Remember that post I had about being in Boston next year? Things may have changed.
That's how much I enjoyed the Chippewa 50K this weekend.
From the course to the fellow runners to what was probably the best post-race food spread I've ever seen (never thought a pickle would taste so good), I enjoyed the entire day!
It all started Friday afternoon with a relatively uneventful trip up to Chippewa Falls (outside of my mom getting in a fight with her TomTom--who she calls "Tomasina" because the voice is female--and trying to turn it off but instead cranking up the volume so that for 5 miles the damn thing could continue to tell us to turn around in a friendly but urgent tone). After finding a place to have a Leinie's and a decent meal, I was ready for bed by 10 and listening to the thunder and rain outside. The radar looked equally WET for tomorrow, so instead of laying out exactly what I would be wearing, I literally took everything out of my suitcase and spread it out on the bed, deciding I'd deal with it in the morning.
As usual, I slept little and simply waited for my alarm to go off. My dad was his usual quiet self (like a mouse...leading a herd of elephants) in the next room over by 4 am, so I reluctantly gave up and got up at around 5. He's up every morning between 4 and 5 AM. Who does that?
While the thunder and lightning had stopped, there was still a steady and heavy rain coming down all morning. I decided I'd wear my NF Singlet and favorite running shorts underneath a long sleeve Under Armour winter weather top, and then put on another, heavier and bigger, pair of shorts over the top too. This way I could strip some layers if they got wet, or if it got hot out. I also had an extra pair of shoes and several extra pairs of socks in anticipation of getting my feet soaked. After getting some chicken soup and water in my belly, we were back in the car and on our way to the Chippewa Moraine Interpretive Center, where the race started and finished, by 6:45 AM. This was also a relatively uneventful trip, with the exception of the following conversation with my mom:
- Mom: So, is this a Boston Qualifier?
- Nic: Uh, no. Actually, this isn't a marathon. It's called an "Ultra Marathon" because it's longer than 26.2 miles.
- M: Oh yeah, that's right. It's a 30K.
- Dad: No, it's a 50K.
- M: Right. 50K. 30 miles.
- N/D simultaneously: 31.
Well, at least the TomTom was on the fritz at this point so it couldn't add to the confusion :)
The majority of the 20 minute trip up to the race was through a steady rain. By the time we got there, however, it had stopped. A sign of things to come? After going up and checking, I returned to the car to lose my sweatpants and coat. I tried to relax as much as possible, and a final "good luck" phone call from Ellie helped. Parked across from us was a man changing his shoes in the back of his car. He was taking off some orange shoes and putting on some pretty worn looking blue and gray ones. Ironically, this meant something to me after reading Westy's dilemma. He was talking to a fellow runner, and it was getting close to race time, so I didn't get a chance to say hello but made a mental note to find him later. And I did.Ellie tells me to drink enough water, eat enough food, and "No dying, No crying."
As we waiting for the pre-run announcements, Helen came up and said hello. It's odd to feel free to give someone a hug the first time you ever meet someone, but after all the comments back and forth in jest about running (and drinking) each other into the ground, it was great to finally meet her. While we were talking, Adam walked by and said hello too. Helen then told Adam to take me out "nice and fast." Considering Adam took second last year, I shared that if I was anywhere near him out there, I was in big trouble. Adam also shared that the course had been changed a bit from last year to include a massive downhill at the beginning and...well, if it's an out-and-back course, you can guess how the race finishes :)
I gave my mom and dad a hug, got a "good luck in your marathon--I mean 30K--I mean 50K!" from my mom, and made my way, with the other runners to the "start line," which was pretty much wherever we wanted to start, it seemed. Adam once again called me up to the front of the line, and again, I declined. With a ringing of a cowbell we were on our way, bombing down the first hill. I wanted to run even splits and was hoping to run right around 4:30 for a finishing time. As the first couple miles unfolded I just tried to stay loose, walk the uphills, take in water, and get in some sport beans while solid food still was palatable to me. I also tried to keep an eye on my HR, but that was pretty useless with the constant up and down hills. Nonetheless, I kept myself under control and passed people when I felt like, but not often. At the first aid station (around Mile 5) I took off the sweatshirt I was wearing and added some arm warmers. I was feeling great but was still a bit chilly because of the occasional wind that would come up.
As the miles continued, I got to talk to Bruce, who ran this race last year (in the snow) and slipped on one of the (many) board walks along the course, thus ending up in the water. Quite a story to tell, that's for sure! Soon after that I caught up with SteveQ, who was running in such a way that I knew it had to be him. It was a shuffle--the way one might run if he/she had completed 131 miles of trail running in the last 13 days. Which he had. I was very privileged to share the trails with him for the better part of 4 miles, the conversation involving varied topics:
Knowing he's a prolific reader, I asked what books (plural) he's currently reading. He shared that he's currently working his way through the personal memoirs of U. S. Grant. Steve noted he enjoyed how Mr. Grant was attempting to revise certain parts of his history...the parts that didn't reflect well upon him. Steve has read over 7,000 books in his life, with 3,000 remaining on his Lifetime Reading List. I decided not to mention that my current reading level was "Kitchen Confidential" by Anthony Bourdain. Most of the books on Steve's 'Completed List' involve Latin words or Authors I'm not familiar with or can even pronounce. Most of the books on my 'Completed List' involve TV shows or my favorite basketball players. I aborted the conversation as one that would only make me look dumb :)
- Steve shared he hadn't fallen yet during this run, but had rolled his ankle a couple times. Shortly after this, I tripped, with only my hand-held water bottle saving me from a face plant.
- About a mile later (somewhere around Mile 10) I mentioned that I had met Helen and Adam prior to the race, and that Helen wanted me to go out very fast so that I would crash and burn. I told Steve that I was running very conservatively, but knew Helen was lurking someplace behind me. Steve looked at me confused (briefly, before returning his gaze to the trail) and said, "Oh, no. Helen's long gone. She passed me around Mile 3." Then then, again very briefly, looked up at me with a grin and said, "I just figured out what mean thing I'm going to say about you in my race report." Oh, good. Glad I could help. Strike 3.
- We chatted a bit more about NF (the disease I run and fund raise more) before I decided that I should probably get moving. I told him I hoped I'd only see him again on the way back, but by this point my race plan was a bit up in the air.
Somewhere around Mile 14.5 the leaders came flying by. I'm normally not a big fan of out-and-back courses, but this was pretty cool to see. Those guys were moving! It's a big time motivation for me, also, to keep plugging away and get to that turn around. Not long after the leaders, Helen came by. I told her to slow down. I tried to gently push her off the ledge the trail currently traversed. She didn't slow down or fall down. She simply smiled and continued to run very fast.
At the halfway point. Can someone PLEASE get my skin in touch with a UV Ray or two? My Yellow Jersey is indistinguishable from my skin. Yikes!
2 hours and 28 minutes into the race I reached Highway E--half way. After a minor crewing error a couple weeks ago regarding SCaps and nuun, my mom waited for me to confirm that the capsules went in my pocket, and the nuun tablet went in the water bottle. Matt (winner of "Most Creative Blog URL Award") was working the turn around point (as was Julie, but I didn't see her and didn't introduce myself) and introduced himself. I was happy to finally meet him and struck up a conversation. He quickly told me to shut up, get running, and come talk to him after the run is over. Roger that, and I was off.
So, half way through the event in 2:28, and I was hoping, going in, to run 4:30. I knew I had run the first half very easy, and I knew, on fresh legs, I could run 15 miles on the Ice Age Trail in about 2 hours. I decided to run hard from the beginning and see what happens. Less than a mile into the trip back, I passed a group of 4 runners who SteveQ had described as "chatty Triathletes who, because of how much they talk, should either run a lot faster or a lot longer." Absolutely hilarious! As I passed them, one told me to make sure I didn't let them catch me. They also mentioned my day-glow yellow NF jersey (and skin, for that matter) were like a big target on the trail. Note taken, and motivation received.
I saw very few people on the return trip, but managed to catch and pass about 5 people from Miles 17-26. I was feeling good--not great--but kept taking SCaps when I felt a lull coming on. This was pretty much the story of the day. I'd start to feel crappy, take 2 SCaps, and almost immediately feel better. I have no idea how I ran for so long without ever using those things. Furthermore, this was the first race I've ever done where my legs gave out (because of the hills) before I had any noted gut issues. Time for some hill work to get more leg strength!
At the Mile 26 Aid Station, I checked the clock: 3:47. That meant if I could run 9 minute miles for the last 5 miles, I could maybe hit 4:30. And I hadn't seen Helen yet, either :) At this point nothing looked appetizing at the aid station. I was barely thirsty anymore, either, so I just put a little water in the bottle and took off. I knew that two BIG hills were waiting for me, so I tried to hold back a little bit.
At around Mile 28 I finally caught a glimpse of Helen ahead of me on the trail...the first person I'd seen in about 4 miles. I eventually caught her, and she said, "Keep going, I'm done."
"Done?" I thought to myself? She looked great...still running up all the hills, still smiling, still making strides that look completely effortless. When I'm 'Done,' it isn't pretty. I'm covered in dried salt, looking straight down at the ground pissed off and on the verge of tears, and wondering to myself why the HELL I'm doing this. Apparently Helen and I have different definitions of "Done."
With about 2 miles to go, the course comes within 50 feet of the Ice Age Center's parking lot. It's so close you can hear the cowbells and cheering for the finishers. I knew that on the way out, from the start, it took me about 20 minutes to get to this point of the trail. This didn't bode well for a 4:30 finishing time as my clock currently read 4:21. The hills in the final 2 miles are enormous (or at least seem that way :) and my quads were absolutely fried. As I mentioned, I'd never felt my legs so fatigued. My mind and my stomach wanted to go, but my legs had reduced me to the "use-your-arms-to-push-your-knees-into-the-ground" approach. I was absolutely dreading the final hill. Eventually, after what seemed like an hour, I got to out of the woods, crossed a road, and entered the meadow below (far, far below) the Finish Area. I dropped my empty water bottle next to the road, deciding that the additional 7 ounces of fabric and plastic were the reason my legs were so tired. On I marched/jogged, truly amazed at how tired my legs were. I was still smiling, though, as from the top of the hill I could hear my mom yelling my name. I'm truly blessed when it comes to my parents, that's for sure. "Hey, Mom and Pops, want to drive 4 hours, stay in a hotel, then get up really early and stand around on the side of the road and wait to see me for all of 15 minutes, then leave and wait another hour, and continue this for almost 5 hours? And can you take some pictures, too? And if I need absolutely anything, will you get it for me? Oh yeah, and it's supposed to be raining buckets all day, too."
As I ran up the final hill, I was SERIOUSLY considering crawling. It was steep and I was beat. I actually requested to the lady with the camera (didn't catch her name...not a surprise considering my current cognitive function) NOT take photos of me, as I was going to crawl. She pretended not to hear me, so I kept hiking, pushing my knees into the ground with everything my arms could muster. A couple times I tried to run, but that was an utter failure.
Alas, the top of the hill, and what's the reward? A DOWNHILL FINISH! I came across in 4:40:something, with Helen right behind me. As a volunteer worked on tearing off my bib (sorry 'bout that pin job), Matt had a camera in my face, telling me to "say something profound." I believe I said something about how that course is "a 50K that feels like a 50 miler." Considering Matt just completed a trail 100 miler, he likely didn't agree. Considering I've never run a TRAIL 50 miler, I'm not sure I agree, either. What I meant by that was that this 50K was more difficult than my Fall 50 experience last year, but a LOT more fun, too.
We hung around at the finish for quite a while, talking to new friends (who I can actually call friends, now that they're not just known via Blogs) and sharing stories about the run. The homemade chili was amazing, and the different foods to choose from were even better. I enjoyed a couple Leinies and took a trip around the Ice Age Center, which is top notch too! As I mentioned at the beginning of this novel of a race report, this was the most fun I've ever had at a run. The volunteers were phenomenal. There were photographers (much like the lakes--FIFTY in all in 15.5 miles of trail) EVERYWHERE.
Helen drinking some 'Recovery Drink.' Nic drinking Beer. I also defeated Helen in post-race beer drinking, 2-1.
One of the most memorable parts of the second half of the run, when I saw hardly anyone, was walking across the boardwalk pictured here. I was running hard that entire second half, but when I got to this section, I stopped, walked, and looked around to soak it all in, but not fall in and get soaked :). It was surreal. As I approached the end of the boardwalk, a photographer sitting in a tree greeted me with a friendly "Hello." He scared me a bit--glad I was on solid ground again--but put a big smile on my face. This event had it all!
More photos available here.
Best part of the day? In a participant raffle, I won some home brew made by Matt!
4:40, 13th overall, 13 minute negative split!
My Garmin Connect Link: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/4307493