Friday, October 3, 2014

I am definitely a Cuckoo!

My Sloppy Cuckoo Whistle

This fall I had two main goals.

First: try my hardest to BQ at the Philly Marathon in November (scary!)
Second: try another ultra longer than a 50K. 

The Born To Run 100K was such an awesome experience and great challenge that I just knew I wanted to do something like that again.  I needed something somewhat near home as we couldn't afford another far away running trip this year and now that Niko is in Kindergarten (real school, ahhh!) we can't be doing things that would cause him to miss school.  I didn't really find any 50 milers or 100Ks that fit into my time frame as I didn't want to do something too close to November. But then something else popped up along the way in my quest to find a race, The Sloppy Cuckoo 12 Hour Challenge.  Not only did running a 12 hour make me super excited but it takes place in Pennypack Park which is less than 20 minutes from my house and VERY inexpensive, awesome! 

Training in the Wissahickon
 Even though Pennypack Park is pretty close to us, we have never actually gone running there.  With two major trail systems within running distance of our house, it is just logistically way easier to run those.  That said, I wasn't sure exactly what to expect in Pennypack.  I was fairly certain I wouldn't see the lengthy, steep elevations that we encounter on the Wissahickon trail however I was not sure what the terrain would bring.  Training in the Wissahickon is good because we do get those elevations but there is also fairly technical terrain, now this by no way means that it's easy for me, just that I have run it before.  Given all of this and the fact that I've never run a time race rather than a set distance, Coach Caleb and I agreed that 50 miles would be a challenging yet reasonable goal. 
Like I said, tecnical terrain is not easy for me.  Just one of my many falls in training ;-)
The day before race day was Emir's birthday so we spent the day together as a family including a couple hours with my parents then left the kids with them so that we could go to dinner and have a good restful night before the race.  Emir was not running the 12 hour but he was running the trail half marathon, see his recap here.  The Sloppy Cuckoo Series included the 12 hour, a half marathon, 10K, 5K and the triple (half marathon, 10K, 5K).  Emir isn't too keen on running loops (the 12 hour is 6.55 mile loop) and he really wanted to run the Blues Cruise 50K in Reading, PA which is a race by the same RD and is this coming weekend.  In the end it works out much better for us that our major ultra of the fall be two different races since Niko is playing soccer on Sundays and we don't want him to miss any games. 
Birthday Dinner!
I woke up race morning around 5.  I felt good despite polishing off a whole rack of ribs at dinner the night before (I was fueling!) ;-)  I ran out to get us coffee, bagels and a few supplies for the day.  We arrived at Pennypack a bit before 6:30.  We were allowed to park in the lot since Emir was doing the half and would be moving the car afterwards.  This made it easy for us to unload our supplies.  The setup was great for what I needed for the day.  There is a nice, large open field next to the timing area that I needed to run through at the end of each loop.  We setup a tent with our cooler and other necessities there.  The setup really couldn't get much better.  I would run through the timing area, hit up the aide station on my way around the pavilion and my tent was on the way back out to the next loop.  I really never had to deviate from the course, even the pottys were just before we would reach the timing area, so when needed I would hit that up on my way in from a lap. 
My own personal aide station
I utilized the pottys a couple times, luckily very short lines and Emir and I chatted with a couple of running friends. 
Slacker!  j/k ;-)
Cuckoo moms! Our friend Jen from Niko's daycare

Then it was time to start! There was 100 runners in the 12 hour.

Jen and I at the start of the race
I was up towards the front with about 10-12 other runners. I hung out with this lead group about the first 3 miles until we were passing the aide station in the middle of the loop. After that the leaders disappeared and I knew by the speed they took off at that I was not going to even try to stay with them. 
Just before we disappeared into the woods
My goal of the day was to survive 50 miles on the trail and that was it. Not long after this, we were running through a field of sorts with long grass and I felt a stabbing in my right shoulder blade. It took a minute to register in my brain but yes, I was being stung by a bee. And the stupid thing would not stop, I had to literally reach back and grab it off of me. I don't usually get freaked out by things biting or stabbing me on the trails, however a bee sting scares me. My mom is deathly allergic to bees (I am not exaggerating) and every time in the past the doctors have recommended that I take a benydryl immediately after a sting because I've had some very minor reactions when I was younger. It's been an extremely long time since I've gotten stung so I really had no idea what, if anything might happen. But being that I was in the middle of the woods there really was nothing I could do about it but keep going and hope that nothing happened. Of course on the 2.5-3 miles that I had to make before reaching the start/finish area, I had a few panic attacks "am I breathing ok?! Am I getting itchy? Am I lightheaded?" Then I came out of the woods to the timing area and realized "oh I'm fine, the back of my shoulder is sore but I'm ok" Due to my inital lap being so distracted between me following the lead pack initially to the bee sting, I really didn't even pay that much attention to the course or what I encountered. OH WELL, I had MANY more hours and miles (hopefully) to get better aquainted ;-)

I didn't spend much time between laps 1 & 2. I was running with my handheld bottle full of Tailwind and had a second one in the tent ready to go. I LOVE using Tailwind and really think it helps me stay better hydrated and fueled especially keeping my electrolytes in order but it does make me thirsty hence why I like to have a second handheld full of plain water. This system worked well for me throughout the day. Only one or two laps I ran with just a single handheld but most of the day I used both, which really wasn't a hindrance. My stops at the aide station in the middle of the course would be just to grab a cup or two of plain water to drink and to pour on myself. After the first two laps, I also ate a piece of PB&J and an Orange slice each time through. Then once I got to the main aide station at the timing area, I would get my bottles refilled, drink a couple cups of plain water, dump a couple on my head, grab more PB&J and orange and then run to my tent. At the tent I had pre-measured baggies of Tailwind and would dump one in one of the bottles, put ice in my hat and grab a gel or energy chews to carry in case I felt that I needed something in between stations, which there were a couple occassions I started feeling hungry so I ate a gel or the chews. Emir's half marathon started a half hour after my race so he was not at the tent after lap 1. After lap 2, one of my best friends Lauren was waiting for me with her son Ryan. She thinks I'm absolutely nuts but clearly she's very supportive anyway ;-) It was so nice to see friendly faces. She had brought me a donut (thank you!) and made signs out of my face on a stick. 
seeing on myself on a stick definitely made me laugh :-)
 It made me smile and gave me some momentum to carry with me to lap 3. Since Emir was not at the tent after lap 2, I knew I would not see him until later in the day. I knew he would be in a hurry to leave as soon as he was done his race to go get the kids since Niko had a soccer game at noon. 
Emir did have time to get a picture with me (Ryan) before racing off to get the kids
There were a few times throughout the day that I did feel a little down that I didn't have any familiar faces to greet me when I would come in from a lap and also as I got more tired, I was also becoming much slower at getting what I needed between laps. It's definitely not easy to run a 12 hour race without support! I was definitely jealous when I would see another runner come in and have their crew take their bottles and fill them up and hand them whatever they needed and they would be off again in seconds while I was still trying to get the lids off of mine. BUT in the end it's not that big of deal and our kids will always be our first priority. He did leave me a little piece of paper in the tent that had his half marathon time on it. I saw the paper when I came in from lap 3. It made me smile because his time was 1:58 which I knew he would be super happy with and I was very proud of him doing so well on his first TRAIL half marathon.

Anyway back to the actual course. The first 3 miles or so leading up to the aide station in the middle of the loop were fairly flat, just a few small uphils that in the later laps would reduce me to walking but nothing terrible. In general the terrain was not too technical just a few rocky spots, tree roots and one large tree across the trail that you had to climb over. The second half a little bit of a different story. Not long after the aide station was a hill that was definitely steep/long enough that needed to be walked everytime after the first go around. Then there was this very interesting maze section that just kept twisting and turning in circles around each other and you could see other runners in the other circles going around, it was fun but weird. It for some reason reminded me of Alice in Wonderland, I kept expecting to see the creepy cat smoking in there somewhere. After that there were a bunch more hills not extremely hard but enough to add some challenge when you are doing a 12 hour race. Probably what slowed me down the most in the second half of each loop was the terrain. The terrain was definitely more technical than the first half. Some sections had tons of rocks and tree roots that made for very tricky footing especially once I started piling the miles on my legs. I am proud to say I only had 1 actual fall, although I tripped at least a thousand times. Throughout the 6.55 miles there were probably close to 10 trees down that needed to be climbed over (not as big as that one in the first 3 miles) but it adds up as the miles add up. There were also several spots where you had to be careful to duck under trees, not going to lie, totally bonked my head one time. You get delerious out there!

Laps 5 & 6 were probably the hardest for me.  I knew I wouldn't be seeing Emir, the kids or anyone else I knew until probably after lap 6.  It was during these two laps that the girl who ended up winning the entire 12 hour zoomed by me like I was standing still.  I was like "damn!" and just made me feel a bit sad that I seemed to be going slow especially when a few other 12 hour runners went by me. I didn't know it at the time but those other people that passed me actually were on laps 3 &4.  They had taken a long rest break which is how they were able to speed up for a bit.  But when you are in the middle of the woods, you don't know that and people zooming by can feel devastating.  It didn't help that also during this time the 10K started so there were herds of people zooming by.  I had to stop multiple times to let people go in the single track sections.   It was during these two laps that my Garmin decided to lose satellites multiple times.  It would come in and out.  I didn't realize until later that a few times when it told me that I did a 15 or 16 minute mile it was actually way off because of losing connection.  So that was only adding to my pity party.  I was trying to calculate in my head "well if I can just try to keep up this horrible 15 minute pace, I might be able to squeak out the 8 laps I need to make my goal."  But even my math was not going well.  I had myself convinced that there was no way I would make my goal.  I spent the greater part of those two laps lamenting about this and also coming up with a million reasons why I needed to stop and the excuses I would give Emir for why I didn't make my goal.  It probably didn't help that this also was the hottest part of the day.  It was not a dog day of summer type of day but for end of September and a 12 hour race, it was hot.  Even in the woods it was pretty steamy for a good part of the day.  The high was probably close to 85 and there was definitely humidity in the air.  The heat was also what led to probably what is my biggest mistake since I've started ultra running.  Towards the end of the loop was a teeny, tiny stream crossing.  There were a few small rocks so that you could avoid getting your feet wet.  However in my "I want to die" laps 5 & 6 state I thought it would be fun and a good idea to just run through the water.  Well actually the first time I sort of fell in it as there were several of us crossing at the same time and I was rushing, but the cool water felt AMAZING so then the next lap I ran right through it.  Let me also explain how I had made the decision to not wear my Thorlos trail socks.  I really wanted to have calf compression during the race, so much so that I thought it was more important than my socks (stupid).  I do have my Bioskin Calf Sleeves however the compression in those is so intense I know I cannot wear it while running for more than a few hours.  Which is how I came to the decision to wear my mizuno compression socks which I have worn for 4-5 hour runs without an issue.  Well let's just say, my feet were not feeling so hot laps 7 & 8 as they got chewed up from being wet :-(  I will NOT do that again.  ALWAYS choose Thorlos, always!
Coming in from lap 6
Finally I reached the end of lap 6 and I heard Niko and Una shouting "mommy, mommy!!"  Not a sweeter sound in the world.  I was so happy to see them and Emir.  They helped me get my stuff and I told Emir, now that I finally realized that I had way more time left than I thought, that I was going to do 2 more laps.  He said my sister was on her way so one of them would do the final lap with me.  Just knowing that lap 7 was my last alone really propelled me through.  It wasn't easy but it was way better than the previous two laps.  When I got back from 7 not only was my sister now there but my Uncle Bob as well.  Since I knew I had more than enough time to complete my 8th lap but definitely not enough to attempt a 9th, I spent a couple minutes talking with everyone before Cindy and I headed out on the final lap.  
Cindy giving me a roll down before heading out on the last lap, ouch!
Cindy put music on her phone for us which was a nice change from the quiet of the entire rest of the day.  We chatted with each other, with some people we passed at various points and did stop for a couple minutes at the aide station to chat with the volunteer and another runner.  Cindy said on more than one occasion "this is no joke!"  Cindy does a fair amount of running including many a half marathon however she has not done much trail running and certainly has never attended an ultra event.  It just made me feel proud that she thought even just one loop was pretty challenging and to hear how impressed she was with me.  She really was so encouraging that last lap, I just felt so lucky to have a sister who would do that for me.  Eventually we made it back to the finish line.  I "sprinted" (hobbled I'm sure) through the finish line with 10:59.32 on the clock.  
Trying to finish strong!
I had done it and actually surpassed my goal of 50!  I ran 52.4 miles!  It also made me extremely happy to know that not only did I make the 50 but I still had a little over an hour to spare.  So technically I could have even run a few more miles.  However, the rules of the race are such that once there is only a couple hours left in the race, it's up to the RD whether you can go out for another lap or attempt a partial to make a milestone.  I did not even ask with only an hour left since obviously there's no way I would make another lap in an hour and I was not close enough to the next major milestone to be allowed to do a partial lap.  The next milestone would be 60 so I would have needed more than another full lap.  But that was fine with me.  The important thing was I achieved my goal with plenty of time to spare :-)

I was immediately rewarded with a wooden Cuckoo whistle and a German weather station with a 50 mile plaque.  Every runner in the 12 hour was given a weather station with whatever milestone they reached starting with 26.2, very cool!  Then the RD asked me if I wanted to hang out a bit longer because he thought I may have won an award, what?!  So I said sure as I wasn't moving anywhere too fast at that point and I wanted my German sausage.  I downed some delicious German food, rolled around on the ground for a bit and had Emir remove my shoes and socks.  It was an ugly scene to say the least but I really wasn't surprised as I knew what I had done and I had felt it on the last two laps.  
ohhh yeah
There actually is a worse blister on my right heel that has hurt all week
I want to put a disclaimer out there that I know it WAS NOT my Altra Olympus that caused my foot problems.  I wore them for both the Blue Ridge Double and the 100K and my feet were GOOD.  It was poor choice in socks and then getting them wet.  And since I also wore my Thorlos trail socks to both those other races, I also now know for sure just how great they are. Once that was over I went back to the RD.  He had the timing man pull me up in the computer and they informed me that I was 3rd place female which meant I was awarded a German Cuckoo clock and I was actually 9th place overall.  I was so happy and proud!  Both during this race and the 100K, I had myself convinced that I was doing awful only to find out I didn't do so bad after all. 
the left is the German weather station awarded to all finishers who completed at least 26.2miles (mine says 50miles).  On the right is my 3rd place female finisher German Cuckoo Clock.  I can't wait to hang them both up!
Overall I really enjoyed the Sloppy Cuckoo.  I thought it was very well run and organized.  The aide stations were more than sufficient with extremely friendly, helpful volunteers.  All the Cuckoo races are very inexpensive and everyone got an awesome shirt and cuckoo whistle not to mention the weather stations that most of the 12 hour runners received.  I also thought the course itself was great.  It was not too hard but not super easy either which I really think is how a time challenge should be that way us runners can really decide based on how many loops we try to do, how challenging the day will be.  There were definitely lots of interesting sections of the course to keep you from getting bored. Despite going through the same loop upwards of 8 times, I still noticed different things each time.  Being in the woods throughout the course of the day really gives you perspective on the beauty of nature and how it's appearance changes with the changing light throughout the day.  I really thought it was beautiful. 

Lucky for me I now have enough time to relax, recover and enjoy my accomplishments the last couple weeks, new half PR and my 3rd place.  Before I know it, it will be time to engage in some intense marathon training for Philly (eek!!). 


  1. Great race report! Congrats on your accomplishment Amy.

    1. Thank you Nicole! I appreciate it :-)

  2. Awesome job! Congrats on your 3rd place finish :)