Saturday, May 19
Ultra Marathon #29
Weather - Rain, hail, thunder/lightning
****WARNING - EXTREMELY PICTURE HEAVY****
Once Kristin and Alison signed up, we began planning our race specific training, which commenced on New Years Day - Mt. Morrison. For 4.5 months, we trained in every type of weather you could imagine. I did not miss any of my long runs, logging three runs of 20+ miles (including a 26 mile solo trail run) and 6+ weeks logging 5,000' of climbing. So basically, I went into the race with as much planning/preparation that I think I could have.
I had obsessively been watching the weather all week. It was pretty much going to be guaranteed that we were going to have rain. Thanks to the hectic traveling, I had slept amazing the night before, and woke up with my alarm at 5:25. I had laid out all my gear the night before, so really, I didn't have much to do other than eat my bagel with peanut butter and get dressed.
The race started right on time at 7:00 am. From this point, we would have three major time cutoffs. The first being 4 hours in, after we finished 2/3 of the climbing on the course. The second at 9 hours, and then of course, the final course cutoff at 15 hours.
Our strategy from the beginning was to not push too hard, anywhere. Basically, anything that felt like a climb, we were going to be run/walking or even just walking.
After leaving the castle grounds, with "Highway to Hell" blasting from the speakers, we turned right onto the streets of Bran. We were in the very back of the back, and followed by a police car. We were maintaining an "easy" 11:30 pace in the first few km (I changed my watch for this setting since that's how our map/elevation profile was listed).
We then, finally, moved off the paved road (and lost our police escort) as we entered the more rural parts of Bran, the dirt roads out of town. We struck up a conversation with a young Romanian that was wearing last year's race shirt. He had finished the previous year, so we felt better that he was in the back with us and that our pacing didn't seem too slow.
I had started in my UD jacket (the new one they sent to replace my last one that lost it's waterproofing), but was already getting warm with the climbing. Stopped to take off the pack and jacket, and to start using the poles.
From here we had a small runnable section (like maybe 3/4 of a mile total), where we entered the "forest." The trees were HUGE, and very, very green. The leaves (needles?) were very strange looking, I compared them to tassles people had hanging off their clothes in the seventies.
|Kristin rocking the climbs behind me!|
|This tree looked like some sort of medieval torture device|
We had a section of some downhill, but the course was already getting slick with mud, and I got passed by a few people as I didn't want to fall or get injured. I was wearing my New Balance Leadville shoes, the most substantial trail shoes I have, and I just don't have the greatest footing on these. We ran along the inner part of the valley and crossed our first snowfield, which is where I slipped and fell for the first time.
Ran across the valley and me up with a photographer (pictures to be posted at some point in the next week, so we are told). Back on the other side of the valley where we will do more climbing. We arrive at the section where we have to grab onto a chain for a small jump from one side of the trail to the other. Not as dramatic as I seemed to think from the videos I had watched, thankfully. (Edited to add aforementioned pics from the volunteer photographer!)
|Not a bad looking aid station?|
Once we got closer to the top there was a rope that we could use to steady ourselves and help heave us over the summit. At the top was an amazing guy taking pictures and cheering us on. To me, he said "you are strong!!" And boy, did I feel like I was!
|Photo cred: Bogdan Popa|
This section was not incredibly steep, but it WAS where it started to hail! As if the rain was not "interesting" enough, the hail was really coming down. It differed from hail in the us, as it was really more of a frozen clear rain, than the white balls.
We finally got to a summit, and this section was actually something I could run, finally! It was a little rocky, but it was wide and not overly technical.
Everything was going just fine until we got to a roaring river. What. I can't see where I'm supposed to cross. There is no bridge, no rope, no "rocks," at least nothing that is currently above water. I'm not dry by any stretch of the imagination, it's still raining. But up to this point, my feet feel relatively dry (or at least not cold and wet). My Romanian friend comes up behind me and he just barrels through. Son of a... so I do too. The water is very cold, and it's probably upper calf deep. It's maybe 15' across, and the only good thing that came out of it is that I did not fall (although I came close) and my shoes looked really clean for a few moments afterward.
Within ten minutes, I was at my last mid-course time cutoff. I had made it with about 45 minutes to spare. I spent a bit longer at this aid station. Filled my pack, had my first cup of coke, and had lots of food (cheese, chocolate and gummy bears).
I tried not to linger TOO long, and I headed out. The next section was actually on road. I enjoyed this as a break from all the slickness of the trail and ran most of this section. Then we got off the road and started our last long climb. Another section where switchbacks would be appreciated, but weren't there. Not more than 10-15 minutes into the climb, the rain really picked up. And, just for fun, the thunder and lightning started. I was with a woman from England and we spent a few minutes discussing how having metal poles at this point might not be the best idea. My goal was just to get up as quick as possible, mainly so we could start going back down again.
I have no pictures from this section because I was too wet and cold and my phone was tucked away to stay dry. I ended up pacing with an older gentleman that didn't speak any English. After a long climb, we arrived at a little hut in the middle of nowhere. This was not a checkpoint, but merely a building the size of a shed, where we could spend a few minutes getting warm. As nice as the sounded, I just wanted to get to lower elevation, and quite frankly, I was getting a little tired of this race!
The downhill commenced, in thick fog. I was running what I could, but it was wet and muddy and gross, so I mostly settled for a jog with the poles. This was the longest that I was ever alone on the course, and I probably was never even really that alone, it just felt that way because visibility was so poor in every direction.
Finally arrived at our final aid station. This was just a tent in the middle of nowhere, being manned by two English guys. When asked how I was doing, I replied "I've been wondering why I make such poor life choices," which they both thought was hilarious. A half dozen or so of us were all there at the same time, including Katrina, a woman we met at the expo. I ate my body weight in cheese and chocolate and was treated to a cup of hot fruit tea. We were told there was only 13K to go, omg I can do this. I am somewhere in the vicinity of 11(?) hours on course and in my head, a 14ish hour finish seems possible/reasonable. As I understand - hill, plateau, hill, downhill, small hill, 5K on road with some hills in town. GOT IT.
I am the last to head out, just as a few others are coming in. I feel like I am moving really slow, but in my head, I have plenty of time. I finally pull out my phone just to get a picture of some of the mud. This is nowhere near as bad as it was in spots, but it gives you an idea of what it was like.
The hills have lots of tree roots and I simply cannot stay upright. Every few minutes I'm sliding, falling, but at least always on my backside and not face first. My forearms and wrists are starting to ache from all the strain of gripping the poles to keep from falling.
Hit the very last big climb, and it is a soul-sucker. It is VERY steep, and every time I get to a "summit," it just seems to keep going. Due to the fog, I can't even tell where the top is, if there even IS a top. Every once in a while, there is a break in the trees where I can see the beginnings of a sunset - I have been out here a LONG time.
After being on the road for maybe a mile or so, all of a sudden we are back on the trail. WTF. I thought we were done with trail when we got to the road. It's getting late and dusk has settled in. It is getting a little difficult to see, but in my head, I'm really almost done and I don't want to take off my back to find my headlamp.
I keep trudging along. At one point, my knee locks out and I slide and roll my ankle. I yell out "not fucking now!!!" I keep going, but starting to get stressed and upset as time is ticking by and I still have no idea when and where I'm getting off this dang trail!
I think I am finally done when I got dumped onto those dirt roads outside of town. Only it appears that we are still climbing. HOW ARE WE STILL CLIMBING IF WE ARE ON OUR WAY DOWN??
Ugh!!! So it's getting darker, and my watch has long since clicked past the 50K distance and I am still not there. I actually miss my first turn of the day, but luckily realize it pretty quickly and pull up mapmyrun (which is still going, thankfully). I get back on course and finally decide I need my headlamp so that doesn't happen again.
Where the eff is the end of this race?? I have now less than 20 minutes until the course cutoff. I run when I can. 15 minutes. WTF WTF WTF. Keep going. Ten minutes or so to go and I finally see that we are getting dumped behind the sports arena where we had picked up our packets. YAY, THAT MEANS I AM CLOSE!! I am doing a run/walk at this point, but again, in my head, I'm really close.
We are directed to run through an arch. AND THERE ARE GD STAIRS. WTF. WHY AM I CLIMBING AND WHY AM I NOT DONE YET? 5 minutes to go. I am running up the stairs. Then I realize that I am behind a fence on the other side of the damn castle again. WHY WHY WHY??? I am run walking and watching my watch. I'm not going to make it. Back on the trail and it is foggy AF and I see a descent and it's just as steep as when we were on the mountain. 3 minutes. I said screw it and just slide down, there is no quicker way to get down.
I'm on the verge of tears. All of this way and this course, now over 53K, is relentless and never going to end. Back near the road, and I see the finish. Time has run out and I am not there. I hear people cheering, but I've missed the cutoff. I cross the finish line in 15:01:06. I missed the cutoff by barely a minute. Thankfully, they are lenient, give me my medal and I'm done.
|Clock started 2 hours prior to my race, with the 100K|
|The back of my tights, post-race|
- Well, I wanted an adventure, and I got exactly that. Assuming that we had better weather conditions, I'd like to think that I could have completed this course about an hour sooner. While my biggest fear was the climbing, I really underestimated how hard the downhills would be, especially with the undesirable mud. As an aside, that is the only thing I did NOT - and could not - train for - steep, technical, muddy as hell, downhills.
- In years past, there were many concerns and tales of people getting lost. They really did a great job marking the course, and other than the one turn I missed, I was never lost. Had I put my headlamp on sooner, I likely would not have missed it.
- The mandatory gear list is NO JOKE. I am glad that I "overpacked" and brought more than I thought I needed. For ME, one rain jacket would not have been enough. I wore two jackets most of the race, and never felt like I was overdressed. The one item I wished I had? Waterproof gloves. Also, even if you think your pack is waterproof, get one of those waterproof bag things to put over it. I had a waterproof bag inside my pack that held my extra long sleeve top & hat, but everything else in my pack was saturated when I was done.
- While we had a half dozen checkpoints, there were only three points with aid. Plan to go a very long time without support.
- It is no joke to quit this race. The next day I was listening to tales of people who stopped (in the 100K) and it was not easy to get them off the course. This is pretty much as far in the middle of nowhere as you can be. It was awful & glorious at the same time.
- I will likely edit this post as I remember more, I just wanted to get as much written as I could remember. Also, I will add official race pics after they are posted.