Big Dog's Backyard Ultra not so short race report.......I was a small, but proud dog in this epic race.........
The task is seemingly simple.......run "only" 4.166 miles per hour, every hour on the hour, until you can't. Shoot, that's just about a 14 minute pace......I should be able to do that forever, right? Last person standing wins.
Well, not exactly.....because you also have to budget time between loops to eat, drink, stretch, roll, sit down, attend to chafing, blisters, bathroom issues. Really it would seem ideal to have 5-7 extra minutes....and even more on loops where you plan to change shoes or clothing, or eat something more than a few bites of a protein bar.
I was pretty sure I could go at least 100 miles, and hopefully as much as 125......until I toured the course. The 12 daylight hours are done on a trail, and the night hours are on a road.
Well, everyone knows how bad I am on trails. I was born with a visual impairment causing me to never be able to see in 3D....which I should be able to overcome with practice and a strong mind. My bad eyes have caused a lot of stumbles through the years on just plain old pavement.....nothing too serious......a sprained ankle, 2 sets of knee stitches, road rash, and lots of scars and bruises.
But, these little accidents have caused built up fear. What if I have an accident, and I really hurt myself badly.......causing a more debilitating injury that would really affect my ability to work and live? So, I run very timidly in the dark, on trails, and on roads foreign to me.
I love being outdoors running or hiking on trails............but I run very cautiously. That's fine for a Sunday afternoon, but not ideal for a race. I'm competitive, and in a race I want to compete, but fear of falling holds me back. So, I shy away from trail races, and don't practice trails. I use my vision as an excuse, but it is a choice.
I love my ultra family, and especially everyone I have met at the Lazarus Lake races in recent years, so I could not resist signing up for this race. I knew there would be a trail, but I underestimated how difficult it would be.
After touring the trail course, I nearly decided not to even start the race. The trail was full of rocky sections, ups and downs, lots of tricky terrain that would take me precious time to navigate. I was afraid I'd not even finish one loop. I was also afraid that I'd be so erratic in my pacing that I'd aggravate the smooth trail runners on the course.
I "whined" to a few others about my fate, but they all encouraged me to just give it my best. Our pre-race meal was fairly somber, as I was truly afraid.......of failing, of falling, of being DFL, and of giving up.
As our preparation continued before bed, I decided I'd just stay to the back of the pack and find some consistent runners to follow. I'd take it one lap at a time. First I'd try to make it a few laps, and then I'd focus on making it 6 laps (halfway to the road), and by then I'd have learned the trail better, and I had a better chance of making it all 12 laps.
If I could make the road, I could make it to the 24 hour 100 miles, and that would be a huge accomplishment for me......certainly better than a DNS.
It was raining when we woke up.......great......it would be wet, slippery, and muddy. My running glasses would fog up, and I'd be able to see even less. Also, in overcast conditions, any pseudo depth perception I get from sun and shadows is gone.
You know the people who believe the earth is flat? Well, I believe it is round, but to me everything looks flat. I still see beauty in the world every day, but I cannot truly see the difference between being at a beautiful mountain, or a photo of that mountain.
When we got there, I sat in the car in silence. I didn't want to get out, and I surely didn't want to race. Bill set up the rest of our camp and I tried to get my mind in a good place. I put a few bottles of drinks and snacks in my little area by the start corral, peeled down to my race clothing and off we went.
It was starting to get light, but the trail was still pretty dark. I didn't bring a drink or light on this lap, because I wanted my hands free, and my mind focused completely on each careful step. The trail was slow going, and it seemed like everyone passed me. It was slippery, but I focused on looking just a few feet ahead, looking for a good place to put my foot, every single step.
It started to get light the second half of the first loop, so I was able to go a bit faster, and finish the first loop in around 53 minutes. I sat down in my chair to drink and snack. Yay.....one loop down, 11 to go.
I started to get in a better groove for a few laps.........I'd run the first .40 which was road and groomed gravel.......very quickly, getting almost to the front of the pack. Then a few of the really fast people would pass me, but I'd try to stay with them, and watch their feet for proper placement of mine. I trusted their good eyes and trail judgment over mine, and it was working.
I was cranking out 48-50 minute laps.......but I was working really hard. The talented trail runners seem to float over the course smoothly like ballerinas, as I staggered up and down like Frankenstein. I always picked up my feet just a bit extra to make sure I'd clear each obstacle. This would eat up my legs sooner rather than later.
I had plenty of time to sit down, massage my legs, eat, drink and refocus my plan for the next lap. I needed to slow down a bit, so I went out more slowly for a few laps, ending up closer to the mid pack, but still following the feet of people who are better trail runners. I had a few near slips, but I was feeling pretty encouraged.
Now I started to count down the miles until the road......just 3 more laps. I was getting tired, but surely I could finish just 12.5 more miles before a 12 hour "rest" on the road.
Lap 10......my legs felt like lead weights, so I went out slower, and settled in with the midpack. My mind was also tired, so I just followed the pace and run/walk patterns of these runners, knowing that we'd make it back in time. Single digits until the nice, dark, cool easy road.....I was going to get there.
Lap 11.....I went out even slower........I walked a little bit more......I slid further back, but was still on pace to finish the lap. The shadows on the trail were growing as we got closer to dusk, and I second guessed my steps just a bit more. I felt a bit cold during my walking breaks, and the cold of the night wore heavy on my mind. I still made it into camp with a few minutes to rest.
Just 4.166 miles and I would be rewarded with nice, smooth road, slipper-like Ultra Boosts to caress my weary feets, a brand new set of warm, dry clothes, and soup! Success was within my grasp.
I went out slower still, with the very last runners.....but they had all been running consistent 57-58 minute loops the whole day, so I just had to stay with them.
Ultras are unpredictable.....a rock was in my shoe. I tried to shake it loose, to a better spot, but it would not budge. I had to stop at the timing table, take off my shoe, get the rock out, and put my shoe back on. This seems like a simple task, but when you are tired, and have tight legs, it takes forever.
Still I scampered out into the woods, catching the back of the pack. i stayed with them, relying on the power of many lights together, as we ran in near darkness. My legs were not fluid at all, and my footsteps were slow and awkward.
Two fo the guys went ahead, and I was at the very back with Bell Buckle resident Ben, the next door neighbor of Laz. We talked and ran and worked together. The splits on my watch were not coming fast enough, and I knew I had to run as fast as I could, as often as I could without risking a fall.
At some point just before the 3 mile mark Ben was going faster than I could go without stumbling, but I did not give up. I ran the smooth sections, even the uphills, gasping for breath. I was going to make this cutoff!
I came up upon someone walking with a tree branch, and another gal had fallen and limped with a sprain. She encouraged me on and I kept going. The last mile has some very runnable parts, but some significant steps up and down, requiring nearly a complete stop to survey the step and carefully place my feet.
I was less than 1/2 a mile away now and I did not dare look at my watch. I knew it would be close. The harsh terrain continued, and I knew I was close.....probably 250 meters away.....I could hear the clamour of people, and see the lights of camp through the trees. .
Then I heard the sound that I didn't want to hear.......a whistle.......just one whistle.........which means only a minute left to cover over 200 meters.......but could I be mistaken? Maybe it was really 2 or 3 whistles.
I kept going as fast as I could without falling. It wasn't over until I knew for sure. But then I heard the countdown to the start of the next lap......5-4-3-2-1......and the race was going on without me.
I missed the cutoff: my race was over. I stopped in my tracks and started to cry. The last 200 meters might as well have been 200 miles. I walked slowly into camp, and everyone congratulated me on a hard fought effort.
I cried a little, as they took my timing chip, and Bill wrapped me in a warm blanket.
Of course I am disappointed that I didn't get to keep going. I went further than I thought I could, and I never gave up. I also got to practice my trail running, and run 50 miles in beautiful weather with some of the best ultra runners in the world, who also happen to be really amazing people.
Now we are home, resting comfortably in bed, watching the hourly updates come in as the field has been reduced to only 10 tough athletes.
This was a great way to close out this year's ultra season. My heart is full, and I feel so grateful to have found my tribe.
Team Soo-Page is over and out until Strolling Jim!