Tuesday, January 08, 2008

My First Ultra: Team Slug Fattest Butt


Here's a great read, from a Beautiful Lady, and Brand-New Slug.
I know it's a bit long, and most of us "ain't" that bright,
but this one is worth your time.

She also has a nice blog at; http://1inthedistance.wordpress.com

Friends & Family back in Carolina call her Andrea B.
but, to the Slugs she'll always be Tiny Broken-Hiney.


Nonevent: Team Slug International Fattest Butt 50K (approximately 32 miles)
When & Where: 8:20 a.m. Jan. 5, Kent County, Delaware
Results: 6:05 (1st female)

While focusing on marathon training for the past several years, I’ve been inspired by knowing several ultrarunners and especially by watching merigayle persistently finish her first 100 mile run at Umstead last year. On Saturday I joined their lowest ranks as I took my first strides beyond the marathon distance. Those not quite nimble steps were at times challenging and humbling, mostly fun, and always in good company:

Kickrunners DEturtle, Durt, divaleh, merigayle, SGH, roots

Last fall, I decided to put any remaining fitness from the Kiawah Island Marathon toward a 50K. The ultrarunning group Durt and DEturtle are part of, Team Slug International, organizes an informal one each January outside of Dover, Del. The Fattest Butt 50K "nonevent" is TSI’s variation on a "Fat Ass" run.

As it turned out the Fattest Butt would dramatically change the appearance of my own derriere and, in the process, become the week’s second and true Wardrobe Malfunction run.

Festivities started Friday night when some of us met at a Dover Italian eatery for pre-run carbs. Between bites of bread and pasta, first-timers divaleh and I had many questions for ultrarunners DEturtle and roots. Then it was time to do the usual race preparation routine of getting my gear and clothing ready to go for the morning before bed.

The next morning I woke up a few minutes before my alarm and did not want to get out of the very cozy, warm, and enticing pillow-top bed. I could have stayed under the covers all day. After a few minutes of coaxing, I forced myself from the comfort zone and quickly dressed to converge upon the well-stocked hotel breakfast for coffee and my usual pre-long run meal: oatmeal with peanut butter. DEturtle came back to lead a caravan to the park. Race Director Durt ushered us in and runners began casually setting up water and fueling items on picnic tables. Everyone was exchanging introductions and appearing very relaxed. The pre-run routine and atmosphere drastically contrasted marathons, where I get up three hours early to digest breakfast and arrive at a starting area swarming with striding runners and buzzing with nervous energy.

After a short briefing and prayer the run started. Again there was no typical road marathon start of jostling and swerving. Heck, there wasn’t a Start line! DEturtle led us out on the 3.2-mile packed dirt trail circling Killens Pond. We would retrace the route 10 times to reach the 50K distance, passing through the picnic area each time for provisions. The sun brightened a partly-cloudy sky and made the 30-degree air feel comfortable.

I spent the first two loops running and chatting with merigayle and divaleh, and trying to memorize the trail. Durt’s directions had been a simple “keep the pond to your left,” and after the first two loops I felt oriented and ready to spend a little quiet me time in the woods. Gradually I pulled away and hoped I would meet up with "the girls" in the late loops when I anticipated needing encouragement. I had not done any training specific to a 50K other than run a marathon four weeks earlier, recover for a very easy week, then return to regular easy running with one 16 mile long run thrown in on Dec. 22. Total winging it. Everyone had assured me that was more than enough as long as I took the 50K at an easy pace, but I was still questioning my sanity and a little bit doubting if I could complete the distance. It seemed like such a long way, so I decided to simply think of it as 10 loops instead of a specific amount of mileage.

Even for a coastal dweller, the course’s few small inclines barely intensified my breathing. To give my legs a break, I began walking the “ups” and otherwise running the “flats” and “downs.” Without nearby trails to run regularly where I live I was overjoyed to have a good part of the day ahead to be on the path, and spent some time in appreciation of the surroundings.

Before coming in to the aid station for Loop 5, I noticed that my hands were starting to swell. I usually don’t experience that so early in a long run, especially when drinking Gatorade as I had been. I spent a little extra time at the picnic area and took an electrolyte tablet along with a portion of peanut butter and honey sandwich for some extra energy. I had a surge of energy and motivation as I headed out, and was ready to make some good progress.

My pace picked up to what felt like marathon pace and I had the sensation of flying along the trail. It was a serious runner’s high enhanced even more by the natural setting, always my favorite for reflective running. Last night at dinner we had talked about a different event, the Self-Transendence Marathon in New York, but I felt on the verge of my own enlightening endurance episode in the middle of Delaware. On his 6th loop, roots caught up to me now, and I was enthusiastically evangelizing about what a great trip I was having:

“I feel amazing! This is so much fun!”

“It’s such a beautiful day!”

“I just have to watch my footing a little more on this trail! Especially the downhills! I feel a little off-balance going down!”

“But, this is THE BEST!”

Wheeee … I took flight and time slowed as I floated peacefully for what seemed like 10 seconds before coming down hard on my right side. THUD! So much for self-transcendence! I was shocked to find myself face down in the dirt. Not wanting to break the great rhythm I’d had, I moved to get right back up – but was stuck to something. My running tights were clinging to a small stump that left a 3″ hole in the seat of my tights as I stood. roots walked with me for a minute and I remarked “Damn, this is the second time this week I am running with my ass hanging out!” He instructed me to put on his extra pants when I got back to the picnic area, then ran ahead so I could focus on staying upright rather than on talking to another runner. I took two Tylenols to prevent any aching and felt truly lucky to be uninjured and pain-free after that fall. I quickly resumed running, but at a more conservative pace and with my eyes firmly fixed on the trail. When I came upon hikers, I covered the hole with my hand which I'm sure looked ridiculous -- a runner going along grabbing her own butt.

Back in the picnic area there was a little show & tell with my boo-tay boo-boo. Durt and the Assistant Race Director Debbie immediately began showing their genuine concern by taking close-up photos of my bloody butt, but Durt did graciously help me put on the other pants. They fit perfectly and after a cautioning to take it easier and be safe by race volunteer John I was ready for the second five loops.

Maybe it was the fall or the break in momentum with a longer stop, but Loops 6 and 7 were groggy. I wasn’t running slower yet, but I felt less coordinated and alert. I kept thinking how a nap would be perfect and daydreaming about that pillow-top bed I’d get to crawl into later. Everyone told me I would have a low period, so I figured I was experiencing the ultra lull. It still wasn’t anywhere near the struggles I’ve worked thorough in marathons, so I just thought positively, kept up my electrolyte-peanut butter sandwich combo at the aid station, and waited for the fatigue to pass. I got a small boost when I came up on DEturtle, who is the cutest ultrarunner ever with her assortment of running skirts and always positive attitude, even though that day she was fighting a fever.

By Loop 8 I felt revived and like a lifelong native of the trail. By now I could anticipate its landmarks: There’s the first bridge. There’s the place where I fell. There’s the cabin area. There’s the good view of the pond that’s just starting to freeze. There’s the tree where dozens of lovers carved their initials.

Before leaving the picnic spot for Loop 9, I knew finishing would be easy and said to Durt “After the next loop I’ll be an ultramarathoner, and one more after that one, I’ll be a Slug!” My legs were heavier now and I was slowing, but still only felt like walking the “ups.” I discovered what merigayle had told me was true, that starting to run again after a walk break is very difficult on tired legs. So I just kept running.

To make sure I learned whatever I am supposed to learn, on Loop 9 just as I noticed I was coming up on the spot where I’d fallen, sure enough I was bowing before the trail gods on hands and knees again in the exact same place. This time I had been shuffling instead of charging, so I got up, shook it off, and kept moving forward. In the aid station I briefly chatted with Durt before setting out on my last and final slog around Killens Pond.

During what I told myself was “the victory lap,” I took a little time to try to come to some personal conclusions about the tiny amount of experience I now had in the sport of ultramarathoning. I would finish in around 6 hours, the longest duration I have spent on a single episode of any physical activity. The whole endeavor seemed a bit ludicrous, yet I could honestly say I’d had a good time the whole way. Being outside on trails has long been therapeutic to me, and something I've dearly missed especially during the last couple years. This activity combined trail time with my favorite sport of distance running. Coming up on 32 miles with plenty of energy left, I had no problem imagining tackling a longer ultra distance event such as a 50 mile run with proper training. Still, I wasn’t sure I liked the relatively slower running pace, and at times had thought about how a nice day hike would be more fun with possibly less chance of injury. The fall had been startling, and more than once I’d thought about dearly held plans for the first half of 2008 that would be shelved if I’d broken a bone. But I hadn’t broken a bone. I wasn’t seriously hurt save for a spectacular huge bruise on my butt, and the pond loop trail was certainly not the last chance for potential injury I’ll encounter between now and April.

In a few minutes I would come in to the picnic area and see friends’ faces sharing my achievement of a personal distance record on foot. In the marathon four weeks’ prior, I was fortunate to gain a huge sense of accomplishment and reward for hard work. But as I gave the Fattest Butt its final pat, I savored feelings of gratitude, appreciation, and joy that I wish everyone could and would experience by simply putting one foot in front of the other. Running has so many rewards, but I think this is among its most precious gifts.

Running to the picnic area for the last time, I heard a few claps and cheers. “I am a Slug!” I yelled in response. Debbie and roots snapped photos of me coming in and receiving my award, the famous bad-ass black Team Slug T-shirt. Finally I was reunited with merigayle and divaleh, who finished four minutes later to all of our applause and excitement.

It was cold if you weren’t running, and divaleh and I went off to change into dry clothes so we could stay as warm as possible. The bath house was closed, so we ended up changing with only the back wall for privacy. Now we were ultrarunners, who are reputed to be the “craziest” in running circles, so stripping in the woods seemed like a natural slightly nutty thing to do. We rejoined the growing number of finishers at the picnic tables and savored delicious Cup-o-Noodles and other snacks before walking back on the trail with merigayle to loosen our legs and remove a few course marking ribbons from branches. meri's husband Turnin'Wrenches came in for his first ultramarathon and first-ever race finish as we headed out, and we got to be the first to congratulate him.

Everyone pitched in to clean up the little spot that helped keep us going that day. Runner and volunteer Slugs alike said congratulations, thank you, and good-bye to each other before spreading out in their various directions, leaving the trail but taking the rewards and memories of its 32 miles.

It was great to share the trail with fellow Kickrunners, get some great tips from meri, Durt, roots & DEturtle, and share the first-timer experience with divaleh and Turnin'Wrenches. Hopefully some more Kickrunners will post reports. I'd love to hear about the day in others' own words.

No comments: