Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Stone Cat 50

Last Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of my ultrarunning career (if , as I do, you only count races of 50 miles and up). What better way to celebrate than run the race that started it all: the Stone Cat 50 in Ipswich, MA.

This year's course was a different. It was still four 12.5 mile laps, but single track sections were added (hooray!), and I could be mistaken, but it seemed like the course looped backwards from last year's direction. Admittedly, I have no head for remembering terrain, but I recognized almost nothing from last year's course, save the in and out section at the beginning and end of each loop. (But then again, each loop seemed like a brand new course to me, so take whatever I say with a huge grain of salt.)

I liked the new course. The single track was twisty and fun. Kept my mind off running. Every time I came off the single track onto the wider carriage road my body felt heavy and clunky.

I must be getting used to running these long races, because the whole day went by in a weird time warp. Hours and hours drifted by without my quite noticing. At one point I looked down at my watch to see that I had been running for something like 5 or 6 hours, but I swear it felt like 15 minutes. It was a very enjoyable day.

I kept a conservative pace for the first three laps, because I was worried about my stomach. I ran with Penny, whom I found in the bathroom just before the pre-race meeting. We moved in and out of a big group of women for the first two laps. Oddly, most of the women had three kids at home. There was lots of parenting talk, Halloween stories, etc. I have to say, I wanted no part of that conversation. This was my parenting vacation.

The aid stations were wonderful. I recognized many of the same people working them from last year. I think many of the GAC runners work this race to satisfy their volunteer requirements for the VT 100. It's so great when the volunteers are ultrarunners themselves, because they know exactly how you are feeling and exactly what you need. Penny used to run with these guys before she got injured, so everyone at the aid stations knew her by name. I felt like I was running with the mayor of the race.

Just before heading out for the fourth and final lap, I changed my shoes and socks, which had been thoroughly soaked during my three traverses of the beaver dam section of the course. This gave me new life, and I fairly flew through the last lap (or at least it felt like I was flying -- I think I kept up a 12-minute mile, hee hee). I felt bad leaving Penny behind, but she had run a road marathon the weekend before and a 50K the weekend before that. I think her legs were done.

Miraculously, my stomach held up all day. As per the advice of Vespa Peter, I have continued to cut back on carbs in my daily diet and to eat minimally at all the aid stations during races. And Penny, who is a trainer and dietitian, gave me great advice as well: no fiber and minimal dairy for the last 2 days before the race.

I ate a little pasta with ground beef and mushrooms the night before the race and a sunflower bagel with jam a couple of hours before (while driving in the car listening to my book on tape). At the aid stations I had only a single piece of potato with salt or a couple of Saltine crackers. This was just enough (with the occasional addition of a Clif Block left to dissolve between my cheek and gum like those guys back in high school with the milk carton spittoons at the back of the class) to get me from aid station to aid station. The aid stations were roughly 4 miles apart.

After picking up the pace in the fourth lap, I kept waiting for the old queasiness to kick in. But it never did. At the last aid station I had a little chicken broth. It tasted like the best, most expensive meal you can imagine. After an entire day of nothing but potatoes and Saltines, the broth was like manna from heaven.

I once again passed on the Scotch at Fred's Cafe, though I must admit it was tempting.

By the end of the second lap I noticed that someone had tapped a keg in the woods and there were a few people milling around it. Mind you, this was maybe 11 in the morning. By the end of the third lap the crowd around the keg had grown and the unmistakable smell of sour beer, reminiscent of fraternity parties and office Christmas galas of old, wafted across the field. These people were clearly having too much fun.

I finished the race half an hour faster than last year, though I'm not sure how significant that is given the course changes. But I felt way, WAY better. Last year my father had to practically carry me to the car. This year I spent half an hour trotting up and down the road trying to figure out where I had parked the darn thing.

All in all, it has been a great year of running. Happy anniversary to me, and here's to another healthy, enjoyable year!

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