7 Jul 2009

Rattlesnake Race Report

Author: Matt Young | Filed under: race-reports

Saturday, July 12th, 2008 Rattlesnake 50K Trail Run

My alarm went off at 4:30 but I’d been awake for a little while. I always try to get a good night sleep two nights before an event because I know the night before it will be hard to sleep well.  I had my normal breakfast before a race or long training run of a banana, Gatorade, Cliff Bar and a piece of toast with honey. By 5:12 I was out the door with one stop at Tim Horton’s for coffee then on my way.

This would be my first ultra marathon but unlike most people running the race I’m not an accomplished runner.  I’m not fast and I’m not naturally talented but I’m not devoid of ability either.  But I know a lot of natural talent isn’t required as long as you can endure the discipline and have the heart and desire for it.  So I make my way to the race praying for a good and safe day.

I pulled in the Kanawha State Forest’s pool parking lot just before 6:00 and the race started at 6:30.  That was just enough time to check in, double check my supplies and gear, loosen up a little and lighten my load in the bathroom.  Coffee and a nervous stomach help keep me light for any race.  I saw a few people I knew including Dan Lehman, who at these races is a local celebrity.  Most of the other people I only recognized as participants in the Highland Sky race when I went to watch my friend Garth and volunteer as a sweeper just 4 weeks before. I think it’s amazing how these people can do tough races like these so close together. It makes you realize that the body has an amazing ability to adapt to such rigors as long as you’re patient and consistent and listen to your body.

The race start time rolled around as a straggler frantically interrupted the pre race briefing running to the group saying he got “majorly lost” and then proceeded to change clothes at the trunk of his car.  That was a sight.  Dennis was gracious to wait on him but I was thinking, it’s at least a 6 hour race for most of us, you’ll have time to catch up.

But we took off on the count of 3 at 6:35am and it was on.  I’m a slow starter on any race but was especially slow today.  As I prepared for this race and researched training programs and articles the piece of advice that stood out in my mind was, it’s just a long day in the woods.  So I set out for a long day in the woods.

After a very short run out of the parking lot and up the road we hit our first of 10 climbs for the day.  Even if I’d wanted to run it, which I didn’t, I was behind a long train of walkers working the way up the hill.  It felt more like a hike at summer camp than a race but again, that was fine with me.  Once we hit the top of the ridge it spread out a bit and people started running and then it felt more like a race. After a stint of rolling hills on the ridge we started back down the hills that were steep at times.  It would have been pretty easy to get going too fast and lose control. I also thought, this is great for now but I bet towards the end of the race these downhills are going to be painful.  And they were.

So this race started in a little valley and did a big 31 mile loop which consisted of 10 climbs. So you started at the bottom, climbed a hill, ran the rolling ridges, then ran back down.  And you did that 10 times.  Each section was 3 miles, more or less, with the climb, the ridge, and the descent.

I have a friend, we call him Big Sexy, that has the ability to remember a million of the smallest details about his races.  I tend to remember the beginning and sometimes the end but the middle is often a blur.  This was no different. However, I remember a few highlights that I’ll try to share.

The first runner I met up with had run over 150 ultras in his career and has been running them for 20 years.  I also briefly ran along Rob Apple and his girlfriend, Susan, for a while.  Rob has completed over 400 ultras and Susan has a slew of ultras to her credit including some masters wins under her belt too.  They run an ultra about every weekend and everyone seems to know Rob.  I’d read articles on him in Runner’s World and I’m one who think his accomplishments are much more impressive than crazy.  We talked as we ran and they all had advice that made sense at the time but I don’t remember much of it now.  The one piece of advice I do remember is keep running these and don’t take down time.

Everything went great through the early miles. My goal was to keep my heart rate below 80% of my max and I had my heart rate monitor set to beep when I exceeded that. It was beeping on the first hill. After a few miles I figured either I’d bonk from going to hard or this beeping would make me nuttier than squirrel poop.  So I set the alert to 90% and went on. I actually averaged about 82% which is manageable for me.

My biggest panic came at about 11 miles when I was on my way up a slow incline and realized I’d lost my hat. I hadn’t worn it much to this point and just had it tucked in my fuel belt. It had been foggy in the morning and I was trying to stay as cool as possible but the fog had burned off and the sun was shining through the trees.  As a bald man I have to wear a hat to keep from frying my scalp.  When I realized I’d lost it I got worried. I started back down the hill when I ran in to another racer who’d seen it but said it was a long way back and “not worth it dude.” To me it was worth it but I turned around and started back up the hill thinking I might have to fashion a hat of leaves to protect my fleshy scalp.  Skin cancer runs in my family and a blistered bald head worried me more than running 31 miles in the woods.  I learned two good lessons from this experience.  1) If you see a hat or other gear, pick it up and carry it to the next aid station. You never know if that little bit of effort might help a fellow runner and 2) always carry a bandana.  At the next aid station I asked around for an extra bandana and a peach of volunteer gladly ran to her van and lent me a bandana. She didn’t really lend it to me because I funked it up beyond repair so I took it home and will do my best to replace it or give her $2 ; )

I ate a gel each hour and a half of a Cliff Bar after two hours when I started to get hungry. Between each aid station I drank the 20 ounces I was able to carry in my fuel belt. I popped at least two endurolyte pills per hour. Towards the end I was downing 4-6 per hour to try and ward off cramps. The aid stations had cookies, powerbars, m&ms, banana slices, chex mix and a few other things but I ate mostly bananas and cookies. The powerbars looked pretty bad and the other stuff wasn’t appealing to me either.  I pretty much alternated between Heed, Gatorade and water for my fluids and I think that went pretty well until after aid station 6 when I started requiring more fluids than I could carry.  By this time the sun was out and it was getting hot. I guess that was about 10 or 10:30 on the morning and about mile 20.

I got a nice boost after the 5th aid station when I asked the volunteer how far along we were.  He said 18 miles which was two miles ahead of what my gps was reading.  At first I thought he didn’t know and was being reckless with my emotions.  But he was right and thankfully, my gps was wrong. By the end, my gps missed about 5 miles by losing the satellite under the canopy of trees.  Not a big deal as long as you come out on the right end of that.

On the third from last climb I started cramping.  My quads first , then my calves.  If I had to make a motion other than my normal running gait I cramped.  There were a few points where we had to climb over trees or up a few rocks and my legs seized up. I thought maybe I was in big trouble because I still had 9 or 10 miles to go.  But with a little kneeding of the muscles, downing all my fluids at once, and some extra endurolytes I managed to ward off the cramps for the most part.  In the last two sections it got worse but still manageable. It kept me from running some but at that point I was taking walk breaks anytime there was the slightest incline.  Flats and downhills were runnable- hills were not.

I had something to look forward too at the 9th and final aid station where I expected Ann Marie was waiting on me. She was going to try to be there at 11:30 and I told her if she didn’t see me by 12:30 to go to the finish. I arrived just before noon and there she was. It definitely lifted my spirits just to see her.  I scrappa pa pa pa cheed to her has I ran off the trail in to the clearing.  For anyone that doesn’t know how to scrappa pa pa pa chee you’re missing out.  She helped fill my bottles and I ate a little, drank hot Heed which I promptly spewed and resisted the urge to throw up.  Warm Heed is bad anytime but especially after 6 hours of running. The volunteers at all of the aid stations were great and I was thankful for them. Without race directors and volunteers we wouldn’t have races to enjoy and I often take that for granted.

After a quick refueling we were off.   Ann Marie was going to run the last leg with me which I was thankful for.  I was almost done and as some reported had the toughest climb yet to come.  I think just because it was the last climb that it was the toughest. I thought all the climbs were hard and couldn’t tell much of a difference between them.  We went up the trail together and we talked and she told me she was proud of me and I was doing great and she made the last section enjoyable.  We made it to the top of the hill, the ridge was a fairly short section, and started back down.

In trail running you inevitably have some tumbles.  I felt fortunate that I’d made it this far without a single spill. I tripped once but didn’t wipe out.  But it’s funny how a weary body and mind will make you do things you know you shouldn’t do like step on a big, flat, wet rock at a steep decline.  But I did it anyway an my feet were out from under me before I knew it. I fell on my back and left side and every major muscle in my body cramped and my left lat was the worst part.  As quick as I could, I got back on my feet, took a quick inventory but was down long enough to get passed by a couple runners I’d passed a few miles earlier.  But there was no sense in licking wounds then so AM and I took off again.  I was glad she was there otherwise I might have cried but I couldn’t do that in front of her and take the teasing the rest of my life ; )

The last section on Davis Creek Trail was an easy trail and led us right the finish.  I rounded the corner to see a few people hanging out to cheer on finishers and then caught site of my brother.  Jonathan had just arrived and yelled to me as I ran in. I held my right side to keep from cramping and tried to use some kind of form. It was good to see him and I started to get a little emotional which I kind of figured I would. I was trying not to have a repeat of Firmman from a few years ago when I balled after I crossed the finish and I didn’t know why.  As I finished I only cried a little. The race director, Dennis, gave me my finisher’s award, a nice little Fiestaware cup and I hugged Ann Marie and JG.  I was glad to be done.  I thanked them for being there for me.  It meant a lot.

For a 50K race there was little fan fare at the end.  No pictures, no crowds, no confetti or bands and no write ups afterwards.  I don’t understand why but no one seems to complain. At the finish there’s just a handful of other people who run ultras because they love it and seem to love the other people that do it.  The people are great and it’s the only place I know of where you might be looked at funny if your next race is only a marathon.

We took one picture at the finish to document the day and that was enough.  I crossed the line in 6:26:10, a 12:25 pace for the 50K.  In my car the temperature read 90 degrees and that may have been high but not more than a couple of degrees.  It was hot.

The day after my quads, calves and shoulders were sore but not as bad as I expected.  Even though it was long and hard I suffered more in two of my marathons than I did in this race.

By the way, the winner finished in under 4 hours which I don’t even understand how that’s possible. 2nd place was 4:28 and I was middle of the pack which I’m pleased with. The last finishers crossed the line in over 10 hours. Bless their hearts.

It was tough but I loved it. I also loved training for it. I love the challenge, I love the trails through the woods, I love to see God’s hand in creation, I love the solitude and I love the time to let my mind wander, to think, and to pray; especially for my family, for Ann Marie, and for Caroline.  I think about them a lot out there.

Anyways, that’s probably more than you wanted to know but it’s more for me because I want to remember this for a long time.

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