Friday, May 25, 2012

PCT 50 Mile Trail Race: Getting My Hike On

Total Distance: 50 miles
Course Description (from Out-and-back course mostly on single track trail along the Pacific Crest Trail in east San Diego County.  The trail features numerous climbs, particularly on the “out” portion, as well as some rocky sections.  It begins at an elevation of approximately 3,000 feet, reaching 6,000 feet in the Laguna Mountains.
Elevation Profile (from 7,500 feet of elevation gain, with about 2,500 gain within the first part of the run. 
Time: 13:45
Racers: 142 Starters/117 Finishers, 82.4%

Almost two weeks after running my first 50 mile trail race I am finally getting around to posting about it. Calling it a “run” is misleading seeing as how I ran no more than 40% of it. No matter what you call it though I still covered 50 miles of trail in one day on my own two feet. I have never gone that sort of distance unless on a bike. It was exhilarating, challenging, but most notably it was fun!

The race was only an hour away but we drove over the night before and stayed in a cabin at Lake Morena. . The cabin was an instant hit. My little girl loved the built-in bunk beds, and I loved the smell of lumber that engulfed you when you stepped in. We drove around the area a little bit, checked out the starting point, fueled up and then spent $30 on supplies to roast up some killer smores. Man, those little local shops sure can jack prices up, can’t they? We hiked a little bit around the lake which was downright lovely. I set up my racing mama flat, munched as much as my nerves would allow and tried to settle into a relaxing evening before my big day.

Milla fought sleep pretty hard and went to bed later than I preferred. We eventually all settled down to sleep only to wake up at about 1 in the morning to find out our air mattress had a leak. Milla was having problems getting comfy (who could blame her though) so slept on top of me most of the night. I woke up at 3 AM with a pain in my neck from the poor sleeping position I was in. I wasn’t planning on getting up for another half an hour but at least I didn’t oversleep. On the way to the way back from the bathroom I was already shivering. Good thing I packed several layers to wear. I was taking the early 5 AM start option and knew I would have a flare up of Raynaud’s phenomenon in the first hour of running. I grabbed some more snuggle time before waking Milla up and heading to the start.

Race start
I eagerly waited in line to collect my race number and shirt. After collecting and stating I was opting in for the early start I dashed back to the truck. I was a messy bunch of nerves as I finished getting dressed and then nursed Milla for the last time that morning making sure to drain both sides and not block feed like normal. Milla has always been good at helping me out with those kinds of things. Before I was up to the starting line (actually still sitting in the truck) the countdown started just like at Oriflamme. I had to go. Maybe next time I’ll be better prepared. Probably not though. I looked back at him and Milla one last time and was the last one in the early start option to hit the trail. It was very dark and using a light was a must. Love, love, LOVE my knuckle lights!

Sure enough before I even finished the first half mile my toes turned cold and stung. Damn Raynaud’s…I hate it. I walked with a purpose over the first climb trying to pump blood as I wiggled my toes with each step. My fingers were wiggling away without me thinking about it. When I get nervous I often find myself moving my fingers up and down the euphonium scale even though I haven’t touched the instrument in about 7 years. Sometimes when the cold sets in the only way to warm up is direct heat contact, but I didn’t really want to sit on the side of the PCT pressing my feet and hands against my belly to warm them up. I had a nice distraction from the stinging when I passed my ultra running guru, Vick (aka the old guy on the course). I had first met him during Oriflamme and here we were again. We chatted for a ways then parted.

The stinging went away though as soon as the sun came up and hit me. There is such a calm that comes about me when I run into a sunrise. Moments like these make dealing with the vasoconstriction of my digits much easier.

I might have shaved some minutes off my finishing time if I would stop taking pictures but I can’t help it! It’s so beautiful out there!

Electrolytes do the body good
The old saying “Walk the ups, run the flats and downs” or whatever version you come across is golden advice for an ultra virgin and exactly what I did for this race. I was not toying around with the possibility of muscle cramps again and knew the desert heat was yet to come. I also remembered I would not be drenched in sweat as the heat would wick it away. I also stuck to the often heard advice of “Drink early, drink often.” Since Oriflamme I have changed up my electrolyte intake. I still use Metasalt pills (I did have half a bottle left after all) but instead of three pills every hour I took two pills every 30-45 minutes and brought a watch with me so I could keep an eye on how much time has passed. I’m still learning to get a feel for times while running on trails. It’s not natural to me yet to know how much time has passed and how far I’ve run. In addition to using Metasalt while drinking water from my waterpack, I also brought along O.N.E. Coconut Water with a Splash of Mango and drank 4 of them over the course of 50 miles. If you don’t already know, coconut water is the trump card when it comes to consuming electrolytes. I’ve been experimenting for months with it and was having a hard time stomaching it. But with O.N.E.’s newest mango flavor I finally found coconut water that I not only could stand to stomach but that I really, truly enjoyed. This combination of electrolytes proved itself worthy and did not fail me. In fact, I did not have one muscle cramp the entire race. This was a huge change from the 50K.

When I hit the halfway point I was feeling a bit tired but overall quite amazing. I needed some clarity so I threw my card in the bucket and had a Mayesa for a pick-me-up during the charge back to Penny Pines. Knowing my little girl was waiting for me this time made the trail zip by as I was super eager to see her. I needed her help to finish this one pain-free.

I had a lovely entourage waiting for me at Penny Pines. I probably would have cried if the massive task ahead of me wasn’t already weighing heavily on my mind. My bestie, Megan, had come with her family and were all standing there waiting with my daughter. I waved and said hi to the group and called Milla’s name but she was busy playing with her boys, Jack and Maddox. I wasn’t missed quite yet.

I was hungry and told them I would be right back after grabbing some food. Somewhere I saw the big grin of one of the Dirt Devils, David. It was kind of bewildering seeing him. Although he told me he and his family were going to be there I had forgotten. My brain felt out of focus again so I felt that meant I needed more calories. I can’t remember what all I ate throughout the day but oranges were my first grab followed by potatoes or potato chips if they had them.  There is such a wide assortment of food choices at these aid stations it’s overwhelming trying to choose. With two handfuls of potato chips I returned to my family and friends. Still slightly bewildered and with muscle soreness starting to creep up my legs I knew I better get a move on. I chatted between bites and then reached for Milla so she could help her mama out. Thank goodness Milla will still nurse even when I’m a sweaty monster. Megan captured the picture below of my nursing session at mile 27, and it is hands-down my favorite picture of Milla and I together. The lady has got a good eye for these sorts of things.

I was sad to leave them behind but, dang, there were still 23 miles to go. I wish I had changed socks. I was feeling hot spots all over my right foot but for some reason I had a silly fear that my foot would swell when I took my shoe off and I wouldn’t be able to put my shoe back on. I should have listened to the early warning signs and changed socks because those little hot spots turned into big problems later. Oh well!

Minor freak out
It was hot out. I could see heat radiating off the boulders. Yikes! I was getting familiar with the faces of the others who were holding my pace. One chick in particular with long braids made some wonderful conversation. Oh, here’s an interesting thing I never realized about, well, me…I think I have a fear of rattlesnakes, particularly when I’m alone. Snakes that are caged up in an aquarium or as a pet being held by their owner don't freak me out, but snakes out in nature apparently scare me. I will jump out of my skin if I see something slither away (big bugs also do this to me). I may even let out a yelp. Somewhere between mile 28 and mile 34 (like I said, I’m not good with knowing distances yet) I heard the familiar rattle. I immediately stopped in my tracks and saw the rattler slide under a bush. Okay not a problem, I was willing to wait for him to move on like every other time I’ve come across a rattler. Except, he didn’t move on. He just stayed nestled under the bush with his tail sticking out. No one was ahead and no one was behind me. I started breathing a little quicker and then before I knew it I was about to cry over this stupid snake. What if he never moves?! What if I try to pass him and he gets mad and strikes me? 

Thinking back on it I was being ridiculous. Clearly I had enough room to pass but on race day I was freaking out. Before I got too crazy in the head two other girls followed up on my trail. I looked behind me at them and immediately they slowed, eyes wide, and asked, “Snake?” "Yup," I said. The weird thing was as soon as there was someone else around I didn’t feel scared of this snake anymore. We start talking and the one girl asks if we can just walk around it. I told her she could try but I’m gonna wait until it moves. Neither of them couldn’t see it. One of the girls took a couple steps forward, saw it, then backtracked behind me. The girl with the braids was one of the two girls and  started commenting on my good observation skills just as the snake moved, very slowly, further into the bush. I bent over, drew the word SNAKE in the sand with my finger and with that we passed. I highly doubt anyone saw my scribble, but it made me feel better attempting to warn the next passerby.

Trail demons aren't gonna stop this chick!
I kept up well with electrolytes and calories but those hot spots were hurting bad. I was feeling mad that something so little was slowing me down. Each step hurt. I must have been comprising my gait because my left fascia started cramping a little bit until I evened out my stride. Sometime after passing what would have been 50K I realized how good I felt. This was so unlike Oriflamme, and I was having fun testing out my legs knowing this was the furthest I’ve pushed them. I was also excited that after years of talking to other runners I had finally run around Penny Pines and been to Todd’s Cabin and run past Dale’s Kitchen. I had no trail demons to battle this race. I’ve accepted certain changes in my life so they left me alone today. Other than a 5 mile stretch of loneliness and pissiness while dealing with being bit repeatedly by flies, I was having an awesome time. I was more than happy to arrive at the last aid station and leave those damn flies behind. A kilted man claimed the title of my favorite trail aid of the day with his quirkiness. Actually, now that I think of it, he reminded me an awful lot of my friend, Charlie.

I had a painful time running the last section to the end. I knew there were blisters popping up on my foot and again I should have taken the opportunity to tend to them at the last aid station but forgot all about them until I started running again. They were hurting. But I did make it to the end. I was continuously being applauded for smiling. I didn’t really get why that was such an “amazing” thing until I saw some dehydrated guys at the last aid station. I got it then…they looked rough. And by the way, where did my love handles go? When I walk with a purpose on the trail but am getting tired I tend to ball my hands into fists and dig them comfortably into my squishy sides. I tried that during this race and it felt awkward. I just couldn't get my hands nestled. Then it dawned on me that I was digging my hands into hip bones. I couldn't help but get ecstatic over this. These love handles have been jiggling on my sides for years, and I was finally burning that fat away. Not only was I on cloud nine but the realization that my stride was longer from being forced to swing my arms at my sides just added to my good mood. I was getting my hike on and nothing was going to stop me! 

One thing I remember specifically about the end of Oriflamme was the blind finish. I couldn’t tell which bend was the last, and it was pissing me off (of course my attitude that race was rotten). The PCT50, however, had an amazing view of where the end is. It was exhilarating watching it get closer and closer as I made my tender-footed way down to the bottom. The sun was giving up for the day, and it was finally getting comfortable out. I was passed by a lot of runners near the end but I didn’t care. I was proud of myself and damn proud to be a back of the packer. At one point I heard, "Hey, weren't you pregnant?" I turned around and there was Trasie, a chick I ran with just a few times back when I was in my first trimester. What a blast chatting with her. After the last bend I saw my daughter who was helping pass out the medals to the runners at the end which I thought was pretty cool. I can say it now, I am an ultramarathoner!

Milla was begging for a booby snack, but I had to get those socks and shoes off first. Look at those feet, yuck! I often here women say “don’t bother with a pedicure before the race” but I say get some paint on those toenails anyways. The hot pink contrasted nicely to the plastered dirt on my feet. When I finally washed my feet the nail polish held up well anyways. So go for it if you want to. Oh! And the Dirty Girl Gaiters did their job and kept rocks and sand out. I can’t imagine running trails without them now.

After a well deserved shower I inspected the damage to my feet. Left foot: 0 blisters. Right foot: 5 blisters (2 tiny ones on my heel, 1 huge blister under my pinkie toe, a mess of rubbed off skin on my fourth toe, 1 on my second toe, and 2 nasty ones on my big toe). I am still not sure what happened with this foot. Neither my shoe nor sock was wet. I didn't notice any rocks stuck in my shoe. It was just a weird thing. I haven't had a blister in years. All I know is that it was painful enough to stop me from running when I could have. Two weeks later and the skin on my toes is still raw and tender to the touch. Don't ignore hotspots!

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