I have never been so cold for so long, and so sore post-race, as I was Saturday after finishing the Run Rabbit Run 50-Mile Ultra. I cried while walking/jogging the last six miles downhill because I was in so much pain and so cold. I cried at the finish line because I was so happy to be done.
This is a long report, pretty much a summary of my 2011 racing season. I believe my strength and endurance, as well as my speed, has been great this season. I feel even more fit than in 2008, the year I won the Ironman in Kona. Since I planned this year not to go to Kona, I found myself struggling somewhat with training, which ended up being exactly what I needed to get super fit and strong.
My racing season kicked off early in June with the Boulder Sunrise Olympic Distance triathlon. The next weekend was the Kansas 70.3, where I earned a slot to Vegas Worlds. I then had six weeks of Ironman-specific training in preparation for Lake Placid in July. In August I surprised myself with my speed and strength through back-to-back races the 27th and 28th at the Boulder Irongirl and the Steamboat Triathlon, both wins. I was very confident about my next race, the 70.3 Worlds in Vegas on September 11th, and even more excited about my 50-miler the weekend after Vegas.
My Reason for Running an Ultra
After struggling with the marathon in Ironman Lake Placid (despite feeling, pre-race, so fit and confident that I would have a great marathon) I wanted to do a something different. I did not want to worry about racing, and wanted to do an event where speed did not matter.
The day after Lake Placid, I signed up for the Horsetooth 10k open water swim. I felt completely recovered one week after Ironman Lake Placid and went into the 10k swim excited about experiencing the unknown. The most difficult part about the swim was my lack of swim training. I had the strength and endurance, I just lacked the repetitive motion of swim stroking. I finished under my goal time of three hours, with thoughts of doing other ultra swim in 2012. Two weeks after the swim, I was ready for a new challenge, this time with running. I never had any desire to do an Ultra run. I rarely run on trails, and I am horrible at downhill running.
In 2010 I paced my friend Fred during the Leadville 100. That amounted to a slow walk from mile 60 to 77. I questioned why anyone would want to participate in 100-mile run if they walk the last 50 miles of it. In Fred’s case, he is going for 10 Leadville finishes, so he does not have a time goal, just a finish goal. That year I thought maybe for my 40th birthday I would run an Ultra; but why wait?
Why Run Rabbit Run in Steamboat?
I choose to do the Run Rabbit Run this year in Steamboat because the race did not interrupt my Ironman training. Because of my connection with Fred, the race director gave me a spot.
Training leading up to the 50 miler:
I ended up signing up late (on August 20) for RRR because of my full summer of triathlon races. My training was my typical triathlon training. The marathon at Lake Placid was my longest run. I look the last week of July as pretty casual recovery time, then in August I focused on training for 70.3 Vegas Worlds . I ran two trail runs of Old Flowers Road after riding up Rist Canyon (my Brick Sandwiches). I raced Irongirl and Steamboat Olympic Distance Triathlons, then Boulder Sunset, pulling an Athletes in Tandem partner. I ran my fastest 5k ever on Labor Day (18:35), then raced Vegas 70.3 Worlds the following weekend before heading up to Steamboat for my first Ultra.
I got a little nervous the week before Run Rabbit Run, and emailed three of my friends who each recently did their first Ultra, asking them about their training and nutrition. I told them I was writing an article and needed their feedback. No one knew I was running a 50 miler.
I had met Joy Rasmussen, former race director for the Steamboat Triathlon, at the Steamboat Triathlon three weeks earlier. She invited me up to Steamboat to give a presentation to the Steamboat Triathletes on the Thursday evening before RRR. Joy did a great job promoting my talk.
Since I was already signed up for Run Rabbit Run, I drove to Steamboat Thursday night and did the talk, then hung out and rested in her beautiful home. I woke up early on Saturday, ran 50 miles, then drove back to Fort Collins Saturday night following the post-race celebration. The entire trip went fast and was surreal.
The weather forecast called for rain, and it was pouring at 3:00 a.m., although it stopped by 6:00 a.m., the race start time. This was the 5th year of Run Rabbit Run, and conditions are typically dry and sunny. After viewing pictures on the website, I was looking to the scenery occupying my mind
At the start line, fellow runners were telling me that I was over dressed and would be too hot running uphill the first six miles. I did not care, I’d rather be too warm than too cold. I was one of only a very few that covered my legs. I was wearing tri shorts, my Timex leg warmers, a long-sleeved shirt with my Timex vest, and my Newton Trail shoes. I had two hats and (two pair of?) gloves in my Nathan pack, along with candy, gum and my phone for photos. My special needs bag – I mean my drop bag – had an extra pair of socks and shoes, along with my Timex jacket and another pair of gloves.
The first 6.5 miles is a 3,300-foot climb up winding switchbacks at the Steamboat Ski Resort to Storm Peak. Many runners were power hiking the whole way up. I am way too slow to power hike, so I kept a 90 one foot strike cadence running uphill, and did not walk the entire way. Same with the downill sections, I tried to keep my quick cadence the entire 50 miles. Quick feet and high knees I attribute to my Insanity workouts. Whether running uphill or downhill, my focus was keeping my feet moving as fast as possible. I ran to the top in just under 90 minutes and felt fine. The temperature dropped a tad at the top of Storm Peak at 10,000 feet, and it was foggy so I could not see much. I took the descent slow and pulled into mile 13 around at 2:40, 25% done! I drank some coke and water (a new mixture I tried at Vegas 70.3 the previous weekend) and ate some fig Newtons and mini cinnamon rolls, that was my treat at each aid station.
I continued to the next aid station at mile 18. Ken and Fred where there to greet me. Ken helped fill my Nathan pack with water, gave me some salt tabs, and sent me on my way to mile 22, Dumont, where spectators and drop bags were located. Then the rain started to come down. It was not yet that cold and I did not pull out my rain jacket. I would proceed and get my drop bag on the return trip at mile 28.
I was 100% focused on getting to the turnaround at Rabbit Ears Pass, mile 25, in under six hours. The steepest climb of the day was from mile 23 to mile 25, the first time I had to walk. I was slipping and sliding – conditions of the trail were ugly. I had to hold onto tree branches as I made my way up and back down. This was the hardest part of the day so far. At the top of Rabbit Ears, I put on my rain jacket as it started to snow. My hands were so cold I could barely zip my jacket or snap a photo with my phone. The fog was too dense to see much. I texted my husband, Don, that I had reached the turn-around poing at 5 hours and 20 minutes. If I could stay on this pace, I would break 11 hours. I walked back down the climb at the same pace I walked up – not very fast. The trail was too slick to run.
At mile 28, back at Dumont, I stopped to get my gloves out of my drop bag and went to the bathroom for the first time. For the most part, I had run alone most of the day, which made for a tough second 25 miles.
The next four miles had me running though puddles and streams with no way to keep my feet warm. My second pair of gloves were soaked, the rain was coming down harder, and the temperature was dropping. I was shivering. It took about an hour to cover those four miles. At mile 32, I was elated to have run this far, and to have only 18 miles to go. I took off my soaked gloves and noticed my fat fingers and worried about hypoatremia, a metabolic condition in which there is not enough sodium (salt) in the body fluids outside the cells. Common symptoms include: Abnormal mental status Confusion; Decreased consciousness; Hallucinations…so I made sure to eat chips and fill my pack with electrolyte mix.
The next five miles seemed like 10 and was the most challenging part of the day. There was increased wind at my face, stream crossings, climbing to a higher elevation and more snow. I was not having that much fun, could not enjoy the scenery, and could not run faster then 15-minute miles. I hate being cold.
At the mile 37 aid station, a volunteer gave me her husband’s gloves and helped pulled by hat from my Nathan pack. Only 13 miles to finish and I was at 8 hours, 10 minutes leaving that aid station. My goal was to make it to mile 44 at 10 hours, then breeze the last six miles downhill. I ate fig newtons, cookies, and more to help keep my body temperature up because I knew it would be two hours before I reached the next aid station.
I took off and felt good for a couple miles, then I was mentally and physically done. I did not look at my watch. I walked a lot during this seven-mile stretch, my heart rate dropped, and I was just cold. My motivation to run was to keep warm while trying to maintain a 15-minute-mile pace. Finally, I looked at my watch: 9 hours 55 minutes. I turned the corner, saw the last aid station tent, and Don.
Don was a volunteer EMT for the race. He started his shift at 5:00 a.m., and waited for me to get back to that aid station. I asked him to walk the last six miles with me. My quads were shot and I knew I had no ability to run downhill.
He gave me his jacket and gloves. I could not stop crying because I was so cold and my entire body hurt. I could not move fast enough to stay warm. I was so happy Don was with me at this point. We walked about two miles in 50 minutes. I looked at my watch – 10:50 – and got the mental energy to get my legs moving because finishing under 12 hours was still achievable. I started to trot downhill, dropping Don behind me. As we approached lower elevations it got warmer and that gave me energy to jog. I had tears running down my cheek as I finished, this time tears of joy to have completed a 50-mile run.
My final thoughts on Ultra and Ironman Training.
1. Training for Ironman prepared me to complete a 50-mile run. Ironman training involves the same strength and endurance and nutritional components required for a 50-mile trail run. What I lacked in my training is sport specificity, especially for the challenges of the RRR run course at elevation. I obviously knew I would have been better off training up and down the hills of Horsetooth Mountain Park, Towers Road, or similar terrain to strengthen my legs and improve my downhill running skills so I did not have to walk the last six miles.
2. I am convinced my alternative BeachBody p90x and Insanity programs strengthened my tendons, ligaments, and stabilizing muscles that gave me more confidence that my body would hold up to an Ultra run
3. I doubt training for an Ultra run alone will help my Ironman speed and fitness. I can’t say I want to do the typical 50-mile training schedule involving back-to-back long runs on the weekend (20 plus then 10-20 miles the next day).
4. If I do another 50 mile run I will commit to running on trails and focus on trail-specific uphill and downhill miles and technique. I will also continue biking because I enjoy it – biking strengthened my quads, which helped get me up over the hills.
5. I was conservative, running 12-15 minute miles for my first Ultra. I would have had more fun if I was faster, so that’s something for me to think about before I run another one.
Thank yo to my sponsors Timex, Newton and Powerbar for supporting me though my 2011 season full of adventures!
Special thanks to Joy Rasmussen for making me feel at home while in Steamboat and thank you to Fred Abramowitz for allowing me to enter his race.
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