Wednesday, March 20, 2013

DEATH at the Georgia Death Race

Woof. Rough intro to the racing season!

We (Guy Love and I) ran the Catawba Runaround the Saturday before GDR. The Runaround covers the most beautiful parts of Virginia's AT, and it's an honor to be invited, so even though we knew it was a bad idea (35 mi a whole lotta gain) a week before the GDR, we decided to roll with it. "It'll be more fun anyway...and the Death Race isn't a Horton race so there's no external pressure to perform." Well, it was a horrible idea--there was loads of snow on the course and the already difficult course took almost 8.5 hours. 8.5 hours a week before a huge effort = recipe for disaster. The Runaround itself was really fun with a great community, really something that'd be great to do every early March!

Good thing Glove and I were going to the beach to taper! We hung out at Hilton Head all week leading up to the GDR and barely ran at all. Solid taper? Prolly too little running and suuuper flat. The pines were pollinating in HH which caused for the worst allergies I've ever had--another solid recipe for disaster at the GDR. Also, the drive to GDR that was supposed to take 5.5 hours took 10. The Universe was totally saying "DON'T GO TO THE GDR." We missed most the pre race meeting and were unable to do a shakeout run. All signs pointed to death....that's enough bitching to last me the rest of the year, so let's get to the "race."

4am start was rough. I managed to fall asleep at 11 despite being in bed at 9, and 245am came quickly. The start line had the usually nervous vibe, and all 5 of us UltraVT gang manged to find eachother and wish every one luck. One of my favorite moments of every race. All giddy, ready to start running, friends sharing what's inevitably going to be an incredible experience.

Sean RunBum race director recited a poem about death and the field counted down from 10 and we were off. The giddiness dwindled to zero by the time we hit the trail 5 mins into the race. I thought nothing of it. Glove and I started up the large climb to Coosa Bald (really a great climb, enjoyed that part at least) which is the tallest point on the course. We had a train of 15 or 20 people following us for the first hour which we were quite surprised about because although we were going easy we were still "race pace easy." The pack shortened naturally and we found ourselves running with Jon Barker, a fervent adventure racer kind-of gone ultrarunner. Getting to know Jon was one of the most fun parts of the day. It was still dark and he was telling us about running in Greenland and getting lost and running as a team and all sorts of great stories and tips.

Before we started running with Jon, about an hour? into the race I took a fall on a downhill section and hit my upper shin HARD on a rock. Big scrape, blood. Throbbing pain. Walked a step and stopped. I'm not afraid to admit when something hurts, and this one hurt. I stopped hands-on knees for 20 seconds or so and tried to take another step and stopped again. I was alright, but it throbbed. I thought I was lucky cause I missed my knee but later I learned from team-PT Jordan Chang that I knocked it right where a bunch of muscles come together. Oh well.

Oh well? Oh no. Pretty soon after the fall I noticed my calf/soleus was suuuper tight. I stopped to stretch it a couple times. I had to change my gait. I didn't think at the time that the tightness was due to the fall. The really tough sections, feeling tired, and now fluid-filled calf wasn't making for a fun time. I wanted to drop. I hadn't felt good all day, and you usually feel good at the start of races. In fact the more I thought the worse I felt. I legitimately thought about dropping and it was less than 2 hours into a 14 hour race. I've never contemplated dropping in a race before, and I think this is my 12th ultra. I ran through the scenarios--I could go back to sleep! I could train more next week. I DO like running a lot of miles more than racing. This racing thing isn't very fun. I'd rather enjoy. But then I thought, "what's my reason for dropping?" An answer of calf tight is ridiculous because I could still make forward progress. I'm not having any fun was my only real reason to drop. And that's not a good reason to drop. It's too early anyway. So I stopped thinking about quitting and resolved to go till sunrise, then just run aid-to-aid. Who cares about placing or time. This run is gonna take awhile. I knew I felt bad, but I knew I'd get out of it. I just didn't know it'd take over 9 hours to get out of it...

Daylight came with a gorgeous view on the N. Ga. mountains. Really large mountains. The view didn't last long though as the trail dictated total attention with its steepness. Ga doesn't believe in switchbacks--straight up and straight down. Nothing like that here in Virginia.

We soon came to the out and back section where I saw friend and dude who inspired me to start racing ultras Henry Wakley who was in 3rd place! We descended to the aid station where I filled my bladder and really hung out at. The race was so hard that all day I took more time at aid stations (~3-5min) than in any other ultra where you grab-and-go. Ate too much food at this aid station, didn't eat anything till the next aid.

On the way back up I saw fellow Hokies Fletcher and Rachel and semi stopped to exchange greetings. How are you doing? Rachel asked. Eh was my response. And eh stayed for a looong time. Good thing Guy was dragging me along or else I would have quit.

At mi 25 aid station (really mi 27.5) I had an aid station worker rub my calf (THANK YOU!) which helped a little bit. The hard part of the course was over and we found ourselves on a forest service road. I had waited for Guy at the AS who was a couple mins back. I didn't want to run by myself and Guy was helping me along all day. Great teammate.

I resolved to plug in my headphones and just get through this extended-crappy patch, but we found ourselves admist Sean Pope, a really fast an awesome young runner similar in age to Guy and I. I'd seen Sean around but never talked to him so it was fun to get to know him a little. I was in a grumpy mood and didn't say much, but it was good to listen to him talk to Guy and his laughs lifted my spirits a tad. Unforgettably he was having foot problems and had to drop later.

So, there Guy and I were, alone in the middle of nowhere Georgia, and it started to get really hot. Hot enough that we dropped our packs and hopped in a creek on the side of the road at one point. We crossed a field somewhere, and I was looking so awful and feeling so bad that Guy even noticed it. He gave me the "it never always gets worse" pump up speech, and I was like, "dude I know but I HATE THIS and I've felt bad for the past EIGHT HOURS. This isn't running this is slogging and I'm learning I don't like to slog in a race. And I want to die and quit and boooo." Woe is me. Psh.

The temperature was rising, the grades of the course were lessening, and I knew I had a drop bag of new shoes and shirt at mile 40 (really 45). We got there after walking a lot of runnable forest road, and Guy said he was taking off as I was changing my shoes. I was totally cool with that. I didn't think I'd see him again. I felt like I was slowing him down all day, which I think I was, but he said he didn't want to run alone that early. He was feeling pretty good and I was stoked for him to fly the last marathon into the finish.

With my shoe change and another calf massage (THANK YOU) and shirt change into my VT Triathlon singlet I felt a ton better. I was bitching aloud to friends about how horrible I felt when the first place woman, Valerie came up to the AS and said, "hey I resolved to walk it in awhile ago and then I drank a ton of coke and put in my headphones and turned it around. do the same!" She was so motherly and kind--really what I needed to hear.

Rocking VT Tri at a December 10k with Chrissy

Who knows if the shoe change actually helped (I think the lower drop of the Mantras did, opposed to my worn out S-Lab XTs) but I drank coke and popped in the headphones. I was able to RUN now FINALLY. The bad patch was gone. Nine hours of feeling horrible in basically every way. I got through it. I didn't even think about the fact that I had 20-26 more miles to go, I just ran. On the long decent, I passed Guy who stopped to pee and unfortunately I think my bad patch passed to him. I was bummed and felt pretty badly that I had passed him cause he really helped me all day long. But Guy knows how to slog and loves it, so he'd be alright.

A Day To Remember, (what a horrible video hahaha. 2008.) flashing back to my agnsty high school days, was sounding pretty great. Stupid lyrics like "I will never faulter; I'll stand my ground." Made me proud that I didn't quit and really pissed me off to start running hard. The decent was long and we were running through a recently burned forest which is definitely with my interests so I was occupied with firefighting thoughts.

I was running well now, calf not hurting, taking in caffeine pretty regularly, and feeling good. The shuffle switched to Mac Miller which I further got stoked on. I found myself arms wide-airplane style- running down the mountain rapping egotistical lyrics. "Best day ever." Thinking about my alter-ego of college kid partyer and some fun times. Because this still wasn't really that fun. Ok it was alright.

Uneventful next 10ish miles.
Caught Henry right before an aid station and ran with him for a mile or so which was nice. Suuuuuper stoked and privileged to accompany him to Barkley in two weeks. I really think he's gonna do it.
I was running behind Valarie on the road section and eventually took off once it climbed. The climb to the last aid station was forever and Kap Slap had me running up steep grades. But then I walked the flats haha. You do what you can.

I did one of those check-your-pulse-in-your-neck and felt nothing. I was officially dead.

Got to the top of the mountain and had a six mile decent to the finish. I ran it hard as possible for fear of getting caught. Saw RD Sean close to the finish which he had to reroute and he ran me in, which was really kind of him because I was unable to hear his directions of how to get to the finish haha. Finished. Totally spent.

......So I'm not really happy with the race. My recovery is the hardest it's ever been. I had a LOT of pitting edema in my calf which is still recovering. Mentally it was such a hard race I don't really want to run anymore. I'm tired. Understandably. You usually have that super-high for a few days after these races, but I'm just grumpy man. Looking back, the race wasss a little fun. The trails were gorgeous and the running at the end I enjoyed. The bad patch was just so long and I felt so badly. Whatever.

UltraVT killed it!!! Three in the top 10, and 5/5 finishers!! I'm so proud of our team. I wish I had pics from the weekend but it was so spread out and rushed and tired that none were taken. It's gonna be a good season. Once we recover. Which is taking awhile.

The rest of the GDR community was great. A facebook event page made for playful banter before the race and the small field had that ultra-family feel. I think the vast majority of ultras should stay like that. Sean RunBum did a great job for a first year ultra. So many people toughed out the race and finish. Everyone did a great job, and that communal accomplishment is whats so great about ultras.

13:53:58 was good enough for 4th (!!). More than an hour longer than I've ever ran. Man. Maybe you can tell I'm wiped. It was certainly a death race. I still feel like death. I learned that I like RUNNING more than slogging up and down mountains. I LOVE mountains but if it's a race I want to feel like I'm running? I'm not a biased runner- I like roads, trails, steep, flat, etc. I just like running. I foresee myself going young-Anton style soon: just trying to run as many miles as possible. We'll see where it all goes.

Dear Death Race,

You win.

No love,


  1. Way to stay with it Rudy! Hope the calf gets better. You have to be careful with those muscle strains. They can last awhile.

    What else is on tap for the spring?