Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Headlands Hundred

As it turns out, Pacific Coast Trail Runs Headlands Hundred was my big finale in the bay area before the move back to Chicago in September. It's been a lot of fun getting to know the running community here, everyone will be missed.

I will also miss all the hills to train on, HH gave me an opportunity to see what I can do when there are a LOT of hills, over 20,000 feet of elevation gain. To get an idea of what that kind of gain looks like, check out this great flyover video posted by the Endurables.

The course was a 25 mile loop done "washing machine" style, which apparently means each loop alternates directions. At the start line I noticed a lot of really fast runners. People like Brian Krogmann, Mark Tanaka, and Ray Sanchez were just a few of the people there (that I knew of) with impressive running resume's. My money however, was on Nathan Yanko. Nathan was running his first 100 mile race, but I knew from seeing him before that he had some real talent, and was coming in well prepared. I had a feeling that the previous course record of 20hrs 20mins would fall by the end of the race.

7:00am Saturday we all got started and immediately hit the first steep climb. Only a few of us ran the majority of the hill. No sense in getting into a huge rush, no matter what it's gonna be a looong day. I spent most of the first 25 mile lap trying to stay relaxed and keep an efficient stride. Around mile 16 I was running with Nathan, talking about strategy for the race when he relayed that we were currently in 2nd and 3rd place. This was a little worrisome, I really didn't want to go out too fast, but I also didn't want to waste my opportunity to run well while I was feeling good. The first 25 mile lap went very smooth, coming in at 4hrs 3mins, well ahead of my goal pace. The only real pain was the quarter mile or so of sand that we had to run on to cross Rodeo Beach. Running in sand is painfully slow, and now I had sand digging into the spots where my toenails used to be (I had lost a few toenails in my last race and they hadn't grown back yet). I made sure to give Race Director Sarah a semi good naturedly hard time about making us all run through the sand when I saw her.
The next 25 mile lap went the other direction, so first thing we did was run through the sand again (Sarah, I'm still blaming you personally). In my opinion, running the course this direction was much harder. While the elevation change was obviously the same either way, it just seemed a lot less runable in spots. Nevertheless, I was still feeling pretty good for most of lap 2, except for all the blisters that were now open and filled with sand. With about 3 miles to go in the second lap, I notice Brian Krogmann running toward me cursing like a sailor. Apparently, he had missed a turn and had taken a detour for a few miles. I feel his pain, I am terrible at following directions, and have gotten lost on even the best marked courses. It's demoralizing to know that you know have to run a 103 mile race, instead of 100. Even though 3 miles doesn't seem like much in a 100 mile race, 3 miles is still not a short distance. I made a note to self to make sure I didn't miss that turn when it came around again at night. I Finished the first 50 miles in 5th place (I think) around 9hrs 15mins. Now things were about to get serious.
As is the case with all 100 milers, the second 50 miles is where people have to put their cajones on the line. Besides the typical fatigue and muscle soreness, some of the ultrarunning specific pains and injuries were starting to pile up. My shoulders hurt from holding my arms out all day, I was down to 4 total toe nails, and I had bloody rub spots around my collar, waistband, thighs, and um 'private areas'. For some reason, body glide just wasn't doing the trick this time. Luckily, blood is a good lubricant. Also, stomach upset was kicking in. I knew I had to eat, but I couldn't manage to swallow any solid foods. Not good when there is still 40 miles to go. While at an aid station trying to decide if there was something, anything that I could manage to swallow and keep down, I saw an empty ensure bottle in the trash can. Hmmm. I had never drank ensure, but I knew a lot of ultrarunners who did. I asked around at the aid station, and someone happened to have one in their car, success! Abby offered to go get some more at a store, so the rest of the race I was on an all liquid diet and the stomach issues disappeared.
While I was doing my best to run up a gnarly hill, Mark Tanaka came strolling up from behind. We talked for a while, and it turned out Mark had just completed an Ironman Triathlon the previous weekend! Wow. Just when I start to think I am getting pretty tough, someone comes along and shows what the next level is like. I suggested that maybe he take the next weekend off.
With 30 miles to go, darkness set in. My all pro pacer, Eric, gave me my headlamp and flashlight with the plan that he would join me at mile 75. I Finished the 3rd 25 mile lap in 4th place around 14hrs 30mins.
One more tough lap to go. I am glad Eric was there, he kept me motivated and on course. I probably wasn't the most pleasant running partner at all times and every few minutes I would let out a long groan. The first half of the last lap was a slog; I was doing my best just to be "running" although a lot of the terrain was basically walking. I was definitely slowing down. By the time Eric and I crested the tallest hill with 10 miles to go, I was toast. We limped into the next to last aid station with 8 miles to go.
As we were leaving the aid station, 5th place Dan Fish and his pacer came in to the aid station looking strong. At first I was apathetic; what's one more position? I was doing better than I had hoped, maybe I will just let them catch us. Then, suddenly I was racing. I couldn't let someone catch me with less than 8 miles to go. Besides, I didn't have anything I was saving myself for the next day. I started picking up speed, and was going faster than we had gone in hours. However, Dan and his pacer were still keeping up, and even catching up. We kept seeing their headlamps getting closer and closer. I was going to have to find another gear. With 5 miles to go, I decided there was no point in holding anything back at that point, and picked up the pace again. I musta been going pretty good, because Eric was suddenly way behind me. Looks like the last few miles would be on my own.
I ran into the last aid station telling Abby that I needed one more ensure on the double. Someone was hot on my tail and I didn't want to slow down. I thought for a second about getting extra batteries for the headlamp and flashlight since I was going to be on my own, but I didn't want to waste the time slowing down.
Naturally, a few minutes outside the last aid station my headlamp died (the box that the headlamp came in claimed it would last 25 hours, what a crock). I now only had a small flashlight and it was dark and foggy. I was also running as fast as I could, so it was a recipe for a faceplant or a tumble down a hill. Only sheer dumb luck kept me on my feet and Seeing Brian take the wrong turn earlier in the day was instrumental in making sure I didn't make the same wrong turn. Remarkably, losing my headlamp actually helped me run faster because I knew if my flashlight went out too, I was toast. 98 miles in, I was running up hills that I previously thought were too steep to run.
Thankfully, my flashlight held on through the final climb, and 20hrs 36mins after I started, I finished in 4th place. Whew! I was very happy with my performance, especially with so many quality runners in the race. Thanks to my crew, Abby and Eric, and everyone else who made the race possible. By the way, Nathan Yanko did end up winning and crushing the record in 18hrs 45mins.
What a great race, and a great year that it has been in California. I plan on coming back soon. One little tidbit that I was wondering if other runners experience: For three days after the race, I had this nagging feeling that I was still running. The best way I can think of describing it is like the feeling you get after being on a boat for a long time and then when you are on land it still feels like you are swaying. I would also have a constant feeling that I need to hurry up and get a move on, even if I didn't have anywhere to go. I think I got in such a mode of constantly pushing myself, that it took a few days to wear off. I wonder if this happens to anyone else?