I have to be honest, I have a real love hate relationship with this race. It was my first ultra back in 2010 and was a catalyst for my growing passion of ultra running. That year I was happy to finish at all and thrilled with my finish time of 5:25. I missed the race in 2011 but went back again in 2012 and ran a 5:04. Here is a race report from that experience. I was a lot faster but had nutrition problems and ended up puking and bonking. Never one to be deterred by a bad experience with a race I went back again this year with my trusty running buddy, Tim.
I had no real plan or expectation for how I would do. My training plan called for a five hour run on race day, so I took that as a sign and decided to shoot for a five hour finish. This would also be my first experiment with my coach's prescribed nutrition program. As the race approached I definitely had mixed feelings. It is a great race and a very forgiving course, but it would be cold, and Tim and I would have to leave bright and early to get there, which would require a 4am wake up call. It was also hard to get fired up about a race that I've finished twice. Putting all negativity aside and focusing on the positive, Tim and I ventured to Winston Salem early Saturday morning. Besides, I had to run for 5 hours anyway. Might as well be at a pretty cool race, right?
The race has grown exponentially since we first ran it in 2010. There are now 25K and relay options which brought out a lot of runners. While this completely changed the feel of the race, it was great to see lots of people who had never thought of running an ultra be exposed to one. As I have come to expect with ultra runners and trail races, the runners were friendly and supportive and the volunteers were amazing.
The race started at 8am with a temperature somewhere in the low 30s. Tim and I sat in his car until about 10 minutes before the start and debated what to wear. I opted for long running pants, a compression shirt, a thin fleece pull over, fleece gloves and a skull cap. It was a good choice for the first hour of the run. By the second hour I was intermittently too hot and too cold. I ended up dropping the gloves half way through.
We started out conservatively, with a 9:15-9:30 pace and felt comfortable and relaxed. We cruised along, chatting about everything and enjoying the scenery. Then somewhere between miles 6 and 7, while running in the middle of a fair number of other runners, a tiny rock jumped up and grabbed my right foot, sending me hurtling toward the ground at what I'm convinced was at least three times the speed of sound. My left knee hit first, taking the brunt of the impact, slamming into the asphalt greenway and bouncing me forward toward my face. I had just enough time to tuck my head and roll. This resulted in a brief, absurd, and somewhat impressive display of acrobatics. I caught a flash of one of my legs flying through the air with the sky bright blue behind it. Surreal. When I came to a stop I jumped up and kept running as quickly as I could. I chose not to look around but heard several gasps as I went down and a few people asking if I was ok. My knee hurt like hell, and I was embarrassed and pissed off. Once the adrenaline wore off I realized that I had hurt myself. I walked for a minute or two to assess the damage. Only a couple of small scrapes but there was some swelling and discoloration around the knee cap. I decided it would loosen up with time and kept on keeping on.
By the time I got back to the start finish at the end of the first lap, I wasn't sure I was going to head out for a second lap. I felt fine from an energy point of view, but I was in a lot of pain and started to worry about doing damage. I voiced this concern to Tim who was appropriately supportive and encouraging. I had just about convinced myself to quit when the trail leveled out, allowing me to run more comfortably. Then the turn around appeared too soon. I wasn't ready to stop running yet. I knew I had more in me and decided I would turn around and head back out and just quit and head back if it got too bad. Rationalization firmly in place, I turned around and headed out for the second lap.
Tim and I continued to run together, but I could tell he felt better than I did, as I had to push to keep the pace we had been running and that he was comfortable with. Around mile 21 Tim started to pull away from me. He wasn't speeding up, but I was slowing down. I didn't push it and let him go. By this time I had figured out that I could run on the flats and small hills without too much discomfort in my knee but had to walk up and down any significant hills. On the way back after the final turn around I caught up with Ryan, whom I had met at this race last year. Since that time I've seen him at a few races and had the opportunity to run with him during a long training run at Umstead. He is training for his second attempt at the Umstead 100 this year. We began to run together and pushed each other to run more often and faster than either of us would have on our own. We ended up crossing the line in 5 hours and 22 seconds (at least according to my watch.) I am very grateful to Ryan for the company and motivation for those last, difficult miles.
Aftermath: Tim had a great race, finishing in 4:48, almost 10 minutes faster than his previous finish. I wouldn't have been able to keep up with him, even without the fall. The nutrition plan worked well. I was able to take in two gels and 20 oz of Perpetuem (totaling 300 calories), and two salt tabs every hour. This was quite a change from my traditional approach, which usually involves having no plan at all and running until I'm hungry and then eating a bunch of crap until I bonk. My coach's plan required a lot more effort but worked well.
My knee is swollen and has a lovely purple shade covering the entire knee cap. Nothing seems to be broken, but it hurts like the dickens when I go up or down stairs. I was scheduled to run for two hours the day after Frosty Fifty but had to forgo it to let the swelling go down. I should be back in the swing of things in a couple of days. The good news is that I set a PR for the race and am not sore at all, except for the knee.
Next race will be the Myrtle Beach Marathon in February. I'll be doing my best to keep up with Wendy as she blisters the course.