Monday, June 02, 2008

5/17/08 Redmond Watershed Preserve 12 Hour Ultra

Apologies for the delay with updates. Computer issues... which might be worth a whole story/post, and could be cathartic to write down anyway. Short version: Dell is a four letter word. Buy HP (or Apple if you absolutely must). If you do get a Dell, pray that you do not need technical support.
The Redmond Watershed Preserve is a very interesting park on the outskirts of... wait for it... Redmond. It isn't just in the sticks; it IS the sticks where other things get lost. I drove past this park twice a day, six days a week, for about five years traveling between home and work. And not one time did I ever stop there, much less try to run there.

The park has a ton of interconnecting trails utilized by runners, walkers, and horses. It's a great place for a race... provided the organizers mark the trails well :-). The Watershed Preserve 12 Hour Ultra (WP12) is just such a race. Most races are a set distance with the unstated rule "get to the end in the shortest possible time". WP12 is sort of the opposite: "run or walk as far as you can in 12 hours." More specifically, the race utilizes a two-loop course through the park, and the runner has to complete as many loops as possible before time expires. If the 12 hour bell rings while you are two miles into a loop, those two miles don't count. The whole racing strategy for a set time event like this is quite different from a typical race, and the 'complete loop only' bit makes for a very exciting ending to the day as people try to plan and complete that last loop.

To make things more entertaining, the two loops are different sizes: the first loop is 4.75 miles, the second loop is a tiny .625. For the first ten hours of the day, only "big loops" (both loops added together, 5.375 miles) count. At the ten hour mark, runners can continue doing big loops... or they can start circling the .625 "little loop" ad nauseam. Obviously, during the 11th hour, almost everyone remaining in the race is getting dizzy on the little loop.

Ah yes. People "remaining in the race". Another difference between this set time event and a typical race is that there are no DNFs. If a runner chooses to do five big loops (a little longer than a marathon) and then stop, then that's how many miles the runner gets in the final results. If a runner chooses to stop for a few hours in the middle for a little picnic, that's cool too. The miles before and after the break are added together - for all the loops completed during the twelve hours.

Interesting, huh?

Oh yeah, one more thing. That little .625 loop is quite a bit more technical than the 4.75 piece. Rooted, rutted, rocky single track on the little loop. Mostly wide jeep trail for the rest. This makes the round-and-round on the little loop doubly entertaining after already having run for 10 or 11 hours.

So that's the race and the course. I'd never been to this park before the race, and I'd never done a set time event before this. I was supposed to run a 6 hour race back in March, but I was sick.

Meanwhile... I had not been training to run ultras recently. My last run over 26.2 was a 50k back in early December (Sunmart). I have only run longer than 31 miles once in my life (Mt. Si 50 Miler), and it was not fun. Based on this, I set a few goals and guidelines for myself:

  1. Definitely run 6 loops (32.25 miles, a long 50k) under 6 hours.

  2. See how I felt, and do as many slow miles as possible after that.

  3. Maybe, just maybe pull out a slow 50 miles.
The 50 mile goal was somewhat arbitrary, but not completely fake. I am signed up to do a very difficult 50 miler at the end of July, and I wanted to figure out where I'd be starting a two month training cycle.

So there we were just before 7a on a beautiful mid-May morning in Western Washington. It was not raining, which was a plus. Normally, mornings during May are chilly... upper 40s. Not on this day. It was 70 and humid. Hmmm.

6 loops in 6 hours. Each loop would be 5.375 miles. Rolling, not too hilly. And only technical in the very last bit. No sweat.


Too much sweat. I carried a single 20oz bottle with me. On a normal day, that bottle will last me for about 90 minutes - 10 or 11 miles. I finished that first loop just under an hour, but I knew I was in trouble. My bottle was almost empty, and it was still "only" about 75 degrees.

They only had one aid station on this course, at the end of each loop. My bottle would need to last a full loop. Luckily, this was an ultra aid station... meaning that it was overflowing with real food, drinks, and electrolyte tablets. I lingered.

My second loop took exactly an hour. My water bottle was almost empty again. I lingered at the aid station.

My third loop was slightly over an hour. Dry water bottle. I lingered. I noticed a few people had dropped out.

By the middle of the fourth loop, I was walking some of the hills. Uh oh. One hour per loop was not only overly optimistic, but it had made me go out way WAY too fast.

As I started the fifth loop, I knew this was the marathon loop (26.875 miles total). I had figured that a five hour marathon pace would be a very conservative way to handle a 12 hour race. By the fifth loop, I was just focusing on finishing five. I told myself that I'd run five, walk the sixth, and then probably call it a day. I finished the fifth loop somewhere on the wrong side of 5:30. WOW.

It was 90 degrees at the aid station. I was caked in salt.

As I started the 6th loop, I met up with Maniacs Jess and Linda. I decided to run with them for a little while. This turned out to be a major, major help... Jess got me through the sixth loop. Almost seven hours to run my long 50k.

I had, however, passed my "moment of truth". I was moving slowly, but I was still moving, and Jess had helped improve my spirits immensely. I decided to keep on going.
73 people had started at 7a. By my sixth loop, only 33 people remained.

The 7th loop was a lot of shuffling. Jess had taken off, but as I rounded a bend, I found her sitting on a tree trunk. Blisters. We had a "do I pop it??" conversation (answer: NO!). I ran/shuffled with her a bit, but it was clear that she wanted to run faster. Off she went.

The end of 7 loops, a bone dry bottle, and 96 degrees at the aid station. I was in a remarkably good mood. That picture at the top was taken at the end of this loop. See the flip-flops that the other dude is wearing? He's "Barefoot Jon", and he ran for 12 hours in flip-flops. How can I complain about my day??

One more loop would give me over 40 miles. Off I went. Slowly. I walked A LOT during that 8th loop. I got passed a lot too. Whatever. I finished 8 at about 9:45 on the clock. The aid station volunteers talked me into trying one more. "Go get 50!!" A 9th loop would give me 48.375 miles... 3 little loops after that and I'd have it.

Alright, aid station folks. I decided before I left to grab my music player out of my drop bag. I rarely wear headphones when I'm running and almost never during a race... but it was a lifesaver in this situation. I ran that 9th loop. The whole thing. I hadn't run a complete loop since the 3rd one, but the music really helped with my energy levels. Running for 10 hours can get, well, boring :-). And boredom can bring one into the Valley of Despair. The music helped.

However, as I did the technical little loop, it became obvious why I don't generally run with music. By this point (11ish hours on the clock), lots of people were on the little loop. I didn't hear the people trying to pass me. Boo me.

By the 11th hour, the weather was cooling slightly. Could I do 3 little loops?

Yes. Yes, I could.

The first one was fast. The second one was fairly fast until I fell down. It took me over 11 hours before I fell, but when I DID fall, I made sure it counted. BOOM!

I was a bit slower after that. :-)

The third loop came and went. The aid station volunteers congratulated me on getting past 50.

For some weird reason, I decided to do another little loop. Halfway through the loop, my brain finally said "hey, you know, I'm not having fun anymore. Please be done now."

And so after the fourth little loop, and nine big loops, I stopped. 11 hours and 36 minutes. 51.3 miles. Perhaps I could have done a couple more little loops and made my finish more exciting, but my brain was telling me not to go out again. If I had tried, my brain might have made me fall down just for spite. Not worth it.

51.3 miles. I've never run that far before. And I did NOT train to do this.

11:36. I've never been on my feet that long before either.
I came in 13th out of 73. Lucky number. Had I put in two more loops, I would have come in 11th. Hey, I was just happy to get to 50 and still be ambulatory.

Huh. I will say: that is a very slow 50 miler. It took me over two hours longer to do this than Mt Si. Then again, I trained for that and felt like death at the end of it. I did not feel like death at the end of WP12.

What an interesting experience. I will definitely do a set time event again. I really liked the atmosphere. I'm not sure I'll do WP12 again. I might. I know I would HATE this course in the rain - it would be very muddy. It's also the same weekend as a bunch of other great races.

The organizers were wonderful, the aid was great, and I didn't get lost: woohoo!

Next up: Because I am very behind on reports, it has come and gone. The obscure Andy Payne Marathon in Oklahoma. I placed, which was wacky.

More on that RealSoonNow.

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