Tuesday, March 5, 2013

US 50 Mile Trail Championships

My road to the 2013 US 50 Mile Trail Championships was as bumpy as the New England roads I train on in the winter.  To start, the race is in early March, in Texas; so I would have to attempt to train hard enough, through the snow, to run an early season 50 miler, in a location that is much hotter than I’m used to.  However, I wanted my shot at racing a US Championship, and had high hopes of a strong result.  A week before the race, I strained my hamstring muscle – and suddenly even being able to start the race was in question.

I did everything I could to tip the odds in my favor – seeing a sports injury specialist, cross-training (hours on a trainer or erg instead of running), stretching, icing, foam rolling; and as of Friday I was cleared to try to run.  So on Saturday morning I tentatively pinned on my race number, applied body glide to a few locations, and lined up for the start of the US Championships.  Considering my injury, I expected that either my hamstring was healed and I would be able to compete, or that my hamstring wasn’t healed, and I would be forced to DNF early in the race.

(Sunrise on the windmill, marking the high point of the course)

I eased into the race, falling in to step with fellow-Inov8 runner Scott Dunlap.  We passed the early headlamp running together, and enjoyed the sunrise from a hillside in mid-Texas.  After about an hour, he cruised away from me, but with my leg still feeling ok, I was ecstatic – I opened up my stride and felt optimistic that I could compete.  I enjoyed the views as we got high on the rolling hills, and cruised down the first big downhill, really leaning into the downhill.  Big mistake – just as I was feeling comfortable and confident, the downhill at mile 7 cause the all-to-familiar tug on the back of my leg…my hamstring wasn’t fully healed.  I stopped, stretched, and shuffled down the rest of the hill – trying to minimize the pain and not cause further damage.  I found after another mile or two, the pain subsided enough that I could continue along – but the hamstring would yell out anytime I opened up the stride.  ‘Ok’, I thought, ‘I can at least shuffle along and finish this lap’.  I enjoyed the rest of the lap, taking in the views, in case I couldn’t continue on.  With about a mile to go before I finished the lap, I caught my toe on a rock, forcing my other leg to extend forward and catch my momentum – causing a sharp pain in the already tender hamstring.  I decided that couldn’t happen again, so I shortened the stride and took my time through the technical trails, making sure my toes were up.

(Wobbly, bouncy bridge that I swore would break my hamstring!)
As I finished the first (of three) laps, the legs felt ok enough to continue shuffling with my modified short-stride, so I decided to at least see the section of trail I had run under headlamp – might as well see the views from the entire course.  The trails were beautiful – reminded me of running at the Seven Sisters or the White Mountains but with cactus instead of pine trees– as my friend described it, it was as if ‘someone threw up rocks all over the trails’, and I love that type of running!  However with that type of terrain, I was sure glad I was wearing my Roclite 268s (with their grip for the technical running, but cushioning for the rock-hard landings), and my Drymax Lite Trail Running socks (that kept my feet happy, and kept the dirt out!).  The lap switched back and forth around several hills in the area, so you were never more than a mile away from the finish line, and you could often see amazing views to the next hillside.  However, with hamstring acting up, I wasn’t able to enjoy the technical trails as I typically do – I knew that any catch of the toe could end my race.  At about 20 miles into the race, a fellow racer caught up to me as I shuffled down the same downhill that tweaked the hamstring on the first lap, and we quickly became friends as we discussed races we’ve done and goals for the day.  I was explaining to him how frustrating it was to watch folks pass me on the downhills and technical section but that I was limited to what I could do if I wanted to finish, and one more toe catch might be the end of my race.  No sooner said, I caught my toe, and nearly face planted – instinctively catching myself with the injured leg – and I felt shooting pain up the back of the leg.  My day might just be over.  I slowed way down, shuffled, stretched, and planned to drop out at the next aid station only a mile ahead, with about 25 miles completed.

(Example of the rocky trails)
As I got to the aid station, and was about to tell the volunteer that I was dropping, another racer at the aid station looked at me and said ‘are you Amy?  I used to live in Greenfield’ (which is about 10 minutes away from my house).  I was so surprised to meet someone from my side of the country that I joined him out of the aid station – chatting about Vermont 100, which he completed this past summer, and about the joys of winter training in New England.  Without realizing it, his actions saved my race.  I left him after a few miles, but at that time I was at the last aid station of the lap – less than 3 miles by the course to the finish line, so I decided to finish the lap.

(Rocky section just before the finish)

As I lapped through the start/finish, I thought about how humbling it was to have folks pass me as I shuffled and limped down the trail, and I thought about how stupid it was to be on the cusp of injury but still considering completing my last 16.7 mile lap.  However, a quick refuel, and I figured that since I was in Texas, I might as well finish the race – come hell or hobbling. 

(Motivational posters were everywhere along the course)
As so, with my pride in check, I kept on moving – hoping that at least my mental strength would get some training.  It got hot out under the Texas sun.  The views weren’t that amazing the 3rd time around.  I climbs were longer on the last lap – and my only motivation for moving was to think ‘the faster we run, the faster we’re done’ (a phrase often said during the WMDP workouts).  I caught up to a few struggling runners, who were obviously hurting if I caught them with my hobbly run, and I tried to motivate them to stay strong and finish quickly.

(A sight for sore...legs)
Crossing the finish line was a mix of emotions – I had finished the US Championships, and even with my injury I had mustered a 7th place finish (not far off my original pre-season goal).  Considering my injured hamstring, my goals quickly turned to a mindset of ‘to finish is to win’, so I should be pleased to complete 50 miles.  However, dreams die hard, and I will still be unhappy with my performance – knowing it’s not indicative of my training and fitness.  I certainly had hoped to represent Inov8, Gu, Drymax, and WMDP much better.  I might have to return in 2014 to avenge my finish – and have a race that I know I’m capable of. 

- Had LunaBar 1 hour, and banana ½ hour before we started.
- Consumed 7 gels (before start, 0.75 hours, 1.5 hours, 2.25 hours, 3 hours, 4 hours, 5.5 hours, 7 hours) –  about 700 calories [vanilla bean, just plain, and espresso love gus]
- Consumed salt tabs at 2 per hour (except for the first hour, when I took 1)
- Consumed 7 water bottles of energy drink (2 per lap in first two laps, 3 on last lap) – about 1050 calories [raspberry gu brew for first lap and mid-lap water bottles, roctane grape on 2nd and 3rd lap bottle]
- Consumed 2 dixie cups of water at each aid station (22 total cups) – 550 calories
Net total – about 2,300 calories and 260 oz fluid