Saturday, March 12, 2016

2016 Razorback Endurance Run - Race Report

The Razorback Endurance Run was held at San Martin, California, a small city about an hour to an hour and a half drive south from San Francisco. Runners had the option of choosing a two mile paved loop or a 4.75 mile "relentless" trail loop, both of which start and finish at Harvey Bear Ranch County Park. The race has timed runs, where runners can run for as long and as far as they want for 6 hours, 12 hours, or 24 hours. Hard core ultra runners also have the option to go for a 100 miles, assuming they can cover the distance of 70 miles within the first 24 hour cutoff.

I was supposed to run Way Too Cool 50K on that same weekend, but after a failed attempt at a 100 mile at Rio Del Lago in 2015, I felt Razorback would be a good first attempt at a 100K distance. I chose the 4.75 mile trail loop when I signed up, but due to the forecast of heavy rain and wind, and the race director's warning that the trails will be definitely muddy and slippery, I opted for the "easier" paved loop. While I think the paved loop was still easier for that day, especially given the 100 feet of elevation gain per loop versus the trail's 700 feet of elevation gain per loop, I was in for a rude awakening.

The race started at 6 AM on Saturday, March 5th of 2016. I drove that morning instead of staying the night before to save some money and to also have the comfort of sleeping (or staying awake) in my own bed. I arrived earlier than expected, but I would rather be early than late, even though I had a whopping 24 hour limit to cover 100 kilometers (62 miles). I really thought I had it in the bag, as I can walk if I have to, and since it was paved, not muddy, I wasn't too worried about the weather at all.

Around 70 runners were signed up for the event. I have no numbers on the ones in attendance, but it felt like around 50 people (dropouts are not uncommon for races, whether it be life events, weather, injuries or other circumstances that lead to runners not showing up on race day). The mood was that of excitement despite the impending rain. There were quite a few of us who switched from trail to paved when we read about the muddy conditions. There were still quite a few friends who braved the trail (even some who were gunning for 100 miles!), despite the forecasted trail and weather conditions.

The go signal from the race director came soon enough. People started running but there were a few (very few) like me who started off by walking. The first half mile was actually a slight uphill. Nothing crazy, more like a very slow 30 to 40 feet of ascent, but knowing I had to do this over and over again for 31 times, I figured walking it on my first loop was the smart thing to do. What wasn't smart was I ended up running when I saw the downhill and when I saw the others started running downhill. My plan all along was to walk the entire first loop as a warmup and I didn't listen to that as I got caught up with the "race euphoria". I didn't pay for it that early on, but I did pay for it later on the race, as I now whether I didn't properly warm up by walking those first two miles.

The weather in each loop was pretty dynamic throughout the whole race. It was raining on the first loop, but then it stopped, so I took off my jacket. In the fourth or fifth loop, the sun actually came out and broke the clouds, so I picked up and wore my sunglasses and wore my cap again. Afterwards, it rained again and I had to get my jacket and wear it all over. The aid station and our ability to "set up camp" next to it with our drop bags made the race very easy and accessible as we could always adjust as necessary every two miles depending on what was needed at that time. The food was also one of the highlights of this race. Every time I finished a loop, I rewarded myself with a snack of at least 100 calories, whether it was a banana, a quarter slice of bagel with cream cheese, a muffin slice, or even a small piece of chocolate! This is what makes trail races such as Razorback preferable to the simple water, electrolytes and gels for the road half and full marathons.

Even though I could technically reach my goal of 62 miles with just power walking at a 3 mile per hour pace (3 miles times 21 hours is 63 miles, so I would reach it prior to that), I opted instead to aim for a 15 mile per hour pace for as long as I can maintain it. I would walk up any form of a hill or ascent and run any down hills or flats. This course only seemed to have one or either. You start with an uphill, a downhill, and then another downhill. I also opted to run or walk on the dirt path rather than the pavement. I haven't done more than a 50K on pavement (Jed Smith Ultra), and a 100K on paved might be too much for my body that is used to smaller distances. Lastly, my strategy involved being in the "inner" loop. If I ran the outside loop, I noticed I was accumulating more than just 2 miles on each loop. I don't need any more bonus miles on this course! I'm just glad there is pretty much a zero impossibility on getting lost on this 2 mile loop course as it's just one big oval. I would have to be pretty delirious to somehow veer off and get lost (which never happened).

I was able to maintain an average of 15 minute miles until close to the fifth hour. After I finished my ninth loop (18 miles), I felt a severe tightening at the back of my hamstrings. I suddenly could no longer flex my left leg without pain rearing its ugly head. This was a totally new injury to me as I had only had IT band injuries, shin splints, calf and achilles injuries (which gives me instant empathy to whomever acquires these said injuries). I had this as I was approaching the end of that ninth loop. A flash of alarm went through my head. I had about 44 more miles or 22 more loops to go and while I could technically walk it, it will be a slow walk akin to a death march at this point and more rain and wind was on its way soon.

I decided to walk back to my car where I had brought my stick. I used my stick roller to work on my hamstrings, my calves, my IT band, but to no avail. I thought I brought my icy hot stick that I can also apply to alleviate the pain, but I realized I had forgotten it. Panic and disappointment suddenly came on me as my now "easy shot" at a 100K was now a "long shot" if not an impossibility. 

After sitting at my car thinking through everything, I decided to at least head back to the aid station to eat one of their bigger meals. They were serving meals every 6 hours for the 24 hour plus race and so they had something more than the usual trail fare. Before I can reach the aid station, I saw my friends who were doing the trail loops. They were in good spirits, enjoying the mud, but also taking their time doing so. They were unburdened with a goal distance like mine so this was really just a fun run on the trails for them. In some ways I was envious, and I wish I had joined them. In some ways, I also wished I just stuck with running Way Too Cool, which I most probably had a shot of finishing. But I reminded myself that I signed up for Razorback because of that darned buckle!

A friend offered or asked if I wanted to take some advil, which I quickly declined. I have deep reservations of taking advil, ibuprofen or any pain killers during a race. My belief is that pain is a sign that your body is telling you something. Either you fight it and recognize it (while you can). If the pain is too much, to me that means it's probably a sign that your body is telling you to stop. I told my friends that I would do one more loop and see how it goes. After I have a bit of grilled cheese sandwiches and doritos being served, of course! My friends boosted my spirits, as well as runners out on the course. 

One loop became two, three, and four. After five loops though, my right leg started showing the same signs of tightness. I saw another runner in front of me limping. He was headed to the massage tent like I am and he was in front of me, so I let him go and didn't overtake him. I figured I wanted to do at least 30 miles anyways before I saw the massage therapist. It would be an unofficial 50K on my part since I already had 29 miles on my watch and I figured I would do one more 2 mile loop before I saw her.

After I finished the total of 15 loops, I saw the massage therapist. It was actually with the hope that she can "fix" me and I would be up and running to do another 15. But after being worked on and screaming (literally) at times when she was working on me, my hopes definitely vanished. She had the same opinion after giving me some relief through working on my IT band, hamstring, shins and hips. She was actually the one that made me realize it was my IT band all along that was the problem. Of course everything was interconnected, but the hamstring pain was somehow connected to my IT band being severely tightened. 

I hobbled after I had been worked on by the massage therapist. I walked to the aid station tent next to it and gave my verbal decision to end my race. The timing staff asked me if I wanted to go a half mile out and back to make it an official 50K but I begged off. I already had an unofficial 50K on the books with my watch and I was happy with that.

The race director Tracy Johnson and her staff had a fantastic race for Razorback Endurance Run. The food was incredible. The staff was friendly. The weather went wild shortly after I ended my event, with non stop rain and wind for the next several hours. Although I didn't reach my goals with Razorback, I still ended up an official finisher considering it was a timed race. 

Thirty miles is nothing to scoff at. Of course, it's 32 miles short of what I wanted, but it's all in perspective. I have decided though, that based on this event, I had confirmed that I was under trained all along. I was waiting for something to happen as I had only been running 1-2 times a week since the start of the year. But yet, with my tenacity, I still managed to finish a 50K and a marathon back to back earlier this year. It was, alas, not enough to squeak in a 100K. 100K, like a 100 miler, is a distance to be respected. It needs the focus, time and effort required to really reach those distances. While I believe I mentally could do either distance, my body was in no shape to do either as of right now.

I have canceled my registration for the Lake Sonoma 50 miler and in the process of downgrading my Quicksilver registration from 100K to 50K. My goal race is now The San Francisco Marathon. I figure that I need to now rebuild my base first, run 3-4 times a week and aim for at least 20-30 miles each week for the next few weeks. For the fall, the focus will be The New York Marathon and The North Face Endurance Challenge.

It took me a race called Razorback Endurance Run to remind me of where I'm at. I should be proud of it, actually, as not many people can do 30 miles with very little training. I would like to credit my experience in ultras with that. I will come back again to my fitness level. I just need to recover from my IT band injury first and respect the process of building, peaking and tapering for running. 

Thanks Razorback Endurance Run! I shall come back and get that buckle one of these days, and maybe on the trails next time!