Race Recap: Redbird Crest 100k

The idea of running a 100k scared me. A lot. I wasn't sure if I had it in me. This particular 100k was a new race, on terrain I had never seen before, with a race company I had no experience with (but came highly recommended). I was emotionally prepared for the possibility of a DNF (did not finish) but I refused to go into the race with the idea that I might not finish. For my own possibility of best success, I had to have the mindset that I would hit that trail and give my all and find my way to the end somehow. But I was really nervous.
Preparing race packets for Mike and Amy, including maps, directions, and notes
I "laminated" the aid station location info with my own notes and time predictions, to carry with me in my pocket. 
On the back of my aid station carry-along, I wrote two running quotes to refer to when I needed them.

Friday after work, My husband Mike and I drove to the cabin I had found on AirBnB. It was an hour from the race start, about as close as we could get without staying in a dorm or tent. I found something that looked pretty and fun, because I wanted all the parts of this weekend to be great for both of us. It was the weekend before I turned 40. Mike had never been to a trail race before, aside from Ragnar which is totally different.

We arrived at the cabin at 8:00 p.m. Friday night. I immediately started to unpack my gear so I could lay out my flat and feel confident I had everything. On top of the pile was my Salomon hydration pack, and I immediately realized I had forgotten my water bottles. OH MY GOODNESS! I couldn't run this race without water bottles. I wouldn't even be able to check in. I was really upset and freaking out. Mike handed me a beer and asked me how he could help. I immediately posted in my Facebook group Falls City Trail Runners about my discovery, and to my surprise, the first response I received was from one of the race directors offering to bring water bottles for me. Texts started to pour in from friends offering to drive all the way to the cabin, or to meet Mike halfway. I have such a good support community. I knew Amy would arrive around noon to be ready to pace me for the last loop, and she could bring water bottles and I could switch out the bottles I was borrowing for ones that would work in my pack. Hopefully what the race director provided would work. I would figure it out in the morning. Everything else I needed was there. It would be about 12 degrees warmer at the start than I had packed for, so I reduced layers from what I had planned. The start would be about 40 degrees, then up to high 50s during the day, and then back down to the low 40s and high 30s when it got dark again.

Flat Marian. Gear all checked and laid out for the race.
While I laid out my gear, Mike reviewed the race info and my instructions.
I ate a quick dinner of Greek yogurt and granola (after a late lunch with a burger), and then went to bed at 9:30 with a 4:45am wake up call. As usual the night before a race, I slept terribly, so I was glad when the alarm finally went off. I got ready quickly. Mike was not as quick, which irritated me because I wanted cushion in case we got lost. We left at 5:20 and arrived at the race at 6:30.
Getting dressed, putting 2Toms on my feet to prevent blisters.
I quickly went to check in. It was really dark, I wasn’t expecting to start in the dark; the race director gave me two water bottles from The Reaper 30K and they fit in my pack, thank goodness. I was really stressing this. I had my mandatory gear checked and everything was all set. Went to the bathroom, then got into the start shoot. Looked like about 25-30 people were there.
And we were off!
I love the sound of a trail race start. Soft sounds of feet on the trail, headlamps glowing, quiet stillness of everyone sussing out what the day could bring. About 3 minutes in, I realized that I had forgotten to put my contacts in. I accepted that I would be running this whole race in my glasses. That would be a first! Though I had done plenty of training runs in my glasses so I knew it wouldn't be the end of the world.

Mike captured this photo of us heading into the woods from the start line.
After the first few miles, people started talking. It wasn’t too hard yet but I knew it would get very hard. I was working to find a good pace and reminded myself to run my own race. Another runner in front of me took his headlamp off but struggled to get it into his hydration pack, so I asked if I could help him. He accepted my help and started talking with me. His name was Tim and has 3 kids and a wife who runs, which is very cool. He was also definitely faster than me, which I realized after he told me he and his wife had just qualified for Boston. We had easy conversation and I kept up with him until about 9 miles when we hit a gravel road and he was running a 9 minute mile. I had promised myself I would stay true to my plan, which meant I needed to pull way back so I wouldn’t burn myself out. I told him to leave me, and I focused on an easier 11:30 minute mile on the gravel fire road. My left foot arch was hurting a lot, which had made those climbs challenging, but I knew the pain would stop eventually. It always does. I don't remember when I slammed my right foot straight into a rock, but it was early on in this first section, and I badly beat up one of my toes. It was a pain that I re-experienced multiple times throughout the rest of the race.

Coming into the first crew-accessible aid station (this was the 2nd aid station).

I remembered that my friend Chris had enjoyed oranges at his first 50k (Rough Trail a few weeks ago) and so I had an orange after I refilled water bottles and thought of him. 

I didn’t need much at the first crew accessible aid station, so I didn’t waste anytime but I enjoyed seeing Mike. He had everything ready for me. As I arrived at the super tough 800’ climb at about mile 11, I noticed that my shoes were eating my socks. I had to stop and pull the backs of my socks up every so often, and I was getting hot spots on my heels to remind me of my poor sock choice. I mentally reminded myself to change socks at 20 miles when I would see Mike again. I hoped that blisters wouldn’t form before that happened. I had never had a blister while running a trail race or ultra. I knew I was due, and it was likely to have blisters in these longer distances for sure.

Then a woman with a long blond braid caught up to me. I had passed her early on and said hello. Amanda was a very experienced ultra runner and embodies everything good that I’ve observed about this community. She was positive and encouraging and looking really strong. She and I ran together for about 3-4 miles before I had to let her go ahead so I could stay true to my plan. She gave me lots of advice about how to work on my uphill game, which was great. Most of the other runners I was seeing on the course definitely had much better steep uphill mastery. I asked everyone I talked to if this was their first 100k and it wasn’t. For almost anyone else. I was definitely a newbie to this distance in so many ways. I came into Sugar Creek at 20 miles and Mike was there, ready for me and hurrying to meet all my needs, especially checking on hydration and fuel. I changed my socks and switched out my warm top layers for my Inknburn bee shirt. Later I realized that I was wearing my combination of "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" and it made me smile for the happy memories it brought, especially with Jeanette. Mike was an awesome crew.

Super flattering pic of me heading out at mile 21 for the first 21-22 mile loop, enjoying a few snacks, a dry shirt, and clean socks that wouldn't slip off my heals into my shoes.
Miles 20-30 were awful. I was by myself and I felt the trail just beating me. The hills were hard. The first section felt extra brutal, though on the second loop, I didn’t find it nearly as awful as it seemed the first time. I was wondering if I started too fast. But I let my mind wander and stuck with positive things. Looked around. Checked for mountain lions and thought of my friend Stephanie who told me about the lions and bears in that area. Thought about each of my kids’ amazing characteristics and the things I love about them. Thought about friends running other races that day. A new local race for a few, and then first 50k for a few friends. I thought about Jeanette beating cancer and how fun the 50 miler trip was, our journey that is leading us to a great adventure next year to celebrate being 40. I thought about how hitting a low point at only 20-30 miles was not going to work for me for future ultras. I thought about how great it was to have Mike with me.
One of the many steep and rocky climbs on this loop. 
At the first aid station, another guy came in close behind me. I had passed him earlier in the first section. He clearly was doing a better job pacing that I was. I was following the "start too fast and spend the rest of the race going slower" strategy. I was a little mad at myself. I know better. He was cramping up though, and accepted the Base Salt I offered him. I ate a few PBJs and some chips, and accepted Coke for the first time - because the other guy was having some and I wanted to see what it was like. I left that aid station knowing I finally had to pee but also knowing he was close behind me and there were no leaves on the trees to shelter me. So I climbed the brutal climb and waited for him to pass me. It took a few miles but when he did, he told me he could tell I didn’t like the hills. I was caught off guard because that wasn’t true. I’m slower. I have work to do. Sigh. He added that I could do something he couldn’t, which was that I could keep running up the small hills. I thought, “that’s not worth much when you can still pass me.” Maybe I even said it. As soon as he passed me I took a break to pee in the woods. His words burned a little. Messed with my mojo which was already feeling fragile.
I stopped to get a selfie on the trail. To make myself smile and remember to run with joy and make this a fun, memorable experience.
Halfway through the section between Elisha Creek and Gilbert’s Creek aid stations, I finally hit that point where I was halfway through the race. In 10 miles, I would see Amy and wouldn’t be suffering alone. That knowledge perked me up. When I felt momentarily overwhelmed by the thought of still having 32 miles left, I stopped myself and stuck to my plan of getting to the next aid station. Only 4 miles to the next aid station. I could do that and I needed to run the mile I was in. My watch was bugging me. It was too tight at first, and then when I loosened it, it felt heavy and was banging on my wrist bone, causing a bruise. I kept adjusting it. I finally switched it to the other wrist. I drank more Coke at the aid station, ate a handful of Doritos and another few PBJ sandwich pieces, and headed off for the last 7 miles of the loop. Maybe I could beat the sunset and get there without my headlamp. I was psyched to be over halfway now. I would get to see Mike, and I wouldn’t run alone anymore. I started to enjoy the scenery more and took a few photos.
One of the several stream crossings.
I loved the late day sun shining through the trees onto this easier uphill section of the trail.

My left foot arch had stopped hurting and that helped too. But I had hot spots on my left heel from when my socks had been falling down those first 20 miles. I reminded myself to get those covered before going out for the last loop. I didn't want blisters to be what ended the race for me if I had to accept a DNF. I wouldn't accept a DNF at this point. I was over halfway! I hoped I could prevent the possibility of injury for the rest of the race. I could do this! I thought about what else I would need at that next aid station. It was going to get cold soon. I reveled in the fact that I knew how hard the second loop would be, because I was already doing it in the opposite direction. I....couldn't find any trail markers. Uh oh. There was an intersection about a half mile back that I had some trouble at. I took out my phone and pulled up the GPX Viewer (recommended by the race director), and saw that I was in fact off course. I turned around and reoriented myself and got back on track pretty quickly.

I caught up to and chatted with a man in a bright yellow/green shirt. I can't remember for sure if he was the one I talked to who had run 3.5 extra miles, but I think it was him. He had gotten off course too, but didn't notice it very quickly. Bummer. I fell behind for awhile but caught up to him again. I don't remember what we talked about anymore, but we lifted each others' spirits and cheered each other on. The sun started setting quickly. It was a beautiful, crisp sunset. The kind that is best enjoyed in person but I took a picture anyway. A man came toward me, heading out on his last loop, and he said "Are you Marian?" I said I was, and he wished me a happy birthday. So fun! I also saw Tim and wished him well. Then I saw Amanda again, and she was with her pacer Jessica. Jessica was full of enthusiasm, and she told me that Mike and Amy were waiting for me and I was doing great. I wished them well, told Amanda she was doing a great job. (I told everyone this as they passed me). I counted the people who passed me, too. It was such a small race that I could know where I stood in relation to everyone else without having to ask. I was near the back of the pack for sure.

Sunset at around 39-40 miles.
The rising of the full moon was stunning. I was thrilled to get to run with such beautiful moonlight. But I wanted to get to the end of the loop without having to take my headlamp out yet, so I picked up speed. I found strength and speed in my desire to not be alone anymore, caught back up to the bright yellow/green shirt man and we ran into the chute together at 41 miles. I don't know what happened to him after that. Mike thinks his name might have been Frank. His wife and son were waiting for him. I think I remember him going out again before I went out again, but I didn't pass him and he wasn't at the finish line when I got there.

Bright yellow/green shirt man didn't have his headlamp with him but also didn't want my extra one. My light was plenty for both of us at dusk, but the trails were getting dark. We ran into the chute at 41 miles together.
I was happy to see Mike and Amy at that point. I also had a bunch of business to conduct. Getting a bandaid on those hotspots. Getting some protein. Amy brought me a hot dog and that was very challenging to eat. I struggle with swallowing later in races, but I know that once I get the first bite down, it does get easier. And I needed to eat, even if it was tough. A volunteer offered me Coke and broth off the chili. If he thought it was a good idea, I would try it. He was right. The warmth was great too. Mike had dried my butterfly shirt over the fire so I got to put that back on after I switched out my bee t-shirt for an Icebreakers Merino base layer. Putting my pack back on was not as hard as I thought it would be, and I couldn't even tell that it was wet from sweat. I badly wanted to wash my face, so Mike wet some paper towels for me. That was an incredible feeling, getting all that crunchy salt off of my face and freshening up a bit. Mike took a few photos, and Amy and I took off.
Drinking broth at the aid station after changing tops and washing my face. 
Ready to head back out again and do the last 21-22 miles. 
Heading out, hot dog in hand. Isn't Mike great with the camera? :)
We got about a half mile up that first hill when Amy yelled out. She had forgotten her hydration pack. She was definitely going to need it. There was an 8 mile stretch between aid stations and I wouldn't have enough water for both of us for a stretch that long. She went back and I stood there to wait for her. Then I decided that I had to keep moving, so I slowly continued walking up the hill and knew Amy would catch up to me no problem. Amy was very encouraging and talked about what a great job I was doing and how strong I looked. I didn't know whether to believe her, but I was determined to keep going anyway. I suppose I was in a bit of a low point. It was so hard to start running again once the terrain became runnable. Making the motions of running helped me find a way to get "up to speed" so I was actually kind of running. It wasn't running for Amy though. I had to fight my ego here. These trails were not single track and Amy could run beside me for 80% of this loop, which was great in a lot of ways. But I was running and working incredibly hard, and she was walk-trotting beside me, not running.

But she was talking. Which was something I couldn't really do well at that point. She started by asking me questions about my experience so far. I gave short answers. I was not making her task easy! I apologized. She told me not to apologize anymore so I did my best to embrace what I had. Amy started to tell stories. She occasionally asked me questions that didn't require a huge amount of thought or long answers, and she slowly got me to a place where I felt like I could continue and participate in conversation. I had to stop to pee. Amy made me stop and appreciate the woods. The sounds and smells and quiet. We heard coyotes. We looked at the stars. No one was ahead of us or behind us that we could see. I was so grateful she was there with me.

I knew the route to the first aid station would have an incredibly long and steep downhill, and that there would be burritos there. I ate a burrito and drank another Coke. I sat in the chair. That was awesome. My quads were on fire. But we couldn't stay long because it was so cold down in the valley. We headed out to the next aid station. Eight miles to this one. I knew it was a fairly runnable section but that it would feel long. Man, that was the longest 8 miles I've ever run! Amy took my picture when I hit my longest distance ever - 52.2 miles.

When I hit my longest distance ever, just over 52 miles in.
I was happy to have made it that far. Only 10 miles to go. Only. I had to pee again. Was I drinking too much? Did I need to add electrolytes back in? By now I was only drinking water and Coke. Maybe I had just "broken the seal." Haha. I was feeling low and didn't want more gels or other fuel. I was way past being able to chew a waffle. But I remembered that I was carrying a Hammer Espresso gel, and that was great during the 50 miler and it was time for greatness.

We finally got to that next aid station and were down to the final 7 miles. I started attempting ultra math. I was very bad at it. My watch was ahead, mileage wise, and I couldn't convert to figure out what was left. I watched our pace. I was going slowly, but my goal for this last loop was a 20 minute mile, and we were staying ahead of that, more in the 18-18:30 minute mile range. I was disappointed that I had slowed down so much. I would need to do more work on pacing. But then again, it was dark. The terrain was tough. Especially the loose rocks on the downhills. They were hard enough to navigate in daylight.

Amy kept my spirits up. She reminded me that I was down to single digits. That I could run 7 miles. That I would be 40 this week. I remember the sour gummy bears that Amy had brought for me. I got them out, and discovered that the foil I had wrapped them in was all eaten away, and the bears were soaked in my sweat. I laughed. Of course they were! I was going to eat them anyway, but Amy thought that was gross and had also packed some bears, so she offered me hers. They were so good. Just what I needed. With 6.5 miles left to go, the sweeper was coming toward us to head out and bring the last runners in. I wasn't worried. I knew there were three more runners behind me, and we had plenty of cushion in terms of the aid station cutoffs. We weren't anywhere near the cutoff times. I don't think anyone was. But I could imagine that for those other three runners, being out there alone in the dark was not easy.

Once again, I was grateful to have a pacer, and Amy was perfect for the job. I told her so. We kept going and this section ended up feeling much easier coming back than when I first had done it. I started to think about the beer I could drink at the finish. I wasn't hungry but the cold refreshing fizz of a beer in front of the fire sounded really good. Amy asked me which Christmas Carols were the most annoying. We had fun making a list, but I had a hard time thinking of songs. Or thinking at all. I started to look for the sign that would point back to Sugar Creek and the finish line. I felt like I would never see it. What if it had been pulled? That would be awful. I laughed at myself. I was down to four miles left. Three and a half miles. Oops, bad math. Three and a half miles again. Then three. Then less than two. I managed to pick up my feet and my pace. The hills weren't as bad. My quads burned but didn't seem injured. My knees were totally fine. My toes were totally damaged on my right foot. I looked forward to see how they looked when I was done.
Running through the finish chute, 64.08 miles DONE!
We came around a corner and BAM, Amy tripped and fell. Ate quite a bit of dirt but seemed ok. Hurt her wrist. I think we were about a mile from the end. She got up quickly and managed to start running again no problem, so I kept going too. There was the sign for Sugar Creek! Yay! Less than a mile! I could do this! Oh my god I had run over 63 miles. 63 miles, WHO DOES THAT! I felt overwhelmed and tired and excited. I whooped. I took off. I could hear rumbling, like from a generator. We had to be close. I stayed in Amy's view as I navigated that last downhill like I had fresh legs. The more I was able to pick up my pace, the more confidence I gained, and I flew down that last hill, whooping so Mike would hear me and watch for my headlamp in the dark woods. There was the finish chute! My eyes welled up with tears. I did it. I ran a 100k. I conquered a very tough course. I faced huge unknowns, battled demons, turned away self-doubt, kicked rocks, treated blisters, fought through some awful pain, and came out the other end feeling so proud of myself. Mike was there with the race director, Mike Whisman, and they were cheering me on.

Amy wasn't far behind me, but then turned the wrong way and had to backtrack to come down the chute. We were both glad to be done and headed to the awesome fire. Mike brought us beers and I had some chili and I changed my socks and laughed at the steam coming off my cold, wet feet in front of the fire. Saw a huge blood blister on a toe that didn't hurt. And just bruising on the toe that did hurt. No other foot issues or blister. (Also, no chafing or injuries). We hung out for a bit, chatting, and then I had to use the restroom and needed to go crawl into a bed.  
Amy and I celebrating together at the finish line.

Results
This was a fantastic race experience. I've never run an inaugural race, and this was my first Next Opportunity race, too. Everything was great, from the trail markings and aid stations to volunteers and support. I would definitely recommend this race to experienced trail and ultra runners who are looking to challenge themselves in incredible ways. However, at the end of the race, I told Amy I would never run these trails again. By Monday afternoon, I was thinking about coming back next year.

Comments

  1. We are so glad you chose to run with us! Both Mike and I are so impressed by your strength and resolve throughout the entire race. p.s. Happy Belated Birthday!
    - Brandy

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Race Recap: Superior Fall Trails 50 Miler (9/9/17)

Race Recap: Breaks 40-Miler

Big Turtle 50 Miler Race Recap