Monday, June 18, 2012

A Race Report: A Father's Day Run

The Challenge:  Chattanooga Stage Race.  3 Days. 3 Mountains.  60 Miles.  Almost 7000 feet of elevation gain. 
I woke up Friday morning at 1:30 a.m. to head 2.5 hours north to Chattanooga and the first of the three races.  Raccoon Mtn.  18 miles.  1700 ft of elevation gain.  I probably hadn't trained sufficiently but I was relying on my secret weapon.  My stubbornness.  I've DNF'd once.  My first 50M.  I won't do it again by my own decision.  They will have to pull me from any course.  So, even though I hadn't packed in the miles I should have, I started out with the absolute intention of having a great race. 
The first half of the first race was fairly simple.  Not too many climbs or descents and I was running fairly good.  Hit the 8 mile mark at an amazing hour and a half, which for me, is speeding.  I even asked 3 times, "Are you sure this is 8 miles???" After their reassurance it was, I headed out for the next leg of 5 miles, which, unfortunately, was nothing more of relentless switchbacks of 30 ft climbs in 20 feet and 30 ft descents.  Up and down. Up and down.  So hard to get any sort of good pace going.  I was so focused on the terrain that I absolutely stopped hydrating.  And I paid for it.  Dearly. 
At mile 14, the cramps in the calves started.  Painful, seizing, ridiculous cramps.  I was reduced to a hobble/run/walk.  I ran with a guy named "Buddy" who helped me hobble on in.  I'm sure there's a pic of me finishing with a watermelon as a calf. 
After the race, I was wasted.  My usual post ultra fever hit with full force and I was forced to hit the bed.  I was fairly worried that I wouldn't be able to recoup for Saturday's 22 miler at Lookout Mtn.
But, I paid so therefore, I run.
Saturday morning, I woke up, strangely enough, feeling better that I did the previous morning. A bit sore but nothing like I was expecting.  So, a hot shower, good stretching, hot breakfast, and a red bull prepared me for the start.  This was my type of course.  A good trail to actually run on, even with very difficult climbs.  My Hokas were made for this trail.  Straight uphills and downs = speed.  I finished at a faster pace than the day prior even though there were 1000ft more of elevation gain and 4 more miles.  The best part was the finish.  A cold river right next to it where we all jumped in and allowed the cold water to tighten sore muscles.  It was EXTREMELY COLD but wow did it feel good after almost 5 hours of running.  I think it really helped me recoup for the last, and clearly, the most difficult stage.  Stage 3.  Signal Mtn.  20 miles.  2700 ft of elevation gain.  And a trail that really isn't a trail that they call a trail which should be called, well, just rocks.
As the gun sounded, I had no idea what lay in store for me ahead.  As we all headed down a jeep track road, I received the first indication that the day wasn't going to go as expected.  After 40 miles with no twists, I jacked my right ankle with the severe 'crack pop' twist.  10 steps later, I did it again. Someone from behind asked "Are you ok?". I responded "No, but as long as I keep running, my mind will overcome the pain."  A quarter mile later, it had no other option.
We started, which what would become the first of 6 insane drops.  By my best estimate, we dropped about 600 feet in less than a half a mile.  Straight down. This was bad  but not as bad as what lay on the other side.  A 600 ft climb in less than a half a mile.  Then again, and again, and again, and again.  We went down, up, down, up, down, and up again finally for 4.5 straight miles before 'leveling off'.  I was shot. My quads and calves screamed for mercy.  I was so happy to be done with the insanity.  Until.  Until I came upon the next leg of the race.  The leg with no trail.
Oh, they say it was a trail.  I disagree.  Wholeheartedly.  It was rocks.  Trees.  Boulders.  Rivers.  A 'path' at  best.  Now, for most, this would have  been a difficult situation but for me, it was compounded by the fact that I had already tweaked my ankle so my steps were more deliberate.  Second, my Hokas.  They aren't made for this type of terrain.  A 30% larger sole means my feet catch every single rock and crack making it extremely unstable when running.  My foot just doesn't slip into a small section.  Because of that, I twist my ankles even more which leads to hiking instead of running.  8 miles of it.  The furthest this 'path' allowed me to run in any given section wasn't more than 15 or 20 steps, which is simply brutal and takes a 12 minute pace and reduces it to a 22 min pace.  Too slow to make the 5:30 cutoff.  I 'hiked' for 6 of the 8 miles with another group of 3 runners all struggling like me.   When we finally made it to the next aid station, which was a present from God after making another 400 ft climb straight up the side of the mountain,  I knew time was close so as they sat drinking, I headed up the hill even further towards the remaining 6 miles.  The next three miles was an actual trail and I knew I had to hit it hard.  I clicked at about an 11 min pace and was running good until I noticed a girl, walking in circles, crying, in the middle of the woods. I recognized her from early. A very strong runner.  Apparently, she didn't assess the difficulty correctly and didn't hydrate sufficiently. She was out of water and dehydrated and delirious.  I walked up and gave her my water for a few minutes.  Gave some encouraging words and told her that she'd be ok.  "just run with me.   We've ran for 55 miles, we're not stopping now."  It took her about 15 minutes to get her mind back and then I gave her the ok to go ahead. No need to wait on me. Go finish this damn race and finish strong!
I knew I was close to missing the cutoff but I thought if I just ran hard, I might make it.  Until....
More vicious climbs.  Runnable, if I could run up a mountain at this time.  As the 5:30 limit passed on my watch, I knew I missed out on my medal but I also knew there was no f'ing way I was going to stop and give up.  Quite the contrary.  I picked up my pace.  I ran harder than I ever have, especially after 20 miles.  My heart pounded and I was sucking every last bit of air I could force in my lungs. 
As I rounded the last corner, there they were.  My two boys.  Screaming "go papa!!!"  They didn't know I missed the cutoff and even if they did, I don't think they would have cared.  I ran and grabbed them both by the hands and screamed "let's finish this thing together boys!  Run, run hard and run fast!!!"
They did.  Laughing the whole way.  Man, what a great Father's Day!

So that's it.  My race report just for you.  It was fun, hard, and humbling all at the same time.