Friday, February 26, 2016

Febapple Frozen 50

You may be wondering "why the hell would you sign up for a 50 miler in February in NJ?!"  Yes I know, it was a risky decision but I felt it was necessary to take the chance.  Back in late November when Emir and I were on our 2 week running break (gasp!), I was spending most of my extra time scouring the internet for races I wanted to do in 2016.   I was still not really completely over the DNF at TARC 100 and knew I needed a 100 in the spring time.  I could not bear the thought of waiting until fall to try again.  Also Emir was pretty sure he wants to go for Oil Creek 100 which is in October and we would like to not be training for 100s simultaneously.  As you may recall, one of my biggest mistakes was not knowing enough about the race I signed up for.  Therefore, this time I took days (which is A LOT of time for me) to look over all the info I could find for a few 100s until I finally settled on C & O Canal 100 on April 30th.  What does that have to do with me choosing to run Febapple?  Well a lot actually.  I know all the long miles that go into training for the 100 and I really wanted to do a long ultra but shorter than 100 (obviously) as part of my prep.  I figured it would go a long way not only physically but mentally.  January was too early in the year plus we were doing PHUNT and in the mean time I had committed to running the One City Marathon for Bibrave in March with my #BRF Angie in Newport News, VA.  So that kind of left me with February to play with.  Given, I don't have an endless budget for running, I really needed something within a reasonable driving distance.  As it turns out, there are not too many ultras longer than a 50K in this area in February.  This did not surprise me and I knew it was for good reason.  The weather is usually not great around here in February especially trails.  They tend to stay snow and ice covered way longer than other areas.  But I felt I had a real need to get a long ultra done before my 100 so I signed up.

I didn't really think about it too much until after PHUNT.  I started looking for some blog posts about the Febapple, found a few entries for it on Strava and asked in our TWA (trail whippass) group on FB as I knew a few had run it before.  Not everything I found was for the 50 miler but it doesn't matter because it's a 10 mile course so runners can sign up for 10 miles, 20 miles, 50K or 50 miles.  So there were plenty of people to give me some info on the course.  I had a couple weeks where I was kind of freaking out about the 12 hour time limit.  On strava it look like over 6100 feet of climbing which combined with some technical sections and the possibility of snow and ice just really worried me.  I'm not that fast and 50 miles takes me over 10 hours in good conditions.  Then of course after I finished thoroughly stressing myself out, I went and looked at my strava post from Labor Pains 12 hour in Sept and I had over 5500 feet for 50 miles under 12 hours.  Ok so as long as the weather wasn't awful, there was a good chance I could make it, it's not completely out of my reach.

Soon it was race week and the forecast looked AWESOME!  Way better than I could ever expect for February.  The forecast was 55 and sunny for race day.   There was a big rainstorm on Tuesday before the race so I was expecting some wet, muddy areas but otherwise in my mind, it was going to be great conditions.  I was very excited.

Friday I drove up to North Jersey on my own after work.  Niko had his first ever basketball practice which is followed by a scrimmage and it's not something I wanted to dump on my parents plus I wanted one of his parents to be there for it.  I had decided a few weeks before the race to see if there were any cheap hotels in the area since start time was at 7.  I would have had to leave my house around 4:45 which I could have done but just felt it was too much when I wanted to try and run 50 miles.  I found something that was in a bit of a seedy part of town but it was cheap and hey I had a heart shaped hot tub ;-)

Our friend and local Altra rep Tiffany gave me advice on where to go for dinner and I had a great pre-race meal.

I prepared all my race stuff before I went to sleep, including my soft flask bottles.  Emir talked me out of bringing my bladder that it wasn't necessary when there was aid pretty much every 3-4 miles of the loop, which I suppose IS true.  I filled one with regular water and the other with Isagenix electrolyte mix.  I've been trying out some stuff from a running friend who works for them including a beet based little shot type thing.  I drank one every day of race week, I really think it helped.  But I digress.  I put the bottles in the fridge and figured I would remember to get them out when I saw my pack which I purposely left out.
altra, zensah & 2toms = no blisters, no chafage = happy Amy
YUP, I totally forgot to get the bottles from the fridge.  And when did I realize they were missing?  After I was already at the trail, gotten my little tracking device and the race was about to start in less than 10 minutes.  SHIT!!!  I literally had nothing to carry fluid in.  I tore my car up because I'll be honest sometimes there's trash in it and I thought I still might have had an empty plastic water bottle however Emir (he means well ;-) ) had cleaned out my car so there was NOTHING.  UGHHHH!!!!

I took all my drop bag stuff and left it on one of the picnic tables near the aid area at the main station.  I went to the bathroom and then it dawned on me to send a message to Tiffany since she said she would be coming to the race.  I asked her to bring me a water bottle that I could use for the day.  Next thing I knew the RD was giving us some instructions and we were off.

RD & 50 mile runners milling around

It wasn't a huge group but probably 4-5 of us women and maybe 25 guys.  They said there would be close to 300 runners for the day across all the distances so I figured I wouldn't be too lonely during my time on the trails.  We started at 7 but then the 50K started at 8, 20 miles at 9 and 10 miles at 10. I do have to say, it was a very nice staggering.  It was never crowded at all throughout the duration of the morning when the other distances were out there.

The first two miles were mainly flat with one steep downhill.  A few rocks and roots here and there but nothing crazy.  I was moving pretty well on this part.  Then came miles 3 & 4.  Mile 3 starts with a looong, steep climb.  I'm not sure how long the climb was but it was a solid 500 feet or so of elevation.  After the climb came the ICE.  ICE??!  Oh right, it was below freezing every night that week and the trail probably doesn't get much exposure to sun, DUH.  I tried to avoid actually running on the ice as much as possible but this was also the most technical section of the course.  Rocks and roots galore.  Also, if you tried to go off trail around the ice, it was usually super thick, deep mud, the kind that takes your shoes off.  Miles 3 & 4 also featured numerous little stream crossings.  During loop 1, I was so proud I kept my feet dry.  If I had only realized what the rest of the day would be like, I wouldn't have worked so hard to do so.  Needless to say miles 3-4 of the course were my slowest every loop.  During this part a few guys passed me because as I said, they were my slow miles.  They were asking me if this was my first 50.  When I said no, they asked me how many I did and if I finished them all and how long it usually takes me.  It was all nice and I know they meant well but I could tell it was kind of like they didn't think I had a shot in hell of finishing this race. One even asked me if I started running because my husband runs ultras (I had mentioned how Emir and I run a lot of races together).  Ummm no, I started running marathons first.  "oh wow, wow."  Yeah that's right, girls can be badass too ;-) 

I was very happy to make it back into the main race area/aid station at mile 4.  After those two long miles, I was thirsty!  I chugged some water, took off my hat and gloves, quickly peeked around if there was anything I could use to carry water with me and took back off on the rest of the loop.

Mile 5 started off innocently enough.  There was some flat, some rolling hills, pretty nice terrain.  Then we made a turn and the trail looked like an ice slide.  Ugh, this looked worse than miles 3-4.  Mainly because this was like a solid sheet of ice going straight down.  I tiptoed down, grabbing trees, trying to go to the side when I could.

so yeah, this is where IT happened

 I wasn't careful enough or maybe I was being too careful because I freakin wiped out, HARD, on my right hip.  I'm pretty sure I saw stars for a minute and the guy behind me was like "holy crap!!" But I got up and continued on because I was there to run 50 miles and I was going to do my best to get that done.  Eventually I made it to the bottom of that craziness and had to cross some more streams and a couple of super icy bridges which we all literally crawled across.  Then we were rewarded with a solid 1.5-2 miles of nice gravel type trail.  There was a few ups but nothing crazy, all very runnable.  Around mile 7 was the remote aid station.  Once again I was super thirsty so I chugged a few cups of water.  The first loop I did a gel and chomps on my own.  Other than a little bit of a super duper thick muddy stretch right after the aid station, the course went back to a nice runnable section for a good mile.  Mile 8 was some ups and downs, some technical parts but I was able to run most of it.  Mile 9 greeted us with a nice, long steep uphill followed by some technical areas.  Eventually making our way to the main race/aid station.  The RD claims it's exactly 10 miles even though the run profile he sent us the night before said 10.4.  I mean does it really matter that much?  no but I would just like to state that my garmin got exactly 10.4 each loop which gives a grand total of 52 miles if you make all 5 laps.  Just sayin.
coming into the remote aid station

Anyway, I rolled into the aid station feeling hot and thirsty.  I went over to my bags and took off my shirts.  I had a long sleeve shirt under my short sleeve so I needed to ditch the long sleeve.  I was SO happy I went with shorts for the day.  In the process I had to take my watch off as it was on top of my long sleeve.  I packed some fuel in my pack, went to the aid table, guzzled water and some coke, stole an empty Dasani bottle from the box with trash in it (I was desperate), filled it with water and then hit the potty.  I went to check my watch as I came out and was like "where the f*** is my watch?!  oh crap I left it over with my bags back over there!  ugh"  I slapped my watch back on and finally made it back out onto the course.
It was a beautiful course

Going into the race, I did some math to get an idea of what I needed my times to be for each lap.  Technically, you could run one 2 hour lap and then 2.5 hours all the other ones and make 12 hours.  Therefore, I really wanted my first two laps to be in the 2 hour range to give me some time to play with on the later laps when I knew I would be getting even slower.  I was pretty satisfied with lap 1, even with all my fooling around taking stuff off, forgetting watches, I was back out for loop 2 at 2:07.

Loop 2 was really very similar to lap 1, minus a huge wipeout, YAY me!   Conditions were still pretty much the same, maybe a little melting here and there but not much different.  I was so happy I had picked that Dasani bottle out of the trash.  Miles 3 and 4 were hard and I was thirsty as I was 13-14 miles in and I'm ALWAYS thirsty.  I just felt so much better having water to drink with me.  I almost think lap 1 I didn't feel as good just because it was mentally weighing on me that I could only drink at the aid stations.  Lap 2 I felt great.  I came back in to the main aid station at 20.8 miles around 4:12.  I was very pleased with that.  Laps 1 & 2 were pretty similar time wise, very solid, giving me time in the bank for later.  And the best news of all, Tiffany was there!  She had two bottles for me, THANK YOU TIFFANY!!!!!  She literally saved me.  One bottle I filled with regular water and shoved in my pack and the other was a handheld that I filled with the Isagenix.  I knew I didn't have time to linger so I drank some coke, ate a few strawberries and a little piece of PB&J and used the potty.

Loop 3 is when I began to notice some changes.  Ice was melting, puddles and streams were growing and there was a lot more mud, I mean A LOT.  My feet quickly became soaked on this lap and stayed soaked the rest of the race.  Which, may have been a blessing in disguise.  Those puddles and streams were like ice baths for my feet, my feet didn't bother me at all during the race.  I just kept running as much as I could.  I know I was super slow on miles 3-4 of the loop but I was still moving pretty good on the runnable miles to make up for it.  I felt good.  I was slightly frustrated that when I made it to the remote aid station that they were out of coke but I figured "ok 3 more miles and I'll get some at the main aid station."  Unfortunately when I made it back there, there was no soda of any kind left.  Ugh.  I mean I don't live and die by it, but I've grown to really like having it during ultras and I think it does give me a boost.  There was also no sandwiches.  So while I was out there doing my first 3 loops all the other distances had taken place and I guess cleaned out the aid stations in the process.  There was plenty of nuts, candies, fruit and various types of bars but that was the extent of it.  I also managed to pour the last bit of water out of a jug to fill my bottle, all the rest were empty.  But I figured, there must be more.  Later, when heading out on my last loop, I would find out from another 50 mile runner who came in right after me on loop 3 that there was no water for him after that lap.  They must have gotten more at some point as there was plenty when I came in later laps thankfully.

I'm not sure what my time was for lap 3 but I do remember texting Emir after I had set out on lap 4 to let him know my progress.  I remember telling him I had made 50K in around 6:30 and telling him that's my fastest 50K time, it's 16 minutes faster than I ran PHUNT 50K last month.  Even though it probably slowed me down for a minute, it felt really good to let him know how I was doing and that I was doing well.  6:30 at the 50K mark, definitely gave me time in the bank for laps 4 & 5.  I was feeling pretty good that I would have enough time.  About 15 minutes after I had texted Emir, my watch said Low Battery and went blank.  WTF?!  I have a Garmin Fenix 2 that is supposed to last like 20 hours which is why I spent the money to get it.  Up until this past fall, I have had no issues with the watch, I love it in fact.  I've run as long as 13 hours without it dying and still plenty of battery left.  But you may recall at TARC it died way earlier than I thought it should.  It started acting really whacky after that so I did a hard reset and it had been fine since.  Even at PHUNT, it lasted 6:46 and still had battery left.  Anyway back to the race.  I was really pissed off for a few minutes but then I knew I had to move on.  At this point I was climbing the long, steep mile 3 so while I was hiking, I texted Emir to bitch about my watch just so at least I could get it off my chest and carry on doing what I needed to do.  He commiserated with me and then told me to forget about it and just keep running which I did.  I mean honestly I didn't NEED the watch, it's more just nice for my mile splits to just pop up so I can see where my pace is at and stuff but it's not necessary to finish the race.  I had my phone which still had plenty of juice to last the rest of the race.  I knew the race started at 7 exactly so I could just check my phone periodically to see what my overall time in the race was.  And the benefit of a loop course is that I knew in general most of the time what mile I was at because I had been there more than once before ;-)   After leaving the remote aid station on lap 4, I checked my phone for the time.  I was still doing fine but I needed to keep moving.  I wanted to finish lap 4 by 4:00pm so I would have 3 full hours to finish lap 5 and I also wanted that cushion so that the RD wouldn't cut me off.  I pushed myself on all the runable parts and if I remember correctly I made it back at around 3:55pm.  I was pumped.

Tiffany was back from exploring the park and she gave me words of encouragement and helped me get ready to go back for that last lap.  I knew there weren't many people left in the race as the area was EMPTY.  Most drop bags were gone and there were like no people.  I didn't care, I was going to finish this thing.  I put my headlamp in my pack because I knew sunset was around 5:40ish and I knew I was not that fast.

As I started lap 5, I texted Emir to tell him.  I was just so happy.  I felt really good physically and I knew I would be a finisher.  He shared my excitement and then gave me my virtual kick in the ass to get moving.  By lap 5 many sections of the trail were just a mess.  The number of runners through it that day combined with all the water and mud, I seriously don't know how I didn't lose my shoes.  I'm pretty sure there were a couple times I stepped in mud up to my knees, no exaggeration.  Anyway I left on lap 5 with another runner the one who told me about how there was no water for him at the end of lap 3.  We chatted for a few and then he took off.  I was surprised at how fast he was going because I had passed him walking on lap 4.  But didn't bother me.  I kept on trucking.  About mile 6, I was running on the crushed gravel section and passed another 50 mile guy.  I had seen him sitting at the main aid station after lap 4 so I didn't even realize he came out for lap 5.  We gave each other encouragement and I kept running.  I even ran up the uphills of this portion, mile 46 or 47,  it still felt good.  As the remote aid station came into view, the guy who I started lap 5 was just getting there.  It really made me feel great that I had caught back up to him.  Since I didn't really know what kind of pace I was keeping, this made me know that I was doing well.  He took off and I never saw him again.  I put my headlamp on as it was getting dark.  The last few miles were definitely more challenging as there were technical sections and giant puddles and mud pits that I couldn't see in the dark. Because of this, the last loop definitely took me the longest of the day.  I crossed the finish line in 11:41.
feet soaked almost all day and no blisters.  And you wonder why I swear by Altras??

 The RD and his wife congratulated me on finishing and Tiffany escorted me over to a bench.  I learned from her that I was the only female finisher of the 50 mile race.  I thought wow that's pretty awesome.  And for winning, I was going to receive an entry into whichever NJ trail series race I wanted.  What ultra runner doesn't want another race to run as a prize?!  pretty sweet.  I chatted with Tiffany for 5-10 minutes before walking to my car to head home.  The next morning when the results were posted, I saw that I was only one of 11 people total to finish the 50 mile race.  It didn't list all the DNFs so I'm not sure how many started but just from my estimation it was 30 or so.

I'm so proud of my badge of honor ;-)
few more boo boos

I had a bloody hand for a few hours after my fall

This race was exactly what I needed.  It was so much more than just a 50 mile ultra in prep for the 100.  As I talked about in my 2015 recap and even a bit in my PHUNT race report, summer and fall especially in 2015 were a bit rough.  I didn't realize just how not myself I felt until now.  Both PHUNT and Febapple, I felt great, just so much better than I have in a while.  Febapple especially showed me that I still am capable of tough stuff.  It was not an easy day out there but I just kept moving and I did it.  As coach Caleb said, I've got my mojo back and it feels AWESOME.  For the first time really ever, I feel like I really can run 100 miles.  Prior to the TARC attempt, I thought I could finish 100 miles but then the DNF and just not feeling super good about running, I had serious doubts.  I spent almost 12 hours on the course at Febapple and when I was done I told Tiffany that I felt like I could keep going and I can do 100 miles.   I've got my confidence back, it's about time.