Monday, December 21, 2009

Red Rock 40: Finally an Ultrarunner...

Red Rock 40

Remember when this was a running blog? I mean, remember when I actually BLOGGED? Yeah. Pretty exciting... and rather long ago, I realize.

Well, I'm finally catching up with this race and then I have another race to post as well, in which I'm going to tell you what I've realized about running this year. So you have a whole TWO postings to look forward to.

Hold on to yer hats, ladies 'n gents. The excitement just doesn't cease.

Anyway, I have to talk about this race first. I've talked about this race a few times. This race, along with the 50 mile distance, was my "vendetta" race. In '07, I DNF'd this race due to knee issues. Then last year, I was recovering from a broken foot and not ready to race. FINALLY, this year, I was healthy and ready to run.

Ready to run with not just a little trepidation, however. When you have tried to do anything more than once, and not accomplished it, there's always a bit of the "what-if" factor. (For those of you who have not read the Shel Silverstein poem, "The Whatifs," I highly recommend you stop what you are doing and go read it now for the best description of the "what-if" factor.) What if my knee started hurting again? What if Firetrails was a total fluke and I couldn't really run that far without collapsing? What if I wasn't really an ultrarunner and it was going to take this race to really find out? (I'd go on, but I think you probably get the picture...)

Anyway, I went down to Santa Barbara to spend Thanksgiving with my parents. We had a lovely meal (outside!) with some friends and then did the now traditional (because twice= tradition) wine tasting the day before at Jaffurs (my father's comment: "it will keep you relaxed") and I woke up early on Saturday morning, heading for Red Rock.

I've talked a little about this race before, but humor me with 20 seconds of background. This race used to be Santa Barbara 9 Trails, which was all Santa Barbara front country trails. (Front country= ocean side of the Los Padres mountain range.) Due to the Jesusita Fire last spring, the course had to be moved, and RD Luis Escobar decided to start it from Red Rock, which is considered Santa Barbara back country. From Red Rock, the course headed up towards Cold Springs Saddle, then down to meet up with the original course until Romero Canyon, at which point it turned around and followed the same trail back. (With an additional 5 miles...) I had run the first 7.5 miles of the course over Labor Day and was really looking forward to the run.

We started in the dark, a small group of runners, only one of whom I knew at all. (Suzanna Bon, the eventual womens' winner, was another Bay Area representative.) In true trailrunner fashion, however, friends were easy to make, and I found myself 4 miles into the race in the company of a bunch of hardcore women. For a mile or so, I ran with two women who had completed more than 15 Ironman triathlons apiece, the 2nd place finisher, and another woman who had completed at least 2 100 milers. For some reason, there were no men around for this section of the course, and someone remarked on how we were running with a bunch of impressive women. It's true. We were.

I ended up running for a few miles with Kathy, one of the "Trail Hoes" (FABULOUS sweatshirts!) and the eventual 2nd place winner. (She's not in that picture, by the way, but IS in the picture here.) For some reason, I thought that because I was running with her, I should not pay attention to my own nutrition needs, but follow hers-- and she didn't need calories the way I apparently did. She had pulled ahead by the time we hit Cold Springs Saddle, but for some reason, I decided I didn't need to monitor my own nutritional needs, and if I felt decent, that was a good reason to not eat. (Yeah, it's probably as bright as it sounds at this point.)

Really though, I didn't eat because I was feeling great and didn't want to mess with the "magic." And the race was feeling pretty magical at this point. I mean, really-- when you see the views we had at every turn? How could you NOT feel like it was a magic race? (I'll explain how in a minute, don't worry.) I was SO happy though-- I love Santa Barbara county and I think the trails are gorgeous. They're completely different than the Bay Area, but wherever I looked, I had an amazing view. I could have stopped and enjoyed the view for hours.

I came in to the turnaround and was extremely happy to see my parents. It's very rare in my races that I ever see anyone who's not already connected to running, and seeing my parents (who think I'm crazy for all this (extremely) long-distance running stuff) come out to support me was a huge boost. I had some food (not enough) and took off again, totally surprised to find out that I was in 4th place at that point.

Ha ha ha ha. Then the non-eating caught up to me and about 20.5 miles into the race, I crashed BIG TIME. I realized that my non-eating plan was about the dumbest thing I could have done, because I was totally out of gas. Unfortunately for me, this was also probably THE hardest section of the entire course. The trail out of Romero Canyon is ridiculously un-runnable. It goes straight up, and then straight down. It does this for a good 5 miles, and then it climbs straight up for the next 3 miles until you reach Cold Springs Saddle again. Grueling, difficult running. Especially on not enough calories.

This was the dark part of the race. A couple of people asked me if I was ok as they passed me (never a good sign). At one point, I went to pull my salt caps and ibuprofen bag out of my hydration pack, and the hole in the bag (that I had not noticed) spilled them all over the trail. All of them. Fortunately, at that point I had regained enough sanity to see the humor in the situation, but I was very close to weeping openly at the silliness of losing all my salt caps and painkiller in the worst section of the trail.

What I found fascinating even at that moment though, was the certainty that even though I felt like crap, I knew I'd get through it and that it would get better. I kept telling myself that if I could just get to the top of Cold Springs Saddle, I would be fine. And really, I knew I *would* get to the top of Cold Springs Saddle. I knew the aid station would have ibuprofen and salt caps if I really needed them, and I knew that I'd eventually make it up there.

The trailrunners I met supported my theory that trailrunners are the best people ever. As I dragged my sorry self up towards Cold Springs Saddle, a couple asked me if I was feeling ok, and then walked me through the list-- did I have enough calories, enough salt, etc. Even in my misery, I felt taken care of, and that's a pretty good feeling to have.

Finally I got to Cold Springs Saddle, had soup, ibuprofen, salt, and some coke. The fabulous volunteer at the top made me eat a potato in her sight, because she was worried I was going to wander off down the trail without enough calories. I took a sandwich for the road and toddled off down the hill.

Here was the point that I realized that all the miles I've done this year have finally paid off. My thoughts as I left the aid station? "It's only 12 miles! Anyone can do 12 miles! You're home free!" Even in my calorie-deprived state, I paused for a moment to reflect on how I would not have made this statement a year ago. "Only 12 miles" is just under a 1/2 marathon. But it felt so doable and comfortable. Don't get me wrong-- it definitely took me a minute to finish it-- but once I was under the 12 mile mark, I knew there was no way I wouldn't finish the race.

After I left Cold Springs Saddle, I just enjoyed the last 12 miles. I stopped to take more pictures, and tried to look around me more, happy that I was getting to experience this area of Santa Barbara County that very few people ever really see.

By the time I was down to the last 4 miles, I had my mojo back and I was running pretty strong. I was met at the finish line by my parents and my aunt, who was in town for Thanksgiving and who I don't think has ever seen any of my athletic events. Having a support crew at the finish was fantastic, and made me want to come back and run this event again every year (not how I was feeling on the death march up to the saddle, might I add).

This event was pretty major for me, though. For one, I FINALLY finished an event that I had entered twice before but never finished. For another, it proved that Firetrails was not a fluke. That race seemed so magical that I had wondered if I was really capable of doing that again. This race, particularly since a good 8 miles of it were not wonderful or magical in the least (in fact, they sucked), proved to me that yes, I can have a crappy part of my race and still finish. Rick said after Firetrails that "Good trouble shooters finish many races." I didn't run as fast as I did at Firetrails at ALL (in fact, the race was 10 miles longer and it took me 30 minutes more to finish!) but I feel so much more confident that I can have a lame section of a race and get back on track. This race (because of the death march section) made me feel much more than Firetrails that I might be able, finally, to call myself an ultrarunner.