Sunday, August 26, 2007

Redwood Regional Park 50K - 3rd place

So, I ran my first ultramarathon this morning and afternoon, in Oakland's Redwood Regional Park. I've been nervous about this distance -- 30.7 miles (nearly 50 km) since I was going to try to run it fast but instead of being on flat roads like my previous 4 marathons, it was in rugged (and beautiful) hills. Our route for the 50K race had 4500' of elevation gain and descent.

The race course had 2 loops of dirt trails. One loop was about 10K (6.2 miles) and the other was about 20K (12.4 miles). The 10K loop had the toughest terrain and had 1060' of elevation gain. The 20K loop wasn't particularly easy, either, with 1720' of gain. There were 4 races -- the 10K, 20K, 30K, and 50K. The 10K runners ran just the 10K loop. The 20K runners ran just the 20K loop. The 30K runners ran the 20K loop then the 10K loop. And finally the 50K runners ran the 20K loop, then the 10K loop, then the 20K loop again. I had scouted out the area a few weeks prior, so I at least knew what to expect.

The race was sold out, so I'm glad I got there early (about 7:45am) for the 8:30am start time, because the parking lots filled up and many runners didn't make the start time. I looked for some of my friends and found Tamara and Dave, but we had hardly any time to socialize. I trust their races went well.

The weather was on the cool side, which I was grateful for. The forecast from the night before was to have a high of 71. During the race, towards the end, it felt a lot warmer than that at times, when the sun was glaring down on me. Fortunately, there was some shade from the trees at least 80% of the time.

The race
I tried very hard to take it easy early on, but I still found myself pushing hard at times. As best as I could tell, I was first in my race early on. The nice thing I noticed about this race was how easy it was to talk to others during the race. Because I have to feel at ease and my breathing is slow and steady, so that I can be sure to last the distance, it's easy to chat. A woman named Prudence, from Santa Cruz, had about the same pace as me and she told me that she used to be a pack-a-day smoker for 13 years! Then about 4 years ago, she gave it up and took up running, culminating in an attempt to run the Western States 100, a really tough 100 mile event. Inspiring! I think we ran together for about 7 miles before I started to pull ahead. In hindsight, I should have stuck with her for longer.

Around mile 10, this runner practically sprinted past me on the downhill and I saw his racing bib and knew he was in my race. "Crazy," I thought, that he would put in such a burst of speed so early in the race. So I'm now in 2nd place, but I was fairly confident that the runner in front of me was making a big mistake and that I would catch him.

I arrived at the aid station, ending the 20K loop and getting ready for the 10K loop. They set up the aid station after the race had started, so my food bag was not right where it was supposed to be. Going and getting it felt like it took a minute, but it was probably just 10 or 15 seconds. The whole stop took maybe a couple of minutes. At the time, I thought this was no big deal out of a race that lasts 4 or 5 hours, but that wasn't really the case!

So I began the 10K loop and sure enough, I soon caught up to and passed "the sprinter" -- he was struggling. Also, I saw that the next runner in the 50K behind me was only a minute or so behind. I was in 1st place once again. I put in an extra effort on the 10K loop, running as much of the uphill as I could and really stretching my stride on the downhill. I arrived at the aid station after the 10K loop and so now I've run about "30K" although the measured distance was a bit less, maybe 18.4 miles. I felt strong. People congratulated me and cheered me on. I pumped my arm in the air. "I can do this," I thought.

I ran/walked up this huge hill to a trail along a ridge, the West Ridge Trail. Then back down to the valley again. Then after a bit, right back up to the ridge. On that ascent I chatted a bit with an older woman who said she had run a 100 mile race two weeks before. I'm guessing she was 55 years old or so. She asked me my name and told me her name was Carol LaPlant. (Update: I found her results and she's 60 years old!)

After this huge ascent, finally reaching the ridge and level ground again, I felt my first twinge of a cramp in my left thigh which was a bit strange. Usually my calves are the first to go. I slowed down a bit and I also started feeling fatigued and a bit sore for the first time. And I was getting thirsty and I quickly finished my 20 oz bottle. Oh oh. I still had maybe 3 miles to go to the next aid station and I was thirsty and out of water. Finally I got to a drinking fountain and I drank a bit. Eventually I reached the next aid station. They congratulated me on my time, I filled up my water bottle with sports drink, and kept on going. By now my side had started hurting and I was slowing down more. When the trail got steep going downhill, I was getting uncomfortable in my feet and quads due to the braking motion.

Mile 25 -- I had really slowed down. It was hard for me to run fast on level ground because of my side cramp. I walked all uphills. I was slow on the downhills because of my feet and muscle soreness. I heard footsteps behind me. A guy with a French (?) accent said hello and he was in my race. He ran next to me for a bit and asked me how I was doing. He walked every uphill, even the gentle uphills, but he could go faster on the downhills than I could so he wished me luck and slowly pulled away. Not much longer another runner in the my race passed me and the 2nd place guy. So now I was 3rd.

Miles 28 through 30 -- I was thirsty. My water bottle was drained for the 2nd time. I was sore and slow, doing about 9 minutes / mile when the trail was gentle and walking when it got steep going uphill. I had taken off my fanny pack in the hopes of reducing my side ache and a short while after that, the side ache went away and didn't return. Interesting. I was running on what felt like sheer will-power now. Finally, finally, I got to the clear field and I knew the finish line was around the corner. I kept up the pace, rounded the corner, heard a few cheers and felt like coming to tears, I was so grateful to see that big banner saying "Finish". Whew.

The French accent guy handed me a Gatorade and we talked for a bit -- he was 43 and in phenomenal shape and this was his first ultramarathon, too, although he had run a few marathons (3:09 best time). He said he walked every uphill during the entire race! Well, that strategy certainly worked for him although he beat me by only about a minute and a half. I chatted with the winner and with some of those who came in afterwards. I felt good, with a sense of accomplishment.

What went right
  • I successfully completed the race, running the longest time and distance that I ever have -- 30.7 miles in tough hills in 4 hours 53 minutes. Came in 3rd place out of 59 runners who registered for the race. The final results aren't posted yet.
  • Injury free, as best I can tell, although I'm quite sore.
  • No blisters or chafing! I used BodyGlide on my toes and I bandaged both my middle toes prior to the race, as a preventative measure.
  • No falls. The terrain was treacherous at times and others did have some falls or twisted ankles.
  • Didn't get lost. Others certainly did, though.
  • I used my marathon running shoes which are primarily designed for running on hard surfaces, but they did fine in the dirt.

What went wrong
  • I started to run out of energy, getting cramps, getting really sore, and feeling thirsty for about the last 6 miles. Two runners passed me at mile 25. The first symptoms of cramps started around mile 21, first as a small muscle spasm in my left thigh then as a persistent side cramp (also on my left). I eventually tried taking off my fanny pack and holding it in my hand around mile 26 and that side cramp went away maybe a half mile later and didn't return. Hmm...
  • I ran out of sports drink twice in between aid stations, even though I filled up my 20 oz bottle completely after the 30K mark and around the 40K mark.
  • I probably ran the first 20k too fast (1 hr 45 minutes). The 10K loop was very difficult and I probably ran that too hard, too.
  • I lost quite a bit of weight today, which probably indicates that I didn't drink enough during the race. I weighed 168.5 lbs this morning, before breakfast. (That's about 5 lbs heavy for me; don't know what's going on there.) Ate a big bowl of oatmeal, drank 12 ounces of sports drink, and maybe 4 ounces of coffee. Ate 7 energy gels and 70 ounces of sports drink and 4 salt capsules during the race over the period of nearly 5 hours. After the race, I drank about 28 ounces of sports drink or diet soda, ate a small bowl of salty foods, another bowl of chicken noodle soup, drove home, drank an Odwalla, then weighed myself -- 162.5 lbs. Hmm...
  • Stopped once, briefly, on the side of a trail to go pee. I felt the need just before the beginning of the race, but the restroom was too crowded.
  • Took an extra 30 seconds to replenish my food (felt like forever) after the first 20K loop because my food wasn't where the aid station was. (They set up the aid station after the start of the race.)
UPDATE: The results are in. My official time was 4:53:38. Some observations...
  • The first place winner gained almost 13 minutes on me in the last 5.25 miles or so. I don't think he sped up versus his first time on that 20K loop. I see this as the cost of me falling apart at the end. What a difference!
  • The 2nd place finisher said he walked the last 2 miles, so that's why we were pretty close. I may have even been catching up to him since I never stopped running completely.
  • The first place female finished shortly after me. That's really impressive and unusual for the top female finisher to be so close to the top male finishers. She set the coarse record for women for that distance.
  • A 15 year old guy finished just 2.5 minutes behind me! Amazing! That kid's got some running talent! I'll keep an eye out for Michael Kanning.
  • The woman I ran with for a while in the first 20K loop ended up finishing first place, for women, in the 30K. That's more evidence that I was running too fast. If I had stayed with her longer, I probably would've stayed stronger at the end and had an overall faster time.
  • I really should have drank a cup or 2 of sports drink at the aid stations in addition to filling my bottle. I could've eaten more, too. Next time!