Sunday, November 6, 2011

Race Recap: Bad Apple Ultra 12 Hour

I know. I know. I said my race season was over for the year after Cle Elum. Well, I did take 5 weeks off, but I jumped right back in with both feet when I went to Michigan for a family visit with my first timed event–Bad Apple Ultra 12 hour.

A timed event is different from my usual ultras. Instead of running a pre-determined distance you run a set loop repeatedly for a pre-determined time to see how many miles you can rack up. I had never done a timed event before, and in fact I swore up and down I would never do one. "So boring. Why the hell would I want to run in circles all day? I like going places!"

I took up ultra-running when I moved out west so my family has never seen me run. Shortly after booking tickets home this fall I did a quick search for ultras in Michigan–just on the odd chance I'd find one. And I did. Find one. And it was a timed event. No way. Uh-uh.


It took me a week of mental arguing, but I signed up. For the 12 hour. 12 hours of running in an apple orchard. A flat, Michigan orchard. 4 miles...over and over and over. Dear God, what have I done?

Fall was perfect in Michigan this October. I reveled in the crisp days and clear starry nights at my parents farm. There was cider and family. And in the middle there was a race.

I awakened at 4am and drove the 40 minutes to Greenville, dodging deer with my mom's new pickup truck. It was cold and raining lightly as I gathered with about 20 people under the awning. Shortly after 6am we headed out for our first loop. The dark orchard sprinkled with headlamps was quite fun. I was near the front of the group and ran a couple loops with a guy from western Michigan. As dawn began to break a cloudburst of sleet and cold rain drenched me. My hands were icy, but I took comfort in the fact that I was able to click off my light and run through a gray shadow world. The orchard and forest were like a grainy old photo and I was a flash of pink winding through it.

"4 loops before you caffeinate." My goal was 60 miles for the day and I didn't want to start the music or the Coke too soon. Little rewards when I reached certain goals helped me focus. 16 miles down, I can start drinking Coke. 10 am, 20 miles done. Ipod. 24 miles, ditch the jacket. 28 miles drop the tights. 32 miles amino acid supplement. 36 miles...40 miles...

The sun was out. The fall color was brilliant. Blue skies punctuated by fluffy white clouds. The orchard was busy with families and workers on a gorgeous Saturday. And I was running. Running, running, running. I settled into a rhythm early and kept it. My legs were like pistons operating on their own. My mind would wander, then check in, wander and check in. I had my 3 short walking distances (probably totaling less than 300ft per lap) and my one spot to stop and decompress my lower back and stretch my hamstrings for 10 seconds on every loop. Aid station: Oreo, potato, salt, Coke, Coke, run 4 miles, repeat.

44 miles... 48 miles... 52 miles....

The monotony didn't kill me and make me want to quit as I had feared. Like any ultra my attention was driven by the things to look at along the way–natural beauty, people, where I was putting my feet–and internal maintnance: Do I need electrolytes? Am I warm enough? Calories? Pain? Is it serious? Too slow. Too fast. I can't stand to listen to Rihanna right this second...
In between my mind wandered to many topics and the miles passed with surprising speed. The onset of pain in my legs and hips and knees and feet began around mile 32 and increased with every mile. But pain is part of running long distances and I learned long ago how to triage and block out anything that wasn't going to put me out of commission once the race is over.

56 miles...
I rounded the corner, with the aid station in sight and saw my dad and my niece coming toward me. This made my day and reinvigorated me. My dad has never come to any events like this before and seeing him there made me feel like I could keep running forever if it would make him proud.

"How many miles you run?"
"56" (big dumb smile on my face)
"You in the lead?"
"I think so."

My niece fell into stride with me and I waved at my mom as I came into the aid station. Oreo, potato, salt, Coke, Coke...
Megan and I ran through the golden afternoon. She'd run her cross country regionals that morning, so I'm sure she was glad her aunt was moving slowly! The euphoria of seeing my family faded quickly and the pain came rushing back. Without my ipod cranked to help distract me I was nearly overwhelmed, but Megan helped me maintain my pace as we chatted our way to my goal of 60 miles in 12 hours.
I hugged my dad and stood in the "recovery stance": hands on thighs, hunched over and trying not to collapse someone said, "5:30! You're good! Go around again!"
I looked him straight in the eye and said, "Do I have to?" I was done mentally.
"Well, no..."
The guy I'd run the first 2 laps of the morning with shouted, "Do it!!" I think some of the other races and race volunteers echoed the sentiment. I'm not sure because something inside was already clicking over. It was a chance to really push myself.

Oreo, potato, salt, Coke, Coke...

I put the ipod back in and headed out. Megan didn't feel she could run another lap with me and it was probably for the best. I was tired and cranky inside and I didn't want to talk. Just run. Like I had been doing all day. By the time I was a mile in the pain had receded, beaten back into submission by my dogged determination to not let it conquer me. The mind has to be as strong or stronger than the body to run ultras. Running 4 miles more than I was mentally prepared to do was training my mind more than my legs or lungs. I was smiling as I passed the half way aid station. I was smiling on the descent and climb that followed. I was basking in the sunset light streaming over the fields as I headed down the home stretch. I was smiling when I came into the finish for the last time.

I can't say that I loved the timed distance, but I did love this race. It was well run, a great course and delightfully low key. My family was able to attend and I was able to push my boundaries–running nearly 2/3 the 100 mile distance in less than half the time. The orchard was not flat, the terrain wasn't hard packed. The views were not boring. I didn't get sick of running the same loop, in fact the rhythm was almost meditational. I am certainly glad I did it.

64 miles, 12 hours (and a bit), 1st woman, 3rd overall