Monday, August 19, 2013

Taming the Wildcat- the best and worst race rolled into one.

  I don't even know if it's fair to say I tamed the Wildcat--yes, I was the first and only female finisher this race has had thus far--but his was the most mentally challenging race I have ever been to; to be honest, it tamed me-humbled is a better word actually.  The course is brutal and unrelenting. By lap three, your feet just feel like ground meat from all the rocks and they never seem to end. I went out to get one last long run in before Oil Creek, that's what I did; it wasn't speed that got me the win, it was perseverance.
     The course was a 10 mile loop, each with around 1,100 feet of elevation gain.  The loop was a mix of atv trails, single track, and rocks...tons of rocks.  This is the type of course where you can't afford to take your eyes off the ground because you'll trip, there are that many rocks.
     The first three miles are quite runnable, especially once the knee-high grass was trampled. There was a beautiful Hawk Watch around mile 3.5 and due to the clear weather, you could see for miles. The first aid station was at mile 4 and, unfortunately, we were directed the wrong way on that first loop and ran an extra 2 miles.  Once we realized what happened, we got back in the right direction and into the second half of the course--the technical single track. The climbs began from here along with the rocks.  There were sections where you couldn't run, you had to hike due to the amount of rocks.  The head-sized rocks were peppered through most of the single track, so bounding would be a more suitable way to describe the method of getting around them. The river crossings were rock jumping sections and as the laps accumulated, the jumping became more nerve-wracking.  There were sections that stretched 15 yards of rock jumping and the climb to the aid station at mile 7 was a 20 foot uphill rock face.  From 7 on you knew you were in for more level terrain, but it was covered in smaller rocks...the type that you just can't get away from and those that just make your feet feel like ground meat.
     There were about 17 people attempting distances between 50 miles and 100k; three for the 100k, the rest for the 50.  Rick went through the course description and made sure we knew we were following blue ribbons this year.
Photo by Otto Lam. RD Rick describing the course.

   We set off promptly at 6am, the sun just rising over the tree line.  I felt pretty good, and just settled in to a comfortable pace that would get me to the end of the day.  Since there were so few of us, we started to spread out and I realized I was lead women in the very small field. So this is what it feels like? Wouldn't it be cool to win a race? Oh crap I must be going too fast!  All the fun things going through my head, but we kept right on moving.  After the first aid station about seven of us were directed the wrong way, resulting in an extra two miles. I think the extra miles weighed heavily on some people and they just couldn't bounce back mentally from there. We got back on track and continued moving through the trails; constant rocky ups and downs.  There were boulders to scramble over and downed trees to climb over--jumping from branch to branch to branch and then having to swing from and drop back to the dirt.  The river crossing was just a series of boulder hopping, regaining your balance after each leap along the way.  There was a slight reprieve from the up and down from mile 6.5 to the aid station at 7;  rocky double track led up to the dam by splitrock reservoir and then from there it was a 20 foot uphill rock climb to the aid station.
The climb to as #7. Photo from Otto Lam
    After the aid station, the course ran across the dam, up a jeep road, and dipped back into the woods.  It was rocky, windy double track with a few board bridge crossings.  We popped back out of the woods at the first aid station and headed down the same road which we had incorrectly been down before.  I knew the rocky path and took off again, this time moving faster once I hit the road.  I followed the bright orange arrows until I saw more blue flags leading back in the woods.  From here, you could just see the school bus parking lot through the trees that meant the end of the loop was near.  Power through the last bit and a bottle refill and a snack was in store!
     With each lap my feet felt more and more battered.  My legs felt fantastic, which became frustrating since they wanted to move and my feet wouldn't let them, and my mind was going south.   I had blisters forming on the balls of my feet, and I just pictured the course and hated the idea of another lap. The water bottle in my race vest was digging into my ribs and I couldn't stop shifting the vest to relieve it--this is the first time I have had an issue with the vest.  My solution is going to be to use a Hydrapak 8oz. flask. I ran for a bit with a guy running the 100k.  Our minds were in the same low place.  The doubt crept in and neither of us thought we would ever be able to run our upcoming 100 if this is how we were feeling.  We had secretly been writing our letters to the 100 mile race directors pulling ourselves out of the events.  We parted ways with both of us anticipating a drop for the day. This course is just tough.
    While slowly running, I made a call to Heather and told her how I was feeling.  I was still leading, although probably not by much anymore, felt amazing physically, and was ready to quit.  When I hit the road section I started walking.  I thought maybe if I walked slow enough I could get my bib pulled by not making the 5pm cut off (you must start your last lap before 5pm).  Would I regret my first DNF? Would I ever get a chance to possibly win a race again?  I was nervous at the thought of being alone for another lap.
     I started running again and came in the start/finish area with about 20 minutes to decide.  I was greeted by a few folks still hanging out.  I grabbed some food and told a friend I was struggling mentally.  She asked if a beer would help and at that moment I couldn't think of anything better.  I said I may need to take her up on it, but needed a second to think.  My feet wanted to fall off and run away.  It was the most frustrated I have ever felt; my body felt good, and I knew I had it in me, but I felt frustrated with the pace I was keeping because of my feet and my mind was letting this drag me down more.
  Friend:  "Why don't you ask Rick what place you're in and decide from there?" Me:  "I'm leading...somehow I'm leading."  She picked up my water bottle, refilled it, and pushed it back into my hand. "You are under the cut off, you're winning, and Matt (my running partner) might never let you live it down, get going."  There was one more runner heading out for his last lap and we took off together.  While it was the mental game I was struggling with, he was having a hard time physically.  His legs didn't want to move and he was moving at a slow hike.  I decided since it would be getting dark soon, and we very well may be the last ones out on the course, that I wouldn't leave him.  We spent the next couple of hours chatting about family, races, work, and another else to keep our minds off whatever it was that was bothering us.
   There is nothing like the camaraderie and conversation found in an ultra.  It is the reason most of us run and race, no question.  As we made our way toward the last aid station, now two jugs of water awaiting our arrival, I said I was planning to run the last two miles.  Since we were getting close on time, I wanted to pass along my watch and make sure he too made it.  He said he was fine without it--"go get the win."  I took off moving as fast as my blistery, rock-filled, hamburger feet would go and finished with 5 minutes to spare.  It was certainly not speed that helped me cross that damn line, it was sheer determination.  I finished as first female, as well as only female to have completed the 50 mile distance in this two-year-old race. I got a half can of ginger ale at the finish, hopped in the car as we all packed up, and headed home.  I couldn't wait to eat something and see Heather!  I got home and made fried eggs, bacon, and toast with jelly--amazing!!
   I maintained my goal going into this race: just get the distance in.  The important part was getting the mileage in for Oil Creek.  I suppose the win was an added bonus.  I don't really feel like I deserve it, but I certainly like the idea of a 100% on ultra signup.
  The next morning I woke up excited for Oil Creek and I felt more confident about the 100 than I had been. The mental struggle from the day before, although frustrating, made me feel like I had overcome the tough part.  I had spent more time on feet than ever before and as frustrating as it had been during that course, it was a positive boost thinking ahead to a much longer race.
   Recovery was great.  I wasn't sore the next day and given how slow I was moving all day, I'm not shocked. I ended up with some slight bruising from the race vest, but nothing terrible. The rock in my shoe ended up turning into a half-dollar-sized blister on the ball of my left foot. Once that was drained, along with a small one on the tip of my toe, my feet felt like new. I experienced the worst chafing I could imagine.  I can only say it felt like I had a cactus in my butt cheeks.  Even that heals, and you start to forget some of the bad parts; I'm excited and hopeful looking toward Oil Creek.  I learn something new with each run, and with every finish line crossed there is an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. Whether a good race, a bad race or just something in between no one can take away the hard work and the outcome.

Whether hiking, running, or racing-go get some miles.

Race day wears:

Montrail Bajada
Swiftwick Performance One
Inov8 Gaiters
Ultimate Dircetion Ak Vest
Pearl Izumi Ultra Shorts

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