Monday, September 17, 2012

Fallen Tree 50km

On Saturday I completed the Fallen Tree 50km trail run. It was hot and long and this is my race report.

A little back story. I have never run over 26.2 miles at one time before. That is to say the farthest I have ever run in one day is a marathon. Some people who run marathons run further than the marathon on the day because they do a warm up and a cool down. I do not. I get to the start line and use the beginning to warm up and I cross the finish line and I stop. Therefore this was completely uncharted territory. I have been doing some training runs in the mountains with ultra runners (which is what people who run further than a marathon are called) in preparation for races they have coming up. I even am on tap to pace one of them for the last 19 miles of her 100km event but I have felt like an impostor out there with them. The Fallen Tree 50km on September 15th it would be, I would be at the starting line and I would lose my ultra running virginity.

On Friday the weather was fore casted to be very hot and very dry on Saturday. Some lesser people might have decided it wasn't a good day to do their first ultra run, the hottest day of the year. I was not that person. I had committed to the event and from what I know of ultra runners a little heat doesn't stop them. (they have this 135 run that starts in Death Valley for crying out loud, these people are the original honey badgers!).

At 7:01  on Saturday I crossed the starting line. Official start was 0700hrs but chip time had me at 0701. I had my new camel back LR vest with 70oz of fresh water in the bladder and food to survive a long time. The time cut off was at 1600hrs 9 hours into the event. (we had a dinner party to attend). I also carried a hand held bottle with electrolyte mix in it. As I clicked off the first miles I noticed that it was already quite toasty out and the sun was out in full force. I like the heat so just needed to make sure I stayed on top of my hydration. Carrying your water on your back makes you want to drink it, the more you drink the lighter your load becomes. I concentrated on pacing myself but two miles in I made my first pass. She wasn't in my event, was doing a much shorter run so I found my head playing games with me. My internal dialogue went a bit like this 'you are going out too fast, you shouldn't be passing someone, but I feel like I am basically crawling I'm going so slow, okay make sure you don't push too hard on the uphills, remember the experienced girls walk the hills even at the start'.

Just over two hours in after I made the creek crossing on slippery moss covered rocks without slipping and falling in the water (score one for keeping dry feet) I hit the first water station. A quick fill of the hand held at the water fountain and stop in the porta potty (yes, I was on top of my hydration) and I headed up the 2 mile climb. I made my second and fifteenth pass of the day in one swoop as I went by a large group at the base of the trail up. (it was a boy scout troop). The whole way up the switchbacks I kept checking down to make sure that they weren't gaining on me. I have read many ultra runners talk about the importance of getting out of sight with the pass so I made sure I did that. There must have been another event using part of the same course, or the other runners I saw had gotten lost and off course because as I was heading up, they were heading down. I knew that the Fallen Tree 50km did not do any backtracking. Smuggly I carried on.

At three hours in, my pack had gotten fairly light and my hand held bottle had less than a half left in it. As the day heated up I was needing more and more fluid. I had just come down a very steep, very exposed trail with no breeze and I knew I was going to need more water soon. Prior to the event the crew station locations were a little vague so I pulled out my phone and called my support crew. No answer. That's okay, he's probably driving to meet me and is going to surprise me early. I held on to the belief for the next 4 miles. I saw several mountain bikers through this section and they all were very encouraging. I got to where I thought my crew would be and they were not there. A guy who had just finished his mountain bike stepped in and gave me the two mouthfuls of water he had left in his bottles. I tried calling my crew again, still nothing. I started to look at the lake I was passing and wonder how sick the water would make me and why I was not carrying purification tablets like a seasoned pro would have been? Still have so much to learn! Suddenly my phone rang and my support crew was on the way.

I plugged along, running when I could and walking the steep uphills. I was starting to find the flats a  little tough. Suddenly I turned a corner and there in the distance was the crewing station. I picked up my pace with thoughts of cold beverages and fresh squeezed OJ. My crew was awesome. He totally took charge. Slathered me in sunscreen, filled my pack, insisted on filling my hand held when I said I didn't need it since I had no electrolyte to mix in it and he wet me down and put my hat on me. Off I went completely refreshed and in disbelief. I wasn't sure it was true that me hearty had actually touched my disgusting, salt encrusted sweaty body but the evidence was there when I looked down and saw the sheen of sunscreen on my arms and legs.

The next section of the run saw me enter the hottest part of the course. The trail was lined with vegetation and deep in a valley so there was no breeze. It was sweltering and I was beginning to have lots of self doubts. Really, who was I kidding, I had barely trained for this thing, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I was fairly familiar with this trail from mountain biking it and knew that soon I would be going up some switchbacks out of the valley. Just around the next corner for sure I would say. Amazing how much faster you get there on a mountain bike. Finally, I saw the climb and rejoiced in the fact that I could walk up it. About an hour after I left my crew I noticed that my pack was surprisingly light and the hand held he made me take was dry. I still had some time to go and this was not good. I may have just climbed out of the valley but I was now in the proverbial valley of the run. It was not a good place, things started to hurt, I started to dread the downhills. I called my crew and arranged another meeting.

When I had been running with the veterans they had told me that they use music when it gets rough to motivate themselves. I poo pooed that idea as not being purest. Well can I just say I have never been so happy to have a speaker on my phone and pandora available. I pulled out that crutch, put it on the 80's hair band station and suddenly my legs came to life. Nothing like a little ACDC to turn me into a fast machine. I may have been shuffling, but I was making forward progress and then suddenly I took a huge pull from my straw and got the dreaded dry sucking sounded. I felt back and sure enough my pack was empty of water. I told myself it was okay, my awesome crew would be there in no time. Once again he appeared like an oasis and this time he not only brought me water and electrolyte but an ice cold coke. I let him take charge and did what he said and was out of the crewing station in no time and on my way to the finish. I was buoyed for the remainder of the run by two things, first the charge I got from the caffeine and sugar and second as I headed out me hearty told me he was proud of me for getting it done.

As I started up the final climb into the home stretch the words coming out of my speaker were 'you may be right, I may be crazy, but it just might be a lunatic you're looking for'. The universe made me smile with how fitting the songs were that came out of that little piece of magic. As I crossed the finish line in first place I had a wash of overwhelming relief and pride. I had accomplished what I set out to do. Does it make me an ultra runner? I don't know, they say if a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it that it doesn't make a sound. Even without a witness though, the tree still goes from standing to being fallen. It may not have been a sanctioned event, but I still covered 50km with my own feet in one shot and I hold the course record for the Fallen Tree 50km.


  1. Wow - good job... most impressive to run 50k for sure. Didn't know you thinking about becoming an ultrarunner! I can't wait to crew for you someday! I guess you're transitioning from my triathlon hero to my "ultra hero"!

  2. You are one tough cookie! I always think of your mental toughness when the going gets tough for me. Congrats again!