Harbison 50k: 2015 Edition

Is there really any better way to kick off your racing year than by playing in the woods with a bunch of other weirdos for a few hours? Of course not, which means I registered yet again for the Harbison State Forest 50k.

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Course map and bib from packet pickup Friday evening. It’s a simple but nice touch to have names printed on the bibs. I’m not one for race keepsakes, but I can appreciate the effort for those that are.

Saturday January 3rd dawned…wet and foggy. But, it was warm unlike last year! Also different from last year is that we weren’t going to run the Lost Creek section (that’s the super squiggly bit on the far left of the map above. Squiggly bits are slow and sad). The wet conditions weren’t really a concern as my only goals for the race were to finish and remain in one piece. It’s very likely that Harbison will be the only ultra I run this year as I shift my focus to road racing and shorter events so I wasn’t about to take any unnecessary chances on trail that might derail the rest of my race plans. Deciding to take the pressure off earlier in the week ended up being the best thing I could have done for myself due to the conditions of the trails which got progressively worse as the day went on.

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I had to stop by a Fleet Feet in Columbia because I’d completely forgotten any Gu. Luckily, they had my two preferred flavors in stock!

Despite (or because of?) the rain, mud and muck, IT WAS SO MUCH FUN! I didn’t wear a watch, but the few little time splits I heard after the first loop told me that I managed to stay pretty even paced on the second loop even though the rain began coming down in earnest and some sections of the trail got downright treacherous (I’m looking at you,Midlands Mountain Bluffs). I ended up 6th woman (29th overall) and a time of 5:38. Full results are here. I chose to have the four Gu that I brought with me, plus some water, Coke, and pickles from the various aid stations. I saw that the aid stations were more than adequately stocked with the ultra runnings classics like pbj sandwiches, chips, fruit, Tailwind products, and more I’m sure. I just tend to stick with my own little tried and true options since I know they work. Also, I didn’t carry any water with me, but the aid stations were placed evenly enough apart that I knew I’d be okay just grabbing a cup of water every few miles.

The course itself was great. I REALLY like that Lost Creek had been removed. That meant we reached the fabled SpiderWoman and SpiderWoman II trails much earlier in the first loop and they were…dare I say it, manageable! Of course it was somewhat (a lot) worse on the second go round, but I would say that the newer course allowed for lots of recovery time between sketchy/technical sections. As alluded to earlier, the bluffs section of the Midlands Mountain trail (I think that’s what it’s referred to. Either way, it’s the far right of the map that is beside Broad River) was probably the worst part. It’s a single track section with a steep banking and a severe drop off. Also, it was super slick from the rain. Also also, it got beat up pretty badly the first loop from all of us. Also also also, being already brain dead from the several hours of running prior means that Slip ‘n Slide OF DOOM is a far more accurate name than the lovely imagery that the name Midlands bluffs conjures up.

Overall, I’m a huge fan of the course. I am also partial to loop courses and out-and-backs, but I understand that I’m in the minority with that preference. One downside to the day is that I heard of a few people getting off trail. I know I did that briefly last year so I don’t have much room to talk, but I have a hard time understanding how that happened this year. I never felt confused when looking for the surveyor’s flagging, and the directional signage seemed very obvious to me. Frankly, I feel like someone gets turned around or lost at every ultra I have run on a trail system. There’s got to be some kind of Vegas odds that dictates that sort of thing. Again, it didn’t happen to me so I don’t know the circumstances behind folks getting confused, but I felt like I should mention it for the sake of full information as I have it. On the upside, that’s easily the only negative thing about the entire day I can think of.

My personal favorite part of the day is that I inadvertently ended up running most of the way with a couple of fellow Greenville Track Club members. Getting to chat with Brian and Kerrie through the early and mid portions of the race made it much more bearable when I was on my own for the last miles. Also, the HAM radio folks that volunteered their time to keep tabs on us runners meant that I was never too far from human contact– a reassuring thing to know when the going got tough! Actually, ALL the volunteers were absolutely awesome! There were motivating signs (“Run now, poop later” was the obviously best one), cowbells (so glad to know I wasn’t hallucinating ringing in my ears), and cheerful encouragements (“Good job, and hey, you don’t have to see me again!” from one gentleman later in the second loop).

The finishers, like last year, get these trail/tree motif medals that double as a bottle opener:

Photo Courtesy of Nathan Maxwell <--- Another 50k runner!
Photo Courtesy of Nathan Maxwell <– Another 5ok runner. Thank goodness other people remember to take pictures at races because I am terrible at it!

After the race there was a new challenge if getting the mud out of places that mud shouldn’t be. I didn’t even fall down, but there was gunk everywhere. Everywhere.

While I can’t say what my future in ultrarunning will be given my other goals and life and such, I can comfortably say that I plan on being back to Harbison 50k for the 2016 edition. Thanks again to all the volunteers, the RD David Nance, and to y’all that put up with my running and writing about it!

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Year End Review-ish

I feel like every runner I know, or at least every runner with a blog, is gearing up to regale their readers with the highlights and lowlights of their previous year’s running.

Well I, dear reader, am going to do that exact same thing…

One of my goals this year was to get my overall mileage total up. I’ve never really had a full year of consistent running. Sounds strange even to me, but I’ve always had extended breaks at some point in the year mostly due to lack of motivation. This year I actually kept my running log, and even though I wish I’d run more (who doesn’t?), I managed to get in 2744 miles. That’s about 7.5 miles per day on average. I didn’t start keeping my log until the second half of 2013, but I’m certain that I didn’t run over 2000 miles in 2013 based on the info I have. So of course I’m happy with the relative consistency and overall higher mileage this year, but this is the point that I tell you my 2015 goal is to run more like 3500 miles. Seems like a reasonable jump, yea?

Another goal I had this year was to race more often. I got in 238.8 race miles this year. I don’t know exactly how much I raced in 2013, but according to the results that Athlinks has, I raced at least twice as much in 2014!! I guess it’s no surprise then, that I ran several PRs this year as well. My 10k, marathon, and 50k each improved. I’m still pretty terrified of racing, but I’m working on getting into focused race-mode. For 2015 I want to keep up with racing more often, and I really want to tackle some of my shorter PRs (5k-half) in the first half of the year before turning my attention to another marathon PR in the fall.

One thing that I think is largely going to be on the backburner in 2015 is…ultrarunning. And, by extension, trail running. It isn’t so much that I really want to avoid the ultra races as it is that I really really really want to get speedier. This means more track work, more tempos, more doubles, and less time just slogging around town like I’m wont to do.

From a running-related standpoint, my last goal for 2015 is to continue, and get even more consistent with, lifting weights. I have seen a lot of improvement in my fitness just from picking up heavyish things now and then, even though my ectomorphic body type means I’ll never really put on much muscle. I do like how I feel when I’m lifting frequently, and I would say that being relatively stronger definitely helped my running this year.

So, that’s that. 2014 was a big step forward for me, both running and non-running related. I have some doable but scary goals set for 2015 (the track! the horror!), and I’m excited to use the pretty awesome base from this year to help meet those goals. Also, I’m super interested (fine, I’m just nosy) in other runners’ mileage totals and goals and stuff, so y’all better update your blogs/Facebook/other preferred social media site so that I can use your awesomeness as motivation for next year. See y’all in 2015!

I couldn't decide on a running picture, so here is Shelby with her derp tongue. Happy New Year!
I couldn’t decide on a running picture, so here is Shelby with her derp tongue. Happy New Year!

Lessons Learned in the Georgia Hills

Having not spent much time in northwest Georgia, I wasn’t really expecting it to be that much different than running around Greenville. I was so very, very wrong. Although SC certainly has its share of hills, I haven’t been running on anything like what I was faced with at the Georgia Jewel 50k. A lot of that is simply down to spending most of my mileage on the roads, grinding out steady miles at a relatively high pace. When I do run trails it’s usually a recovery run on neatly manicured trails void of any technical footing. Add to the terrain the fact that this was a 50k race and I have learned some lessons about my fledgling ultra running career:

1) I’m good at uphills no matter what the terrain. I consistently passed people on even the steepest of inclines and seem to recover from the effort of a hill fairly quickly. I suppose that’s the one upside to being scarily thin.
2) Relative to many ultra runners, once on a flat surface or road, I’m able to use what little leg speed I have to my advantage.
3)Hey, I still got second. Sure it’s first loser but I was quite pleased given the experienced ultra runners on trail.

That’s where the good lessons end. Now for the bad:

1) Technical downhills may be the death of me. How are these people so completely and utterly fearless? Aside from the fact that I’m convinced my ankles are made of glass, the mere thought of skidding down a gravel and rutted trail face first had me putting on the brakes with each step. I lost so much time and destroyed my quads because I’m a wuss.
2) I’m still not sure about this eating on the run thing. At 50k, I was able to barely get away with gels, water, and a couple of fig bars. However, my aspirations in ultra running are far beyond 31 miles and I’m just not sure how to teach my body to accept real food while on the run. Gut rot is no joke, but at my size I don’t have that much on reserve so I’m going to have to figure this out.
3) Training. Again, at just 50k, I’m able to get away with my usual high-ish mileage routine (60-80 miles per week) with little to no organization to it. I love running, so I do it everyday for a variety of distances, efforts, and workouts. I mean, I have a general idea of what I’m doing just from years of running and coaching but I haven’t followed a true training plan in ages. I’m not saying that I need to, but if I’m really serious about tackling this ultra beast, there is going to have to be a shift in the way I’m training.

I also learned a lot of little things, like when reaching a water crossing “there’s no pussyfooting around, you just gotta go for it.” And that when an overweight ranch hand sitting on the back of a pickup truck tells you to “watch that mud” he means it. Sure he’ll come help pull you out of the thigh deep mud and cow shit hole you are stuck in, but he will laugh and spray you with chewing tobacco spit. After that, the water crossings are welcome.