February 20, 2015

2015 Bandit 50K - Race Recap!

Well, I am not sure how or where to start but I can say without a doubt after running both the 30K and the 50K distances, this is my favorite race event. Randy and Sarita Shoemaker are excellent race directors. They know JUST what trail runners need to have a successful race, and provide knowledgeable and experienced volunteers and aid stations at least every 5 miles. In no other event do I feel more taken care of or cared about by the volunteers.

The morning of the race, I woke up with an odd sense of calm and focus. Strangely (for me, at least), I had gotten a decent night’s sleep. That hardly ever happens to me before a big race. I really was feeling prepared for the course. Months of training with my running partner, lots of time on the mountain we’d be climbing, an effective taper leaving me with fresh-feeling legs… I just had a good feeling that I’d done everything possible to have a good race experience. This was going to be my 2nd 50K!

My friend and I arrived at Corriganville Park about 45 minutes before our 7:00am start time. We’d picked up our bibs the day before so there was no rush to get to packet pick up. We hung out near the start, took some pictures and stared at the 50K course map, taking note of aid station locations and in particular, how much further we’d have to go to get to the Finish once we left the final aid station. Don’t get me wrong, we’d both obsessed over the route many times before. We were just taking final inventory at this stage!

Soon it was time to line up at the Start.  I was anxious but focused. We had a strategy and now it was time to execute it. I don’t remember if there was a countdown or a gun or a beep, but it was time to hit it! We make the first loop through the park and then quickly start the steep climb to the Rocky Peak trail out of Corriganville. My friend and I were both pleasantly surprised at how much easier it was feeling on our legs compared to our practice run up this same trail just a few weeks ago. Another sign the taper did its job! Before we know it, we have already put nearly 6 miles behind us and we hit the aid station at the top of the Chumash trail. The sun is already feeling hot and it’s not even 9am.

We happily trot down Chumash, pausing for a few short walk breaks but running continuously downhill for the most part. It wasn’t long before we hit the Marrland aid station (just before mile 10). Coming into this station was like coming up on a mini-party. Volunteers were proactively asking what we needed and what could they do for us. The assortment of fuel and hydration options seemed endless: boiled potatoes, Red Vines, chips and other salty snacks, Coke, ice, water, electrolytes, Ginger Ale….the list goes on! This would also be our mile 20 aid station after a challenging 10 mile out-n-back (5 miles from here to Tapo Canyon Rd where there would be another aid station). This was the only part of the course that was unknown to us. We’d run about 1.5 miles of this stretch a few weeks ago, but we had never followed the trail all the way out to Tapo Canyon.

Hot Dog hill was tough – no shade and very steep. The decent on the other side was single-track and there were a lot of roots sticking up from the trail. Both my friend and I fell once on this section. We got down onto the flatter fire road, heading West towards Tapo Canyon, where there is very little to no shade again. I can hear my friend’s breathing pick up and I’m sensing she’s struggling a bit –
which is very unusual. At one point, she urges me to run ahead but I’m not ready to do that yet. We just need to get to the next aid station. We are slowing down, walking more than usual, but we make it the mile 15 aid station.

Within 30 seconds of us standing there, my friend shares with me that she’s not sure she’s got it in her to finish. As soon as I ask her some questions about how she’s feeling physically in an attempt to help figure out what I can do to help her, we have 2 aid station volunteers on her almost immediately. They were amazing. They get her some wet towels that were soaking in ice water, pull a chair up in the shade and get her to sit down. I told them about her unusually labored breathing and when it started. They're telling her to not think about anything but making it to the next aid station at this point; to not let the miles remaining overwhelm her. They gave her a shot of pickle juice and pretzels, and we filled her pack with ice. We spent about 5 minutes there. Just getting her cooled off and relaxed somewhat was all she needed to want to continue back to Marrland. She was not having any physical difficulties (other than red skin) - no dizziness, no disorientation. She’s ready to go.

Once we left the aid station though, the conversation turned back to the possibility of separating. I was hesitant, but I understood where she was coming from. She wanted to walk for a while and I wanted to run. So it was here that we parted. And for the first time that day, it was just me and the trail in front of me. I got into a great groove, even passed 4 or 5 runners. After a couple miles, the course was looking really unfamiliar. Too much sand and some other landmarks that I thought surely I would have seen on the way in. I realize I'm way too close to a road (Cottonwood!) and that this just isn't right. But I see another runner ahead of me and it occurs to me that maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention on the way here and that I just wasn’t remembering this section.

All of the sudden, my right foot catches on a huge root sticking up and I hit the ground really hard. So hard my bib rips off one of the safety pins. I picked myself up, checked for blood and as I'm fixing my bib, this other runner comes back around the corner and says "is this the right way?" and I say "no, this isn't right. I'm going back".  I turned around, took two steps, and my left foot catches on the same damned root and I'm on the ground again. A flurry of expletives come to mind but getting mad and frustrated isn’t going to help me find the course.

As I'm running back to find where I missed the course route, a few thoughts start creeping in about whether or not I'm going to be able to do this. What if I can't find the course marker, what if I'm so far off course that I'm in last place and I can't make the cutoff, I should take this as a sign that I should quit... blah blah blah. It was short-lived. As soon as I got close to the turn that I missed, all of that disappeared because I could see other runners up on the mountain in front of me and I knew I could catch up. I could even see my running partner up there (she was wearing a bright pink top) and I made it my goal to catch up to her.  I was feeling like me getting off course and having those 2 hard falls happened because I left her. If I'd stayed with her, I'd be where she was now.  Karma really bites sometimes!  On the other hand, I was sort of glad that I was going to be able to check in on her and make sure she was going to make it back to Marrland safely.

Once I got back on the course, I was feeling good again. I powered up the trail well. Passed the same runners I'd passed before getting off course. They were probably wondered what the hell I'd been doing all that time.  One girl looked really tired. I later learned from my running partner that this other young woman had missed the mile 15 aid station all together. It sounded like she made a loop at a point where she should have continued going West - and it meant she likely missed at least 2 miles of the course - but missing that aid station meant she had run out of water. Luckily, my friend had just filled her pack and practically forced her to take some of it.

I caught up to my friend around mile 18.5 (20 for me at this point), told her what happened and then she scolded me for thinking I'd gotten off course because I left her. ;-) I kept running and made it Marrland where I saw my friend’s hubby and her daughters. I gave him a quick run-down on what had happened and then let the volunteers take care of me for a few minutes. My friend came in a few minutes later and after touching base with her family, she came up to me and with heavy sadness, said that she was done for the day. We shared a big teary-eyed hug and I told her how proud I was of her for sticking it for those 20 miles. It was hard to leave but I knew she was making the right decision. We’ve all been there. It was just not her day.

I was eating potatoes with salt at every aid station. I hardly ever think about having salt, but on this day, it was on the top of my list (along with ice).  I started dunking my buff in ice water at every station starting at mile 20. I was also filling my pack with ice and a little water.  It was so hot that the ice was melting fast and the cold water felt sooooooo good.  The stretch between Marrland and the Chumash aid stations (mile 26) is the hardest part of this course. I was really surprised at how good I was feeling when I left the Marrland station. Maybe it was because I knew my friend was safe and with her family... whatever the reason, I kept pushing forward. The air was feeling so hot. I sent a quick text to my hubby as I was leaving Marrland to let him know that I had missed a turn and tacked on an extra 1.5 miles so my ETA was about 3 hours from whatever time it was. He replied with the some encouraging words that I heard many times in my head on my way back up the mountain.

Taken from: http://banditultratrailrun.com/
I ran where ever I could, being cautious of letting my HR get too high. I was able to run until about mile 23 (mile 24.5 for me) where the course gets really steep. There was water, ice and salt tablets at the top of Shells, one of the steepest climbs of the course (about 1 mile before the Chumash aid
station). There were a couple of other 50Kers taking a break here. I stopped for about a minute to dunk my buff in ice water and throw back a couple salt tabs. From here, I was able to run most of the mile to Chumash. From Chumash, it's about 5 miles to the Finish. The aid station volunteers were pumping us all up for the home stretch. Someone had asked me if I'd fallen because I was so dirty and my arm was banged up. They offered me a beer when they heard my story about getting off course and falling on my ass twice. :-D  The next aid station was only 3 miles from here.

I passed a few more runners in this next stretch and was passed by one. I would not let myself think about being 1.5 miles ahead of the mileage. I know that the same 50K training plan I use is also recommended for 50 milers so an extra 1.5 miles was really just a drop in the bucket. A slight breeze had picked up and that felt good in a few spots. The descent back down in Corriganville was nothing short of brutal on the quads. There were several of us who were struggling. I expected it to hurt after the tough 28 miles behind me, but damn! I helped a woman get down one really steep part....then I sort of fell/slid a few feet not too long after that. I really had to concentrate on my footing. It took longer to get down that part than I thought it would but maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. I saw some volunteers helping another runner get down a really steep portion near the end of this section and they let him finish on his own once they got down on flat land in Corriganville park. Another awesome display of helpfulness by the volunteers!

Once I was in the park and off that crazy descent, I was ready to be done!  There were a few people in the park cheering as I ran by, reminding me that I was almost done. ;-)  The Finish is a little deceiving but we had learned our lesson last year that you don't just run straight into the Finish when you get back to Race Central. The course loops around the main area. As I'm entering the loop, I hear my friend yelling my name and I can’t believe she came back to see me finish. I start getting choked up but I don't want to cry. Her youngest daughter has climbed up onto the course about 150 meters from the finish line and she's yelling for me.  I am just so emotional at this point that I'm almost numb.

About 50 feet from the Finish, I can hear my hubby calling my name and I catch a glimpse of him.

From hubby's phone
Ahead of me, I can see the race director, Randy, holding out my medal, just behind the Finish banner.

His wife, Sarita, is on the PA system, calling out my name and says something about how I brought my own cheering section (my friend and her daughter had made their way down to the Finish line as I was coming around the corner). Randy says to me "that was a long day of a lot of hard work - you did it!". I started crying immediately.

Local photographer and new Ultra runner Jesse Luna captured these 3 pics of my finish!

The Medal!
I drank and fueled more often that I wanted to or thought I should - and I think that really paid off. I never felt under-fueled or thirsty. No cramping. Not a lot of negative thoughts. Knowing the last 11 miles of the course so well from being out there often helped me a lot. That backside is hot, barren and freaking steep. I just kept telling myself that this was the hardest section. Embrace it. Get through it. Just make it back to Chumash and you're golden.

This was one of the hardest and most gratifying experiences in my running career. I’d do it again in a heartbeat! (As soon as my quads recover, of course).

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