It’s early July, and I’m suffering from my first-ever bout of IT band issues. I freak out and do all the stretching, rolling, icing, and resting that I can in order to even think about running the Leadville Silver Rush 50-miler. I show up on race day and finish. It’s not a pretty finish (I fall twice and have to get cleaned off by the awesome medical staff at the end), and it’s not a fast finish (barely under 13 hours). Still, I’m proud to get it done. Afterward, I get some physical therapy done, and join those dedicated to using their foam rollers.
Fast forward to September. I’ve regularly been suffering from stiff legs and knees since the Leadville incident, although I haven’t had the awful IT band pain. I’m still able to run (most of the time), and I dearly want to run the 2012 Bear Chase Race. Not only do I want to run it, but I want to get a PR. So far, all of my times from running any ultra distance for the first time stand as my PRs. This isn’t good, because it implies I’m not getting any better. I very badly want a PR. I’m going to need both legs working well (no stiffness), and I need decent weather. Both years prior, the Bear Chase Race has been hot as hell. I want temps just a little cooler this time around (below 80 degrees would be nice), and maybe even some cloud cover. I had signed up for the Rock & Roll Denver Marathon taking place the weekend before Bear Chase. I gave myself my first DNS (Did Not Start) so I could concentrate on the 50-mile race. Bear Chase is also on my wedding anniversary. This did not make a certain someone terribly happy.
9/30/12, race day. I get up at a crazy hour and drive myself over to Bandimere Speedway, where we are required to park. We can’t park at the race’s start/finish due to the summer’s dry conditions. It wouldn’t do to burn the park down due to an errant spark from a tail pipe. There are great white/blue flashy lights the last several yards into the parking lot, where I leave my car and board a bus. I’m dressed warmly, remembering how cold it was the past two years, waiting for the race to start. Strangely enough this year, the early hours are warmer, but the rest of the day is predicted to be low 70s with some clouds. No burning mid-80s this year, I hope.
This is the conversation of several runners on the bus and at the start, especially at the drop bag station (each race gets its own drop area to make things easier), and at the porta-potties. “It’s warm now, that can’t bode well for later.” “The hour-by-hour forecast for this area still shows cool weather. I’m not certain if we should believe it.”
I tell two fellows that it’s warmer in the wee hours because of all the cloud cover we’ve had overnight. I’m not a weather forecaster, but this seems to be correct. The guys believe me, and I try to believe myself. I take off my warmup clothes, and even strip off my arm sleeves. I’m in shorts, a tech tee, hat, and light gloves. Even the gloves will come off soon. I’m ready to start!
BAM! Okay, there’s no gunshot. Just a countdown, and we’re off under a great full moon. I think that it would be nice to have the national anthem play next time, but I guess it really doesn’t matter. I’m ready to go on my third Bear Chase Race 50-miler. Holy crap! I’m really running this thing for the third time? What’s wrong with me? Um…
As usual, it’s just barely light enough to see as we set off. Other race distances (50k, half marathon, and 10k) will start at staggered times behind us. I appreciate this, as it helps avoid some of the bottle necking. We still bunch up a little here and there, but I resolve to not let this bother me. I’m also having some trouble seeing, as it’s that gray area of dawn and we’re in the trees. I calm my mind (Be at peace, young Jedi), watch the ground so I don’t take a header, and chat a bit with the folks around me.
We do spread out fairly quickly, although I catch up with a line of folks that I’ll stay with until the second aid station. We’re all running about the same pace, and it’s nice to stay with the same people for a while. There’s Purple Shirt Lady, Pink Calf Sleeves Girl, Red Shirt Guy, Guy Thinking of Moving to Colorado, and the Guy Who Fell Really Early On. I can never remember anyone’s names, so this is my way of familiarizing myself with folks. Some of the speed demons from the other race distances overtake us early on, and one is amused at our steady conga line. We’re all good about moving to the side to let race leaders blast ahead.
At the first aid station, I decide to try out the sports drink being served by the race. Herbalife is the liquid of the day, changed from the Gatorade endurance product they’ve had before. One cup of Herbalife convinces me that I was correct in putting my own Gatorade powder in my drop bag. Not only does Herbalife taste nasty, but my tummy gives a couple of rumbles. I now know to avoid both Heed and Herbalife when running. Unfortunately, most races now serve this stuff. Well, some other people swear by it, but I’ll just stick to what I’m familiar with.
My run continues on to the next aid station. I’m moseying along in my little conga line, and right now I’m having one of those moments where I’m supremely happy to be alive and running in a gorgeous pace, working on covering a crazy distance. This moment of serene zen continues as I trek up and over Mt. Carbon.
My mind flashes to the “Love It” size of ice cream that you can get from Cold Stone. I haven’t been to that place in over a year, but my brain is still equating my “loving it” moment of life with ice cream. Lol, good thing I’m a runner!
There are three water crossings on this course, and the lucky 50-milers get to splash through water a total of 12 times. I really do enjoy these, although the crossings on the first loop always make me holler like a little girl. I have to grin at two ladies who have paused and stepped to the side before the first water crossing. They’re having some kind of discussion, probably trying to figure out how to cross without getting wet. Short of elevating to sainthood and walking on water, they’re going to have to get wet. As I get my own crossings done (just plonking through the water at a steady step), I see them not far behind me. Looks like they got over their worries!
I grab some banana at the next aid station and run the infamous Morrison Road section of the race. Infamous, because it feels like the infernal pits of hell out there if you’re running this section on a hot day. There is no cover providing shade. On the flip side, if it’s cool out, this really isn’t a bad little section. It’s all a matter of perspective. I climb a couple of hills (walking the steep ups, just as I did at Mt. Carbon), and enjoy the gradual downhill to the next aid station. My entire strategy, as in past years, is to run aid station to aid station (or interesting obstacle to interesting obstacle), and not think about the overall mileage. As everyone has told me, running 50 miles is crazy. If I think about running that far, without breaking up the race into manageable sections, I really will go bonkers. That’s the way ultras work.
I hit the final aid station and am still feeling great. I’m especially pleased, as it looks like I’m still on track for my PR pace. I run toward the last big hill on the course, and see a volunteer happily shaking a cowbell at me. I request more cowbell, and climb the hill. Running toward the end, I eventually see what will become one of my most coveted sights of the day – the “1 Mile to Finish” sign. I don’t get to finish at the finish for quite a while, but it’s REALLY good to know that my lap will be over with quite soon!
I get to the start/finish, and I’m one minute under PR time. I was hoping for a little better, but this is still fantastic news. Last year, I came in at nearly this time, and was starting to feel wrecked. I really had to slow my race down. (Okay, I’d also run 86.5 miles of the Leadville 100 not long before that, and was apparently not quite recovered yet.) This year, I feel pretty darned good! I ‘treat’ myself to a porta-potty stop, down a Mix 1 (liquid calories are so awesome in an ultra), and puff on my inhaler (which I’d forgotten to do before the start). Then, I’m off again!
“Second verse, same as the first!” Nah, I won’t sing about Henry VIII. I do get to slow down a little this lap. I’m not hanging on my average pace time as much as I was the first lap, knowing I need to start running a little more by feel. I’m also doing everything that I possibly can to keep my mindset incredibly positive. The last two years, my brain messed with me after I started the second loop, telling myself that I’d just finished 12.5 miles, and I had to do that THREE MORE TIMES. Ugh, awful. This year, I stay chirpy and keep telling myself how awesome I am. I’m strong, and I can do this! Obviously, I can. I’ve done it before. Shoot, I ran the Leadville Silver Rush on a funky leg, and finished with over an hour to spare. Oh, and isn’t this awesome weather we’re having this year?
Most of the second loop is unremarkable, except for the fact that I never have a brain meltdown. My inner cheerleader is doing her job quite well. I’d almost say that I’m having a perfectly good time on this loop, except that I start getting some muscle cramps in my legs as I climb the last hill (I have always hated this hill, btw) on the course. It’s starting to warm up a little, and I’m climbing a hill. That tends to be a recipe for me that leads to charley horses. But wait! I think I might have a solutions! I recently read that eating yellow mustard is supposed to stop muscle cramps. I even have three little mustard packets that I brought along just for this purpose. Yes, I actually eat yellow mustard packets as I’m running along the last three miles of this loop. What is this like? 1) It completely opens up all of my sinuses. 2) It’s hard to force myself to swallow the stuff. 3) It gets all over my hands. 4) I now want a hot dog.
I cross the start/finish line, and do the porta-potty thing again. I’m thinking that maybe I stuffed too much pasta into my tummy last night. Note to self – carbo-loading doesn’t mean carbo-forklift-truck-loading. I drink another Mix 1 (wondering how that will mix with the mustard in my tummy), down a 5-Hour Energy (more fuel for the tummy fire), and grab my MP3 player. My reward for finishing lap 2 is allowing myself music for the rest of the race! I’m even happier, because I have come in a couple of minutes below PR time. YEEESSSS!
How does Lap 3 go? The music helps, and so does the 5-Hour energy. The sun, however, is at the warmest it will be all race, and I keep looking at the clouds over the foothills, wondering if they’ll ever move my way. Also, the lovely mustard isn’t helping the leg cramps. I’m still feeling them occasionally, but what’s most important is that the vinegar is now giving me a sour stomach.
I don’t often have stomach issues in ultras. I know I’ve sabotaged myself this time with eating mustard, especially when it’s something I’ve never even done in training before. I’m an idiot. By the time I get to the second aid station, some of the volunteers can tell I’m having an issue. One gentleman gets me to take some Tums, which I gratefully crunch down. These do help, and get me to the next aid station. I eat two more there, but now my tummy is onto this ruse. It refuses to calm down. Instead, things really kick up a notch. Yech! I tell one of my favorite volunteers, Julie, that I saw her husband earlier on this lap, and then I move on. After I pass my favorite “1 mile to go” sign, I stop and bend over, hoping to throw up. This will mean that my streak of never having puked in an ultra will end, but right now I welcome the broken record. I want the acid out of my tummy. A gentleman stops beside me and asks if he should bring anyone to help me. I politely refuse, thinking that people puking in an ultra really isn’t too uncommon. Well, nothing comes up. Rather than hover here, I move on and get to the start/finish.
Even with the attempt at bringing up the limited contents of my tummy (I’ve stopped eating gels for a while, not having any appetite whatsoever), I’m a few minutes below PR time still. Right on! I grab a Mix 1 and wander over to one of my favorite course volunteers. My friend, Trevor, and I have paced each other, and run with each other, in several ultras. This time, he ran the half marathon at Bear Chase with his awesome girlfriend, Jenn, and then decided to volunteer the rest of the race. Trevor says I’m looking good, but I tell him about my tummy issues. He, and one of my other favorite volunteers, Ben, get me to eat some food, and to drink some Ginger Ale. Then, Trevor gets me out of the aid station, and walks me several yards down the trail to help me start running again.
As I get my pace up, I pop 3 Endurolytes, as well as my emergency ginger pills. I’m hoping these, along with the aid station stop, will help me out. I belch loudly, causing the person in front of me to turn around and smile in amusement. I tell her how badly that was needed. Now, all this must help me out, right? Surely, it will…OUCH! Charely horse cramping from hell in my quads. I utter several f-bombs, causing concerned looks on the faces of some ladies standing nearby, obviously waiting for their runner to come by. I apologize and keep walking off the cramps. Dangit, the last thing I wanted to do here was walk. The last two years, I walked a lot during this part of the race, and I knew that this was where I could make up the best time. Luckily, the walking doesn’t last long, and I’m able to keep up a steady run again.
The cloud cover and brief spat of rain helps! I’m happy again, trying to keep the walking at an absolute minimum. I’m positive I’m making time on that PR! With each step that I run on this last loop, I tell myself that I don’t have to see that particular spot again. After this loop, I can sit down, and then go home. I can sleep in the next day and be a lazy slug, as I’ve taken Monday off from work. I just have to finish this loop. I get extra energy as I near each aid station, and they all cheer for me as they see me coming near. What awesome people volunteering at this race!
I start approaching Mt. Carbon and see a girl in front of me. Part of my brain thinks that she looks familiar, but the other part doesn’t care and just wants to get to Mt. Carbon and walk up. The girl turns around, and it’s my friend Jessica! Suddenly, all of my brain cares. At no other time could I possibly have caught up to Jessica in a race, as she is most definitely faster than me. However, she finished the Leadville 100 in late August, and Jessica tells me now that she is very much feeling under-recovered in this 50 mile race. She and I chat our way up Mt. Carbon, and I absolutely love this brief time with my friend. However, I very badly want my PR, and Jessica gamely tells me to move on. Feeling a little selfish, I run down Mt. Carbon to the next aid station. I’m very happy to get there, as I’ve been without liquids for the past two miles. Like an idiot, I’ve misjudged how long this last loop is taking me, and didn’t fill up when I should have.
The Morrison Road section. Of the three years I’ve run this race, this is the first time this section hasn’t been completely miserable this late in the race. In fact, it’s actually somewhat enjoyable. My stomach issues have mysteriously resolved themselves, and the cramping in my legs is kept at a minimum. The only issue is that I’m fairly tired, and I’d really like to stop running soon. I can feel the pull of the finish line, especially as I mosey into the last aid station. I’m cheered in, and Julie congratulates me on a great race. I don’t stay long, and keep myself moving.
What are my thoughts as I crest that last hill on the course? I get to the top, look out over the awesome view, and raise my arms like Rocky after he ran up the steps in Philadelphia. I smile, and start cruising down. I know that, unless something completely catastrophic happens, I will have this race AND A PR in the bag! I keep running, and I don’t even have to mentally bully myself to stay above a walk. In this awesome weather, with a recovered tummy, with a PR looming, I don’t have a problem with running.
I see my favorite sign, and I start crying. I say, “Oh, my God!”, knowing that I’m really doing this thing. I’m about to prove to myself that I can improve in the world of ultras. I make myself stop crying, as it’s only making it tough to breathe. This is when the Moody Blues song “Your Wildest Dreams” comes onto my MP3 player. I swear, it’s destiny! I run into the parking lot, and cross the finish line for the fourth and last time. I’m so full of emotion that I let out what I’m calling a mighty Ultra Yalp of extreme happiness. My final time: 10:23 – 20 minutes faster than my previous PR. I laid down the hammer, and never let up. What an awesome race!
1. Do not do something completely new on race day. You think I’d know this one by now.
2. Do not eat anything with excessive vinegar.
3. Always bring emergency ginger pills on an ultra race.
4. Keep the mind positive, and often the body will follow.
5. I had all of my favorite New Skin products ready for my inevitable scrapes from falling, or for chafing from running 50 miles. Miracle upon miracle, I didn’t fall or chafe at all. I also had no blisters that needed treating. Still, the liquid bandages and sprays are definitely life-savers when they’re needed. They’re coming with my on my 101.4 mile race at the end of October.