Friday, April 2, 2010

Clinton Lake 30 Race Report

The day—the running of the Clinton Lake 30—was a cumulation of months of training, but was also a training run in itself for the McNaughton Park 50-mile. Some people told me to take it easy at Clinton Lake and save something for McNaughton. Yet others told me to go out hard and fast, to make Clinton Lake a bigger effort than it needed to be, in order to make up for the 20-mile gap in between the two race distances.

I opted for the latter, not because it made sense, but because I wanted to! I wanted to push myself and see what I could do. I was secretly hoping for a sub-6 hour finish.

My husband had to work until 6pm the day before Clinton Lake so not long after he arrived home at 7pm, we made the 2-plus hour drive to a Super 8 motel in Le Roy, about 20 minutes from the Clinton Lake start area.

The stress of the late drive combined with anxiety about race day made for a bad night’s sleep. The too-soft bed and flat pillows helped none. When I did sleep, I would dream of running on trails and tripping over roots, jerking myself awake.

I awoke at 5am and, after struggling to get the room microwave to work, nuked a large cup of McDonald’s coffee that we had purchased the night before. No matter what, I can’t start my day without coffee! I showered and got ready, and then my husband drove me to the race start area.

The morning was much colder than expected. I had hoped to mingle with other runners before the race but instead choose to sit in the car with my husband, the heater blasting. I wasn’t concerned about the race weather—it was to be sunny all day and I knew that the temperatures would be climbing into the low 50’s later. Perfect running weather! Before long it was 7:20—almost time to start.

I lined up a bit behind the leaders and off to the side. Even though I hadn’t run the course before, and had been warned about the difficulty of it, I wasn’t nervous. I was pretty sure I could nab a sub-6 finish, providing nothing went wrong. But of course, in an ultra, anything can go wrong!

The race started and the leaders dashed ahead. I held my pace as we ran out of the parking lot and up a hilly asphalt road. After a quarter mile we turned into the woods and onto singletrack. I quickly picked up a pattern. I would run behind a slower runner for some time then, when the coast was clear, pass them on the side of the trail. After a few miles I became hot and knew I would have to swap my winter cap for a baseball cap and take off my polyfleece shirt when I got back to the start/finish area on the loop.

I quickly discovered that I was pretty good at running down hills. During my first ultra a few months prior, I would lean back and “brake” into the downhills, which led to horribly sore quads by race’s end. But I had been working on this over the winter. This time, I leaned into the downhills and let my feet take small, quick steps beneath me. I pictured myself running like a cartoon character—an upright figure with a circular blur of legs below. It worked! As long as I watched carefully for roots, rocks, and sudden drops, I was able to hammer it down and overtake people. It was also a helluva lot of fun.

The hills were never-ending. Up and down, up and down. I had trained myself to recover on slight uphills, however, so I never felt exhausted. The only issue I had was with the muddiest section of the course—a stretch of ankle-deep mud on a downhill. Rather than heading over to the leaf-covered, firmer muck on the right side of the trail, I found myself following the runner in front of me right into the worst section of mud on the left side of the trail. My feet slipped out from beneath me and I landed in the mud. My water bottle—tip included—absorbed the worst of the impact.

Argh! I tried to wipe the bottle tip clean as I ran but needed water to clean it well enough to use it again. After the bottle was re-filled at the next aid station, I cautiously drank from it then spit water onto the dirty bottle tip until it was clean, all while running. Success.

I got to the start/finish area—and the end of the first of three loops—under the two hour mark. I quickly swapped caps, took off my polyfleece shirt, and yanked off my right shoe and sock so I could glob Vaseline onto a hot spot. At the same time a volunteer came over to take my water bottle and fill it. Shoe and sock back on, and water bottle returned, I hit up the porta-john. Then I was ready! No, wait! I had to get some food. It was a mental juggle to remember everything.

My second loop was more of the same, except I was alone for almost the whole way around. I hammered it down the hills, power-walked the steep uphills, and recovered on the flatter sections. My Garmin told me I was going at an average of 9:30 minute/miles during the flatter sections and it felt like I was hitting the downhills closer to 7:30 minute/miles. I knew I was going a bit fast but I felt awesome so I kept it up.

Well, awesome other than a bit of nausea.

I hit the start/finish area again at just under 4 hours. I was still feeling pretty decent, but not as good as before. I grabbed a couple ginger chews along with the usual Shot Bloks. A sub-6 was still possible but not looking as likely. But I was going to try! And with luck, I would get my second wind.

A mile into the final loop, my batteries began to die. Fast. One moment I was thinking you can do it! And the next moment I was walking…on a flatter section...with no intention of running again anytime soon. The nausea was worse than ever and I was thirsty despite drinking more than enough. Or was it too much? My fingers were a bit puffy and my wedding band, which is normally easy to remove, was tight on my finger. I realized I was over-hydrated and had taken too many S-caps. That explained the nausea and the wall that I had run into.

After walking for nearly half a mile, I resumed running. But it was a slow, shuffling run—a big change from an hour before. A few moments later my tired foot stubbed a tree root while going down a hill. I flew forward like Supergirl and, after landing on my right knee and hip, slid down the hill on my side. Sometime during the slide I had rolled onto my back as I laid there helplessly, I began to laugh. Another runner—a woman I had passed on the first loop—was approaching. She had seen the whole thing and when she saw me laughing, she laughed too.

I got up and, after a quick mental check to make sure no body parts were mangled, resumed my shuffling run. I tripped over another root a few miles later but since it was going uphill, the fall was far less dramatic.

This time around the hills seemed endless. I would walk then remind myself that I was almost done, just a couple more miles, just a few more hills, think of the ice cream and brownies and I could eat afterwards, think of the comfortable couch awaiting at home. And with these thoughts I would begin running again but it wouldn’t last.

On the last hill of the course was a neon green sign with “Are you loving the hills yet?” handwritten in black marker. I had thought the sign was amusing on the first loop but now it was a beacon for the finish. Last hill, last quarter mile, almost there! And who was standing next to it but my dad, camera in hand? What a welcome sight!

He walked with me to the bottom of the hill then, when we got to the asphalt, I ran the rest of the way to the finish. The clock said 6:35—about a half hour later than I would have preferred but, given how difficult my last loop had been, I was happy with the time. Clinton Lake is a much tougher course than Farmdale and the fact I was able to do so much better, and not be overwhelmed by the hills (just my own fueling issues), was a testament to my increased fitness.

Let's see what happens at McNaughton Park.

Are you loving the hills yet?

After loop 2.

Half a mile to go.


Chris said...

Excellent finish! I thought you might like that hand-written sign I made about the hills. Or hate it. Several runners mentioned it as a beacon for the end of the loop. Clinton is tougher than Farmdale. You've gained a lot of strength and fitness. Good luck at MP50. It has longer hills, but not as many as CL30. I'll be at MP as a volunteer.

The Jenmeister™ said...

Great job! I'm so proud of you :) Love the photos, too!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic job! I love running free on downhills as well. The photos are great as well. There was a 100-miler (4-25 mile loops) here 2 weeks ago and I thought of you. ;)