Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Vulture Bait 25k Trail Race - Saturday, October 13th, 2012

There may just be something to this "base" business.

Right up until I actually started running, I totally half-assed this race. I did taper and stuffed my maw with a bunch of rice in the days leading up, but I didn't get much sleep (not that this is unusual) or have my usual pre-race dinner. Performance be damned: all I really wanted was not to trip, fall, and re-break my stinkin' wrist. Having broken my right big toe on the same course two years ago by tripping over a couple of rocks (nearly landing on my head), this was a very real concern.

Pulling into Fanshawe, driving across the dam I'd later cross on foot.

Up around 6am after a six-hour snooze, I chugged a couple of bottles of Boost, put in the war braids and got on the road. Café Mochas for Tanker and I while we rolled out to Fanshawe Conservation Area, watching the sun rise, bringing with it the gorgeous colours of fall.

It was colder than a penguin's arse when we arrived, with the frost still laying thickly on the grass. Got race kit, used portajohn, then faced having to ditch my comfy sweatpants and put on my shoes. Worse still, as it got closer to race time, I tried on my Asics arm warmers but discovered that they put uncomfortable pressure on my broken wrist. No good; looks like I'd be running with bare arms and gloves, which is not a look I think will catch on. I also decided against my earband, since it was supposed to get up to 4c by start time and I don't really need it over 5c.

I did see a few other runners I know and said hello, including getting my straw from Mr. Ron Gehl along the way. With my periscope up and a few minutes left before race time, I ditched my watch and unnecessary gear with Tanker, then headed down to the starting line with my gel flask and hand bottle (with its emergency Chocolate Raspberry Roctane single-serve in the pocket). I'd done some high knees and butt kicks after my last portajohn break - maybe 15mins before the gun - but the plan was to use the first couple of kilometers as a warmup.

"..and it's hardly deformed at all.."

Down by the water, I kissed Tanker and tried to stay loose. I also realised that I'd forgotten to put any BodyGlide on the inside of my (chubby) thighs, and that friction might well become an issue. With nothing handy to remedy the situation, I just had to hope it would be ok. I also ran into Anne - the kind lady who'd stopped at Mine Over Matter to offer assistance when I broke my wrist. We chatted for a couple of minutes, then suddenly heard the 5 second countdown and we were off! I broke into a trot, waved and blew a kiss to Tanker up on the hill, then focused on the trail ahead.

The first part of Vulture Bait is kind of like a Gallowalking festival - as all 300 runners try to squeeze onto narrow single track trail, you're down to a slow march at best unless you're at the very front. Since I have no illusions about my rate of travel (I don't think the term "speed" applies here), I stay further back and essentially end up having some short walking breaks inserted in the warmup portion of the race. I'm sure my legs don't mind!

Would you associate yourself with that by waving back?
Didn't think so.

As things opened up a bit I was able to fall into a nice stride in a bit of a paceline with other runners through the woods. Loping along pretty easily, I started thinking through my nutrition strategy and realised there was a huge hole in my plan: I generally take a slug of EFS Liquid Shot from my flask every 25-30mins, but I'd left my stinkin' watch with Tanker! I'd have no idea about timing unless I asked someone (which I hate doing, since I don't like to bother people on course), and I couldn't even use distance as much of a gauge because the kilometers aren't marked. I'd have to guess, all because I'm an idiot who just wanted to run by feel.

To make myself feel better, after I judged about 2k had gone by, I started sipping water and setting goals. I wanted to run the whole thing except where it wasn't possible due to congestion (and a couple of seriously sketchy downhills that would have been suicide to run) - I'd had to walk some toward the end in 2010, but I had a freshly broken toe at the time. I also hoped to get through my 25k before the 50k leader lapped me, and of course it would be nice to go sub-3 hours again and maybe even PR. Everything was secondary to staying upright, though, so I was being very careful to keep lifting my feet and staying vigilant for errant roots and rocks.

Around 3k (or so I judged), I took a small sip of gel. I hit the first aid station at 4.8km not long thereafter, confirming that my sense of timing wasn't too far off. Just after the aid station (at which I didn't stop, as I still had plenty of water in my hand bottle) I saw a marker at 5k - I wouldn't see another the entire day. I was running quite relaxed, not interested in pushing the pace at all, and letting faster people go past where possible. I took another sip of gel just after the 5k sign to ensure I'd got a full ounce and pushed onward.

Course map - even the aid stations are at odd intervals.

The biggest hill at Vulture Bait pops up just past the fifth kilometer as you climb out of the woods up to the dam, which provides one of the most stunning views of the reservoir around which you run. While I'm not going to tell you it was easy, I was surprised to find it much less challenging than I remembered. This would be a recurring theme throughout the race; I'd get to a section I had thought was a killer, and just float through it. While the trails are a little more technical here, I'd say overall that Run for the Toad is a tougher course from an elevation change standpoint. Finish times seem to be faster at the Toad, so maybe I'm dreaming, but I was really shocked by how little I noticed the hills at Vulture Bait this year. Of course, my calves felt a little differently; they tried cramping on me in the first couple of climbs, but my Compressport R2 calf sleeves held things in check.

Around 9k (at least I think so) I took another swig of EFS Liquid Shot, still running very relaxed and feeling quite good. I hooked in behind a gentleman in a Salomon S-Lab hydration pack and red shoes and pacelined through the forest, turning into a total lemming: had the fellow in front of me run off the edge of a cliff, I would cheerfully have plummeted right after him, not realising I was doing so until after it was too late. Having feet right in front of me made it a bit tougher to see roots and rocks in front of me, too, and I ended up stepping on a few things that had my ankles rolling a bit. On a couple of occasions I thought I might have done damage, but was able to keep running without any issues. I tried to focus on my footing, but I must admit that I kept getting distracted by the incredible scenery - with very few exceptions, you can look to your left almost anywhere on the course and see the reservoir surrounded by trees crowned in greens, golds and russet with the occasional scarlet flare of a
maple or sumac.

Hitting the second aid station around 11k, I paused briefly to dump 2 cups of water into my near-empty bottle. I was still feeling pretty good despite the beating my ankles were taking, and I reminded myself to be careful of roots and rocks. I was seeing more sections through which I'd been hurting badly in 2010, but I was having a much easier time of it. I didn't know how long that would last with the lack of long runs, but all I could do was keep cruising and remind myself I was nearly halfway done (I thought the 2nd aid station was much closer to 12k). I had hooked onto a pack of 3 girls who were running together, and was trying not to lose them. I'd pass them when they stopped at an aid station (which I only made the briefest of pauses), then they would pass me back on the trail, but seldom get out of sight up ahead. I resolved to try to hang onto them as best I could.

Shamelessly yoinked from Dave Rutherford's Strava data.
Around 14k (ish?) I took another gel, figuring I was probably about 90mins into the run by now. The second half of the loop is the more challenging half, with more technical trails and endless twists and turns, so I was having to pay close attention to where I was putting my feet. Around 16k in, I came to a really sketchy descent on which I nearly slipped when the whole stony surface started to slide underfoot, but I managed to control it and keep on going. I recognized that I was now in the area of the spot where I'd broken my toe, so made doubly sure to watch for roots and rocks hidden among the fallen leaves. A lady in front of me lost her footing twice and stopped dead while she caught herself on a tree - I managed to get past her the second time, making sure she was ok. I didn't want to trip over her!

Through the aid station at around 17k, I grabbed two more cups of water to fill my bottle, pausing for as short a time as possible: I unscrew the lid and hold it and the bottle in my right hand as I approach the aid station, grab cups and dump them in with my left hand, then drop the cups and start screwing the lid back on. If I have a clear shot at the table or a really heads-up volunteer I can practically do it without breaking stride, but it's worth pausing a moment to ensure I've got lots to drink. The day had warmed up - I was rather happy not to have the armwarmers or earband - and I was sweating out a lot of fluid. Unfortunately, that was leading to a lot of friction in areas I'd forgotten to BodyGlide prior to the race. Ouch.

I was having to work a little harder now to try to keep on pace; I was breathing a little heavier and my legs were starting to fatigue, but I hadn't really burned many matches so felt I could keep pushing. Even the road sections weren't hurting as much as they had two years prior - my feet had toughened up a little since then. I had to slow to pick my way across the stepping stones at the stream crossing, but since one of them shifted under me I ended up with a soaked right foot anyway. The climb on the other side was a bit muddy and slippery, so I grabbed onto a tree to steady myself as I marched upward, but other than that I ran every uphill section on the course. I'm pretty sure that's the last time I had to drop out of a run, despite my soggy foot and my rapidly deteriorating leg strength.

Gasping, but nearly done.

I took one last shot of gel somewhere around 19k and grabbed a final cup of water at the aid station around 21.5k - I hadn't really planned to take anything there, but I was down to a single sip of water in my bottle about 10mins before I reached the aid station. I thought there was only about 2-2.5km left after the final aid station, but when I asked they said 3.5km, so I'm glad I grabbed water there as another 20+mins without anything to wet my mouth would have been upsetting. As it turns out, I only ended up having about 3oz of gel in total (approx. 270cal) - in the absence of nutrition hydration is pretty critical!

Having noticed that the emergency rescue signs along the trail seemed to be spaced out every half-kilometer, I was able to more or less accurately count down the final 3.5km to the finish. I was seriously starting to hurt by this point and wanted to be done; I'd totally outrun the last of my long haul run fitness and was relying on stubbornness and gritting my teeth. I had lost the group of girls I'd been trying to use to haul me in, but with around 2k to go I did see a friendly face - I pulled alongside of and then past Ron Gehl (running the 50k), offering a friendly word and getting one in return. It's the first time I've ever been able to pass him! I was passing a few other people along the way, too; some taking walk breaks in the 50k, some just defeated by the short, sharp hills that populate the last few kilometers of the course.

Eventually, the woods gave way to a hardpacked gravel slope climbing up to the lawn outside the park pavilion and the finishing chute. My poor, tenderized feet didn't like the harsh surface in the least and my legs complained loudly over having to ascend once more, but I made it up to the grass and threw whatever I had left at the finish line. I finally spotted Tanker who looked shocked to see me, then realised why as I hove in view of the clock. A few more painful steps, a beeping mat, letting momentum uncoil and a friendly volunteer take my timing chip and hand me a bottle of water. As a nice touch, a race organizer shook my hand and thanked me for participating before handing me my finisher's prize.

Looking much less hurting than I feel, steps away from the finish.

Official time: 2:46:11
32/63 W1-49, 39/87 Women, 102/177 O/A (209 started)
PR of 12:09 over 2010 finish.

I stumbled around, found Tanker, and tried to walk off the tightness that had gripped my hamstrings and calves while reveling in having met all of my race goals - even the shoot-the-moon goal of a PR. Inside for a change of clothes (since I was completely soaked), I quickly whipped on my Compressport full socks and ForQuad sleeves to help me recover, then helped myself to the amazing hot post-race meal as the rain started to fall. After getting warmed up both inside and out, it was back home for the rest of my recovery: grabbing a beer and some chips, then putting my feet up and watching the live broadcast of the Ironman World Championships in Kona.

It's a rough life, eh?
There was even a gluten free chocolate cupcake waiting just for me at Tiny Cakes. Can a race day get any better?


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