Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Tale of Two Races - Another Dam 50K and the Dawg Gone Long 50 Miler/50K

June was a busy running month for me. I didn’t intend it to be that way but as we all know, sometimes shit happens. I’m not complaining at all, I like challenges. (Or torture, sometimes those words are interchangeable.) So far in July I've not logged many miles but I have wrecked my bike. Inaugural ride with new pedals/shoes.

Not my most graceful moment. Anyway...let's talk about running. 

The first Saturday in June I ran the “Another Dam 50K” at the Englewood MetroPark. This was my second year running that race and it was a lot of fun. The weather was perfect, as I don’t think the temp ever topped 70. Trails were clear and dry. The course is beautiful. The race director and the volunteers were simply incredible, and the other runners were inspiring. There’s something way different about trail runners – such a sense of camaraderie during these races. This year’s time was notably slower than last year’s, but I met a really cool chick and we spent 20+ miles talking about life, booze, men, and running. Thank you, AK, you are awesomesauce! ;-)

If you’re a first timer and want to try your legs out on a 50K, this is the perfect race to do just that. And if you’re an experienced ultra runner and want to try for a PR, this is also a good race for that.

Running an ultra is sort of like childbirth.  It hurts like a sonofabitch during the process, especially toward the end. However, finishing those events and basking in the afterglow is pure heaven. And just like the pain of labor, the pain of an ultra is soon forgotten.
Days after that race I decided to sign up for the Dawg Gone Long 50K at Caeser’s Creek State Park. I feel like I’ve said this before, but I swear I wasn’t drunk when I signed up for it. I did however, get drunk after I finished. This race was the HARDEST race I’ve ever done. Here goes…

This event started at 6:30 in the morning. It was also about an hour away from my house. That meant getting up waayyyy before the buttcrack of dawn and driving to the park. My friend Steve (he used to be my running partner before I gifted him to the infamous TJack) was generous enough to volunteer to do some mileage with me. During the drive down I admit I was a nervous wreck. I actually called Steve while on the highway and told him not to lose me when we got to the exit because I was paranoid about getting lost. Yes, I have GPS. Yes, I have been to Caesers Creek before. No judging. Please refer back to the “nervous wreck” comment.

One thing worth mentioning is that in the days leading up to this race, this part of Ohio had gotten large amounts of rainfall. Roads were closed due to flood waters. Flash flood warnings were being posted everywhere. Race day dawned gray and rainy…and on the drive down I started wondering what the hell I was thinking. Am I normal? Am I insane? Who the hell does this shit? (Those are rhetorical. You don’t have to answer and if you do, please keep your answers to yourself.)

The temps were in the high 50s and a light rain fell as about 60 of us stood at the start line. (At the end of June in Ohio. Normally hot and humid as Hades.) Half of us were there for the 50K, the other half were doing the 50 miler. Those 50 miler people are gluttons for punishment. Anyway, the race director gave us some encouragement and directions, and released us into the wild. Less than a minute into the run we hit the mud. Never in my life had I experienced anything like that. The trail was a soupy viscous mess that threatened to suction my shoes off with every step. Then we hit the first stream…which thankfully cleaned my shoes but soaked my feet. This race consisted of a 5-6 mile out and back followed by two more loops of 12+ miles each. And EVERY step of the way was mud. If we weren’t in mud, we were in water. This water was above my knee level in some spots. So not only did I worry about ticks (very prevalent in this area this year), I also worried about leeches. To be honest, I’m still doing tick checks but I’ve stopped stressing over leeches.

Most of the trail was single track and it was a tight fit. It was also impossible for me to get into a rhythm due to the mud. This race also had about 2900 feet of “rolling hills” per each of the long loops…and let me tell you something – hills and mud make for interesting adventures. If I wasn’t scrambling up a hill and grabbing onto tree trunks and foliage for traction I was sliding down a hill and praying I wouldn’t break anything. There were also stairs in a few spots…and to say those were slippery is a massive understatement. I’m happy to report the only time I went down was toward the top of a really steep hill and I basically just slid down on my ass and hoped for the best.

At the 17-18 mile mark, Steve and I stopped at the start/finish aid station so I could change my muddy and waterlogged shoes and socks. This is also where my friend Melissa (an elite runner who’s done over 20 marathons in several different countries and across the good old US of A) met up to pace me for the final loop. I apologized in advance for what she was about to experience and prayed that she wore old shoes and didn’t mind getting mud in places that should never have mud in them.  

That last loop was crazy difficult. I expect to hurt during an ultra but this level of pain and discomfort was new even to me. Everything from my boobs down just HURT. My core muscles were on fire, as were my hips. I had a blister on the back of my foot that popped during the race. I could feel the mud squishing my toes with every step. My quads were screaming at me. But I kept on going, albeit very slowly. New curse words abounded with every hill.

I came in last place during this race, which felt a little demoralizing. I later found out one third of the people who started the race didn’t finish the 50K at all. I’m sure most of them dropped due to the extreme conditions and the weather. It was a seriously rough race. I am very thankful to my pacers for sticking with me and for helping me during and after. I feel truly blessed to have such people in my life.

The race director and the volunteers were (again) AMAZING. The Ohio River Road Runners Club truly puts on some of the best races in the area. The aid stations were stocked with a multitude of options and the volunteers had nothing but positive comments for the soggy and grimy runners.

Recovery time following this event was harder than any previous race. Navigating stairs was impossible for the first two days. Hell, stepping in and out of the bathtub elicited a few choice words. I’m sure the bottle of wine I drank while laying on the couch afterward helped with my recovery though. Wine has restorative powers, just in case you didn’t know that.

Initially my next race was going to be in Vegas, baby in November. But there’s a 50K in September that looks like a lot of fun…hmmm. We’ll see how that fits in with soccer coaching duties, as I’m the assistant coach to the 9 year old’s soccer team. (And yes, I may have been drinking when I signed up for that…no judging, please.)

Happy Running!