2006 ULTRA RUNNING ADVENTURES

   
 
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BERRYMAN 50-MILE TRAIL RUN
 
SUNDAY, MAY 28
 
 
"The will to do does not always overcome my physical limitations,
but the soul to dare lives on."  
- Dan Baglione
 
 

 

Oh, Dan, that quote is so appropriate for my 50-mile attempt yesterday! I wanted so much to finish the race, and thought I was trained adequately to do it. I wasn't hoping for a fast time. These days, I'm happy just to finish within the time limits and not get pulled at an aid station for being too slow.

But the brutally hot, humid weather and my personal physical limitations put the kibosh on that. <sigh> Another DNF.

However, there is an upside to my story, which I'll explain later, and I haven't given up hope for the Bighorn 100-miler in three weeks. The soul to dare lives on . . .

MUGGY, BUGGY, SLUGGISH DAY

After a fitful night of sleep, we were up before dawn for the 40-minute drive to Berryman Campground and the start of the race. We found parking very close to the start/finish area, got our gear, walked around a bit, and mingled briefly with the other folks who were starting at 6 AM.

I heard two men ask the RD if they could drop down to the marathon from the 50-miler. I didn't know until after I was finished just how many folks did this! Because of the weather, no one was permitted to move up to the 50 from the marathon, only vice versa.

How hot was it?? I never heard officially, but everyone agreed it had to be over 90 degrees. It was unseasonably hot for May. Everyone was complaining about the heat and humidity. No one I heard all day said they were prepared for it, whether they traveled from farther north or farther south.

The race directors, Victoria and David White, were very concerned. about the toll the heat would take on the runners. We saw no medical support anywhere. We didn't hear of any medical emergencies, but the potential was there. David and Victoria did their best to protect the runners by allowing an easy switch down to the marathon distance, relaxing the cut-off times, and providing adequate water and ice to all the aid stations.

I loved the relaxed atmosphere at this race. The Whites want people to have a good experience and come back. They are personable, easy-going, well organized, and simply cater to the runners. Good folks, as were all the volunteers at the aid stations. When runners feel welcome and cared for, they will return.

I talked to several people who were doing their first 50-miler or trail marathon. This is a good course for that purpose. Much of the course is runnable. In addition, the marathoners can be out on the course as long as the 50-milers. The 50-miler has a generous 14 1/2 hour time limit for the early starters, and last year there were times posted in the results even beyond that. Several female marathoners came in after nine, ten, even eleven hours. I'm glad they had the opportunity on this difficult day to achieve their goal of finishing the race.

AND THEY'RE OFF!

I counted about twenty 50-mile runners who began with Jim and me at 6 AM, an hour before the regular start for the two races. It had been light for almost an hour, so no one needed lights. We fell in behind most of the other runners so we wouldn't have to move over for the faster ones. The first mile we followed Rob Apple, from Tennessee, and Tony Bierman, from Illinois, chatting about races and the Appalachian Trail.

It took a little over two hours for the front runners in the marathon and 50-miler to catch up to us. Then we had to make way for another thirty or forty runners before the end of our first loop. We managed to pass a few of the other early starters. We lost a little time stepping aside because the single-track trail was too narrow to run side by side.

More troublesome was all the poison ivy and/or poison oak along the trail! We both put on Technu pre-exposure lotion to protect against poison ivy and oak. Jim avoided it (so far), but I got some on my arms, legs, and hands when I got off the trail to let people pass and to climb over blow-downs where they were easier to cross in the woods.

For once, I felt good running "right out of the box." Jim and I got into a comfortable groove and averaged about a 14-minute pace the first 14 miles or so. My "best-case scenario" goal was an average of 15-minute miles for a time of 12:30 over 50 miles. I wanted to go a little faster in the morning when I was fresh and the temps were cooler.

We both felt good. We were drinking plenty of water and Perpetuem. Jim had his Perp more diluted. He carried just one bottle of it and drank plain water at the aid stations. My Perp was more concentrated, and I chased it down with water in a second bottle I carried. I took two Endurolyte capsules the fist hour, then four to six per hour after that. Jim took very few capsules.

Equestrians and cyclists also use the Berryman Trail. Rob and Tony said we'd probably see more horses than bikes over the holiday weekend. We ended up seeing about ten horses and riders during the race. I saw only one cyclist. We met these four riders about twelve miles in:

We were both running smoothly and comfortably. I was very careful not to fall down, but after about 3 1/2 hours, I could start feeling my feet and calves tighten up when I'd land differently, have to reach my leg 'way up and over a blow-down, or stubbed my foot against a rock. My fears were realized when I had to stop running occasionally to stretch and massage my calves. My wheels were coming off . . .

I was very disheartened. I was worried that my adductors would seize up like they did in a training run in late April. The pain was excruciating then, and recurred every 15-20 minutes even when I was walking; running was out of the question. At Berryman, I really needed to get fifty miles to prepare me for Bighorn. And before I'd run even fifteen miles, I was breaking down and nothing I did regarding fluids and electrolytes seemed to help.

After the Brazil Creek aid station (15.5 miles), shown below, I sent Jim on ahead so my slowing pace wouldn't ruin his race. We had slowed to an average of only 15:55 per mile because of my cramping the last couple miles before that aid station. I could see the handwriting on the wall.

A VICTORY OR A DEFEAT?

The next nine miles were incredibly frustrating for me as runner after runner passed me. I couldn't run for more than a quarter mile before I'd have to stop and take care of my cramping leg muscles. They cramped even when I was walking. Stretching, massage, and two electrolyte caps at a time would help for a few minutes, but soon the hamstrings got into the act. Fortunately, the adductors never seized up.

I was drinking 32-40 ounces of water every hour, but I wasn't peeing. In fact, I went almost eleven hours without urinating, which has occurred in several other races, too Where did all the fluids go? Sweat the first few hours, but then I stopped sweating and my hands swelled up. I was concerned about either heat exhaustion or hyponatremia. Both can have serious consequences to a runner's health.

Volunteers at the last two aid stations were very helpful, giving me cold, wet towels and ice to use on my face, neck, and legs. I walked a great deal of that nine-plus miles, my frustration growing when I couldn't run the very runnable sections. I knew it would be futile to keep going when I got back to the start/finish area, which marked just past the halfway point for the 50-milers (we had to do a short out-and-back at the beginning). I would have another DNF. I wouldn't have an important training component for Bighorn. And I couldn't add Missouri to my list of marathons and ultras completed in the "Fifty States and D.C." club. I had failed. I just hoped Jim was doing well and would complete his race.

I felt ashamed, not proud, when I went to the start/finish area to check in with David, who was timing the runners. Marathoners crossed the line and were done. Fifty-milers kept going for another 24.8-mile loop. Family and friends waiting in the shade for their runners applauded me. I felt like I didn't deserve any praise.

David asked me how I was doing. He asked everyone that on this very hot day. I told him about my leg cramps and the futility of going on. Then he surprised me and completely made my day.

"Would you like to do another mile and get a marathon finish?" he asked.

Suddenly, I had new life. I was toast, but I could do another mile if it meant a legitimate finish in the marathon! He offered this option to every 50-miler who "dropped" at the halfway mark. (And has done it other years that weren't so hot.)

This year, about half the original 50-mile field either did this extra mile at the end (which the marathoners did at the beginning of their race), dropped down to the marathon before they started, or quit at an aid station somewhere during the race. It was a first for Berryman to have such a low 50-mile finish rate. I felt better knowing I wasn't the only one having serious problems with the heat.

Fried or not, I went back out immediately with another couple of runners to do the half mile out to a cone and half mile back. I was embarrassed a second time by the applause of the "audience" when I returned sixteen minutes later (I still couldn't run because of leg cramping), but I was pleased to receive an official marathon finish, attractive medal, and a new state in the "Fifty States and D.C." club. This gives me twenty-nine states. Only twenty-two to go. (Ha - I've been working on this since 1982!)

HOW DID JIM'S RACE GO??

I am so proud of Jim! The heat didn't seem to affect him nearly as much as the majority of the runners. He drank a lot, but didn't take anywhere near as many electrolyte capsules as I did. He prefers to eat more salty food at aid stations than I do. Everyone's different. Maybe I took in TOO much sodium, potassium, or other electrolytes. It is my understanding that both extremes (too much sodium or too little sodium) can cause the problems I had.

Jim ran the nine-plus miles from Brazil Creek to the start/finish area fifteen minutes faster than I did (it took him 6:15 to do the first 25.2 miles). After getting more supplies from his drop box, he headed on out for his second loop. He told me later how hard that was mentally. He wasn't hurting, but he was hot and tired. It would have been more fun to quit, grab a freshly-grilled hamburger, and sit in the shade!

When I came in at 12:30 PM, he was gone. I didn't see him again until he finished six hours later with a time of 12:50, a little faster than the thirteen hours he predicted. I almost missed him at the finish! He did a great job of running fairly even splits the first and second loops.

He partially credits his feeling good and running consistently with running a little slower pace with me the first 15.5 miles. If he'd gone out faster, he might have crashed during the second loop. We started off but slowed down considerably between the third and fourth aid station when I started cramping. We only had a 15:55 average pace at Brazil Creek, Aid Station #4. Jim was able to speed up when he ran by himself, ending up with a 15:24 pace overall. He kept splits at each aid station

Jim was just ahead of Rob Apple most of the day, wondering the whole time when Rob would catch him. Rob is an affable forty-something who runs ultras about every weekend, racking up hundreds of finishes. Rob's pace and finish times are very consistent, and close to Jim's recent times, so he's a good fella to keep in sight. Jim ran with him some at the Vermont 100 last summer and both finished pretty close together.

Rob didn't catch up to Jim until about a mile before the finish at Berryman. They ran together and talked to the finish, where Rob slowed down to let Jim finish first (since he'd been ahead of Rob for 49 miles). This photo shows Jim as he was crossing the finish line. Rob is right behind, with Victoria tearing off his finisher's tag:

Jim happily displaying his patriotic (for Memorial weekend) red, white, and blue finishers' buckle:

Jim dug into his freshly-grilled hamburger, bratwurst, and baked beans as he rested in the shade next to the picnic shelter at the finish line. He was tired and a little stiff, but nothing really hurt and he didn't get any blisters. It was a great training run for Bighorn mileage-wise and mentally, helping him feel more confident about his preparedness for the hundred-miler. I'm very proud of him! He excelled in very tough conditions.

MISCELLANEOUS POST-RACE THOUGHTS

I had a long but relaxing afternoon sitting around the finish area while I waited for Jim. I finished at 12:46 PM and he came in at 6:50 PM. I had to get up and walk around several times to keep from getting stiff. I continued to have some leg cramps just sitting there! There was more of a breeze near the picnic shelter, shown below, than out on the course where the trees were more dense.

Even though I consider this race another DNF (did not finish) because I didn't complete the race I intended to run, I take some comfort in the fact that so many other people also dropped down to the marathon because of the heat. I've learned when I can push harder and when it's dangerous or futile. I didn't want to do permanent damage to my body. I'll just have to work harder at Bighorn and cross my fingers for cool weather there.

At 57, I was the oldest woman entered in the 50-miler. There weren't very many women at all who finished it. I uploaded this entry before the race site had results posted, so I don't know how many runners finished the full fifty miles. David said it was fewer than half who began the ultra.

I have yet to come in dead last in a race, although I've been close! Even though I was embarrassed by a 6:46 trail marathon time, there were quite a few marathoners who came in after me (taking into consideration my one-hour head start). Four women finished between nine and eleven hours and change.

We always enjoy seeing old friends at races and meeting new ones. The "old" friends we saw this time were Norm Yarger and his wife, Joyce (Norm opted out of the 50 because of a hamstring injury; Joyce finished the marathon); Earl Blewett (early 50 start, marathon finish, predicted correctly on the internet ultra list that the race would be a "death march"), Rob Apple (early start, same 50-mile time as Jim), and Herb Hedgecock (RD of several races in Kentucky, finished the marathon).

"New" friends included Eric Grossman, who won the 50-miler by about 55 minutes in a time of about 7:25. Eric now lives near Damascus, VA and is directing the new and difficult Iron Mountain 50-Miler in early October. I'm intrigued because I loved the Mt. Rogers area when I ran/hiked the Appalachian Trail there last summer. The race includes a part of the old AT that has been relocated. Eric is a friendly guy who hung around the finish area for a couple hours watching other runners finish.

I also got to meet three ultra runners from the Nashville area, two of whom were running their first 50-miler (both dropped down to the marathon), Tony Bierman (Jim ran with him more than I did), Tracy Thomas (fast female runner and physical therapist who gives helpful advice on the ultra list), and others whose names I didn't catch or don't remember. I have CRS, remember? (If you don't remember, see this entry from last year's journal.)

I had to shake my head in wonder when a young lady (I later learned this is Raz Estridge, a familiar name on the ultra listserve) came across the finish line of the marathon with her dog in tow. Actually, the dog was pulling HER across the line with the leash! "B-dawg" (Booper) is apparently a familiar sight at ultras where she is allowed to race. She had her own number and I laughed when I saw Victoria pull Booper's finish tag! I'm curious to see if the dog is listed as an official finisher. I couldn't catch up to Booper to get a photo until she got to her owner's car, eager for some air conditioning and a drink of water:  

COURSE COMMENTS

There were more rocks than I expected, and quite a few large blow-downs, but the hills were tame compared to where Jim and I train. The course is not that difficult. David White said someone used a GPS on the Berryman Trail to measure the elevation gain, and it averages only about a hundred feet per mile. The hot, humid weather was the culprit in slower finish times, more DNFs than usual, and many people opting to take the marathon finish.

Nearly all the course was shaded, which provided some relief from the hot sun. The thick leaves and other greenery were visually pleasant, although they created more humidity and blocked any breezes. The "long green tunnel" was rather stifling, in fact.

I wouldn't want to run the Berryman Trail during or after much rain. This was the driest the course has been, according to veteran Berryman runners. OK by me. Although I don't mind wading through creeks (and would have appreciated the cooling effect during the race), there are several places along the loop that would be muddy quagmires on a wet day. We still had to dodge some mud (and a lot of horse poop!) on this very dry day.

Normally runners have to cross several creeks on the course. Not this time, however. All were dry except Brazil Creek, which was about ankle deep at its lowest point at the crossing. When Jim and I got there fifteen miles into the race, another early starter was sitting on the bank with his shoes off, feet in the water.   Because I was feeling the effects of the heat already, Jim recommended I sit in the cold water. Ahhh! It was hard for me to sit and get back up because those motions made my legs cramp even more, but the water helped cool my core body temperature. Too bad we didn't get a picture of that!

WHAT'S NEXT??

I'm writing this on Sunday, a relaxing rest day for us at the campground. We retrieved our ultra Labs from doggie jail (a nearby kennel), gave them a bath, did four loads of laundry, read, wrote letters and this journal entry, fiddled with photos, took a walk to stretch sore muscles, talked to one of Jim's sons, ordered a GPS unit for our next adventure, and chilled out (literally and figuratively) in our air-conditioned camper.

Early tomorrow morning we'll head west and north toward our next destination, the Bighorn Mountain Range in northern Wyoming. We'll have time before the Bighorn 100-miler to train and acclimate in the mountains and visit friends and relatives in Montana. Stay tuned for mountain photos in a few days. There is likely to still be snow at the higher elevations in the Bighorns. After another 93-degree day in Missouri, we're looking forward to some chilly nights in Wyoming!

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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