This post is freaking long and I have been at my computer all night so please forgive any editing errors until I have time to go through and re-read later!
It's been two years since my first experience with the Buckeye 50K in 2006. In 2006 I volunteered at Pine Lane and then ran the second half with ultra gal Officer JA. I think that began my true love of racing ultras and the trails. I was a muddy sweaty mess by the end of that run but I was inspired. Since then I have run 7 ultras, this being my 8th attempt and second real attempt at "racing" a 50k (Punxsy being the first). I was definitely nervous leading up to the race. My base mileage is obviously higher than it has ever been and I had a great race at Muddy Paws last week so I was feeling revved up. With some big dogs missing in action I knew I had a good shot at placing in the race this year. CG and KM were off at the Tahoe Rim to Rim 100 miler so the usual top two ladies were gone leaving an opening for some new blood to do well.
Ultras are starting to get more and more popular. I think the number of ladies racing from last year to this year almost doubled. The race had 185 starters this year which was a record. And despite almost 30 drops the largest number of finishers too. Quite a few "rookies" in the race including a speedy chick we'll call "96." I went to a few of the familiarization runs this year and 96 was there and she was definitely holding her own. She has only run a few marathons and this would be her first ultra but I knew she was quicker than me and was a potential for some serious competition. I think I let that get a bit too much into my head. Beforehand I had kind of convinced myself that this was my year with CG and KM gone and I was a bit too intensely focused on winning and not focused on just running a really good race. I spent a lot of time the day before pumping myself up and just reminding myself of all the hard work I have been doing, how much I love this sport, and how much fun I have racing.
Friday night I went for a 5 mile jog with 5*30 second striders. I got home covered in sweat and was starting to have doubts about my intentions to race this 50k the next morning. If I sweat that much on an easy jog what would the next day bring? I made the executive decision to put aside my time goals and just race for place. I knew 96 would probably go out at a good clip and I figured I would just hold onto her (or whoever took it out for the ladies) as long as I could and hopefully pull away in the later miles. Racing tactically is not really my forte, I guess I have more of a Pre mindset, but I figured heck it's 50k why not give tactics a chance. Well it seemed like a smart idea at the time ;)
Woke up on time but was a little sluggish and headed out a bit later than I planned. Drank some coffee for an extra boost and was on my way. Saved putting on glasses, shoes, sunscreen, bug spray until I got to the race site and picked up my goods. Cranked the stereo to get pumped up. "Back in Black" came on and that seemed appropriate since I would be decked out in my black VR outfit and black Nike skirt. Made it to the site and the lot was already full and we were lining up along the road into the picnic area. Got my registration and was super stoked to find my randomly assigned number was 77. Lucky 7's always a good sign! (Super bummed to find they had no small shirts and the medium was gigantic.)
Went back to the car and got everything ready to run. I remembered body glide and decided to try some moleskin on my big toes since they always seem to callus and blister. Sunscreen, bug spray and I was ready to race :) Chatted with RP and a new ultra guy before heading over to join the mass of runners at the start. Caught BBerk before he headed to Boston Store and gave him my extra handheld with water and a gel in it so that I could just grab it and go when I got back to Boston Store 26 miles later :) He kindly offered to keep it in the cooler for me.
A few announcements from Vince as we all stood around prepping for the start and we were ready to go. Daisy looked all cute in her pig tails and sports bra, I decided to roll up my tank as I was worried about the heat and a cool breeze on any skin seems to really help cool down.
Making sure the Garmin is ready to roll
Not sure maybe checking my laces?
Rolling up my tank
Smiles Pre Race with TKins
45 seconds and we were off. I tucked in behind 96 and we headed into the woods. The pace felt quick and we were right behind JU who holds the grand master record and ran a 4:40 something last year. 96 wasn't letting up as we headed down the bridle trail and onto the Buckeye Trail. I was keeping pace but when we hit the first two miles under 8 minute pace I started to have my doubts that this "tactical" approach was smart. My left calf had been bothering me since Sunday but had magically felt better Friday so I thought that I had healed it but it was rearing its ugly head so between the pace feeling aggressive and my calf complaining I was starting to rethink hanging on to 96. I stuck with this group a little ways beyond Ottawa Point, but at some point before 3 miles in I made the decision to back it off. I just couldn't see how going out at this pace would end in anything but blowing up. I figured 96 would either slow the pace, blow up, or go on to break the record, and in any of these cases I was not about to attempt to run her race. I had to run my own.
And they're off.
It's early and we're all smiles (Actually the two photos before this I am sticking out my tongue at Roots, not sure why, but the photos weren't flattering)
Shortly after I backed it off we were headed up hill and TKins caught up to me. He commented that we were going way too fast and I agreed. We didn't fall too far back from the group until we got to the muddy section and an area where you run along the side of a hill with a few downed trees. One of the trees was just a tad too high for me to jump over so I lifted one leg over and proceeded to get stuck straddling this log. Apologizing for slowing TKins up I rolled my way over the log and we moved on. Roots was out here snapping photos and he gave me the thumbs up and told me not to worry about 96 and just run my own race.
Thanks Roots for the trail photo.
Somewhere through here RP and a few other guys caught me. We talked about how we had definitely gone out too fast. TKins pulled away from us here and as we made our way into the aid station at Boston there were quite a few people catching up that did not go out like maniacs. As I was exiting the aid station PR scolded me that I had gone out too fast. I replied that I knew as I grabbed some crackers and pretzels and headed to the stairs. Got an update from C that 96 was a few minutes ahead.
First aid station, stop for crackers and pretzels and a bottle refill (I could have sworn everyone promised me no unflattering photos!) A bit disoriented obviously, and sweaty despite not really feeling all that hot.
I was with RP at this point as we trudged up the stairs. I did my best to scarf down my crackers, but had forgotten how impossible it is to get those darn things down! The pretzels were easier, but texture was kinda stale, I think the humidity was not kind to our trail food. Shortly after we crested the stairs Frank and PR caught us. I 'm afraid to say I wasn't pleased :) Much too early to be getting caught, all because of 2 measly miles ran too fast. But thankfully I broke out of my comfort zone and pushed to keep up with them as they paced. If it wasn't for them I may have never picked it back up again so I am glad they got my ass in gear. The pace felt hard but doable so I just did my best to keep up.
As we hit my favorite section of the trail (an area where you drop down near the river where there are some pines and shale formations and the temperature always drops about 10 degrees) it was obvious that PR was having some issues with his injuries. We climbed out of my fave spot and he let us know he was going to drop at Boston but that he would go back out to the top of Boston and wait to pace me back. At this point we still had intentions of closing on 96 if she faltered and PR knew I would be in need of some company as I would be feeling bad on the way back through here. I felt bad to lose PR so soon but was glad he would be waiting to help me later. We got some last advice from him that we should run up the next paved hill before heading across the road and through the last little section before you hit Boston.
Well we got to that paved hill and I did not feel like running it so I let Frank and the other guys who had been with us pull ahead. Played a bit of cat and mouse with Jerry Brandt here and caught up to a gentleman in grey. I think he said his name was Matt. We ran together down the trail past the "top" of Boston where it gets technical, windy, and muddy before you jump over a stream and head up about 88 short steep stairs. Once I was through that it was time to rock the downhills and get to Boston Store. I felt good as I cruised down the trails and into the aid station.
I was still pretty focused on keeping pace and wondering how 96 was doing ahead of me and how all the gals behind me were faring. I was here to race, and for the most part that was always towards the front of my mind. When you get to aid stations they write down your number so I yelled out 77 as I came in and shouted that I needed water. Clarified that I meant water in my bottle as I looked for something salty. A volunteer offered me heed and I don't know what came over me but I practically barked "no" at her and told her I needed salt. They gave me a pack of salt pills, convinced me to take a gel and I retrieved my bottle and was on my way. C was waiting to give me another update. He hadn't seen 96 go through which meant she had gained some ground on me. He took my used gel from me as I headed down the towpath and told him I realized I had been a total jerk back at that aid station. I was so damn focused I couldn't even remember if I thanked them. Uggh talk about rude and not like me at all.
I ran up some of the hills on this section and walked sections that seemed too steep. I scarfed down a gel and an electrolyte tab and was rejoined by my friend in grey. We ran at a good clip through this section and I kept hoping not to see the leaders coming back anytime soon as I wanted to be much further ahead than last year. Last year we had seen the first runner as we headed onto the section of the trail Pine Lane is named for. A half mile section of path covered in roots. Think football drills where they jump through those ropes, kind of like that. I've never had a problem with this section but if you aren't feeling sharp you could easily do a lot of damage here either falling or twisting something on one of those roots.
C was waiting just before this section offering to pour water for runners. My handheld was still good so I declined, again he missed 96 which meant she was still far ahead. What really was crazy is she wasn't even carrying any water! Tiny little thing, but you'd think in the heat and humidity she'd want more than what she could get at the aid station. Kam is the same way though and he usually wins this thing so what do I know? All I know is it was predicted to get up to high 80s and to me that was hot enough for a handheld. I went through all the water I carried in that thing every section so I was definitely glad I decided to carry.
Shortly before we got to the old road crossing we saw the leader and about 30 seconds later Kam coming our way. I yelled for Kam that he was 35 seconds back as we headed toward the old road where Wild Bill had appeared to cheer us on. He was very kind telling me I looked great and was rocking it. I told him too bad the first girl was rocking it even more than me :)
As we neared Pine Lane 96 finally popped into view coming down hill as I climbed up. She was still with JU and she looked strong. I shouted to her that she was on record pace and doing great, she gave encouragement to me as she passed. I gave props to JU as I headed up the hill. I believe at this point they were in about 6th or 7th but I can't remember. The aid station came quicker than I thought and I was ecstatic to be ready to turn around. I knew TKins and Frank were at the station and saw SH hanging out. I hollered at him that I thought he was taking it easy. Not sure why the heck he was still at the aid station since he had gone out with the top group. He told me to hurry and that I could take down 96, she was a newbie. I had my doubts and said as much but it was nice to know that somebody had faith in me. I grabbed some trail mix and got my bottle filled then headed out. Quick aid station for me and I was halfway done at 2:22. Holy Cow that was about 12 minutes faster than last year and about 4-8 minutes faster than what I had intended when my plans were to race for time (sub 5 goal).
I headed back towards the start/finish pumped up that I still felt pretty good and that although I had thrown out the time goal initially I was still lined up with the possibility of breaking 5 hours. I know I was running with another guy through here but I can't remember who. I know he said he was clumsy because he almost fell after the crazy log bridge that I am always terrified to cross and right before I complained about climbing a little area where if you are short like me you had to grab a hold of the ground to get over this small hill.
As we started into the pines I look ahead to see Frank and a young Solon guy walking. I wondered what the heck they were doing and said as much. Frank replies "We're Power Walking Through the Pines" This had me laughing pretty hard as I passed the pine power walkers. Of course they caught back up to us before we had even gotten back on the trail after the short road section here. Frank decided to join me for awhile and we chatted as we headed back to Boston. We talked about 96 and I commented that she was probably going to break a record. She had 9 minutes on me at the half and I wasn't far behind record pace.
This section of the race is such a blast because you get to see everyone behind you and since I know so many people on the trails it is like a long trailing reunion. It really gives me a boost to see everyone and cheer on all the runners. Of course competitive E-Speed was alert too, noting how far back 3rd was. I had about 20 minutes on 3rd at the half, which made me feel good that at least if I couldn't win I was in a really good position to hold onto 2nd. It was sort of funny heading back through here. Quite a few good ultra runners were behind us and I thought about how my fast first half was probably going to come back to bite me. There's certain runners that you just don't expect to be ahead of and being in that position made me a bit nervous. Also the shock when some of them saw me was amusing. I guess I have been sort of quietly improving and for those that hadn't seen me since last year this was a pretty huge improvement.
Frank was having some trouble with cramps starting up. He seemed in good spirits and energy wise he looked good. We made our way into Boston together but I got through the station a bit quicker, once again turning into this focused femmebot getting my water and some more trail mix and cola. It was funny because I would think of what I wanted before I got to the station but when I got there it was like I had no clue other than that I knew I needed water. At most stations I just grab a handful of food and head out because there is usually a hill ahead that you can eat while you walk.
That is the case after Boston big time. There is a long hill stretch as you head back up towards the road and the building where I knew PR would be waiting for me (I had mentally started calling him my secret weapon). I played cat and mouse with a few of the guys here but took my time up the last windy section after the river because I knew PR was waiting and would push me, I wanted to be ready to push the pace even though I knew this would be a tough section for me.
It was so nice having someone to pace me through the next section. Energy wise I felt pretty good and at some point my calf had stopped bothering me (or I had successfully tuned it out). It was starting to get hot though and my hips were starting to get stiff. Also could feel a blister forming on my ankle, and my toes weren't feeling great. PR didn't play around and he pulled me through the runnable sections. We passed a few runners and tried to pull them along too. I told PR I needed to get to Snowville under 4 hours to have any chance at breaking 5 hours. He informed me that 96 had pulled into 3rd place overall and she looked strong. There was no way we were going to catch her. He said he saw all the leaders go through and of them Kam looked good, she looked good, and I looked good. It was nice to hear I looked strong, but it was certainly surprising that 96 was rocking her first 50k so well.
We stopped to fill bottles at one of the unmanned water stops and then continued to push until we got to the stairs. We passed JChaney somewhere in here I think. He was having stomach problems but was still in good spirits. A few times PR pulled a little farther away from me. He promised we'd ease the pace when we got to the bridge, but thankfully I started to feel a little better and didn't have to back it off. The stairs were a bit brutal. I could hear Solar screaming her head off so I gave her a holler. PR realized I must not be running hard enough and yelled at me we had another quarter mile to the aid station, he meant business!
We pulled into Snowville and PR had to dump me, he was going to wait for Frank but he told me I had to drink some Heed. Uggh so I slurped some down, it was disgusting! Solar grabbed my fresh handheld for me and I grabbed a handful of trail mix and headed back out. My slowest stop the whole day but I needed to regroup. I came in a little under 4 hours and with the heat and my waning energy I knew sub 5 was going to be rough.
Last aid station. Moving a little sluggishly at this point.
I did a good job through the grass but when I hit the hills I think I started to lose it. The next 3 miles are the hardest on the course (in my opinion) and if you aren't feeling well they can slow you way the heck down. My Garmin was making me very unhappy telling me just how slow I was. I thought I was losing my mind for about a half mile as I swore I heard a runner behind me but every time I looked back I would see nothing. Bad placement, as there was a runner there but every time I looked back he was behind a tree. He passed me here and I got caught by another guy. At this point I had convince myself that DM was going to catch me and I would have to settle for 3rd female. My mental math skills are weak at best when oriented. 26 or so miles into the race, I was definitely not doing a good job with the numbers. I asked the VR guy if he had seen the 3rd lady and he said no he thought she was pretty far back and that made me feel a bit better.
I sucked down a gel and got stuck on the same damn log again! I started to feel better (maybe the Heed) as I got done with most of the hills and picked up the pace. At this point I looked at my watch and figured I was not going to break 5 but I needed to hustle to PR regardless. I was doing pretty well but got a little turned around at one of the stream crossings. Debated leaping it but then realized what that would do to my quads and back tracked to the right trail. Lost about 30 seconds here (I always get lost here! This time it was because the trail marking had got knocked down and there was a stick laying across the path I was supposed to take). I passed one of the guys in this section and did my best to keep up with the VR runner.
I got a bit off track again through a muddy section before you pop out onto an old paved road. Redirected myself again and hammered. I was out of water and commented to the VR guy that I hoped they weren't kidding about the water at Ottawa Point. We reached the park and I didn't see any water and that distressed me a bit. As we hit the trail again though there was a sign stating 1.7 miles to go sitting near a bunch of water bottles. I stopped and filled my bottle and checked the watch as I headed out. I'd have to run well under 10 minute pace to break 5 at this point and I didn't think it was possible but I just ran as hard as I could glad to know that I would be done in less than 20 minutes.
Thankfully the trail was marked well so I didn't have to think much, and I was pushing the pace along the bridle trail when I came upon a horse, so I slowed to a walk until he passed and picked it back up again. Got to the mile to go sign and was pretty sure I would finish around 5:04. I was by myself but pushing hard, remembering how good I had felt the last 6 miles last year and how different it was this year those last few miles (Now I know how MT must have felt!). I still felt strong, but I was not feeling peppy! As I finally entered the Oak Ridge Parking lot the noon bells tolled making it utterly clear sub 5 was impossible. A bit heartbroken but still determined to PR I pushed hard into the finish. Solar was screaming her head off and I couldn't help but laugh despite running as hard as I could.
I finished in 5:01:37 and was shocked when Solar informed me I was 8th overall. I didn't remember passing that many people. Sure enough 96 had gone on to break the course record in 4:37 and 3rd overall! Nothing like running a PR race, coming in top ten, but getting crushed by the 1st lady to keep you humble. The SERC guys were all laid out at the finish, icing and eating. I asked Solar where TKins was and she said he was behind me. I didn't remember passing him, but I guess he was in the bathroom at Pine Lane. He like many others was suffering through leg cramps and had a long second half.
Eventually I managed to scarf down some great Chef Bill food, change clothes, and survey the damage to the feet. I think I had more blisters than ever before. I even had one on the bottom of my foot! And somehow the moleskin I had put on my big toes had disappeared. But I didn't get blisters on those toes, so it must have worked while they were on. I had a great time watching all my friends come in to the finish. Enjoyed a few post race brews with Nathan and Daisy and caught up with some trail friends I haven't seen in awhile. I saw everyone finish. It was really impressive. Of course Leo who is in his 70s had the loudest cheers of the day! That guy has more energy than anyone I know.
I am very proud of my efforts and I am more than happy with the result. I still believe there is room for improvement though, and I am not convinced I had the best day I could of. Do I think I could have hung with 96? No, but I do think I could have broken 5 if I had run a slightly smarter race. Huge thanks to PR for helping me through those late miles because without him I wouldn't have even been close as evidenced by my huge drop in pace the next three miles without him. Big thank you's to Solar for volunteering and being such a great cheerleader, she makes you feel like a rock star. Thanks to all my friends who were out helping (BBerk, Roots, Bridget, Steve!) and to all my friends who raced, you guys really make the sport for me, and that's what will keep me coming back for more long after the years when I will be chasing wins and PRs.
Congrats to Frank on his first ultra finish! If it weren't for those cramps Frank I would like to think we would have broken 5 together!
1st and 2nd females
Chef Bills Post Race Grub
Solar and Me post race
3rd and 2nd Ladies (SERC Gals Rule!)
Stats! (As if this post wasn't long enough already!)
I am happy to note that even despite a major slow down my last leg of the race was still faster than last year! Interestingly despite being 25 minutes faster the slow down on both those last legs was almost exactly the same as last year!
Aid Station-2008 Split (2007 Split)
Pine Lane-40:32 (42:46)
Obviously need to work on those final miles. I was 16 minutes slower on the back half and all of that was late in the race. 4 minutes from Boston to Snowville, and 12 minutes from Snowville to the Finish!