"Only those who risk failing greatly can ever succeed greatly." –RFK
Monday, March 23, 2009
Pacific Rim One Day Run race report - 3.21.2009
I went to Pac Rim to have fun. I really enjoy the atmosphere of this race. It is quite a low-key event but one of the best venues for a run. It draws many very good ultrarunners and has been known to have more than 20% of the small field of runners exceeding 100 miles in 24 hours. Pac Rim starts on the third Saturday of March, which is the same day as Chuckanut 50k, about 4 hours away. Some come to walk, some to run 50k, some to do 100k, and some to "stay out there all night long." Many runners run at Chuckanut and then make their way to Pac Rim to put in either a few extra miles, support a friend or spouse, or even to put in enough miles to log two ultra in a day. I went 1) to have fun, 2) to run 100-miles, 3) to set a 24-hour PR if I were having a good day.
My concerns about goal #3 were numerous. My training mileage has been low. I peaked at about 45 mpw for three weeks. I had been managing nagging pains in my hamstring and ITB, and I have been feeling very much like a weekend warrior, as I was putting in all my miles on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. One week out, I had planned on putting in a faster 12 mile run and ended up with an 8 mile slog on lead-pipe legs. My back was hurting me and I felt like I was at the bottom of my game. My taper was forced over 2 weeks because of my back. I saw a physical therapist twice the week before the race to help with the muscle spasms and disc pain I was having. It helped, but the 3 hour drive to Ellensburg, WA on Thursday undid the benefit.
Despite this, I was quite relaxed about the run. I did not put any pressure on myself. I figured I would know within 20 miles if my back was going to hurt too much to carry on, and I simply decided that if it did, I would just stop and finish the day by crewing for Tim.
My strategy for the race was to walk in the three natural spots on the course where there are small inclines, one steep, two gradual. I knew the course from last year when I used the event to get in two 50k's with a rest in between as training for Umstead. I planned to make no further decisions about when to run or walk around the loop. I would walk (and perhaps run if I were feeling really good) in those three spots, and I would run (no matter how slow) the rest of the loop.
I like rain and I don't mind cold for a while, but I am a wimp in sustained rainy cold weather, especially if it's windy. Unfortunately, this is norm for Pac Rim. It is known for miserable weather, at least interspersed throughout the 24 hours. The forecast got worse every time I checked it...so I stopped checking it and just hoped for the best. You can't change the weather; it's going to be what it's going to be, so I changed my attitude. I decided to take the attitude that "every hour of no rain, cold or wind was just bonus" for the run. It worked. Of course, it was easy because the weather turned out to be excellent for this race!
I got a good night's sleep the night before and the 9 am race start helped with that. This was one of the first races I've done where I felt well-rested going into it. I really think part of the reason I was able to relax and rest was that I did not put any pressure on myself to perform. I was just going to keep running and the miles would just accumulate themselves.
The other pre-race strategy that worked was to get to the race early enough to set up our aid station. As some know, I tend to get to races last minute and jump in with only half my gear and food organized. I stress myself out. This time, Tim and I got there an hour early and had plenty of time to set up our table, chair and supplies, to help Willy out with his pre-race foot taping, and to return to the car for a few minutes to warm up before the start. Two minutes before the start, we lined up with the other runners. It was cold but there was no rain. Glorious!
(pic: my and Tim's aid. no crew.)
I ran the first 5 miles or so without walking in those designated spots, then decided I'd better stick to my plan as I know those little inclines will soon turn to hills and then mountains as the miles progressed. I was thrilled to be there. My spirits soared. It felt so good to be running with friends and new and veteran ultrarunners. I had chosen my clothes wisely and my body temperature was fine, not too cold, not too warm. My muscles, however, felt horrible. I'd say from the first hour, I had a sore back, butt, hips and legs. I felt "twisted," like I needed an adjustment. It wasn't getting progressively worse or anything; I just never felt good. My brain was in the right place though, and I ran on, walking some and keeping a fairly steady pace.
(photo by Tim Lawson)
My plan for splits was loose. I figured I did not want to run faster than 5:30 for the 50k, 9:30 for the 50 mile, and then I would take it from there. Because the weather was good - no rain except for a few mistings, little wind, and even brief moments of sort-of sun - I could focus on just running and not concern myself with staying happy. I ran mostly by myself, which is not really alone when you are on a loop course with 40 or so other people. But I remained mostly inwardly focused, which allowed me to escape into my head and be at ease. While looping, I took in my surroundings and admired their beauty. The lake we ran around was gorgeous and the locals brought all sorts of big and little dogs to walk in the park. I never got bored, and there were always other friends running to talk with to catch up on what's been going on in their lives.
(pic: Willy Holmes)
I hit 50k at 5:33 and 50 miles at around 9:30, give or take 5 minutes or so. My pace was good despite having to make many bathroom breaks due to a grumbling stomach. I ate a lot during the day, mostly all my own food that I brought: energy bars, Sustained Energy, oatmeal bars, Frappuccinos, Gatorade, carob bars. Maybe it was all the carbs that upset my stomach, I'm not sure. I do know that at one point towards evening, I severely craved "real" food. I wanted a burger or pancakes or pizza or something hot. The weak broth and even potatoes from the race aid station didn't cut it. I stopped at my own cooler and found some turkey jerky, and boy, that did the trick! Satisfying. It carried me a long way.
(pic: Tim Englund and Ben Blessing)
Tim was doing very well at this point. Strong and steady, never faltering. He looked happy and his gait was good. I figured his hip must not be hurting him, but still, I didn't ask. Figured I'd just leave well enough alone. He won the race last year with 121 miles on meager training and a strong mind. This year, he had taken several winter months off to let a femoral head stress fracture heal, and this was to be his come-back run. But still, there was just not enough months to get in the kind of training one would expect to need to excel at this kind of race. But hearts and minds can remain very strong even when the body is not in tip-top shape. It was obvious to me that he was doing well and that made me stronger too.
(photo by Tim Lawson)
The competition was very good this year. Not a lot of runners, but certainly there were some well-known ultra regulars with whom to share the course. The strong men's field included Tim, Dave Stevenson, Tony C., Joe Lee, Rob Hester, and Steve Stoyles. There were others too, like Ben Blessing, fairly new to ultrarunning and certainly capable of far more than 100 miles. And, of course, someone could have a bad day, and someone else could have the perfect day. 24 hours is a long time for rankings to change. We all know that.
(pic: Steve Stoyles and Rob Hester)
Last year, there were many very good female runners, but many of them went to Pac Rim after running Chuckanut or to put in 50 miles or so. Few were there to "stay out there all night," and that's the only reason I was able to take the soft win with 63 miles. This year, I was very glad to see my dear friend Olga there, and also Van Phan, both excellent ultrarunners with whom I could run through the night and into the next morning. Van, in fact, led the entire field early in the race, maybe even half the race. She was a machine, relentless, unwaivering in her steady stride. She never slowed and rarely paused to walk. She told me her goal was 100 miles in 20 hours...as a training run for McNaughton 3 weeks from now. I was mightily impressed. Many of us wondered if she would win the race overall. It was certainly possible. Olga too ran well but started to have some recurrence of hip pain that she's had in the past. She tried to walk it off, and then would run again. She looked strong and it looked like she was back in the game, but then she would slow again. At one point, she had some stomach trouble, so I got her some ginger. She said it helped the stomach, but what can you do for hip pain when ibuprofen doesn't help? It seemed she struggled with that question for a long time, still trying to stay on the course. Finally, after 100k, Olga decided to save the hip for her future goals including Hardrock this July. There were a few other runners, including Lorie Alexander from BC, who ran strong the first part of the race. I'm not sure how many miles she did, but she left the course. I expected to see her come back and rejoin us but she didn't.
(photo by Olga V.)
So, round and round we went. I never hit a bad slump. Sure I was sore and had random joint and muscle pains, and I struggled with nausea and a bad gut for 12 hours, which is unusual for me...but I always felt good. (Hmm, does that even sounds remotely logical?!) I hit 100k between 11-1/2 and 12 hours, and decided about then to change into nighttime clothes. I was able to de-layer early in the race down to a running skirt, short-sleeved shirt, Zensah sleeves and Moeben Sleeves, and was very comfortable as long as I kept moving. I knew nighttime and early morning would bring the cold and dampness back, so taking the time to change into tights and warmer clothes was mandatory for me. I took an entire loop organizing in my mind what I would need to get from my aid bins and take into the park bathrooms to change. I figured I would change my socks (Drymax to Drymax!) since I had to take my shoes off anyway to get my tights on. My feet looked great. No blisters, no hot spots. I dumped out a bunch of little rocks that accumulated in my shoes over 60+ miles. I put on tights, my Badwater long-sleeved shirt, and my windbreaker. I added hand warmers to my gloves. The stop was long, maybe 20 minutes, but I didn't want to neglect anything. I am well-aware that, despite a day of nice weather, things could change at the drop of a hat.
Then, no sooner did I get back on the course did it start to rain! Boy, was I ever glad I changed clothes! The rain didn't last long though but the temperature dropped. Still, as long as I kept moving, I was ok. I hit 100 miles around 20:50 or so. I figured with 3 hours left, I could eek out 4 mph for a 112 total. I felt good, never sleepy. Not sure why since this was the first time I did NOT wean myself from caffeine 2 weeks before a race. I really think it was the pre-race sleep and the day off work that helped so much.
(pic: Van Phan)
At this point, Van and I had accumulated the highest women's mileage. In fact, she was still ahead of me by about 4 miles but had slowed and was walking. She had been running at night in shorts and a short sleeve with arm warmers and was obviously cold. She changed into much warmer clothes and continued to circle at a slower pace, mostly walking. She was near her stated goal of 105 miles. The men were still duking it out. They were amazing to watch. Tim took the lead with about 3-1/2 hours left and I took the lead with about 2 hours left.
At 22 hours into the run, we received our Pac Rim baptism. The rain suddenly poured down and the winds picked up severely. We had wind at our backs 1/2 the time and in our faces 1/2 the time, so when I reached the corner and turned into the wind, I just put my head down and plowed ahead into it. It was NOT going to push me back. It was NOT going to stop me. My hands were very cold and my eyes were watering like a stream of tears, but I kept reminding myself that we had 22 hours of perfect running weather, and anything is tolerable for 2 hours. It worked. We all forged ahead, racking up those last few miles. Some time around here, Tim caught up to me. I had been averaging about 4 mph and he was averaging about 5 mph, so I'd see him every 5 loops or so. This time, the timing was perfect as he was just about to pass the 200k mark! I was so pleased to be able to be right there and we cheered loudly into the wind. And then just kept going.
I finished what I thought was my last loop at 23:45 or so. I was ready to stop because I had slowed down and was getting very cold. I asked the timers if I could run out to the 1/4 mile mark and back to get an extra 1/2 mile (which is ok) but was told instead that I had time to run another loop, so that's what I should do. My brain was in such an "automatic" mode, that I just did what they said, cranked up Janis Joplin on my ipod and ran another loop. I was fearful I wouldn't make it all the way around, so picked up the pace and ran a nice 10 minute loop with a wide grin. I felt great. It was my favorite loop.
(pic: Tim Englund and me)
So, the race was over. Tim won with 126.75 miles and I won with 113 miles, good enough for a female course record. Olga ended up with 100k+, a nice training run for her upcoming races, and Van ended up with 108 miles, very respectable in any case but especially considering that she is running 150 at McNaughton soon. Joe Lee came in second with 121.5 miles and Dave Stevenson came in third with about 119. Dave Lygre finished his planned 50 miles, Ethan Bergman finished his planned 50k, and Willy Holmes, one of the toughest guys out there, finished with 70+ miles. Ben Blessing, whose father crewed for him the entire 24 hours, set several PR's along the way, and finished 5th with 110 miles. We collected our awards, hugged our friends, showered at the Y, and drove back to Ellensburg, making multiple mandatory stops to stretch on the way.
(pic: it ain't all easy: getting out of the car at a rest stop.)
Today, I am feeling good. My back hated the car ride home after the race but ice helped that significantly. Despite sore muscles, I slept well. I have no blisters or injuries, and am completely satisfied with the entire weekend. I met all my goals. It was so very nice to see friends, I had lots of fun, I paced myself well, and I set a new 24-hour PR. I am certainly stiffening up as I finish typing this and have to get up and move around, but I am sure my recovery will be quick because I am able to go up and down a flight of stairs without having to hold the rail. (That's the official test to see where I am in the recovery process.)
Thank you to Fred Willett, the race director, his family, the timers and all who volunteered. Thank you to those who inspired and motivated me including Tim Englund, David Lygre, Willy Holmes, Ethan Bergman, Olga Varlomova, Van Phan, Ben Blessing, Michelle Barnes and her friends, and all the dogs running around in the park.
There are no written results yet. Fred will email them to us when he's done with them. All my times and distances here are approximate and from my memory, which often fails me.
I am an ultra runner, physician and have been medical director of some of the toughest ultras. I tend to be a mover and a shaker and louder than my size suggests. However, my Gemini twin is gentler and contemplative, an artist, a writer, and a poet. I am a dog lover, a believer in souls, and have a special affinity for those who struggle because I have been there.
This is my crazy lovable huggable Weimaraner, Steely Dan. I call him Steely. He left us in January of this year at only 6 years from lymphoma that did not respond to chemotherapy treatments. Steely was a total goof. He loved trail running, road running, treadmill running, new experiences, making eye contact, sleeping on his back, me, kids, and liver treats. He was Zappa's best friend. We miss him dearly.
This is Stella. A rescue from the shelter. She's about 6 months old and a Border Collie. She is a joyous bundle of energy and curiosity and now also Zappa best friend. She will make a nice running partner when she grows up.
This is the now the big brother of my family - a rescued Greyhound. His name is Frank Zappa. I call him Zappa. He's 7 years old and has learned all about life beyond the track and crate from Steely when he was with us. It was very rewarding to watch his personality bloom as he settled into the family. And yes, he runs like the wind!
This is Natasha, my dearest friend. She was with me through college, medical school, residency, and she moved with me from Chicago to Spokane several years ago. She was my best running partner for 10 years. My sweet Natasha died from bone cancer in 2006. I miss her still. I hung a windchimes over the deck outside. When it chimes, I smile and think she has finally -- wherever she is now -- caught a squirrel!