Monday, August 15, 2011

TARC Summer 12 Hour Race Report - Back To The Drawing Board

First off let me say that the TARC 12 Hour Run in Medfield MA was an awesome race.  Co-RDs Chris and Josh and all of the race volunteers did an amazing job and were as supportive, friendly and helpful as any I have met in my years of running ultras.  Josh was so supportive, he would have convinced me to continue to run another loop even though I felt like a pile of poo.  The only thing that kept me from continuing was a family commitment that necessitated an early exit from the race.  Thanks for trying Josh.  

The second point I'd like to make is this race confirmed what I had been thinking about since running Wakely Dam last month.  My minimalist training just isn't cutting it any more.  Looking over my training log for 2011 revealed how little running I've actually done in the past 32 weeks.  My total so far this year is a paltry 565 miles.  If I back out the 120 miles covered in the four long races/runs I've done, that drops the total to 445.  That's a weekly average of about 14 miles per week!  That training can get me through marathon distance but I suffer greatly once I cross that threshold.  I think it's time to come up with a new plan if I want to continue running ultras.

OK,  now a little bit about the race itself.

The race course was a convoluted loop on the Trustees of Reservation property know as Noon Hill.  Although the course looked confusing on paper, it was very clearly marked and easy to follow.   Many people dislike loop courses for long races but I don't mind them if they aren't too short and the terrain is varied.  The TARC loop was approximately 6.3 miles long with technical and smooth trail sections and a moderate amount of elevation so I never felt bored during my 6+ hours of running.  I never felt good either.

Pre-race meeting of TUG.

TARC mascot.  "What you looking at?"

A "crazy" loop but easy to follow.

About 600 feet of gain per loop.

A long climb up 370 foot Noon Hill on right.  The view was not worth the climb.

Nothing but trees.

I started out by walking the first 15 minutes with Emily and Steve.  This has become somewhat of a tradition since doing this at Stone Cat last year with Em.  It's a good way to warm up and catch up with friends I don't see very often.   During this time I met fellow Blogger "Run Home" Pam from CT.  I've been reading her blog for a couple of years now and it was cool to meet her in person.  I also met two other online friends Wendy and Mark, who were very nice.  But then again, aren't all ultra runners? 

It didn't take long for me to figure out i was going to have a bad day.  I stubbed my toe, tripping about five times ON THE FIRST LOOP!  This is something that usually happens to me in the later stages of a race when I am fatigued.  The trend continued throughout the day until I finally went flying through the air like superman, landing prone on the trail.  I hadn't noticed how humid it was before the race but now I was sweating profusely. Humidity is my kryptonite.  I knew I was in trouble.  The fall just proved it.

These two cute chicks chased me all day. 

And I chased this big dude until he dropped me like a bad habit.  I think he finished in second place.  Was it my whining that made you run so fast?

Steve and I finished the first loop under 1:30 which was just about where I wanted to be.  That turned out to be my fastest of four loops even with the 15 minutes of walking in the beginning.   It's funny because I felt like I was moving much faster on the second loop but that too was about five minutes slower than the first.   My slowest loop was around 1:44.  I guess you could say the wheels came off after loop number one.  I'd like to blame the humidity but I believe the lack of any serious training had finally caught up to me.

So, now I'm standing at the crossroads.  Do I continue to run ultras with insufficient training, suffering at every race and running ever slower finishing times?  Do I find the time to train more, spending less time on other things I like to do?  Or, do I stick with minimal training, avoid ultras and run shorter races like those on the Grand Tree and North Shore Trail Race Series? 

Decisions, decisions.

Monday, August 1, 2011

"Unrelenting" - 2011 Wakely Dam Ultra Race Report

After cresting a steep climb around mile 19 Kevin and I saw a runner sitting in the middle of the trail on the downward side of the hill.  He was sitting up and leaning back slightly against a fallen tree limb.  When we asked if he had fallen or was hurt he turned his head slowly and looked back at us.  He did not speak. His eyes were glassy and he looked confused and uncertain of his whereabouts.  Finally he spoke. 

He said he was not hurt but had bonked hard and was very tired and nauseous.  I asked if he needed a drink but he said he still had half a Camelbak of Gatorade.  This led me to believe he was not drinking enough during the race and that his electrolytes were out of balance due to severe dehydration.  I gave him 2 S-caps to take now and a few more for later and told him to start drinking.  After sitting with him for about 10 minutes he was talking coherently and seemed in better spirits.   He said he would be OK and we could leave him now. He said would walk the remaining 14 miles to the finish. 

Welcome to the Wakely Dam Ultra!

Runners who enter the Northville-Placid trailhead on Haskell Road know there are only two ways to get to the finish at Wakely Dam.  Either you get there under your own power on your own two feet, or you take an expensive ride in a Search and Rescue helicopter.   You see, there are no aid stations with helpful volunteers filling your water bottle and handing you snacks.  There are no crossroads to be used as bailout points for the weary runner.  There are no pretty pink ribbons marking your way so you don't get lost. Understand this, there are no DNF's at the Wakely Dam Ultra because the only thing between you and the finish line are 32.6 miles of unrelenting wilderness.

Only one way out. 

Race day was hot and humid.  Not my kind of weather but at least the high for the day was "only" 90 degrees.  It was close to 100 on the drive to the Adirondacks the day before.  As I stood at the back of the pack waiting for the race to begin, one thing was clearly evident to me.  My CamelBak was way too heavy!  With three liters of Heed in the bladder, two 24 oz water bottles in the side pockets, several gels, PB&J crackers and two Cliff bars stowed for fuel, a medical kit, a blister kit, a space blanket and several other assorted items I thought indispensable (but were not), my pack weighed well over 20 pounds.  What the hell was I thinking?

The few, the brave, the crazy Wakely runners! (photo credit: Rob Jacob)

The first mile at Wakely is flat single-track and those who were actually racing this thing were quickly out of sight.  In fact, nearly all the 60 other runners were gone faster than a sailor's cash on shore leave.   No worries here.  Kevin and I weren't planning on racing for different reasons.  He was coming off a fast 30 miles of pacing at the VT 100 for a 21 hour finisher and I was just plain out of shape, running about 60 total miles in the past five weeks. We were just out for a long run in the woods......a bit longer than expected.

Don't get use to this. It won't last. (photo credit: Kevin Z)

The next eight miles or so involved a series of climbs taking us ever higher in elevation.  None of the climbs were extremely long or steep but there were plenty of them.  There were also many, many blowdowns on the course making it difficult to get into a good running rhythm.  This would be the theme for the day, constant changes in elevation and tree hopping with very little flat running until the final 4.5 miles of the race.  Kev and I decided early on to walk most of the uphills because that's what Bill H. would have wanted us to do. We missed you Bill!  And did I mention the bugs?  They were as unrelenting as the hills of the NPT. The deer flies were so bad Keven stopped and put on his mosquito net about two miles into the race. The boy got gear.

This is more like it. (photo credit: Rob Jacob)

If only all the blowdowns were this small. (photo credit: Rob Jacob)

The trail took a beating with heavy flooding this spring. (photo credit: Rob Jacob)

At mile five we saw one of the Wakely runners standing in the trail.  She asked if we were running in the race to which we responded in the affirmative.   She told us she was thinking about going back to the start.  She said she was fine physically but her head just wasn't into it.  Kevin and I went through the pros and cons of turning back vs. continuing forward and even welcomed her to join us if she wished.  In the end she decided to turn around while she was still close enough to the start.  Wakely Dam had claimed it's first casualty. 

I can't fault the woman for returning.  If you're having second thoughts about this race at five miles it's best to go back.  It doesn't get any easier the next 28.  Also, I can see how a woman running alone on the NPT could get wigged-out.  It's very isolated.  Hell, there were a few areas during the race where I would have felt a bit uneasy had I been alone.  I guess I'm not as tough as I look. Or am I? 

WFF?  This is one of the places that freaked me out. (photo credit Kevin Z)

Reaching the Jessup River at seven miles I decided to fill one of my water bottles and treat it with iodine.  While I was filling up, the two course sweeps that left 1/2 hour after the race started arrived at the river.  I can't remember their names but they were cool and we joked around while they filled their bottles too.  The water level was low enough so we could rock hop across without getting our feet wet. We weren't so lucky at some of the larger rivers later in the race.  Some of the bridges were washed out so wading across was the only option.  Soon the sweeps were out of sight and Kevin and I were on our own again.

The water wasn't always this low. (photo credit: Rob Jacob)

More climbing and more blowdowns to maneuver over, under and around and soon (OK, not really soon, more like eventually) we were running along the edge of Spruce Lake.  It was here where I heard a loon call out to me.  It said, " You people are carrying heavy packs in 90 degree weather and running 33 miles over rocks, roots, trees, mud and water, all the while getting eaten alive by deer flies and they call ME a loon?"  OK, Mr. Loon, I get your point.  After passing the second lean-to it was time to eat.  Kev gets cranky when he goes 30 minutes without food.  The man can eat!

Spruce Lake. (photo credit: Kevin Z)

We don't take these "races" too seriously.

I don't remember much about the miles between Spruce Lake and the West Canada Lakes. I do remember stepping off the foot bridge across the bog and sinking ankle deep in mud, nearly losing my shoe. There was a nice cooling breeze when we entered the clearing near the lake and I wanted to stop here to enjoy the beauty of this place. Unfortunately, there was this business of completing a race before darkness so it was time to move on. I felt great when we entered the old caretakers clearing on West Lake which meant we had reached the half way point. My sense of relief was short-lived.

I almost lost a shoe here. (photo credit Rob Jacob)

Cool breeze and beautiful views. (photo credit: Rob Jacob)

Bug man gets his groove on. (photo credit: Kevin Z)

Half way point! (photo credit: Kevin Z)

"Where did the trail go?"

Leaving the caretakers clearing the trail was re-routed due to beaver activity, or was it because of spring storms? I'm old and can't remember.  Anyway, the narrow trail was twisting and turning and badly overgrown.  Our pace slowed to a crawl.  Well, our pace was already at a crawl but it became a slower crawl when we entered this section. This re-route went on for about a mile (at least it felt that way to me) before the trail opened up again and running became a little easier.

Around mile 20 the course starts to lose elevation.  There's still plenty of climbing to be done the the descents are longer and the running gets somewhat easier over the next 10 miles.  Kevin and I didn't talk all that much during this time.  I think the constant ups and downs and climbing over blowdowns had finally worn us down. We alternated pace setting duties with Kevin leading when we wanted to move faster and me taking over when we needed to slow down and rest a while.  I'm good at slow.

At least we had ample warning.

The water level dropped a lot so the rope assist wasn't needed. 

 This was the deepest and widest water crossing. (photo credit: Kevin Z)

"You first." "No, you first!"

With 4.5 miles to the finish the trail dumps onto a grassy dirt road.  Kevin got his fourth wind here and really picked up the pace.  I had a difficult time staying close and would lose sight of him every time the trail would bend or turn.  This was good motivation for me so I continued to run hard to keep Kev from escaping.  The grassy road connected to a wide Vermont-like dirt road and Kevin said we were only one mile from the finish line.  I think he told a white lie in order to light a fire under my butt because that road felt way longer that one mile to me.

Kevin could have easily dropped me here but he stayed with me so we could cross the finish line together.  Kev would run a few steps ahead, turn back and yell at to me get a move on. Oh, and also to ask me to consider running the Vermont 100 next year.  Yeah, I'll have to get back to you on that one Kevin. When I looked back at my splits I saw the last two miles of the race were my fastest!  I was either dogging it for 31 miles or I have an incredible finishing kick!  Thanks KZ for getting these old bones to Wakely Dam.

I saw the finish line about the same time I heard the cheers of encouragement from Co-Race Directors extraordinaire, Kim and Doug who did an excellent job in their first year as Wakely RDs.  I sure ten year RD Jim H. feels his race was left in good hands.  I felt a sense of relief and accomplishment (and immense fatigue) when I crossed the finish line at Wakely Dam.  This race was more difficult than I thought it would be, and more amazing.

The Wakely Dam is what ultra running is all about.  Self-reliance, difficult terrain, hard effort, raw nature and personal victories.  Wakely Dam Ultra is unrelenting.

Note to readers:  Most of you know I like to take numerous quantities of pictures when I'm on these adventures.  This time I stowed my camera in my backpack where it was difficult to reach so I didn't get any photos.  My bad.   KZ was the cameraman on this adventure run and contributed to this post with his fine photographs. Also thanks to Rob Jacob, a multi-time Wakely finisher. I "borrowed" some of your pics.  

If you like flat, don't come here.

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