by Karen Riddle
March 31, 2007
I adore ultra/ trail runs! And ultra/ trail runners! But I just heard this past weekend, from a runner, that race reports were somewhat self-indulgent. Hmmm. Then, I guess so is artwork, gourmet cooking, music and anything else that is an extension of self. The one thing that impressed me though, was that the person who said this, could separate out the person, a friend, from the self indulgence. I don’t know if I am that mature. I am learning from every run I do, and not just about what makes the run, but what makes the runner. I read race reports, all kinds, to get a flavor of the run, to understand things that could go wrong, things that go right, to be one with the experience. The little tidbits that are added to personalize the run are added treats for me.
I am also learning to overcome stereotypes, or prejudices, if you want to call them that. My running, is my personal life extension. I live out in the country – I like being near dirt roads I can run on, with no interruptions, no traffic. I like the wilderness, thus the trails, not the city. I live where I want to be, I dream of being further away from the maddening crowd. Thus, the trails fit in perfect with my dreams, my passions, my goals. And, my trail running is an extension of hiking, or fast packing, at the rate that I go!!! Things that I love. So, inadvertently, I think I am going to meet more of the same! Why else would they go to the trails? And, each time, I meet such a variety of people, no one seems to like the trails for all the same reasons I do and this sort of makes my head spin. I understand my reasons; I don’t understand everyone’s. I don’t need to, but like to think about it anyway.
I’ve been to Umstead twice before. Finished the 50 miler both times. The first time was sheer inexperience. I finished the 50 and knew that was a credited run, thought into the night, which didn’t sound appealing to me and stopped; silly me. The second time I got caught in a storm out on the loop and was unprepared and couldn’t warm up when I got back to the start/stop, so stopped at 50 again. This time I was going to finish!
This time I didn’t go to the prerace dinner/check in as my flight in was a nightmare and I needed some quiet relaxing time. The race dinner, though is quite good fare and gives you a feel for the family atmosphere of the race.
Umstead is located at Umstead Park, outside of Raleigh, NC, near the airport. The park is luscious with ever blossoming trees and bushes. This year it was 8 loops of a 12.5 mile course on crushed granite, clean and neat and a little too hard packed for me. It was more of a dirt road sort of trail, also joined by a few gentle horses, a few black snakes, some kind dog walkers and some monstrous mountain bikes, some of whom yelled at you to get out of their way, others who told you ‘good job’ as they passed.
We started at 6:00 a.m. at the lodge, in somewhat mild weather, me not thinking that this was a precursor that the temps could rise! We headed out to the main course, down an actual trail, 0.6 miles, then out and back on the airport spur, which is 0.75 miles. Then next portion is a loop, which includes several serve yourself water stops and a fully manned aid station, back to a part that teams up where you left the airport spur on the main loop, back to the lodge where you can see the other runners coming and going. Each year I have done it the loops have been slightly different, and I liked this version very much.
I had gotten some excellent coaching this time, as I have had too many attempts and DNF’s. I had a goal of 13.5 hrs. for the first 50, which would give me 16.5 hrs. for the last 50. I did some different things, like give up coffee for a week (including wine and beer also!), so that when I consumed caffeine at dusk it would keep me alert. Also, I added more protein to my breakfast and planned better eating throughout the race. I also switched electrolytes – both drinks and capsules to get more bang for the buck!
So, off we were, me with a planned 15 minute walk (also learned from my coaches) before I attempted my 7 minute runs and 3 minute walking sessions. By the first loop I discarded my long sleeve shirt, in addition to my run/walk plans, monitored my time at the start/stop to a minimum and back out on the crushed granite. I couldn’t keep to schedule on the run/walk as the hills I walked up and the downs and few flats I ran. My feet were sorer than I expected and I knew my heavy duty trail shoes were wrong, really wrong. I was keeping Rob Apple and his 3 newbies (a group nicknamed ‘The Fab 4’ by Rob) in sight, as Rob, who is a veteran ultrarunner was getting his guys to a first time finish (which, by the way, if I forget later, he accomplished). 2nd loop was uneventful.
The blossoming trees and bushes released a heart warming fragrance and inspiring beauty. It was a joy to be outside, it was a faultless day and impeccable weather. I was loving being here. Many friends were seen on the out and backs, Deborah, Janet, Rosie, Julie, Mike, Tom, Yen, all of whom were at least a mile, up to maybe five miles ahead of me, later, loops ahead of me! This good life was unsurpassed.
OK, now back to the start again, and a shoe change into another pair of trail running shoes, of which I thought would be better, but were not. This course does not need heavy trail shoes and I brought the wrong shoes. I was eating right, drinking, electrolyting properly. Oh, but on the third loop, the heat turned on and literally drained the life out of me, so much so that I couldn’t even think of how to cool off. An aid station volunteer asked if I needed ice in my cap and I told him no, though I needed some. Later, at the unmanned water stop, I wet my bandana and wrapped it around my neck; just what I needed to finish that loop. The ‘Fab 4’ was still in sight, so no worries, though I was wobbly, dizzy and really felt wiped out! Later I heard it was 77 degrees and also heard 84 degrees. It felt 90+ to me. And, even here in Texas, I had not run in any heat yet, so it wiped me out, dragged me down, did me in! So, I made it back, changed shoes again – this time it worked – my feet had been on fire!!! Too late for the perfect change! I took care of various other issues, ate more and was back out. That stop took too long, but I needed to do all the things I did. But!!! I finished 50 miles in 13:31 !!! That was the exciting part – to be on schedule. That’s a major part of all this – have a plan and stick to it!
Now, this 5th loop, which would bring me to 62.5 miles, was an absolute killer. An absolute mess. I had my headlamp, but loved basking in the moonlight, with no lamp. It was easy to see the trail and a joy not to need a light. I was feeling bad though and all I could think about was I needed to sit, needed to lie down, where were the picnic tables? This was a park, wasn’t it? Where were the benches? Maybe I can lie down on the road. It was driving me insane – my legs weren’t holding me up – I needed to rest, I was trashed! I made it back to the lodge, heading back to the drop bags, for what, I don’t even know – probably to restock Gu2O and Perpertuem. Mike was lying down – he said he needed a rest before he started back out. I agreed, took my shoes off and put my feet up – they were throbbing – bah boom, bah boom, bah boom. I couldn’t say – I had to try more. So, off again I went, back down the trail to the airport spur. I was lifeless, my legs wouldn’t hold me, they buckled. I knew I couldn’t do the full loop. I got to the airport spur turn around and headed back, back down the trail to the lodge. Found Mike and told him I was spent. He said it seemed like I was gone a really long time! I was, but couldn’t’ say how long. So, we rested until Deborah came back, after her 6th loop and also an airport spur. Janet had quit after her 5th loop? 6th loop? And was back at the hotel! We called, waited and rested and all headed back,
I learn something from each attempt, and try not to call them attempts at the time. I will not give up. I aim to do this. There is a little story about The Fern and the Bamboo, where it takes the Bamboo five years to grow, unlike the Fern, that grows immediately. The Bamboo gets strong roots planted and makes it! I am the Bamboo, as this was my 5th attempt.