Monday, August 25, 2014

Green Lakes Endurance Run - Pride before a Fall

This past weekend, I was going to run 100k at Green Lakes State Park in Syracuse, New York.  It didn't quite turn out that way.

I signed up for Green Lakes because not only does a good friend of mine and his wife live up there, but I like to explore new races on new trails.  A lot.  It's one of the reasons I usually pick different races every year.  I signed up in spring, and decided to sign up for the 100k.  I knew at the time of signup, that I would be hard pressed to train for a 100k, but the race allows for the runner to drop to the 50k distance the day of the race, so I knew that if the weather was oppressively hot, or if something happened before the race, I could drop back to the 50k distance with no problem.  Ever the optimist, that's me.

The Green Lakes Endurance Races consist of an 7.5 mile loop course that the runner completes 4 times for a 50k, or 8 times for the 100k.  I read this all briefly in the website in the spring, read some good things about the park, and was excited to use the trip up as a mini vacation for Jason and Eli and I at the end of summer.

So I've run well this summer.  Lots of weekend long runs, running and hiking a lot during the week.  Experimenting with food choices.  I felt faster.  The weekend was approaching, and I was confident.

Friday, we headed up, stopping a few times for food and even to hit the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge (I have a goal to visit as many of these as I can).  It was nice to stretch and walk around a little, and we saw a bunch of birds and a lot of frogs, so it was worth it.

We met my friend Patrick (check out his blog here.  He's a crazy ultra-runner as well) at the running store for packet pickup.  I was lucky number 13!  Woo!  Patrick and his wife, Karen, had invited us to stay at their home, which was only about 15 minutes from the park.  After settling our stuff at their home, we headed over to check out the course before the sun set, then out for some dinner.

The view of the clear, blue Green Lake.

Pat and Karen would be working aid stations the following morning, and this was their home race, so they showed us around, and we walked a little bit of the trail.  Then Pat mentioned something about the depths of the lakes, and the possibility of the lakes "turning over."  It is a very very rare thing, but I guess certain, very deep lakes can turn over very quickly, which causes the carbon dioxide in the bottom of the lake to erupt out of the lake, and can kill all life within a valley.  It's called a Limnic eruption, and has happened a couple of times in volcanic lakes.  Now, the likelihood of this happening was pretty much nil, but hearing Pat and Jason saying, oh if the lake starts bubbling, run like heck up the hill before the carbon dioxide can come out of the lake, made me look at the lake a bit differently.  I peered at the clear water, and expected bubbling or churning, or to see bones or something...

 Another lovely view.

I turned my thoughts away from ideas of sudden and thorough asphyxiation, and we headed to dinner, and then back to the house.  I organized my stuff and got ready for a 4am wake up.  Race day was here!

I woke and dressed, grabbed a quick slice of pb toast, then we headed out towards the park, grabbing coffee on the way.  I tried to settle my normal pre-race jitters, and the atmosphere at the park was low key and laid back.  Everyone was friendly, and I checked in, placed my cooler and drop-box on "The Wall" by the main aid station, where it would be easy to access every loop.  I had chosen to run with a hand-held with two gels and some salt caps and ibuprofen stuffed into the pouch.  I felt a waist pack or backpack was over doing it for a 8ish mile loop.  I had also put pickle juice in my cooler, and a lot of extra gels, extra shoes, and swedish fish in my drop-box.

 The old admin building - housing the Aid station supplies, and bathrooms.  This was the start and the finish.

Map of the Course via the website.  The first aid station was at the Start - the second was at the Half mark.

I hit the facilities one last time, then toed the line a few minutes before 6am.  The air horn sounded, and we were off.  I hung back and just stuck to an easy pace.  I had my garmin on, but I tried not to look at it, and after the first loop, I took it off.  I was running comfortably.

The course was pretty much flat around the lakes, a few climbs through the woods, and mostly rolling through the "Serengeti" The course was extremely runnable.  I walked the steepest of the hills, and ran everything else.  I also flew down a lot of the downhill sections, which would end up biting me later.

The trail around the lakes was crushed limestone and mulch.  Some of the trails in the woods were mulched or graveled where there had been muddy portions, and the fields of the Serengeti were rolling hills, grassy with a dirt single track in most areas.  There were only a couple sections with roots, and those were not tough compared to my home trails at Oil Creek State Park.  This was very much a really good trail race for beginners to trail running.  The landscape was beautiful.  Having the lakes right there, literally a step off the trail, was amazing, and the trail was varied, going through mixed woods, deep pine areas, and then through the fields with an amazing view.

I started out knowing I would have to be conservative with my speed if I wanted to keep enough energy to make it through eight loops.  I was passed by a lot of people, but as the trail turned from the lakes and started up hill on a dirt trail through the woods, my hiking legs caught a few people.  The trail flattened a bit through the woods, then went up and broke out of the woods.  The grassy area was rolling, and pretty runnable.  I reached the first aid station having just about finished drinking my hand held.  I had a gel, a couple swedish fish at the aid station, and had them fill my bottle with water.  I took a salt tab, and didn't linger.  I walked on a few steep hills on the Serengeti, but mostly was going at an easy run.  I had to maintain about a 13 minute mile average to make the soft 6pm cutoff - I had to be 54 miles in by that time, or I wouldn't make the finish.  I have an issue with cutoffs.  They haunt me.

I cheered for my fellow runners and thanked all the course marshals and aid station people as I ran.  The cloudy morning was really great to run in, especially with no sun beating down on the treeless parts of the course.  I really enjoyed the course - it was extremely runnable, and I pushed myself when I could, down hill, or on slight uphills, just knowing I needed to bank that time.  I finished my first loop in 1:30.  The website had cautioned that the average loop needed to be in under 1:40.  Jason and Eli were still at the course - they had seen me off, and Jason took my watch from me, handed me two gels, and I had my bottle filled with Hammer Perpetuem.  I wasn't having any stomach issues, and I felt good.  It was a quick pass through the aid station, and I was back out onto the course.

I talked to a few people on the course.  One lady, Deb, was doing her first trail ultra, and was excited to train for her first 100k the next spring.  Another lady was fearful she wouldn't be able to finish the 50k.  A few guys and I played leapfrog.  I'd pass them on the hills, then they'd pass me on the downs.  Really good people out there.  I kept a good pace on the second lap, and came in to the main aid station at 3:03 - a 1:33 lap.  I used the restroom, ate a peanut butter sandwich, drank some pickle juice, then headed back out.  It was really nice to see Pat or Karen at the aid station when I would come through.  I was still feeling good, and headed back out.

It had started to barely sprinkle the last bit of the second loop.  As I went out on the third loop, the rain increased to a steady sprinkle.  It wasn't a downpour, it wasn't a drizzle, just kind of a steady, soft, rain.  I didn't mind.  I was glad the sun wasn't coming out.  I did keep an eye on the lake.  Sprinkles look a lot like CO2 bubbling...

I was still nice and steady on pace, even in the rain.  My legs and feet were a little achy, but nothing terrible, and still no digestion or stomach sloshing.  I was mostly using gels and eating peanut butter sandwiches and swedish fish.  I didn't complain about the rain.  I had worn my contacts, so I could see fine, the rain was cool, and my hat kept it out of my eyes.  The trail was getting a little sloppier, but really, not terrible at all compared to what I had run in at Oil Creek and at Highlands Sky earlier in the year.

I made it through the third lap in 4:43, or 1:39 for the lap.  I was still pretty happy how I was keeping consistent with pace.  I ate more, filled up, and headed back out for the fourth lap.

I was tired on this lap, and I knew I was slowing down.  Coming back around on the muddy parts of the trail, I lost some purchase, and climbed the steeper parts a little slower.  Once I got out of the woods, I felt I gained my pace back, but I was aching more.  I took an ibuprofen, and kept going.  I got to the second aid station, ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, more swedish fish, and walked as I ate for a little bit.  One of the guys I was playing leap frog with passed me, then I passed him back up the hill.  On the next downhill, I ran down, and slipped right down on the muddy grass as I put my right foot down.  I felt my knee twist, and I got up and brushed off my muddy hand and rear as much as I could.  The guy asked me if I was ok, and I told him I was, and walked the rest of the way up the next hill.  My knee hurt, but I was hoping it was one of those falls that hurts for a moment, then shakes off once you get going.

But it wasn't feeling much better.  I had the normal aches that I usually associate with running long distances that I can ignore, or that I usually hope will ebb and fade as I keep going, but my knee felt loose and sharp when I was landing when I ran. Not good.

So I kept running and walking a bit more here and there as I needed.  I knew this was going to be a much longer loop.  I was over halfway through, and my brain was going everywhere.  I refused to ask anyone if they knew what time it was, because I knew I needed to finish this loop before 6 hours and 40 minutes to make the soft cut-off.  I just kept going and told myself I would see how I felt at the next Aid Station and see what time I came in.

I think, the worst part of the course, that I hadn't mentioned, is about a half mile of asphalt once you're almost around Green Lake and back at the Aid Station.  It hadn't bothered me too much on the previous loops, but this loop, I was hobbling by the time I hit it.  I saw Eli and Jason coming to meet me, and they "ran" with me as I hobbled back to the aid station.  I saw the clock reading 6:38 as I came closer, and just felt frustrated.  I had done the best trail 50k time that I've done.  And I was proud of that.  But as I thought about going back out, my knee, and how I had slowed down, I doubted I could finish.  I had a little over 7 hours to run what I had just run in 6:40.

I am not a fast runner.  My 100k PR is 19 hours.  If I knew I could walk what I needed and finish, I would have kept going.  I don't mind the long stubborn slog.  But my knee was throbbing at this point, and I had a 50k PR.  I didn't really have anything to prove, and I'd get to spend the rest of the day with Eli and Jason and getting under Pat and Karen's feet.

So I stopped at 50k.  The race director counted me as having run the 50k, and I got the 50k medal and a nice pint glass.  I was happy, but disappointed in myself.  We spent the rest of the day walking around, visiting with my friend Rich, who had showed up just in time to see me finish and figure 50k was the best thing for me.  I took some pictures, which I couldn't do while running, and enjoyed watching other runners come in, and visiting with Pat and Karen.

The place was beautiful, the company good.  I really loved it up there.  If I hadn't hurt myself, I probably could've eked out an 11th hour finish.  But we went out to eat then came back to the race.  I even met a guy who had run the Highland Sky race, and we talked about that course, and I talked up The Oil Creek races.

So I didn't quite do what I set out to do.  And I'm happy.  Mostly.  I also feel... disappointed in myself.  I didn't have stomach issues, I hurt my knee.  But if I had been at a race with a more generous cut off, I would've kept going, I think.  But I guess what happens happens, and I should just take the enjoyable experience I had with the landscapes and the people and the trail as fortuitous.  I got to visit with good friends, and I found out Pat had stocked the aid stations with Swedish fish, because I have a fondness for the red gummies.  It was a really happy time, and I've learned a bit about myself, for good or bad.
Until the next race... enjoy some more happy pictures of Green Lakes State Park.