Monday, June 27, 2011

Chattooga 50K

When I think about the foothills of South Carolina, I think about Claude Sinclair's Laurel Valley run held every year in August. To be honest, I really don't like running Laurel Valley all that much, but I keep coming back year after year because it's a tradition. But it's also South Carolina in the summer, which means it's hot and dripping with humidity, with the added benefits of abundant poison ivy, copperheads, yellow jackets and biting flies. Plus, the section of Foothills Trail that it follows is tough, with plenty of technical trail and annoying little climbs and descents that wear you down. No, during the summer I stick to the mountains, running the ridgelines along the AT.

In the days before the Chattooga 50K, I pondered why, despite my knowledge of both South Carolina in the summer and the Foothills Trail, did I sign up for this run? My best answer is that the combination of dehydration and lack of oxygen inherent in ultrarunning has damaged key brain cells. I was very unenthusiastic about heading out to this run, but it is a Terri Hayes race and I do think a lot of Terri Hayes and her runs. Plus, it's a little over an hour from the house and I didn't have any plans for this weekend. Great day for a training run. Which is good, because I feel like I haven't had any time to do any training since I have run a race every three weeks now and I am constantly recovering.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm, I collected Alan and headed down the mountain. The race location was ideal, in a campground with nice restrooms and showers adjacent. The check in was efficient and well organized and you got a nice little goody bag, which was especially nice for the price of entry (Terri doesn't charge one, just accepts donations). Lots of familiar faces again, another family reunion, which kinda makes up for the fact I was about to run in South Carolina in the summer again.

The Pre-Race Briefing

I had read the course directions and looked at the maps that Terri had on her website and this course seemed a little tricky. I had also read race reports where people had gotten off course, so I paid close attention to her directions. I was still a little fuzzy, but did remember her saying, "turn around at the first wooden bridge," an important bit of info later on. Once the race began, the directions made good sense and I took time at the intersections to remember which way I had to turn on the way back.

Part I: Start to Aid Station 1 (7 miles)

The first three miles were fun. A nice gradual downhill on single track, very runnable with very little effort. Just lean forward and gravity does all the work. I was enjoying this section until I remembered that this section was an out and back, which meant that all this nice downhill would shortly turn into uphill. As I began to run back up, it turned out that the uphill wasn't as steep as I perceived it, but all those runners, heading both downhill and uphill had really stirred up the leaves and dust. My asthma cranked up and I couldn't settle my breathing down. It's funny what a lack of oxygen does to you (despite killing brain cells). Your legs feel heavy, you have no energy and worst of all, no clue how you are going to finish a tough 50K when you feel this bad three miles into it. Disregarding doctor's orders not to use my inhaler too much, I inhaled and felt better. Soon I was back to plugging along steadily uphill. Back at the top of the hill, you made a leftie and within a half mile, you were at the first aid station.

A word on aid stations

As I mentioned, Terri does not charge an entry fee, but you could not tell it from the aid stations. The table is covered with food, everything from gels and e-caps to homemade banana bread. The volunteers are extremely helpful, filling up bottles or bladders with ICE cold water or Heed. I savored that cold water as at the day grew hotter. Unfortunately, there was a long 10 mile stretch ahead before the next aid.

The Foothills Trail Section from Hell

After the aid station, you followed a 3 mile nicely rolling trail to the Foothills Trail. I really wasn't sure what part of the FHT the course was on and was not at all pleased to find that it was the Bermuda Triangle section. This was the section during the FHT Traverse where the miles you had put in seemed to disappear because you never, ever got to the end. This is the section during the Traverse where every time the trail turned away from the river, I knew I was approaching the road, from where I would only have 6 miles left. Cruelly, the trail twisted and turned and kept going back to the darn river. This is the section where I was getting ready to sit down in the middle of the trail and cry, when Tony suddenly appeared just at the right moment, having hiked in to where I was. This part of the trail brought back some bad memories.

I was lucky to have done the Traverse because, unlike the other runners around me who kept thinking we were coming up on the aid station, I knew that it was nowhere close and not to ever count on reaching it. When and if you did reach it, it would be a nice surprise. So I just kept moving forward, not expecting to get to the aid station, but being very glad I did just as my water ran out.

Turn around at the first bridge

The next section was a two mile out and back and the landmark to look for to turnaround at was the first wooden bridge. Or so I thought. I had run 17 miles in the heat and humidity. Is that really what she said? After I got to the bridge and headed back up the hill, a fast runner came up behind me. He thought the turnaround was the second bridge. Great, I thought, I was wrong. So I headed back down to the bridge, only to verify with other runners that the first bridge was indeed the turnaround. Excellent, a little extra credit mileage.


Now comes the "back" part of the out and back. All the nice downhills were now long uphills. Just like before, I didn't think about where the next aid station was, I just kept moving forward. I felt pretty good, although I felt slow and like I had not yet recovered from my other runs. No stomach issues, though. Terri had told me to try Prilosec or Nexium before I ran and I did. I stuck to gels and banana bread and a flask of pickle juice in the heat of the day and it all seemed to do the trick. Four SportConnexin per hour in the hottest part of the day, a couple of ibuprofen in the middle of the run when I started to get achy, and it was all good.

The End

When I had looked at times from the previous races, I thought that if I could get under 8 hours, I would be very happy, and I finished in 7:44. Best of all, my stomach felt great and I quickly downed an excellent BBQ sandwich and two glasses of sweet tea.

In retrospect, South Carolina wasn't all that horrible. I heard more than one person comment though that this race was much harder than they expected, and I guess it was harder than most 50Ks. It was very technical, with more roots than rocks, and I think people underestimated how long the unsupported ten mile stretch would take. On the bright side, it was not as hot as Black Mountain and had more shade. I didn't get stung by yellow jackets or see any copperheads, but I did run through A LOT of poison ivy.

When I asked Alan if he would run it again, he said he would. I, however, will wait to see how bad I am itching in a couple days before I even think about it.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Congratulations Daniel!

Five years ago, Daniel Hamilton and I were hanging from the edge of a cliff. We were in the middle of the Special Operations Adventure Race and were pretty psyched because we were close to the front of the pack. Unfortunately, the rappel was up next and I'm not particularly fond of heights. I will rappel if I have to and as long as I don't look down or think about where I am, I'm okay. At the top of the cliff, the rope guy told me that there were a few bushes sticking out of the cliff wall, so I would have to navigate around them, which obviously involved both looking down and thinking about where I was. Fortunately, there were two ropes set up and Daniel was able to rappel beside me and help me navigate, while distracting me. Everyone looked at us funny as he addressed me as "Mrs. Davis," but I had both taught and coached him and habits are hard to break. The teacher/student team ended up doing well, at one point hanging out with the professional teams in the lead, searching the woods for a checkpoint that the directors forgot to put out.

Tony and I had "adopted" Daniel during his high school years. Okay, he already had a very nice family who took good care of him, but Daniel was not only a very talented runner, he also liked all the activities we liked as well. So we started training for adventure races with him, subjecting him to some serious torture, like making him struggle to paddle his white-water kayak in a straight line in the middle of a windy lake, carry his bike on his shoulders up mountain trails and having him sprint through thick knee-deep mud to punch our card. We did a couple of races together and then he was off to college.

We've heard from him from time to time and it was a nice surprise when he came and ran the last section of NMAR with me last year. Monday, he called Tony to tell him about a race he just did. Tony had lots of details for me (that's sarcasm). Daniel did some stage race somewhere, 20-some miles a day. Did really well, finished third. The third day was the hardest. He's running on some team. He hasn't been able to eat much since. He's going to email us more information.

Yesterday, while perusing blogs and awaiting the email, I looked at the Chattanooga Stage race results from this weekend and there he was. Third place overall with a total time of 7:46:28. For some reason, I was assuming it was a road race somewhere, not a gnarly trail race, but the trail race fits him much better.

When I talked to Daniel last night, he was still excited about his race. In typical modest-Daniel fashion, though, he wasn't sure if his times were good since he had never run such a race before. In fact, he had never run a race longer than a half-marathon, so running 18, 20, and 22 miles consecutively was a big step up. When he signed up for Chattanooga, he wasn't sure he'd even be able to finish the stages, but he did, with times much better than good.

Daniel just graduated from college and is going to PJ training for the Air Force next month. He said he didn't know if he was going to keep running (he had been running cross country and track for years), but his experience this weekend has turned him into a trail running addict, already searching for more runs. He's got the physical ability and the right mindset to do well at ultras and trail races. So, congratulations, Daniel! We're such proud parents. We're looking forward to watching you win some 100s down the road.

Photo by Jeff Bartlett

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Black Mountain Monster Bear Video

Here's a video of the little bear at Black Mountain Monster:

Tony and Brian Beduhn are discussing their run while watching the bear knock berries out of the tree so he can eat them off the roof. Several of us saw the bear in the middle of the night behind the fence next to the paved section. He's pretty small- I thought he was a dog at first. Not exactly the Black Mountain Monster. But maybe next year.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

SportConnexin: Working for Me

I recently started using a different electrolyte supplement, SportConnexin, made by Molecular Fitness. Molecular Fitness is a grassroots company, whose main way of getting the word out about their line is through athletes who have had success with their product. So let me tell you about my experiments with SportConnexin, and if you are interested, you can do your own experimenting.

For the past few months, I have been listening to a couple of podcasts which, although geared toward triathletes, cover many ultra-related issues, Endurance Planet and Everyman Endurance. The name SportConnexin kept coming up, in interviews with athletes like Kami Semick and in discussions with sports nutritionists. In these discussions, those magic words for any ultrarunner came up, "improves endurance, reduces muscle fatigue and aids in recovery." Just like any endurance athlete, I'm always looking for new products that can help me improve, so after hearing the name repeatedly, finally checked it out. I spent a little time on their website and learned that SportConnexin goes beyond just electrolyte replacement. Their whole line of products aid in transferring the flow of nutrients at the molecular level and focus on maintaining a healthy pH balance while you are running. Apparently, the stress we put on our bodies as athletes results in excess acid, which is detrimental to our performance in all sorts of ways.

I ordered a sample, which came which pH strips to help you dial in precisely what you need and I tested it out on my first 50 mile run after coming off of my ITB injury. The first 25 mile loop, I stuck to my usual routine, and by the end of the loop was feeling fatigued and not at all ready for another one. I went ahead and started it and began substituting SportConnexin for my electrolyte replacement. As the loop progressed, I felt a marked difference in my energy level and finished it faster than the first one. Afterwards, I expected it to be a few days before my body felt like running again, but I recovered faster than usual and was out running strong within two days.

As I have worked on adjusting the dose for various conditions, the difference I find with SportConnexin is that I really don't feel much muscle fatigue. At BMM, I dealt with a variety of issues, but my legs never felt tired in those 87 miles. Once I adjusted my dose of SportConnexin to allow for the excessive heat, I felt good, didn't cramp and had plenty of energy.

I have had good results with SportConnexin, so I am helping them get the word out to people in our sport. If you are interested, click on the logo on the sidebar and it will take you to their website.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Black Mountain Monster: Just Running some 5K Repeats

The Black Mountain Monster is a 12/24 hour run, either run solo or on a relay team, and this was the 5th year of the race or its previous versions. All five of the races have raised money for a charity and part of your entry fee is to bring canned goods for the local food bank.

The first version of this race, Run For Africa, was originally billed as a relay race. I think a few of us emailed the director, asking if we could run solo, and he added those options to the run. This year and last, the solo runners way outnumbered the relay runners and this event has grown to be an exceptional ultrarunning event.

The venue is perfect, with ample parking, bathroom and shower facilities and a big field for everyone to set up their tents on. The 5K loop course is varied and not difficult. Every quarter mile or so, the course changes, making it mentally easier as well. I have run other loop courses that just seem to drag on forever because the scenery and trail is always more of the same. You don't need to carry anything if you choose, because there is water/Gatorade both at the start and halfway through the loop, although I chose to carry a bottle because of the heat.

The race director and volunteers were exceptionally helpful and the race was well-organized. The course was marked even better than last year, with plenty of chem lights and repainted arrows at night. (Unfortunately, the course is so compact, apparently some have taken advantage of some shortcuts both last year and this year.)

At last year's BMM, I came in with a definite goal, 100 miles, and I left with 72 miles, 18 hours in. (And the only reason I left with 72 was to not be totally embarrassed by Annette Bednosky's 69 in the 12 hour race). This year, my goal was a bit different. I had run MMT three weeks prior. I had not run in the heat and the temperature was supposed to hit 90 degrees. I really didn't know what I could do, so instead of setting a mileage goal, I set a "feel good" goal. I wanted to finish all 24 hours still moving, without the nausea/lightheadness issues I've been having off and on. No pressure to push hard, but instead to dial it down a bit until I could figure out my issues.

I rode over with Alan so Tony could come over a little later. We set up our "camp" on the edge of field, but brought no tent or chairs to motivate us to keep moving. I knew lots of ultrarunning friends would be there, but I was surprised at how many showed up to run in circles. It made the hours pass even quicker, knowing that you were bound to catch up or be caught by someone to hang out with for a little bit.

My race strategy was to not race. I brought lots of different kinds of food and several different pairs of shoes to experiment with. I didn't time my loops and felt very relaxed. I didn't care about taking a few extra minutes to do things here and there. In the middle of the night I took a time out and hiked up to the shower building to wash my face and hands. I walked a loop with Tony and parts of loops with other people and didn't care about people passing me (until the end of the race, but that's later in the story). All in all, much more enjoyable than having a specific target you are pushing to hit.

It was hot, pushing ninety degrees with high humidity. Parts of the course are in the full sun. On my third loop, I started feeling really bad. Great. Nine miles in and I've already messed up my goal. My "normal"symptoms, as of lately, nausea and light-headedness, set in, but also muscle fatigue and an urge to take a nap. The last one concerned me a bit, so back at camp, I decided to sit down and figure out what was going on. When my calf started to cramp a bit, that was a sign that I needed more electrolytes. I've been using SportConnexin (I'll blog more about that later) and I had been taking my normal dose, but, duh, it was about 20 degrees hotter than my normal runs. I upped my dosage by one and kept it at that level throughout the race until it cooled off. No more cramping, light-headedness or muscle fatigue. I also discovered, as I tried to talk to Tony and could only get one word out at a time, that I was having some major asthma issues (I think from all the dust on the trail), so I used my inhaler a little more often than normal and that helped as well.

As far as the nausea went, I drank pickle juice and ate chocolate pudding. I know, ultras do weird things to you. But whenever I run a really hot run in the summer, I get home and crave pickle juice, so I decided to bring some with me. I had chocolate pudding at MMT when I couldn't get anything else in, and it worked well here, too. I kept up this routine, supplementing with gels and orange slices and avoiding solid food.

I also, nine miles in, changed into shoes that I had not worn more than 10 miles. I had ordered a pair of Brooks Launches, but hadn't worn them much because they felt too wide for me. My Ravennas weren't feeling right, however, so I tried the Launches and ended up running the rest of the race in them. They felt great, light but cushioned, except for the pressure on my left big toe, which I should have adjusted because I now have a nasty blister under the toenail.

So around and around I went, moving well and having relatively few problems until about 4:00 a.m.. I had just been thinking about how good I was feeling when everything went downhill, rapidly. Nausea set in and I couldn't eat or drink anything, so I walked 4 or 5 laps and didn't worry about fueling. Finally, I was able to nibble on a shortbread cookie with a little ginger ale and I slowly felt better. I had about three hours left and decided I'd walk two more laps, so as not to get sick again, and call it a day, ending up with 84ish miles.

As I was ambling through my next-to-last loop, a friendly, well-intentioned woman introduced herself as she was sprinting by me (or at least it looked like a sprint at that point), and before she pulled out of earshot, told me that we were on the same lap. My initial rational thought was, "That's nice. And she looks like she is moving well. I'm glad my goal is to just keep moving." By the end of the lap, the irrational part of my brain took over and said, "I really don't want to be lapped by anyone who is on the same lap as me. I bet if I pushed hard, I could squeeze in two more laps instead of one, even if it makes me sick again." So, throwing off common sense, off I went, laying down two 40 minute loops (which sounds slow, but it was 22 hours into the run) and finishing with 87 miles in and 17 minutes to spare. The mind is a funny thing. Or at least mine is.

I actually felt good when I finished. I was able to eat and had no post-race nausea issues. Tony got in 24 miles, not bad for a guy with a bad knee who runs 3-4 miles a week. Alan hit 80ish, I think, hobbling with some really nasty blisters.

So my BMM actually went better than I expected. I enjoyed the run, was able to somewhat address the nausea issues, and got in many more miles than I predicted. I got to talk to a lot of people I had not seen in a while and by the end of the race, didn't feel the need to make the traditional annual pact with Brian about not running around in circles any more.

photos from the BMM site: