Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Tale of the Trail That Almost Beat Me - Rough Creek 40-Miler {guest post}


Unapologetically You will be mixing things up between now and then end of the year {and hopefully into 2016 as well!}.

Thursdays will showcase a guest post from a fellow blogger. Anything from food, to fitness, race recaps, or other fun things I know you'll love.

Today I bring you Jolene-- ultra runner, coach, and all around badass. She recently conquered a crazy hard 40-mile trail race. Jolene's story made me feel like I was there running with her, minus the sunburn and blistered feet.

Welcome, Jolene! Thank you SO much for being part of Unapologetically You.

Connect with Jolene!
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Hi, I'm Jolene Butler! I have been an avid runner for several years and have been mentoring and coaching runners for about a year. Starting out as someone who couldn't even run around a neighborhood block, I have reached many of my own goals and then some over the past few years, most recently a really difficult 40 mile endurance race. I am addicted to ultra-marathoning and the trail itself. I have found my people on the trail! In my spare time, I am a seasoned nurse of 20 years, soon to be nurse practitioner, super cool mama of one, RRCA running coach and pet-collector. I am a self-proclaimed southern fried soul.

Rough Creek was the 4th installment of the "High Five" challenge series from Endurance Buzz Adventures. To say this was a challenge would be something short of a lie. It was a feat.


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Up until this point, somewhere around 35-36 miles had been my longest run {because I got lost at a 56K-- my first ultra}. While four extra miles doesn't seem like much, it was. Had it been flat, it'd probably have been no problem, but damn. The hills. Hills, small mountains, inclines, what have you. There was over 4k ft of elevation gain total that day.


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My friend Aimee and I set off for Glen Rose, the small town near where the race was held, Friday night. When we pulled into town we did a little carb loading at the very first drive through pizza parlor we'd ever been to! We stayed at the highly acclaimed Glen Rose Inn {please don't ever, ever, ever stay there} with the promise of an "upgraded" room! We can laugh about this now, but we may or may not have all been a little nervous.

We prepared our wardrobes for the next day-- I had 4. Over prepare much?

5:30am came fast and we were up and ready to hit the road a little after 6am. We dropped our bags, got our numbers, slathered up with sunscreen and prepared for the task at hand after some pre-race instructions.


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I'm not even sure I had time to let the fact that I was running 40 miles sink in. I waited a minute or two and let the rest of the 40-milers and marathoners head out so I could have some space then off I went. Dave, the race director, who is amazingly outstanding at what he does, ran me out with some detailed instructions about which way not to go {the first race I did of his, I got really turned around.. aka lost}. I seriously appreciated that! Thanks Dave!

The first few miles of the trail were nice. I kept up a nice 11-12 min/mile pace, knowing that I needed to knock out a really good first look in order to keep time and avoid the cut offs later in the day. The sun had started to rise by now, but it stayed fairly cool for the first hour or so.


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It was a really beautiful sunrise!

I hit the first aid station just before mile 3, rested for just a minute or two, and set back out, knowing "fun" was just around the corner.

The Rusty Crown, as it was aptly coined, is a series of about 18 steep climbs and descents. Usually you can almost count on making up time on downhills on the trails, except here. The descents were nearly as dicey as the inclines and the Rusty Crown portion of the race started with a terrifying downhill slide.


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This. Was. Terrifying.


The first set of hills passed quickly. I was into the "Bowl" portion. The Bowl was a relatively flatish area of trail between the jewels of the Rusty Crown. It was another nice opportunity to make up time. I hit the second aid station at the half way point of the first loop {around 6.5 miles}, wasted no time and kept forging, having no idea of what was next. The climbs started again. One after the other, some were two parters and the others just one straight shot up. And then there was this.


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I used to compare every hill to the ones I ran in San Francisco a few years ago. Now I will compare them to this. A seemingly vertical wall of doom lovingly coined the "Soul Crusher", "bend over and take it" and a few other nice words. It was beastly. Towards the top, the only way to make progress was to literally climb using your hands. It seemed to take forever. Not only was this not the last hill of the back end of the Rusty Crown, it was the middle, with several more tedious climbs and descents that followed. Finally, hope was in sight. The aid station that was just a little under 3 miles from the staging area. I took a little extra time there this time, knowing I was right on my schedule that I had set for myself. I ate a little, chatted and felt refreshed.


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Some pretty trail on the way back to the staging area.

Back to the start. I kept good time on the return and easily made my goal of 3:30 for the first loop {about 13.4 miles}.

Before I started that day, I thought about what I wanted my goals to be for the day.

I knew that I didn't want to miss the time cut-off. I didn't want to fall. I only wanted to finish.

I knew I'd make time if I spent 3.5 hours on the first loop, 4.5 on the second and 5.5 on the last. The course closed after 13.5 hours. This had been a goal race of mine for over a year and this would be the last year that this would be part of the EBA adventures. It would be my only chance at it.

I changed my shoes and socks before I started on my second loop. Chatted with my trail angel/friend Aimee, who helped me get my things in order. She had completed her 10k portion strong. I was so proud of her. She has been at all of the EBA races as well this year and will collect her bell in December too!

I headed out for my second loop a little more conservative than my first. It helped knowing where all of the difficult parts were, but at the same time, I knew where all the difficult parts were. By this time, a couple of tiny little blisters that I had gotten from an unfortunate shoe choice the day before were starting to cause some problems on my let foot. The band-aides I had applied to my little toe just wasn't cutting it. I spent a little more time that I wanted at the first aid station on the course tending to my foot. New band-aides, a little nutrition, and a little rest felt good.


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My feet really hurt, but at least I was still smiling.

I left the aid station and realized that now it was starting to get hot. The sun was much higher and hotter than it was during the first loop, but there were some looming clouds in the distance that promised some rain. The second go round of the Rusty Crown proved much more difficult that the first. I think it was at point on the Soul Crusher during this lap I decided this would be it. I didn't want to see this hill ever again. I was going to call it. By the time I had gotten to the aid station where I'd stopped for my band-aides {the one closest to the start}, I had kind of sealed the deal in my head. I told my volunteer friends of my plans and they told me I couldn't do it. Meaning, I couldn't throw it now-- that I'd be back. I told them I wasn't sure and set back out. Somewhere between there and the staging area where I was headed back to, the bottoms of my feet started to burn like nothing else I'd ever experienced. I had no idea what was going on down there and part of me didn't want to know. My socks and shoes had been soaked most of the race so far, from ice I had thrown down my shirt and sweat {ew!}. Blisters. I knew I had a fresh pair of shoes and socks {and clothes, because four changes of outfits} to put on back at the start and I was looking forward to that. But wait, wasn't I quitting?


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At the top of a random hill. One of a seemingly 100 hills.

Somewhere between the aid station and the last three miles to the start/finish area, I had decided that I didn't come out here to quit. I came out to finish. I'd worked really hard over the last month and a half to do this. I don't quit. My friend Royce {who ran the marathon distance - 2 loops} told me a few days prior to the race that finishing out here was winning. I wanted to win.


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This was a sign. A tiny purple pineapple.

Aimee greeted me again and proved herself a forever-worthy friend. She took care of my sad looking feet. I had dry clothes again and it felt good. I made my time again on this loop {4:20 on this one} and tried to spend as little time at the staging area as I needed to. Getting my feet straight took a long time, but it was worth it.

Just as I headed out on my last, and final, lap. That promising rain? It came. It started out as a drizzle and picked up quickly. What looked good earlier, was now becoming a pain in the a$$. It was creating a mud pit of the course and I was back in the same place where I had ended the last loop, with wet shoes and socks. By now, the bottoms of my feet were on fire. All I kept think was, just keep moving forward. I walked most of the last loop, but I did it quickly. In the flattish parts, I was walking probably faster than I would have been running {around 14:30-15 min/mile} with the exception of the steep climbs. I got to the first aid station, the one where I'd told them I was quitting, and they all laughed and told me they knew I'd be back. I only stayed a couple of minutes, but wanted to stay longer to get out of the rain, because I knew I had to keep pressing on in order to not get cut off. Somewhere before the second aid station, I was greeted by the sweeper. I was a little confused at first, worried that I hadn't made time and was getting cut off. Instead, it was a sweeper who made sure that the last runner would make it in safely. Relieved.

We chatted for awhile, but honestly, all I wanted to do was stay in my own head. Sometimes having someone to talk to is helpful, it takes your mind off the task at hand, but this was kind of the opposite. I needed to stay present and get this thing done. The conversation became kind of strange, so I quickly started my audible book that I had been listening to, 'A Walk in the Woods' {appropriate, right?} and tried to immerse myself into that. By the time I got to the second aid station, I wanted to rip off my feet, they hurt so badly. Luckily, they had some athletic tape that I wrapped my feet in, which helped. What should be the EBA Volunteer of the Year, the race director of another local trail race, cross timbers, mentioned that she had an extra pair of socks in her truck and insisted that I take them {they were clean, btw}. This woman had no idea how she saved my day. Those socks felt like heaven. I had a little extra spring in my step now and was hell bent on getting to the finish line. I changed my book to music and forged on. I knew I had a mile or tow of semi-flatness, the second half of the Rusty Crown, unfortunately the most difficult part, and then 2.8 miles into the finish. My calculations at this point, I had about 45 minutes of cushion to get to the finish, although the sweeper kept reminding me otherwise {incorrectly}. The sweeper had lots of energy because he had only run about 9 miles up until this point. I had run 36. Our exertion levels were a little different. While this was starting to play with my mind, I knew I had to stay positive.


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The sun setting was pretty too!

I got to the Rusty Crown and just stood there for a minute or tow, took some deep breaths and took off on, what felt like, my death march. At this point, everything hurt, but I had to ignore the pain. I would take 30 steps up and rest of 30 seconds, 30 steps, 30 seconds. It was the best way I could think of to get it done. By the time I got to the Soul Crusher, I thought it would pretty much kill me, but I did it. Once again, the hills never ended. Because it had been so hot, and I did a very poor job of maintaining my nutrition and hydration for the past 11 hours, I because very ill on the Soul Crusher. I had to stop and vomit several times. Lucky for me, one of my favorite running mantras is:


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I got through the steep climbs, I got through the aid station {which I almost burst into tears when I saw it}. I was on my way in. I picked up my pace as much as I could without actually running and with a big ol' smile on my face crossed the finish line of the Rough Creek 40-Miler. My time?

12:44:46. 45 minutes to spare.


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I was amazed at the number of people who had stuck around to see the last person {me} cross the finish. I was cheered in just like the first place finisher probably was {except maybe a few less people}.

One of my goals that I made for myself was to never be last. I was last. Yet I didn't look at it that way. In a field of 38 runners, 11 were pulled from the course because of time cut offs or because they didn't/couldn't continue. I was not one of those people.

Interestingly enough, this was a race where you are rewarded for being last. I was honored. I won.


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I quickly changed my clothes and Aimee and I headed home. It was a long ride {probably longer for her} as I got sick several times on the way home. I was sunburned, dehydrated, sore and just plain tired. I rested my eyes for a bit and that really helped.

What was recovery like? Surprisingly not bad at all? I felt pretty good the next day with the exception of my feet. They were a hot mess. I had a really sore toenail, which I will probably end up losing, and blisters all over the bottoms of my feet {I've never gotten blisters in all of the years I have been running}. I went out running 2 days later and was back to piling on the miles by the end of the week.

Where did I go wrong with my nutrition and hydration? Easy. Not enough. I didn't take in nearly the calories I needed for 12+ hours of pretty strenuous activity, despite the fact that the aid stations are all like carb/salt buffets. I took in a few chips and sometimes a cookie at the aid station and always a glass or two of coke {which is what I think made me sick}. I took Endurolytes at every aid station, plenty of water and then salt stick tabs every couple of hours, but because of the heat, it just wasn't enough. I need to work on this for my next race. It's scaring me.

I am almost relieved that this was the last year of the Rough Creek adventure. It was really cool and such an amazing race, but I'd be so tempted to go back and try to get revenge on that course if I had the opportunity.

Ultra #3, a distance PR, was in the books.


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The Tale of the Trail That Almost Beat Me was originally posted to Jolene's blog, Southern Fried Soul. You can find the original post here.
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"So impressed with @LilRunnerJoJo & her 40-mile trail race. She rocks! #ultrarun #runchat #sweatpink"

Isn't Jolene one tough mama?? So much respect for her and her accomplishment.

Thank you again, Jolene, for being part of Unapologetically You!

If you didn't get a chance to visit Jolene yet on her own blog or social media-- make sure to hop over there and show her some love.


Your turn! What's the furthest distance you've ever run? Would you have set back out on the 3rd lap? What's your favorite running mantra when things get tough?

♥AK

Interested in guest posting at Unapologetically You? Leave your email in the comments or send me a note at unapologeticallyyoufitness@gmail.com. I'd love to have you!