Tuesday, January 7, 2014

One Epic Run

Let's see if I can back up and retrace my steps for One Epic Run 24 hour race which took place Dec 7th at Croft State Park/Spartanburg, SC. (Photo credit: Viktor Trukov and Stephanie Moore).

I originally signed up for this race with the base goal of completing the marathon distance (26.2 miles), but quickly decided I was going all in and declared my intention to complete 50 kilometers (31 miles). Go big or go home is my motto.

My long time running buddy, Ashley, had planned to run with me as my "pacer" (more or less just to keep my in line and keep me motivated). But she came down with the flu a couple days before. So I made the trek to Spartanburg solo.

I got to the park about an hour early and found some familiar faces pretty quickly. After some mingling with friends, we gathered around the starting area. I took my spot in back of the pack, and we were off. The race started with a loop around the camping area in an attempt to thin out the crowd before entering the trail.

It was pretty congested for the first mile or so and had to walk a great deal in the beginning, so it was impossible to get into a good groove. I ran with Amy for the first two laps. The first lap around she pointed out some of the landmarks around the loop such as the graveyard and the firing range.

The weeks leading up to the race I did a lot of research obsessing over what to expect out of this course. I read every race report I could find, analyzed the elevation chart, and watched a YouTube video of the trail, but I still could not get a good feel for what was in store. Some people were telling me it was pretty challenging (as in some of the tougher loops at USNWC) and some were telling me it was easy peasy. After the first two loops, I came to the conclusion that the (slightly longer than) 5k loop was somewhere in between. There were some climbs that I would typically run with moderate effort on a normal day, but would choose to walk if I hoped to survive to see 50k. The weather also played a big part in the difficulty. The trail was sloppy, slippery, and muddy and the downhill sections were particularly difficult for me. With the questionable state of my knees, I needed to be super cautious and not bomb down these slick hills.
The end of the loop was pretty wretched hill and it took it's toll on me throughout the day. Despite having to walk that stupid hill every loop, I would run the last little bit to the end of the trail.....at least it looked like I had been running the whole time. I'm sure this act fooled no one! 
Finishing a lap, coming into the aide station
The first three laps were pretty uneventful, but my right knee (usually the "good" one!) started complaining. I eventually stopped and swapped my knee strap to the right knee and that seemed to help things temporarily. I ran the majority of this race alone, which was just fine by me. After each loop I would make a pit stop at the aide station, which was stocked with everything and more (even bacon)! Angela (the RD) did an excellent job covering all the food bases. I started off with eating my usuals...PB&J, gels, coke. After a while, I had to switch to salty foods.

During one pit stop, I noticed a bunch of sharpie marks on someone's forearm to count the laps. Like a little kid, I thought to myself "I wanna do it toooooo!" So I grabbed the sharpie and promptly marked off my laps. Little did I know that this would become an important motivator to keep me going. Knowing I would get to scribble another mark on my arm after each lap gave me a visual indicator of how much I had done and how much more I had to do.

Most of my memories of Epic are a mash up of clips and snippets of events. I remember getting a little boost of energy every time I would pass Mark's little girl (who was serenading us with Christmas carols). At one point, I spotted a pink My Little Pony along the trail (which, at the time I thought I had hallucinated). The booming of big guns as I passed the firing range. Meeting two beautiful German Shepherds who were keeping their owners company during their run. Being passed by one grumpy, rude runner who will remain nameless. The nice mountain biker who was patching up a huge mud hole with pine straw and bark for us.

Somewhere around the 15ish mile mark, is my normal slump time. Rich was at the aide station at this point, and decided to join me for the next lap in an attempt to perk me up. I was in a bad bad place mentally and physically and it would have been difficult for anyone to pull me out of that funk. I decided I needed to be alone after that lap and quietly snuck away. But before I exited stage left, Angela suggested I try a pickle. That pickle was a gift from God! I perked up pretty quickly after eating that magical slice of goodness. I must have been a little sodium depleted as the salty goodness settled my stomach right away. I wanted to grab the jar and guzzle down the pickle juice but came to my senses and opted to scarf down another pickle instead.

Lap 9 was pretty painful. My knee was killing me, my energy was running on fumes, I was ready to be done! I suddenly realized that I was almost at the marathon mark. It was a surreal moment. Here I was about to complete a marathon, but there was no one around, no fan fare, no congratulations. Just me, alone in the woods.

I joined up with a guy somewhere along that lap and we ended up leap frogging each other for a mile or so. I would catch him on the uphills as my long legs would power walk up the incline, and he would re-pass me as he bombed down the hills. Eventually we got tired of the back and forth and we decided to just stick it out together, in sync, for the rest of the lap as we were both hurting pretty badly.

FINALLY....my 50k lap was coming up. I had wanted to be alone the entire day, but I needed someone I knew with me for this last lap....someone to witness me reach my goal. A familiar face was standing around, being lazy, doing nothing, so I drug this poor soul back out with me. I don't remember much about the last lap. At one point I was on the verge of tears because it felt like my knee was being ripped in two. I was whimpering to myself with each step, hoping I wasn't doing so aloud. I'm sure my pace was just above a painfully slow death march. I hope this wasn't pure torture for my companion to have to follow behind me. I was anxiously eyeballing my Garmin every few minutes, waiting for the 31 mile mark. Finally I hit the 31.1 mark and I stopped dead in my tracks and briefly took in the moment....only to be interrupted when he told me "keep going, it doesn't count until you finish the lap" Thanks for ruining the moment dude (haha), but I was really glad to have someone I knew around to share that moment with. I completed 10 loops at 7 hours 49 minutes....a long damn time to run!
10 marks...10 laps...31 miles
As I made my way to the aide station after that lap, I spotted pizza and made a beeline towards the table. I gobbled down at least four pieces without a second thought. It. was. delicious!

Again, there is a huge hole in my memory, but it was getting dark....and cold, and at some point I decided to change into some warm dry clothes. I pulled up a chair beside Angela, Rich, Tim, and Patrick next to the time clock and began to doze off briefly. I had never run trail at night and was adamant that I do at least one night time lap. So I forced myself to wake up and grab my headlamp and attempt one night time lap. It was not fun....it was actually a little scary. Not because I am a little girl afraid of the dark, but because I did not trust my shaky legs on slick trails, with limited visibility. I tried to navigate in the front but I got a little motion sick for some reason. I decided to follow and I focused on the reflective spots on the backs of the shoes in front of me. One night time lap was enough for me.

We all sat by the finish/time clock area for a while, eating grilled cheese/bacon sandwiches, slurping down delish chicken noodle soup, listening to Tim's horrible music selection, and there may or may not have been adult beverages around. Sometime around midnight I decided to try to get some sleep. Which meant I would be sleeping in my car. I do not recommend car camping in a Volkswagen Passat. No bueno, not comfortable. I somehow managed 4-5 hours of sleep and woke up to fogged up windows.

I hobbled like a stiff old lady to the aide station where they were cooking pancakes. I ate 4 or 5 pancakes and 2 or 3 nutty buddy bars. Ultra running has made me a pig! It was around 8 a.m. by then. I wanted to run a couple more laps, but knew I didn't have time, and did I want to push myself and risk injury?.....not really. So I called it a day with 11 laps (34.1 miles...35 miles by my Garmin) for my first attempt at One Epic Run. I call that a pretty good day.

I knew I had a lot more in me. I had kept the idea of 50 miles in the back of my mind, and I think I could have done it. Three things stopped me though...#1 running at night was too risky for me personally. I could have logged several loops before going to "bed" and #2 I spent far too long at the aide stations. My actual moving pace was pretty decent, but I did a lot of dilly dallying around wasting time stuffing my face, and #3 I slept too late. I should have gotten back out there at sunrise if I had any chance of making 50 miles. The overall winner, Rob Ducsay finished with 93 miles. Wow! Check out this video, courtesy of Mark Connolly to get a taste of the events of the day.

Final thoughts: This was an excellent intro to ultra running! Epic will always and forever have a special place in my heart since it was my first ultra distance run, and such a kick ass event! Angela (RD) did a phenomenal job taking over RDing duties for this race. I can't think of a single thing to change. I recommend this race to all runners of any level. Because it's a 24 hour race, you can run as much or as little as you like. And you don't have to be an ultra runner, or even come out with the goal of running an ultra. It was one big awesome running party! I got to hang out with some old friends and met a lot new ones. One Epic Run will have a permanent spot on my race calendar!

I was pretty exhausted when I finally got home. Between running 34 miles and car camping, I took a well deserved nap.

The End.
Sleeping Beauty. HA!
My badass bling!

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