That was Friday, after the first day of Syllamo 3-day stage race. Since it was a Spring break, and we had both Stephen and Harrison with us, we wanted to each have an opportunity to put a race in, check out new state, and be able to supervise and entertain the kids. Thus came the idea of coming to Arkansas, since Syllamo allowed separate race entries besides running full stages.
Neither one of us felt we were prepared adequately for the advertised elevation gain (7,000 feet in a 50k, and 14,000 feet in a 50M), and especially since dealing with cramps at the last "hilly" 50k 3 weeks prior, the apprehension was palpable. I had consulted with Meredith Terranova, the local nutrition guru in endurance sports, and we had found what seemed to have been a solution. I still felt nervous though - I am not good at hills when they are constantly up and down, more of a "3 miles hike-3 miles downhill" type of runner. However, Larry's race went perfect where physical part of it lays - he felt strong, light on his feet and had his head in a game. Had it not been all that craze with course marking (and over 3/4 of the field getting lost in numerous unmarked intersections), he would have had a race of his life. Part of me felt I had to make up for this. Part of me was inspired by his words "If there was a hill I knew a guy behind would be walking, so I had to choose to run". Part of me just believed it was time to do something in a mind game, enough settling in for whatever.
Of course, since it was a stage race, and every competitor had already put 31 plus bonus miles the day prior, I wasn't racing any girls in a real definition of the word. But I was fully aware of Carol O'Hear's presence (an amazing runner from when I started, it was absolutely precious to see her again), Katie Desplinter, and one and only iRunfar's Meghan Hicks (who was wrapping up her training for MdS and thus racing with a 15 lbs pack, but you never count off Meghan). Mostly, I wanted to go after a time goal - I always repeat time and again, racing is all about clock, and where it puts you is secondary depending who else came to an event and how their day developed. I - I wanted to break 11 hrs and run as many hills as I possibly could without cramping or failing second half.
A few yards after leaving the camping/start area, we filed onto a single track up the gentle hill with some roots and rocks spread over it. I got around a number of people, quietly laughed that Larry was right and my headlamp does not have fresh batteries, and got behind a couple of guys with one right on my heels. The conversation was about yesterday's 50k and being lost, and in a few seconds I realize I am with the leaders from the race - and "oh, shit, I don't belong here" phrase Larry used popped in my head. But for some reason I felt bold today and said to myself "whatever, stay with it". And so I did.
I am not a "morning of the race" kind of person. I don't like chatting prior the start, I don't feel nervous, or anxious, and surely not excited. I can't explain it, but it's more like I want to be by myself, have it started, have first 30 minutes go by, so my mind can separate from everything existing and just be. I love that feeling of first half of the race - just being.
The effort felt nice, we exchanged few sentences with the guys, they offered their "sorry" for how Larry's race turned out, and we moved in that order, 2 guys, myself, one more behind - and a line of the field further back. I ran hills. I listened to music. I breathed. And I checked on the trees - my luck was that the 50M course was marked with permanent tree blaze markers (painted rectangles) and I knew how to read those since I "grew up as a hiker" on East Coast - depending which way the rectangle turned, you go straight, expect the turn, turn, and so on. The lights of the guys ahead were bobbling showing me I am still ok, my legs felt springy, and life was beautiful. Ah, here is what I live for - time past those first 30 minutes in a race...
We popped into first AS at mile 5 all together and bunched up, the four of us, exactly on my pace chart, 1 hr in. From afar I saw Larry - he wasn't supposed to be there, but seeing him at an AS is always - always - a highlight of my runs. He knows how to support - and when not to (I am self-sufficient and have my own way of getting in and out), he is there, he doesn't need unnecessary chit-chat, I am comfortable just giving half a smile as I enter - and once I know I am done with what I needed, I run out and yell "I love you!". Simple. He is there. I got his full support.
We left AS and I got around the first 2 guys. Ha, wouldn't it be funny to run in first overall - I briefly thought. It wasn't a serious thought, but I had a laugh to myself about it, as I "lead" for a mile. 3 guys re-passed me back, all with smiles, and we settled into our positions for the day.
My only downside for the first 10 miles was the side effect of eating some kinds of food I am not supposed to/used to lately, despite my efforts to be as close as I could. Traveling for 5 days before the race, and in some places which were "dots on a map" didn't provide for good planning, even though I carried some baked sweet potatoes and boiled eggs. That said, I had to step to the bushes 5 times (and no, for those who cares, I don't carry toilet paper, so I didn't damage the pristine woods with littering). The IBS reared its head, I swallowed always-with-me Immodium, and by mile 11 or so was in perfect shape.
The course was great, really. It was relentlessly going up or down, nothing too bad (the first 2 sections had seriously hiking sections with steps, but it was over by now), pure single track, coming up the ridge, waving through, dropping to the creeks, and doing it over again. And I ran. The next AS was in 9.5M, but the organizers did set up an unmanned water stop with a time sheet, and it was great - I also saw I was 5 minutes behind Matt (the 50k winner and eventual stage winner) and half-heartedly thought that my goal to not let myself slow down was to chase him. Oh, the things we tell our minds...
I kept on rolling, and as the sun was rising and breaking the heat, I got into Crippled Turkey, mile 18.5 AS, where Billy Simpson, long time friend, was the captain - and I was there 3:45 in, a full 15 minutes ahead of time. (Billy: "Shit, Olga, you're flying!", me: "I don't know about flying, but feeling pretty good, indeed"). It was my drop-bag spot, and Hilario (Lalo), a friend from San Antonio, was there waiting for his wife Amanda to come through. He was awesome with help! Got my bag, filled my bottle, shoved my gels into pockets - efficient, like he knew what he was doing:) and all with great words of encouragements. Don't ever underestimate folks like that - it's not even about saved 40 seconds, it's about that very special support that carries you to the next place.
We entered a dirt road for a mile or so, then turned back onto trail, and soon after I saw 2 lead guys coming back. The trail rolled, I ran strong, Matt came into view and told me that RD turns everyone around at the AS and not a mile past it (so, as I chatted with Steve Kirk the RD after, the course had become 48 miles now, and oh, by the way, there was no 14k feet of elevation gain, may be 10k-11k at most). That said, Matt had about 15 minutes on me now. I wondered if he'd fade...:)
Yes, of course, Larry (now with the kids) was there, and not only that, he brought me ice! The best crew ever. The day was getting hot (it was measured in mid-80's), and the AS's didn't have an ice supply. That was a sweet thing, ice - and a kiss, and a slap of "Way to go!". I was re-charged and energized.
Not to mention all the people I got to see! The course is out-n-back, and so now I was privileged to see about 100 or so runners, all cheering me on, some calling my name, and mostly smiling! I had been running mostly all the hills still, feeling the works by now, but not in legs - just in effort. My fueling, hydration and salt uptake was spot on, I had no problems whatsoever. And with that running - and the fact that course got shortened by 2 miles - I, of course, came with a new goal: sub-10 hrs. Hey, I never said I'd let myself settle!
Lalo at Billy's station was still as great as he was the first time through. Can't thank the guy enough. I was pumped, on the way home, in the heat of the day in so many ways.
Things got warm, and I was so grateful that I carried an extra water bottle filled up from the start in my pack - this is where I got to peruse it. Even with that unmanned AS half-way through 9.5 miles, I drained both bottles in-between refills. Was somewhat sluggish, yet nailed the self-predicted (now new and adjusted) time "splits" to the minute (interestingly, so you don't think I am a number geek, I never look at my "chart" once it's created, I have some kind of "feel", sixth sense or something in a memory. I don't run by pace, or even so much as miles between AS, I just
As I was approaching "9 miles to go", I heard hollering and yelling my name - and sure enough, my sweetie was there! Dropped my pack I was getting tired of having behind (it was empty now anyway). Filled my both bottles with ice, Stephen got me some pop drink they had at AS, and off I went. Thank God for ice! I drained first bottle within 10 minutes out, then nursed the second. Those 9 miles (both on the way in and out) had bluffs and ran some along the creek, so the signal from Garmin was constantly getting lost, but since it was already happening from the beginning, I never paid attention to miles, just time. Even more-so, that beeping every time "satellite is found/satellite is lost" was like talking to a friend. I was, after all, running all by myself the whole day.
I struggled some on this section with the overheating and mild dehydration (hard to think if I didn't carry that second bottle!), and my diarrhea decided to make a come-back a few times, and I stumbled and fell once (and almost cramped, but not quite), and I walked a few more steps than I wanted to - but with all that I still arrived at the last AS and into care of my darling husband on time.
I showed not only signs of stress, knowing I am 5 miles off the finish line, I allowed myself to speak it out loud too: "I am struggling". "I know" he says, and that's all I need. Got my ice, 2 full bottles, cup of pop - and off with words "See you in an 1:10-1:15". I am still running.
About a mile after AS my Garmin dies (did I not charge it either?). I laugh - now I don't even have a track of time, yet along miles. Get a little scared that I'll slow down - then realize that it makes me run more sections because of exactly this fear. At one of those "real steep steps hiking part" as I try to swing my leg up - my right inner thigh cramps from the groin all the way down to foot. I grab it and calmly say "OK, stay with it, breathe" - and it goes away in a minute. That was the one and only cramp I had all day! I am careful for a couple more minutes, and then back to running.
Last part of it had Larry written all over, again. He, of the two of us, is the guy who has an amazing map-like memory. He loves maps to begin with, studies them, and in general pays attention to all things around. I am one who "travels in life" (whether running or just daily living) hardly noticing things around me unless there are emotions tied up to them. So, I did remember from the start of the race that I should be finishing on a gentle downhill with rocks and roots. I had no clue how long that was supposed to last and what other "marks" of almost done I should watch for. So, once I stepped onto that trail, I smiled knowing I am almost done yet not sure how far to go. I turned the music off in hopes to hear water in the creek or music at the finish line or at least people. And tried not to trip over.
The view of finishing area pavilion and Larry's "woohoo!" came at the same time. Last turn around a corner - and a sprint to the finish line.
Photoalbum of both days of racing for Larry and I.