Sunday, April 13, 2014

Race Report: Forget the PR 50K

There is a story behind most names. "PR" stands for "personal record," a term common in the running community for running our fastest time ever at a particular distance or specific to a race we've done in the past. Forget the PR is a great name for this 50K as it's grueling, has countless climbs, lots of mud, and simply put, is relentless right into the last mile. While I was 17min slower than last year's finish at this race, it was a great experience.

Race morning, for me, began in the 3am hour as I brewed my traditional espresso, made my pre-race ritual PB&J, took my meaningless shower (as I knew the mud awaited), and loaded the car for the 1 1/2 hour drive to Mohican State Park in Loudonville, OH. It was a crisp 37F at the start with clear skies. By the end, it would double to 74F at the finish. I checked in then head back to my warm car until it was time for Rob, the race director, to give his pre-race instructions. At 7:30am, we were off and onto the trails. After a short 2-ish miles, the biggest climb of the day arrives, dubbed Big A$$ Hill and rightfully so...because it is! I'm thankful we get this monster first and not 20+ miles later. It's a "knuckle-dragging" kind of hill because of its incline and when you get to the top, you find out that it dips for a moment then keeps on going up which you can't see from the base. I powered past many on this hill as hill climbing is my forte (unless I'm in the WV mountains, from what I've found!) and cruised after getting to the top. (Photo below courtesy of Mark Carroll)

The race was a combination of just about everything. We've had a good bit of rain so the Mohican River was high and flowing fast. For the water crossings, most were up to my knees or just below. For the short runners out there, quite a bit higher for them. Here's a photo, courtesy of fellow runner, Tim Simenc who took a lot of photos during his a good idea of the typical water crossing during the 50K...we had 4 of them. You may think that is horrible or how our shoes would be soaked, etc. Honestly, it was cold and so refreshing. With all the mud, too, it was great to wash it all off...for a few minutes, at least. For the feet, as long as you lube them up and wear the right kind of socks, it's all good. Many other parts of the course were shoe-sucking mud and often times, it was a foot deep. For anyone who didn't tie their shoes tight, they were sure to lose a shoe or two. Other sections were fast downhills, covered in wet leaves, with moving rocks beneath. Very tricky and at mile 9.25, the trickiness got me. I've been fortunate in my ultra running to have a great many close calls when I turn my ankle, falls without injury, etc. I was going down one of those slippery, leaf-covered hills with softball-sized rocks moving and sliding beneath. My right ankle caught one, turned in 90 degrees and I heard a "pop!" The first thought was "oh what...this could be bad on so many levels" but I kept on moving, but limping. It didn't stop me but I did slow so this distraction wouldn't cause me to take a hard fall or something. After gingerly finishing the descent, I put my weight back on to that foot and it felt sore...but fine for running. Over the next few miles, it basically disappeared and I didn't think about it again.

Aid stations are pretty evenly spaced. The longest stretch is the first at 7 miles and then they get closer. Typical ultra fare but I was trying a new strategy at this race. Typically, I partake of Pringles, PB&J, and graze the other salty snacks. On this day, it was all Hammer Nutrition and on a schedule. Just before the top of each hour, I had one Hammer Gel. At the top of the hour, I took one of their new Endurolyte Extreme tablets (3 in 1), and then a Perpetuem Solid about 10min later. For liquid electrolytes, I drank Heed all day. It went very well! The tablets and solids are super light so they traveled well in my short pockets and the gels fit in my handheld's zippered pocket. The only other food I ate were some watermelon slices, a few pieces of bananas, and some oranges. When I saw the oranges, I grabbed a handful simply to get the potassium in me to help ward off the charlie horses after the race. That worked, too! Not a single one. I will continue to use this strategy of fueling, most notably at June's Highlands Sky 40 Mile Trail Run in Davis, WV.

The last 10 miles of the Forget the PR 50K are pretty incredible. As the course approaches the Covered Bridge Aid Station around mile 20 or 21, the course crosses/zig-zags the creek over walking bridges then pops out on the road at the bridge. From here, runners head out on a 4mi loop that follows rocky but dry trail first then navigates through a creek, moss-covered rocks, and lots of mud. At the end of that awaits the root wall. The root wall goes straight up and you climb it. I grabbed a photo off of since I left my phone in the trunk. At the top, you continue on along trail and eventually pop out on a mile or so long road section. By this time, it was 70F and full sun. The course goes along the spillway and was beautiful. Most of this road section is straight uphill so most are walking here. Eventually, we enter the trail again for some fast downhills as we head back to the Covered Bridge. When I first arrived at the Covered Bridge and saw my fellow NEO Trail friend, Kimba, I gave her a hug while congratulating her on her recent Zion 100 mile finish, I was pretty beat and struggling. Somewhere in that 4 mile loop I came alive and felt new as ever. It was also nice to see so many runners I knew at this time, due to the loop nature of this section.

Photo courtesy of Tim Simenc
I did have my highlight of the race during this loop, though. Over halfway through the loop we came upon Lyons Falls...a waterfall that, to my best estimation is about 3 stories high. We went down into the cavernous-like base via stairs then picked up the trail at the base. The water was raging and beautiful. Last year, I washed my hands off. This time, though, it was warm out and the thought of a quick "shower" beneath the falls was tempting. I threw down my handheld and walked on in. The water was hitting hard so I didn't look up, it was very cold, but oh so refreshing. I got drenched to the core but had a smile unmatched during the race. It was beyond awesome and so recharging...just what I needed. After spending about 30 seconds in the "shower," I wiped the water from my eyes, picked up my handheld, and got running.

I definitely chit-chat a lot more than normal at Forget the PR during the race. I hadn't seen so many of these folks in quite awhile. Looking back, I have no regrets at all. Did it cost me a few minutes here and there? Sure it did but it's not only about my personal finishing time (which no one else cares about but ME!) but about the journey and enjoying it. It was great to catch up while doing something we all love.

I knew it wasn't going to be a course PR for me. I won't dare complain about the beautiful, sunny warmth but when it comes to ultra marathons, a slower time will always pair with warmer that's my Achille's Heal. Last year, I finished in 6:03 with temperatures 20-30 degrees colder and rain and this year, the mercury reached 74F at the finish under sunny skies. I even got some sun on my very white winter skin. At the finish, the clock read 6hrs, 20min, 14sec., good enough for 65th of 180 finishers. My 28th ultra marathon and for the first time, I have more ultra finishes than marathons (27). I was handed my finishers belt buckle and felt good about the journey. Last year's buckle was shiny but this year's is like pewter...AWESOME! This race actually has showers so after taking in a bottle of Hammer's Recoverite and snapping this selfie, I showered, hung out at the finish awhile longer, then head on home. Satisfied. Thankful. Ready for the next.

Ahhh...Forget the PR. You have stretches of sky-high evergreens while running on pine needles, sections of mud and water that totally encompass the trail, slippery rocks, leaf-covered trails, relentless climbs that never seem to end, but I love you. Rob and crew, my thanks to you for an incredible race experience yet again and thank you for giving back to the communities and organizations around you. Thanks so much.

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