Tuesday, October 27, 2015

So, I went for a run this weekend...

(Actually 10/16/15)

The Pumpkin Holler Hunnerd race is hosted near Tahlequah Oklahoma along the Illinois River and surrounding the Nickel Family Nature Preserve.  Even after a week it is still surreal and I only know it happened based on pictures on Facebook and the buckle and shirt sitting on my nightstand.

A person’s first 100 mile run probably doesn’t count.  Nobody believes it.  Finishing seems like a fluke or a dream.  This is my second 100 mile run and it is becoming a bit more real now. 

About the Race:

Words cannot describe this race adequately.  Pictures cannot capture the true stories behind the smiles on runners and volunteers.  The Pumkin Holler race weekend includes 10K, 25K, 50K, 100K, 100 mile and 135 mile distances.  At this race you can drop to a shorter event even after you start.  You won’t get an overall or age group award but you get the appropriate medal for the distance ran.

This race has aid stations about every four miles filled with a wide selection of food – including fresh waffles, bacon, barley soup, beans & cornbread, and whiskey shots.  I didn’t take any pictures this time but I stole a few from Facebook.
co-Race Director Ken “Trail Zombie” Childress enjoys this weekend more than anyone else (photo by Deanna Thornton, Eurika, KS)

Fellow ultra runners and world-class people Justin Franklin and John Nobles know how to take care of runners.  Hot food, cold drink and magical feet treatments.
(Photo by Lisa McManus)

(Photo by David Newman)
Wes Rupell mans Bath Tub Rocks aid station every year.  This year he made several special energy-packed portable treats including backed macaroni and cheese. (photos courtesy of Wes Rupell, dirty hippy)

These volunteers stayed awake for 40+ hours to feed and entertain us along the course.  I know they worked harder than the runners and probably spent as much time as any runner before the race preparing supplies and after the race cleaning up every last scrap of trash and putting away supplies for the next event.

About My Race:

I have volunteered and paced someone at this event every year (including hosting the infamous Waffle Stop).  This year was different for me.  I ran 100 miles in a row.  It is my second 100 mile run and they both seem like dreams.  I never wrote about my first because it never seemed real.  Even when I look through pictures I think “Jason was there?” or “Where did I get that corndog?”

This race was an interesting mental challenge for me – well, a real roller coaster.  And the “down” parts were a much bigger challenge than I could have imagined.  In June I turned 50 and had just completed my first 100 mile run.  Previously my longest distance was a 52 mile race.  The really nice/evil/sadistic/downright ornery people that own a local running store (RunnersWorld Tulsa) gave me an entry to the 135 mile distance.  I had four months to train (retrain).  I came up with a schedule and stuck to some of it (well… not really much).

I set out to run 135 miles.  I never really thought about “just running 100 miles”, it was always 135.  In the days leading to the race I became worried about (and focused on) two things – Blisters and Meeting the cutoff times.  I spent a lot of time creating pace spreadsheets, researching other runner’s splits, and studying any form of treatment for blisters.  I may have spent more time on spreadsheets and packing (and repacking) than I did training.

The 135 mile course include an 8 mile out and back (same for the 100 mile) and 4 loops of about 50K/31.x miles [since the race director is generous he gives everyone bonus miles each loop].  After consultation with my pacers I had my pace chart ready.

My 135 mile race started at 10:00 Friday night with 15 other runners.  I was on “spreadsheet pace” for the 8 mile out and back.  I cut all rest stops as short as possible – including skipping a second waffle that had been expertly prepared by Jason (it had bacon cooked inside it).

I started the first full loop without any hesitation.  Looking back I should have grabbed some food.  The aid stations would not be in full swing until the remaining racers started Saturday morning at 8:00.  There were two roving aid stations manning the designated stops and checking on us in between.  I was never happier to find a dirt-covered windowless shag-carpeted van in the middle of the woods. 

Running in the dark was harder and slower than I expected.  I ran with Coach Kathy and we tagged along with other people along the way.  I stayed on task - minimized time at aid stations and ran flats and downhills as much as I could. At the end of the first lap (of four) I was about 2 hours behind my schedule but I thought I could make it up because of some slack in my spreadsheet schedule.  I was hoping to finish that first loop in time to see the 50K runners take off.  I had a few people from my run group sign up for their first 50K and I wanted to wish them well.  Since I missed them at the start I knew I would not see them unless they stayed late (really late) after their race.

I had some great pacers for each lap lined up and they were a lifesaver (well, race saver).

Alecia had signed up for the 50K and took a late start since she waited for me to finish the first loop.  She kept me awake and moving and made sure I was eating.  We walked more than I expected and the steep hills were slow going.  My feet hurt but it was manageable.  The scenery was unbelievable and there was lots of looking at it.  It got dark before we finished and neither of us had a headlamp.  It was also pretty cold.  Night walking burned up some extra time and we finished that loop about 5 hours behind my schedule.

At that point I realized I could not make up the time to finish 135 miles – but I had plenty of time to finish a total of 100 miles.  So, I convinced my 3rd loop pacer (Tim) that I earned a nap and we agreed to leave at 10:30pm. We left right on time for our 3rd (and final) lap.  
Tim was sort of an ‘accidental’ pacer.  With too many pronouns on a group Facebook discussion there was some confusion on who was pacing who.  I had only met Tim a couple of times but we worked out that he would pace me on the overnight third loop.  He would get in a 50K night run and I’d get some company.  He offered lots of advice before the race on pace, nutrition, supplies, etc. He even provided advice on how we would interact:

It was dark and got pretty cold before dawn. We walked a lot. I hallucinated for several miles about things on the side of the road. Tim was really interested in what I was seeing.  I thought it was a dusty garage sale.  He was collection stories for his coworkers. Kathy Hoover was a few miles ahead of us but had given orders to the aid station teams what I was supposed to eat – and it was a lot. Some of them wouldn’t let me leave the aid station until I was finished.

The finish line was full of familiar faces.  Stormy (co-Race Director), Dana (TaturCakes), Shannon and many others were there all night and it was great to see them every lap.  Many other runners hang out by the fire and cheer on the remaining finishers.  Since I stated early I also got to watch many of the 100 mile runners finish and many of those were running their first.
I was glad to see these guys at the finish line (and glad to be finished). (Photo by Lauri Biby, Beyond Ordinary Life Photography)

In the end it took me just over 37 hours to complete the 103 miles. I learned a lot from this race and am glad that I did a few things right. I had 2-3 small blisters but treated them as often as I could (every lap). I ate and drank constantly. I probably wasn’t eating enough and my energy was too low at times. My feet were probably the sorest part of me and I got cramps for a few nights after the race (never in the daytime though).

There were 16 people that started the 135 mile race and 3 finished.  They were all skinny and fast but looked like drunken train wreck victims at the finish line. I’m glad I did this race but I’m still considering selling all of my running clothes and picking a new hobby – like comic books.

I plan to write about some of the lessons learned during training and this race soon.  Maybe after another nap.