Saturday, June 13, 2015

Old Dominion 100

Now this is more like it! Finished Old Dominion 100 in 22:17:19, good for 3rd female and 11th overall. The race had it's ups and downs, but I never suffered too terribly, and had some really great moments as well. While the course was a bit easier than Pinhoti (my only other 100 mile race finish), it was still tough, and I took over 4 1/2 hours off that race's finish time and finished a lot stronger as well :)

The race started from the small town of Woodstock at 4am- my earliest ever race start. But it was actually quite nice- it was already very humid at that hour, I don't get much sleep the night before a race anyway, and it was light within 2 hours. I started out at a sub-8 pace the first 2 miles, since it was pretty much downhill through town, and I wanted to stick with Megan so I wouldn't get lost! By mile 4 we began a very steep set of switchbacks up the mountain for about 2 miles. It was still a paved road at this point, so I was able to walk relatively fast (about 15:00 pace), but it was a little demoralizing to have so many people pass by me so early! I reminded myself that I would just worry about finishing under 24 hours, and to ignore everyone else.

After getting to the top of the mountain, we had our first trail section around mile 10. I took it very slow going up, where I enjoyed talking to a couple of girls who were around my pace uphill. But when we hit the downhill I flew ahead, knowing I needed to take advantage of my downhill speed to make up for my slow uphills! I noticed when I took the steep downhill I was landing almost on my toes, and suspected there'd be some black toenails in my future (spoiler alert: I was right). Coming off the trail came a section of country gravel roads winding through farms. The hills here weren't very steep, but they were constant and more difficult than I expected. I also found it pretty monotonous and smelly, so when I first saw my crew around mile 20 I was at a low point. I was a bit behind schedule (around 3:20 instead of the 3:10 I wanted), and came up to the aid station crying about how it was harder than I expected. But Bob and Katie ignored my whining and sent me on my way quickly enough, and as they say, "it never always gets worse"...

The next section was a lot more of the same, but I chatted and played leapfrog with another runner for a bit, which was a nice distraction, and managed to make up some time, getting to mile 33 in around 5:45, and in a much better mood than before! I had planned to start listening to my music at this point- it gave me something to look forward to, was a nice reward after finishing 1/3 of the distance, and I knew I had a tough section coming up. I think this was one of my best decisions in race planning.

This was one of the worst sections of the race, but thanks to my music I managed to keep a pretty positive mood. It also helped that I had been prepared for the worst, so it almost seemed a little better in comparison. This section had miles of hot, muddy, buggy, rocky trail...not too bad in terms of elevation change but it seemed never ending at times! I logged a few 18 minute miles so it was a bit of a time suck, but I expected that. Also had a few steep climbs and downhills that beat up my feet a bit, but I came out to the first weigh-in around mile 42 (no real change), and then had some nice downhill road miles back to the mile 48 aid station. I believe I was ahead of my planned splits then, and was feeling relatively good.

The next section was uphill on some more dirt roads. I mainly walked but threw in a jog here and there to keep a decent overall pace. It had gotten pretty warm by this point, and the course was very exposed, but I felt really good when I passed the 50 mile mark at just over 9:30- not bad on a pretty tough course! It was even more of a boost when I reached mile 51 and got an ice pop...totally hit the spot after that exposed section :) Then it was mainly downhill miles until the mile 57 aid station, so I made some good time and came in feeling awesome! I was actually dancing and singing along to my music while stretching out my calves. 

The following section was probably my least favorite of the race though...a stretch of about 10 miles on an ATV course. It was hot, exposed, uneven, and where it wasn't rocky it was muddy. On top of that, I had just heard that Megan came close to several rattlesnakes so I was super paranoid of running into one sunning itself in that area. And I had to dodge a lot of ATV riders, plus go around a very sketchy blue van that kept going back and forth on the narrow trail and really skeeved me out. I think the dudes were getting high or something, and it made me nervous. I had been eating something at least every hour up to this point (plus drinking Tailwind), which worked well. But I was so concerned with what was going on around me here that I forgot to eat anything, and came into mile 64 feeling a bit light-headed. But Katie and Bob got me to take a minute and eat a little, and sent me off on the roads with half a chicken sausage off the grill, which was amazing and tasted great after having too many carbs earlier. 

Next came a lot of roads going up and down, then a grassy trail around mile 70, and some rockier trail with some water crossings heading into Elizabeth's Furnace at mile 75. I got there in about 15:00, which made me quite happy since there would still be another 1-2 hours before I needed to turn on my headlamp. I had both been looking forward to and dreading mile 75. On the one hand, I was 3/4 of the way done, and I would have Katie as my safety runner for the next 11 miles. But on the other hand, I had the rockiest, steepest sections of the course coming up and it would be slow going at best! After the second weigh-in (up about 2 pounds), I took a bit more time at this aid station to make sure I was prepared. I dropped off my music (my playlist had ended around mile 70 anyway), changed shirts, made sure I had plenty of food with me, and grabbed my headlamp. I also took another Immodium, because as I explained to my crew, I was feeling gassy and wanted to avoid a "sharting situation"...ain't ultrarunning glamourous?!

It was definitely nice having Katie to talk to, and I was very glad to have her encouragement when we started up the first climb! It was horribly difficult to me- more a series of jagged rocks than a trail, and very steep. I was literally crying at this point and complaining that I couldn't do it, but I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and finally made it to the top. Katie was awesome in ignoring my crying and cursing and just keeping me going- somehow she loves those effing rocks and makes the climb look easy- pretty incredible! I was trying to eat a bit more but starting to have difficulties. I was sick of sweet food and didn't have much else to choose from on the trail. But after going down for a bit, and then up a shorter climb (in the dark by now), we made it to the mile 81 aid station, where I was happy to down two hot dogs in short order!

We headed downhill on what woukd be the last trail section of the race. Thank goodness because I wasn't keeping a very good pace on the dark trails (even downhill), and it was in this section that I narrowly avoided stepping on a copperhead- twice! That really freaked me out, since I was not expecting to have to worry about snakes after dark. I guess since it was still quite warm and humid all night they were out late. At mile 86 I left Katie and continued on the road alone. I knew I would almost certainly make the 24 hour cut-off, but I still wanted to try to finish better than that. Plus I had been 3rd female since mile 10 and didn't want any ladies passing me at this point!

This section was going back the way I had come early in the race- lots of up and down hills on the country farm roads. I ran the downhills but walked even the smallest uphills. When I got into the mile 91 aid station I wasn't feeling great. I hadn't been able to eat since my hot dogs at mile 81, and I was beginning to feel very nauseated. I managed to down some coke before leaving, and take a few sips of Tailwind here and there but that was it. As it turned out, I wouldn't be able to eat again until several hours after the race was over. I'm afraid I was pretty whiny when Bob and Katie were trying to help- I'd pretty much reached my point of "eff this, I just want to be done!". But I knew I only had about 2-3 miles of mainly uphill before the switchbacks down the mountain, and then less than 4 miles to the finish. Before I left, I mentioned to Bob that I wasn't going to push too hard, since I knew I would finish in under 24 hours and be 3rd female. He responded that there could be a girl coming right up behind me, so I had better at least "walk with purpose"! I was paranoid about that for the remainder of the race, but it was exactly what I needed to hear to give me a last push :)

Around mile 93 I met up with a guy named Ryan, whom I had briefly talked to at the beginning of the race but didn't really know. He had run Old Dominion a couple times before, and we ended of sticking together for the rest of the race. I can't thank him enough for that! It was so nice to have someone to talk to and run with after spending so much of the race on my own. We made decent time down the steep switchbacks, although by that time my big toes were pretty jacked up, so there was a lot of "ow, ow, ow" from me whenever I was running. But Ryan's a fun guy and great to talk to, so I was distracted from a lot of the pain. We walked the uphill sections heading back into town, and started counting down the last few miles. I told him about being paranoid there was another girl about to pass me, so every few minutes he'd turn around and confirm "no headlamps!" :)

We passed crew for the last time with less than 3 miles to go, and then there was just one more hill and a lap around the fairgrounds track to finish! After we headed into the fairgrounds I managed to pick up the pace to run in the last half mile. As we approached the finish line, someone yelled to us that one of us needed to sprint ahead- we couldn't just skip in holding that's what we did! Or, at least we held hands and Ryan skipped (I didn't have the energy). So we crossed the finish line together, and I immediately leaned over and started crying. I had finished in under 22 1/2 hours, and finished strong, and I was just so grateful for all the support I had from Bob and Katie and Ryan...people who I hardly know and yet they helped me so much. This is why I love the ultrarunning community! 

Crewing for a long ultra is never easy, and I know I'm not the easiest person to crew for- I'm not mean or anything but I certainly get difficult and whiny at times. I've seen people run 100s with a smile on their face the whole way, and I have so much respect for that- but that's not me. I was so very lucky to have Bob and Katie for my crew- despite not knowing me for long they really stepped up for me. They were always kind but gave me a kick in the butt when needed, and just generally did a great job taking care of me and keeping me motivated!