Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Big Bear 12 Hour Trail run- Bloodied, Bruised and Smiling

 Appalachian Mountains, West Virginia

Tasha and Me- I love her so much! This is the ceramic trophy I got for 3rd overall Female

 Bloodied Bruised and yes Smiling!-getting to the starting line

 Mental Struggles- Earlier this year the face of evil struck my family. It has been a traumatic experience but we will be ok. For us not to be I would have to believe that the Devil rules the world and I know that is not true. Training has been tough because mentally I’ve struggled. I was unsure if I could keep my mind clear enough to finish an ultra. My spark was missing. I know that running/training/ and performing well at races makes me happy. So I did my best to keep my routine. I struggled to find the joy on the trails that I once did but I want that happiness and pushed my way through many mentally tough runs. I knew I had to keep myself fit because I love racing. Even if I wasn’t feeling it now, I was working towards the day I got my joy back.

“Love the life you live, live the life you love” Bob Marley

I chose Big Bear 12 hour trail run as my next goal race. This race is set in the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia. It is a 6.5 mile looped trail race. The object is to run as many miles on the course you can in the time given. All the miles would be run on the 6.5-mile loop. I like looped courses and was excited to experience these mountain trails. I adore running on different trails through out the county. They all have their own personality.

The RACE: Big Bear 12 hour trail run: Bloodied, Bruised and yes Smiling!!!!

The race had a record number of entrants and the RD had closed registration before I signed up. I called Heather, the RD, and she kindly allowed me in. I was paying at packet pick up. My husband Royal Hartwig, my daughter Tasha (age 12) and I drove to the race and arrived at 9:20pm. Packet pick up was supposed to close at 9pm. It was a long drive for us, we tried our hardest to get there in time. I was happy to see that a very pregnant Heather, was still there. I got my race number and she explained to us where the race start was. There were tents as far as I could see. I asked if all these campers were for the race and she said yes...Wow! That was a lot of people. Most of the runners were already tucked in resting up for the race. I wish we could have got there earlier, I bet it had been a fun night.

We were surprised to see a spot open right by the race start. It seemed too good to be true…. a close walk to the race start. Plus easy access for my husband and daughter while they were crewing for me all day. We set up our tent in the dark and had a good night sleep. We found out the next day why this premium spot was open…it was where the rattlesnakes hang out. Yikes!!! I was quickly finding out I’m not a mountain women.

I walked to the race start with my family. My husband is telling me “take it easy, 12 hours is a long run, be sure to drink”, you know…all the normal stuff. My daughter is hopping along happy. She loves races! I’m the luckiest mom in the world because she thinks I’m awesome. She can’t understand why I’m nervous because she is sure I’m going to do great…I gotta love that. My main concern was staying mentally focused. I had my music ready and lined up towards the back of the pack. The race started and we all took off across an open area then filed in to the single track. This went smoothly. Everyone broke up and we were running right away.

Race start!

 Coming from Illinois where we have been in a drought I was immediately struck by how lush everything was. The trees and foliage were thick and green. Vibrant moss covered rocks. I saw the most colorful mushrooms I’ve ever seen growing. The ground was slightly wet. Parts of the trail were rugged rocks and parts were soft pine forest trails. The humidity was so thick I wondered if it was raining but once I got to an open area I realized the air was that wet. It was a really great course.

I cruised along at a comfortable pace listening to my music. I kept checking my Heart Rate to make sure I wasn’t getting carried away with my pace. I was enjoying the course and carefully “danced” my way through rocky rugged trail. I did not want to fall.  I wore my Inov-8 Roclite 268’s. The grip was excellent; I was easily able to run on the wet rocks with absolutely no slipping. The only thing I had to make sure of was to pick my feet up high enough not to catch a rock or root and fall.

I was nearing the end of the 1st loop and I got behind a guy that was running at a perfect pace for me. I stuck behind him and we started passing people. The course gets very rocky here. We had just passed a guy and I thought I better check my HR and make sure I’m not running to fast, I took a quick peak…Boom…down I went hard…total belly flop on the only dirt patch I’d seen for awhile. I guess I found out I was running to fast to check my HR (ha ha…cracking myself up). The guy I had just passed (Tony Mollica) stopped to see if I was okay. I said I was and he could go on. I immediately got up and assured him I wasn’t seeing stars. Tony was very kind. I needed to start running again. My thigh had hit a rock and it was throbbing. I reminded myself to be careful. This trail was much different than what I normally run on. “Okay Michele…pick your feet up while you run!”

This is the Hot wheel loop

At the end of the loop you go over a metal bridge and do a little hot wheel loop before going by the scoring table, this made the loop 6.5 miles. I came in past the timing tables-dripping wet from the humidity, scraped up thigh, blood oozing down my leg and covered in dirt- I drank a glass of water, filled my water bottle up with Gatorade, grabbed a cranrazzberry shot block and was on my way on the second loop. My second loop was uneventful. I cruised along enjoying the course. I was aware of my throbbing thigh but positive it was going to be a good race.

I finished my 2nd loop feeling warmed up. Adrenaline was flowing and I wanted to speed up but I was carefully pacing myself. Save some energy for hour 11. I filled my bottle with ice water and ate a honey stinger pink lemonade chew and it gave me a great boost. I was happily trotting through the forest listening to my music. I even sang out loud a little having a great time. I spotted the guy I had been following earlier a short way down the trail. I got a little excited to catch up with him when…boom…down I went again. My toe caught the rugged trail and on my way down my knee connected with rock. Instant-total-pain! I lay on the ground moaning in pain. A few people passed me asking if I needed help and I told them all I was fine. My knee was locked and the knee cap had immediately swollen to look like I had a tennis ball under my skin. I poured some of the ice water on it and took an advil. I thought my day was over and that I may have to crawl back to the starting line. After laying on the ground for about 10 minutes I decided it was time to get up. I got up and was surprised I could walk on it. I decided to keep moving forward on the course. I could at least walk an ultra today. I walked a few steps and decided to try and run. That was it, I was running again. I worked at running the course just like I had the first 2 loops. Walk the big hills, push the down hills, and pick my feet up through the rocky area. The good thing about the fall was now my thigh wasn’t hurting…only my knee was throbbing.

Timing table- I'm dirty

Before that loop was over I spotted the good pacing guy sitting on the side of the trail. I stopped and asked him if he was okay. He said he was fine just feeling extremely sleepy. I said, “get up and run with me to the start/finish line, I have some starbucks double shots and that will wake you up.” He sat there a minute and said, “okay, I’ll go with you.” We started running, he was surprised that with my bloody thigh and swollen knee I was still moving at the same pace we had been running earlier. He kept up with me for a while saying, “see that’s all I needed, someone to talk to” then I slowly pulled away. (He went on to run 45.5 miles…nice job)

I eventually caught up to a man named Gene on the course. I had noticed him getting ready in the morning. He had slept in his car near our tent and I would guess he was in his late 60’s or early 70’s. He had put on the largest knee brace I have ever seen. I wanted to talk to him in the morning but did not want to disrupt his race morning routine. So when I caught him I decided to walk and talk for a minute, I said, “I saw your from IL, I live in Crystal Lake IL, where do you live?” to my surprise he was from Arlington Heights which is close to me. I told him about our local distance running clubs MUDD and New Leaf. I was extremely impressed by Gene. He was very friendly and started telling me about all the races he has coming up. A tiny part of my “racing” brain was saying…you should not be walking…but Wow. This guy loved the life he lives. I was so inspired by him and all he has coming up, the Grand Canyon, Lean Horse and much more. I walked with him until the next aid station and was on my way again. I had a new kick in my step after hanging with this cool guy for a while. I quickly cruised back in to the timing stations.

Pit stop

 My bloody swollen knee shocked everyone. My husband was worried wiping all the dirt and blood off me. My daughter thought I was tough and cool and was high fiving me. I told them I was pumped and having a blast! I refueled and took off again. After the two biggest falls I’ve ever had trail running I had learned a quick lesson on how high I need to pick my feet up when running mountain trails. I never fell again that day. I ran a couple falls out, but never went down. I was learning.

I knocked out a couple more loops. At times my energy was high and I felt like a real mountain runner cruising through the trails. Then at times my energy level dropped and I was mentally making myself continue to run. I was trying to run every section the same as I had the first time through. I had been 7th female most of the day. My husband had been watching the board. He had noticed the women in front of me had all went out fast and each lap were getting slower and slower. My laps were staying fairly consistent and slowly I was gaining on them. On the 7th loop I jumped to 4th overall female. I wasn’t paying attention to this; I was just running my race. My husband decided to drive out to the aid station to tell me my position. He arrived during one of my low energy times. My ipod and garmin had both just quit working and I was dragging along. He told me the scoop. He said all you have to do is run this lap and the next just like you have been running them all day long, and you will catch the 3rd place women…Crap…I wanted to slow down…but not as much as I wanted to catch that women. I found the strength and started running a good pace again. Nothing crazy, just running the course like it directed me to. Power walk the big hills, push the down hills and cruise through the flats. I was back on again with a purpose.

Tasha pacing- tough trail chick
I finished the 7th loop and came in to the scoring line. My husband and daughter were waiting. I had done exactly what I needed to do-I caught her. Royal said Tasha wanted to pace me and he had checked with the RD to make sure that was within the rules, she said yes. Royal wanted to know if I was okay with that. Holy cow YES!!!! I could think of no better way to end this day than to run with Tasha! Royal came with just in case I had to push the pace a little or Tasha had problems. 6.5 miles of rugged trail wasn’t going to be easy for her. I was so proud she was challenging herself to this!

Having fun on final lap!

I left for my 8th and final loop the happiest I’ve ever been at mile 45.5. My little girl wanted to run with me! We had so much fun that lap. She is a total cool Trail chick! She wanted to make sure I came in 3rd and she ran at a good clip. We stopped and took a picture on a pretty rock. We danced and sang as we ran having a great time. With about 2.5 miles to go Tasha was getting a little tired. She was running fine but she was afraid her pace was going to slow and told me to go ahead. I smelled the finish line and did not want to get caught by the girl I had passed so I kicked up the pace and ran the last 2.5 miles in strong. Yep…I finished 52 miles feeling good and was happy with staying mentally strong all day. I found joy on the trails!!!! It was such a fun race!

I love my family and I love running trails! The race left me with confidence to sign up for my next 100. I’m sure I’ll have some tough days ahead but today I’m happy because I’m healthy and able to run trails and I am surrounded by good friends and family.

“Always show more kindness than seems necessary, because the person receiving it needs it more than you will ever know”. Author unknown .