Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Top Ten Things I Learned from a DFL at the 2011 Cheyenne Mountain 50k.

First of all, here is a quick recap.  Here is my ultramarathon history thus far:

1.  May 1, 2010.  Greenland 50k  - DNF.
2.  July 17, 2010.  North Fork 50mile - DNF.
3.  August 22, 2010.  Leadville 100 mile - DNF.

Thus out of three tries at ultramarathon distances I was a big 0 for 3.

Crossing the Finish Line...
As of today I am now 1 for 4.

Race Report, the Short Version:

I ran the inaugural Cheyenne Mountain 50k and finished.

I also won an award.  :)  (I was D.F.L.)



Race Report, the REALLY Long Version:


The Prep

The training going into this race was not particularly strong.  I only had one recent 20+ mile run in the bag and the best word to describe my running would be piddlin'.
The Pre-Race Meeting.

However that wasn't going to stop me from giving another ultramarathon a try.  Having been reminded of the gnarly nature of the course I knew it would require a big effort, but hey why not give some pain and suffering a try?

During the drive in I heard the weather forecast, 30's to 40's with likely rain and snow showers and strong winds.  Awesome.  If you're going to go do this ultramarathon thing, who wants it to be easy?   If you were going for easy, you'd be doing the "running" game on Wii Sports by duct taping a wii-mote to your dog and yelling at him while lying on the couch, or something...

So I got there, met up with one of my Leadville Partners in Crime (I need a good pseudonym for him) and got geared up.

A quick note on the race.  This was the inaugural instance of this race and I would have to say it came off very well.  The dedication and performance of the volunteers will be elaborated on later, but things went very smoothly and evidence of good planning was clearly seen.

I had hoped to finish in about 7:30 or 7:45.  I knew the course would be open for nine hours so I wasn't too worried about not being able to finish.  About that....

The Start

The start signal went off and I, in the very back of the pack, took off.  I recognized a few familiar faces right away.  I saw the nice lady who was screaming at me at Leadville to come back and get on the right course (MP3 player prevented me from hearing her) and I also got to meet the legendary Ulrich Kamm.

Ulli, is simply amazing.  He has competed in over 220 ultramarathons.  He has finished Hard Rock ten times.  I first heard about him in a Leadville report (something about him recommending panty hose as a way to prevent blisters?!?).  One part of the Ulli legend is that he walks.  He walks these ultras and does not run.  However, I can attest to the fact that his walking is incredible.  He is literally a machine.  His incredibly fast walking pace does not slow for rough terrain, or hills, or weather.  It is just a constant bruising pace that is relentless.  Plus he seems to be a really nice guy.  He and his wife were laughing and smiling and joking at the start, very nice folks.

That being said, I knew having Ulli around would be somewhat like having a pacer.  The speed would be constant and I could judge how well I was doing by where I was in relation to Ulli.   So on a downhill stretch I went past him and tried to make up some time.  In fact I became a little bit obsessed by the idea of beating Ulli...

Here is some rare video footage captured from early in the race....

So for the first two hours I was pushing HARD.   In fact probably way too hard.  Many times I caught myself with a heart rate out of control and heavy breathing (this time I was running).  Not good for so early in the race.  I finished the first 10k in 1:20 which probably seems slow to most humans, but for the course and conditions and especially for me that was way too fast.   That would have been a 6:40 finish pace. I would come to pay dearly for this later.

The Trouble

In fact I was about three hours into the race when I started to feel not so good.  In fact I didn't even realize how badly I felt, until I stopped for a moment to stretch out my hamstrings and back by bending over and started to feel Krakatoa erupting.  Krakatoa is the technical term I use to refer to my stomach rejecting all of it's current contents.  This occurred shortly after taking my second endurolyte tablet of the day.  This was unbelievably frustrating.  I did feel much better after shouting at my shoes for several minutes, but it also made me realize how badly I had been feeling before that.  I was also not even half way and for this to occur at this point was rather demoralizing.  I was having the same eating/drinking/hydrating/salting/polluting the side of the trail problems as I had had several times before.

Around this time Ulli blew past me and I had to watch his pink fanny pack bounce away as I shuffle-walked along the trail.

Snow is coming...
I finished the first 25k in 4:02 or so.  The second half of the 25k loop of the course was VERY tough going.  There were some brutal climbs and up on the top of the ridges the snow and wind were coming in hard.  Teh wifey/coach and the whole family were there (for six hours on a nasty weather day!) and gave me some much needed encouragement.  Having kids is really not good for my desire to quit.  I look at those little faces and the lovely face of my best friend and I see so much belief and hope in me (of all people!) and I just can't let them down.  So I kept going.  I really didn't want to.

The first half of the second loop was in the words of that cultural epic, Wildcats,  U-G-L-Y, and no, I had no alibi...two and a half hours of just a slogging torturefest.  Every time I took a salt tab I would throw up some more.    Then after not taking salt for a while the cramps would hit like a knife in my thigh.  It was not a pretty picture.  I was still run/walking though I wasn't sure why.

The Cutoffs

At the midway point of each loop you come back towards the starting area.  It was getting to be about 6:20 into the race and I called teh wifey/coach to let her know I was coming in so they could see me.  When she answered the phone she had a terse and urgent message for me.

"They just decided that if you aren't at the next aid station in ten minutes they are going to cut your band (Leadville talk for pull you from the race) so you had better start running and get your butt down here NOW!"

This caused a slight panic.  I did not want another DNF.  I did not want another /fail on the list.  I did NOT want to write another post about the Top Ten things I learned from a DNF.  Learning stinks some times.  I started running as hard as I could.  At first I thought I was pretty close and that it wouldn't be a problem to make the cut off.  I could hear "the crew" singing encouraging songs (you know they are sheer awesomeness right?) through the trees and thought it was just right around the corner.  Then the trail turned.  Away from the starting area.  It was farther than I thought it was.  I wanted to cry.  I became convinced I wasn't going to make it.  The part of my mind that wanted to quit was assuaging me saying, "that's OK, now you'll get to stop, take a rest, relax, it's out of your hands..."  I kept running.  A race volunteer met me on the trail and said "You're gonna have a 90 second window either way if you keep running AND if you look like you can finish."  Great, I thought, now I have to be an actor as well.

Is that a gang sign?  Also, this makes
it look like I'm not in last place.

I ran the rest of the way to the aid station, wiped the puke off my mouth, puffed out my chest, and made it there in exactly 6:30.  I grabbed some Heed and water and calories and moved on.  Strangely enough I asked the same sort of question I spoke at Leadville because the situation fit again.  "Did I just sprint so I could have the privilege of running 2.5 more hours?"  Answer? Yes.  Now get going.

The last eight miles were slow as you might guess.  There are a number of places on the course were it would have been very easy to take a different turn and cut off a few miles but I covered every step.  (Rumor was there was someone out there who was taking a few shortcuts....)  The sweepers caught up with me and ran me in.  The volunteers were great, very encouraging, and tried to provide everything they could just to get me to the finish.  Thanks Mary, Jane, and Keith!  I felt very guilty that I was keeping them out there that long, but their attitude was of pure generosity and service.  Amazing!  There were some fun moments even on that last lap.  The snow started coming down very heavily and it was a beautiful sight just to be out there in it.

The Wrap Up

And so after much meandering I finished.  9:05 approximately.  The race director ruled it an official finish, though they had already broken down the timing mat and race chute so I'm not on the official results page.  However I did earn a very prestigious honor by finishing, and that was the D.F.L.  If you're not familiar with the term, it stands for Dead F*$@ing Last.  It was nice.  There were even some quite nice prizes for being the D.F.L.  including shoes, a trail running magazine subscription ( I think they're hoping reading it will make me faster) and some chiro sessions.  Someone asked me if i minded being the D.F.L. and in the true spirit of Eddie the Eagle I said, being the DFL is better than a DNF.

And so I say thanks.  Thanks to Andrea, the race director for putting on a great race, and letting me push on even though it meant you and the crew had to stay out in the rain for a while longer.  Thanks to my sweeper friends and the other race volunteers for the encouragement and supplies, and patience.  Congrats to my Leadville partner-in-crime who finished in 6:36 for his first marathon AND ultramarathon finish!  And especially thanks to teh wifey/coach and the fam for enduring an incredibly long day and giving me everything I needed to keep going.

I'm not going to linger on the implications of finishing in such a pitiful time, I'm just going to linger on a finish.  I'm not going to worry about what this means for other racees I have signed up for, I'm just going to enjoy crossing the line.  I'll probably continue to think about my hydration/nutrition/gastrointestinal challenges, but not today.

Today I'm smiling.

The O'fer is over....


Top Ten Things I Learned from a D.F.L. at the 2011 Cheyenne Mountain 50k.
  1. Teh wifey and fam' are the best support crew ever!
  2. Pink fanny packs are very motivational.
  3. I should include a mid-race sprint in all of my training runs to simulate the desperate rush to make cut-offs.
  4. Running in the snow is always fun.
  5. Gravity is not my friend.
  6. Cougar Shadow and North Talon trails, you are not my friends.
  7. Endurolytes are often not my friend.
  8. I need more friends.
  9. I'm an official ultramarathoner.  (I know, I know, it was only a 50k, go stick it!)
  10. Finishing is worth it. 

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