Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mt. Cheaha 50k 2011= Attitude, Patience and Embracing Current Reality!

The drive towards the Alabama mountains began after work on Thursday. Although the 8ish hour drive could be made in one day, I find the cost of a room at a budget motel worth the price of more rest and less stress. Wanting to avoid Friday morning traffic in Atlanta, I took the northern route, I-81, to I-75, stopping for the night in Chattanooga, TN.

The last time I was in this city was in 1997, days after Cheryl died. As I drove along, I recognized highway exits and locations where I’d been during previous trips when she and I spent time together. I thought of Cheryl and her running and kitty Rudy. If it wasn’t 9:30 at night when I arrived, I might have driven to her old neighborhood or gone for a run across the bridge she and I shared runs upon. I miss Cheryl and I was reminded, as I often am, that my late twin continues to help me grow into the person I am and am becoming. (Please see this previous post for more about Cheryl).

I used a highway motel coupon to get a room at an Economy Inn: relatively clean, quiet, coffee maker and microwave. Just what I wanted for an 11-hour stop over.

All the time alone on the drive and night alone left much time for pondering-about Cheryl, life and Mt Cheaha 50k. This would be the longest distance I will run since October 2010 when I was injured preparing for World 100k. I felt strong and well prepared for re-entry back into the ultra world and would strive to better my 2010 time of 5:09:?? Although competing wasn’t in the front of my mind, I definitely was hoping to run well enough for a top finish.

Friday morning’s drive to Mt Cheaha State Park was easy and fast. While driving I made a 6th phone call in 2 days to the lodge office to see if there were any cancellations. (Generally you must stay 2 nights on a weekend, unless there is an opening the day before or day of your stay). Luck! A non-smoking room was available for Friday night! Minutes prior there was a cancellation and while on the phone, I was put on hold for another line to be answered and was told it was another party looking for a cancellation.

I looked forward to arriving in the State Park and not leaving until the next morning. This would give time to consider what to share as I prepared to be a 5-minute “guest speaker” at the night’s pre-race meal. Todd (the race director) emailed me earlier in the week to see if I was up for it, of course I said “YES!” yet until this day, I hadn’t given it much thought.

"Blue hell"
I ran 35 minutes on some mountain bike trails and the last 1.5 miles of the course, before going for a walk down the blue blaze trail, (Mt Cheaha runners call it “Blue Hell”) to consider how not to bore this evening’s group of kindred spirits. Wow! This trail was steep! I was already looking ahead to tomorrow and anticipating what would surely be a very slow mile in the race.

As I made my way back to my room to make notes on my musings, I had to laugh out loud at blue hell and the adventures we runners venture into. Running 31.1 miles, climbing to the Top of Alabama is normal for the sub-culture of ultra runners and completely wacko for most everyone else visiting the park this weekend.

These are the notes I made to use for the evening:
  1. How many of you are wondering what to wear and to carry with you? Me too, this is most often my greatest night-before run dilemma! It gets easier to choose…

  1. Uwharrie 40 miler…my 1st ultra. It is okay to walk!(sometimes).

  1. Embrace emotions, you are real, ultra running demands realness. (Example of my crying the trails) Just try not to hyperventilate (explain)

  1. Music in my ears. I sometimes train w/ipod, yet never race w/one I use mantras. Ex: (WS100, 2007: “Annette you are having a great day and you are getting stronger” (after mile 85, “you are having a great day, and keep on being stubborn!)

  1. Do you feel intimidated or nervous? Consider dedicated miles or on some courses (I gave my Mad City 100k 2010 example) loops to people or things in your life you are grateful for…

  1. Nobody does this alone (remembering PA system from 2005 WS 100) Give thanks to those who love and support you!

  1. (Sometimes who we love and who we must support get in our way of training…soooo race day is a time to only worry about
a) not hurting yourself
b) not hurting someone else!

  1. If you are motivated by the negative, when you hit a rough patch, try, “I’d rather be here than stuck in Atlanta traffic” or “ having a root canal” or “locked out of my car in the 40 degree driving rain with no one around!”

  1. Celebrate the freedom to be all of who your truly are! Get muddy, get wet feet! And keep in mind Saturday, 2/26 only comes once in a lifetime!

Abby Meadows and I...Google her and you will know the  meaning of "tough and tenacious"!
Sally Brooking looking relaxed.
The pre-race meeting was fun and social, a good change after spending much of the past 24 hours alone. I felt privileged to share my thoughts at the meeting and don’t think too many people were bored!

Before leaving, I met up with John Dove, who would be a person of influence this day. John and I talked about race goals- I spoke to wishing to better my time from last year. He verbally poked me to run a sub 5-hour race. I appreciated this interaction and before heading for sleep, figured splits for a 5-hour finish.

The next morning, I sat with Dan, a veteran runner of varied experiences,  in the front seat of the prison bus as we rode for 45 minutes to the Porter’s Gap race start. We had conversation which converged on our race experiences and seeing the world through the eye of an ultra runner with all it’s peculiar norms and culture.

Race start was at 7:30am to the first notes of the loud speakered, “Sweet Home Alabama”. Off I went, running in a short line with Dink Taylor, John Dove and a few others. We ran together for until the first aid station at mile 3ish. I was feeling plucky and happy and thrilled to be running in the woods. Bouncing along the trail, the first hour passed. I couldn’t keep pace with these boys on the ups, so happily adjusted my pace to run within myself.

And then just about an hour into the run, the bouncing and pluckiness went away. Legs were heavy, I felt uncoordinated. It is like I bonked before starting out. I started to walk that which I usually scamper up. I was passed and passed. This could not be helped-this early in the run; I had to go with my body signals, rather than my will to go forth.

I ran through AS #2 10 minutes off my goal pace, 2nd woman and 20th overall. In this next section, again I was passed and passed and I ditched my ideas of pace and just tried to work through this funk.   For several miles, I ran between Christian Griffith, 40, and Laura Hill, 37, who was 3 paces behind me.

Several times between miles 5-15, I had thoughts of dropping out and taking a nap and turning this into a pleasure outing of hiking and jogging…HA! These options were not within the embrace of my current reality: so long as I could move without hurting myself or someone else, I would proceed as though things would improve.

 I drank Heed and ate a Clif Shot just before AS 3 at mile 15ish. Maybe my problem was lack of calories?  A generous volunteer filled my water bottle and opened a gel pack for me as I scarfed a bite of a pb&j square. I took a Succeed! capsule, and ate 2 Clif Shot Margarita blocks each 30 minutes for the next while…Wheels were coming back!

 The  Christian and Laura sandwich continued…then I decided to try a Chi-Running technique on posture I’d been working on last week…I tightened my lower abs to take the stress of my legs, and “ran” the little steeps instead of hiking. Calories and posture helped and soon my confidence started to return and I lost sight of my running buddies.

After a quick stop at AS 4-again seeing and greeting Ken who was here last year,  I transformed into hunt mode (I was told 3 runners had just come through). “Hunt mode” and downhill running allowed me to pass 3 runners, including  Laura Fulton, 26.  She seemed very steady and relaxed the couple times I saw her, I think she ran well and smart!

The next person I saw was 26 year old Emily Ansick. She was coming back from an “out n’back section of the course” and looked very strong. Just going into the “out” section and needing to stop for refueling, I knew she’d be about a 3rd to a half mile ahead of me. So I refueled and ran to chase!

The next time I saw Emily was miles later during a straight road portion of the course…I estimated she was .4 mile ahead and I worked to get closer-yet this girl clearly is strong and I didn’t see her again. Seeing her goaded me into continuing my pursuit, though I felt after trying to play catch up for 12+ miles I was at the edge of abilities. I passed though the last aid station, having been informed the last person to go through was Emily. I gave what I could during “blue hell” and even saw some blinky stars in my vision from the effort as I neared the top. (This scared me and I backed off the effort: finishing strong was now the goal, not passing out with 1.5 miles left to go!)

I saw a figure in front and then beside me. Byron Backer. Damn! He was running so darn super strong when we last saw each other at mile 4…and he is tenacious and tough… and I know he is strong enough for a sub 5-hour finish…yet he is not a hot weather runner. This day is was now approaching 70 degrees and Byron was worked and still working as he slogged his way up the trail. I slogged next to him and then ahead. He told me Emily was hurting and worried about me. I said I was hurting too, wished him well, and continued my quest to catch the young woman.

Catch her, I did not. She ran with courage and/or desperation and finished in 5:21:15. I came in 5:25:11, 3rd woman and 16th overall.   Sarah Woerner, 21, won with a time of 5:01:22 , a new course record! Congrats to you, fast girl!

The men’s race was: Owen Bradley, 31: 4:35:09, Jason Hamilton, 37: 4:42:48, DeWayne Satterfield, 46: 4:54:57 (What’s this with the 3rd place overall being 1st masters on both Male and Female sides?)

Full results here.

I was pleased with my ability to rally after some unexpected tough miles early on, yet not pleased with the mistakes I clearly made to contribute to this extended low point. After finishing there was no time for self-pity, or even healthy reflection: I had a Montrail tent and shoe table to set up and hang out at!

Fifteen minutes later, I was positioned under the tent with shoe samples, give-away goodies and many interested runners! The rest of the afternoon passed fielding shoe questions, registering comments and wishes about shoes and generally listening to stories. Mt Cheaha 50k was another challenging, quality event put on  by Todd and his crowd of volunteers and supporters.

Weather: Mid 40’s to mid 70’s, sunny!
Shoes: Montrail Sabino Trail
Clothing: Dry Max mid weight trail socks, Mtn Hardwear Pacer Advance Shorts, MH arm warmers, MH wicking shirt, Patagonia glove liners, Patagonia Sports Bra
Fuel, carried:  Clif Shot gels, Clif shot blocks, Succeed caps!
Fuel, aid stations: peanut butter pretzels, sandwich quarter, gel, electrolyte drink
Photo taken evening of 2/25 from the Cheaha Lodge


jenn said...

great RR annette! good job. I was totally taking notes about the calorie intake. Way to bounce back!! I have alot of trouble MAKING myself eat when I'm bonking.. I resolve to improve that part of my racing at terrapin mtn.

I love that you spoke of your sister. Long runs, Long drives in the car or when I'm in a quite house all alone, my thoughts always drift towards my brother, Todd. :o) I know Cheryl is SO proud of you and all you've accomplished/are accomplishing! just like I know Todd would be so proud of me for ultrarunning. I know he'd absolutely LOVE his little sis getting all muddy, tripping over rocks and roots, running through the mountains having the time of her life.
I'm positive it's the same for you and your sister! By thinking of them, and doing the things they enjoyed, their memory lives on.. :o)
see you soon!! happy recovery!!

Rick Gray said...

Memories sure are wonderful. Amazing what a loved one can do to our spirits.

Congratulations on a great run. You certainly are continuing to bring yourself slowly back into ultra shape and into trail shape.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed listening to you speak Friday night. Great job on the race!

Lanier Greenhaw

Thomas Bussiere said...

Congrats and welcome back. Low point so early in the race, and you fought back knowing you would get stronger. This is experience. Love the hunt mode. I need to have this race on my list for next year if not doing Rocky Raccoon.

Sophie Speidel said...

Welcome back to trail ultras, Annette! Thanks for sharing your report and being so candid about your race and life! Hope to see you soon.


j.edge said...

my first ultra is in 24 days, and i appreciate you sharing your experiences. and i'm glad your recovery is golden.

good spirits to you.

(Mary) Shannon Johnstone said...

I always love reading your race reports. I love that you can be competitive and humble at the same time. I admire you in many ways...

Carilyn said...

Hi Annette! What a great report. I really loved the inclusion of your talking points, especially the suggestion to dedicate loops or races to those we love and who support us. Wonderful idea. I'm so happy to see your progress after your injury. You are one of the strongest women I know and I love watching you be her.

Your thoughts about your sister touched me deeply. As a mother of twins, I cannot fathom the loss of someone so close.

Hope to see you and Papa Georgio soon :) Hugs to you both!