicted as to whether I should wear them or not, as they irritate the backs of my knees. Did I want to deal with horrible chafing or horrible knee pain? I opted for knee pain, as the decision maker was purely based on the fact I would look like I was running in thigh highs.

Not a good look, is it? HOT mess!
We got to the race site before sunrise, with plenty of time to check in, deposit our drop bags, hit the porta jons, and socialize. It was quite frigid with the cold humid air. We huddled around a lone propane heater in a futile attempt to get warm.
Me and Jessica
Viktor, Irina, Me, Jessica, and Angela
Angela, me, and Jessica

170ish shivering runners (correct me if I'm wrong) congregate at the starting line. I spotted a few crazies without shirts and a couple in running sandals. My legs were beet red and burned with every step, I can't imagine how they felt! The start was pretty uneventful. We started out on a wide gravel road with a slight incline.

I ended up sticking with Angela and Jason. It was going to be a long day and I was glad that we soon settled into a nice comfortable pace.

Disclaimer: This is where my memory starts getting a little spotty and things start running together.

The course was well marked. Had I run this race alone, I think I could have navigated along pretty well. The volunteers were awesome, and the aide stations were very well stocked with everything I needed, food wise. I probably could have gotten away without my pack and certainly did not need my drop bags.

Within the first three miles, I knew my knees were taking a nosedive. I wore my usual knee strap on my left knee...the one that gives me the most trouble. However, the right knee was the one misbehaving at this point. Thankfully I was smart enough to put one of my knee sleeves in my pack. I had my other one in a drop bag, but it was at the later aide station. So, at the first aide station, I did the smart (although not fashionable) thing and wrestled the stupid sleeve onto my knee. My knee felt pretty good after that, and it would stay quiet for several more miles.

I had packed my iPod, but I would not be needing it this day. The miles started flying by as Angela, Jason, and I chatted. One of the things I LOVE most about ultras is the people. I have met so many new people and collected several new friends. I was in good company this day and it made my time in the woods so much more enjoyable....and would become a welcome distraction during the suffering of the last miles. As the my Garmin alerted each passing mile, Angela would chime in with a WOO HOO! That would make me chuckle a little every time, even at the very last mile. Thanks for keeping me smiling Angela!
Still smiling

I was mentally prepared for a pretty tough course. But I was pleasantly surprised that it was not as brutal as I had imagined. There were some challenging areas for sure. The first half of the loop was pretty tame.....small rolling hills, well groomed stretches with few rocks or roots, no real extreme downhills (which my knees were thankful for). We power walked most of the infamous Spiderwoman trail, but it was not a major climb. Despite the challenge, this was one of my favorite parts of the trail. After the climb, we were rewarded with a spectacular view of the Broad River.

The trail was a good mix of single track and fire road, and this was a two loop course. There were one or two little creek crossings, but you could easily hop over them (at the end I just barreled through the water because I didn't have the energy to "hop"). The three of us took turns leap frogging positions in our little conga line and we kept a pretty even pace.

I was pleased that I did not spend much time dilly dallying around at the aide stations. I would scarf down a pickle, chips, and some coke and was on my way. Again, the volunteers were awesome, and there were plenty of them to take care of anything we needed.

Somewhere around the middle of the race, I went against one of my rules and decided it was time to take some ibuprofen. I may be over dramatic, but the nurse in me worries about my kidneys when I run long distances and ibuprofen is notoriously harsh on your renal system. I actually never carry ibuprofen, but this day I did because I had a feeling my knees would become very angry, to the point that I would consider dropping out. I guess the risk of DNF was worse than risking kidney damage.

My knees felt fabulous about a two miles later, but my stomach was beginning to feel not so fabulous. No matter what I did from that point on, my stomach got progressively worse. I'm not sure if it was coincidence that things went south in the GI department after the dose of ibuprofen, or something else went wrong such as a depleted sodium level. Whatever it was, it was bad. I never vomited, but I wanted to. At one point it, I would get nauseous when I walked and it felt better to run. But I had to give into walking the hills. I was furious with my tummy because I felt great otherwise. Stupid stomach!

Despite feeling wretched, I was still having a good time. At one point I thought to myself "this is going by too fast, I'm having too much fun for it to end so soon!" I would be changing my tune in the last miles.

The second loop around was quite different for me for some reason. I was seeing a lot of things that I didn't remember during the first loop such as HUGE freakin houses that lined the edge of one section of the trail, and a few HUGE fallen trees across the trail that were chopped in half. We joked a little about how non observant I am. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon for me. I am a pretty oblivious runner.

My Garmin was getting close to the 30 mile mark, yet we all felt like we were much farther from the finish. My Garmin chimed the 30 mile mark as we passed a gentleman that informed us we had just 2 miles left. WHAT??!! TWO MILES??!! I was mentally devastated. My stomach was in knots at this point, ready to heave the gel, pickles, coke, chips, and magical pork rinds (thanks Angela!) that I consumed throughout the day. Surely this old man was playing a cruel joke on us. I know trail mileage is never 100% accurate, you can often expect a race that is a little too long or too short (hell, the distance of my own race that I direct is off too). Regardless of this knowledge, I wanted to cry. The 31 mile alert chimed, still no where near the finish. I looked at my Garmin every minute or so from that point on, hoping we would see the finish soon. But we continued to chug up the, what seemed like, endless fireroad.

Finally we made a left turn and the volunteer told us we had just 1/4 mile left. I wanted to stop and hug and kiss him, but that would have been creepy.  Instead, I just kicked it into the highest gear I had left, which was just above a slow jog at that point. I finally saw the finish line, and David (the RD) was waiting for me, arms outstretched holding a medal, ready to put over my neck. That was one of the best feelings in the world!
I didn't have a time goal in mind for this race. My MO was just finish! However, I was pretty pleased with our finish time 7:20 for 32.17 miles. Placing 101 out of 144 finishers. Giving me a 65.76% ranking on I'm not quite sure what that percentage means, but I'm pretty sure it will become important to me because I am completely obsessed with numbers.

So, my final thoughts on Harbison 50k....I am SO glad I decided to do this race. It was a very well organized race on a beautiful, challenging but manageable, course. There were lots of first time ultra finishers, and technically this was my first ultra distance race. This will definitely be on my calendar for next year.

But the most important outcome of this race is that I was able to prove to myself that I am tougher and have a willpower that I never thought I was capable of. I used to be one to give up on everything I ever started. People ask why I go to these physical extremes with running, triathlons, and now ultras. I do it to remind myself that no matter how painful things get, I can accomplish anything I put my mind to.

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