Monday, October 17, 2011

Pumpkin Holler Hunnerd

The short story is that I stopped at mile 49.  The quads weren't having any more of the hills, no matter what I promised them.  The Lessons:
1.  Always carry more S caps.
2.  I must find a way to effectively train for hills, especially downhills.
3.  I need to find my pace and remain consistent.
4.  Truly understand the type of course I am planning to race on.  Consider elevation, terrain, and exposure.

Now for the long version.
The course for this inaugural race couldn't have been more scenic.  Gorgeous views of the Illinois river, rolling hills, changing foliage, and wonderful people all rolled into a warm autumn day that seemed to have all the makings of a great race day.

All in all, it was a very good day.  In fact, it was an amazing weekend!  Mark and I were able to meet with some friends that made us feel at home for the weekend.  Not only did Bill and Shelia put us up for the weekend, Bill also was one of the wonderful volunteers for the race and spent most all of Friday (beginning at o'dark thirty) and again back at the race site at 4 am on Saturday, working until the last runner went through his aid station on Sunday.  To do all of this, he had to use his vacation time.  That is some amazing dedication.

Brad and his wonderful wife, Rachel, welcomed us for a lovely visit to discuss the race plan, as Brad was to be my pacer.  He was energized and ready to go, taking time off of work and away from his young family to help me reach my goal.  By all accounts, aside from my tweaky ankle and achilles which has been in and out of a boot for the last two weeks, everything looked as if it were in order.

Mark and I enjoyed the later start time of 8 am and slept till about 5, then headed out to the start line.  It was a bit chilly at 43 degrees, but that quickly became a non-issue.

The RD called the runners to the start line.  There were three groups, 50K, 100K, and 100 milers.  We were all to start together.  I love smaller races for this reason.  We all start together and get to visit along the route.  Ken announced that the initial out and back for the 100 milers which was supposed to be 7 miles was actually closer to 8.  He assured us that it would be ok because we would get the biggest hill in OK out of the way right away.

The gun was fired and off we went.  The road was gravel and fairly flat.  We crossed over the river via a beautiful old bridge, a bridge I was slated to cross 6 times during the run.  Shortly after the bridge, the 100 milers veered right for our extra out and back while the rest of the pack went left to begin their respective loops for their race distance.

The course quickly changed to a tree-covered, gravel road that seemed to have a constant incline to it.  There were areas with steeper hills and then nice down hills.  I walked the uphills and enjoyed coasting the downs, while still trying to maintain my 8/2 running/walking method.   I met a few folks along the way, all just as nice as anyone I've ever met.  A gal, Laci, from Nebraska, attempting her first 100.  Randy Ellis, whom I had heard so much about from Bill.  A wonderful, gentleman whom I wish I could have visited longer with.  Several others and I chatted though I never got their names.  One young man, a Navy man, attempting not only his first 100, but his first trail RUN, never mind race!  Another young man from nearby Muskogee that had only driven the trail once or twice.    I also came upon Deborah Sexton at one point near the end of the first loop.  We were both hurting by then, so I don't really recall what we spoke of.  I probably was doing a lot of whining by then.  Several of us ran the "biggest hill in Oklahoma" together and we agreed that we were certainly glad we got it over early.

As I came through the start/finish aid station, people were yelling "First Woman!" at me.  This may seem like good news to some, but to me, this set me up for a mental battle that I wasn't prepared for.  Never in my wildest dreams would I ever have dreamed myself to be in such a position.  I had to tell myself continually, this is a long race.  You are only a few miles in and you are going WAY too FAST!  SLOW DOWN!  I tried slowing and I thought I was, but no one was passing me.  I made it to the second aid station, Mad Dog, and again, FIRST WOMAN!   Ugh.  This is not my goal...this is not my goal, was playing in my head.  I ducked into the woods hoping someone would pass me.  No one did.  I walked all the uphills and ran the downhills and tried to maintain the 8/2 pattern, but this was becoming more difficult as I was hitting hill after hill after hill.  Relatively butt.  There was not much flat to this course at all.

I continued on to the next aid station, Out and Back.  The folks running the aid stations couldn't have been more friendly, more helpful.  They were truly amazing.  What wasn't so amazing was the disappearance of the tree canopy.  Within an instant, I found myself in very exposed, hilly, and continued gravel road.  I should mention that I have never really run on gravel before.  I had always assumed gravel roads and dirt roads were the same thing.   In Massachusetts, we called any dirt road a gravel road, so perhaps this is where my misunderstanding is rooted from.

As I came back through Out and Back, (mile 10.2 for some, 18.2 for the 100 milers) I was still leading the girls.  I made a decision that at the next aid station, I would sit in the port-a-potty until at least 2 women passed me.

As I approached Savannah, the hills became more steep.  I could see Bill on the horizon cheering us all into the aid station.  He was encouraging us and loving on us and even ran a few steps with me promising that the hills would end soon.  I was hopeful that the backside of the loop would be flat and that this would give my legs a reprieve.  I think it was at this point that I realized that the road I was running on was really not a trail, it was a road.   There was nothing soft or forgiving about this road.  And as the sun beat down on me from the top, the ground beat on me from the bottom.  Everything was hurting at this point.  From the top of my head to the bottom of my feet, everything was screaming OUCH!   I mentioned this to Bill, and he mentioned that he had some Motrin at the aid station. 

I met Mark at Savannah and quickly ducked into the can.  I heard several people pass by and as I came out, I saw two girls take the lead.  Thank you, Lord.  That pressure was off.  I don't know why I let that play with my head so much, but, it did.

I downed some coconut water, filled my bottle, ate some Motrin, handed off my extra layer and left out of the aid station looking forward to flatter terrain.  Within minutes, I found myself climbing more hills.  My calves were already cramping so I doubled up on the S caps and walked more.  Even while walking I somehow caught up to Laci, the # 2 woman.  She was struggling with a hamstring issue.  As we played leap frog, we commiserated with one another.  She would stop in the middle of the trail to stretch her hamstring, I would stop to stretch my calf.  It was nice to have a voice to hear other than my own.

I found myself soon alone again, however, with Laci still battling her hamstring.  My S caps and coconut water seemed to do the trick with the cramping of the calves, at least for a little while.  The hills continued to show up and then the tree canopy disappeared again.  I pressed on hoping still that the course would eventually begin to flatten out.

I came into the Hard Up aid station and Mark was there again.  He really did an amazing job as my crew!  I didn't expect to see him there, but I was so glad he was there!  I was again beginning to cramp and the sun was burning me.  I never thought to put on sunscreen or even bring my sunglasses.  I don't usually have to worry about these two things on trail runs.  Mark filled my bottle again and I downed more coconut water.  He was giving me updates from my friends, most of whom were reminding me to slow down and double up on the S caps, which I was already doing.  Unfortunately, I ran out of S caps as I didn't plan to have to double up on the first loop.  I always carry extra, but for whatever reason, this day, I didn't do that.

There seemed to be quite a few residents driving the course.  I don't know if they were just curious or if the road is always that busy, but each vehicle that went by kicked up a fair amount of dust and made for difficult breathing.  Just more fun in the pot of good times. 

My hydration was good.  I was emptying my bottles between aid stations and seemed to be emptying my bladder often enough.  All good signs that I wasn't dehydrating.  I headed out of Hard Up onto Last Gasp, thinking to myself...there can only be one reason that this station is called Last Gasp...more hills.

Very shortly after leaving Hard Up, the gravel road turned to a black top road, completely uncovered in the heat of the day.  I don't do well in these circumstances.  The hills continued and with each one, I just shook my head in a sort of disgust.  Music wasn't helping, prayer wasn't helping.  I was just plain miserable.  At some point on this section of road, a dog came up behind me and while he wasn't aggressive, he was very "happy" and jumped up on me.  I tried to push him away and took a nice bite on the hand.  He didn't mean to bite me, but this really took me by surprise.

I think the black top continue for several miles, until just before the Last Gasp.  I hit the gravel road once more, the final aid station and headed into the start/finish.  I was still 2nd woman at this point, but I knew that I would be resting a good while at the aid station.

I crossed that beautiful bridge for the 4th time of the day and found myself quickly in a chair.  I told Mark I wasn't going anywhere for awhile.  I needed to have a think about the situation.  I was completely drained.  I was completed deflated by my prospect on those hills for not just one, but two more loops.  I felt as if I had already run 70 something miles, not 40.

As I sat there, having my think, Mark doctored me up with food, drink, pickle juice. Everything he could think of.  Mexican coke in hand, I started to feel a bit better.  My head was back in the game and after about a 25 minute rest stop, I donned the hydration vest and headed back out.

Again, the road was fairly flat until about a mile from the start and then the hills started all over again.  I tried running, but the quads were spent.  My head was ok.  My mood was ok.  My legs quit.  I figured I'd walk for awhile till they decided to show up.  I alternated between a run and a walk.  I couldn't muster more than a few steps without having to start walking again.  And as I gained a bit of a run, a hill would show up, which I had to walk.  The downhills I took slowly.  But it wasn't long before I knew it was over.  I decided to not make a decision until I reached the first aid station, which was reportedly 4 miles out.  Hill after hill after hill, miles came and went, running was near impossible.  Maybe five feet at most ten feet at a time.  This was making for a painstakingly slow 4 miles.  As I looked at my watch, I noticed I was at mile 4.8, with no aid station in site.  At this point, I became angry.  I don't know who or what I was angry at, but I was angry.  I suppose thinking that aid station was at 4 miles and not at 5 was the infamous straw for me.    The thought of going over these hills twice more, possibly having another dog come at me in the dark, the self-doubt and realization that walking 50+ miles was what I was looking at and I didn't like it one bit. 

Finally, at mile 5, I saw the aid station, I saw another runner getting into the car to head back to the finish and I told them to wait for me.  As I hobbled to the car, one aid station worker asked if I was sure.  I suppose the glare from my eyes said it all...he walked away and never looked back.  He knew I was done.

I managed to throw myself into the back seat and couldn't believe I was throwing in the towel.  The volunteers driving us back told us that many people were taken back by the amount of hills this "relatively flat" course had.  The gentleman that was also heading back was dropping from the 100K.  He was just as upset as I.  It was a long car ride back, but the ladies were so encouraging.  We came upon several runners, all of whom were walking at this point, and cheered them from the car. 

I reached the start/finish and was never happier.  I didn't see Mark, so I used someone's phone to call him and tell him that I was done.  He was surprised, but came to see what was going on.  I wanted to be sure to get the message to Brad before he drove all the way out to the race for no reason.

While the RD states he will record my 50K time as a finish, I can't really accept that.  I set out to finish a 100 miler and I didn't do that.  I am ok with my decision, though I am not happy about it.  I was most disappointed in not being able to run with Brad.  I felt pretty badly about not meeting my goal.  Everyone did so much to help me, so much to support me, and I feel disappointed in myself for not meeting my end of the plan.

God and I had a long talk out on the trail.   I asked Him to take over if it was His will for me to continue.  I told Him that I understood He knows my heart and that if what I want didn't mesh with His will, I was ok with that.  Perhaps there was a different lesson in all of this for me today.

I have hashed this out with a few friends, and I understand this.  My disappointment comes not from an incomplete 100 miler, but more, that I could have let others down.  But my support system is so wonderful that they do not feel let down.  They are encouraged and inspired by my efforts, and I am left with two feelings.  I am so blessed and so loved.  I couldn't ask for anything more.  My inspiration and my encouragement comes from those around me, near and far.  Those who are willing to take time from their families to send words of hope, prayers, and well wishes.  Those who give of themselves physically and never complain or expect anything in return.  Those who take care of me when I am discouraged.  Those who take care of my family when I am absent.

I have said before, this is NOT something that I can do alone.  First and foremost, my help comes from Him.  And then, I watch His hands and feet serve me and help me to reach my goals.  I stand in awe of all of those beautiful souls. 


  1. This is a great post....

    49 miles is a big accomplishment! There is not to many people that can say they ran that much. You get a lot from a race like this. You learn more about yourself and you understand where to look at for improvements. DO NOT knock yourself down. You did a great job!

    I applaud you!!

  2. How many people can say they lead any race for almost 20 miles? Good job for doing the work it takes to get to the starting line and then running another 49 miles.

  3. Wow, tough day. But wonderfully well written. I relate so much to the thoughts and feelings you went through - I've been there (more than once). And like you say, the important realization was that my family and friends loved me for who I am, not for how far or how fast I could run, or whether I came up short. That's what makes us human, and is the reason these races are a challenge. It's important to keep that in perspective.

    We're heading into the most wondrous time of the year for running, so just get out there and enjoy it.

    Again, congratulations on 49 miles - that's no small achievement in itself.

  4. Great, introspective report (as usual!). Those words "First Female" can act as a double-edged sword, can't they?

    Even if the 100 was not completed on this leg of the journey, you do not disappoint. Remember that, sister. These reports are awesome and real.



  5. Great report Karen! Sounds like a challenging course out there, so congrats on finishing 49! that in itself is a major accomplishment in my book, though I realize you set out for 100 miles, not 49! Looks like you learned some good lessons, so there's no doubt you'll be back stronger!