Wednesday, April 22, 2009

McNaughton 150 race report

I'm finally getting to my race report. Life has a way of getting in the way sometimes. Note: first pic is first day, sitting in my truck trying to stay warm. The rest were taken on following day, after the rain stopped.

April 10th, Friday morning, I’m driving into Pekin, Ill. And it’s raining steadily. The rain has been coming down all night long, and it didn’t seem like that it would let up soon. However, the forecast for Saturday is sunny, clear sky. I thought…those 50 and 100 milers are lucky that they don’t have to deal with the rain. But for some of us crazy 150 milers, our start time was Friday high noon…rain or shine. What a way to begin 150 miles…soaking wet!

I rolled into McNaughton Park around 10am…thinking that would give me enough time to set up tent and what not. Temperature was somewhere in the upper 30’s, and the wind would pick up now and then… making the temps a little cooler. I got my race packet and chatted with the RD. He was pretty sure that the rain will stop in few hours. I was just hoping it didn’t rain into the night again. I commenced setting up my tent near the start/finish line; since I didn’t have a crew…this would be my staging area. I unloaded some necessary stuff that I’ll need for the next day and a half. The rain was still coming down, and the wind was just whipping’ around…making really hard to pitch a tent. I thought… this really sucks… setting up a tent in the rain with wind blowing every which way, and somewhat chilly temps… and I’m doing this by myself. After about 20 minutes or so, I finally got the tent up and secured…so I thought. But I was drenched, and quickly changed into my race gear.

Above picture is just before major downpour. After completing my first loop, with ground all soaked and pretty strong wind, my tent got partially uprooted, and top got blown over. My stuff was all wet. It was going to be a long day.

At 11:45am, we gathered for a quick race briefing. The course is the same for everyone. It’s a 10 mile loop. For 150, it’s 15 laps in time limit of 54 hours. I should know the course well by then. Again, the RD says the rain should let up in the late afternoon, and that “we should just to take it easy all afternoon, and save some for tomorrow”.

Forty-seven toed the start line for 150 miles. There were also a few early starters for the 100 miles. Straight up 12:00pm, the RD yells “Go!”, and we’re off. A few take out like jack rabbits. I start out at a snails’ pace. From start, it’s a short downhill…but this short downhill was more like short downhill skiing. The footing was absolutely terrible. It was mud fest from start. Just staying upright was going to be a challenge. We then came out into an open field for about half mile. This is the only part that is easy. We see several white-tailed deer’s prancing around in the open field…enjoying the cool, wet conditions. After circling the field, the hill climbing begins. The short, steep climb is nothing but mud. There was not a dry spot to get any good footing. We all basically claw our way up. When we get to the top, there would be a short flat, then back down, then up again. This was going to be a very long day.

This part was very slick at start, the day before. And the open field.

This was a day that I’ll be walking/crawling all the hills…and then sliding on the downs. Any downhill was going to be tough to manage. These downhills were also short and steep…with the slippery trail; a lot of us will be falling down.

Short and steep climb. Day before this was all muddy.

After 2.5 miles, we come out to the Totem pole Aid Station…grabbed some snackies...and off into the woods again. The next section…about mile or so…we hit some sandy area, known as “The Beach”. On a few flat spots, the rain packed the sand down…that was a good thing. But it was short lived. At about mile 3.5, we hit the first creek crossing.

Cold water feels great on the feet.

No one was staying dry today. First time though, the water was about mid-calf…not bad…but very cold. With all the rains, the creek was kinda swift in couple spots. I thought this is going to be tricky tonight. After crossing the creek, the single trail was just muddy and very slick, and slowly becomes another climb. My energy level was going down quicker than I expected. Most of it might’ve been due to the fact I’m fighting the mud and trying to keep my balance, rather than making forward progress.

At about mile 4, we hit one of the toughest climb on the course…known as “Golf Hill”. A person has to use a rope to climb up this beast. I’m thinking…the RD must be totally sadistic to include this section. Then again…what RD isn’t sane to include such obstacles…it’s all part of trail running. Once reaching the top, it’s a very short flat, and back down again. After some rolling hills, we hit “heartbreak hill”…long stretch up. Again, after reaching the top, we come back down again. Basically, this course has a lot of ups and downs…short and steep for the most part, but a couple spots were long steady climbs. The climbs don’t usually bother me… I rather enjoy them after awhile. But when you throw in rain and mud, the climbs are not very fun. You’re just finding anything possible to pull yourself up. And that makes it slowly going.

At about mile 5, and after a long climb, we came out to an open field. It was nice to get back to smoother or grassy surface. We would circle a big field before coming into Heaven’s Gate A.S., about mile 6. We would make a short 1 mile loop, and come back to this same A.S. But this 1 mile loop was not easy either. The A.S. is at the top of the hill, so that means, we had to come down a steep hill, run along a creek, into another open field…which people were calling this area the “rice fields”. You guess it…imagine a rice field, water standing in open field. My shoes got stuck and sucked off a couple of times. I was not having fun through this section. Once pass the “rice field”, we had to climb back up to the Heaven’s Gate A.S. This would be last A.S. before getting back to staging area. The last section was about 3 miles.

On this last section, we did a lot more rolling hills, and another creek crossing. Now, the cold creek was beginning to feel good on the feet. At about mile 9, we came out to an open field, and across a dam, before hitting the last steep hill before the last stretch back to start/finish line.
On my first loop, I was able to run most of the flat sections, and some brisk walking on the hills. My time was 1 hr. 58 min on the first loop. I thought...dang it! I’m going faster than I wanted to. My goal was to do around 2.5 hrs per loop. But with the rain and all, I would’ve been happy with 2:45 or 3 hrs per loop.

(Second creek crossing)

The rain was still coming down, but decreasing to a drizzle now. I begin my second loop, but this time I was going to go much slower since I know what the course is like. I would finish my second loop in 2:37 including a 15 minute break. I was much happier with this time. I took another 15-20 minute break at start/finish line before beginning my third loop. It was late in the afternoon now; the rain was finally breaking away. However, the trail was still muddy and will probably stay that way all night long. My third loop was under 3 hours including my 20 minute break. So 3 hrs per loop is still not bad. Keeping that pace though the night would put me at 70 miles by next morning. That wouldn’t be bad considering the trail conditions. And with no rain the next day, I should be able to make good time all day long…so that was my strategy. A person gets to think a lot...plotting and scheming.

OK...back to the real world. I finished my third loop; I’m about 7.5 hrs into the race. I ate some chicken noodle soup, and some munchies, and head out into the night for my 4th loop. I’m feeling great, everything is finally clicking. It’s crazy that it takes 30 miles before I find the right pace. I’m doing great up to 37 miles. I came back to the last A.S. before the last section back. I debated to take in some chicken noodle soup, or wait till I get back. I opted for the latter….big mistake! I only filled my water bottle, and started on my last section. After going about half mile, all of my energy was zapped out of me. I was following 2 guys…they were walking. With every step, I was getting hungrier. I wanted anything to eat. My energy level was way down. I should’ve asked the other two if they had anything for me to munch on. I swallowed my pride and kept walking. I had taken off my waist belt on my last loop…trying to minimize any extra weight. I was beginning to struggle to make up the last hills. I finally made back to start/finish line. It took me almost 4 hours to complete my 4th loop. I was totally exhausted and hungry. I sat down, ate a sandwich and some soup. Then I was beginning to get chills really bad. I thought…I’ll just sit in my tent for few minutes and warm up. That didn’t work… I was getting colder by the minute. Of course my clothes and shoes were all soaking wet. I changed shirts and crawled into my truck and cranked up the heater till it was nice and warm. Next thing you know, I was asleep. I slept about hour and half. It was almost 2am. My plan was to wait until after I finish my 5th loop before I slept a little bit. Things have now changed for the worst…all because I didn’t take in anything but water from last A.S. Lesson learned the hard way.
2am, I get back out of my truck and proceed to get moving again. It was slow to get moving again, but after reaching the A.S., I was not skipping any soup from there on. And I was also taking in some hot chocolate. That tasted sooo good. I finally complete my 5th loop. My time shows as 6:25 for that loop. But I stopped and slept for 2.5 hrs.

About 5:30 am, I started my 6th loop. The rain was all gone now. And it looks like Saturday was going to be a great day. Halfway thru my 6th loop, the sun has risen now, the 50 milers and 100 milers started catching up with me. Their start time was 6am Saturday. I would just let them fly by me since they had fresh legs. I finished my 6th loop in pretty good time… a little over 3 hrs plus 20 minute break. On my 7th loop, I was still feeling good. I completed loop 7 in about the same time.

But I was now at 24 hr mark. I had hoped to be at 90 miles by 24 hrs. I was falling behind. My right ankle was beginning to flare up abit too. Again, I was doing some heavy pondering…if I can do 3 hrs per loop with 15 or 20 minute breaks…I can still finish this race in 48 hrs.

Starting out on loop 8, I changed clothes and ate a little more than just soup. I knew I was in for a long haul. I start out slow. It’s in the afternoon now, and the trails were drying out in lot of places. Very few spots were still slick. I walked and I walked. I climbed the hills. I was still climbing them well though. But on the flats, I try to run…my legs were just completely trashed. I was succumbed to walking now. I basically walked the entire 8th loop. I got back to start/finish line in about 4 hrs. My overall time was now at about 28 hrs for 80 miles.

I went over to my tent and sat down for a little bit. Next thing… I was sleeping for an hour. I tried to regroup again. But this time, it was not happening. I just wasn't getting it together. My worst fear had been realized. I was going to DNF. If this was the only race I had schedule, I would have toughed it out and kept going. It might have taken me all of 54 hours to complete though. But on the other hand, there is another race that I definitely would not miss it for the world. And I was not putting that in jeopardy.

I had made the right decision to stop. I have some unfinished business. It’ll just have to wait another year. I looked at this race as a great training run. And I’m thankful that I didn’t get hurt in any way. RD Andy and his crew did a wonderful job putting this race together. The aid stations were well stocked. I look forward to next time.

My results below.


T Z said...

Arnold, I am so sorry I did not go with you to do this race. I doubt seriously I would have carried on any further as hills, cold, and mud are a tough combination. I am glad you wrote such a detailed report. If someone steps up and they do put this event on next year, I need to give it a go.

Now, on to Badwater training. Bring on the heat!

AB said...

you missed a doozy..Ken. 150 may not happen at McNaughton next year, but I plan on making a trip to VT for another attempt at 150. it's all Badwater training. Bring on the beasty!!