Sunday, July 24, 2016

Chasing the moon

A few weeks ago while I was running the North Fork 50, I talked with a woman for a little while who told me about another race she'd done, called Chase The Moon.  It sounded like something I should do--a 12 hour overnight ultra, which would be great nighttime training for Javelina--plus, it was organized by the same people who put on the Bear Chase (which I've done twice and liked).

This is a great idea, planning your next ultra, while you are currently running an ultra.

The only problem with Chase The Moon was that this year it was scheduled for July 22nd/23rd.  That's only 3 weeks out from Howl At The Moon (I seem to like moon and bear themed ultras), and knowing the way my body recovers (poorly and slowly) it seemed likely that I would ruin my chances of doing well at Howl if I also did Chase The Moon.

Hard choices.

Howl is, and always will be, my "A" race.  It was my first ever ultra.  It is like a family reunion in motion for me.  Everybody from Second Wind Running Club is there.  I cut my teeth running with these people during the 13 years we lived in Champaign-Urbana.  Howl is my kind of terrain (not technical) and my kind of course (loop).  I love this race.  If I can just withstand the heat and keep my mind in the game, Howl is literally the only ultra I stand a chance of doing well at.

It is getting harder and harder to do Howl every year though.  Not only do we live about 1,200 miles away now, but also, the race has become hugely popular.  It used to be you could just show up and do it.  Nowadays online registration fills within 15 minutes of opening.  No kidding.  You have to be sitting at your computer the instant it goes live, hit "refresh" like a zillion times, and hope you can type in all your information before it sells out.  I was lucky enough to get Rob and me both in for this year (it is the only race we can do where we have family to watch Will), but in the future, I don't know if we'll make it.  This could be our last chance to go back and do Howl.

And yet.  I know I can't let my emotional ties to this race stand in the way of what I need to do for Javelina Jundred.  Staying up all night, or at the very least, getting more experience with nighttime trail running, needs to be a priority for me.  I've realized it is not as feasible as I had thought, to go out by myself and run the trails around here alone.  Chase The Moon would be an excellent opportunity for a supported nighttime trail run.

I needed to figure this out.  I knew I couldn't pass up Chase The Moon, but I also couldn't forfeit Howl.

Luckily, there was a middle of the road option: doing Chase The Moon as a relay!!

I am so, so thankful to Rob and Angela for offering to be a 3-person team with me.

Team Ultraordinary!

Our game plan was: Angela would be the first team member to run when the race started at 7pm.

Luckily these storm clouds blew over and we never got more than a couple drops of rain! Also: I love this picture of Angela!

Angela was stoked.

Let's get this party started.

Angela ran hard for the first loop (10.3 miles) and got back super fast-- before sundown!

Rob headed out next. Practically in the blink of an eye (well, something like an hour and 20 minutes), he was back.  When he'd taken off, I hadn't known whether he would be doing one loop or two.  So I just sat there ready to go, or not, depending on how he felt.

When he came into the transition area, he didn't even slow down.  He had his race face on and was all business.  He grabbed a couple packs of Clif Shot Blocks and kept going.  I thought, great, he has turned this from a fun run into a race.

As I waited, I started getting pretty nervous about heading out on my own run. I really didn't know what these trails were like, and I hadn't seen the course during the daylight.  I had thought I'd be okay to do 20 miles in the dark, but the waiting game was wreaking havoc on my nerves. Plus, Will kept wandering out of the van and begging me to cuddle with him instead of going to run.  That was hard to pass up.

Rob returned from his second loop around 11:30 or 11:45pm.  He was still in race mode, rapidly handing over the baton to me and ushering me to the start line.  I wanted detailed trail information (was it rocky or steep, would I get lost or die?), but all I got from him was: "This is not a fast course, it is more hilly than I expected."

The course was set up so that you alternate directions on loops: odd loops were counter-clockwise and even loops were clockwise.  I was starting on an even loop, so headed out in the clockwise direction.



The first bit was paved, until you got to the turn off point where the loops split direction.  I had worried this would be confusing, but it was well marked and I had no trouble.  After I turned off onto the clockwise trail though, it did become a bit disconcerting.  I was completely alone and it was pitch black.  I'd thought there would be other runners around me, but I swear, I didn't see anybody for the first 4 miles.  The turns were marked with glow sticks, but you had to be pretty vigilant or else you could have missed them, and there were a lot of intersecting trails out there.  I found myself getting nervous during the sections in between "confidence markers," and was always happy to see a glow stick letting me know that I was still on the right trail.

Even so, I was pretty uncomfortable during the first section of this loop.  This part of the course was kind of rocky, and I was still trying to get used to running in the beam of light from my headlamp.  I definitely had enough light, but I felt like I had trouble with contrast or something.  I was constantly worried that I would misjudge a rock and catch my toe on it and end up sprawled on the trail.

I began to get a little mad.  The woman I'd chatted with at North Fork told me this race course was "super easy" and "not rocky or technical at all."  She had gone so far as to explain it as a "wide, smooth, dirt path," and said you didn't even need a headlamp because the full moon was so bright.

That was complete bullshit.

First of all, you definitely needed a headlamp.  It was pitch black out there.  Moreover, I would have described the course as a shitty, suburban mountain bike trail.  The section I had started out on was not a "smooth, wide, dirt path."  There were definitely rocks.  The 1,300 foot of elevation gain per loop was not insignificant either.  Most of the course was constantly undulating, in that shitty way mountain bike trails do-- uphill for like 10 steps, followed by downhill for 10 steps, and so on.  There were also very few sections where it was straight.  I found it hard to build up any kind of momentum or rhythm when I could almost never see what was in front of me because the course turned like every 1/10 of a mile.  Maybe all of these things would have been completely a moot point in the daylight, I don't know.  All I knew was that I was unhappy, didn't feel comfortable running mostly uphill on rocks in the dark, and I had no idea how I was going to manage a full night of running at Javelina Jundred.

Things got better by the time I reached the aid station, roughly 4.5 miles in on this direction of the loop.  Not only was it nice to see the volunteers, eat some potato chips, and be reassured that I was still on course, but after that, the trail was significantly more smooth.  I no longer worried about rocks after that, but I did more frequently meet counter-clockwise runners on that section (I'm not sure why I hadn't seen people during the first half).  It wasn't like there were steep mountain drop offs or anything (from what I could tell in the dark, the views along the course were mostly suburban neighborhoods with houses that probably all looked the same), but it did get kind of annoying to keep having to pile off into the knee deep (and possibly rattlesnake infested) brush to "share the trail" with other runners.  All the runners I met were nice, but there was quite a range of paces out there.  Some runners were part of 5-person relay teams, and hell bent on not getting out of your way so they could maintain their 7 or 8 minute miles.  Some people were doing the 12 hours solo and walking.  I was just trying to hang on.

The last mile (or maybe two?) before heading back into the start/finish area was wider and even smoother, and although still a bit undulating, more of what the North Fork woman had described to me.  Maybe that was the only section of the course she had chosen to remember.

All was quiet back at the van, so that was my cue to keep on running for another loop.  I put myself into a "get the job done" mindset and headed back out again.  I did stop a while at the transition area aid station to refill my water (they had only 1 water jug and there were like 5 people filling up, so I had to wait in line and that was kind of annoying) and grab some more food.

This time I was on an odd lap, so headed out in the counter-clockwise direction.

It was a completely different experience, to start out on the smooth section.  "This is a super easy course," I found myself thinking.  "Not technical or rocky at all."  You still needed a headlamp, but maybe, just maybe, that North Fork woman hadn't been crazy after all.

Even so, I did have to concentrate on the trail in the dark, and I realized that I found it hard to eat and drink while doing so.  I was in a pretty significant bonk by 4 miles into my second loop (14 miles total) and did my best to suck down some Wild Friends nut butter and just hang on until the aid station.  I also realized that I was feeling pretty nauseated.  I had this throbbing over my left eye.  The bobbing light of the headlamp was really annoying me.

I breathed my way into the aid station, and boy was I ever glad to see those people.  It occurred to me that it was probably around 3am, and I was exhausted.  I drank cup after cup of coke and pounded down some potato chips.  I spent quite a while in the aid station talking to the nice volunteers and generally trying to get myself back together before heading out for the last 6 miles.

Seriously, only 6 miles to go.  I could do this.

I wasn't moving fast, but I kept moving.  My legs were starting to feel the ~2,300 feet of elevation gain I'd put on them, and I knew I wasn't going to be able to eat again until the finish.

I just hung on.  Even when I got to the rocky section, it seemed shorter than on the clockwise loop, and not nearly as difficult (which is ridiculous, it was the same exact trail).  I was absolutely thrilled when I finally saw the start finish area up ahead and coasted on into it.  Yay, I was done!!

I did it!! 20 trail miles in the dark!! (Actually it was closer to 21).


I had no idea what to expect when I got back to the van.  It was 4:18am.  Would Angela want to run again?  Would Rob?  Should I wake one of them up if they were sleeping? Just as I reached the van, I saw the door open, and Rob walked out, dressed in full running gear.  He reached for me to hand him the baton.  For me, this was a fun run, for him, this was a race.

After Rob left, I drank some ginger ale at the finish area and quickly got very cold.  And nauseous.  And that throbbing over my left eye wouldn't go away.  Eating real food was not an option.  I went back to the van and took a quick, semi-warm RV shower, and then climbed into bed with Will.  "Mommy, is that you?" he asked.  "Yes," I told him.  He crawled into my arms and said, "I'm so happy."

I fell into a fitful sleep, while Rob ran another 10.3 mile loop.  When he finished that, runners still on the course were diverted to the 3.5 mile loop (because time was running low).  He finished the 3.5 mile loop at 6:19am and not allowed back out onto the course because the cut off to start another 3.5 mile loop was 6:15.  Which seems pretty ridiculous, especially for relay runners.  The 3.5 mile loop had taken him only 28 minutes, and with more than 40 minutes still left on the clock, he could easily have completed another.  But whatever.  The race was over for Team Ultraordinary.

A million thank you's to Angela and Rob for being on the relay team!! This was the best of all possible worlds for me. Not only was I on a relay team with two of my favorite people, this also gave me a chance to trail run for around 4 and a half hours in the middle of the night.  It was very good nighttime training for me, but without the stress of doing the solo race right before Howl.

It does, however, raise a certain level of panic for what to expect at Javelina.  Even on this "easy" trail, nighttime running was far from easy for me.  Rocks and hills aside, I think the darkness contrasted with the circle of light from my headlamp made me nauseous.  I never threw up, but I didn't eat anything until lunchtime the next day, and even now, my appetite is still off.  That certainly hasn't helped me recover.  People have suggested trying a waist lamp instead of a headlamp.  As luck would have it, Rob has one of these, so he said I should try that "next time."

Oh great, there's going to be a "next time."  (I guess there has to be).

Anyway, thanks again to Angela and Rob, congratulations to both of them on their fantastic runs, and thanks for reading!!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

O dear!! Now I am nauseaus!!!! So proud of you and Rob and Angela!,, what a FUN RUN??? And REALLY PROUD of that sweet little trooper you cuddled!!! He is sooo dear!,, hope you recover in time for HOWL!!!! Take it easy !!!! Luv and hugs mama