Monday, May 14, 2007

My first Ultra - a race report

Capitol Peak Race Report – a journey to my first ultra marathon

Last fall, after my friends Paul and Teresa took me on my first “official” trail run up at Cougar Mountain, I knew I wanted to try an ultra marathon. I'd done a few road marathons, and was getting tired of the pavement. The forest was so beautiful and it was a completely different challenge running on the trail. In addition, I'd had some sidelining injuries in the past, and the training required for a marathon alone was risky enough. But between learning ChiRunning, working on my deep core muscles, and getting off the pavement, I was ready to tackle an ultra marathon. I picked Capitol Peak 55K.

After consulting with Scott to lay out a training plan, and getting advice on nutrition and other things, I had a plan. The week I met with him was a tough one – I had gotten final notice that I would be laid off from my job, and the son of an old friend was killed in Iraq (I hadn't seen him since he was a baby). So when I looked at this schedule with back-to-back long runs (considering my history of injuries), it all came crashing in. After a good cry (well, really one that lasted off and on through out the week) I turned it around and saw being unemployed as a great time for training! I could go run a trail in the middle of a weekday and be fresh. I also had more flexible time to teach ChiRunning – which was great to practice what I taught as I trained! Race date was April 28, at Capitol Forest – a 55K run that went up to Capitol Peak and back down.

During my training, I did two 25K trail races (Tiger Mountain Fat Ass and Orcas Island Fat Ass) as well as a couple non-competitive trail races (NW Trail runs – Soaring Eagle 10 miler and Squak mountain half marathon, which I used as part of a 20 mile run). Those, along with the back-to-backs got me stronger, though I am still relatively slow. It's all good.

Tamara, my massage therapist and friend, wanted to crew for me when I told her I was planning to do this race. She crews for Urs Koenig and wanted to explore new venues. I was a little hesitant since it was “only” a 55K, but I agreed. We headed down to Olympia Friday afternoon in Joey, her jeep, and got to the packet pick up about 4. Our hotel was just down the street so we checked in, unloaded, and then headed for the race start site. I wanted to go there the day before the race since I wasn't familiar with the territory, and we would be looking for it in the dark. Plus, I had missed the Soaring Eagle race start by half an hour having gotten lost beforehand. Race director John Pearch, and his buddies, did an awesome job at directions and signage. I recognized the sandwich board signs from the Orcas Fat Ass race. Thanks y'all!!

As we got on forest service roads, the surface changed to pavement covered some in mud and loose rocks. It had been raining so Joey got his first taste of real mud. Donn (my partner) had thought about riding his Moto Guzzi to the race, but I was a little concerned about the road conditions. I called him later to discourage his plans. We got to the site and saw a couple guys chatting, one who turned out to be someone I met at Squak Mountain, a veteran of many ultras including 100 milers, Max Welker. I had done part of my training run with him and another woman -Robin Blais- at Squak. When I tried to “pull the age card” about being slow, she said – can't do that. He turned out to be about 12 yrs older! Oh well! Max was camping in his van at the race start so he could take an early start for the 50 miler.

After chatting, we hopped back in Joey and went to Olympia to find some dinner. There was a big art walk and downtown was hopping with nary a place in sight to park, so we headed a little further out of town and ended up at a Red Robin where I had a 'shroom garden burger. Should have asked for lettuce/tomatoes but it seemed logical that they would put that on there. Not so! After dinner, we headed back to the hotel where I worked on laying out everything for the morning. I wanted to make sure I didn't have to think too hard since we were getting up at 4 am. I've been used to sleeping in for the last few months since I've been unemployed. After a little TV watching (I never do that at home so it's a novelty at the hotel!), we were off to bed.

That alarm sure went off early! I rolled out of bed and got dressed, brushed the teeth and headed out the door. T had already packed Joey - another plus for crew!! All I had to do was get my butt out of bed, dressed and out the door. I did almost forget my morning coffee (we roast our own so I always pack a little along with a press). When we got to the start, there were already a lot of people parked up and down the service road. I had warmups on over my race clothes and was glad – it was chilly! I saw some people I recognized and a few I knew, either racing or there to volunteer. It helped me to see some familiar faces, though two I didn't recognize would become my two “new best friends” later that day. I checked in and got my number, and got in the ever growing potty line. As the start time neared, I bucked up and shed the warmups. John gave some prerace directions, thanked the supporters, sponsors, and volunteers of the race, and then we were off. We headed down the trail like a bunch of jack rabbits only to hear a minute later “Wrong way!!” John and some others had to haul butt to the front of the line to catch the leaders! Good thing I was near the back taking it slow! :-) Apparently, someone had parked across the entry to the trail and the leaders missed it, while the rest of us followed like sheople! So we all turned the right direction and into the woods. It was getting lighter as a beautiful day was dawning, and we were all thankful for the lovely weather! We've had more than our share of rain this past year, plus last year there was snow at this race! No one took this nice weather for granted!

We climbed up a hillside through some clear cut. I stepped aside a couple times to let people pass – I was a little out of my league speed-wise and I knew the 34 miles lay ahead, so I'd better not let my heart rate go through the roof just yet! There were two people behind me after the second time I stepped aside and I asked if they wanted to pass but they said the pace was fine. A few minutes later, they did pass, but I kept them in my sight. I was prepared to run most of the day alone, as that's how most of my races had been so far. Not a big deal, and good for lots of exploration. We climbed up through more clearcut and I was close enough to make some conversation with them occasionally. We came to the first aid station where a couple volunteers awaited us. One was James Varner, race director of Orcas Island Fat Ass, and also a friend. I had run into him in Olympia after Orcas Is when my band, Orkestar Zirkonium, had gone down to play a Friday night gig at the Eagle's Hall. We chatted a bit and then headed on. Not too far, I managed to step on a big rock in the middle of the logging road and seriously roll my ankle. I heard a pop and thought this might be the end of the race. My new friends, Linda and Rich, waited for me. I hobbled a few steps and it seemed to settle down. I decided to run on it, really applying relaxed lower leg focuses from ChiRunning, and see how it went. I have run on a broken foot and know how painful that is, and this didn't seem to be that. I took a couple ibuprofen a few minutes later, and we headed on. They were dealing with some injuries themselves – Linda had a very tight IT band. She had done Boston (3:43), then a week later, her first 50 miler at Mt.Si Ultra, and was there today doing the 55K. She's a real stud and my new hero!! Rich was also a veteran of ultras and was planning his first 100 miler for this summer. But his hip flexor and hamstring were getting in the way of decent running. They asked me if I had any hip issues – I almost burst out laughing! Last year I could barely run thanks to a screwed up hip rotator. I sort of hobbled through the Boston marathon in 2006. But thanks to core strengthening and getting better at applying ChiRunning focuses, my hip has been a very happy camper! Still, I qualified for the team due to the past injury, and we became Team Hippie! They were the most awesome trail running partners and watched out for me! They were half my age (Rich is a year older than my son and his mom is a year younger than me – and did her first ultra last year), and I still feel really blessed to have come across them. I did manage to roll my ankle a couple more times, which I usually do anyway, but not as bad. I always use it as a sign that I need to reapply my focuses and level my pelvis. Works every time. Plus, another instructor, Laura Robinson, said she learned from Danny to think about the upward spiral of chi, and that has an effect of lightening up your footfall. It's especially helpful when running downhill on a rocky and rooty trail.

We arrived at the second aid station, about 9.7 miles into the race, where T was waiting to dote on me. I introduced Rich and Linda, and later in the day, T would tease me about “whoring” her out to them! Turns out, she was whoring herself out to folks who showed up with various injuries or pains and applying her awesome massage skills to them! Anyway, one of the aid station volunteers asked me what happened to my legs. I thought they meant my ankle, so I told them I rolled it. They said 'no, that blood'. I looked down and both legs had blood smeared on them near the insides of my knees. I must have gotten a scratch or bug bite that hit a bleeder. I shrugged it off (yeah, I'm a blood stud) and by the end of the day, I had sweat the blood away. We fueled up and headed back out; next aid station 6 miles away. The run was beautiful and we talked about what we had been reading. Linda is getting a masters in information technology and will be a librarian. She's even developing her own catalog system for her extensive book collection! Rich is a firefighter and I guess has some time to read between fires.

As we got within a mile of the next aid station, talk turned to food. We would notice this throughout the day. I keep hearing to successfully run an ultra, you have to learn to eat during it. So true!! Rich was making noises about going to his car for a brief nap, since that
id station (mile 15.7) also served as the start/finish area. We got in and fueled up and made pit stops at the outhouse. I chatted a little with John (RD) about ChiRunning (beware – I'll talk it up to even the most remotely interested party, though John was keenly interested in it). We hung out there till all felt comfortable and Rich's alarm went off (joke) and then head off to Capitol Peak.
<--Rich showing off his bum hip
What a beautiful climb! I am not as strong on hills as I would like to be, so I was grateful for L
inda and Rich “pulling” me up the hill. I even told them about this product I'd seen where you basically put the weaker person on a short rope and haul 'em along – it's called a wego team link. About half way up, another runner came up who was having trouble with his knee locking up. He traced the pain, and it was definitely his IT band. I told him to hold on to my shoulder, and had Linda demonstrate the stretch. He stayed with us a little way, but unfortunately had to drop out at the next station. I felt bad for him, though I did love it when he (almost apologetically) mentioned he was 46. Linda said she was 29, Rich was 26, and I said 52. There goes that age card again – old farts be warned!! Talk turned again to food as we drew closer to the aid station.

We pulled into aid station 4, near the final climb up to Capitol Peak, at mile 20. Tamara was there waiting for us and again doted on me. So awesome! She did notice that I'm not used to that though, so I was trying hard to appreciate it fully! We noshed at the aid station and Rich and Linda worked on inventing a new snack, something to do with pretzels and peanut butter, while I ate sliced bananas and made “banana rings” out of the peels. The volunteers warned us that several people had gotten confused about the sign up to the peak and gone off course. They were pretty specific about which way we should go, though most of it sounded Greek to me. We took off up the road and soon enough came to a sort of fork, but with three roads. Two looked like the same road of a loop, and the third went sharply right and up. There was a sign pointing that way, but not quite “up” that way. The 50 mile sweeper was pretty upset that it was so confusing and sort of freaking out. Linda went a little further to investigate and discovered a trail just to the left of that road, with ribbons hanging from tree branches. That was the correct way, and we were off to the summit! We climbed up, smiling and goofing off for the camera and Rich noticed the view. I turned around and was in awe, even though it was overcast and we couldn't see the mountains. We saw Puget Sound far off and tree tops for as far as the eye could see. It was really pretty! It was also pretty chilly compared to lower elevations. My gloves kept going on and coming off. We headed back down the road and looped around to the aid station again, where I retrieved my jacket from T. We ate some more and then took off for the woods and onto the next aid station. That was about 5 miles away.

We stopped at a road crossing at one point so Rich could stretch his hamstring. That climb must have taken its toll. There was another fork in the road, and I knew we were going to aid station 6, so we followed the sign to that. It was pretty much downhill and I occasionally found myself ahead of the gang. Running downhill with the types of injuries they were dealing with is really tough. I had fun thinking about leveling my pelvis and the upward spiral of chi, which caused me to pick it up a bit. They were so good to me on the uphills, that I felt a loyalty to them on the downhills, so I would hang back a little. Soon we were all together again, and they must have loosened up because once again I was not leading! About a mile from the station (as we were discussing our favorite foods) the 50 mile sweeper came barreling down the trail towards us. He wanted to know if we had gotten to Wedekind (aid station 6) and we told him we were headed there. He said he was on the 50 mile route and wanted to know if we had seen any 50 milers go by. No. I had a map so I pulled it out and was able to show him where we were. He grilled me again about whether we had reached Wedekind (really, I felt like I was on the witness stand!) and finally he turned around and ran back to Wedekind.
We eventually pulled in to aid station 6, where the 50 milers go one way the first time through and make a big loop, while we head for the finish.
<-- Linda and me sharin' the trail luv at Wedekind
The poor guy had taken a wrong turn and was backtracking. He got back on track, and after some yummy Ramen soup (mostly noodles) and other food (coke is good!), I got a water bottle full of gatorade and we took off for home.
The run to the finish was a gentle downhill and we occasionally had to step aside for a speedy 50 miler to pass. We also occasionally took walk breaks and enjoyed the scenery – it was such a gorgeous day! About two miles or so before the end we came out into a clear cut area. In parts of the trail, it was like being a giant walking through a canyon or walking in a ditch. It was hard to get a level footing which was hard especially for Rich's hamstring. My ankle didn't like it too well, and I think that's where a blister on the heel started developing. It was also getting really warm; we'd really gotten used to the shade! When it really got tough, we were back in the shade. At some point, Linda commented how great it was to run together (we'd been saying that throughout the day) but more importantly, how positive we all were. Rich responded with a “shaddup!' which caused her to giggle over the next mile. Finally, we came up to a sign pointing right that said To Finish. We followed the trail and Rich said “I think that sign said we had three miles to go.” Ha ha. We agreed that since we hung together all day, we should cross the finish line together. So we came barreling in and linked up arms and ran across to top off a really great and fun day! Time was 8:46.
Team Hippie arrives at the finish

After crossing the finish line, I heard a deep voice call my name and looked over to see Donn! He had arrived earlier on his motorcycle with out a lick of mud on it! What a nice surprise!

Someone asked me later if I didn't have anything better to spend 9 hours doing and I immediately responded that I couldn't think of anything! After my ankle heals (it's a mild sprain), I'll be looking for another one to run, and for next year, ramp up to a 50 miler (yikes!). I'll be looking for Rich and Linda who plan to run a 100 miler together later this year!

Post note – I headed over to Spokane the next weekend to work at the ChiRunning booth. I ended up signing up for the Bloomsday Run and did it, enjoying myself the whole way!

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