Thursday, April 15, 2010

McNaughton Race Report

The Plan
As many may remember the story of this race goes back a few weeks when I was worried about the snow at Chippewa and Wayne and Karen wanted a third or fourth or fifth person to go with them to McNaughton. So with the support of my wife (Karyn, a potential future ultra runner :-) I decided to do McNaughton where I would get to do 5 10 mile loops through hills and creeks and whatever else McNaughton had to throw at us. Wayne and I were planning on doing the 50 mile event and Karen was doing the 100 mile event.

So before we left I plotted out my strategy and it went something like this, run the first loop easy and don't be too bummed if you lose 10 minutes on each loop and under no circumstances do anything that would take you out for the season plus figure out how to take in fuel meaning food during an ultra. The reason behind this thinking was the lack of real training that I had done for this race. I was training for a 50k and probably hadn't done enough for it but I figured hey it's only 19 more miles I could walk a lot if needed as the cut off was 34 hours and even though it was for the 100 milers we 50 milers could use it if we needed to.

The Drive
We left on Friday at 7:00 am from the twin cities and had a relative calm ride to Pekin. We enjoyed a few CDs. One of the CD's was from Vicki, she had sent it to Wayne and it had many enjoyable songs, one of which was about UP'ers which was fairly entertaining. Karen provided a report on the Bon Jovi concert she had attended so of course we listened to a few of his CD's. As the drive continued, we discussed our race strategies, mine stayed the same, Wayne wanted to gain confidence for Ice Age and Karen wanted a finish. By the time we got done, it seemed they figured they would run with me as I was the most probable to set an easy first loop pace. We arrived at McNaughton a little before 4 pm and proceeded to set up our campsites. One of the neat things about McNaughton is that they let you camp right in the park for free, granted there is no water or electricity but hey it's free. We ended up being within a few feet of the start/finish line, can't do that at most races. We picked up our packets and went back to camp to eat. Karen had brought the ingredients for spaghetti and it was very good, much better than what I have had at many marathons. After we ate, we pretty much talked for a bit and then headed to our tents as the sun was setting and the race had a 6 am start.

Race Day
My alarm went off around 5, I got up, ate a bar for breakfast along with a cup a coffee and I was ready to go. It was a relative warm morning, mid 40's but I still chose a long sleeve technical shirt (Surf the Murph) along with my first Chippewa shirt. They gave us our last minute instructions one of which was that there wouldn't be a rope on the golf course hill but Rich said don't worry, you won't need it since it is nice and dry. He also said that they would be renaming the race to something else than McNaughton like "Potawatomi Trail" races, although he didn't go into the why of the name change it all goes back to the previous race director (Andy) who moved to Vermont and decided to continue to use his old race name for an ultra series in Vermont. The new race director has taken a lot of flack from the ultra crowd for continuing the race with the McNaughton name. To me this is absurd. The race is run in McNaughton Park. Does Andy want them to rename the park too? This would be like Larry leaving Minnesota, taking the Superior name with him and then getting people riled up that someone in Minnesota would keep the Superior name for the races up on the Superior trail. Stupid. Everyone should be thanking Rich and his son for keeping alive a great ultra. I hate when adults act like children. Ok enough of my editorial.

Before I get into the details of my race here are pictures that we all took that Wayne pulled together into an album. Between them all you might get a bit of a feel for the course and if you want you can skip the details of my race.

McNaughton Pictures

Loop 1
If you continued on reading, you have my sympathy, anyway after the race director talks we were soon off and running. We started with a downhill into a meadow and then uphill across a field and unto single track. Karen and Wayne were kind enough to let me set the pace. Actually, Wayne has a pretty good knack of always moving to the back of the line. So we meandered our way around at my nice easy pace. The initial loop at McNaughton was an interesting experience, the hills were steep, the creeks weren't too deep as they hadn't had too much rain so the course wasn't as bad as I thought it would be at least concerning the mud. One thing about this loop is that I kind of came to figure out that it has 3 unique sections to it. The initial part through the totem pole aid station and up the steep hill by the golf course where they normally had the rope (we joked that maybe Andy came back and took the rope too), the middle section which took you from the golf hill through the heavens gate aid station and then back by the aid station a second time and then the final section which I think was the most runnable and the most enjoyable. There were two creek crossings one in the first section and one in the last section that were mid calf or so high and many stream crossings through out where you would get wet and/or muddy. I loved going around the loop and getting a feel for the course, we had talked about running the first loop in 2:20, through out the loop I kept looking at my watch and it appeared we were going slower than plan. I was also starting to puff up so I was concerned I was getting behind on my hydration. Turns out I looked at my Garmin and it said 9.5 miles as we crossed under the clock right at 2:20 so apparently all the turns and twists kept the Garmin from being completely accurate.

Loop 2
We stayed together throughout loop 2, I knew I was slowing down a bit and we walked a few areas that we had run in the previous loop which pretty much fit right to my plan. One thing that I became aware of in this loop was that I was noticing the hills a bit more than in the first loop. I think if I remember correctly, McNaughton has 6 to 8 steeper hills per loop or at least ones that really catch your attention. My hydration seemed to still be an issue as it was continuing to get hotter so I was a bit worried about how I would hold up. Do I take more S-caps, slow down, drink more water, drink less, hope? I had told myself that I was going to figure out how to eat during an ultra, that concept started to disappear in this loop as I was more worried about my hydration. We completed loop 2 in 2:33, pretty much on schedule and at the end of this loop we all changed shoes. Wayne was wearing his monkey shoes which we ended up dubbing as Fred Flintstone shoes. I was impressed that he did 20 miles in them. Karen changed out of her gore-tex shoes as they were retaining water and I changed as my toes were getting crunched and I thought the other shoes I had would be better.

Loop 3
I talked early on about separating from Wayne and Karen as I figured that they would hold the loop 2 time and I needed to get the swelling down in my hands and by now my stomach was beginning to cramp as well. So I let them get ahead of me a bit by the first aid station, I thought I was right where I wanted to be. I lost sight of them after a bio break but figured I might still see them during the loop so no worry as I thought I was still on pace. After the 1st creek crossing, I came across a runner who was struggling, it was the guy whose was camping right next to us. He was running the 100 and he said he was cramping up so I asked if he had any S-Caps and he said no, so I gave him a few and we soon separated (meaning I took off from him). As I was climbing up the golf hill I took a fairly big step and I received an immediate sharp pain in my right achilles. I took another step and received confirmation that something wasn't right, I kind of hopped, crawled the rest of the way up the hill. I thought to myself great, what am I going to do. I sat down on the trail and tried to massage the achilles to see if I had a pain point. I couldn't really isolate it to an area so I decided to try and walk it off. Of course the thought going through my head was did you just blow your entire year? In the flatter areas, it seemed ok, on the hills though it was a problem so I tried to turn side wise, tried going backwards, tried taking baby steps with my right leg and longer steps with my left, pretty much anything I could do to avoid going straight up the hill. It was a struggle. I decided to do more walking than running to make sure that I wasn't doing anymore damage and I thought if nothing else maybe I would get my hydration under control. It was during this loop that my tolerance for my Clif Shot Electrolyte pretty much ended and I switched to Heed, it tasted ok, so maybe something good would come of this. As the loop went on and things didn't seem to get worse I tried to either fast walk or run whenever I could. Loop 3 ended up taking a little over 3 hours.

Loop 4
I grabbed some more fuel and changed my shoes and socks again as I was starting to get some hot spots on my left foot and I figured it couldn't hurt and maybe the change would prevent me from getting a blister. As I left camp I even tried to eat and drink a bit but as I walked down the hill I gagged and had to quit eating, great a sore achilles and now major stomach issues. As I walked around the meadow getting baked by the sun, I thought, man am I having fun? My answer was NO. Why do I do this was what kept popping into my head. I am a failure, what was I thinking by doing this, I am not an ultra runner, if only I had gone to Chippewa, I would be done and maybe I wouldn't hurting so much, as I went on I continued with this type of internal dialogue. Basically nothing but negative thoughts. As I climbed the hill coming out of the meadows section, I struggled, the pain was high and I had to stop multiple times to allow it to settle out. I finally got to the top of the hill and was walking across the field towards the single track when I told myself I am done so I sat down under a tree to ponder what to do. I was within a few hundred feet of the start/finish and I knew the smart thing might be to walk over and call it a day. As I sat there, two things popped into my head, I still had 25 hours to finish and I wanted to get Illinois done on my state list, but should I go on? So I called my wife and asked for her opinion, she is usually more sane or level headed than I on such decisions. She suggested since I had a lot of time that I walk over the finish area and ice it down for awhile and then decide. So I hobbled over to the aid station, they gave me a bag of ice and I went over to our campsite and there I sat pondering more what to do. After about 25 minutes, I came to the conclusion that I should try so I threw the ice into our cooler and off I went. About then my Garmin popped up to inform me that my last mile was 45 minutes, now that is not a mile pace to be proud of but I figured I could maintain it and get done in time :-). The first hill I came to had me thinking maybe this wasn't a good idea and what really had me bothered was that with all of the walking and sitting my hand swelling and stomach were still issues. I finally came into the totem pole aid station and they offered me Ginger Ale and that hit the spot, I also found that standing in the creeks for 2 or 3 or more minutes felt good. After I drank the ginger ale of cousrs I remembered that I had brought along ginger chews for this exact reason, too bad I had left them in the tent. Loop 4 finally ended after about 4 hours and it seemed like the pain in the achilles area was less or at least not worse unfortunately the hot spot issue on my left foot was a whole lot worse, I debated seeking some assistance but I didn't want to deal with taking off the wet shoes and socks and frankly asking for help is not something I am very good at.

Loop 5
Off I went with my lights as I knew barring a complete healing and a miracle I would be finishing in the dark, oh well, something else to experience. The first half was a struggle, I just kept trying to go forward, running was barely happening as I would have pain as things got extended and each foot strike on the now probable blister hurt. I was still struggling with the hydration and swelling but at least it was getting cooler and I wasn't getting any worse but I was still bumming that I wasn't getting better. I finally made it to the heavens gate aid station as darkness descended, during the heavens gate loop I actually passed a couple of other 50 milers in this section, I guess despite my issues, I was better off than some. As I started into the final 3 mile section, I thought to myself, you are going to do this. Your time will suck but you are going to do it. During this section the owls were going nuts and I was constantly thinking I heard things around me. Running in the dark is an interesting thing to experience especially on a loop that I somewhat knew but not completely, at least I hadn't missed a turn. As I got to the final creek crossing, I waded in and stood there, shut off my lights and looked up at the stars, it was so peaceful and that cold water really felt good. This is so cool was all I could think of, I wanted to be done but I just couldn't budge myself. About then, I heard some 100 milers coming up and since I was trying to stay ahead of them I waded on out of the creek and off I went with a little more than a mile to the finish. As I approached the finish, I passed another 50 miler and as I hobbled or wobbled my way to the finish all I could think of was I am going to do this. Loop 5 completed, finish time 15:07:xx something. I was tired but satisfied.

Post Race
Wayne greeted my at the finish and helped me get things as I was pretty much useless. I wrapped up in the blankets I had brought and iced the achilles. As I did so, I kind of determined that the tender spot was right at the achilles/calf junction point which I thought might be ok. I had torn the same calf muscle years ago so maybe it was nothing but a mild calf strain caused by dehydration and overextending it. As I sat there I had multiple muscle cramps. Eventually, I crawled into the tent and changed into dry clothes. This took a while too as I continued to cramp. I also clearly learned that tents aren't ideal for getting into or out of after a 50 mile adventure, probably 10 or 15 minutes later I emerged and of course I uttered that infamous phrase "I am not sure I am cut out to do this" as I thought to myself never again, knowing by the next day that I would be thinking it wasn't that bad. About 20 minutes later, Wayne and I walked over and got food, I actually ate a 1/2 of a hamburger without getting sick. It tasted so good I went back and got another 1/2 as I hobbled over, I noticed that they were dealing with a blister on a 100 miler so after she finished with him, I asked if she could take a look at mine. She looked at it and said I should have dealt with it earlier, I nodded and said I had thought about it, she proceeded to pop it, cover it in antibiotic cream and tape it all up (for anyone curious, the blister was a couple inches across right behind my toes). It still hurt but at least I had dealt with it.

Odds and Ends
Wayne finished and did well, he will probably post about it in a few weeks. Karen ended up dropping after 70 miles with stomach issues. I know she was disappointed but I think she made the right call, she was still having some issues the next day and I think there is only so much one should push through as one runner who finished at McNaughton ended up in the hospital. I came to learn that I can't imagine how anyone finishes a 100 mile race, there are so many things that can go wrong and the determination I saw is beyond me. Turns out that the guy in the tent next to us (the guy I gave the S-caps to) thought he had won and so did the race folks but they ended up later saying he only did 9 laps. He thought otherwise but that is where it was when we left, his story from a few years back is kind of interesting, check it out.

When I left for McNaughton I said I was going to ponder the "why" of why do I want to do ultras. So I thought it fitting to wrap up this post with the result of this pondering. The reality is that I never once thought about the "why" until Wayne asked me in the car on the way home if I discovered the "why".

So I think that is my answer, I really don't think about the "why". I think I just do them for no other reason than I enjoy the challenge. Beyond that simplistic answer I do know that the training and the events themselves do give me peace, serenity and satisfaction and help me feel closer to God as I ponder the wonders of life and the world.

On Monday the only thing that was really sore was the foot that I had the blister popped on and a lower left hamstring was sore and tight. I did notice that the calf/achilles was tender to the touch. It took a few days longer for the blister to start feeling better and I have yet to run as my work schedule has had me distracted but I am pretty sure I will be fine when I do. It was a fun trip to take, Wayne and Karen helped me get through this and we had a lot of great conversations who knows maybe I will even do another one with them some day. I am sure I have left out many details but hopefully I have included enough for me to remember this trip for a long time, my thanks to Wayne and Karen for bringing me along.


Julie said...

What a great race report with fantastic pictures! It makes me want to go purchase a tent and hike in the woods for a few days:) Funny thing is that I am really not a tent type of girl...I could do it for a day or two! Congrats on an awesome race! I am in total awe of anyone who can finish one of those races. Good for you!

SteveQ said...

Nice report - and congrats!

Multiple loop courses always have that problem of keeping track of where one is. I think I completely "lost it" when at FANS, they were a lap behind me at 50 miles and again at 100K; they ring a cowbell when you reach those milestones and I knew I had them, but wasted time arguing with the officials rather than running.

wildknits said...

Nice report and heckova race!

Alaskan assassin said...

Great report. Its was a great course. Congrats on persevering.

Wayne said...

Great trip and great report, Mike. I might just link to it instead of writing my own. Though you did leave out those 3 words: chocolate-covered peeps. :)

Mike said...

Wayne - how could I have forgotten to include those. My apologies as they were a memorable item. It was a fun trip all things considered.

No you can't just link to mine and now you will need to do two, one for McNaughton and one for Trail Mix and they should both be done before Ice Age.


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