Sunday, August 8, 2010

Back from the Brink at Dirty Girls

Yesterday, Saturday August 7th, was my first Dirty Girls (DG) race. Last year I had some prior commitments and couldn’t do it. This year, I signed up for the 12 hour race. DG offers a number of events: 30k, 6hr, 12hr and 24hr. The course is a 10km loop. The course apparently has been changed quite a bit this year and people I talked to were unanimous: it’s harder now.

I was dubious about running this long, with Haliburton only a few weeks away, but it didn’t seem to faze anyone else, many people going signing up for the 24hr event. A lot of 12hr and 24hr runners drove up on Friday and camped but Mansfield isn’t that far and I drove early in the morning and got there with time to spare. I chatted with a few people, including a few who had run Burning River 100 the prior weekend. Kinga and Stephan were taking a break by volunteering at the 5km aid station for the whole 24 hour. A couple of or BR100 people were actually signed up for the 24hr event. Unbelievable.

My plan was simple, run about 50 miles and stop if I didn’t have time for a full loop before the 12hr was done. You can keep running until the end of your event but DG will recognize only 1/4 loop increments (2.5km). Then you have to walk back. To me, this was purely a training event. I wanted to test my nutrition, my pacing, my water system and, of course, my fitness.

The 6, 12 and 24hr races started at 8AM. We actually had chips, which is pretty rare in a long event like this. The weather was cool, probably 15C, but a bit humid. Still, it was better running weather than what we’ve had for most recent races.

The course begins with a low grade uphill that keeps on giving. On the first loop, we ran quite a bit of it but on following loops, I rarely ran much for the first 12 minutes. The flat sections were rare. The downhills were steep and rocky. By the 5k aid station, I was already wondering about those 50 miles. Didn’t feel like I was making much progress and I needed an average of 1h30 per loop, which I had thought wouldn’t be an issue. A few of the uphills were really long and steep, sucking the energy right out of your legs. I finished my first loop in 1h21, including a stop at the porta-potty. I felt like I had been pretty conservative, but the first loop is tricky because your body is just so strong. I had been eating gels and Nature Valley bars regularly. It was getting warmer but not hot.

Things were going well until the 5th loop. My pace was getting slower but that was to be expected. The wheels came off a bit. Eating the gels was difficult. I switched to NV bars, but I didn’t feel that much better. After a climb, getting back to running was difficult. Back at the start area after the 5th loop (50km), I felt pretty bad. On that loop, my time had been 1h40 and I knew that 50 miles (8 loops) was no longer an option. I briefly wondered if maybe I should just stop. I didn’t feel horrible, but the gravitational pull of seeing all your stuff around your comfy chair is really strong. A guy was drinking a cold beer right beside my chair. It looked so good.

I was feeling a bit nauseous. Something had to be done. My nutrition wasn’t working. I decided to stop the solids and switch to sport drink. My problem is that I don’t really like Heed if it’s not ice cold. I filled my bottle with 1/3 ice and the rest Heed and I got going. Stopping had not really been an option. It was just nice to pretend that I could put an end to this.

The 6th loops was both the worst and the best loop of the race. The worst one because it was my slowest one, in the 1:45 range. The best one because I came back to life on that loop. About 2km into the loop, I was running pretty slow and going down a long hill, I passed a wreck of a guy. He was walking down, chatting with another female runner. I recognized him because he had lapped me on the previous loop. I slowed down a bit and he decided to follow. I decided to stick around with him for a while. I needed some rest and he could use the diversion. So we jogged/walked for a while. After a km or so I could feel him pull and I told him to go. A few 100 meters later I passed him while he puked about a liter of liquid on the side of the trail. I reached the 5k aid station in pretty good spirits,considering that only 5k before, I had considered quitting, however briefly. They had, of all things, grilled cheese sandwiches. After a while without solid food, I decided to try one and I slowly ate it walking away on the road. It felt surprisingly good. Actually, I felt pretty good. My pace on the first 5k had been really slow, but now I felt pretty darn good.

I had read and heard a low about getting out of bad patches. Personally, although I had experienced going from horrible to bad, I had never made it back to feeling good. Well, by the end of that 6th loop, even though that loop was the slowest of the day, I felt like a million bucks. I decided to test this miraculous recovery on the 7th loop. I wanted to know if this was a fickle feeling that would go away as soon as I pushed a bit or if this was something more substantial. I decided to leave my legs on the course on that last loop. When I plan on suffering, I make deals with myself about the limits. There’s a part of my brain that seems to need to know the worst case scenario. In this case, the deal was that we would run as hard as we could without puking and in exchange, we weren’t going back out for a partial loop, no matter who tried to convince me to go back out.

The guy I had helped passed me at some point and when I got to the start/finish area he was still there trying to figure out how to revive himself. I stuffed my face with fruit, Charlotte gave me a big chunk of cantaloupe from her personal stash. On my way out, I told him I was now officially un-lapped. He was now less than a lap ahead. He said he would catch up and I told him he could try.

I started the loop and ran the shallower hills on that first uphill stretch. Not quite as much as on the first loop, but more than in any other loop. I felt pretty friggin’ good. Sometimes, after a longer uphill push, I started to feel nauseous and I walked until the feeling receded but my general energy level remained high, even with the effort level I was sustaining. I got to the 5k aid station in what felt like no time, and then it was time for the final push. At about 7k, I hear something and here’s my new friend, apparently recovered, right behind me. Damn. When he catches up I let him pass and off he goes, slowly pulling away. But not pulling away that fast. I still feel like I’m running strong. The big difference, compared with the first couple of loops, are the downhills. I just can’t go down as fast when the footing is questionable. I’m afraid my foot will not do exactly what I want it to do and I’m going to end up flat on my face. About 2k from the finish, there’s a short out and back where you can see other runners that are within a few minutes from you. My pal is not that far ahead. The last section has a sign that says: “Single track to the end”. I know there’s not 10 minutes left. I decide to go all out just to see what happens. I run the uphills (well, maybe I walk the one). I’m a running machine. I see movement up ahead. Ah! I sprint and catch up shortly before the field. We come out of the forest at the same time and he is gracious enough to let me get on the mat before him, thereby un-lapping me officially. By him anyhow. I got lapped numerous times, even double lapped by a couple of people.

As expected, well meaning people tried to convince me to go out for a partial loop. But I had made a deal and I only smiled. Sitting in my chair, I saw a number of people come out of the woods and then go back out and I marvelled at their mental fortitude. I guess they made different deals.

DG was a great race for me. Experiencing this comeback blew my mind. I’m sure it wouldn’t have lasted forever, but it sure lasted longer than I thought. Just knowing that my body is capable of that is an amazing boost  before Haliburton.

Do I regret not going back out? After all, the point of the race is the distance you run, not how fast you run. Not really. Of course, all those people will move ahead of me in the official results but I satisfied that I accomplished what I needed todo for myself.

I’ll post my official lap and finish times when they come out.


David said...

Way to bounce back - great mental effort that will serve you well in 5 weeks. You're strong and ready for the challenge of Haliburton.

chris mcpeake said...

great job JD.
The course was much, much harder this year then last. Good to hear you had such a good race.

Derrick said...

As David said...huge mental boost for Haliburton!