by Bill (The Geeze) Rumbaugh
Huntsville State Park
December 10, 2005
The day dawned with overcast skies and temperatures about 10 degrees warmer than I was expecting – mid-40’s rather than mid-30’s. Either is OK once the running starts, it’s just waiting around for the action to begin, that can chill a guy or gal. Many folks had arrived way early due to the shuttle bus schedule or the desire to get a decent parking spot (for those who were driving). There were a lot of NTTR folks in attendance and I chatted with the ones I saw and recognized, Dave & Paula Billman, Jackie Gilberg, and Carol Bradshaw.
The 50 milers started at 7:00. I watched them line up, hoping to see a couple of the names I recognized in the elite category (bibs number 1 – 12) but the guy I’d hoped to see most, the Greek ultra legend, Yannis Kourous, evidently did not make it. Pity that. I wanted to see what a guy looks like who holds the world record in 24-hour to 1,000 mile events. They were off in a trice and I began my own countdown to the 7:30 starting time for the 50k’ers. I performed the usual rituals, stashing my extra duds in my drop bag, applying Chapstik to my lips, Sportslick to my nostrils, hitting the portacan, and putting my drop bag in a place from which I could retrieve it later as needed.
Dave Billman and I lined up together and chatted briefly before the air horn announced the start and we were off. The race takes place in the same State Park as the Rocky Raccoon, (reported earlier) though the course was a little different. The first part starts with an out and back of approximately 10k, not a big deal. The first part of that (roughly 1/3 mile or so) was on newly laid asphalt, which is probably not a bad idea. With 400 plus runners, it was good that we had some distance with elbow room to get spaced out before the singletrack began. The singletrack made it interesting as we approached the turnaround, since the faster runners had already made their turn and were running toward us at a surprisingly fast pace. It was single file at that point, so passing was a bit tricky. The route back to the Start/Finish (S/F) area was slightly different, so we never saw the asphalt again, except to cross it a couple of times. There was a volunteer with a flag motioning people which way to go as we started the last mile into the S/F area. He popped the flag like you would crack a whip and it made a surprisingly loud “pop.” The runners would egg him on to pop it, so he did it a lot. I saw this guy 4 additional times during the race, since he was positioned at a key point in the course. I stopped off at my drop bag and adjusted layers, making a couple of poor choices, but nothing unrecoverable. The temperature had warmed a few degrees since the start and I had worked up a good sweat. So I stashed my sleeveless skin-layer shirt, my Tyvek jacket (which came off pretty early-on) and my gloves, and put back on my long sleeve bright yellow Ultracentric shirt. The latter was of a good technical fabric (Patagonia Capilene) and would help to make up for minor errors in judgment.
Somewhere near the middle of the ‘back’ section of the out and back, I was not watching my footing and went down fairly hard. I saw a rooty prominence headed toward my face so I tucked a bit to avoid a ‘face plant’ in the middle of that mess. In so doing, I managed to bash the top of my head on it instead. Having a bruised pate from a trail run is another first for yours truly. Other than a sandy face and scalp and hat, I was not much the worse for wear, it could have been much worse, all told. Brushed myself off and was back in it. I had been running fairly well, for me, up to that point. However, I never seemed to be able to get back into the groove from that point on. Nothing really to do with the fall as you will soon see.
Coming out of the S/F area after adjusting layers, I noticed my right knee was hurting, which made for difficult running. It got steadily worse during the first of the two 12.5 mile loops remaining in the 50k course. In times past when things started to get tough, I would walk the uphills and some of the flats and try to pick up a little time on the downhills. At some point, I realized that my knees hurt less on the uphills than on the downhills. Something about downhills seemed to pummel my knees worse this time than the flats or hills did. So I adjusted my strategy, such as it was, to running the uphills and walking as quickly as I could the rest of the time. Sounds like a masochist’s delight, but I soldiered on. In this manner I was able to maintain my heart rate pretty much in my “zone” and keep my body temperature up. I passed numerous people while I was walking and even a couple of them who were “running.” In fact, there was only one person who passed me the whole day while we both were walking, and it took her a long time to get around. So I figure it was not a bad strategy. Not that I had many alternatives.
Toward the end of the first loop, my knees were hurting on the uphills to the point where I was afraid I’d be doing serious damage to them if I kept it up. Part of me wanted to be a man about it, tough it out, show my grit, and keep up at least a semblance of running. Another part of me thought the whole thing was ludicrous for even signing up for a 50k after running/walking 100 miles two weeks prior in the Ultracentric. A third part of yer humble scribe sagely acknowledged that while I had gamely started out, (and was prepared to go the distance both physically and mentally) yet a key part of my body had not been allowed to repair itself from the damage done during the Ultracentric. So, why risk shortening (or even ending) my running career for a half-baked macho display that no one would even know about but me? Eventually, Mr. Sage prevailed, and I resigned myself to walking the last loop. The cutoff time was a generous 11½ hours, so I knew I could leisurely stroll the last loop and still finish in time. So I hoofed it in. Once the 50-milers peeled off for their loop, the rest of the way was not bad. The crowd had thinned out and they were no longer passing in droves, which helped.
The crowd at this race seemed different from my other ultras. The vast majority of the folks I talked to were from the Houston area. Not too surprising, given the proximity. Many of them seemed to be streeties rather than true trail runners. So there did not seem to be as much chatting going on during the run, and many of them pitched their drink cups to the side of the trail after the aid stations, marathoner-style. I was appalled at that, as well as at a significant amount of other litter on the trail, obviously from the event. Another significant difference was in the sheer number of runners. Too many, in my opinion, for a trail event. It was difficult to get ‘close to nature’ when a group of 5 or 6 “runners” were making their way down the trail improvising their version of the 12 days of Christmas singing at the top of their lungs (6 Ultraglide sticks, 5 sports bras, 4 power bars, etc. etc.).
NTTR Sightings: I saw several fellow NTTR members, not all of them that were there, because some I don’t know them well enough yet. Plus, I have a hard time recognizing people in their trail clothes, for some reason. Dave Billman, Jay Norman and Jackie had good days. I saw Karen Riddle several times. She and Paula Billman finished after I did, so they both did a significant amount of walking, hopefully by choice. I later ran into Sue Yates who finished around 6 hours, so she also had a good day. Our contact with the 50 milers was intermittent. I saw Carol Bradshaw heading out for her last loop of the 50 mile course as I was heading to the S/F area for the last time. She still looked strong at that point and probably finished in good shape. Marshall King had signed on for the 50-miler, but I did not see/recognize him.
Dr. Paul Piplani (met at the Ultracentric) was present and I saw him several times during the event. He remembered me and came by while I was in the food line after the race to congratulate me on finishing. He finished the 50k handily and would be running in the Dallas White Rock Marathon the following day. I wished him well.
The 2.79 miles from the last aid station to the end seemed interminable. It was not uneventful, however as I’ve learned that the later stages of ultras tend to be. The 50 milers had rejoined us 50k’ers just prior to that point, so there were a lot of “on your lefts” heard as I was passed by people on their last loop or next to the last loop. One fairly beefy guy went down ahead of me, but he was up by the time I got to him and he said he was OK. I told him that I appreciated him not making me be the only other runner who had gone down that day. He acknowledged my lame attempt at humor as he took off chugging down the trail. I passed him later on, and think he probably had issues since he did not pass me again. Another guy was suddenly seized by a painful leg cramp, but he was up and running again in a surprisingly short period of time as a couple of his buddies rubbed his leg. I thought that if this is not his last lap, he better make some adjustments or there will be some replays of that scenario. As I hoofed my way down the trail, I was thinking that there were only two sounds that I wanted to hear at that point, the flag being popped at the last turn and the beep of the chip mat as I crossed it. Which I eventually did at around 7:40-ish. Dave and Jackie were in the S/F area and cheered me on, as did a handful of other spectators. Which I appreciated though I was only a lame pedestrian at that point and decidedly not a runner. After crossing the mat, I collected my medal and Tyvek “finisher’s jacket” and will wear it with pride. A tough finish. I hope to not have another one like it.
In the “lessons learned” category:
Of course, the main one is to not sign up for an event like this until I am fully recovered from the last one. Obey my own advice about not ramping up on the miles too quickly – 10% increase week to week is the limit, period. Violate it at your own risk, especially you geezers out there. No joke, it was stupid to even consider doing this under the circumstances. Enough said.
Wear gloves even when you think you don’t need them. Cold hands can make an otherwise OK run fairly miserable. (I keep having to re-learn this, for some reason.)
Don’t discard the outer shell too quickly, you may need it, and it could be quite a few miles before you can retrieve it. It’s not that big of a deal to tie it around your waist.
I had to stop to get a boulder out of my shoe at one point. It was an amazingly small “boulder,” at that, (weighing only a few grams probably) for the amount of discomfort it caused. A pine needle was also pricking my other foot with each step. I did see quite a few people wearing gaiters, but I thought previously that it was a bit much for these tame trails. So, actually, gaiters might not be a bad investment, one of these days.
It was at this point that I finally realized the advantage of the oddball lacing system that Salomon uses in their shoes (which I am wearing at present). I was able to loosen and “retie” both shoes rather quickly without removing my gloves. A process that takes a significant amount of time. A considerable competitive advantage. Had I actually been competitive at that point, that is.
And the last item, a minor one at that, is that I saw a surprising number of people with their timing chips attached to their ankle via an elastic band of some type. A good idea if you need to change shoes, which is a fairly common occurrence in ultras. With the chip attached to my shoe with a nylon tie, and no cutter of any type in my drop bag, I would have had a tough time even getting the old one off, much less attaching it to the second pair of shoes if a change had been needed. Not many ultras are chip-timed, but a word to the wise should be sufficient.
So I plan to investigate both gaiters and a method of attaching chips without using the nylon ties provided. Hope this helps you, dear reader.
Onward, through the fog!