Croom Fool’s Run – 50 Mile Edition

Thanks to: Vicki, Marisol Cantu all the Aid Station workers for their help. Thanks Andy Matthews for putting on a great race. Special thanks to Christian Stewart and Susan Anger for convincing me to wait it out and not drop.

 Ivan Scale: 7 (most of the race), 9 for a while

Elevation change: +6,348 / -6,580 (Sports Tracks), +8428/-8665 (Garmin Connect)

Music: Five Finger Death Punch, The Way of the Fist

Distance: 50 Miles

Course:

The race is a 5 mile loop, followed by three fifteenish mile loops. First five mile loop starts out on the road and then hits single track. Start of fifteen mile loop is very rooty and technical, end is very hilly for Florida, and includes a quarter to half mile technical section. Aid Stations about every five miles.

 Race:

I took 3 scoops of Ucan Super Starch w/protein about an hour prior to the start of the race to get the motor started. I’d “carb loaded” in the days previous on cookies and other things I normally can’t eat as part of my ketogenic diet. I wore my longer Nike shorts which are much warmer than my Brooks shorts; I was pretty nervous about friction from the Brooks pair and didn’t want to risk it even though it was supposed to get fairly warm. I like to run as naked as possible because science.

I did my usual walk to the back of all the runners and set my HR monitor for 175, or about 85% of my Max HR; I wanted to run fast, but not go out too quickly.  We set off down the road which had a few puddles from the rains earlier in the night. I avoided these like the plague; I have an irrational fear of wet feet since macerating the bottom of my feet off in my first race about two years ago. Getting my feet wet is a nightmare scenario for me. Little did I know….

 

We took a turn by Renee Tavakoli onto a sandy dirt road and made decent time heading up a fairly long hill. My headlamp wasn’t working as well as I would have preferred. There was a little fog and I’m pretty sure I’d left the one with fresh batteries back with Vicki at the truck.

 

I ran for a while behind Barbara Gay Neel and Bambi Pennycuff; Barbara had decided to run her first 50 mile race while wearing a tutu. *Props*

 

I chatted with someone for a while (Jeff?) who had recently moved here from Wisconsin. Jeff didn’t seem to mind the hills. The double track turned into a single track and I started cursing myself for my mistake; I remember Sean Connolly discussing the bottlenecks that happen on this part. I was supposed to have gotten to the front before we hit the other turn.

 

I ended up running a few miles well below the pace I wanted to, and eventually just passed around on a hill where the five or six people were walking. After this I caught up runner wearing sandals….Chris Gkikas! We were on a very technical part and I was making good time and passed by him.  I saw lights in the distance and realized that we were close to Start/Finish.

 

I pushed hard to get to the Aid Station. I then met my pacer for loops 2 & 3 Marisol Cantu. She’s posted to the FUR Boards a few days earlier looking for someone to pace:

 

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a quick search showed that she was no slouch;

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She’d finished a tough 100 when I’d DNF’d. She wasn’t scared away by my pirate humor so probably wouldn’t hate me on the trail.

I dropped my shirt, topped off my super starch and headed out to start the first real loop. It starts out extremely rooty, many large roots that cross the path that go up to about mid shin height. Not a lot of water but a few sections where you really had to focus to not get wet feet. I passed a few people here and saw a familiar runner with a shirt “Call me Bruce” Bruce Wenner!  Bruce and the Connolly’s introduced me to Croom and I knew he was a good person to run with for a bit; in the least my chance of getting lost in the dark would be lessened…. we ran for several miles together when Bruce suddenly stepped to the side of the trail. I was more than a little bummed but kept rolling down the path.

 

Around this time the course starts to get a little hillier. While pacing him last year Sean had taught me a little trick for making up time on the downhills; you lean forward and run as fast as you possibly can down them. If you trip you’ve bought an express ticket to fucktown, but if you don’t trip you can completely make up for the slowdown from the hills.

 

It was around this stage that I tripped for the first time, not going downhill, just on a level path. My left shin hit something (root?) pretty hard and I brushed myself off and continued on. A few miles later my shin started to throb badly and soon after it started to feel like someone was stabbing me every time I took a step. This rattled me quite a bit as I was only about 12 miles in at this point; walking another 38 miles wasn’t something I really wanted to do.  So I walked for a bit, taking 400mg of ibuprofen, resetting,  and letting it rest for a minute.

 I started running after a few and realized that I was keeping my left foot tense the entire time and “clawing” at the ground with my foot. I adjusted stride and relaxed and the problem went away almost immediately. The confidence fixing this issue gave me cannot be overstated; it’s one thing to hear experienced ultra marathoners talk about calming down and working the problem, it’s a completely different thing to do it yourself.

Refreshed I pushed on. I hit the next aid station manned by Justin Radley, Christian Stewart and crew, slammed water, and took off.

At this point I’d like to take a second to talk about Croom; it’s a beautiful, beautiful place. The trail we were running takes you through pine forest, rooty oak hills, and down through hollows and old sinkholes. It’s an enchanting place that makes it easy to lose miles just taking in everything. That is exactly what I did here; focusing on my form and breathing and just enjoying a morning running through the woods.

In no time at all I hit the final aid station on the loop manned by non other than Susan Anger and Joe Ricci. I slammed two cups of flat coke, a cup of water, and ate some potato chips quickly before moving on. Joe yelled something about my tattoo but I couldn’t really understand and I can barely talk when running so I just agreed and ran on. He shouted something about next loop and I shot a thumbs up.

This is the part where the course gets hilly. I mean really, really, hilly. Lots of ups and downs; I ran up the hills as much as I could without going over my set heart rate for long periods of time and passed several people in this section. the 16 mile and 50k people zooming by didn’t do anything to reassure me that I was setting a good pace and I let that motivate me to hang onto as many as I could without getting caught up in their pace. Soon I was back in the extremely technical section and I switched between power walking and jogging to push into Start/Finish.

 Loop 2

Marisol was at my drop bags and chair and saw me roll in. I yelled for Vicki in case she was over by the truck; her phone had died and I would miss her on this loop. Slammed some coke, topped off my water bottle and said hello to Christian Stewart.

 

I ate a chocolate filled macaroon from Mazzaro’s while walking down the rooty section for a bit; I love these things but can’t normally eat them because of their massive carbohydrate content. I had one as a reward to myself for every loop, a little extra motivation to get through the hills.

 Marisol took the lead and after short while we found a pace that was only slightly uncomfortable; I set my heart rate monitor to 180 so I’d at least know if we were running ahead of my heart. We made good time and ticked away the miles. In the distance lightning and thunder boomed and added an ominous backdrop to an otherwise enjoyable run.

She’s a machine her steady pace really helped push me through where I would have faded. After a while I checked my fluids and realized I was running really behind on fluids; I was more IPA than Pale Ale or Corona. I slammed coke and water now at the aid stations as it was also getting hotter and I was really starting to be worried about fluids; my fluids strategy was to drink to thirst at the AS’s and use my small bottle for continuous fueling. I could see that if it did get hotter that wasn’t going to work. I put it away as a problem for later as it was likely something I could only fix at S/F.

We hit the last AS and again he asked about my tattoo; I explained that it was Ouroboros as I was walking away and said I’d tell him on Facebook, he said to tell him on the last loop.

We ticked away miles but by now the lighting was much closer. As we headed up the hills I started counting the flash to bang on the lighting and thunder and realized it was under a five count, or less than a mile away. With no other shelter between us and the Start/Finish we had no choice but to run faster. I discussed dropping due to the lightning, and hoped that Andy would call the race.

As we picked up the pace it began to rain heavily and soon we were running through a monsoon. A stroke hit nearby “Waaa” BANG “nnnnne”. Yea, it was only about 400 meters ahead of us. We pushed the pace as much as possible and ran through the very wet technical section. I fell hard again here as well.

We sprinted to the Start/Finish where everyone was huddled under a giant tarp.

I told the person keeping track of runners that I was done; Christian immediately said “What? Why?” I explained because of the lightning. He said “Hey man, it might pass, just wait a while.” and looked at the guy and said “let him think about it, he’s not dropping yet.” I saw the logic and said I was going to go get a beer and wait a while.

I walked with Vicki back towards the truck so I could get my rain jacket on while I waited; I told Sue I was dropping and she joked that I was short and I should just find a tall person to run with. This cheered me up a bit and asked I Vicki if she would go back out in the weather; if it was safe.

 

She said “I wouldn’t go out, but you probably would….”

 

Well, at least she knows me.

 

As I zipped it up I realized how cold my legs were getting, once I stop they tighten up really quickly; I had to go now, or not go at all. I told the timers that I was going back out, slammed a bunch of Mountain Dew and Coke, filled my bottle with coconut water, took a quick picture with Marisol (who was staying), and ran off into the rain alone.

Remember that rooty section? Well it was now either mid shin high water or a raging torrent of water. There was no keeping my feet dry and I stopped caring. Only fifteen miles left and I was figured I’d just work the problem if my feet started falling apart later. The only important thing was moving forward. Running at this point was an invitation to breaking an ankle; I had no choice but to jog my way slowly through here, tucking into my rain jacket and feeling my legs slowly get cold. The rain jacket at this point was really only serving to slow down the heat loss, I was drenched inside as the howling rain was just pouring in through the hood. I acknowledged to myself that yea, this sucked, and it was normal to feel bad about it. The answer to the question of “Are you going to quit because of this?” was “No”, so the only thing left to do was focus on the task at hand.  It also helped when  reminded myself that I run fast when cold, and I was now water cooled =)

The whole situation was completely absurd. The rain, wind, thunder and lightning pounding around me and I found myself smiling. What had worked on the previous two loops wasn’t working now; downhills were potentially deadly and uphills were slippery and treacherous.

I worked the problem, alone and completely at peace with my place in the universe.

Hit the dirt road before Mule Camp Aid station and pushed the pace through the slippery mud. I was greeted by the same guy who’d cheered me on and Wendy Violes. I’d not seen a soul since Start/Finish and wondered if I was the only Fool left on the course. I slammed some salt, mountain dew, and asked “How far ahead is Pink Socks?” asking about Sean by his trail name. I knew Sean would be in the top 5 runners.  Wendy checked quickly and said “Oh like an hour or so..” Well crap. “Well when did the most recent runner leave?” and he offered a knowing smile and said “About two minutes, if you’re so inclined……”

 

You’re damned right I’m so inclined.

 

I took off through the woods again, looking for any sign for the runner ahead unconcerned with anything but the race. I picked my way down the raging floods of the craters with quads on fire and looked for fresh footprints on the way up.

 I chased the ghost of the other runner through the woods for a long time; the rain and footing slowing me so I wasn’t redlining but able to make good time. Several miles in I saw the runner in the distance briefly through the trees and I ran faster to close the gap. By now the rain was basically over and I fell in behind him for a bit, chatting about the rain, his run, etc. I was resting and glad to have company after what I’d just experienced After several “Where the hell is the aid station?” comments from both of us I passed him…only to arrive at the aid station a quarter of a mile or so later. I slammed potassium, Mt. Dew and halfway filled my water bottle; only eight or so miles or so left in the race and only a few miles until the hills really start to kick in.

Passed an older couple that were probably on their last lap of the 50k and made good time to the last Aid Station. There are several ups downs right before the aid station and I started yelling my explanation of the tattoo……and John wasn’t there. I laughed at the story destined to be unfinished; either by me dropping or John not being there. Simply not meant to be. The guy at the aid station looked at me like I was a little crazy. Not a completely inaccurate sentiment. I slammed more Mt. Dew, grabbed a handful of gummy bears and took off for the hills.  Caught up with another runner here and he had me running scared the rest of the few miles left. Every time I turned around he was rolling along with an executioner’s step.

I hit the final technical section and Justin Johnson was walking Chris Gkikas in…Chris had turned his ankle and his race was over =/ Justin told me that it was right up and hill and that I should run. I did, and proceeded to immediately trip again.

Picked myself up the final and and trotted through the water and up the hill, past one final runner with pink socks (not Sean!), and to the finish line with an unofficial time of 9:22:10.

I set out to beat my 50 mile PR. I missed that PR, but ran a hell of a lot harder, with more elevation,  on more technical trail, and in more challenging conditions than my PR race.

Mistakes were Made (aka I fucked up but lucked out):

  1. Form during loop 1 went to crap after the fall.

  2. Salt- I forgot to pack these and for some damn reason I kept forgetting to get salt tabs at S/F on every single loop.

  3. I would have had to improvise another water bottle during loop 3 if it hadn’t started raining.

  4. I should have taken an emergency poncho at the start of loop 3. If I’d gotten hurt on the trail the rain jacket wouldn’t have kept me warm enough and it could have been bad times very quickly.

  5. Shoes- I wore my Nike frees during this race; I love them, but I know the toebox is too small. I lucked out in that my feet could have really been ground down with the water. I didn’t pay for this, but it was a mistake to not get a bigger pair.

  6. I spent about 20 minutes at the S/F on my last loop. If I’d had everything available for me and gotten my shit together faster I would have been 4 ranks down, and probably would have pushed myself a lot harder in the end (would have been willing to blow up with that many people vying for position).

I’m trying to account for survivor bias in these mistakes sections; lessons should be learned regardless of DNF or Finish.

Feet:

Except for a blister under the duct tape of the big right toe, a decent bruise,  and I’ll probably lose that big toenail, but otherwise, given the conditions, my feet are in really good shape.

I’ve got a massive red spot on the front of my right leg; I suspect it’s from all of those falls…..

 Overall I came in 12th and 1 place for males 30-39. I mean, there were only *two* males between 30 and 39, but still…..

I’m completely happy with my results. This was my last race of the season and now it’s back to base building in preparation for the Barkley Fall Classic in September and tackling some 100 milers next winter.

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