Report to follow later. Once I dry off. And take a nap.
Later… Ok, this will be shorter than usual as its 8pm and I have not seen my bed since getting up at 5am yesterday morning (somehow trying out my new lawnmower seemed like a better option than taking a nap). There’ll be two main themes to this report – rain and food. You might be surprised by how we managed to keep going in the torrential downpours, but you’ll be truly amazed by how much I can eat before, during and after a 38 mile run. Some people lose their appetite without sleep. Clearly, I am not one of them.
We started in the rain and we finished in the rain. In between there was some more rain. And some thunder. And some lightening. Yes it was fun, but it was also kinda spooky, wetter than any race I’ve done, and ultimately not an experience I would have liked to go through alone. So I was very glad to be alongside my good friends and running buddies Kami and Pam for the entire event. We took turns deciding who was to blame for this deranged idea but given that Pam was top of the list of registered runners having signed up back in December it was always going to be her fault! Not that either Kami or I took much convincing. We are both signed up for Sawtooth in early September and figured the night running would be good experience.
Seeing as we’ll already be on our feet for 12 hours on that occasion before 8pm rolls around I thought I’d at least make myself pretty tired starting out. So after volunteering with Michelle at Manitou packet-pick up Friday evening I headed down to Lake Nokomis at 5:30am Saturday morning to help with set-up for the FANS 12 & 24hr events. And let me just say that volunteering at this event is as close to it as I ever want to get – I have great admiration for anyone that can run endless laps around a lake but I just don’t think I’m programmed for that sort of thing. I find it bad enough having to do 2 loops at the Afton 50K!
Large skim latte, scone
The girls picked me up around lunchtime though I hadn’t yet eaten my lunch (busy buying the lawnmower, finally). Off we went towards 94 East as I settled into the back seat before tucking into my lunch:
Greek yogurt & chicken
Followed a little while later by a treat from one of my fav stores – Breadsmith – courtesy of Pam:
I took over the driving a few hours later and the ladies broke out a few more treats…
Large bag gummis (minus the handful that Pam took), Grapes. Lots of them. Thanks Kami!
We tried to find a Starbucks on the outskirts of Madison but were unsuccessful, despite having printed off the locations of all such coffee shops in the locale. So gas station it was:
Starbucks Frappachino, Cranberry Flaxseed roll from Breadsmith
After a quick pit stop at Pam’s friends bar in Whitewater, where we changed into our running gear and organized our drop bags – and heard about the tornado sirens going off a little earlier, we set off for the start line, dropping the bags at the aid station on highway 12. We were cutting it pretty fine at this stage as I’d had to slow down considerably a few times along the drive during torrential downpours. The rain was so heavy it was like a wall of white in front of the car. We saw several vehicles pulled off to the side. Among them a few unfortunate motorcyclists!
At the start we quickly got checked in and made sure we had our water bottles, headlamps and most importantly sprayed ourselves heat to toe with 100% DEET. Yep, the kind of stuff that literally takes car paint off. Given the extremely humid conditions we knew the bugs would be out in force so we were taking no chances. Inside the cabin I helped myself to a few final pre-race treats:
M&Ms, gummi bears, potatoe chips
35 people had signed up for the fun run as of June 2 but I would say only 20 or so showed up at the start. I expect the bad weather kept more than a few at home. But not us – in some corner of our brains I think we were excited to see how we’d cope with the conditions. At 8pm, after a few words about the course markings and aid stations, the race director sent us off. Pam and Kami had run the Ice Age 50 miler on the same course back in early May so they were familiar with the route – at least in daylight hours. We had about 1 hour of good light and then it started to fade quickly, especially under the thick tree cover where we spent the majority of the run, interspersed with sections of prairie. We ran the first few miles in a bunch of about 10 people, chatting to a few around us. Surprisingly quite a few of the runners were doing this as their first ultra. I remember feeling bad for the people at Chippewa who had picked that one as their first. All things considered, even without the extra 7 miles, I’d have to say this run was tougher. But little did we know in these early miles just how bad it would get. The light rain soon stopped and we were getting well warmed up in the humid conditions. I had on the same clothes as my last race in New Mexico – shorts, vest top and long sleeve over it. And I was equipped with a Black Diamond Icon headlamp. From the spec I knew it should last the entire night on the 3 AA batteries giving good light over a sufficient distance. But I was worried it would feel quite heavy on my head. Turned out to be very comfortable and it gave great light so I’m happy to have that sorted and not have to worry about finding another one for Sawtooth. Chances are I’ll not be practicing with it again between now and then… At around 5 miles we arrived at Aid Station 1:
¼ turkey sandwich, ¼ grilled cheese sandwich, coke, cantaloupe
The aid stations were unbelievably well stocked and as always, the volunteers couldn’t have been more helpful. They are the real troopers, hanging out there all night in horrible conditions. We chatted with a few other runners are then set off through the pine forest, elegant trees that seemed to reach forever, allowing just a fraction of the evening light to come through. Pretty soon we switched on the headlamps and started to get comfortable navigating the course in the semi-darkness. Both of the girls also carried a hand held torch. I had brought one to the race but had decided to leave it behind and I think I’ll do the same in the 100 miler as the headlamp really seemed to work well. There were a few ups and downs along this section of the trail so we walked most of the hills and just tried to settle into a steady pace. The footing was quite smooth as we continued along towards Aid Station 2 – which was set up across the trail with a large canopy between the trees, very jungle like:
gummi bears, M&Ms, coke, ¼ hummus sandwich, watermelon, ¼ banana
Chatted to the volunteers for a few minutes and off we went towards Confusion Point. Aptly named as it took us a few minutes to figure out which direction we were headed. The trail started to get quite technical along the next section but so far we were managing to keep upright. It opened up to a section of prairie which the girls remembered as a very scenic part of their 50 miler. And then back into the woods where we spent the next several miles, passing an unmanned aid station at around 10 miles:
water (and bugspray… no I didn’t eat that, but I had managed to ingest more than a few gnats along the way)
We ran with another 38 miler for a part of the next section – the guy who had kindly taken the can of spray paint to touch up the arrows on the ground. It was pretty amazing how well these arrows remained intact, even with all the rain. We were having fun for the most part. Running along pretty smoothly, shouting out warnings of roots and rocks, stray branches, fallen trees, all the while listening to the cacophony of crickets, frogs, birds bringing the night to life. We reached aid station 4 at mile 14, where our drops were waiting, in just under 3 hours. We felt like things were going pretty well. At least until the kind volunteer told us he’d just heard the radar warnings and there was definite rain along with thunder and lightening on the way. Great. Just what we wanted to hear.
loadsa blueberries, mashed potatoes & veg (seriously, it was like dinner), watermelon, orange segments, ¼ banana, more blueberries, coke, bag of gummis from my drop-bag
We’d all been struggling a little between odd aches and pains, stomach issues and general tiredness. Nothing too serious, I was having knee pain mostly in my right knee which I thought at first was my old meniscus injury (skiing accident several years ago) bothering me as I’d felt it towards the end of last Wednesday’s run. But soon the left knee started to feel the same and I think it was due to running a lot of the balls of my feet as it was quite hard to get decent foot placement so we ended up sort of hopping/skipping through some of the more technical sections.
Within a quarter mile of the aid station as we were entering a rocky section I took my first fall. In fact it was the only time any of us went down fully. Which was considerably better than our pre-race predictions when we thought we might need a ‘best-blood’ award. Luckily I fell onto soft ground. And then the rain started. And the lightening. That was by far the scariest part of the night. We hit a few open sections and the sky would light up and within moments we’d hear the thunder. We were already wet given the high humidity and some light rain over the first few hours. Or so we thought. But within about 20 minutes we discovered a whole new level of wet. Along with trying to stay upright as the trail got muddier and water-logged, I was worried my blisters would start to re-appear but luckily they never did. Despite the rain, we were feeling pretty good about our progress given that our original estimate for the run had been 10 hours but now we expected to hit the turnaround close to 4 hours. We met and passed a few 100 milers along here, including the winning lady who was looking very fresh when she came by us before we reached the turnaround, and also the guys from Iowa we’d started out with. And then we reached the turnaround at Rice Lake. Yet another full on aid station:
gummi bears, coke, watermelon, ¼ banana, orange segments, pretzels, cantaloupe, potatoe chips
We left there at exactly 4 hours on the clock. The journey back through this technical section was pretty rough but we knew what to expect as the rain continued to fall. We met a lot of people along here – a mix of 100 milers and other fun runners. We tried to make sure the 100 milers knew we were just doing the short one as I couldn’t imagine anything more depressing than meeting 3 fairly upbeat gals at mile 80 after the day they’d been through.
We were soaked, every bit of us. But now that we’d turned we felt like every step was getting us closer to the finish. And dry clothes. We got back to highway 12 in just about an hour so we were pleased not to have lost time on that section. We weren’t treating this as a race by any means, and while we weren’t having an altogether terrible time out there we did want to get done as soon as possible. We talk a lot about adventure racing at some point in the future. I can honestly I felt like I got a taste of it last night and I am not at all sure it’s for me!
Kami’s torch was dying so we replaced the batteries but unfortunately none of us thought to check the headlamps! I had figured mine should last ok so I hadn’t planned to replace the batteries but Pam had intended to. Her lamp started to fade a few miles later. Even though mine held up ok I will definitely be keeping spare batteries in my drop bag(s) for the 100 miler. My appetite was finally beginning to wane at this point so not a lot of grub on the return visit:
We were all feeling pretty bloated at this stage and trying to figure out what foods would work best for ease of digestion. This is something I should really pay more attention to versus just chowing down whatever looks good! I’ve managed to avoid any serious stomach issues in all of my races but I expect it will catch up with me some day so I’d be better off knowing what would work best at difference stages of an ultra. Pam led us off through the next section which suddenly seemed to have more climbs on the return journey. This was a theme that would repeat itself all the way to the finish. How easy it is in the early miles to just run up and down hills and hardly even notice them but then just a few hours later it’s a whole different ball game. The next section felt very long. It was just under 5 miles back to the unmanned aid station but it seemed like twice that. The girls remembered this as being the mentally toughest part of the 50 miler also. And of course the mud didn’t help – we were slipping and sliding all over the place. I’d rolled my left ankle a few times earlier but it hadn’t really bothered me but now I went over on the right one – my weak one – not so good.
Eventually we reached the lonely aid station with just water and bugspray and duly loaded up on both. The one good thing about the rain was that the bugs weren’t really out. And amazingly for one who seems to attract mozzies like magnets do each other, I came away without one bite. The next section started to get quite rocky and again felt longer than the outbound journey but we were still keeping pretty good time and managing to run most of it. Pam’s lamp finally faded so I took the lead and led us though some prairie and more technical section climbing up to Confusion Point and about a half mile later back to the jungle aid station:
coke, ½ turkey sandwich, ¼ banana
Leaving there we had something over 7 miles to go. God, we so wanted to be done at this point. The rain was on and off at this stage. But the damage was long done. Every so often my shoes would get some of their bounce back and inevitable next thing I know I’m in the middle of a huge puddle. There was no easy way to get through this. Just one foot in front of the other. As we re-entered the pine forest the trail opened up nicely so we were able run with slightly less concentration. We reached the final aid station at about 7:15 on the clock. With just about 5 miles to go we knew we wouldn’t be making 8 hours but we were making good progress and coming back within 10-20 minutes of the out journey was pretty darned good in those conditions.
orange segments, cheddar cheese, pretzels, coke
On the trail again. Just as we reached the mile 4 marker (miles 1-4 were marked with signs – nice idea to get people back through the last few miles after a long day out there) the rain started again and then the hills hit us. Definitely more than there was several hours ago. Somewhere along this section Kami asked the inevitable question – ‘So, if you knew the conditions would be this bad, would you still have come?’ ‘Absolutely’, ‘Sure’. ‘Me too’. Nutcases. But at least I’m not alone.
Counting down the time between each mile, passing a few 100 milers and hoping to give them welcome company for a few minutes, we came through mile 3, mile 2 and finally mile 1. YES. We picked up the pace as best we could and just went for it. I’d say this is where my heart rate hit its peak but I’d managed to keep it very low on average throughout the run so that was good as often on technical courses where I’m continually tensing my body my heart rate can get quite high.
Remembering this last section of very soft trail, even more so now, then seeing the lights in the distance, and finally crossing the white line in the grass, in just over 8:12. Welcomed home by a great bunch of people who out on a really great event. I would definitely like to be back here next year for the 100km. I don’t think I’d take on a 100 miler here – I’d have a hard time dealing with that humidity for the entire race!
We were hosed down (literally), in warm clean clothes and on the road by 5am. Though not before another feed now that the running was done:
Recoverite, banana, pretzels, turkey sandwich
The trip home was pretty non-eventful. A few more heavy showers but pretty clear by the time we crossed the Mississippi. Since we had the time, we went right into Madison to get ourselves a nice large coffee from Starbucks. Heaven.
Run distance: 38 miles
Run time: 8:12:47
Pace: 12:59 per mile
Calories consumed: God knows
Calories expended: 3452
Average HR: 127
Max HR: 157
Overall Rating: FUN