Monday, August 29, 2016

Yeti Snakebite 50K Race Recap

Expectations. They have changed nothing and everything in my running. It has been by my own doing so I have no one to blame. I have exposed a glass house and invited everyone to watch. Sometimes that means going above my own expectations and sometimes it means exposing all of my flaws.

I wouldn't be the runner I am today without others watching. And forging friendships with other runners has helped me evolve. It seems to have snowballed as of late, but I like to think I was slowly working my way towards the next steps. Both growing as a runner and growing as a member of the running community.

The story of the Yeti Snakebite 50K is the perfect exposure. Good, bad, and everything in between. Appearances are often deceiving. The real story is composed of many different layers.

It's easy to wrap up a race that doesn't meet surface expectations by blaming. Blame my super last minute entry (45 minutes!), no taper (65 miles the week before, 27 leading up to race day), a hot night (90° at the start), a non-running bruise near my ankle that limited my range of motion, and getting lost 24ish miles into the race.

I could have scaled back my double on Thursday, babied my ankle, gone out from the start with competitive passion, and pushed hard for a placement better than 4th.

But this wasn't a goal race.

This was a fairly well executed training run that left me able to run easily today. My hydration and nutrition were so spot-on that I was able to consume double steak burger from Steak and Shake an hour after the finish. If you understand this achievement, you understand the achievement. If you don't, I can't really explain it.

I had the energy, physically and mentally, to continue had the race been another loop or two. I was satisfied, but not exhausted. I was tired, but I was in great spirits.

What I take away most from the experience are the friendships that led me to this race in the first place and the story of one that developed while sharing a bunch of miles in the dark.

I like people. I'd even consider myself to be somewhat of an extrovert. But running was something I did solo for quite some time. A few years ago, FT and I started logging miles together intermittently. There is no regular time, pace, or mileage. We meet when we can for what we can. We've chased endurance dreams for 4+ years now and there is something comforting about sharing our very separate, yet very similar journeys together.

The first 5 marathons I ran and trained alone. The last 17 have been a barrage of sharing miles with a bunch of internet friends and foraging lasting friendships that rival those of people I see more than once a year. Social media has created an environment of nearly constant positive peer pressure. I love reading friends' posts about training, racing, and challenging themselves to be the best they can be. No matter their pace or position in the pack, this group of people is incredibly supportive.

I've developed such good friendships that I've traveled all over the country to eat in their kitchens, catch up over a few beers, and chase down dreams. Sometimes my own dreams, sometimes theirs.

2016 has been a hotbed of saying yes first and figuring out the details later. Mostly inspired by my bestie turning 40 this year, I too have said yes to things that I might have turned down out of fear prior to this year. It's only August, but I've been on more adventures and garnered more running buddies than any year prior.

Without my buddies, Miami would have been a tutu-less, beerless snoozefest, Los Angeles would have been watched on TV, Myrtle Beach would have never even been considered, and Boston would have been a sad celebration. I never would have run 50 miles in the middle of Indiana. And without the challenge of 24 hours on the horizon (with buddies who suggested I sign up), I never would have run a 6 hour and 12 hour race overnight. I never would have run a midnight marathon without my buddies and I never would have found myself at Sweetwater Creek State Park on a Saturday night asking the race director for a bib number because...well, the race sold out and I decided I wanted to run.

After I had my bib, I had a slight panic moment because I really thought the race director was going to tell me no. Ohshitshitshitshitshitshit, I have to run a 50K!

I walked really fast back to my car, but there was time for a panic selfie.
I wolfed down a second Uncrustable and ate some potato chips while throwing gear around in my car. My water was hot and Mountain Dew was nearing room temperature. I did have the wherewithal to Tiger Balm my angry ankle and Vaseline potential hot spots. As soon as I thought I had all my stuff, I walked back to the start/finish area with about 20 minutes to go time. I didn't really have to pee, but I went any way because I knew it would be the last time I could use a legit facility for the next few hours.

Then we all congregated at the road intersection and were told to follow the pink ribbons. If we got lost, follow the river trail upstream. 3 loops for the 50K. Ready, set, go!

I started out suuuuuper conservatively. It was very muggy and I was painfully aware of the fact that I had been on my feet all day at work with no taper. I ran 11 miles on Thursday. Oops. So I chugged along in the middle of the pack and decided to just stick with an easy pace for the first 2 laps and see what the 3rd lap brought. If I really approached it like a training run, I could just relax.

So I did. It was kind of weird at first. I fought the urge to pass people on the uphills when everyone in the midpack walked. But I knew something was right because I felt really, really good and it felt really, really easy. As soon as I chilled out, I started getting those good hippie trail vibes. Like, just being out here in nature with my trail running peeps is all I need in life. As we enjoyed the last slivers of daylight, I soaked in the good feelings. They never last in an ultra and I knew I would soon find myself on the other side of things.

At around the 4 mile mark (?), the course came out on a section stripped of trees for power lines. The path was like a little roller coaster with 3 really sharp and short descents/ascents. The first time around we were met with a stupid gorgeous sunset. It was orangey-red and watching the runners bob up and and down the hills in the distance was mesmerizing.

Shortly thereafter, we crossed Sweetwater Creek in hip high water using a rope. I giggled as I thought how this was the cheap, Southern version of the river crossing of Western States. There was a volunteer dressed like Kenny Rogers halfway across drinking a beer and I asked him for a sip as I crossed. Never one to take any of this too seriously, I took a healthy chug and kept moving.

I filled up one of my water bottles at the single on course aid station and then headed back towards the start/finish area. The course took us along the section of rocky shoreline just like the course I ran in January, complete with the nasty staircase to climb out of the river area. Fortunately, my Garmin seemed to be coming up short as I neared the start/finish. It read just over 9 miles when I thought it would have been 10.33ish for the 50K. I had started to descend into a funky place mentally. I filled up one of my bottles and left the other one alone since there was about 1/4 bottle left of Mountain Dew.

I started back onto the course going the wrong direction. They shouted to me to come back and luckily I only lost a minute or two. My ankle area was starting to bother me I could feel every step getting harder on the descents when the impact was increased. 2 more laps was a long way to go on a bum ankle, but I stubbornly plodded on.

The good news in that I had been taking a gel every 4-5 miles, consuming Oreos intermittently, and alternating between water and Mountain Dew with zero stomach issues. It was hot. Everything was wet with humid moisture and I tried to be conscious of staying ahead of hydration. Maybe it was the slower pace or caffeine limited to the Mountain Dew, but I felt really good about my intake.

By mile 12ish or so (give or take a couple of miles), I started running with Matt. And for the rest of the race, we stuck it out together. After a few pleasantries of human basics like where are you from, what do you do, we went through our running resumes like all runners with lots of time on their hands and upcoming stuff.

Before the power line/river section, we saw Sean sitting on the side of the trail in a bad spot. After realizing he wasn't in need of medical or consoling, we wished him well and plodded on. It hung on my mind for quite some time.

Matt was definitely in a better spot than I on the 2nd lap and led the charge while I babied my stupid ankle. I didn't take enough water at the midpoint aid station and had to conserve on the way back. Matt kindly offered to share his water, but fortunately we got there before I needed to take him up on the offer.

Knowing we were not going to be setting any sort of blistering pace on the final lap, we both took a moment at the start/finish aid station to get our acts together. I chugged a bottle of water and a quarter bottle of sweet, delicious Coke. Then I grabbed a Rice Krispie treat because it sounded delicious and retied my shoe hoping it would alleviate the ankle issue. Matt grabbed batteries for his dying headlamp and his phone so he could drown out my chatty ass listen to a podcast.

The ankle felt a billion times better after I retied my shoe and I cursed myself for not doing it before. Suddenly, I felt like a million bucks! We still had this final lap to complete, but I knew it was totally reasonable now that I was not in pain. Plus, the food, Coke, and water helped tremendously. A few other runners kind of bantered back and forth with us in that first section. And then we started seeing more and more carnage. Watching people make the decision to drop and seeing people waiting for assistance after they've decided to drop is heart-breaking. I felt like a jerk because I was riding high again at this point and ready to get 'er done.

We spent a bit more time walking the last lap, but I was in no hurry to finish. The company and conversation outweighed the minutes I might have made up if I forged ahead. Reaching the crescendo of the power line hill with the night sky lit up by stars and crossing the lukewarm river past midnight is decidedly better if you can ooh and aah over it with another human.

Matt and I caught up with a girl who was on her second lap walking because she had twisted her ankle. She was determined to finish by just walking since there was a generous cutoff time. We walked with her on the uphill out of the river basin and then I got the entire group lost.


We spent a good 20 minutes at least trying to determine where I had led us off course. There was back-tracking and more back-tracking and then a different climb out of the river basin. The bright side for me was that the extra mileage didn't really matter. Unfortunately, Matt and our new friend were probably not experiencing those same feelings. Uggggh, sorry...

We came upon a dropped runner who was waiting with a ranger about 1-1.5 miles before the finish. The drop vehicle was nearing and Matt begged off some water from the rangers. I had given him some of my water earlier when he was getting dangerously low and so I took a nice gulp from the ice cold bottle. It was heavenly.

He keep urging me to go ahead, but with just a short distance to cover, it seemed silly to part ways. I shuffled along in the front in the same manner in which he carried me through the second lap, checking back every so often. By the time we got to the second strip of pavement signaling the finish was only minutes away, I felt that familiar elated exhaustion wash over me.

We crossed the line, fist-bumped, exchanged water bottles back, and thanked each other for a bunch of dark miles.

I sat on the curb for a bit before I collected myself and meandered back to the car. I took a post-race selfie and posted the glittery version to Facebook. 4th place after superhuman stuff!
But the reality is different. I have been training. I am no stranger to 8 hours days followed by running. I could have pushed harder. I wished I had hurt less. I had more high points than low points during the race, but there were thoughts of DNF. It took me 6 hours and 40-something minutes (I think, Garmin autopause was on and I honestly didn't even check the race clock) to run 28ish miles.

The positive side of the reality is that I really did just run a 50ishK pretty much last minute. I did feel pretty good considering the weather. I did recover well.

Most importantly, I said yes to adventures and I made new friends.

So if you've made it this far (really, you're still reading??) and you happen to be an instigator or supporter in my adventures and running, thank you.