Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Elkhorn Endurance "Run"

Writing a race report while on vacation in a place with little access to internet is challenging, so this report may be a jumble of thoughts with pictures to come later. Despite dealing with nausea yet again, I enjoyed my time in the mountains with Leanne, Carsten and the many others we met along the way. The word "run" is in quotations for Carsten. During a discussion on one of the many uphills we hiked, we agreed that Bill had been right - Elkhorn is tough.

Friday Night
At the pre-race meal and festivities, I got to spend the evening getting to know some new people. Rebecca, Carsten, Jen - I'm glad to have met you and hope to see you or run with you in the near future. Leanne and I also met Bill, a veteran ultra runner who warned us of the difficulty of the course. We stayed focused on the positive, trying not to get psyched out. It was also fun to take home a brand new Nathan hydration pack (the one I've been wanting to order, but didn't feel it was fair to Steve) as part of the pre-race giveaways. Leanne predicted correctly her luck with free stuff and took home another cap. The tricky part of the evening was navigating the port-a-potti, which was set on a small hill at a dangerous angle. Part of successfully completing this experience was doing your business without tipping it over. As Carsten's son said, "it would not be good to fall in there." Rebecca was kind enough to let Leanne and I spend the night in comfy surroundings - meaning shower, toilet, indoor sleeping quarters and friendly faces. Her in-laws were also there visiting, so thank you to the whole family for accommodating us!

Leanne and I left at 5:30 am to pick up Carsten and Gary, so their wives and children could sleep for awhile longer. The morning was warm, but overcast, the runners laid back and ready to go. Before we knew it, the "run" started and we were off. The first couple of miles were on dirt roads overlooking the beautiful re-growth of old burn areas. Then we quickly turned onto trail and started uphill. Almost immediately, we hit a snag. I heard Carsten yell, then saw his arms flailing in the air. I thought maybe he had tripped, but he and Leanne kept moving and so did I. Until I experienced the sharpest, most amazing pain on my arm. HORNETS! Carsten had been stung on the head and I got three in the arm. (Originally, I thought only two - until a mirror that night showed otherwise.) I experienced a moment of panic because of my known and unknown (bees, hornets?) allergies. I figured that I'd know by the Teepee Creek aid station if I needed a rescue squad and kept moving. By the time I arrived, the areas surrounding each sting were red and swollen and oddly I could definitely feel it in the muscle, but the rest of me seemed OK.

After Teepee Creek, the trail started to climb. This section was uphill, but the views were spectacular enough to make the climb tolerable. By this time, Carsten was out of sight. Leanne and I got to meet Bob Hayes, an 82 year old ultrarunner who provided motivation into Elk Park aid station. Unfortunately, it was at this point that I started to feel queasy and light headed. I figured a downhill section would help, but it continued to get worse. For the next seven miles, I battled the urge to throw up trail side and willed myself to put one foot in front of the other. I felt angry at myself and my body during this period because I had practiced with hydration and food during many long runs, thinking I wouldn't have to battle the nausea like during Swan Crest. I felt frustrated that I was holding Leanne back (who, by the way, looked strong and capable throughout), torn between telling her to go ahead and really wanting to complete the race with her as planned.

At my lowest point, a vaguely familiar body was running toward us. It was Rebecca coming to greet us! She was volunteering at Teepee Creek, but put in several miles to check in and keep us company for a bit. Rebecca informed us that Carsten was also struggling, and had decided to wait at the next aid station for us. It was easier to start running again as I listened to Rebecca and Leanne chat. We were greeted at the aid station by Tom Hayes asking "who's the sick one?" I raised my hand, by this time secretly thinking (hoping?) that he'd say I was done for the day. Instead, after I explained my symptoms, he basically said, Yep, that's part of long runs, slow down on the water and stop eating for awhile until your stomach calms down. It was also good to see Carsten again but a bummer to know he was having similar symptoms and knee pain.

We left the aid station to head back down to Teepee Creek, following Tom's instructions, and sure enough, gradually my arm and stomachI felt better. We changed into dry socks, reapplied sunscreen, enjoyed the company of friendly volunteers and geared up for the next brutal climb. That's the only word for it. This particular section seemed to go on forever, especially with the addition of extremely rocky trail conditions. At the top, we could see the next aid station, and we tried to cruise down to it, however, the rocks were tricky to navigate and I was just hoping no one would turn an ankle or worse. We finally reached Jackson Creek aid station, which was my favorite of the whole day. The volunteers were so nice and helpful, plus I enjoyed the absolute best piece of watermelon EVER. I don't even usually like watermelon. It was the craziest thing. I downed it like it was my last meal, making quite a mess of myself.

We took off again, knowing the end was in sight. Somewhere along this last section, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th place 50 milers passed us. That was something to see and motivating. We made it to the last aid station, stopping briefly for more watermelon, my new race food favorite, and headed down to the road to finish the last two miles. Leanne was still really strong, wanting to run it in, but not wanting to leave me behind. (Thanks Leanne). We mentally compromised on a jog to the finish, Carsten not far behind. It was good to see the finish, and even better to grab a diet pepsi and food. Leanne and I wanted to get back to see our husbands, so we thanked the race director, picked up our stuff and headed home just as a major thunderstorm came through the area. Hopefully, everyone still out on the course got back safely.

Some final thoughts...
1)Thank you to Leanne for taking this race on with me!

2)It was good to meet some new people and get to know Rebecca, Carsten and his family.

3)I'm not sure what's up with my stomach. I have no idea if my reaction to the hornets had anything to do with how I felt, but I'd sure like to figure it out. One thing I learned is that no matter how awful it gets, it really can get a lot better. Miles 7-15 were rock bottom. I struggled with the decision to drop, knowing that there would be another serious climb before the end and not wanting to risk other people's safety and time if I got worse along the way.

4)It's also hard once you've committed to running a race with someone else to realize you are holding that person back. This is my second experience feeling that way. It's humbling and hard. I need to figure out what to do with that.

5)The Nathan pack worked great. It's always a risk to try new equipment race day, but so glad I did. Very comfortable and I loved the front pockets.

Overall, a great experience. We were asked before leaving if we'd be back next year. I'd have to do some serious thinking about that. As with any race, you know more once you've finished. The course is tough, especially with the climbs and the rocks. However, the run was well organized with some of the best volunteers I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. It was also extremely beautiful. I'll post some pictures once I get back from vacation!

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