Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Race Report: Iroquois 100 by Mat Davenport

So my body has been recovering quite well, but my brain was put into a world of dysfunction – so I will try my best to recap the race (peanut gallery can feel free to bite their tongues – I know I just set myself up there).

Pre-race: I DNF’d my first race ever last year at my first 100 mile attempt, that has stung worse than any injury I have sustained to this point. The only solace I had was that race became know as the funeral race, and is no longer being held as NO one wants to even try it. This has been stuck in my head for a long time.

My training had been going well for most of the year – my legs got trashed in the mud at the Finger Lakes Fifties, then I followed that up by pacing a great runner at the VT100. I had hoped to use this opportunity to practice the late night running while tired and on trails. Unfortunately my runner was too fast and we got him home in 7th, I only saw about 1.5h of dark. So that didn’t work – I started to suffer from some overuse injuries the following weeks in my knee and foot, neither was good, and both seriously hampered my running. Long story short, I saw my dream of going sub-24 and getting a coveted buckle go out the window. When registering I had put my estimated finish time at 23:59:59 (while it was a lofty goal, I personally think those are more fun to chase). As the race approached I had to swallow some pride and email the RD to let him know that wasn’t going to happen, my goal was simply to finish and avoid another DNF.

The race weekend came around, I was excited. The pre-race meeting happened just after the caloric loading session, and included all kinds of fun info like: there are 2 sections of the course that are full of nasty yellow jackets (one section was apparently ‘taken care of’ by a local – don’t know what that means); that apparently during the week leading up to the race, a logging operation had begun on part of the course and no one was sure if operation was to be active during the race; then the always pleasant, ‘so earlier this week we had a lot of rain… so you are going to get wet and muddy’. Sweet. After this, Christopher McDougal (author of Born to Run) gave a brief talk and did a book signing; that was a nice addition.

Race morning: I was really excited. No stress, or anxiety, or anything else I typically feel before a race, just really excited. Maybe because I had convinced myself that I was going to finish no matter what, neither pain nor injury was an acceptable reason to quit this time. 6 am rolls around and the RD blows on his fancy new ram’s horn – we are off.

The course was two loops of a three pronged course. We start by running a half mile down the road to the base of the back of Greek Peak ski resort, proceeded to then go up to the top of the main peak, over the top, then down the front side to where to main lodge and ski condos were located, ran around a few ski lifts, then back up and over the mountain again, and back to the S/F area. Awesome, 6 miles down and my legs are already shot. The next section was shaped like a lollipop, I ended up running most this portion with Kelly Wilson (female defending champ) and Greg Loomis – I took this as a good sign of my progress as they are both accomplished and very well respected ultrarunners. The stick portion of this loop was probably some of the most beautiful trails I have ever seen! It was hard to not trip over roots or crash into trees when I found myself just looking around admiring nature in all its beauty. Unfortunately, during the first loop, this section was also spent wondering if I would need to try to keep from being crushed by logging trucks or falling trees – fortunately they weren’t working on the weekend J The actual lollipop portion of this section was my least favorite of the race, mostly logging roads of packed dirt and exposed rocks – while these conditions help make up some time over the rooty single track, they hurt – my ITB was screaming at me on the long downhills, but I really wanted to stay with Kelly as long as possible b/c I knew her goal, and knew that she knew how to get there (she had just missed 24h last year). The plan was stay with her as long as possible, then stumble the rest of the way. Fortunately I managed to stay with her almost back to the S/F aid station without feeling too over-exerted. But then she took off and was gone, I knew my limits – and the pace she started to run at this stage of the race wasn’t possible if I was to finish this thing.

I changed my shoes for some sturdier trail shoes and headed out for the third out and back arm of the course at 33.8mi, basically consisted of a long steep, slippery climb to the trail, then a 13mi out and back section of fairly brutal single track (including a half dozen climbs that had safety ropes to hang onto for both up and down). After getting up the climb, I really started to have trouble, I was slogging along, my ITB felt like it was going to snap, and a lateral plantar muscle had really decided to spend a lot of energy sending pain signals to the brain. It was actually a bit devastating how much I was slowed down. I tried to stay positive, but I was having a bit of an issue with tripping over every single freaking root on the freaking course!!! It truly is amazing how much that can weigh on you psychologically. At that point, I was on the - aid station to aid station mini-goal thing. My support crew chief (Juli) and co-chief (miss Puna), were at every aid station except Rock Pile, which was in the middle of no-where and crews were not allowed. She knew what I wanted or needed before I even made it to the aid station (except advil, I didn’t get that until about 20 miles later than I probably needed, but then again that was okay b/c I took so many of them the last 40 miles that she nearly had to cut me off towards the end of the race). My Parents made the trip out too, but Juli was too organized and I am not sure they were able to help as much as they wanted, though my dad was able to grab some photos since Juli was busy caring for me. S-caps, shot bloks, liquid, everything was laid out and easily accessible when I came into an AS. Crossing a few streams and tripping over more roots, I finally made it to Daisy Hollow AS at the end of the 13mi out and back- then they made the runners go thru the AS down a 30 foot hill, touch the road and then came back to get aid – really really not cool! I was already having a bit of trouble with the Gatorade at this point because it was too sweet, unfortunately the race beverage was GU brew, which is nasty, so I dealt with it. By this point there were all kinds of people, runners, volunteers and spectators making fun of the bionic looking leg of mine with all the kinesiotape and ITB strap. Whatever, I was going to finish, how I looked really wasn’t as important on this day. Stumbling out of Daisy hollow was tough as I was hurting pretty bad and knew I wouldn’t see Juli at the Rock Pile AS so I had to have enough liquid to get me 10 miles (3ish hours if all goes well) go over the roots and hills and streams, all of which were doing their best to put me on my butt. This stretch was probably one of the toughest parts of the day. I finally made it to Juli again and eventually down the steep slippery hill to the half way point… Awesome! I broke out the coconut water to take a break from all of the sweet stuff, changed into lighter shoes and then, well crap – back to the up and over and up and over the ski mountain section!

This section was the worst of the entire race, My legs were 80% non-functional, and my foot was still screaming. It took me almost 25 minutes longer this loop than the first time (I think), and I finally hobbled back to the S/F aid station. I was kinda happy that I made it of the ski slopes before dark, but was really really concerned that my race was going to come to an early conclusion, again- I was spent… I was desperately trying to stay positive. I had to change socks because I had grown a blister the size of a small person on my heel. Downed a coconut water, a cheese quesadilla, and a beer. The beer thing probably would have worked better if I didn’t basically shotgun the thing – it took my belly a couple minutes to work through that. This is also where I picked up my pacer, Tom, a smaller guy, retired army man – did the race last year in 29h. After warming back up to the course I actually started to move, not sure if it was just because I had someone with me to chat with, but I didn’t care. He stayed right behind me most of the time we spent running together. We came moving out of the woods to the aid station near the logging road loop, grabbed a quick snack and were on our way. In retrospect I have a really hard time piecing certain things together – I think now, that the pain continued to get worse and worse throughout the night, but at the same time, it actually affected me less and less throughout the night. When we were leaving the aid station at mile 67ish, at the end of the lollipop loop, I looked at my watch and noticed it was only 9:30, I actually questioned my pacer b/c this didn’t seem right – I was having a terrible day and it should have been much later in the night??? He confirmed – the dozen or so brain cells that had survived the first 67mi and the beer apparently put down their books and picked up calculators for what, at the time, seemed like extremely complicated math. If I can run this section in about 1hour, I would leave myself with 7.5hours for the last 26miles. That just didn’t seem right, but I didn’t have sufficient brain cells to get into an argument with the ones who just did all of the math, so I started to run a bit harder. It was a huge adrenaline rush – I knew I had to pace myself since I still had 33ish mile to run, but you will take any life you can get at this point in the race. We ran well back to the S/F, I grabbed some chips, M&Ms, some coke, a coconut water, swapped my shoes and split for the last leg of the race – with slightly more than 7 hours to go. I remembered it took me 3:15ish for the 13mi out on the first loop, and maybe 3:30 to get back… so if by the grace of something holy I could manage to move the same pace I just might be able to break 24h! I knew I walked a good chunk of sections the first loop, I was actually moving well now- is it possible?
There aren’t many thing s that can take the wind out of you sails like a steep slippery long hill! Which is how this section started- I survived to the top, had a bunch of coke and various other junk food type stuff and started off again. By now I was focused, I think the pains from my injuries and first loop were still there, but they were no longer a factor, both Juli and I have missed race goals by seconds – there was no way in hell I was going to run a 100 miles and ‘just miss’ a sub-24h buckle, no way. I was either going to break 24, or absolutely explode trying to. Having seen the course during the first loop, and the distances between aid stations, I started to set time goals, and running hard (what felt like hard)- we pulled into Rock Pile basically on schedule, but my pacer needed to sit down, something he ate at an earlier aid station wasn’t working with him. I think he saw the urgency in my eyes, I desperately wanted to get to Daisy Hollow with at least 4h to go, since it took me 3:30-45 to get home on the first loop, I had to guess it was going to take longer this loop, I wouldn’t have a chance to break 24 if I didn’t get there by 2am. He got up and we continued, about 3 miles into this section he was having all kinds of problems from his stomach, which in turn gave him issues with his footing. We stopped for a moment, decided I will push forward, and will have Juli wait for him at the turn around and we would meet up again with 3.5 to go as the slippery downhill was a bit too dangerous to do solo at night. He agreed, I took off running getting to Daisy hollow on schedule- they had freakin salty pierogies there- holy crap they hit the spot. I had a little time to catch my breath chat with the RD and Juli while I ensured I had everything I needed to get me through Rock Pile and back to Greek Peak AS and Juli 10 miles up the hill. Pulled out of Daisy Hollow with 4:03 to go… Holy Schnikys I may pull this off, I actually felt pretty good at this point – Without my pacer (pacers aren’t really pacers so much as fresher eyes to keep you on course and fresher legs to find help in case you get into trouble), I managed to go off course 7-8 times, but each time I noticed something was up relatively quickly and was able to back track without loosing too much time. The only incident which caused me to loose time involved a very large (40-50 poundish) white fuzzy thing, that was just off the trail and moved away from me when I got close, I was fascinated by this, and since both headlamp and flashlight were focused on trying to figure out what the hell it could be – I went off course. I still do not know if there is a fluffy white monster living in the woods or if I was hallucinating, but I can still picture that thing exactly as I saw it that night… re-focus… I was moving as fast as I thought I could under the circumstances, running hard, but yet still pacing to ensure I make it to the finish. I was making good time, when I bit it fairly hard on the nasty switchbacks of a steep section of the course. Fortunately when I went down, I happened to fall into the hill… had I gone the other way – I may still be out there. My handheld flashlight showed me just how lucky I was, it fell the wrong way. Conveniently, the switchbacks made it easy to retrieve the light.

Anyway, I was running and running, then checked my watch to see what my time was, since I couldn’t remember the details of the course approaching the aid stations, I was trying to use my goal times as a feel for how long I had to get to Rock Pile, My watch says I should have been there 20 minutes ago!!! Crap, I am going to miss 24h, damn, I knew I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up!!! – I still pressed on hoping it was around the corner and that maybe I could make up time at the end? What felt like 15-20 minutes later I stumbled into Rock Pile – looked at my watch and I was there exactly when I wanted to be??? Why did my watch say I was loosing time back there. As I write this, I am starting to think that I was loosing my mind during the later stages of the race, none of these things actually caused me to think twice? Happy I was on schedule again, I had a couple cups of Mtn Dew, some gummy bears, some Reese’s peanut butter cups and was on my way. I thought now that I was moving pretty good, I think I had 2.5 hours to go 4.5 miles from Rock Pile to Greek Peak AS, then 3.7mi to the finish… I can do this. This section seemed really long this time though, it just kept going and going… but the thought of the buckle made me force myself to push through any pain and fatigue – it simply was not an acceptable excuse to walk or slow down, not now, not after 90 miles. After running for about an hour, a runner passed me in the other direction heading out towards Daisy Hollow, I knew I had to be getting close to the aid station and needed some sign of hope, I was struggling as bad as any time during the race, it had been pitch black for some 7 hours now, I had been solo for the last 3-4 hours, and was in need of nutrition- I was starting to fade (going through extreme ups and downs now), Iasked him how far it was – he paused for about 10 seconds then said ‘its less than 4.5 miles’ … um, no-shit Sherlock, the aid stations are only 4.5 miles apart and I have been running for an hour. Damn that was frustrating, turns out the aid station was only fifteen minutes away up a long hill. That means he had just left that aid station and had no idea that he did so – poor guy.

I finally got to Greek Peak aid station – only 3.7 miles to go!!! I started getting really excited, I had a good 1.5 hours to go, but was trying not to get too excited before I reached the finish- I neglected to mention earlier that this very steep, slippery and long hill, had a good 50ft cliff straight into a shallow river immediately next to the trail, no barrier, no safety anything – kinda nerve racking, especially in the middle of the night, I took my time getting through this section as getting hurt now would have been rather stinky, having Tom there with me helped me feel a little bit safer so I was able to move faster than I would have if I was solo. We finally made it down the hill and off the trail, all I had left was a half mile on roads and 50 minutes to run for a buckle. Coming around that final corner I picked up my pace like I was starting a track workout with a 150yrd sprint – So freakin Happy!

Hi: mid-60sLow: mid 30sElevation change: ~18,000 feetDistance: 100.2 milesTime 23:13
This report completely understates the roll that my support crew had during the race – the fact that Juli, 7+ months pregnant, stayed up the entire race waiting to help take care of me at aid stations is honestly more special to me than my accomplishment. THEN taking care of me after the race – she is a remarkable woman!

I am very happy to join Krista and Sean as a BTT 100 mile finisher:)

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