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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Summer Haze

I love surprise sprinklers when I'm running in the summer.
I love surprise sprinklers when I’m running in the summer.

I know it isn’t officially summer yet, but it’s close enough, and the summer racing schedule is heating up for most people. I noticed that there was a spike in traffic here on my oft-neglected blog, and realized that most people are reading my race report from Merrill’s Mile a couple of years ago. I hope everyone who read has signed up for this year! Unfortunately, I will not be attending the 2014 edition as I have a wedding to go to for a college friend.

My own summer racing schedule is actually looking rather sparse. I ended up dropping from the Bad Marsh 50k (yes, even after all my talk about crushing it this year), but I AM still doing a 50k that weekend. It just happened to work out that there is an ultra event here in Greenville and it felt like a better plan to switch to the race close to home. Not only that, but I’ve been helping coach some newbie runners to their first 5k and their big “graduation” race is on the same day (in the evening), so I’ll get to do my own racing still AND be able to go support my hard-working athletes at their race.

I feel pretty solid going into this 50k, even though I’ve had to slightly adjust my time goal since I’ll be running on (albeit fast and flat) trails instead of the track-like route of the Bad Marsh race. I still think I’ll run a huge 50k PR, it’ll just be a touch slower than I initially expected.

Oh yeah, I finished my Master’s degree. It sort of doesn’t feel like it happened, or maybe that it isn’t really over, but I am a Master of Arts in English now. For about two weeks after I finished I was just in this weird malaise of:

My brain hurts.
My brain hurts.

And also, I’m still unemployed. I have several options in the works, but I’m reaching my panic threshold about my career– or lack of. On the upside, I have been enjoying the opportunity to schedule my running and other cross-training stuff as I want, and explore some new creative projects that I have wanted to try, like photography and HTML stuff (and maybe I’ll stop ignoring my blog?). Most importantly, I needed the time to decompress from it all and recharge. I’m ready to get this show on the road though.

So, yeah. I’ve got the 50k in eleven days, then I’ll be transitioning into a road runner again as I prep for a fast fall marathon. I’ll find a cool job soon enough, and in the meantime my goal is to appreciate this chance to take in the world more mindfully and leisurely.

Summer mantra.
Summer mantra.

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.

Blasting Bears and Running Ultras

The thing with ultra marathons, like many things in life, is that there is no real “perfect” time to do one. No matter what, you’re going to feel anxious at the new undertaking but eventually you just have to say “Fuck it” and go for it.

That’s how I found myself on the trails of Thurmond Lake outside of Augusta, Georgia on a beautiful Sunday morning. The ultra was advertised as a 50k+. The “+” was because the organizers were feeling spontaneous when making the route so it turned out to be a fairly random distance of 58k-ish.

Running is a niche sport in itself, and ultra running is even more of a niche within that niche. Maybe that’s why I have been so attracted to trying it. If I’m going to be a weird runner girl, I want to be the weirdest running girl I can be.

Showing up at the venue I didn’t know what to expect, but this is what I got:

Did I mention the name of the race? The Bear Blaster 50k+. I have no idea what the story is behind the name, but the tagline for the event was “Excessive distance. Probably no shirt. Probably no bear.”

So us runners were finally all assembled and off we went. I won’t bore you with too many details, but I ran, ate some gels, drank some water, stopped to pee, and ran some more. It’s a good thing I find myself infinitely amusing because I was by myself pretty much the entire time.

Eventually I realized I was going to be able to finish the whole distance. Sweet! This was also about the same time I was getting a bit delirious and bored (somewhere around mile 32 I think). In an effort to keep up morale, I had myself a little dance party on the deserted trail. I imagine it looked something like this:

After FINALLY finishing, I was greeted to a smattering of applause by the organizers and two dudes who finished ahead of me, including my buddy Eric who also gifted me with a spicy Blenheim Ginger Ale which is the only drink in the world I like more than beer but it can be sometimes hard to find.

Also upon finishing, I received a coveted Bear Blaster 50k+ sticker:

Apparently, and I’m just guessing here because I’m a girl and also never encountered a bear, but if you are a male and happen to find yourself in a bear situation, you can defeat said bear by blasting giant blobs of jizz at it. Again, just a guess.

So, I’m now an ultra runner. I’m registered for another one on April 7th in Dalton, GA and hopefully I can be more confident going in to it because it will likely be more competitive and I really like winning at things.

Also, I woke up on Monday morning with my right foot looking like this:

That’s totally normal, right?