Sunday, October 16, 2011

TARC Fall Classic

You gotta love TARC, a.k.a. the Trail Animals Run Club, a group of trail runners (I'm not sure if they are exclusively ultra runners) up around Boston. They are finally bringing more races to our area. And these are just my kind of races: low key, low entry fee, no schwag, and everybody contributes to the aid station tables. They are more like Fat Ass races than big, produced ultras, commonly run in loops with a single aid station at the start/finish.

This is the first year of their series, and they put on several great races spanning May to December. I ran the Summer Classic 12-Hour back in August and loved it. Last weekend was the Fall Classic.

This was a 50K comprised of 5, 10K loops. There were also 10K, half marathon, and marathon options. All in all, I'd say there were probably 100 or 150 people at the start. It was chilly in the morning but promised to get up to 80 later in the afternoon, unseasonable for mid-October in Massachusetts. After much hemming and hawing, I started out in shorts and a short-sleeve top with a sweatshirt over it all, which I promptly regretted and ditched after the first loop.

I ran the first three loops with Dan, whom I had met briefly at the Summer Classic. I have been a fan of Dan's blog for years, so it was nice to finally run together in person. The first loop, the getting-to-know-you loop, was fun. I love discovering new trails. This was definitely a suburban trail. We ran through a schoolyard, up a power line trail, past people's backyards, and then out to the highway. The trail literally ran mere feet from, and slightly below, the screaming traffic on I95, the major east coast interstate connecting Maine to Florida. I could have reached up and touched the far edge of the breakdown lane. Dan and I pretended the traffic noise was a flooding mountain stream. One continuous roaring waterfall.

Stay on the road up there, babies. Stay on the road.

After following the highway for about a mile, the trail cut in and up. This course was surprisingly hilly and slow. Lots of ups and downs, lost of twisty turns. We then encountered a labyrinth. This part of the trail must have been a moto-cross course for bikes. We ran back and forth around switchback turns, up and down dirt half-pipes, with other runners vrooming at us then veering one way or another at the last second. It was like a video game. We probably covered almost a mile within just 100 square yards. It was dizzying and weird.

The trail then went through an old dump site complete with a bulldozed berm which we skirted across. We pretended the berm was a high mountain ridge. We were cracking ourselves up. Such funny runners!

We ran through some nice single track, through a high meadow, and then boom!, we were back on the powerline trail, back through the schoolyard, and back to the start.

The second loop went much more quickly. We picked up with another TARC runner, Rob, for a while, also a blogger, and we were passed by Emily Trespas, who was running the half marathon, testing out her injured hip. These three all knew each other pretty well, so I just ran along and mostly listened to the chatter. I just love ultra runners.

I guess I should mention that here on the second loop (the SECOND loop!) we were lapped by the first place runner, Adam, in the Old Dump section. I had met Adam a couple of years ago carrying a twenty pound rock along the Pittsfield Peaks 53M course (anyone who carried the rock for the last miles of the race would win something like $200, and evidently Adam needed the rent money). He is young and wicked fast. He went by so fast I didn't even recognize his smiling face.

We didn't let it get to us. We shook it off. We're slow. So what!

Dan and I stuck together for the third loop. By this time we were in a pretty good rhythm. I let Dan lead as much as possible, because whenever he was behind me, he kept tripping. What were you looking at back there, Dan??! I was still feeling okay, but not great. Just like at Pisgah a few weeks before, I could tell that this was not going to be my day. My stomach was upset from the get-go, and I started to get a headache on the third loop. The day was heating up. I was taking in plenty of water and eating lots of Honey Stingers as well as salted potatoes (my fave) at the aid station. But my energy was definitely on the wane.

Toward the end of the third loop we ran into Emily running the other way, getting in a few extra miles after finishing the half marathon. She turned around a ran with us, and that got us going. New blood in the group.

Dan dropped after the third loop. His IT band was acting up, and he didn't want to get into trouble with another long lay-off. I contemplated taking my iPod with me for the fourth loop, but decided I'd save it for the 5th, which turned out to be the drive home.

About half a mile into the 4th loop, I met up with a very mellow dude, feeling groovy, running in what looked like slippers. "These loops are just flying by," he told me.

"I guess," I said, slugging along the powerline hill, not feeling very well at all.

"It's so freaky. I'm just feeling my breath and moving along. Man, these loops are just flying by." And with that I started walking and he was gone.

Fifteen or twenty minutes later, running along in almost-misery, I started catching a whiff of something in the air. Something that I would not necessarily associate with trail running. Something I would associate more with college dorm rooms and Grateful Dead shows. No! No way!

Yup, sure enough, I came around the corner and was met full in the face by a cloud of pot smoke. Pwwwwwwaaaa. My groovy friend and another guy, an old guy, were passing a meaty spliff back and forth on the trail, sending all the second hand smoke my way. There was no one else in sight.

"Dude, that right there is a freaking huge, ig.....ig.....ig.....ig....igneous rock! Bwaaaa haaa haaa haaaa!" They were killing each other.

What to do? What to do? I'm no prude, but I was not feeling up to running with these two stoned guys. Unfortunately they were running exactly my pace. So I picked it up for a while and dropped them. And then I started to feel really bad. My head was pounding. My stomach ached terribly. I just felt weak.

I have been tired in ultras before. But the quality of that tired feeling, so similar to how I had felt at Pisgah, was something new. I just wanted to stop and lie down by the side of the trail. The world was swimming around me. (And no, it wasn't a contact high....) This was not right.

I finished the lap with lots of walking toward the end, and dropped out. I didn't want to do the death march for the last lap. After sitting in a chair for 20 minutes sipping ice water I summoned the energy to walk a mile to at least finish the marathon.

Back at the finish line the only thing that looked remotely appealing at the aid station table were the corn chips. I sat down with Emily, who was still there cheering people in, and through mouthfuls of corn chips I told her about the guys getting high on the trail.

"Oh, yeah," she said. "That's So-and-S0. He always gets high in these races."


Emily stopped and looked at me, took in the scene. "Looks like you have the munchies."

Hee hee. I freaking love ultra runners.

I called the doctor Tuesday and he advised me to get another Lyme test. I had been exhausted in the weeks leading up to the race, and to fall apart twice in a row after just 20 miles is not typical for me.

The test came back positive. I'm back on the Doxy for another 30 days. I'm hoping to be back in good form for Stone Cat 50 in November. Wish me luck!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Pisgah 50K

I love this race. The Pisgah Mountain Trail 50K was my first ultra back in 2007 and I've run it twice since. It's a quiet little race up in Chesterfield, NH, just across the Connecticut River from Brattleboro, VT. The course is soft and pine-needly through a primordial enchanted forest, mostly runnable, and the hills (at least as I remembered them) are friendly -- just long and steep enough to keep you heartbeat jumping along.


Wrong wrong wrong.

My darling husband Brian decided to race the Pisgah 23K this year, so I had good company for the drive. We left the kids with Grandma and drove up early. It was nice to spend a couple of hours chatting with Brian in the car. It's rare.

He and I were standing in the little crowd at the starting line toward the end of the inaudible Pre-race Meeting ("Bees?! Did he say something about BEES??!"), when Brian decided he wanted to run with his headphones. He was sprinting back across the parking lot from the car as the starting gun went off. I of course was left standing there like a dope in the dust holding his water bottle and his Yummy Chews as all the runners took off up the first big hill.

Brian loves video. He took this little video of us hoofing it up the hill, threading our way through the back of the back. He's all excited to be racing. I'm a little concerned about our DFL situation. We probably shouldn't be running so fast up this hill.

At the top of the hill, about a mile and a half into the race, our paths diverged: 23K went right, 50K went left. Kiss kiss and goodbye.

My plan was to settle into this race slowly, run my own pace and enjoy the solitude. But that near sprint up the first hill kind of set the tone for the first half of the race. (You see where this is going.) I quickly found myself in a little pack of four, two guys and two girls, all very chatty and kind. So I pushed the pace to stay with this group, hoping they would carry me through at least until the Kilbourne Loop at mile 19.

The four of us talked about races, about training, and ultimately about parenting (it always comes back to that). The other woman, Sarah, is mother to a 2 1/2 year old boy and an 8 month old daughter. Woo boy, I told her, it does get easier. I sometimes miss my babies (what happened to those doughy, amiable little creatures?), but I am much better suited to parenting older kids. Chatting with Sarah brought it all back.

So the four of us more or less hung together through the first two aid stations. I could tell it wasn't going to be my day. I didn't feel terrible, just kind of weak. My legs didn't have the pep they usually do and I couldn't seem to catch my breath on the uphills. I have been struggling to keeping my iron up lately, and on this particular day it felt low. Also, I had spent the week before the race moving and stacking three cords of wood. I think that heroic effort may have taken the oomph out of my hamstrings and quads.

Somewhere in this section Sarah was running a little ahead of the rest of us. All of a sudden we saw her jump up in the air and take off like a shot. "BEES!!" That was the last I heard or saw of Sarah for the rest of the day. The bees must have fueled her to the finish, because I see from the results she finished twenty minutes ahead of me.

After the second (third?) aid station, roughly half way through the race, the course starts to climb. This is the part I had forgotten in the two years since I last ran this race. The course climbs Mt. Pisgah. Up and Up and UP. The trail is all beautiful single track. The weather was picture perfect sunny and 60 degrees. The course was dry for the first time in recent memory (every other time I've run this race it has been raining). I should have been flying. But I wasn't. I was slugging up the side of the mountain, barely holding my head up, barely keeping my Honey Stingers down.

It was going to be a long day.

The second half of the race turned out to be a survival fest. I would feel okay for a while, think to myself, Phew! I'm out of the woods (so to speak), only to turn a bend or hit a hill and have my whole body come crashing in on me again.

It never got bad enough to stop. Just when I thought I'd have to lie down and the trail and wait for the helicopter, something would happen (a soft downhill, a sugar rush, even a little sunbeam shining through the trees), and I'd pull it together enough to keep going.

The Killbourne Loop came and went in a haze. The first two miles were on a fire road heading ever so gradually downhill. So gradually, in fact, that I was shocked and dismayed by the continuous uphill around the other side. Three miles of singletrack: up, plateau, up, plateau, repeat in infinitum.

The last six miles went a bit better. I trotted, I slogged, I walked, trotted again, heaved and ho'd and la dee dah'd my way back to the finish line. With a couple of miles to go I (literally) ran into my friend Will bent over by the side of the trail massaging his calf. He was cramping. I was tired. I was happy to bend over with him for a few moments of blissful stasis.

Will and I leapfrogged each other through the last trail section, then once we got to the road home, Will took off. I could see him way ahead of me, but gave up any notion of catching him.

Brian and Will were waiting at the finish line. It's always nice to have people waiting at the finish line. (Though, to my shame, I ran right past Brian. I didn't recognize him in his weird black sweatpants/black tee-shirt/black hat get-up. I thought he was a random ninja.)

Brian snapped my photo, we collected a lovely bag of apples, and drove home.

For most of the way home we talked about money. Brian is a high school physics teacher/unpaid robotics coach. I am a sometimes-employed (though not at the moment) freelance writer/unpaid assistant swim coach/unpaid home schooling parent.

How are we going to pay for college?

They'll all get full scholarships, Brian confidently informs me.

For what?

For wonderfulness.

Oh, right. Of course....