Monday, November 19, 2012

Wild Hare 50K Race Report + 4 miles

Short report:
This was by far my favorite trail race yet. I LOVE this course! I loved the mixed terrain and especially the fast down hills where I felt like I was a little kid dancing in the woods. Honestly, I was a bit amazed with my own confidence in how fast I was maneuvering the down hills and the rocky terrain by the 4th loop, it was almost an out of body experience. Oh, and I love the loops. I would do a 100 out here if given the chance – Joe?? It is definitely a well supported, well run race with great volunteers, plus fun goodies (cool race medal, technical shirt, great burgers and Shiner beer). I highly recommend it!

Long report:
Wild Hare is held at Bluff Creek Ranch in Warda, Texas. It is a 7.85 mile trail that is used mostly by mountain bikers and it is a great mix of semi-technical single track, with sections that roll up and down with a good mix of flat and open trails. Note, I am flat lander, so what I call rolling up and down, others may not even notice. There are only two big climbs on the course, both in the second half of the loop.

There were 4 races going on simultaneously – a 50 miler, 50K, 25K and 10K. The 50 milers started at 6 am, 50Kers at 7 am and 25Kers and 10Kers at 8 am. I like this set up because it brings more people out for the races, but I do wish there was an easy way to distinguish which race any given runner was competing in … this will become important later in my race report.

The 50K was 4 loops on the course with aid stations at 3.5 miles and at the start/finish line. It is pretty spectator friendly because the aid station at 3.5 miles is within sight of the start finish line, so spectators can easily walk back and forth between the two spots to cheer and support their runners.

My goal for this race was to keep my lap splits as even as possible, run strong but not blow up and to not lose too much time at aid stations. I skipped my hydration pack for this race and opted to just carry a handheld and used that and pockets on my clothes to carry a couple nutrition items. I had easy access to my gear and crew (my patient and devoted hubby, Doug) at the aid stations so I didn’t need to carry much. I had peanut butter crackers for my pre-race meal and joined the 100 other 50K runners on the starting line.

Race morning was chilly, so I layered up in a beanie, gloves, running capris, running tank, bolero and running vest. I knew I would be taking layers off as the day progressed, another reason I loved the looped course. I started with the top 25% of the field and waited to find my stride. It takes me a good 5 miles for my body to take over for my mind when running trails. The first 5 miles are typically when I will have an early ankle roll because I am over thinking, so I was diligent and a happy that I was not running in the dark. I don’t like to run bunched up with a lot of other runners because I like to have full view of the trail, especially in the early miles. This becomes less important as the race progresses after I have found my stride and I am in my comfort zone. So, surprisingly, after just a couple of miles I found myself, well, by myself. Basically I was in between the top group and the rest of the field and I stayed here most of the day.

Loop 1: I found my stride and locked into my race pace (which varies depending on lots of factors, including how I feel on any given race day). The cool weather definitely helped on Saturday. I ran the entire lap, even the two steep up hills. I have run this course before, so I got re-acquainted and was happy to not have any issues. I stayed on top of my hydration and nutrition - PowerBar Energy Blasts for calories.

Loop 2: Got rid of the beanie and gloves, filled up on water, added sunglasses and a headband and inhaled a quarter PBJ at the start/finish before taking off. Felt a lot more confidence heading into loop 2. I chatted with a few more people on this lap, which I always enjoy (yes, I am THAT runner) and was happy to see Doug at the aid station. I ran the entire lap again, but was a bit slower on those steep uphills. PowerBar Energy Gel and a quarter PBJ fueled this lap.

Loop 3: I took off my remaining layers and felt awesome in the brisk air in a running tank and my leggings. At this point, I started to wonder how many women were ahead of me … hmmm. I passed a few and I knew there were a few ahead of me, but how many? I tried to ignore my competitive inner dialogue (like a devil on my shoulder) reminding myself to run my own race (the angel), to keep moving forward but I still found myself stalking a woman in a yellow t-shirt ahead of me. It was great to have a pace bunny. I ran into more traffic this lap and chatted briefly with the people I passed, some doing the 50 miler, some 25Kers. I passed the woman in the yellow shirt towards the end of the lap but it was because my natural stride and pace dictated it was time to pass. More PowerBar Energy Gels and PBJs. I had a few random cramps, but ran through them ok. I ran the entire lap, but walked the two steep uphills, which I swear were getting steeper each lap. The brief walks and change in my stride helped me stretch my hamstrings.

Loop 4: Doug was supportive as ever and wished me well on my last lap. I stopped to re-tie my shoes because they were loose and I didn’t want so much play in my shoes. While I was adjusting my shoes, the lady in yellow shirt passed me. Crap! I had to tell myself that it didn’t matter, I was racing my own race. The start of this lap hurt. My hamstrings were getting tight and I had a few random aches and pains, but I kept telling myself to keep moving forward, that my competition was running and I should be too (in this case, it was good to use my competitive spirit), and that it would feel better if I just kept going … and it did. It didn’t take long for me to pass the lady in yellow again. Once I hit the aid station, I took off knowing that I had just over 4 miles to go. There is a three quarters of a mile open section of trail as you leave the aid station to the next technical portion of the trail – the gas pass. I took my time here, and then let it ride in the gas pass, knowing my horse to stables adrenaline would get me home. Again, I power walked the steep up hills and enjoyed one last PowerBar Energy gel to power me to the end.

With three or so miles to go, I got passed by a woman that I was hoping was running the 50 miler because she seemed like she was flying (turned out she was in the 50K). Towards the end of the lap, I saw a woman in a green hat that I thought might be in the 50K but I was not sure. I had reeled her in for most of the last lap but I thought that she was too far ahead to reach, and I was trying to run my own race. Well, with less than a half mile to go, I was on her tail and she started to pick up the pace, so I kicked it into high gear, but it was not quite enough to catch her (she was in the 50K … remember me saying it would be great to know who was running each race, maybe I need to pay more attention at the start!). I came in 6th by 6 seconds and missed out on the cool rabbit trophies, but enjoyed a Shiner Wild Hare Pale Ale as a consolation prize after tacking on 4 bonus miles as training for Rocky Raccoon.

It was a great race. I tried to be encouraging to every person I came across all day long, competition or not and to thank all of the volunteers who were so helpful. I had a great chat with the two ladies who came in fourth and fifth afterwards and then took off for my bonus miles. I thought they were going to hurt, but turns out, I was so relaxed now that I was no longer racing, they were actually faster than my times on my fourth lap (lesson learned – RELAX to go faster)! I finished my 35 miles feeling strong and knowing that I could have kept going, I will call that a positive training and race day! Oh, and I PR’d the race by 18 minutes!

Race Results
6/34 Women
23/98 Overall
Lap 1 – 1:19:04
Lap 2 – 1:21:51
Lap 3 – 1:25:53
Lap 4 – 1:28:31
50K Total - 5:35:19


Sunday, November 4, 2012

My Road to the Cactus Rose – 100 Mile Relay Race Report

Short report – Doing things that scare you help you grow so much more as an athlete. Experience breeds confidence. Running in the dark makes the up hills less intimidating. Bandera was actually fun!

Gory Details:
After Reveille Ranch, I thought my future trail running was going to be limited to the equivalent of soft green fields. Ok, maybe I am exaggerating but the course definitely got the better of me and my initial post race reaction was to avoid similar terrain in the future.

Once my ego healed, I realized that it was my lack of experience on trails, especially more technical trails, that left me vulnerable on the course.

The very first thing I did after Reveille Ranch was to hire Joe P as my coach to prepare me for the Rocky Raccoon 100 in February. It was clear that I have a lot to learn and I want to be completely prepared come February. Joe P is not only an incredible race director but he is also a seriously experienced trail runner.

The second thing I did was to start doing all of my long runs on trails when possible. I needed the confidence that only comes from experience. I know that Rocky is not a technical course by trail running standards, but having run the Little Rocky 50K and Escape from Huntsville 50K there last year, I am here to tell you, coming from only road miles, even Huntsville can feel hilly and technical. Plus, even for a non-technical trail, I imagine that the roots start to jump out at you after 60 some odd miles.

So, under Joe’s guidance I started adding specificity to my weekly runs. Intervals, hills, race pace. I also realized getting out of my comfort zone would only make me a stronger trail runner. I did long solo runs in Warda and ventured out for hilly runs in Tulsa and Little Rock, on trails when possible, on my business travels.

I had zero intention of running in Bandera. I had heard nothing but crazy things about the course and to be honest, it scared me a bit. Then I read about the history of the Cactus Rose race and that a relay option was available. My curiosity was definitely piqued. Then I started seeing requests on the Tejas Trails FB page for requests to help fill spots on relay teams. A quick call to Joe later, we both agreed, doing something that pushes me would be great experience and I was signed up to run 25 miles of the Cactus Rose.

My team agreed on how to split up the legs, and I ended up with the third leg. The good news was that I was able to show up in Bandera mid-afternoon on Saturday (less time away from home and the kids), the bad news (or so I thought) was that most of my 25 miles were going to be run in the dark.

Due to the lack of cell coverage around the race site, I had a difficult time locating my team (whom I had never met before), but I quickly realized I could check the log books at the Lodge and Equestrian to see where our Leg 2 runner was on the course.

We ran into town to grab some dinner for my husband aka, my crew, which gave me the opportunity to text my team. We finally met up at the Lodge around 5:30 and I felt much better. We also chatted with other runners and cheered on folks who were coming in finishing 50 miles or continuing on their 100 mile journeys. It gave me the opportunity to get some real time feedback on the course as well.

The Cactus Rose is run clockwise and counterclockwise every other loop. This allows runners to see each other more frequently and adds a fun dynamic to experience the course in both directions. Doing leg 3 of the relay meant that I had a clockwise loop.

In talking with Joe and looking at the course elevation map, I knew that the most challenging part of the course would be the last 10 miles of my 25 miles – and that section would certainly be in the dark. My plan was to run as much as I could during the daylight in the “easier” sections not knowing how much I would be able to run in the more technical sections, especially in the dark.

My nervousness and uncertainty was driven by my unplanned walking at Reveille Ranch with a nasty blister and a turned ankle (caused in part by my inexperience on the technical course) and having never run in Bandera, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of my ability to actually run the more technical portions.

Right around 6, I made myself a PB fold over and I was about to have it for dinner, when our leg 2 runner appeared. A quick change of the timing chip and race number and I was off, still eating my fold over.

With aid stations every 5 miles, I set out knowing I would have about that much time before sun down. As I set off, I felt fantastic and I was running strong on the course. There was one steep, rocky climb up and descent in the first five mile stretch that I hiked rather than ran, but other than that, I was able to run the majority of the time. This definitely boosted my confidence.

My only mistake in these early miles was misreading the aid stations. I told Doug that the Equestrian station was 10 miles out, but it was only 5 miles out, so when I arrived there, I thought that I had missed a turn. A few helpful folks assured me that I was on the right track, so I signed into the log book and knew that Doug would figure out what happened. I couldn’t even text him to let him know.

One of the negative things about running the third leg is that a lot of the 50 milers were finished so there were fewer runners on the course. Of the runners I did pass or come across I couldn’t help but feel like a bit of a poser. Running 25 miles in Bandera is still a great accomplishment, but when someone running 100 miles tells you that you are looking great, I felt like I had to clarify that I was running the relay. Maybe it stems from my own issues, I just know that when I am doing a long run and someone blazes by me it can be demoralizing, especially if I am in the midst of a bad spell. I usually tell myself (whether it is true or not) that they aren’t going as far so that is why they are passing me like I am standing still. Nothing against fasties, this just helps me feel better :) Anyhow, I tried to encourage everyone I came across and I found that as is the case in the ultra community, everyone I came across on the trails was encouraging and inspirational!

As night fell, I found that my new Black Diamond Icon 200 Lumen headlamp made a huge difference. I had plenty of light and was pleasantly surprised with the course. A good portion of the course was trail that was very runnable and I even got comfortable with all of the rock. The darkness definitely helped to mask the elevation changes. I really think there is something psychosomatic about seeing how steep a hill is and making it seem harder – as they say, it’s all in your head, and when you can’t see it, you can’t psyche yourself out!

I got to see Doug and Indy when I made it back to Equestrian and it was just the boost I needed for my last 10 miles.

I knew these last 10 miles would be challenging and they did not dissapoint in terms of sotol, steepness and no shortage of rocks. At one point noticed a headlamp off in the distance that looked like it was on top of a mountain, and that gave me a clue about how much climbing I had ahead of me. However, besides the sometimes very steep, rocky climbs and descents, which I carefully hiked, I was able to keep running. The sotol was prolific, but my legs stayed generally protected in my running tights

Overall, my three biggest surprises were how comfortable I was running alone, in the dark and on the terrain. Shockingly, besides one near slip on a rocky downhill and one toe stub, I had no issues at all. There were no ankle rolls or blisters like at Reveille Ranch and I felt really good.

My hydration pack was great so I was able to run empty-handed and I had easy access to my PowerBar Gels.  My gels of choice are Tangerine and Berry Blast because of the caffeine, which is great for night running!  Also, there is not a better gel on the market in terms of consistency.  These gels are thin, taste great and easy to swallow and they gave me just the energy I needed for this course.

I finished my 25 miles in 5:43, which given the terrain, made me happy and Leg 4 of our relay took off just before midnight.  I would definitely like to run in Bandera again in the daylight to enjoy the beauty of the terrain.

Photos by my relay teammates Niti and Jeanne.