Well, I guess it is time for a race report for the first 50k of the series. It was not a very auspicious beginning. The day started out well. The temperatures were perfect for me, probably mid 50s at the start. I arrived at the race with plenty of time to spare and got to see the 50 milers finishing their first 5 mile loop. It was still dark, and it was fun to watch their headlamps come bouncing up the trail through the trees.
The group at the start for the 50k and marathon probably had a couple hundred people, but I wasn't really paying much attention. I had decided to go out strong, in the first third of the pack this time, because I was feeling good and expecting to have a good day.
The course started with a 6.2 mile loop on a nice wide trail, so there were no real issues with passing. I settled into a pace around 9:45, which was what I thought was comfortable and doable for the first part of the race. I was hoping for a 10:45 pace overall. I had run an 11:13 pace taking it easy in the marathon in KY on a hilly course, and I really felt a 10:45 was realistic.
The DWD course is entirely flat, and the footing, at this point was very good. I planned to go out a little faster than what I hoped to average for the day because I knew from experience running in Florida that it is better to make up some time while it is still cool because when the heat hits, everyone slows down, regardless of conditioning.
Somewhere in the first loop, the leaders took a wrong turn, and the rest of the pack followed. When the leaders realized there were no blue flags on this part of the trail, we all turned around to head back to the place where we had made a wrong turn. This started a huge traffic jam and allowed runners who had started slower to get ahead. I was not upset, though. We were at about 4 miles of a 31 mile race. It would all sort itself out eventually.
I finished the first loop and came through the aid station feeling great. I really felt like this was going to be a good day for me and was happy that my training seemed to have put me in good form for the race. Coming out of the first aid station is where trouble started. We hit a road of "sugar sand," as they call it down here. It was deep and soft. For a while, I was able to run the edges, but eventually those were gone, and there was no choice but to slog through the stuff. It was made even more difficult by the holes made by the previous runners.
I am not sure how long we were in the sand. It seemed like about 2 miles. I could feel the strain in my knees, lower legs, and IT band toward the end of the section, but I was hoping and praying that when I got on better footing that everything would be okay.
Eventually we did hit better footing, and I settled back into pace. I was still averaging around a 9:45 pace overall and felt very comfortable. My IT band was tight, but I kept hoping it would just loosen up. When I hit the aid station at Ranch Rd. (10.3 miles), I was still feeling great. I got to see my fellow RUTster, Jan, who was working the aid station rather than running because of an injury. That put a smile on my face as I headed out for the next leg.
The next section also went pretty well, but any time there was uneven footing, I could really feel it in the IT band on my left leg. I hit the half marathon mark in 2:07, still feeling fantastic except for that niggling worry about my left leg. I stopped at the aid station at Traffic Jam (13.9) very briefly to get some water and headed out again. I don't know if it was the stop or not, but suddenly things started to take a turn for the worse. I could feel the IT band getting tighter and tighter and again was just praying that it would go away if I relaxed.
I slowed the pace a bit to a 10:30 to see if slowing down helped at all. I am not sure that was a good move. I hit the 15 mile mark, and that was all she wrote. The band completely tightened, and I could not put weight on the leg to run. I stopped to walk, stretched, and got about another quarter mile of running before it seized up again. I repeated the walk/stretch/ run routine and got about a tenth of a mile running before it seized again. After that I tried two or three more times, unsuccessfully, to try to run, but it was not happening. Walking did not hurt, but running was impossible.
At mile 16, I made one last try. I still couldn't run, and this time when I stopped my knee started hurting when I walked as well. I realized then that if I had any hope of completing the race, I was going to be walking the entire way.
Then I had a decision to make: do I walk the remaining 15 miles or do I bail out. Well, as much as I hated the idea of walking for 16 miles, I hated the idea of not finishing even more. That would end my quest for the coveted buckle and throw my entire year's training plan out the window. Nope. I was definitely walking in.
That started what is probably the second hardest thing I have ever done as a runner (the hardest definitely being the 50 miler). I cannot tell you how miserable it was to walk for the next 5 hours and 15 miles, being constantly passed by other runners. After the first mile or so, the enormity of walking the 15 miles really set in. I realized that it was going to be a really, really long day. My walking pace was not great. I do not train to walk. Muscles that don't get used that often were not anxious to pitch in and help after I had so badly abused their brothers and sisters.
Luckily I had my cell phone with me and was able to text Jer, who was waiting back at the start/finish, to let him know that I was walking. I also texted my friend Leslie for some moral support. They kept me from totally wallowing in self-pity although I will admit to a few angry, frustrated tears at one point.
Up until that time the day had been pretty cool. There was cloud cover which kept it from being burning hot. That was not too last. At the part of the course where I had to cross meadows and a long stretch of unshaded dirt road, the sun decided to come out. It was blazing hot.
It was at that point, when I started to really sweat, that I realized from the intense stinging on my back, that my hydration pack was chafing. Oh great, one more thing to add to my list of woes.
For a while I took the hydration pack off and carried it, but that was even more annoying than having it rub on my back. Thankfully, I was only about 4 miles out from the start/finish line where I could drop the pack with Jer and pick up a hand bottle. I texted ahead so he would have it ready.
Coming back to the start/finish area, we hit a few more sandy spots. I almost could not even walk through them and slowed to a shuffle in those spots. About this time, I was caught by a guy who was doing his first marathon. He was in severe distress. He was not a trail runner , had not trained on trails, and had not realized how much harder running on the trails (and in the sand) would be compared to road running. He was in pretty bad shape, but he had it over me. He could still run when he could pull himself together mentally to do so. I felt bad for him. What a horrible first marathon experience!
Also on this stretch of the course, I found out how really bitchy and mean-spirited a hot day of walking can make me. I was really annoyed at the marathoners who would run by and say "Nice job!" or "You're doing great!" It took all of the little self-control I had left not to yell, "What are you, some kind of idiot? I am definitely not doing great!" However, I realized that such outbursts would be considered incredibly bad form so managed to just find new and exciting ways for the voices in my head to express those sentiments to each other. As I got more creative, I started to feel better. There is nothing like being bitchy and mean to cheer a girl up.
Finally, at about six hours and change, I came back by the start/finish, got rid of my pack, picked up my hand bottle, and started out on the last five mile leg of my day from hell. Ironically, this last loop was my favorite part of the course. It was shady and a little cooler, and I had finally made peace with the idea that there was a distinct possibility that I might be last woman finisher. In fact, I was kind of hoping for that. I really started to enjoy the scenery at that point. I found a bird feather to stick in my hair and a little later down the trail a freshly shed snake skin. I even managed to sing a few Jimmy Buffett tunes to keep me going. I am sure passing runners thought I was delirious from the heat if they heard me.
About that time I had the neatest experience. A guy came hobbling up. He was having calf cramps, which I could totally relate to because that is one thing I often have to deal with in the latter stage of races. We started talking. He was from Indiana (I think his name was John). Turns out he just turned 50 this year, and his goal also is to get the belt buckle for the four DWD ultras. We laughed at how similar our circumstances were and what a horrible start this was to meeting the goal. Then, after one false start of cramping, he ran off and left me. I didn't see him again until after the finish, and I was glad to know that he had made it through.
One of the more annoying things in the whole day happened about 100 yards from the finish, just as we came out of the woods onto the field where the finish was located. I was passed by not one, but two, women. They were still able to run, and I had to limp along helplessly as they passed me and I dropped two more spots in the women's race. Talk about frustrating! Still, I was just so thankful to finish and for the day to be over. My official time was 7:40:43. I was 55th out of 61 finishers.
Now, two days later, my IT band is feeling better, and I likely will be able to run again by tomorrow. This experience was just like the previous two episodes I had with the IT band on the long runs, and it occurred at just about the same time. The weird thing is that I had the trail marathon in KY on the hilly course with the uneven footing two weeks earlier and had no problems with the IT band whatsoever.
This is definitely something I am going to need to continue to work on as I move in to my next phase of training. I will be adding in exercises to strengthen my hips and glutes, as well as religiously stretching and using the foam roller. If anyone has any additional ideas on how I can avoid this, I would be glad to hear them.