Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

First, before I get into my Ruth Anderson race report, I'd like to thank all of you who stopped by to wish me luck - you rock! Second, I want to apologize for being so behind on posting comments. I promise to catch up with everyone this week. I want to see what everyone is up to!

Now, onto the race report. We had a nice flight to San Francisco on Friday, arriving mid-afternoon, which gave us plenty of time to eat and grab some last minute stuff for breakfast in the morning. I needed to be at the race by 6:00, so we left the hotel at 5:30 and made the 2 mile walk over to the lake. Ruth Anderson is run around Lake Merced, on a 4.5 mile asphalt/chat trail. It is about 2 blocks from the glorious Pacific Ocean. I had never visited that part of San Francisco, so it was really cool to see it.

Rajeev Patel is the RD for RA. What a wonderfully upbeat, positive guy! It was about 40 degrees at the start and SUPER windy, but Rajeev got us all organized and ready for the 6:30 start with no problems. I don't know how many starters there were, but I was pleasantly surprised that there were more than I expected, especially in the 100k. I knew Mark Tanaka and Joseph Swenson were both really fast, but I didn't know much about the other runners. I was hoping to have some company during the day.

At the start, I chatted with Laurie Woodrow, a very nice woman from LA. I was happy to find out that she was also running the 100k, and I was hoping that we would get a chance to visit some on the course later in the day. The race started right on time and the first thing we noticed was the wind. It was coming straight off the ocean so it was cold. And strong. I was wearing a long sleeve shirt, shorts, a fleece, gloves and a visor. After we made the first turn, I realized that visor wasn't going to last. I held onto it as best as I could and then finally just carried it. On the back side of the loop, some very dedicated volunteers stood in the cold and wind (ALL DAY) to provide us with support. It was too windy for them to erect a tent (they tried), so they just had to stand out there in the wind for hours. I think they deserve some sort of medal!

Scott and I had come up with a rough pacing schedule, but I ignored the pace clock for the first 4 loops because I was desperately trying to get some sort of rhythm going. The problem was that on the back side of the loop, the wind was so strong that you often felt like you were running in place. At one point, one of the aid station volunteers had to grab me to keep me from being knocked over. Then, as you made it the top of the loop, the wind was at your back, but it was so strong that it made you out of control - you had to brake with your legs to keep from getting knocked forward. The only thing that was sore today were my knees from pounding they took on the top part of the loop.

At the end of Loop 4, I realized I was behind pace. Now, this should not have unraveled me, but as you know, I bite at following a pacing schedule, so I was kind of freaked out. What do you do if you are behind and you are trying as hard as you can? I was crewing for myself, and I didn't really know anyone at the race, so I just kept running and praying for a miracle. But none came. I just kept telling myself, one more loop, then you get a gel and that will help. One more loop, then you get 2 Advils and that will help.

At the start of the race, Rajeev had told us that we could stop at any distance we chose (50k, 50 miles, or 100k), but once we stopped, we could not go back out. The finish point for the 50k was about 150 yards past the lap counting booth/main aid station at the end of the 7th loop, so after I finished loop 7, I headed back out for lap 8. As I approached the 50k mark where the finishing timers were stationed, they told me I was the lead female, and asked me if I was stopping. Huh? I was so focused on my own misery I had failed to pay attention to the other runners and where I was in relation to them. I hadn't ever planned to stop at the 50k, but it suddenly became an option. I kept running, but for the entire 8th loop, I talked myself into stopping and taking the 50k win. The conversation went something like this: "So what if I had not planned (or needed) a 50k run in preparation for the rest of the season? So what if I had flown all the way to San Francisco for this race. I'm miserable, I'm not even close to hitting my splits, and running sucks anyway! No one can make me keep going!" So, when I got to the counting tent, I told Rajeev I was done, that I just wanted credit for the 50k even though I had kept going for an extra loop. Uh, no. Turns out that several other women and men had come in behind me while I was out running and arguing with myself. It wouldn't have been fair to go back and change the results just because I was being a baby (although in that moment it seemed perfectly rational to me :). By continuing on after the 50k mark, I had sealed my fate to run the longer distance. I was stuck! Dang!

Out for Loop 9, almost in tears, still bundled up in my fleece and gloves, and thinking about all the smart people in the world that had hobbies like BASE jumping and snake handling. Surely they were happier at the moment than I. When I finished Loop 9, I asked Dave Combs and Stan Jensen (who were the lap counters all day - in the wind) how many laps for 50 miles (I had quit being able to do math on loop 5). They told me 11 loops plus about 1.75 miles. Okay, I thought, 2 more loops. At this point, I realized most of the runners had opted for the 50k, and there were only a few of us left on the course.

I would like to say that I had some sort of epiphany or growth experience on the last 2 loops of the course, but I didn't. I pretty much felt sorry for myself the whole way, but tried not to show it because the volunteers were having a much worse time of it than me. Chihping Fu, who had started the race but had to withdraw, put on warm clothes and went to the back-of-the-loop aid station for the rest of the day. Every time I passed, he said something encouraging, and acted like it was completely okay to be standing out in 50 mile per hour winds for 8 hours. Dave Combs, Rajeev, Stan Jensen, and Steve Jaber were so nice, and I know they were miserable in the wind. So, I tried to keep my pity party from being apparent, but as soon as I was out of their sight, I tried not to cry.

Finally, I made it to 50 miles in 8:13.11. I was hoping to hit the 50 mile mark at 7:42, so I was a little (okay, a lot) deflated, but that was replaced by relief that I didn't have to do 3 more loops. Mark Tanaka finished the 100k shortly thereafter and made me feel better when he told me that his time was 47 minutes slower this year than last. Lisa Huerta was the only woman to keep going the full 100k. I'm in awe of that woman!

I really can't say how I feel about the race just yet. I'm disappointed in myself that I couldn't/wouldn't stick it out. I wasn't hurt, just felt like it was a pointless exercise. And that bothers me. The win for the 50 miler doesn't feel as sweet, more like I don't really deserve it. I think part of our identity as ultrarunners is our mental toughness. I didn't feel mentally tough. I felt whipped. I felt like a baby. Anyway, I'm going to have to sleep on it. There are more races to come, but I want this to have meant something.

Hopefully I will have some more enlightened insights to post over the next few days. Thanks for reading. Happy running!


Bev said...

Sorry the race didn't go the way you had hoped. I still think you are totally awesome and are such a great running role model for me. I'm not a fan of wind at all, so I would have just headed back to the hotel myself. But that is what makes me a hobbyist and you an ultra runner.

Seriously, don't discount the experience. Every race has a nugget of wisdom to add to your arsenal of race strategy. Sometimes the trick is figuring out what it is.

You rock my friend?

angie's pink fuzzy said...

oh what a tough race. i'm sure you'll be thinking about this one for awhile!

Laurie said...

Hi Carilyn,

It was great to meet you at the race. I really appreciated the conversation and encouragement. I've been beating myself up for dropping down to the 50k, but after reading your post I realize that I probably made the right choice. Your description of the race echoes my experience almost exactly (except for the part where you're in the lead!), and I truly applaud you for toughing it out for the 50 miles. Congratulations!

olga said...

besides 2 DNF's due to physical problems (Leadville 100 - pulmonary edema, and Cascade 100 - hip injury), I also stopped at local PacRim 24 hr race. Now, I had an excuse of going there at 3am after running the previous day (in the same 24 hr span) a 50k trail race, very well, too, having a broken car (thus late arrival) and so on - the truth is I stopped because I didn't want to be miserable in the rain and wind that we had that day. Now, everybody else had wind and rain, and they were going for the whole 24 hrs, all I needed was 6 hrs and 50k. I stopped at 17M. I couldn't even get to a marathon mark to get Maniacal credit. I was fed up. I wasn't really sorry for myself, but I wasn't having fun either - and fun, somehow, is the most important part for me in ultrarunning. While when I DNF'ed at 100's twice, I beat myself to death over it, I never looked back at PacRim and thought I shouldn't have.
Why this story? Is it really we need to ne mentally tough, or do we search for some other purpose? I think you didn't have that "other purpose". And in that case it's totally ok to stop.
I bet you'll do some more soul bugging and will settle for your own explanation. But it'll come. Everything in our lives is simply an experience - not bad, not good, just it.
Recover your knees:)

Rooster said...

I completely understand how you feel. Goals get set and the day comes and for whatever reasons we have to adjust our expectations in the middle and that is not easy.

I have to agree with Bev about the nugget of wisdom because it only took one DNF for me to know I didn't want another. I remember how I felt, how my mind operated and who was in control as I lost control. You might not have had the day you wanted but you won the 50M and deserve it!

Bob Gentile said...

ok first off after reading this post...I was like ok wind battles, mental battles and OH SHE did 50 miles in 8:13.11-- LOL

To me that is friggin awesome, BIG CONGRATS!!

I live by the ocean so I always have those wind battles and they really can beat u up mentally.

No doubt you are mentally tough enough I think Olga was correct with the other purpose... It's like if you went into that race going for 50 miles from the beginning and also pretty geared up to battle the winds all day it would have been a diff. mindset.

What is so COOL about this past test, it will be a lesson learned when some other unexpected things pop up and you have to DECIDE quicker to MAKE that decision mentally and not dwell on it. I am a NEWBIE in this ultra stuff but OH not a newbie in battling through challenges and shifting that mind quick so it doesn't drown me--lol

GREAT Re-Cap Carolyn YOU are Such a strong Ultra Runner and going to have a bright Ultra future for many years!!

Recover well !

Julie B said...

Sometimes it just isn't fun enough to continue. A few years ago I was going to run the 24 hour at FANS. I didn't eat properly, was tired and began to whine. I wasn't having fun at quit at 50 miles. I dont know, running needs to be fun :) It's OK! The next one you will enjoy. Hey, are you coming to MN to run FANS this year??

Scott said...

Every race is a battle in some way, no matter if it's going as planned or is a nightmare. It can be just as much of a battle to keep things on track as it is to get on track. Your fight against your struggles to achieve an 8 hr 50 is impressive!! I'd say that was a victory!

Carilyn said...

Hey Laurie! I've been trying to figure out how to respond to you directly, but I can't seem to find a blog or e-mail address. Thanks for checking in! It was great to talk to you at the race! Glad to hear you made it home okay. Hopefully will cross paths at another race soon - preferrably one that's not windy!

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

I hadn't realized that you weren't really planning on running 50 miles. Congratulations again! Yes, the wind...blew (literally and figuratively). Kettle will be that much more FUN!