Sunday, January 22, 2012

Weymouth Woods 100K Jan. 14th, 2012

I was the first to register for Weymouth Woods 100K a few months ago and at the time, it was just this distant race in the future that I would eventually run. But race day crept up on me until suddenly, it was here! In the days leading up to Jan. 14th, I felt surprisingly calm and ready. I had done New River 50K and three 40 milers (Hinson Lake, Pine Mtn, and a training run) during Sept- Dec. 2011, so I had some good ultra experience under my belt. Weymouth was to be a "dress rehearsal" of sorts for my ultimate goal of the Umstead 100 on March 31st, 2012 and would only be my second time completing the 100K distance. The first time being at Umstead 2011. The only thing that slightly worried me was the weather report which predicted lows in the high 20's and highs during the day in the low 40's. After my DNF (Did Nothing Fatal) at Umstead last year, I am a bit paranoid about hypothermia. So I gathered every bit of warm running clothing I owned and headed to Southern Pines, NC, with my friend Joey Anderson, who was kind enough to swing by and pick me up dark and early on race morning.

When we arrived, I set up my stuff alongside the side walk just after the start/finish of each lap. Comprised of 14 laps of 4.47 miles, the course is a nice set up for trying out a hydration, eating, and gear plan because you can adjust lap by lap if needed. It was in the high 20s at the start but it was clear and the wind from the previous day had died down - thank goodness! I saw several of my running friends at the start and lined up with my training buddy Gene. We started off at 8 AM and entered the wooded trail. The trail loop was a nice mix of roots and packed dirt, sand, pine straw, smooth path, and a few easy hills. There were two aid stations, the main one at the start/finish and a second one half way through the lap. I was not sure how difficult the course would be never having been there before and knowing that it was single track, but I found it very manageable and a lot of fun to run. From the start, we walked every hill, resisting the temptation to keep running when others passed. I knew that it would be a long day and there would be plenty of time to get the job done. My primary goal was to finish within the allowed 20 hours, with no major issues, and feel I could continue if I needed to. My secondary goal was to finish under 18 hours (should be no problem barring any mishaps). Thirdly, I secretly thought I could finish in about 16 hours if I had a great day and ran very well.
Jade Wei, Bob Sites, and me at the start (Photo courtesy of Jim Wei)
Gene and I ran together, talking and enjoying the beautiful cold morning. The first 6 laps went well and we finished those in 6:13:41. We had just started our 7th lap when I saw my husband Chad and our two dogs ahead. They had just arrived after driving from our home in Raleigh. Jim Wei, who was there supporting his wife Jade, and volunteering as roving photographer, had told Chad that he had just missed us at the aid station and pointed out a shortcut to him so he could meet us on the trail. After a quick hello and hug, Chad handed off Amelia, our 9 year old Blue Tick Coonhound, to me and Gene and I continued down the trail. Amelia was excited, yet luckily better behaved than she normally is when running with me. That lap felt like it was my first of the day as I enjoyed watching Amelia experience a brand new place. Somewhere after the second aid station (1/2 way around), a herd of about 8 deer ran across the trail in front of us. Amelia perked up and watched them disappear into the woods, baying loudly. Pretty entertaining if you ask me!
Beginning of the First Lap (Photo Courtesy Jim Wei)
Before I knew it, another lap was done. I handed Amelia over to Chad, got ready to go out again, and then once I was all set to go, took Bogart, our 8 year old lab mix, off his hands . Apparently, Bogart had not been all too happy to be left and had been continuously whining while we were gone.  Bogart, me, and Gene headed off down the trail for our 8th lap. Bogart LOVES to run and he was very happy to join in the fun! Tongue lolling out, he trotted along at a steady pace. Pretty soon, we met up with another of my main running buddies, Bob Sites, and friend and fellow dog lover, Jimbo Plant. The four of us continued on until soon, I found myself and Bogart leaving the others behind as we were thoroughly enjoying our lap. When I reached the second aid station run by Doug Dawkins and Jimmy Ballard, Doug put down a bowl of water for Bogart which he lapped up. I was touched by the consideration Doug showed towards my furry pacer. It was starting to get dark when we finished the lap and I handed off Bogart so I could head inside to change into dry clothes for the night. It took me several minutes and by the time I was finally ready, Gene had arrived and was ready to head back out. Bob, who had lapped us earlier in the day, had gone on ahead. I grabbed my headlamp and we headed back out on the trail as the daylight quickly faded.

Me and Gene having a blast! Really!
This was when the race got interesting and more difficult. It had been cold all day, but the temperature began to quickly drop and it got a bit windy. I have done quite a bit of night running with my headlamp this fall and winter, so I was used to navigating in the dark. Gene and I were still moving pretty well, running easy on the downhills and flats and walking the uphills. I think it was on this 9th lap when I first noticed my right heel was rubbing. I began to think too much about it and got a little whiny. When we completed the lap, I went inside to check my foot and I had a raised three inch area on the inside of my heel. It wasn't a blister just yet, but it ended up being one. I changed my Injinji socks, tightened my laces, took two Ibuprofen (my first and only of the race) and we headed back out. The meds kicked in and I started feeling pretty good again. For the next few laps, Gene and I went at a slow steady pace, but always making forward progress. When I started thinking about the heated seats I would enjoy in the car on the way home, I made myself come back to what I was doing and told myself to enjoy the moment right now. We joked about how these were the days. When we are old and can't run anymore and are sitting in our rockers, we will say "Remember that time at Weymouth Woods running that 100K in the freezing cold and dark? That was so much fun! Now THAT was living!"
We partook of Jimmy and Doug's piping hot grits on laps 9-13. I had butter and salt with mine and they were awesome. At the main aid station, I enjoyed the delicious burgers, quesadilla, and grilled cheese during the cold night laps. At one point late at night, we paused to look up and were rewarded with a clear dark sky and brilliant stars.

Finally, we started on our final and 14th lap. We moved along, excited to be almost done and acknowledging the landmarks we had taken to naming during the day. We relished our last passes through Anita Hill, the Tree of Death, Fudge Mountain, Living on the Ledge, Horse Poop Ridge, Son of a Ditch, and Red Clay Rambler. Gene had named most of them as he had a knack for it. We were about a half mile from the finish when we saw lights up ahead. I heard Jim Wei say "Is that you Lauren?" and I answered it was me. We soon caught Jim, his wife Jade and Carolyn Quarterman. We were maybe a quarter mile from the finish when Jim checked his watch and told us we had three minutes to come in under 17 hours. I had no idea of the time and really no time goal in mind, but when I heard that, I decided I was going to get under 17. Jim told us "If you run like the wind, you can make it." I took off past him, sprinting up the trail with Gene at my heels. I heard Jim hollering behind us and egging us on. After 62.5 miles, I ran as fast as I could up the nastiest part of the course. It was a very rooty steep hill with a few stairs which we had aptly named Stairway to Heaven because the main aid station and the finish of each lap was at the top. I ran hard, concentrating on picking up my feet, not falling and breathing. I shimmied past the bench that had tried to take my hip out all day and then on across the finish line. The clock read 16:59:46 for me and Gene was right behind me. Flo Rida's "Low" began playing on the stereo shortly after and I felt like shaking my booty despite what I had just done. Not sure I could actually get low at the time, but I love that song! Here are the results with splits if anyone is interested:

This is an excellent event. The course offers just enough challenge to make it fun, but not so much to kill ya. I enjoyed the varied terrain of smooth wide path, narrow single track full of roots, sand, boardwalks, bridges, and rolling hills. The aid stations and volunteers are superb, the shirts are nice capilene ones, and the finisher's prizes are cool local pottery. I would definitely do this one again.
Some of the Usual Suspects: Jim, Jade, Carolyn, Gene, me, and Jimbo
What I learned: I need to get in and out of the stops faster. I wasted a lot of time between each lap. The new heel blister issue - not sure what caused it, but it is something to be aware of and try to prevent for Umstead 100.
Me, hubby Chad, and the kids at the finish. (Photo courtesy of Jim Wei)

What went well: I moved well all day and was able to run throughout, even having enough in me to sprint the finish! I stayed warm! No hypothermia here. I didn't fall or hurt myself otherwise. My big toes held up despite my history of having huge blisters on them - The Injinji socks have solved that problem. I drank Gu Brew and water all day and felt great with no hydration issues. I was in a good mood the entire race. Best of all, I felt like I could have continued running.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Pine Mountain 40 Miler Trail Race

Ok, so this is way late (more than a month after the race), but I still have the scars on my right leg so I figure it is fair game and I have a big race coming up this Saturday (Weymouth Woods 100K), so I better write this now or never. Otherwise, I will be TWO race reports behind.

I was considering Table Rock 50 miler as a December training race, but from what I heard, it is mostly gravel and paved road and that did not particularly appeal to me. I thought the pounding would be hard on the legs for 50 miles. Pine Mountain 40 miler is a rugged, all single track race on the Pine Mountain Trail system of FDR State Park in Pine Mountain, Georgia put on by GUTS (Georgia Ultrarunning and Trailrunning Society). My friend and "ultra mentor", Rhonda Hampton, was running it for the 3rd year in a row and invited me to tag along. Plus, I had only raced within a couple of hours of Raleigh in NC and VA, so I thought why not take the opportunity to add a new state? We left Raleigh about 5:00 AM on Saturday, Dec. 3rd since we had about an 8 hour drive. This was the farthest I have traveled to run a race as all the others I have done have been within about a 2 hour drive. We were lucky enough to be able to stay with Rhonda's cousins about 45 minutes from the start instead of having to stay in a hotel room, so we had a nice meal out at Long Horn Steakhouse and then got a decent night's sleep though my legs did feel crampy and I did toss and turn a bit with the normal anxiety of "Will my alarm go off? Did I remember everything? etc."

We left very early Sunday morning and drove the remaining 45 minutes to an hour to the start through what I could tell must be some pretty country despite the dark. We arrived in plenty of time, parked, and picked up our race packet. There was a nice gray fleece hat with "Pine Mountain 40 Mile Trail Race" on it included in the packet. The finishers prizes - attractive fleece pullovers in dark blue for the men or perriwinkle for the ladies were on display. It was well known that the fleeces would only be given to finishers, so this supplied me some extra motivation to make sure I crossed the finish line. I was not going home without that fleece! I spent 8 hours in the car to get there after all.
Approach to climb the stairs to the dam start.
The race started on top of the lake dam at 7:00 AM, just as the sky was beginning to lighten. The lake was all misty and gray and it was perhaps the most beautiful setting for a race start that I have experienced so far. My pictures of the lake did not come out though. It was not too cold at the start, about 45 degrees, perfect running weather!

The race director, Sarah Tynes, said a few words and then we were off, running across the dam and into the woods. I carried a small flashlight with a strap to use for the first few miles since the visibility was still questionable and I wanted to make sure I did not hurt myself so early in the race, knowing I had to make it through 40 miles.

This was Rhonda's 3rd time running Pine Mountain and she had told me that it would be a challenging course. The race website advertises that the course "will test your endurance and your ankles over rocky single-track trails." The website also advises that the trails will be leaf covered and that you should expect to fall. My goal was to finish within the allowed time and not to break anything as it was most important that I be able to continue training for and be able to run Umstead 100 coming up on March 31st, 2012. When it came down to it, Pine Mountain was a training run for Umstead and I had to keep my ultimate goal in mind. The time limit was 10 hours 30 minutes and there were cut offs at 5 of the aid stations/check points beginning at 22.8 miles at the "TV Tower". The course was runnable for the first couple of miles, which was good since it was still dark, but it soon became more difficult. Rhonda and I ran together for while and I even asked her to take a picture of me at a nice overlook within the first few miles. This section was rocky and dropped off to our right, where there was a nice view of the valley below whenever there was a break in the scrubby trees. Rhonda did not want to stop to take a picture and did not let me take her picture, though she did humor me and take mine.

Rhonda takes my picture and loses a minute or two
 Later that day, I would better understand why she did not want to waste the minute or two it took to take my picture. When we started running again, it became apparent that we were stuck in a huge group of about 20 runners and the ones in front were going slower than we would have liked to have gone.
Just before the first aid station at about mile 5, I turned my right ankle and had to pause to catch my breath and walk through the pain. I had turned the same ankle the weekend before during a training run at Pilot Mountain. I was able to keep moving forward and knew the strain would not end my race, but I lost Rhonda and did not catch up to her at the aid station part way up a hill. Having years of ultra experience, Rhonda was efficient and quickly got what she needed and moved on while I was stuck in the midst of this huge group of runners and struggled to get to the table and coolers. I grabbed some potato chips and drank a cup of gatorade and then continued power walking up the hill, feeling frustrated that I was in the group and that I had already hurt my ankle so early in the day.

Here I must confess that "I was winging it" as far as electrolytes go. I had water only in my Nathan hydration vest and I planned to take GU gels every so often, drink a cup of Gatorade at each aid station, and eat whatever was offered that was salty. Not a good plan, I know, but I don't like to put mix in my hydration pack and S caps had not agreed with me in the past and I had not found another alternative. Yadda, yadda yadda...
Anyway, so I started not feeling so well shortly after leaving the first aid station. I felt a bit weak and slightly dizzy and just not right, especially for so early on. Two other competitors, a guy and a girl that were running together in matching outfits, passed me and I mentioned that I did not feel well and they gave me a couple of endurolyte tabs, which did seem to help me feel normal again. Gotta love the kindness of strangers!
I paced myself pretty well for the next few miles running carefully whenever it was downhill or flat and power hiking the uphills. I tripped at some point and sprained my left ankle. Then I did it again! And again! So now I had twisted my right ankle once and my left three times. In hindsight, I should have run whenever I could see the trail instead of my usual run the downhills and flats and walk the uphills since so much of the trail was leaf covered with rocks hidden underneath.
Tornado Damage Looking Across the Valley

Tornado Damage - Trail View
I think it was at about mile 13 or so that we came to a long section damaged by the April 2010 tornadoes - the same ones that caused so much damage here in NC.  The tornado that came through must have been huge because there was so much damage that it stretched across the valley and the trail was completely exposed to the sun. It ended up being quite warm on the way back later. I had taken a few pictures and just commented to another runner about how extensive the damage was and started running along again. The next thing I know, I was on my back off the side of the trail with my head downhill and my feet up hill. It was steep enough that I actually was having trouble getting back on my feet and back on the trail again when the same pair of runners that gave me the endurolytes earlier stopped and gave me a hand - literally - and pulled me back up on my feet. I had sprained my left ankle for the fourth time and banged my right shin pretty well and blood was dripping down it from 3 or 4 spots. I was starting to tear up with the pain and frustration at falling yet again and the girl put her hand on me and asked me my name. I told her and she proceeded to say a prayer to God for him to give me strength and help me not be frustrated, to help me be more surefooted and have a good run for the rest of the day. Now I am not religious at all, and normally I would have found this prayer for me offensive and annoying, but I realized that this was her way of supporting me as a runner and helping me move forward, so I was actually okay with it. I appreciated that she was kind enough to do what she thought was helpful for me.

At some point I caught up to Rhonda and passed her.
Cascade and Falls Section
When I reached the Rocky Point aid station at about mile 18, one of the volunteers told me that the next section of trail would be more runnable. And it was! It felt so good to be able to pick up the pace for a few miles and stretch out my legs after the hours of slow going. It was at about mile 21 that I entered a very pretty but technical section with small falls and pools and many stream crossings. Fortunately, I was able to navigate all the crossings without getting my feet wet. I say fortunately because I didn't really want to find out how my feet would do for 20 miles once wet. There were short stretches where I could carefully run, but much of the trail only allowed for power walking. Though this cascade section was beautiful, I was happy when I got through it and finally reached the TV Tower aid station/first cut off point at 22.8 miles. I was well ahead of the cut off of 5:59 and perked up a bit now that I was more than half way and on my way back. From mile 23 to about mile 33, I ultra-slogged along, covering mile by mile and getting closer to the finish, but starting to feel pretty tired. Somewhere along the way I followed the trail downhill and noticed the leaves were thicker than I remembered. Suddenly, I heard another runner calling to me from above on the ridge saying that I had taken a wrong turn. I was grateful that she had seen me and been kind enough to call out to me. If she had not, who knows how long I would have continued in the wrong direction, farther and farther from the finish. It was lucky timing that another runner was on the trail at that time as I did run by myself with no one in sight for a significant amount of time that day. I climbed back up the hill I had just come down. I estimated that I went about .3 miles extra out of the way.
I fell once more and this time, I twisted my right ankle (again) and scraped my right hand where I tried to catch myself. Twist Tally: Right ankle 2, Left ankle 4!

Shortly after this, I reached the last manned aid station at mile 34.2. My right hand still bleeding, I was in tears again and the volunteers offered to put a band aid on my hand and shin, but I declined as I just wanted to get out of there before I completely broke down. As I ran downhill leaving the aid station, I heard two guys behind me saying something about me like "I don't think we're gonna catch her, she's taking off now" or something like that. It turned out to be a guy named Rob Apple who has completed countless ultras and his friend (can't recall his name). Don't pull up Rob's results on Ultra Sign Up unless you a have several minutes to spare. Rob and his friend were moving well and we ran together just long enough for them to share some encouraging words and cheer me on. They also let me know that the last 3 miles were apparently mostly downhill and much more runnable than the majority of the course. Though they soon pulled ahead of me and I could not stay with them, I latched onto this idea that the last 3 miles were going to be easier and my goal became to make it to the last aid station (2.9 miles before the finish). In this section between the aid stations, I met a couple who was hiking and listening to Pandora on their IPhone. Their blue-grassy music wafted over to me and lifted my spirits a little more. They asked if there was a race and when I told them about it, they wished me luck and offered to take my picture.
Getting close to the finish! 

Soon after this I reached the last aid station (unmanned) and then began the last 3 miles, mostly downhill and runnable as promised. I was able to pick up the pace a lot and ran all of it without walking. I would guess I was running about a 9:30 min/mile at this point. I was tired, but I kept on pushing because I knew I was close to being done. Finally, I could hear the finish and then see the clearing. I ran across the line in 9:54:55, one very tired, beat up, and happy runner!
After I collected my fleece (YES!) and changed into dry clothes, I started watching for Rhonda to come into sight. I was starting to become a little nervous but then I saw her enter the clearing and cross the finish in 10:20:55 with just a little over 9 minutes to spare. We joked later that I would have felt really bad if she had missed the allowed time by the two minutes it took to take my picture in the beginning.

Rhonda and I at the finish. I earned my fleece!

Pine Mountain 40 was definitely a challenging race. The 10 hours I spent on my feet there was good training for the big race in March. Luckily, I did not break any bones! These trails were the toughest I have ever run and I would say compared to 50 miles on Umstead bridle trails as far as the effort required to complete the distance. The event was well run, had nice swag and I would recommend it to any runner who enjoys adventure, loves single track, and wants to push their limits a bit....and doesn't mind a little trail love.

Trail Love!