11 November 2014

Into the woods: Sand trapped

Where to start with this race recap?

In early October, an e-mail went out to all registrants that the race would be cancelled but that more information would be forthcoming within the week. The next e-mail stated that the race would be relocated approximately six miles north of the original course, still in the Croatan National Forest. The terrain would be different; however, described as hard-packed sand, very flat and some roots with a few loose sandy areas.

Tents and gear staged pre-race. The trail is part of the loop course. 
Patsy Point Trail in the Croatan National Forest
Pre-race, still layered at 40F! 
Before I go further, I have to give major kudos to race director, Brandon Wilson, for being able to pull this race off after all the last minute changes thrown at him courtesy of the Nat'l Forest Service. Not only was the support and organization well-executed, but the overall tenor of the race was that of one that had no disruptions at all. A big thank you and well-done, sir, especially with the ceremony and the GOH, Frank Bozanich. (FYI, Frank is a Marine veteran, served in Vietnam and was inducted into the ultra-running hall of fame last year. Check out the links at the end of the story to read more on his incredible running career.)

That being said, the course was not quite as advertised....

I would reverse the described volume of hard-packed sand with that of the loose sandy areas and add that the course had multiple stretches of undulating terrain of loose sand covered by pine needles. Not hilly, but a rapid series of up-down-up-down-up-down varying by every two strides or so.

The entrance to the trail loop. Yes, the race folks painted the tree limb yellow.
At this point, I was like, hey, this isn't a sandy course....
Sand and pine straw....
....more sand...less pine straw
Oh wait, more sand.....
I had some trepidation about this race to start with: 1) having not truly run in two weeks and 2) not knowing how much I had healed since I hadn't tested the calf, so after trotting around the course once, I really started questioning how far I would go.

Each loop was 2.23 miles, which made it easy to hydrate and eat, which I did every two loops or so and the weather was quiet cooperative, sunny and in the low 40s at the start, getting to the mid-60s with clouds by the afternoon, then dropping back down to the 40s for the evening. Wind was negligible.

But the sand was everywhere, being kicked up with every stride, spilling into shoes through toe box mesh - even those with gaiters were not saved from its invasion. Footing became tactically measured as did one's path along the trail: which line to take, where would one find firmer stepping, how much harder did one work going wide vs going narrow, where were the undulations less severe. As the day wore on, most adopted the strategy of running/walking/running in accordance to the sand density, which meant quite a bit of change-up during each lap.

What kept me going? Two things: the company of other runners and the visitors I had during the day. I was fortunate to run multiple independent loops with three veterans: one an aviation communications Marine, another a retired Navy corpsman and the last, Frank. I also ran over 10 miles with a young man who began running only this past February and had achieved some great milestones, including a 3:45 mountain trail marathon prior to this race.

I also was the beneficiary of a visit from one of my favorite (and chillest) officers, who also happened to be a former CO and who is now stationed at Cherry Point. I last saw him before I left for intensive out-patient physical therapy in 2011 and I missed his change of command. We've kept in touch throughout the years and he was gracious enough to keep me company for almost seven miles in the mid-morning hours (this after having attended not one, but two, USMC Birthday Balls back-to-back). Serious gratitude for his endless encouragement, support and for understanding my sense of humor.

Not even sweating......
I have a mouthful of potato in this picture.....he does not.
By late afternoon, I was in need of another pick-me-up. The air was chilly, my pace was slowing and I wasn't hungry. I had added tape to my calf and had a weird ache in my left ankle where I'd broken it in March. I wasn't feeling leg muscle soreness or fatigue, really, but my hips and hip flexors were definitely cranky with me. And that's when the munchkins arrived.

They met me on the back end of the loop, cheering me on and wanting to run with me, and their energy and exuberance lifted my soggy mood. While I grabbed some boiled potatoes and salt at the food tent, they each selected a cookie and skipped to my staging area, where they proceeded to go through my food, partaking in whatever looked good, which, hilariously, included the Bubbaloo sampling my pickle juice and then trying to wipe it out of his mouth.

After a quick clothing change, I took another lap without the munchkins. They started the next one with me before becoming enchanted with one of the ponds, where I kissed them adieu. They explored the area with K. before returning back to Wilmington. (Much gratitude that they came up.)

Darkness came quickly after that and as the streetlights came up, many runners broke down their staging areas and stepped off the course, their days complete. Under my tent, myself, a woman whose husband is MARSOC, and the corpsman took our requisite pauses to add clothes, headlamps, change socks/shoes, and roll out stiff muscles before heading back out onto the course. Few were still running and when we did, stumbling, tripping and falling ensued. Even not lifting one's foot high enough to get over a sand rise was sufficient cause for one to go off-balance.

I got to 50 miles and felt heartened that I had not encountered any major obstacles and decided to keep going. During my lap to just under 58 miles, I started drifting across the trail. I tried adjusting my stride to shake off the cobwebs but that only caused me to go askew even more and I saved myself from several face plants by only a lucky footplant. My hip flexors and outer hips, just in front of the glutes, scolded me with every step but weren't refusing my requests to continue.

I knew that 60 miles was next, so that was an easy lap. After that, I was in limbo. I had time to make it to 70, maybe 75 miles, but I also had, by good grace, been granted a PR with that last lap. The upcoming races loomed in my head as did the fact that the munchkins would be back home and under my care shortly, whether or not I felt up to the task.

I went back and forth in my head about my options and, weighing what I had accomplished on an injury and two weeks of no training and what I still had ahead of me, decided to call it a day. I also feel like one shouldn't take a nap during a 24-hour race, and that the test of the race is not just the distance but the ability to keep on one's feet throughout. I know this is not an opinion shared by all, but when I stop moving forward, for whatever reason, it means my race is over. (Others go for 10-12 hours, take a nap for 2-6 hours, then head back out on the course until time runs out - just differing strategies, I suppose, and there are no rules against it. Would like to hear others' opinions on this.)

So, that was it. A distance PR, no new or aggravated injuries and enough time to rest so I could be what I needed to be first and foremost, mom to the most important people in my life.

Packing it up at midnight....a good day's work. 
By the numbers:

Total time run: 15:52:39 hours (0800-2352)
Total mileage: 60.21 miles (96.89K)

Sock changes: 4
Shoe changes: 3
Layers of clothing at end of race: 4/3 (top/bottom)
Number of blood blisters: 2
Number of regular blisters: 0
Toenails lost: 0

7th woman overall
4th in AG
32nd overall

Thank you to all who pledged for this race: link to make your donation here.
(Time: $15.52 or Mileage: $31.10)

*More info on Frank Bozanich: Ultra-running Hall of Fame induction and some of his race results. He has been running ultras since the 1970s. Did I mention that he turned 70 this year?

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