Saturday, December 9, 2017

Race Report: Detox Just to Retox

longtime readers will know that the last time i had a legit off-season was between 17 January and 7 May of 2016.  since then i've been racing either monthly or bimonthly at the very least, and needless to's getting fairly onerous.  it's not the same type of burnout i had after my 24h run in 2015 that culminated a 5-month stretch with a monthly 99mi+ run, but as of late i've been definitely viewing my training regime as a chore.  furthermore, despite my race history reading like a masterclass in destination racing, lately i've been more stressed out while out of the office than when in the office because of the fires i had to fight from far far away.

you could say i wasn't getting much enjoyment out of running anymore.  
ergo, i wasn't particularly looking forward to the Chattanooga 100, as it wasn't a qualifier, it was an inaugural event (the 50mi distance had been held in another form in years gone by) and my entry fee had been comp'd for dumb shit i did in 2016.  the RD, Sean the Run Bum, needed finishers to qualify for UTMB points, so I figured i'd lend him a hand with that.

training for this was just as laid back; since Mogollon, all I did was one triple-digit glute-strengthening pavement-pound circumnavigation of Calgary with my friend Joanna, a 50k in upstate New York where I also ate 12 Apple Cider donuts mid-race, and a three-day skyrunning festival in El Paso where I placed top 10 in a hill climb, 50k and half marathon.  that being said, it's tough to take a chill pill and feel gratitude when you've been presenting symptoms of clinical depression AND generalized anxiety disorder for nearly a month due to work issues (seriously, screaming "SERENITY NOW" actually does not do anything), so instead of making this "yet another trip" I treated this as a pilgrimage; my fourth visit to the Peach State in four years; my fourth trip in as many years to just get absolutely wrecked (this time courtesy of Gentleman Jack up in Lynchburg immediately after flying in to Huntsville); my fourth trip in as many years to get my fill of catfish fillets (pun so intended) from Cracker Barrel; my fourth trip in as many years to entertain the staff of a Waffle House with being able to eat $30USD of food there in one sitting.  the emphasis would not be on the self-flagellation part of my vacation, but rather the part where the pace of life's speed would slow down enough to actually suffer some type-I fun. 

my goals were set up as follows--
  1. PB my 100mi time, which currently stands at 23:29:00 from TARC 100 last October.  There was slightly more elevation gain than TARC 100, but the conditions were favorable to execute this--colder but "Canadian running weather", existential dread from a variety of personal and professional issues a la Javelina Jundred and TARC 100, one drop bag I would access only twice to keep things fluid and quick, and the infamous quality of Run Bum aid stations.
  2. Finish.  Besides the above, I don't have anything to prove, and I'd like to see Sean get his points for this race.
despite its name, the course took place just across the border in Georgia and was set out largely as an out-and-back with aid stations 7-13mi apart.  it started from Cloudland Canyon State Park with a half-marathon loop that required descending into the canyon and back up to the start, and then a long but rolling run out to Covenant College on the Georgia side of Lookout Mountain, and then all the way back.  there was only one drop bag aid station available, at nickajack at mile 40/72.  Uncharacteristically the race would start at noon (and on a Friday too), which posed some logistical challenges such as starting with lunchtime hunger pangs, but there were some benefits as well, such as being able to take a record of three pre-race nervous shits.
pre-run race photo, courtesy of We Run Race Photos of Huntsville.  couple things
1. yes, that is Burt Reynolds on the race bib.  the 50mi had Billy Dee Williams and the relay had the Hoff.
2. i will neither confirm or deny that the pose is a force of habit.
the night before my race, I helped out at packet pickup (the third Run Bum race I've worked) and being located at the Chattanooga Brewing Company, Sean elected to get me loaded up with four beers because sure, why not.  obviously this set me back in terms of hydration the morning of the race but this was something I had experienced fairly recently so I wasn't too worried about it.  naturally I woke up (without a pre-race alarm!) just as dehydrated as I was sleeping in Fairplay and so began a breakfast that was mostly water (supplemented by all the oatmeal Super 8 could give me).  

I arrived at the park a full 90min before the race as I knew the finish line would be short on parking and I wanted to ensure I didn't need to waddle far after the run--I ended up picking a spot literally adjacent to the finish line chute.  the rest of the time was spent sitting on the group lodge's only picnic table, chatting with one of the only other racers who knew you shouldn't be standing so much before the race, and listening to her VolState story from this year.  with my nervous pre-race strap checks and what not I managed to tear the bottom of my right shoulder strap zipper on my circa-2014 race vest, but it only contained my car's key fob (which i pushed to the bottom of the pocket) and my caffeine pills, so as long as I didn't unzip the whole zipper or finger the tear a little bit, everything would stay put.
smart people, according to Sean.  (pic stolen from Vasu Mandava)
the start of the race was 3mi of park road, and knowing there'd potentially be a clusterfuck as soon as we hit the single-track, I seeded myself at the front with relay runners and threw down a few sub-9-min miles on a mostly downhill pavement section.  I was probably 5th-8th from the front the whole time before I realized that there were definitely relay runners in the pack.  

This was supposed to be a pilgrimage, dammit.
white bibs are solos, pink are relays
i go hard on my tangents.  (pic stolen from Vasu Mandava)
As soon as we entered the trail I saw what we would be up against for the remaining 97mi--it was classic beast coast roots and rocks, some on a camber like ES100, but being a late autumn run we had the added fun of needing to run on dry fallen leaves.  There was a drizzle the afternoon before but many sections had drained; there were a few slick spots descending into the canyon in the shade but otherwise I had no issue with the traction of my Speedgoats.

The descent into the canyon involved hitting 900 steps, and these steps were grated so you could see right through the bottom.  Few people know this, but I'm actually afraid of heights, so I was pretty much tripping balls the whole time while descending, looking at where I was planting my feet while trying to process the fact that the stairs were sitting 100'-200' above its foundation at times, and that there were leaves 'floating' on the stairs.  Two runners passed me as my bambi legs woke up, but I was able to see at their bib colors at the turnaround that they were relay runners.  It also turned out that I was in 3rd place but that was because I accidentally elected to do another out-and-back to a waterfall near the top of the stairs during my ascent.  

This was supposed to be a pilgrimage, dammit.

on my way up
On the slow grind back up I started socializing with those likely in close proximity for the remainder of the race; there was Rob from Mt. Airy, NC--the righteous 3rd place runner as he had already done the waterfall out-and-back, and there was Mike from Queens, dressed in a purple tutu because, I assume, he had no fucks to give, just like me.  We chatted for a bit before I lost them on the stairs, but after doing my out-and-back I was able to catch Mike on the ridgeline while he was taking pictures before taking in some coke at the mi13 aid station as I had 'skipped lunch'.  the first cutoff was 3h45m and i had cleared it in 2h22m.    

rolling into the finish line, the first time
This was supposed to be a pilgrimage, dammit.

it was 10mi to the next aid station, ascalon, but only 5mi to a water drop i wouldn't need as this section was rolling downhill.  I caught Rob while he dealt with a hotspot and the two of us ran together for a little bit before I yielded during a pee break, before leapfrogging him again at Ascalon.  just like clockwork--I had completely downed a litre of water to get rid of all the remaining beer from last night.  
rolling into Ascalon
It was 9.5mi to Hinkle Road, but it was on mostly MTB track that would seem fun for two wheels but not for the quads.  this section was mostly uphill so i didn't mind, but i knew i would pay for it later--like, at the 80mi mark.  I yielded to a few more relay runners here but then fell back five spots when I took a wrong turn and ended up at an unmarked intersection.  having just taken a caffeine pill, the adrenaline of wanting to catch up kicked in.  I was able to catch up to Rob and his acquaintance Justin from NC (I think?); I then voluntarily slowed down for Rob as he wanted someone to hang with for the evening to deter his hallucinations, and Justin apparently recognized my clothing from my R2R2R run last year, having run down from the north side opposite my south Kaibab start.  (I confirmed it was definitely the same day as we both had seen a one-armed runner running a few miles ahead of him.)  what a small world.  

it didn't take long for Rob and I to lose the rest of the group, and for our headlamps to turn on.  he ran out of water as he did not know how long the distances between aid stations would actually be on the first half, which was an absolutely apt time for me to say that he was welcome to suck off my nipples if he needed to.  he replied that he belonged to a running group that would say that all the time.  

This was supposed to be a pilgrimage, dammit.

thankfully we got to hinkle road and the two of us cleared it in good form, shaking off relay runner tails on a roguish downhill covered with leaves that looked like rocks in the darkness.........and rocks that looked like leaves.  the vapor from our breath was starting to become apparent but I elected to keep my windbreaker around my waist, as it was only my shoulders that were cold and not my hands.  sean had advised us that there were three water crossings on this leg, which worked well for the fact that my giant-ass drop bag was at the end of it; Rob managed to clear all three with dry socks while I took the pleasure of sitting down in all three of them to cool my quads down.  we shot the shit for a little while longer, talking about runner things, and like clockwork he ran out of water yet again but had told me he had a 1L pack waiting for him at Nickajack up ahead.  I rationed off a quarter litre of water for him as he couldn't drink my tailwind and I had plenty of that.  as he was still game to have some company for the dark of the night, I told him I would need 10min at nickajack to change out my shoes and grab my night gear, but no more so I wouldn't cramp.  he agreed that that would be doable.  

we got to nickajack with a healthy window on our relay tails and rob and I parted to deal with our shit.  I managed to squeeze off a massage roll, reapply some nut butter, change out my shoes, grab some hot food and restock my pack in my 10 minutes I promised, but when I got to Rob and his crew's truck, he needed another 2 minutes.  i could see my relay tails were on the premises so i pushed him a little bit; he was walk-eating when I led him onto the highway, but as soon as I heard gagging and vomiting I sent it.  (Rob ended up finishing a half hour behind me; I apologized for my actions and he understood--he said he took the entire leg to recover those calories.)

I ran with a two relay runners on this section, which involved running down to Rock Creek before sending it up to a ridgeline that overlooked the Chattanooga Valley.  we all agreed that we would probably never see the pretty lights of Fort Oglethorpe like this ever again because we all wouldn't voluntarily hike up here in the middle of the night.  I lost one runner on a steep downhill that turned into a roped cliff section, and one to her own bambi legs, and pretty soon I was running by myself again.  I wasn't falling asleep yet but the moon was full on a cloudless night, so every time I ran past a puddle I thought there was a ninja behind me.  it didn't help that my stupid heel whip would kick up leaves that would land far back enough to suggest the ninja was real, so I ran scared on this section.

This was supposed to be a pilgrimage, dammit.

Getting onto Turkey Trail was a little bit flatter so I pushed the pace a little bit, and ended up catching Mike just as he was about to leave Lula Lake.  I stayed a little bit longer at Lula Lake because they had just started making ramen and it was warmer than the fluid in my flasks that had been fucking with my stomach, and soon I was greeted by a winding climb up towards the turnaround at Covenant College, at mi56.  I caught Mike while he was second-guessing his position on Sean's Trail Run Project app map, but I told him that the app had a huge variability on actual positioning so he was probably on the right course.  I honestly thought he was directionally challenged though as I had witnessed him having trouble finding flags at mi4 when we had just entered the trails, but not being an asshat, I told him he was welcome to run with me for a little bit.  

We shot the shit for a long time, talking about culture and the usual shit you talk about mid-hunnerd, and before we knew it we were both at an unmarked intersection.  fuck my fucking life.  we looked at his app again and sure enough we had run adjacent from the course route.  we saw we could shortcut our way back on the course, but neither of us were too aggro to do that so we elected to backtrack our back to the nearest flag.  somehow we missed a foot-level wrong way sign at a Y-intersection, but neither of us could believe that as the rock garden we were running on necessitated literally looking at that level, so we must have found an unmarked egress off-trail.  anyways, back to the Y-intersection--we took the turn my Garmin didn't have a backtrack for, but soon enough we ran into a relay runner who was outbound from Lula Lake.  fucking fuck fuck fuck.

it turned out my Garmin's backtrack wasn't working, period (classic Fenix 2 shenanigans), and now we were sufficiently pissed.  luckily, just like the last unmarked intersection i had jumped, i had just taken a caffeine pill right before and the fear of having to run an extra eleventy bajillion miles (thanks for the accurate measuring, Garmin) provided the needed inhibition to send it and [re]pass a few more relay runners, even though it was mostly uphill. 

as we approached the powerline loop at Covenant College, we encountered some of Sean's flashing trail marker strobes that were hilariously off trail.  this would be a prelude to being confronted by assholes driving off-road in the opposite direction, first honking their horn for us to get off the road, before screaming out that we were going in the wrong direction.  unfortunately Mike had been staring at his phone for the longest time given my Fenix 2 was being a Fenix 2, and he was sure we were headed in the right direction, so we ignored this band of idiots who seriously needed something way better to do on a Friday night.  

sure enough, we were right this time and we got to Covenant College just before midnight.  there wasn't an outhouse for my traditional 61mi shit  but Mike luckily had ginger candies he wasn't using, so after some broth and uncharacteristically passing on some bourbon, we headed out back to the finish.  Mike lost me after a few choice uphills and soon I was running on my own.  

i was slow yielding to opposing traffic, and it was tough with their headlamps in ascertaining how far back Rob was, or how much non-relay heat I had on me.  in any case it was rolling downhill basically until we hit the lula lake access road.  I had a hilarious run-in with one lady relay runner taking a piss without shutting off her headlamp but other than that this section was largely uneventful, save for me continuously looking back because the moon's reflection on puddles or my heel whip on piles of leaves made me think there was someone riding my ass.

I got to Lula Lake probably just after Mike left (again) and stayed longer to get some boiling hot broth in me, as well as to pour cold water on my legs.  I was quickly passed on the exit by a relay runner with fresh legs, but I noticed she'd slow down every so often probably because looking for Sean's non-reflective flags was a challenge.  I'd catch up to her at the end of the Turkey Trail and on the ropes at High Adventure as well but she'd never let me close enough to pass.  By the time I had cleared the grind up to the Chattanooga Valley ridgeline I finally caught up to her and told her "it's ok, I'm an expert at getting lost".  I did tell her it'd be two more hills until the highway before passing her and finding Mike again.  he was starting to slow down while I was drawn in by dry socks and shoes at Nickajack.  Passing one more relay runner, I took the lead back to the aid station, but only on the hope that they had a toilet somewhere.  

They didn't, and all they had was a privy with a giant friendly spider.  

after running out of shits to give, then refilling with a couple slices of pizza chased by ramen, then doing what i did the first time at nickajack, mike and i left chasing the two relay teams we had passed inbound to nickjack, hell bent on seeing if we could cross all three water crossing with dry socks, like Rob had initially did.  we were successful, and i joked to Mike that he now had extra toilet paper (he brought an extra pair of dry socks).  we did notice that we were well above sean's advertised 10,000' of elevation gain now, and there wasn't a wind to fuck my barometric altimeter up, which meant that we were in for some chop if we didn't have any quads left for the last 20mi.  we caught up to one of the relay teams but i got left behind on the climb up to Hinkle negotiating all the fake rocks and fake leaves.  

i caught Mike, yet again, just as he was leaving Hinkle, but he was kind enough to leave two ginger candies for me as i bid him best of luck since i could no longer keep up with my cramping quads.  it was warming up so I did what I did at Fat Dog--I tied some wet arm warmers just above the knees to get them to cool down for a little bit, but I was pretty much relegated to shuffling around at this point so I took them off after a few miles.  interestingly enough, my headlamp turned off pretty much at the same point where I had turned it on the night before, but I was frequently getting passed by relay runners at this point.  Plus I got passed by first lady, looking incredibly fresh and chipper as well, telling me everything wrong with this course.  At this point the roller coaster nature of the MTB trails completely fried my knees--it was fairly difficult to pull off a Morton stretch now to keep them limber, which I should have done much earlier.  I had one struggling relay runner who kept me company, but as we rose further above Durham and I could see the plain Ascalon was on, I managed to leave him behind as I waddled into the last aid station.  

I knew it would be a slow 10 mi home, but despite that I had not been watering down my legs to keep cool and my feet were still toasty warm and dry.  It was almost like I was done with my A-goal because I just didn't want it anymore, despite there being 3+ h to cover those last few miles.  the Ascalon crew kindly gave me two shots of ramen and a flask of coca before kindly telling me to get the fuck out of there; unfortunately they had not done that soon enough as I found out I had rolled my ankle somewhere before Ascalon and sitting down for five minutes was enough to immobilize it.  

I was about 8/10 of a mi out before encountering the first 50mi runner, which marked a stupidly paced uphill against oncoming traffic on my way to the first water drop 5mi out.  all their encouragement made it easier though, but I was pretty much on the point of whimpering as I shuffled along to the tune of 3.5-4mph.  

after wetting my legs at the water drop I stumbled out across the 189 one last time, Rob still not in sight, and after a while I thought I saw Mike with his purple tutu and without his pack but running off the course at a modest pace.  I had no time for hallucinations so I kept shuffling, fueled by encouragement from day hikers and a fear of dropping more places.  it was difficult keeping it towards 12min miles and fighting the urge not to shortcut based on my knowledge of the park's trails, but I pretty much finished dragging my left foot, in 5th place, almost an hour above my PB. 

waddling in
post-race photo, courtesy of We Run Race Photos of Huntsville.  I'm sober in this one.  
despite the completely anti-climatic end, there are a few things about this race worth celebrating:
  1. if I hadn't fucked my ankle up, I would have been able to finish a hunnerd after only having recharged my watch once.  historically it would have been twice but I was probably three miles out (i.e 30-40mins) from the finish line when my low battery alert came up a second time.
  2. if I hadn't fucked my ankle up, I definitely would have PB'd my 100mi time.  I spent an ungodly amount of time on the last 10mi--probably the slowest of any racer, relay or solo or 50mi, out there.  
  3. i fucked my ankle up at the end and not the beginning.  
  4. this genuinely felt like a decent finale to a 18-month long racing season, one that didn't result in an itch to need to redeem myself or work on any goals within a month or two.  (yes, it's quite possible i'm generally dissatisfied with my running all the time, which is why my race season is so long.)
  5. at no point in time was I falling asleep or felt that I needed to stop to sit on the ground (notwithstanding the 2s-breaks of jumping into streams), so i think i've gotten my caffiene pill intake regime figured out.  plus, this leaves me a little more confident when I go deal with UTMB's 6pm local start next year. 
alas, it's been a fun 18 months, but now it's time for me to rest up and to go easy on the distance.  it's time for me to grow some toenails back, and to get my hunger for fun again.  it's time for me to remember how to run not as reckless and to run smarter.  it's time for me to sharpen the axe, for bigger trees are to be felled in 2018.  
by the numbers:
  • time: 24:27:59
  • distance: 100mi, if we discounted that half-mile sojourn with Mike on Gerber Road
  • official elevation gain: 10000'
    • probably-not-fucked-by-Garmin's-barometer elevation gain: 13372'
  • placement: 5/85
  • DNF%: 30.5%
  • my trail running mom (and other friends) for cheering me from afar.  I'm not one to scream out HEY LOOK AT ME IM RUNNING A HUNNERD but knowing you were probably wondering where the fuck I was on those last 10mi kept me moving as I didn't want to disappoint.  #bonkbuddiesforlife
  • Mike for giving me all that ginger candy.  I apologize once again that they were in vain, despite me coming in one place behind you and still in 5th.  
  • Sean for being Sean and buying me all those beers.
  • Papa and Mama Blanton for enabling Sean to be Sean, and also for being a total hoot to be around.  I will most definitely be back for more shenanigans.
    • true story: Mama Blanton gave me her jacket as I was napping post-race because she did not buy that I was not cold due to the fact I was Canadian.  "ughhhhhh ok mom".
  • Jen, Ricky and all the volunteers for tolerating me at packet pickup and at the aid stations.  thanks and see you at UTE!  and if life works out, i may come back to pick up a few AS shifts next november!
    • the second day shift of Ascalon AS, for kindly telling me to stop complaining and to "get the fuck out of here" with my bum ankle.  I would have stayed there forever if otherwise.  and yes, i know.  it was just a scratch. 
  • The Cracker Barrel on Birmingham Highway, for not asking why I needed to see the menu a total of three times on Saturday night.
  • to Squirrel's Nut Butter, AGAIN: HOW. 
stray observations:
  • i'm sorry the quasi-magical realism my other reports bleed is not present in this one.  things have been very busy at work and i honestly did not want to take the time to write this report; hopefully my next one will be more enthusiastic.  
  • IMHO every race finish line should be set up to provide keg stands for the assholes who did not try hard enough.  
  • my laundry list of first world problems:
    • the shoulder strap zipper broke as soon as I took out my key fob, but I still refuse to buy a new vest until a more catastrophic failure.  my gen-1 Salomon Ultra Sense Set 1 vest is a coffer for my dreams, hopes and aspirations, and every new zipper, every stain on its no-longer-porcelain white textile is a story.  
      • i say this despite Rock/Creek having a fucking 25% off Salomon gear sale on race week and having the S-Lab Ultra Sense Set 5 color I wanted at a decent price.  
    • serious issue with some of the vollies--most of the aid stations were unable to refill my stupid salomon bottles to the top, to the extent i insisted that i would refill them myself on the homeward journey.  YES I KNOW THEY'RE THE NARROW-NECK GEN-1 FLASKS, BUT COME ON.  IT's ALMOST 10 MI TO THE NEXT AID STATION.
    • the last inaugural race I ran was Trailstoke in 2014, where we were shorted 12k.  of course the next inaugural race I would run would have an extra 1100m of D+.
      • would i have done anything differently if I knew we were 4000m+ on the D+?  yes, I would have brought poles.  I probably wouldn't have done the giant ass city run with Joanna and signed up for a decent 100k with some level of quad busting instead, prior to the race.  
    • i prefer night races with reflective tape instead of blinky lights.  there weren't many blinky lights but conversely it was easier to see trail blazes than flagging tape.  
  • I heard they got two inches of snow one week after the race.  not sure what I would have preferred but i don't think i'd enjoy running in gore tex shoes. 
up next:
  • seriously, i've got nothing until UTMB at the moment.  save for my annual year-end piece, this blog's going dark for a little bit.
  • I'll be lacing up for the 50mi EcoTrail Oslo in May to shake the rust off.  yes, i'm going back to Norway.  

 All our vices are virtues gone wrong.
--C.S. Lewis

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