Friday, January 9, 2015

My Epic Struggle at the PHUNT 50K

I knew about two weeks before the PHUNT that it was not going to be a great day for me, not even a good day and that's if I ran it at all.  I was sick as a dog.  I was laying in bed with an almost 104 fever, shivering like I was outside naked in 50 below weather even though I was wearing flannel jammies with two hooded sweatshirts and two pairs of thick sweatpants over top followed by 5 blankets and yes I was still cold.  My body hurt so bad.  On the occasions I reached consciousness and knew I needed to get up an take medicine, I literally would lay there thinking about it for an hour, mustering all my strength just to get out of bed and walk 10 feet.

The week of the PHUNT things had improved a lot but they weren't great.  I still was having on/off low grade fevers, full of lung and head congestion, sore throat and hacking away like there was no tomorrow.  I managed to make 2 or 3 very short 30-40 minute runs on the treadmill that week but even that was no easy task.  Despite the major struggles I made up my mind that I was going to at least start the PHUNT.  I knew if I didn't at least go and try to run it that I would always be left thinking "well maybe I could have just done it even if I just took my time."  I also knew that this year the PHUNT was 2-25K loops, so if things were real bad after the first loop, I didn't have to go back out. 

Once I had myself mentally prepared to deal with this run, of course the weather forecast had to take a turn for the worse.  While there wouldn't be 6 inches of snow and sub zero temps like last year (which I only read about online), it was sounding like it was going to be a lot of rain, cold, chilly, winter rain, awesome.  Don't get me wrong, I love a great, messy trail run in whatever the elements have to throw at me but this was not a good time for me to be facing this kind of weather.  But I can only control so much so nothing I could do about it and I wasn't about to back out. 
Road Trippin to Elkton, Maryland
For some reason, I've had it in my head all along that the PHUNT was really just a small step above a fat-ass run.  I guess because in the past it was free and fat-ass style and even though this year was not free, it was only $35.  I kept telling people "oh it's not really a race, it's just really a fun run."  Well let me tell you, the PHUNT was a first class RACE.   We parked in the lot and walked right into a heated hall.  It was spacious with a full kitchen and bathrooms (woo hoo!).  We grabbed our personalized bibs (thanks Carl!) and set up our dry stuff for later.  I was amazed at the food and beer I saw being organized for the runners for when they finish, I was thinking maybe Emir lied about how much this race cost ;-) 
Finally met my #teamwickedbonkproof teammate Kristen!

Maybe we should stay in the warm hall

Before I knew it, Carl was leading us outside to the starting line.  This area was also the finish for the 25K and the 50K with an aid station setup for us 50K'ers since as Carl said "don't go inside the warm building if you want to do a second lap!  You will not want to go back out!"  And with that we were off into the woods.  I actually led Emir until the first major aid station at about 5 miles.  I wasn't feeling too bad.  I was keeping decent pace.  I did feel very phlegmy and was at times coughing a lot but my legs didn't feel half bad.  But that was only 5 miles.  The first aid station was AWESOME!  There was a squirrel among other characters.  I believe there was some kind of frat party happening at this station.  There was a HUGE spread of anything and everything including beer and jello shots. 

After we left that station, I let Emir lead the way.  Slowly but surely, he was getting further and further ahead of me.  My legs felt ok but I just didn't have the endurance.  If I tried to run faster to keep up, I could feel my lungs burning and I would start coughing like crazy.  When I just took it back a notch and took it easier, I was ok.  Eventually I couldn't see Emir anymore but that was ok.  I was glad he wasn't feeling as bad as me.  He had experienced some of the plague that had ripped through our house over the holidays but he never had the high fever just some congestion and coughing. 

Photo Credit RunningMadPhoto
I spent most of the first lap fighting my brain.  I kept thinking "ugh I'm only this many miles and there's this many to go just to get to half way. "  I got passed a lot which didn't help me feel better either.  I knew I had good reason to not feel good or be running well, but when you are out there, it's just so easy to get down on yourself.  Luckily there were two more awesome aid stations that would perk me up every time.  The volunteers were so upbeat, funny and uplifting.  Not to mention the aid itself was AWESOME.  I always left each station feeling better about myself.  There were points in the first loop that I had pretty much convinced myself to stop after one loop.  But after people were asking me at the 3rd aid station if I was doing the 25K or 50K and I said I was supposed to do 50, they were like "you are!"  They got me so pumped up and confident in myself, I knew I was going to go back out for that second lap and complete the 50K that I came to run. 

Credit  RunningMadPhoto


Now I can't lie, once I made it back to that heated hall, it took a lot of will power not to just walk inside, open our growler that I knew was waiting for me and call it a day especially as it had started raining on and off.  I grabbed some aid and topped off my pack and off I went back into the woods. 

At first things didn't seem too bad.  Just some really light rain and only the occasion slick spot.  Things deteriorated VERY quickly.  It started pouring and next thing I knew, I was slip, sliding all over the place.  I do need to take a second and thank Runner Santa for bringing me a new running jacket just in time for this race.  It kept me warm and dry.  Meanwhile, every incline was awful.  If I was going uphill, I almost was crawling on hands and knees otherwise I was slipping back down.  When I was going downhill, I was creeping little shuffling steps so that I didn't wipe out onto my face.  More level areas I was "running" but not getting anywhere fast.  It was just all water and mud.  At first I was just having fun with it.  I was just laughing and enjoying getting soaked and covered in mud.  I literally thought that I was probably one of the last people to leave for the second lap until a couple of guys passed me.  We would go back and forth most of the second lap until the last aid station.  I assumed we were it and there was no one else behind us but honestly I didn't care.  I was really glad to have these two around as they ended up doing most of the stream crossings ahead of me which most of them were concrete bridges.  Lucky for me I got to see them almost completely wipe out as apparently all of the bridges were covered in ice so once I got to them, I would basically crawl across. 

Thank you so much RunningMadPhoto for standing out in the rain to get these awesome pics!
As the hours passed and each mile got painfully slower, I definitely started to get pretty down especially after the last aid station.  I had lost my two friends that I had been back and forth with and all of the sudden other runners were passing me.  First of all, Where did they come from?!!  Second of all, man I suck!  A mile or two before the last aid station, I must have twisted my left knee funny slipping around and now it was pretty painful especially on downhills.  I had been eating stuff at every aid station in addition to my shot bloks and a few scoops of Tailwind in my pack.  But I don't think I was accounting for all the extra energy I must have been expending to fight the elements and muddy conditions because shortly after leaving that last station, I was feeling kind of shakey and weak.  I actually was a bit worried I wouldn't make it to the end and then I was thinking "who will even find me out here in the woods?!"  Thank goodness I had some kind of energy chews in my pack and started eating those.  I didn't feel great but it helped.  7.5 hours after I had started the PHUNT, I crossed the finish line. 
Sucky but a lot of fun

I stumbled into the hall and Emir was waiting right by the door for me.  I had assumed he finished hours before me but he had finished only about 40 minutes earlier.  He said there were a number of people finishing after 7 hours and actually there were some after me and then a few that didn't make the cutoff.  Ok so I didn't come in last!  It's so strange how when you are out there during an ultra and conditions are horrible, you get it in your head that you are the only one struggling and that everyone else is just flying through it.  Such a mental sport! 

The heated hall was amazing.  I was able to go into the heated bathroom, take off my wet clothes and put on dry ones.  When I came out there were hot burgers, soup, sandwiches and beer awaiting me.  Oh and my shiny new PHUNT pint glass. 
Oh I'm an idiot all right!
I can't say enough about how well organized and well staffed this event was.  There were tons of super friendly, helpful, supportive volunteers.  The aid stations and the hall were impressively well stocked with food and alcohol.  I just wish I could have taken part in more of it.  If I hadn't already been falling all over, I totally would have enjoyed a beer or jello shot on the 2nd loop.  Also the course was EXTREMELY well marked.  Even in my second loop when conditions were at their worst, it was literally impossible to get lost. 

Muddy shoes
Despite this being an epicly hard day for me, I'm so happy I just decided to do it anyway.  This was such a great event and even though it was a tough day for me it was still overall a fun experience.  It was also a great learning experience for me.  I now know that running in worn out trail shoes on a muddy course is not good.  I also realized in general that while I really like my altra Olympus, I need something a bit more aggressive if I'm going to continue my trail adventures.  Second lesson learned was that I need to eat earlier and more often on days that I'm going to be out there for more than 5-6 hours and that if conditions are tough that I am probably using more energy than normal and should take in more calories to adjust.  In addition I learned that I can push myself even when things are super difficult and I will survive.  With plans for my first 100 miler this fall, it was really good to push myself through a day like this.  I know this race made me stronger in the long run even though it kind of sucked.  And the most important thing I learned thanks to running while in flu recovery on a rainy, cold day was how to perfect my snot rockets, invaluable :-D

Thanks again Carl and Trail Dawgs!!

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