Friday, October 31, 2014

Horror Hill 6-hour Ultra - Saturday, October 25th, 2014

I decided to give it a go, injury be damned. Really - how bad could it be?

Step one - get out of bed and apply kinesiology tape. I went with a different achilles/calf strain application that I hoped would protect the injured soleus and also support the gastrocs, which would have to take over and do a lot more work than usual. It seemed logical.

Do you know how hard it is to photograph the back of your own leg?

Bagel, coffee, arrive at race site. It's a gorgeous sunrise and looks like it'll be a perfect day - none of the horrible rain or snow of the last 2 years. Skirt up, say hello to the wonderful people with whom I'll be sharing the trail, get my straw from Ron Gehl (choosing to believe nothing bad can happen if I have it), and hope like hell this works. Tanker asked if I was going to get a warm-up run in, to which I gave an emphatic no: I was trying to save whatever my poor calf might have in it for racing.

I did, however, do a little skirt-stuffed-into-my-pants boogie.

Ok, ready as I'm going to get.

One last portajohn stop with less than 5mins to the start, then head for the back of the bunch and off we go.

Crossing the timing mat to start the day.

I ran down the long hill past the pavilion/aid station, around the pond and start back up the hill to the turn into the woods. This is as far as I thought I'd make it, but the damaged soleus actually seems ok. No pain, no need to alter my stride - I make the turn to the technical drop into the forest with a little grin on my face as my calf apparently came to play.

You got it!

By some odd coincidence, one of the first people I really notice that I'm running behind is a fellow whose shirt back reads "Achilles - Running through disability". I take it as a good sign and press on.

Reaching the bottom of the two really, really steep climbs (the ones that reduce pretty much everyone except some of the 5k runners to a walk), I mentally cross my fingers and start to ascend. Fortunately it goes just fine, and I'm back to running again when I reach the top of the second bit. It's working!

The first big stinkin' hill - it's even steeper than it looks here.
(Photo found on twitter - would credit the source if I could find them!)


As you can see above, fallen leaves thickly coated the trail, so it was tough to be sure of footing as I ran along. I was also stuck at the back of a big conga line of runners - things are always pretty bunched up for the first loop, as there aren't many places to pass and all of the 5k, 10k, and 25k runners (no 3-hour option this year) are still on course. I actually kind of welcomed it, since it ensured I didn't go too hard out of the gate.

Around the big woods section, down the sketchy descent, then out of the forest and onto the gravel road up toward the building. Calf was actually feeling damn near normal - huge win!

The 2.5km loop.

Who farted?

Through the parking lot, then back into the trees again for the smaller woods loop and onto the long descent. I ditched a lot of the conga line, crossed the timing mats and then passed Tanker at the aid station while happily reporting no issues so far. Wahoo!

The runner behind me is clearly at race weight.

I came through a second lap after about 34mins without any pain and then a third around 50mins, so decided to have a swig of EFS Liquid Shot from the flask I'd bought the night before while picking up race kit at Runner's Choice. I'd already made it longer than I had on Tuesday without anything blowing out, and figured if I was going to be in it for the long haul I'd need some calories. I had done some carbo-loading in the couple of days before the race and really hoped I could make it through at least 90mins so it wouldn't have been in vain! The day warmed up and I had to pull off my earband and roll up my sleeves to dump some heat as I rolled along.

From the official photos

Tanker took this one - thanks for making me look strong, babe!

I started to tick off minor milestones along the way: 10km took me past the 1 hour mark, then at 12.5km I had run twice as far as Tuesday's ill-fated workout, with another gulp of EFS Liquid Shot around 1h25m. I treated myself to a peanut butter Gu at 2 hours, then had to hit a portajohn at around 2h15m as I passed the building heading for the 20k mark. While the calf injury wasn't bothering me, I noticed my effort level on the uphills was probably not going to be sustainable for the full 6 hours - I was puffing pretty hard as I ran up the long climb in the woods. Then again, I figured there was about a 0.0% chance I'd be able to run the whole thing, so maybe it wouldn't be a big deal. I kept up the calories, though, with more EFS Liquid Shot around 2h35m after passing 22.5km. I had also rolled both of my ankles a few times on roots and rocks hidden under the leaves. I'm sure that wasn't helping anything.

Running with a friendly blog reader - Robin was doing her first Horror Hill

To everyone's surprise, my soleus hung in there through 27.5km (11 loops) and over 3 hours, about which I was overjoyed - at least I'd made it through more than 25k, because that would have been cheaper to enter! However, I'd only got one single run of over 20km/2hrs in since the Waterloo Marathon at the end of April (just under 23k about 3 weeks before race day), and my legs were starting to feel the accumulated fatigue without the training to back it up. I had another swig of EFS Liquid Shot to try to perk me up, but it was about this time that the calf started to get grumpy. 

Ok, we'll do it your way.

I came down the long hill to the pond, and as I ran through the little dip I felt a twinge that made me drop to a walk. A friend whom I've known through this race for years happened to be walking along just ahead of where I slowed, so I quickened my pace a bit to fall in step with him and actually ended up walking the whole rest of that lap as we chatted about backpacking and canoeing and the wonders of exploring the outdoors. I had meant to run the downhill bits, but Chris is good company and I wasn't really feeling any pressure to make distance - for all I knew coming into the race I'd be walking all day anyway, or possibly even heading home after less than 1 full lap, so I was more than happy to just enjoy some conversation while hiking through the forest.

Unfortunately, the weather had turned a bit uglier as a cold front came in. We only got some very light rain showers, but the wind whipped up and I started to get chilled. As I passed the aid station I thanked Chris for a nice chat but said I had to go run to warm myself back up again.

Still doing ok...ish.

Rounding the pond, I ended up dropping to a walk again as I hit the little dip. The calf just didn't want to cooperate, and I didn't want to do any further harm. I was looking at the very real possibility of having to walk for the final 2.5hrs of the race, and wasn't yet sure how I felt about that. I decided I'd just keep testing to see what I could do, and keep walking as long as it didn't hurt to do so.

Dorking it up as I went.

I came through 35k almost right at 4 hours, and whil I only needed 3 more laps in order to make it an actual ultra, though (42.5k being more than a standard 42.2km marathon distance), I was definitely feeling a bit worse for wear. I was still able to run the long downhill through the timing mats down to the pond, plus the gentle downhill portion in the woods, but I was walking almost everything else. I got my chocolate peanut butter Gu (with a bit of caffeine) from Tanker to try to put some zip in my step, but also threw on a light jacket as I wasn't able to run consistently enough to keep myself warm in the bone-chilling wind. 

Still dorking.

Feeling that I'd be unable to do much more than walk for the last hour and a half, I actually ditched my flask of EFS Liquid Shot asked Tanker to get out the chocolate chip cookie I'd brought as a post-race snack. I planned to eat it right around the 5 hour mark as a treat for hanging in, but in the meantime I decided to see if there were any banana chunks at the aid station. I ate about a 2.5" piece and was off to the pond once again.

Little did I know that banana was freakin' magic! Suddenly my calf quieted down and I was able to start running up some mild hills again. I think my gastrocs (which I was forcing to compensate for the damaged soleus by digging the ball of my foot into the ground when climbing) were getting too fatigued to handle the extra load, but the banana helped get them firing again. Things improved even more after I had a salted caramel Gu (best. flavour. EVER.) with elevated electrolytes just past 5 hours - against all odds I was running stuff in the last couple of loops I hadn't run for hours - pace per loop was back to where it had been around the 2hr mark!

Calf after the magic banana.

Completing another lap

I pushed hard through the last full lap plus another partial lap before the horn went, having lost count but thinking I'd at least made it through more than a marathon. The sun came back out, and I ditched my jacket again as I was running consistently enough to need to dump heat. I was super happy to make it past 42.5k so it truly was an "ultramarathon" for the day, though a bit sad at the same time because conditions were perfect and my run fitness has been awesome this summer. Had I not blown the calf I could've PR'd for sure.

Lap times with a few notes

I actually got Tanker to come up to the timing mats just to get a photo of me with the time clock so there would be some evidence that I was still running close to the 6 hour mark!

ill advised racing gang sign and all.

So we go inside and listen to the awards while I get an AMAZING massage and some post-race food (though I never did eat that chocolate chip cookie). Instead of finisher's medals this year, we were given certificates of completion with our final distance. Now, the timing company made a small error and credited everyone with a complete final lap, but I was still surprised to see mine said 47.5km.


It turns out I'd somehow missed a lap in my count, and had actually completed 18 full (45.0km) plus 1.6km of my final lap.

Official distance: 46.6km
0.1km PR (prior best 46.5km in 2011)

4/10 F<40 - 6/13 Women - 22/39 O/A
Official results here

So apparently despite walking that one full lap plus about 2/3 of most laps past the halfway mark, I still managed a 0.1km PR in a race I've now done 5 times.

That's worth a couple of thumbs up.

More awesome things from the race:

There was a volunteer dressed as a zombie marauding around the course for most of the day. He'd hide behind trees and run out at competitors, or hide himself in a pile of fallen leaves and jump out at people. Scared the crap out of a few of us!

Photo lifted from the overall winner's race report

My friend and stud ultrarunner Steven Parke guiding the indomitable Rhonda Marie Avery through the 6 hour race - meet Team Tutu!

They raised $550 for KidsAbility, too!

Why does Rhonda need a guide? Because she's legally blind, and still a more badass ultrarunner than I could ever hope to be! Also the sweetest girl you could ever ask to meet - she's a sports therapist by trade, and generously offered to help out with taping up my calf before the race (on which I'd have taken her up had I not done so before leaving the house), and told me to find her to work on it if it started bothering me while I was running. All sugar with a core of pure iron, that one!

And finally, the fellow I'd seen first thing in the Achilles shirt actually ran his final lap in the storm trooper helmet I'd seen him wearing when we first arrived at the race site.

He beat me by 2km, too!

The best part of all, though? Far from having done any further damage, at 2 days post-race my calf was feeling better than it had at any point since the injury. I took a full 3 days off running and eased back in with an easy 4k on Wednesday and 5k on Thursday, by which point the injury site felt almost completely back to normal. My right (non-injured) calf actually felt tighter than the left! I'm continuing to do knee-wall touches and heel drops - now with both legs instead of just the left - and making sure to warm up my lower legs prior to heading out the door, but I'm confident I have the damage under control and will be well healed in time for the Chocolate Run. A far cry from my expectations when things started to hurt last week!

Post-race glow.

I can only wonder what might have been if I hadn't had to contend with the injury. Fingers crossed for 50k in 2015!

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