Sunday, January 29, 2012

First-Ever Trail 50k -- Not Exactly Like 50k on the Road

Desire to complete blog while memory of event is still fresh is warring with rapid onset food coma caused by eating entire pizza plus leftover pasta from Sally plus all those hummus/turkey tortillas I ate after today's run; we'll see which one wins!

I've done ONE 50k on the road, and it was when I was skinny and fast pre-San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon, so I wasn't expecting a miracle here. But neither was I expecting it to be quite this bad. I've been doing better on trails (faster, stronger) lately, and was actually kind of excited to do this TTR 50k run up in the Catalinas, because as March looms closer the number 50, as in miles in the Old Pueblo 50 that I signed up for in a moment of insanity, is looming larger in my brain. And 31, the number of miles in a 50k run, is a lot closer to 50 than 26, the number of miles in my previous longest training run. Plus, this was a MOUNTAIN 50k. It started at about 5000 feet, then went down to 4000, then back up to 4900 or so, then back down to about 3900, then slowly up to about 4600, then down again to 4200, then the whole thing again -- in reverse. So this was going to be an all-day trail run, the toughest I've done ever in my whole life.

My training schedule had me doing a 50k this weekend anyway, so it was a happy coincidence that the TTR 50k was scheduled for this weekend. MUCH nicer in my opinion to do a long trail run with other people and aid provided on course than to do it by myself. The run started at 7:00 up at Mile 7 or so of Catalina Highway. It had been nice and warm -- mid-40's -- at my house, but up in the mountains it was windy, very windy. Sarah, the Run Director, looked prepared for a very long day. The course sounded pretty easy to follow -- a couple miles down to Molino campground, across Catalina Highway and up to the saddle, down the other side to the stock tank, left at the stock tank, a couple more very important turns that were either lefts or rights depending on who was talking, then 4 miles to the aid station, then another 2 miles to the turnaround, then do the whole thing in reverse.

I started off wearing shorts, long-sleeved shirt with light jacket over it, and gloves; got rid of the gloves at Mile 2 and the jacket at Mile 4. Everything was going fine -- we flew down the first couple miles of downhill, then speed-walked up the mile of uphill, then had another glorious descent of almost 1000 feet, then had a nice, gradual many-miles-long uphill (of which I still walked a significant portion -- ostensibly because I wanted to save my legs but really because I just felt fat, tired, and sore). I ran with Kathy and Lisa until Mile 9, when Lisa got to turn around because she only had to run for 3 1/2 hours. We were slightly jealous but still feeling pretty good so not too upset. I ran off and on with Kathy up till Mile 25 -- she would leave me behind on the uphills, and I would pass her on the downhills. At Mile 26 she passed me for good and finished strong, while I -- but I'll get to that later.

I was feeling pretty good when we got to the aid station at Mile 13. And what an aid station! This was the place where the trail intersected a dirt road, so cars could drive in. Pete and Ross were there with an amazing buffet of ultra-runner food: chips, pretzels, Nutter Butters, Oreos, PB&J tortillas, sodas, Powerade, water, and other goodies. Kathy and I had been fantasizing about the aid station for the past 4 miles. Talk about a sight for sore eyes. Those people are certainly going to heaven for bringing that stuff out there to feed us. We both stuffed our faces. I wanted something carbonated so bad I grabbed a Pepsi and chugged it down. Kathy had a Red Bull and a Powerade. We both speculated on whether it was a good idea to guzzle that stuff so fast, and decided we would find out and even if it turned out not to be a good idea, it was worth it because it tasted so good. One thing I love about distance running is that it turns ordinary food into something delicious and amazing, like food from the gods. I would have paid $20 for that Pepsi and thought it was cheap at that point in the run. (I also noticed at the aid station that I had only had about 20 oz of my 70 oz of water that I brought with me, hardly anything. That may or may not have been a factor in later suckiness.)

We ran the two remaining miles out to the turn-around and then turned around and ran back. The two miles had been downhill so the next two were uphill. I was fine for about a mile, then, all of a sudden, I felt BAD. Kathy passed me and kept going. I took a GU and some water and walked. And walked some more. Then I decided to stop and pee, to excuse my delay. I felt a little better after that and managed to jog into the aid station just a couple minutes behind Kathy. I ate some chips and some PB&J tortillas (don't knock 'em till you try 'em!), grabbed a Powerade, drank half of it, put the other half in my bag, and refilled my water bag. I actually wondered whether that would be necessary since I had only drank 20 oz on the way in -- thankfully I did the sensible thing and filled it all the way.

We had a short climb of less than a mile and then a long, wonderful downhill. I passed Kathy and caught up with Ken. Ken and I ran together (well, walk-ran; I was getting tired and he was in 100-mile mode where you walk all uphills and also anywhere else you want) for about four miles. Those miles were nice -- and then I hit Mile 25 and it all fell apart.

Maybe I should say I had a nice 25-mile run and a bad 6-mile run instead of that I had a bad 50k. At Mile 25 we were at 5 hours and 35 minutes. Surely no matter what I could cover six miles in an hour and 25 minutes, right? (I was aiming for under seven.) Ha ha ha. I predict times and God laughs. Suddenly I just couldn't summon energy from anywhere. I walked walked walked and walked some more. Mile 26 came and went -- hey, I just did a marathon! and now I still have five more miles of mostly heinous uphill to go, whoo-hoo! Kathy passed me. We were at the base of a giant, towering, 1000-foot mountain of doom. (Actually very pretty, but not through hitting-a-wall-at-Mile-25 eyes.) Somewhere at the top, out of sight, was the saddle that would drop me down into Molino again. I ate a Clif Bar, didn't help. I was low on water so I ate my remaining orange for the juice -- made me nauseous. I sat down on a rock. I've never, ever sat down during a run. But did I mention it was also very warm? I was crusty with salt and had already taken both my salt tablets (and why did I only bring TWO on a run this long? who knows?). I was so nauseous I was pretty sure I was going to throw up or shit myself, wasn't sure which one.

Ken passed me while I was sitting on the rock. Unwilling to admit that I was near-death with less than 4 miles to go, I put on my game face and assured him I was fine, just resting, nothing wrong here. In fact, I was feeling better right now, I told him, and got up and started trudging up the mountain again to prove it. Every step required conscious thought. My head was spinning and I wanted to just stop and lie down but I didn't want to scare the occasional mountain bikers (or pass out where they would run over me before noticing I was there).

I finally got to the top -- Catalina Highway, down below in the distance, never looked so good. 3 miles to go. I drank the rest of my Powerade (hot by now from the sun) and forced down a slimy, disgusting GU and hoped I could wait till I got to the Molino restrooms to find out what interesting form my nausea would take. If I ran I would've found out right then and there so I mostly walked.

While I was in the Molino restroom (not telling what happened there, just take my word for it it was not pleasant), I took my water bag out and sucked it dry, every last drop, and there were only a few drops. I only had two more miles. I managed to run through the campground but then could not find the trail. I glimpsed Ken way up there above me on trail and realized I had already passed the place where the trail left the campground, so I did the stupid thing and figured I would bushwhack up the hill to the trail. Bushwhacking is nearly always the wrong answer. I ended up with shoes and socks full of very thin but very sharp stickers from the knee-high weeds I had to wade through, but at least I did hit the trail and then saw a beautiful sign telling me I had only 1.5 miles to go.

I walked EVERY FREAKING STEP of those 1.5 miles. I was so thirsty I could not stop fantasizing about water and soda and the bottle of Nuun I had actually brought with me and then forgotten in my car. I took out my water bag again and opened it up but nope, it really was dry. I scraped the salt crust off my face and looked at the salt on my finger and idly wondered if it was possible to die of dehydration when the temps were in the 70's. I tried spitting just to see if I had any moisture left at all -- I didn't.

Of course I didn't die; I survived to walk back into the parking lot and tell everyone that was the worst I've ever felt while running (true, it was) and grab a Diet Pepsi out of the cooler and try to drink it while lying on my back with my head on a rock. Once the Diet Pepsi was down successfully, I followed it with a bottle of water and then ate about a hundred hummus-turkey tortillas. (Just what it sounds like -- two tortillas with a layer of hummus and turkey holding them together, cut into little triangles. So delicious!)

Lesson learned: manage fueling better. Carry and drink enough water, don't forget the stupid salt tablets, those are amateur mistakes but just imagine if I was feeling that bad at Mile 25 -- the HALFWAY point of the OP 50 instead of almost the end!

So there, food coma, I finished my blog; you aren't the boss of me!

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