Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Race finished: I am now an ultramarathon runner

I am now an ultramarathon runner. I finished the Superior Trail Races 50K Saturday, May 16 in 5 hrs., 36 minutes and 48 seconds and 23rd out of 71 runners. (Official results)

Weather conditions were grueling. Winds howled at 30mph+ and it snowed small pellets of ice throughout the race. Gusts were easily 40 mph or more. Temps were hovering in the low 40s. The night before the race, the wind began blowing and it started raining. The precipitation had a noticeable affect on the trail. Portions of the trail were muddy, and the forest duff often concealed soppy ground.

I ended up running in a short-sleeve and long-sleeve Capilene 1 shirts, with a fleece beanie and gloves made of PowerStretch fleece. And then my marathon-style running shorts. I brought my windshirt to the race, but opted not to wear it after doing a quick warmup and noticing that I was overheating already. This would not do, so I dropped the windshirt and went with only the two wicking shorts for torso layers. While running, I felt like I had my clothing dialed in quite well. I was never too hot in my torso, and I removed my gloves occasionally only to put them back on in a minute or two. I removed my hat once - it went back on within a few steps. Other runners were in all sorts of clothing. Many wore tights, hydration packs (lumbar and vest-style) or windshirts.

My gaiters worked poorly for running. I removed the instep cords a while ago. They were kept on solely by the rear lip of my shoes and a hook that attaches to my laces. The gaiters slipped off the back of my shoe, which rendered the gaiters almost nonfunctional. All that said, I did not notice sticks or rocks in the top of my shoe.

There are four major climbs, in order of appearance: Mystery Mountain, Moose Mountain, Oberg Mountain and Carlton Peak. On the return, runners race down Carlton Peak, but must ascend the other peaks. The course is otherwise rolling with few true flat spots. True to form the SHT is a section of path that connects streams by running into and then out of their valleys.

Roots and rocks litter the course, and I slowed down or walked (especially later in the race) through the technical sections. This was partially mental fatigue, and mostly my inability to control the exact placement of my foot. By aid station 4 at mile 23 or so, the stabilizing muscles in my legs were shot to the point where I felt like I was often stumbling, unable to control where my foot landed. Technical sections became difficult for pure want of dexterity.

I carried a single 21 oz handbottle and a packet of ClifBar Clif shots, a packet of six gummie-bear type cube of acidic, sugary goodness. I drank 50 oz of diluted Gatorade (mixed from powder), plus a cup of 8 oz of water at the second aid station. At the fourth and final aid station, I switched to straight water. My stomach was getting gurgally, and I figured the very acidic ClifShots would not mix well with more Gatorade. I ended up consuming ~80 oz of liquid, and to urinate with about two miles to go. I was dehydrated, but didn't notice it until then. Other notable foods: three of my mother's chocolate chip cookies and a pickle. I don't do gels; they take too much water to force down.

Sloppy mud is always an issue because is seeps into your shoes through the thin mesh-like upper. Your feet may never get dry, and they turn into a wrinkled mess that is more susceptible to blisters. If they do dry out, the now-evaporated moisture leaves the mud sediment behind attached to your socks, shoes and toes. When I took a shower post-race, I was unable to clean out the slots on the edges of my toenails.

Blisters were not a problem. I have been using Leukotape-P now for about a month, mostly on long runs. It is an incredibly breathable, flexible tape with a moderate adhesive. Flexible cloth Band-Aids from Johnson and Johnson are probably the best comparison to the stuff. I put two ovals on my right foot - on the front of my instep and the inside of my big toe - and four on my left foot - again, one on my instep and inside of my big toe, plus one on the outside of my Achilles tendon and one on the inside of the ball of my foot. In running, I accumulated two miniature blisters - one on inside of each big toe. Now 72 hours after the run, the blisters have receded into my well-developed calluses.

Pain was obviously present but otherwise minimal. My hip flexors starting hurting a few miles in and stayed at a dull ache the entire race. My toenails are tender to the touch. I also experienced some twinges in my lower back while running, probably near my sacro-illiac joint. But neither my quads nor my hamstrings gave out. My calves stayed loose for most of the race, although I did experience some brief, instant cramps in one of my calves at two of the aid stations. These were fleeting and went away almost as soon as they came.

Over the past few days, my legs have recovered nicely. I have soreness on the outside of my left quadriceps and I may lose two toenails. But I have run each day since the race, and will continue that for the immediate future.

So what next? I'm going to do about two weeks of easy recovery running, nothing more than two to four miles at a time at a slow easy pace. I also will be running barefoot on a track or grassy area (i.e. football field) to strengthen my feet.

When training kicks back up again, I will do more weight-lifting, hill running and make sure I get in some 20-25 mile long runs in preparation for the 50 miler. The hills really took me out of the race and my hip flexors told me so. I must be stronger on the hills. I also plan on doing some shorter races in between such as the Afton Trail Run 25K (they run a 50k, but I'd rather not run the same course twice in the same direction).

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