Monday, February 28, 2011

Rocky Raccoon 50 miler 2011: Lap 1

Heading off from the first aid station..trying to look not too cold!

There are really awesome volunteers all along the course at three aid stations as well as the start/finish area. There is the first aid station (Nature Center) second/third aid station (DamNation Aid Station) and fourth aid station (Park Road) all well stocked with lots of random food and beverages!

Throughout the day the food was refreshed and starting mid afternoon they added sandwiches, soup and lots of other yummy treats.

This is the Dam that both 100 and 50 milers run along for several hundred feet. You can see some frost on the shrubs/bushes along the lake. This was really beautiful.

Unfortunately there also was ice/frost on the boardwalks making it very slippery and dangerous for the runners, many of whom did take spills including one young lady who broke her foot/leg.

The lake also was very beautiful through the morning with mist hovering over it.

Here I am running along the Lake near the start/finish (which is a different finger or even area than the dam we run along).

This section of the lake is the section I invariable fall down on. There are trees that have root balls (?) that stick up far away from the tree ready to trip up any runner.

The entire day was a beautiful day with a picture perfect blue sky. And over the course of the day, the temperature did climb to the 50's, which is pretty nice for running. I would have liked 70's but at least 50's is nice with a few layers on!

Here I am with Kim Sargeants mom. Kim's mom is a mainstay at this race and I have seen her every year (and of course I have seen Kim each year as well).

Kim's mom is so sweet and mom had met her and they had hung out for quite some time during my first Rocky Raccoon 50 miler.

It is so cool the Kim's mom is so encouraging and supportive of Kim. It reminds me of my mom who I do miss terribly, particularly during this race since this was the last time I saw & interacted with my mom.

The Race: Lap 1

Pretty soon there was an announcement that the race was starting within 5 minutes. Yikes, socializing sure does make time fly! I started as far back as I could then realized this might not help in my goal of 9:30. So I moved forward a bit. As I moved forward I heard my name “Tammy”. It was Tammy (the other one, not my split personality). We chatted for just a moment then gun went off. And that is when I saw Don Lister’s wife (her name escapes me now as it did then…and yet I have spent hours with her!) I got a picture then started moving forward. At that time I mentioned to my friend Tammy I need to get a pair of handwarmers. She had a spare pair and gave me hers. How sweet! I will need to add handwarmers to my packing list because it was nice to have the first few hours when it was really cold.

I realized I needed to move forward to get into the pace I wanted to run so I scampered pretty quickly. I knew the first few hundred meters the course was wide and had no hazards. Once I got onto the trail I had to be responsible and pass with care. I continued to be pretty far back (easily in the 75th percentile). I know that I will fall in behind slower runners and just coast. But that is not going to get a quick time although it will get a finish. Today I had goals!

Running along the sun started coming up. I was being very cautious about roots and to run within my ability. The first boardwalk was super icy and I realized I could easily run alongside and get to the same place. Thus I chose alternate routes around boardwalks when I could. Sadly there were many boardwalks that were over streams, marshy area’s or over area’s of thick forest/shrubbery. When I did get forced to cross boardwalks, I crouched down, spread my hands out and waddled very slowly. But I did not fall! And that is all that is important.

As I ran along I was passing runners who might have gone off to quickly. It is easy to do with all the energy and excitement. In fact I was a little distressed about my speed but the runners were so bunched up that I wanted to find some clear space. I know that falling on this course is a fairly common occurrence so I figured I needed to get into a good sized gap where I would have 5-10 feet ahead of me and 5-10 feet behind me. It is easy for runners to take out other runners when to crowded. And if you are the faller you can easily get a kick in the face if you are tailgaiting.

Soon I was running past the first aid station. I love the aid stations at Rocky. They have such enthusiasm and energy. But I needed to keep moving. A quick cup of heed and soda and I was off. I did not grab any food as I had just finished a biscotti about 30 minutes before the race and I knew the next aid station was in just a few miles.

Heading out I was excited to recall that the next sections had fewer roots to trip me up. And some switchbacks which I like. This section I expected to see the front runners. In fact the front runners had passed by the time we got here. They were all haulin! But the runners we saw were a mixture of super speedy runners as well as some early starters. Regardless they were 15 or so miles into their race and were all looking strong.

Approaching the DamNation Aid Station I was thrilled to see my friend Mike Potter from Across the Years. After a quick hug, I headed to the aid station to grab a cup of heed and some soda. I was feeling really good and I wanted to stay that way with sufficient beverage and munchies. After just a few minutes, I headed back onto the course continuing to run 10-11 min/miles. This was a pace I found was challenging but manageable. I was feeling great and was happy.

The section from DamNation to DamNation is a pretty quick 2-3 mile segment. The majority of this segment is on very runnable jeep road followed by a bit of single track and even a wide earthen dam. I was running along with a group of other runners. They were a mix of experienced ultra-marathoners as well as new ultra runners. The conversation was flowing and the pace comfortable. In fact it was too comfortable, so I moved on ahead. Although this section did have a few fits and starts with moving ahead. There was one long bridge where I lost all the time I gained and then a long visit at the Damnation Aid Station had me back behind my friends. But alas they were running a steady 12 min/mile pace. I realized this was not the pace I was looking for considering I tend to loiter a lot at aid stations and am not the most efficient self crewer (even with lots of stuff in my fanny pack!). I was a bit bummed to move forward from this group of runners since it meant I was alone having to set my own pace. Sometimes I feel like the horses at VT100 where it is a lot easier to fall in behind slower runners and just enjoy life. But then I realize that I have a whole bunch of friends nudging me along in spirit so I pick up the pace when I find my pace slowing.

Along the dam, the 50 milers rejoin the 100 milers who are about 14 miles in their race. The 100 milers had a 1 hour start on us so we are all running a moderately similar pace. But the 100 milers are also fairly spread out by this time. While I can see a bunch of 100 milers well ahead and when I glance back there are other 100 milers but there seems to be a lull of runners.

In just a bit, my DamNation Aid station visit is pretty quick the second time around. I refill my bottle drink a bit more and eat more then continue on. I know half the battle of ultra’s from my perspective is keeping watered and fed. After a quick thanks I head off. The next segment I am not overly fond of but I don’t despise like the rooty section near the start/finish. This section is a significant amount of jeep road (which I like) but also has several fairly long hills (which I do not like). But it goes pretty quickly. This is where I ultimately lose my friends and actually remain pretty well alone for 15-20 miles. I do chat with a variety of runners but some are too fast and some are too slow. I feel like goldilocks because there is no one who is “just right”. And I know I need to run my own race since this is an ultra and I really want to finish in 9:30.

As I run along it is warming up nicely. But that just means I am starting to be comfortable in my two pairs of pants, and 6 tops and even pair of pink moeben sleeves as well as thick hat and gloves (yes I know I’m pathetic!). Seeing other runners on the course with singlets and shorts is shocking, I won’t even consider taking off my layers down to my skirt and tank until nearly 70 degrees (and I have not even done any heat training which changes this threshold to about 80 degrees!).

Running along I am feeling strong and happy. But my knee is a bit tender and my ankle is sort of throwing a fit. My knee is a chronic issue and I know I just have to run through it, but my ankle has been getting more painful since JFK50 and my shin splints as well as after my Boston Qualifying time at Arizona. This bums me out a bit but both problems are manageable so far by just ignoring them. I try to be extra cautious about where I put my feet so I land solidly each step but I am moving to quickly to pay too much attention and my contacts really are only about 80-90% effective. This means everything is a bit blurry/shadowy. I really should have picked my parents better because this issue is caused by a severe astigmatism, which both my parents have/had. My old strategy is to follow other runners and see where they place there feet and plant my feet exactly where they do, but alas I am running stag. Oh well, so far I am moving pretty effortlessly and I am happy.

Hearing lots of noise and seeing some folks in the distance I realize I am approaching the final aid station before the start/finish. This year they are Jimmy Buffett themed which is cool. They all have Hawaiian lei’s so it is like I am back with my people. They are all so nice and it is great to get a few hugs. But I am a girl with a mission so after a quick bottle refill and some food and drinks, I head off.

It’s back to my least favorite part of the course. The part where I always trip and fall. I love the views of the lake (not that I see them, but I get to see them after when I look at my pictures) but alas I am not able to appreciate these views as I am too busy try to detect a difference between shadows and root balls.

The boardwalks are still a bit icy so I run alongside each of the boardwalks. Earlier in the race I would “crabby-across” with my arms out, and feet apart going very slowly but here it is simply easier to avoid the boardwalks. One place I get a bit caught up in a vine but am able to dislodge myself. Since this area is less than 3 miles from the start/finish, the trail is getting crowded with runners heading back on the course for their second lap. I am delighted to see friends who are running both races. It is starting to be a beautiful day with bright sunshine, rising temps and the course (other than the boardwalks) are super fast. This year unlike last I do not have to scamper hundred of feet to keep my feet neat, tidy and dry! And since there was only a light dusting of snow, I do not expect the course to become muddy and sloppy.

I am excited when I veer away from the lake. So excited I almost take a wrong turn (or I should say go straight when I should take a correct turn). It is a sharp turn and once I re-right myself I head into the final stretch. We get close to the street and I know I should be getting to the start/finish within about 10 minutes. I am really excited. I will be setting a PR for my lap time. And I am feeling really strong. Maybe too strong.

In my mind I make a checklist of what I might need to do at the aid station. I need to eat and drink and refill my bottle but I also need to make some wardrobe adjustments. I have 2 pairs of pants but am thinking I can live with just one. I have 5 upper body layers but think it I can take off one layer and I can untie one of my layers from my waist. I also know I need to get my visor and my sunglasses. It is really bright out.

As I head into the aid station I am excited to see my first lap is under 3 hours!! I know a sub 9 hour 50 miler is unrealistic but I am really pleased with this time and feel it bodes well for my goal of sub 9:30. A few quick treats including some soda, M&M’s, pretzels and a handful of cookies I am happy. I see my friend Shannon Farar-Griefer who is running the 100 miler. I have met her several times and love her moeben sleeves! In fact my favorite pair is a pair of daisy themed arm warmers (and matching skirt) that I won at the Western States 100 miler lottery this past December. But since this is not a “big race” I am not wearing these (like my silver sparkeley fanny pack certain other items only show up for 100 milers). We chat briefly but then I have to self-crew and deal getting stuff in and out of my drop bag.

As I am debating what to do I actually decide I may not be the ideal decision maker. I am standing next to a gentleman who I ask, “should I take off my pants?” I am not sure this was an appropriate ice breaker but I was a little worried that I would get cold. After a brief discussion we decide my pants are coming off. He was very nice and helped steady me while I did this. Then I take off my upper layer, untie my layer around my waist and take out my sunglasses and visor. Now my flower-inesss is complete. It is time to start lap 2!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Rocky Raccoon 50 miler 2011: Before the race

With my friends & ultramarathoners: Maryann and Deborah--a mini-reunion from Across the Years.

Deborah, like I was running the 50 miler while our friend Maryann was volunteering at the aid station.

I was lucky enough to see both Deborah and Maryann along the course several times. This time our weather ultimately was a lot better than Across they Years (although I believe both Deborah and Maryann were second day starters so did not have to deal with the EPIC Phoenix weather).

BEFORE the Race

The weekend of Feb 5, 2011 I ran the Rocky Raccoon 50 miler in Huntsville Texas north of Houston Texas. It was my third time running this race and as usual was a great deal of fun! I have developed so many friendships over the past years with the volunteers, runners and do enjoy running the trails in Huntsville State Park.

The last time I interacted with my mom was at this race my first time in 2009. I have a feeling I will be returning to this race for many years because during the race I feel a strong connection with her. My laps tend to be very emotional since I know my mom would be thrilled about how greatly I have improved in running since she saw me. But at the same time it is sad she is not here to share these great moments with me. I know she would be so proud and excited.

Recently it seems like getting to races has been harder than the race itself because of awful weather. At Across the Years, my departure city near Washington DC was the problem but this time the race site: Houston was the issue. My Friday morning flight was cancelled Thursday afternoon. Ugh! But being aware of this issue I was quickly able to get an evening flight. And then I even upgraded to an mid-morning flight so I only arrived 5 hours after my original arrival time.

After picking up my rental car I headed up to Huntsville. Because the roads were icy I took my time and luckily my friend Tammy had agreed to pick up my packet. She even graciously dropped this off at the hotel room (which she would be using Saturday night). Oddly enough while we were chatting we saw our friend Peter from Virginia as well who was planning his first attempt at the Rocky Raccoon 100 miler. At some point our conversation brought up essential equipment and it came up that he had left his gaiters at home. It was his lucky day as I had a spare pair of gaiters. Granted they were pink leopard print, but they were gaiters! Since Tammy had to eat dinner and Peter needed to shop for items (including Velcro for his new pink gaiters), they both headed off. I made use of this by getting ready for bed and going to sleep early.

I got up about 5 a.m., but it felt like 6 a.m. (oh yeah it was for me, yippee Central Time Zone). I put in my contacts, got dressed and ensured my fanny pack was properly supplied. I was bundled up in 7 layers on top, 3 on the bottom with hat, glove and neck gaiter. It was bitterly cold! I grudgingly headed to my rental car and drove to the race start. My race does not start until 7 a.m. but I want to see the start of the 100 mile. I end up with a moderately bad parking spot, which is a bumer. But alas I have time to walk to the start and my legs will be okay after the finish is my personal pep talk.

I see the runners congregating and chat with a few folks. Then I head out on the course so I can see the runners as they cross the first street (about 200 meters into the race). Once the race starts, I cheer for folks. “Wahoo”, “Way to go!” and “Looking Strong” are cheers I use. I consider only 99.99 miles to go but that is just taunting. As the runners go by I see my friend Peter. Sadly he did not make the early start. I also see and wave to several other friends. It is dark so it is kind of hard to spot folks but I feel my civic duty of cheering is complete. After the final runners pass by, I go to the race start to check in. I see a few friends and chat briefly but I need to go to my car to drop off a few layers. And I want to use the real restroom for one last potty break in a real bathroom. Oh, the simple pleasures.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Quick Summary of My Rocky Raccoon 50 miler

Here I am before the start of Rocky Raccoon 50 miler in Huntsville Texas. This is a super well organized 50 and 100 miler about 60 miles north of Houston, TX in Huntsville State Park.

This past weekend I ran my third Rocky Raccoon 50 miler. It was great fun and a huge success for me. Although this was after an auspicious start in which the second time in 3 trips that my flight was cancelled. Luckily I did make it to Houston only a few hours after my original flight time.

A few highlights of my race include:

1) I finished the race in a new 50 miler PR time of 9:30!! This was 20 minutes faster than my previous 50 miler (Rocky Raccoon 50 last year)

2) My camera DNF-ed twice on the course. But luckily I carry multiple batteries (and memory sticks) just in case I go nuts taking pictures during a race. I think my camera's DNF was caused by the cold since the battery needed replacing twice.

3) I have a mystery injury on my right hand. I hit my photographing hand on something about mile 20 in the race but I don't remember what. I definitely remember some incident and being really surprised that a hand injury occurred during the race. But I cannot remember what it was, Yikes!

Even worse photography hand is the same hand and movement that is involved in taking off caps off bottles. Volunteering overnight I did alot of this. I was in pain but tried to be tough!

Because it was still swollen and painful today (3 days after the race) I went to an orthopedist. It is just bruised.

4) I should not eavesdrop! I was at an aid station refueling and two young ladies were talking about a race. They mentioned something along the lines of "only seen a mountain lion 2 or 3 times". My jaw dropped and apparently the look of horror on my face was priceless. I was ready to rip off my bib and hand it in (if only my right hand was working!).

Luckily upon making eye contact they realized I thought they were talking about Rocky Raccoon. Quickly they said there were no mountain lions on the course. Then they joked that they needed to correct that statement as they had heard there was a cougar relocation program at Huntsville State Park. They had released a few cougars to make the runners go faster. It cracked me up!

I will write more of my experience.