The Marin Ultra Challenge 50Mile. v.2016. More fun the second time around. Really.


Marin Ultra Challenge  50Miles

Saturday, March 12, 2016
Rodeo Beach, CA

Course:  50.1 miles of trails through the Golden Gate National Recreation Area Marin Headlands (Miles 1 thru 20, 34 to 50.1) and Mt. Tamalpais State Park/Muir Woods National Monument (Miles 21 thru 33)
Total Elevation gain/loss:  approximately 11,000 ft.
Altitude: Lowest point, Rodeo Beach El. +17 ft.  Highest point, Willow Camp, El. +1,802 ft.
Weather:  Rainy, from sprinkles to steady downpour, with wind gusts up to 30 (? stronger?) mph
Terrain:  a mix of dirt fire trails, single track, steps of uneven height and material (wood, stone, concrete), rooty. rocky.  And because of rain before and during the race, miles of mud, puddles, and more than a dozen waterfall crossings!

Fun Fact:  MUC50M v.2016 is my 23rd ultra, my 6th 50-Mile.  And the toughest one to date.  MUC was also my first 50-Mile*  (*not the original version; 2013 had 10K elevation gain = no Willow Camp)

***The 3-3-3’s (or for this race, my 7-3-6):  Jump to the end for my race assessment, a valuable process I learned after being coached by Ann Trason in 2014 and 2015.  But why would you skip the rest of my story?? 

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There was no picture of me crossing the Finish line on Saturday at around 8:13 P.M. Nothing that looked like this. The photo in the screenshot above was me crossing the Finish line of the Marin Ultra Challenge 50mile on June 22, 2013.  It was my first 50Mile.  For last Saturday’s finish, imagine it to be dark, instead of light; rainy instead of dry.  I was drenched, cold, muddy; instead of sweaty and hot.  I did not scream the second I stepped on the finish mat like I did in 2013; instead, I ran through the finish arch, didn’t even realize I had already crossed the mat, stopped when I saw Tim Stahler (MUC’s Race Director) to tell him, “MAN!  That was a TOUGH one!”   He asked me if it was tougher than the first time I did it.  Instantly I said, “Oh, heck yes!!”  It might sound uneventful, but rest assured, I felt victorious just like I did in 2013.  Perhaps a tad more.   MUC50Mile Version 2016 is without a doubt the toughest race I have ever done in my running life so far.

(Note: The screenshot above is Inside Trail Racing’s website taken last Friday March 11th. The photo of me taken by Myles Smythe back in June of 2013 has been one of the photos on ITR’s homepage slideshow for a few years now.)

BACKGROUND
I swore after I finished MUC50Mile 2013 that I will be back. It seemed I had unfinished business with the MUC.  I felt I did not really do the “real” MUC.  That year, the trails in the Mt. Tam State Park portion of the course (especially the climb up Willow Camp) was eliminated due to park permitting issues, and ITR had to change the course into a series of loops restricted in the GGNRA Marin Headlands trails.  This change reduced the total elevation gain from 11,000 ft to 10,000 ft.   Still, it was a beast to tackle for a first 50Mile.  When I tell people that MUC was my first 50Mile, I always had to put an asterisk after it and explain that it wasn’t the original MUC.  I don’t know why it mattered to me to make this clarification every time; I guess I didn’t want to mislead people in thinking I am tougher than I really am.     As a relatively new ultra runner at the time –and the MUC being my first 50M– I welcomed the course change wholeheartedly.  At that time, I really had no idea what 11K of climbing is like, and I had been forewarned of the immense challenge for me as a first-timer tackling the 50Mile distance with that much climbing. And so, a reduction of 1,000 feet made it seem less daunting, and yes, “doable”.  In subsequent years following 2013, the MUC50Mile was restored to its “real” version; Willow Camp again became the high point.  It was also moved to March.  I had other goals these past two years and MUC50Mile didn’t really fit in my calendar.   With Quicksilver 100K as my goal race in 2016, I figured MUC50 would be a really good training race because of its very challenging course.  And so I signed up for it.

 

And now in 2016…
It turned out that, a few days before race day, the “real” MUC was not going to happen after all. Due to the storm predicted to lash out at the Bay Area on race day, ITR had to make course revisions, skipping the Lost Trail-Sun Trail portion of the course through Muir Woods. “But we are keeping Willow Camp” Tim Stahler declared, and threw in uphill Ben Johnson to keep the good dosage of climbing to almost 11K.   It will be close enough to the “real” version.
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Oh joy!

But to be completely honest, paired with this excitement was my anxiety of surviving Willow Camp.  Two weekends ago, I had my Willow Camp introduction as part of a 20-mile training run, and it was ugly.  For me at least.  Everyone else in the group did just fine.  I struggled to get that climb done, stopping every 30 steps or so to catch my breath.  I practically cried and felt so discouraged.  We were not even at altitude, for pete’s sake!   I realized how undertrained I was, having missed a few key long runs due to a minor injury (calf strain) that sidelined me for two weeks, and –forgive me for the mention– I was also in the middle of my period that day.  It’s a miracle I finished that run with enough energy to drive home!   As we parted, my friends said, “See you in two weeks!”  I said, completely out of it, “What’s happening in two weeks?”  And one of them (Minel?) said, “MUC!! That’s why we did this run!”   Oh DUH.   At that point, I felt, ok, MAYBE I’ll show up.

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02.27.2016.  Beautiful day for MUC 20Mile training through Willow Camp with an awesome posse of running friends old and new.

 

That run, discouraging as it was, became the push that I needed to regroup and really focus on preparing for this race. With two weeks to race day, I asked myself:  what can I really do so I don’t unravel and fall apart when I reach Mile 23 during the race?  Is this race still salvageable??  For a few days, I entertained the thought of dropping to the 50K.  And then I snapped out of it.  I did the 50K last year, I already know what that’s like, and it’s not going to give me the kind of challenge I need to get ready for Quicksilver!  Also, I did not want to miss out on the opportunity of racing in the Mt. Tam State Park portions of the race.

In the next two weeks that followed, I pulled myself together.  Mentally and physically.  I am going to do the 50Mile, as I have decided to do when I signed up two months ago.  I will show up with the 50Mile bib on me, do the best I can and take in what the day hands me.  I was ready enough.
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Preparations.
The missed key long training runs was water under the bridge.  And experience tells me, it is never a good idea to cram or make up for these lost training days.   I had been running regularly through January and February including a 50K (Golden Gate Trail), and so I felt that my “base” hasn’t eroded much since I did Quad Dipsea in late November last year.  With less than two weeks left until race day, there was no sense cramming in long runs.
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Instead,
_I continued to focus on my core strength (which was not interrupted while I let the strained calf muscle heal).
_I pushed myself on the remaining speed workouts, and hill-climbing which included a gnarly 4x major hill repeats of Vollmer (a.k.a. Voldemort) Peak along the Lupine Trail at Tilden Park.
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03.06.2016.  View looking up at the top of Vollmer Peak, Tilden.  Is there hope for me?

_I evaluated my gear, and decided to try something new:  trekking poles.  I realize it was late in the MUC game, but I thought it was worth the try.  I had a problem breathing during that Willow Camp climb, and I had read an article that the use of trekking poles could help keep my body up allowing me to breathe better.  It is probably a lazy way of fixing my form, but I was open to trying it. I had seen other ultra runners execute a race using trekking poles.  I thought I’d check in with the RD if it’s allowed and legitimate.  He said, in his words, “Use them and abuse them.”  I planned on using them after Mile23, after the Willow Camp aid station.
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_With this new approach, I had to think about logistics relating to using the poles:  how am I going to carry them; how am I going to drink with both my hands holding the poles?  This meant I had to give up the handheld bottles and figure out a different way of drinking.  Using a bladder was out of the question, and so was drinking out of the Salomon soft flasks that came with my Salomon vest.  The ideal way –and the only way– for me was to have a hard plastic bottle with a long straw attachment so I can sip without having to pull the bottle out of the vest’s pockets. I did some research, asked around, and after a lead, I found out where to get it, and I got it.

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RACE PLAN
_Two days before:

  • Carb load
  • Discuss logistics/meeting point with my pacer (my friend Ken)
  • Make the sweet potato banana waffles 
  • Pre-measure the GU Brew and GU Roctane in baggies
  • Lay out gear
  • Visualize use of gear, and necessary gear transitions at aid stations.  Rehearse gear transitions
  • Print out and laminate pace chart.
  • Sleep at 10pm.


_One day before:

  • Pack everything into appropriate drop bags (Start/Finish, Tennessee Valley, Cardiac Hill); label drop bags.
  • Lay out clothes and shoes.
  • Sleep by 10pm.
_On Race Day
  • Power hike the uphills
  • Run the downhills; bomb ’em when I can make up time
  • Fuel:  250 calories per hour
  • Race Vest 1 (stuffed with sweet potato waffles and Honey Stinger chews) plus handheld with GU Brew for first 20 Miles (Up to Cardiac Hill aid station)
  • Switch to Race Vest 2 (with collapsed trekking poles in the back pocket, and hard bottle in one of the front pockets) at Cardiac Hill, for Mile 20 to Finish
  • Use trekking poles after Willow Camp aid station (Mile 23).
  • Be cautious.  Do not do stupid things like running on wet wood treads (especially down the Dipsea Trail!) or rocky trails.
  • Engage the core, stay upright, do not fall, do not trip.
  • DO NOT QUIT.
  • Do not quit because Ken is waiting at Muir Beach ready to pace!  Be nice to him.
  • Thank the volunteers.  They are heroes, even moreso on days like this.

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_Goals:

  • Safety and survival first!
  • A very conservative but a “happy” finish time of 14:20.  (14:30 is the official finish line cutoff)
  • Keep my eye on the bigger fish (Quicksilver 100K); this is a training run!
  • To be able to finish and move forward with as minimal recovery time as possible

 

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Photo Credit:  Let’s Wander Photography

RACE DAY

The weather forecast was accurate as can be.  No pouring rain until around 1pm, but expect wind gusts. A very stormy day awaits.  My department boss asked me a few days before, “Don’t they cancel the race given the weather conditions are so bad?”  I told him the race goes on rain or shine.   Admittedly, I was a little nervous.  I was convinced just from the weather forecast that race day conditions would be worse than the two other stormy races I have done:  the North Face Endurance Challenge 50K of 2012, and the Golden Gate Trail Marathon of 2013.  When I reached the top of Hill88 for the first time and saw the ominous rain clouds blanketing the headlands, I knew it was going to be unquestionably, the most epic race I’d ever do.  On top of it being a really challenging course, to add such adverse weather conditions just puts this race over the top… so to speak.  It was going to be a damn good fight.

I arrived at the Rodeo Beach Start/Finish line area with 15 minutes to spare, after spending a good 30 minutes keeping myself warm in my van.  I dropped off my bags, I checked in, pinned my bib, and threw myself in the pack of 50Kers and 50Milers at the Start, and off we went.

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At the Start.  Photo Credit:  Michael Li

The course change at the beginning of the race gave us a double dose of climbing Hill88.  What I enjoyed about the first climb was seeing the sun peak through the hills; it was the first and last time I saw it that day.

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I looked forward to reaching the junction of Wolf Ridge and Miwok because I knew that at Miwok, I was going to get my first chance to fun downhill (my favorite!).  According to my Strava data, I managed to pull an 8:29m/m on that downhill and maintained a good running pace when it leveled out approaching Bunker Road.  I did it again when I went down Old Springs at Mile 10 as I approached Tennessee Valley.  These two segments were my most enjoyable segments.  I had taken off my Patagonia wind breaker and tied it around my waist sometime during the first mile, on the climb up Coastal Trail.  Leaving Tennessee Valley aid station, I put it back on as it started raining, and the wind was picking up.  I was going to drop off my headlamp (which I had turned off at Mile 1) inside my Tennessee Valley drop bag but I decided to keep it on my head when I realized I did not have the hat clips on my race vest (the hat clips secure the hat to my vest so that the hat doesn’t get blown away).  The headlamp kept my hat snug and secure on my head throughout the day.  It was especially a godsend at portions of the race when the wind gusts were quite strong.  On a rainy day like this, my hat proved invaluable, and I give credit to my headlamp for making sure I didn’t lose it!

The views all around the headlands were just spectacular.  For some reason, the clouds, which I will call “Ominous Grey” from hereon, just gave it a sense of power and beauty unseen on the sunny days with infinite blue skies.  I moved under and through the Ominous Grey, feeling vulnerable and at the same time powerful, and thankful that I have the ability and the courage to embrace it all.  Turning back was not an option.

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Photo Credit:  Jesse Ellis

The trails leading up to Cardiac Hill were not very muddy in general.  There were a few puddles here and there, through patches of the very green Santos Meadows, and a few crossings up Heather Cutoff.  I was doing pretty well pace-wise until after I got to the top of Heather Cutoff and started climbing  Coastal Trail heading to Cardiac Hill.  That stretch has always been my kryptonite.  It’s not really steep; it’s a long arduous gradual climb that seems to go on forever when I’m on it!  I kept wishing someone would just pick up the aid station and place it right in front of me!  Cardiac Hill was the first time I spent more than 30 seconds at an aid station during this race so far (I stopped for about 20 seconds to top off my water bottle at Muir Beach).  In a way I was really excited to reach that point.  I was looking forward to making my planned gear switch (refer to Race Plan above).  After I drank my Ensure, I thanked the volunteers and headed on out.  I did not pre-pack the vest with food as I did for my first vest; I was thinking I would stuff my Pro-Bars when I come back to Cardiac at Mile 28; I didn’t want to weigh myself down during this very difficult portion of the course, i.e. the Willow Camp climb.  My plan was to get my calories after about an hour (or by the time I reach the Willow Camp aid station, Mile 23) by consuming  aid station PB&J sandwiches.  At Mile 24, I’d realize what a stupid mistake this was.

But I didn’t know about that stupid mistake yet as I headed down Dipsea.  I was enjoying the fact that I was running with liberated hands!  My new water bottle was stuffed snuggly in the front pocket of my vest, and so my hands were not holding a water bottle as I had done for the first 20 miles!  The feeling of having a hard bottle directly against my right boob didn’t bother me at all.  As with the other previous downhill segments, I had a blast going down Dipsea.  There I enjoyed the first sightings of gushing streams.  Beautiful but treacherous… and that became pretty much the norm for the rest of the race.  The streams and waterfalls rushing down the sides of Mt. Tam were abundant and loud and surprisingly ridiculously gorgeous; at the same time I know that one false stupid move could end my race at that instance of misjudgment.

I saw my friends Tracy and Susan at the bottom of the Dipsea and they directed me towards the Willow Camp aid station.  Susan said, “It’s about 2/3 of a mile up”.  I thought, that far still?   I started climbing back up.  After I reached the Matt Davis trailhead, I pulled out the trekking poles and made the adjustments as I moved along.  It felt weird to use them on the road so I carried them until I reached the aid station.  There was only one PB&J quarter left so I grabbed and ate it.  The aid station volunteer said she’ll make some more, but I didn’t want to wait so I headed out.  Why I did not take a couple of Oreos or Chomps (or something!) I don’t know except that I must’ve been a bit spacey and eager to get on that climb.  Damn it.

The Ominous Grey did a good job at making me feel disoriented.  And lost.  And well, I did almost get totally lost when I completely missed a blue ribbon and started climbing a wider trail heading towards the water tank.  About a quarter mile in, the runner behind me and her pacer both yelled, “HEY!!!  THAT IS THE WRONG WAY!!!!”   Realizing my blunder, I quickly run down to the junction of the trail from which they spotted me.  I was so thankful they saw me!!   Then the three of us headed towards the *correct* trail:  of course, Willow Camp Trail!

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Photo Credit:  Michael Li

It looked different from when I went on it two weekends ago, and I don’t remember it being somewhat overgrown with weeds and such.  My hands were holding my trekking poles at this point, trying to establish a rhythm as I made my way up.  I was highly cognisant of keeping my torso up, making sure that my breathing is steady and not restricted.  I also tried not to panic; I knew eventually I will reach the top.  Whenever the trail changed directions and I have a view of Stinson Beach below, I found myself in awe of the duplicity of the beauty in front of me.  The Ominous Grey hung over the coastal town and yet I found it breathtaking and grand.  And what a dose of power and inspiration it gave me when I realized I was climbing up high enough, highest I’ll ever be on this race course.

I was so relieved after I completed that climb (which took me about 50 minutes), and thinking the worst was over.  HA!

Coastal Trail’s single-track hugging the slopes of Mt. Tam was always a tricky section to navigate.  With only about two feet to run on, an upslope on my left and a steep drop on my right, down onto ravines that could eat anyone alive, Coastal Trail requires a bit of focus.  On a sunny day.  On that stormy day, it required so much more!  Being exposed, wide open and undulating such that the land created these “bowls” of spaces, the gale force wind swirled and unleashed itself with so much strength when they hit these bowls.  As I traversed the trails that went along the sides of these bowls, I wondered if the wind would pick me up off the ground and throw me into those ravines, never to be heard from again!   At certain points, I literally had to tuck my trekking poles close to my body and hunker down as I watched the grass move violently to one side, and then to another.  I wondered if I’d even have to crawl and ‘hide’ from this wind to keep myself safe from its claws.

And if that wasn’t stressful enough, here comes the stupid mistake.   During this segment, my tummy started going in knots.  I know that once this happens, it’s very difficult to turn around.  I had let the pangs of hunger rear its ugly head, and I had nothing in my pack to eat!  Why didn’t I get more food from the aid station?  Why didn’t you, PEN??  Thank goodness for an “Ann trick” I learned which saved me and tied me over until I got back to Cardiac.  I remembered I had a Jolly Rancher candy in my pocket (stashed along with my other first-aid supplies like Pepto, Advil, and caffeinated salt caps).  I almost gave up trying to get that wrapper out (almost impossible with wet hands and wet wrapper!).  But I was desperate.  I stopped and let four runners pass me by so that I can focus on unwrapping the candy.  I used my teeth to bite off the plastic, unwrap the candy and pop it into my mouth.  I sucked on that thing for 3 miles.  I still had GU Roctane in my bottle so I was not totally out of calories.  The addition of the Jolly Rancher mini-calorie was surprisingly a lifesaver.

I triumphantly made it to Cardiac 20 minutes ahead of the cutoff.  I went to my drop bag, grabbed my Ensure and didn’t waste any time downing it.  I stuffed my pack with food (ProBar and Honey Stinger chews), then asked an aid station volunteer to help me refill my bottle with GU Roctane.  I had packed a lightweight waterproof shell in my drop bag; my plan was to take out the Houdini windbreaker and wear the waterproof shell.   Because I wanted to save time, I decided I didn’t really need it.  The windbreaker should be enough to handle the impending downpour.  Another mistake!   Anyway, it was the last time I was going to be at Cardiac, and so I thanked the volunteers even more than when I did the first time through.  I headed down towards the TCC, unprepared for the love story that was about to unfold.

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Heroes of Cardiac Hill aid station.  Photo Credit:  Martin Whitcomb

What love story?  The one about me falling in love with these Mt. Tam/Muir Woods trails.  It’s one thing to appreciate them in fair weather.  It’s another –and a stronger kind of appreciation and thus, love– in horrible weather.  The gentle downhill on the TCC and Bootjack trails presented me with opportunities to cross several waterfalls and to run alongside a raging stream… or river.  The sound of gushing streams overwhelmed my senses.

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just one of the dozen or so “waterfall crossings” I had to cross.  Photo Credit:  Michael Li

Then as I was climbing up Ben Johnson (something I had never done before; I’ve always ran downhill on this trail in previous races and training runs), the rain started pouring, and that sound took over.  By this time, my windbreaker is drenched through.  I was cold and shivering, but all I could think of was to keep moving and to keep listening to the sound of the rain.  I made it down the length of muddy Deer Park trail feeling energized, and somewhat sad to leave the woods.

I saw my friend Karen at Deer Park aid station, and gave her a big heartfelt hug.  I was so happy to get to Deer Park because of three reasons:  I get to see Karen, I get to refill my bottle (and take a salt cap), AND I made it there 15 minutes ahead of the cutoff.

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Photo Credit:  Let’s Wander Photography

During all the downhill leading to it, I had been carrying the trekking poles with my right hand.  I wondered if I should collapse them and tuck them back in my back pocket.  Karen noted that I will be going up Dias Ridge so I should just keep them the way they are.  So I did.  I felt like a warrior running through the ankle-deep puddles of Redwood Creek Trail as I carried the poles.  When I turned left onto Dias Ridge, I started using them again.  I had deja vu’s of last year’s 50K as that was the only time I’ve gone on this trail in the uphill direction.  I saw my friend Ken Michal about a mile in/up as he was running down towards Deer Park to see Karen.

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Photo Credit:  Let’s Wander Photography

The climb up Dias Ridge was muddy and puddly.  The rain was coming down steadily but lighter than it did an hour before.  I crested the top, and was happy to see the view of Muir Beach.  I passed a few runners on my way down towards Pelican Inn, and eventually got to the Muir Beach aid station 3 minutes ahead of my schedule (33 minutes ahead of cutoff).  I scanned the sillhouettes of the people milling about at the aid station and I cannot recognize any one of them as being Ken’s.  I was looking forward to seeing Ken at MB; I was hoping I did not miss him.  When I didn’t see him, I wondered if he decided not to come out and pace me.  I guarded myself against any feeling of disappointment as it’s rather selfish.  It would not be difficult to understand if he decided to change his mind.  Given this weather.  This awful weather.  Surely, why would he even want to run 10 miles from Rodeo Beach through this awful weather to meet me and pace me for yet another 10 miles??

After I left the aid station, I saw a familiar sillhouette as I started crossing the bridge.  “KEN!!!!”  If I had gotten to the aid station 3 minutes later than I did, we would’ve met each other EXACTLY at 5:00 P.M., as I had noted in my pace chart (which he had).  As the master pacer that he is, he planned and paced himself *perfectly*.  I knew I’d be fine from there onwards.  Besides, it was so great to finally talk to another human being on the trails other than myself!!

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That’s not me 🙂  but I went through here too, in all THAT.  Photo Credit:  Jesse Ellis

The length of Middle Green Gulch seemed less daunting when I had someone to talk to and get my mind off the long-ass climb that MGG is.   As we were in Javelina, Ken stayed in front of me and pulled me along.  He reminded me to eat.  He reminded me to drink.  He made sure we checked our time.  The back of my right knee cramped up when we started on the very technical and very narrow Wiley Trail.  Whenever I groaned in pain, he’d stop and try to see how he can help.  I told him, I’ll be ok, just block out the sound of my groaning.  Of course if it was truly unbearable, I would probably wail and he’d know I’m not ok!  The daylight had practically disappeared and we turned our headlamps on while descending Miwok Cutoff.  I navigated that technical trail and steps well considering the leg pain.  Finally on Tennessee Valley Road, Ken yells out “Six-O-Five!” to the aid station volunteers, announcing my arrival at the last aid station, the last intermediate hard cutoff.  We made it!

“Pen!” a voice called me.  I said, “Who’s that?”  I turned around to find my friend Laura Bello.  “Laura!  Thanks for volunteering!”  And she clarified that she was waiting to pace Alina.  “Alina?”  I thought all along that she was ahead of me, along with Leigh-Ann, Christy, Michael, and everyone I knew.  One of the aid station volunteers assured Laura that Alina was on her way.  I took an Advil to help me with the leg pain, a caffeinated salt cap to keep me awake, and asked a volunteer to fill my bottle with Mountain Dew.  He said, “I will gladly do that for you!”

Ken and I left Tennessee Valley station so eager to get the last 4.7 miles done and over with!  When we reached the top of Marincello, the visibility was almost zero.  I can’t see anything but the raindrops that looked like a million thin needles coming down on my face.  We were so focused on the ground ahead of us that Ken almost veered off to a trail on the side of Bobcat.  Amazingly I kept moving; somehow it helped that I couldn’t see the land rise up ahead of me.  We ran down Bobcat through the consistent light rain, thankful at this point that there is no significant wind to contend with.  We were making good time, and I knew I was going to come in ahead of my estimated finish time of 8:20 P.M.  So drenched and cold, we finally reached Bunker Road.  Homestretch!  We saw the street lights.  We passed by my van, his car, a few more cars along the road.  When I turned right and headed towards the finish,  Ken cheered me on and said, “Awesome job, Pen.  Awesome job!”   And that kept me going some more for the last 100 feet.

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Ken and I, after we finished.  Thanks, Laura for taking the picture.

After I finished and talked to Tim Stahler to tell him how tough the course was, I grabbed my pint glass, my medal, my shirt, my trucker hat.  Ken and I hung around the Finish for a little bit.  I wanted to get to my drop bag but it was in the trailer and it meant I’d have to hobble to it so I just stayed where I was and kept drinking from my bottle.  We hung around a few more minutes until Alina and Laura arrived, witnessing another of Alina’s strong and inspiring finishes!  The four of us walked towards my van, and I gave Laura and Alina a ride to the Marine Mammal Center parking lot where Alina had parked.  After we said our goodbyes, I quickly changed into my dry clothes as I started to shiver uncontrollably.

Ken and I talked about having dinner after the race.   Before we parted on Bunker Road, he apologized that he won’t be able to join me and that he’s going home instead.  No worries, I told him.  “We will celebrate next week when we are both dry!”  I was going to wait until I get home to have my dinner but it was already 9:00P.M. and I really needed to eat.  I decided to stop at my favorite post-race recovery aid station.  Ken regrets that he missed out.

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Recovery.
I didn’t bounce back two days after the race.  Who does that??  Seriously though, I got into a little bit of a panic when my right foot got swollen on Sunday and it hurt to walk.  Like my mind does, it went to a very dark place; somewhere where my right foot is in a boot and a doctor showing me a fractured 5th metatarsal (my guess at the time the pain was throbbing) and telling me I can’t run for the next 6 weeks….at least.  After seeing me hobble at work on Monday, my boss says, “Well I guess that could happen if you make your foot move for 50 miles in one day.”

Well, 14 hours 12 minutes and 55 seconds to be exact.

But I did put it through hell, making it work harder than my other 50milers, heck, even my two 100milers.  I took very good care of it this week:  rested it, iced it, elevated it.  By Wednesday morning, the swelling was gone and the soreness was slowly making its exit.  By Thursday afternoon, I am again able to entertain the thought of doing a 13mile training run, something which I honestly thought was taken out of the picture just 5 days before.

 

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RACE ASSESSMENT:
I can now say –without having to provide an “asterisk” at the end of this statement– that I have done the MUC50Mile.  I finished in 14:12:55, about 7 minutes ahead of my estimated finish time.  I did not trip or fall.  I battled it out with the elements –the worst I have ever encountered in a race (so far)– and I did not quit.  I was relentless, and I gave this beast a good fight.  I am thankful and satisfied with this accomplishment!
.

Seven things I did right:

  1. Prepared my pace chart, udpated to reflect course changes.
  2. Visualized and rehearsed aid station transitions, including gear change especially at Mile 19.8, Cardiac Hill.
  3. Persevered and did not give up no matter how cold and wet I was when the rain started pouring down on me at Mile 34, no matter how waterlogged my shoes and socks were as I slogged through muddy puddles. I was going to get this thing done.
  4. I was efficient at the aid stations.
  5. Took a friend’s offer to pace me. I was originally planning to run the race all by myself.
  6. Thanked the RD, his staff and the volunteers!  I’m going to guess it’s not as much fun standing in the cold blustery conditions rather than moving about.  My deepest and sincerest gratitude!!
  7. Stayed in the moment.

.
Three things that didn’t go well

  1. I underestimated my nutrition needs from Mile 20 to Mile 28. I took an Ensure at Mile 20. Then my plan was to grab a few PBJ at the Willow Camp aid station. There was only one pbj quarter left and I took it. The a/s volunteers said they’d make some more but I couldn’t wait. Instead of grabbing other foods, I left with that one pbj quarter! I powered through Willow Camp and by the time I got to the top I was practically wiped, and though I was sipping GU Roctane, I knew I was not getting enough carbs. Aside from the wind that lashed at me on all directions through Coastal Trail, my stomach started turning in knots: bad news. (But if you read my story above, you’d know a little jolly rancher candy saved me from further hell).
  2. I faded at Mile 41 while climbing up Middle Green Gulch, i.e. got sleepy.  Nutrition gone haywire, hard to salvage.  I haven’t experienced this in a 50Milers, or even a 100Miler in a long time.
  3. The back of my right leg cramped up on Mile 42 while on the very narrow and technical Wiley Trail. It hurt to move even on this very mild downhill trail.   Had to groan and bear it until we reached the Tennessee Valley aid station where I took an Advil.

.
Six things I could improve on

  1. My nutrition planning was not on par with what I did for my two 100-milers and both my 50Milers in 2015. I had not bonked at Mile42/50 in a long while, a pretty rookie mistake.  Better nutrition planning, more regular with intake, take the aid station food if you have to!
  2. Take the time to pull out the waterproof shell from the drop bag when it started pouring. Water resistant may be ok for sprinkles, but not ever for a downpour. I had packed my shell at Cardiac precisely so I can put it on when the rain was predicted to come pouring down. Because I was trying to hurry up I decided the wind-resistant Patagonia Houdini I was wearing would be ok. Besides it’s not going to be that cold. Wrong!
  3. Make it absolutely mandatory to drink my a recovery protein drink (or bar). A few snack size Snickers bars don’t cut it.
  4. More hill training.
  5. More strength training.
  6. More hill training (not a typo).
.
Gear
  • REI waterproof cap
  • Shirt:  neon yellow North Face short-sleeve tech shirt (NFEC swag)
  • Bottoms:  Champion capri pants, REI compression shorts
  • Arm warmers:  North Face
  • Compression calf sleeves:  Zensah, black
  • Socks:  Balega, ankle length, medium weight
  • Gaiters:  Outdoor Research, waterproof
  • Shoes:  HOKA Speedgoat
  • Windbreaker:  Patagonia Houdini
  • Lightweight waterproof rain jacket (packed, but not used):  North Face Stormy Trail
  • Race vest 1:  Salomon S-Lab Sense (white), Miles 0 to 19
  • Race vest 2:  Salomon S-Lab Adv Skin3 (black), Miles 20 to Finish
  • Headlamp:  Black Diamond Spot
  • Handheld bottle (Amphipod), 20-oz. (for Miles 0 to 19)
  • Water bottle with extended straw, 20-oz (for Miles 20 to Finish)
  • Trekking poles:  Black Diamond Distance FLZ

……..
Fin.

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