I love this race, I love this race, I love this race... this race also makes me cry and breaks me down in so many good ways. Last year, before this race I was scared shitless to do the 50 miler at Rockin' K, (for some reason Rockin' K had really messed with my mind) but after doing the 50 miler at 3 Days I was no longer worried about anything Rockin K could throw at me. This year, I'm not worried about Rockin' K, but was scared shitless of Syllamo.. go figure. This year I felt better going into the weekend, the winter had been a bit more pleasant and I had been able to get 3 50K runs in leading up to the race and lots of snowshoeing. I was hoping to get through the weekend without crying.... and I did (at least not externally)!
I caught a ride down with Deb and Stu on Thursday night, and we caravaned with Debbie and Julie. Nick, Sarah and Laurie went down earlier in the day and got the cabin all sussed out for us. A 5 1/2 hour drive from KC makes for a fairly late arrival but thankfully the race doesn't start until 9 am on Friday, so we were still able to get a good nights sleep in. Well, kinda.... the beds in the loft left quite a bit to be desired in comfort. I considered moving to the floor but fell asleep before I could work out the logistics of not getting stepped on while everyone trekked back and forth to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Sarah along since she is another vegan/raw/hippy type so there were 2 of us making green smoothies for breakfast and sharing a kale salad for dinner. We all do this enough that amazingly everyone is ready to go on time... just try getting 8 people out the door on time in a different situation... it's like herding cats. The cabin was only a 10 minute drive to the start... luckily it's an uphill 10 minute drive, so we all were able to super quick send out texts, make calls and check emails during the drive. Apparently AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint hate Arkansas. We got to the start/finish, checked in and got our swag.. great (pink!) shirts (womens' cut = 2 thumbs up), socks, water bottle, lip balm and other assorted goodies. It was a little chilly but was forecast to warm up to the mid 60's and it was already beautifully sunny out. It was fantastic to see a ton of familiar faces... Arkansas feels almost like home.. in fact I've done more ultras in Arkansas then any other state.
Sarah stayed right with me and it was great to be with her on her first 50K and first experiences on the Arkansas trails. My right foot and lower leg went totally numb after awhile so I had to keep a very careful eye on how I stepped since I couldn't actually feel the trail. My trail shoes aren't super minimal, but they are light enough that I can feel rocks and sticks and such under my feet so I assumed that running with numb feet must be how running in Hokas must feel. Thankfully about 5 miles in, everything started to loosen and the feeling came back into my feet and leg. Phew!
Sarah and I rolled through the first aid station with only a quick check in to give our numbers and a thank you for being here to the volunteers. We both had hydration packs on and were carrying plenty of the foods that work for us during races. Not to dwell on being vegan, but you have to make sure you have plenty of reliable food with you because you never know if there will be anything you can eat at an aid station. We kept rolling along at a super comfortable pace, walking the hills that were too steep to comfortably run and enjoying the warm weather. Had this not been a stage race I was feeling good enough that I would have been able to pick up the pace quite a bit and still feel good. I picked up a banana at the Barkshed aid station... my friend Jerry from St. Louis brought it out special for me since there wasn't any out. Stupidly I didn't fill my pack with water at this aid station either, I knew that there was an unmanned one just before the turnaround and I still had plenty of water. A few miles down the road as the top runners were passing us on their way back we got the news from our friend Brad that the unmanned station was out of water. We started to conserve, but nothing is worse then knowing there isn't any water up ahead... somehow it makes you more thirsty! I was hoping that once the news hit one of the manned aid stations that they'd send someone out to refill the jugs.
Sarah and I didn't bother to stop at the empty jugs, but there were quite a few people milling about with totally empty bottles, wondering what to do. I know that it would be easier running with just a handheld during shorter distances but having grown up in Colorado, you learn to be prepared when you are hitting the trails, and I almost always run with a pack with water and food and a light long sleeve, even in the summer. I hit the turnaround, punched my number and headed back... Sarah had dropped back a little bit just before the turnaround. When I saw her, I gave her some salt pills and told her to hang on behind me as long as she could. Knowing that I'm on my way back to the "barn" always gives me an energy spurt so I increased the speed just a little bit. I passed a bunch of people in this section, there were a lot of dehydrated, hurting folks, and I gave a bit of the water I had left to my friend Deb because she was totally dry. I was kicking myself for not having totally filled up at the last aid station, I could have really helped a bunch of people. There were some waterfalls that people were filling up at but I'm glad that I didn't have to resort to it... giardia is not on my list of summer plans. I ran dry about 2 miles before the aid station, but I was much better off then folks who had run dry 7 miles before. It turns out that the unmanned station was about an hour and 1/2 of back roads driving to access, so there was no way to get the jugs refilled before the race was over.
I hit the Barkshed aid station and gulped a whole ton water, filled up my pack totally, took an S-cap and headed the heck out. This section was mostly about staying steady and getting re hydrated, re- salted and re-fooded. I had cut back on eating when I was low on water since it takes a bunch of water to wash down the food when your mouth is dry so I was behind quite a bit. Didn't bother to stop at the last aid station, just gave them my number and kept going. I couldn't wait to get to that wonderful mile + downhill section that I had slogged UP that morning.... I had my iPod on and I was cruising, still feeling really strong. The Replacements "Alex Chilton" came on about the time I hit the long downhill and I'm honestly surprised that they didn't hear me belting out the lyrics at the finish line! I finished in 7:03 (by my watch). A full 40 minutes slower then a few weeks ago, but 50 minutes faster then the year before... of course the year before I took a few detours and did some bonus miles, so I can't compare too closely.
Unfortunately, by running faster then my friends it meant that my dry clothes, shower stuff and food were in a locked car.. and I didn't have the key, Doh! Nick had already finished so he lent me a sweatshirt so I didn't get chilled. Laurie finished not far behind me, and after she recovered for a few minutes we went and stood in the wonderfully cold and healing river. Spent a little over 15 minutes in the river talking with Susan Donnelly and ignoring the numb feet and legs. Laurie was kind enough to lend me a towel and Nick a pair of shorts so I could take a hot shower after the being in the river. Got back from our water play to see some of our friends finish. Debbie twisted her ankle pretty darn bad, Laurie was having IT band and Achilles problems and Deb struggled with not having water so it wasn't the best day for most.
We all headed back to the cabin shortly after eating, since there was much to be done before tomorrows stage of 50 miles and it was a 6 am start time......
(photos shamelessly stolen from friends Laurie and Debbie!)