"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Sunday, July 2, 2017

2017 Afton Trail Run 50K Race Report

[warning: not suitable for reading while dining]

"You haven’t tried hard enough to like it
Haven’t seen enough of this world yet
But it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts
Well stop your whining, try again" - Car Seat Headrest, "Fill in the Blanks"

I awoke early the morning of Afton, too early, and watched the episode of "The Great British Bake-Off" that I'd skipped to go to bed early and then read 20 pages of "Infinite Jest" to finally reach the half-way mark. It was already 65 degrees, but looked to be one of the best days for weather that Afton has had - in fact, it was still only 71 when I finished and it was cool enough for the women's record to be obliterated. As I drove to the race, 89.3 The Current was playing their library alphabetically, so I had "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House," "Dance Yrself Clean," "Dancehall Domine," "Dancing Choose," "Dancing With Myself" and "Danger! High Voltage" cranked to ear-bleed volume and there may have been some limbering up via car-dancing involved. I reviewed my goals: finish, don't fall, don't get dehydrated, do better than at Chippewa.

As I picked up my number, I did the rounds through the crowd and parking lots, saying hi to people who generally asked where my volunteer assignment was: it was 2009 when I last finished this race, after all. My cousin Keith told me his dad his doing quite well at 99(!) years old, several people made jokes about the number of times I've "retired" from racing and I came to realize that I'm sort of a fixture on the circuit, but unknown to those contending for awards, as I've been graduated from contender to historical figure. Robyn Reed asked if I ever use a heart rate monitor and I showed her that I was wearing one, that it was useful to keep me from going out too hard at the start... in theory. I told Tim Owata and some guy whose name I didn't catch a story about a desperate thing I did at a race once and the guy said "I am going to tell that story to everyone I meet for the rest of my life." I can spin a good yarn. I took off my shirt, feeling it better to be a bit cool at the start, and tied it to the leg of a picnic table.

The gun goes off and I'm headed down the first slope about 3 minutes per mile slower than feels right for the start of a race. People are asking questions about the course as we go past the corner where I've been volunteering for the past decade and which is manned by John Horns, who could've won our age class here, had he not just run the Western States 100 Mile in 23 hours. Then we head up to the prairie and I glance at my heart rate - 155 on flat ground when I know I can handle 147 for 5 hours [I ended up averaging 146 for the race], proving once again that I know what I should do, but don't do it.

We drop down to the "Back 40" loop, which is uneventful, except for some muddy areas that I know will be churned much worse by the second loop. I'm hoping to keep my new shoes relatively dry, without success. Skipping the first two aid stations, I've gained ground on a lot of people.

Back up on the prairie, I start passing gas. Continuously. In unprecedented amounts. And then it becomes not just gas. I need a port-a-potty. I figure I can last until the next aid station, where there should be one - or at least the outhouse by the beach. The aid station is set up to prevent one from crossing, and there's nowhere to go. I refill my water bottle and head off trying to remember where the next latrine is. 100 yards later, it no longer matters; I'm in the bushes, squatting.

Back on the course, I'm hoping to put that embarrassing incident behind me. I start trading places with people I'll be seeing for most of the race, 69 year-old phenom Gene Dykes, Jacob Pittman (though he was more 2nd loop than first) and Brenna Bray (who ran downhills impressively fast). I'm still at too high a heart rate and playing the mind game of "Maybe I had the numbers wrong. Maybe I am in better shape than I thought." Then my bowels make their presence known again. Ar aid station 5, I hear people I know (Al Holtz among them) cheering for me, though I can't see them - something about the white gravel road and the sun behind them makes me blind to everything more than a yard away. I've refilled my water bottle and am heading for the Snowshoe Loop when I realize I should've detoured to the bathrooms at the group campsite. I'm back in the bushes, wondering what I ate that's trying to kill me and hoping I'm empty. My urine's only a small amount, so dark as to look rhabdomyolitic tea brown, though I know that's not the case. I must be dehydrated, but from diarrhea, or maybe it's just that that's where the fluid's going that should be urine. I'm confused - tired confused - so I decide to just run by feel.

The snowshoe loop proves much easier to run than usual for me. When I hear people behind me, I speed up to do the technical bits at leisure and out of sight of those who will wonder how to run them; some things become ingrained when you've raced for 40 years. The hill out of the snowshoe loop - the last hill - is also easier than expected. There's a logjam of runners at the half-way mark, where people have drop bags and I plow through, skipping the aid station again. I hit the half-way mark in 2:31:57, so slowing 2 minutes per mile would still get me a personal best on the course (where I've never done well). I know I've gone out too fast. I intentionally slow way down. Those I dropped at the half-way point catch up to me, Jacob on the first hill, Brenna on the prairie. Brenna and I introduce ourselves, find out we have some people in common... and I see my heart rate has climbed to 166; dehydration can do that, I recall. I let her go and she says I'll catch her in 10 minutes, as I have all day, but I know it's the end of that phase of the race.

Heading back down to the Back 40, my legs are showing the first signs of fatigue. At the aid station, Doug Kleemeier asks if I want anything to eat and I decline; the truth was I was afraid anything I ate would shoot straight through me. I ran straight through the Back 40 mud holes, getting filthy. The next miles were uneventful and then at 21.5 miles... back into the bushes. This time, I'm off the trail seemingly forever. It's no longer a race of any sort, just holding together for a finish. Ann Heaslett catches me and asks how I'm doing; when I reluctantly tell her, she asks if I want anti-diarrheal medication she's carrying. "I AM a doctor, you know." I refuse, expecting I must be empty by now and wondering just how many medications she's carrying, where she keeps them and whether any other physician would be so equipped. It's a nice distraction,actually.

Nevertheless, he persisted.

The last third of the race was a 13 minute per mile slog, rather than the 19 per mile death march of Chippewa and I'm feeling better. My legs are starting to creak at the knees and hips, I start hunching over a bit on climbs, my toes are jamming into the end of my shoes so I'm scrunching them on downhills. Problems snowball, as they are wont to do. I'm getting passed more and more frequently. With 2 miles to go, Sam Carlson catches me and I can hear Shannon Lindgren call my name. Shannon went by on the last hill, looking fresh and unspattered by mud, which had me wonder if she wasn't in the race - Dan LaPlante and Jamie Mariel, for example, were out there running as spectators - and I later heard that her hydration bladder had leaked, which would've washed off the mud! Usually, I try to put on a show and kick at the end, but there was no reason to and I wasn't feeling it.

Andy Sandor finished a few minutes behind me and Mike Scandrett got his 15th (!) finish a few minutes after that. Someone had stolen my shirt. I debated how long I could talk to people before heading back to the port-a-potties and knew I couldn't stay for the picnic, fearing nothing would stay inside. I got in the car, saw Janette Maas, who'd dropped, and Brenna, who'd been done for half an hour and Gene who'd been in for an hour already, and drove home, content to have finished in 5:53:29.

My schedule for training for the Superior 100 Mile had a back-to-back long run planned for Sunday, after all.

One of Shannon's obligatory selfies.

Mud, medal and finish time.

Update: It's the xylitol in the HEED that did me in.

1 comment:

Double said...

I'd say that was one fine run. Be interesting to see how the Sunday run goes. Sawtooth appears daunting to me. I don't have the sand to want to suffer that much. You are pointed in the right direction.