Sunday, February 24, 2013

Race Report: Febapple Frozen 50, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About The Race and Start Loving the Run

I think I'm learning, or rather, re-learning. After a couple of bad 24-hour races in the fall, I was wondering if I was still able to push the pain and other distractions aside to do what needed to be done to finish a race the right way. So the Febapple Frozen 50 was going to be my test. It looked like a very fun race that I've been wanting to do. It's also a real trail race, so it's a chance for me to step out of my element and see how I could handle some rough terrain.


I got to the race in the company of Joe Del Conte and Michael Samuels - great to spend some time with them. I was picking Michael's brain for info on the course, which I'd never run on before. Rick McNulty, the Race Director, had posted that conditions were very icy on the trail. That didn't sound good to me. The weather forecast called for light rain/wintery mix with a high near 40. That, I felt, I could deal with. When I left the house at 5 a.m., the temp was 37, which I don't think it veered from all day more than a degree or two.
The trail at 7:00 am

As we drove to the South Mountain Reserve in Maplewood, NJ, the mist/drizzle remained constant and the fog got heavier. The light came up enough to see just in time for the 7 a.m. start. The start/finish area was covered with wet ice and I almost fell a couple times before the race started. I though, this was going to be a long day. I run very few 50-mile races, but with a 6:17 road pr and a 6:44 JFK time recently (JFK being a pretty easy trail race mostly) I was shooting for somewhere around 7:30-8:00 for a finish. Looking at past results for this race, that seemed reasonable. Seeing the ice, I was prepared to add some time to that. So at 7:00 we were off.

The first mile was on road, which I liked a lot. I kept in a lead pack, and there were some pretty rough, steep descents early on, which is tough to do in a crowd. I counted myself in 6th place as the field strung out a little. A few of the leaders missed a turn, and the runner in front of my tried to call them back but they all couldn't hear. So now I was in 2nd place. Once we started hitting some icy sections, things did get tricky. That's when you remember all those other muscles you don't use very often, and when you decide to run headlong downhill and hope you don't hit your head on a rock or a tree.

The course was a 10-mile loop in two sections: a four-mile loop back to the start/finish, and a 6-mile loop with another aid station halfway around. A couple miles after leaving the back aid station, my heart sank when I found I looped back around to the aid station instead of the start/finish. I backtracked, picked up a few runners who did the same thing, and we found our wrong turn. So I added a couple miles and about 20 minutes, but it spared me the anxiety of worrying about what place I was in, and I could just run my best and enjoy the race. But I was determined to finish it out, even if it took nine hours! The first lap took me two hours, so subtracting some time for the detour, nine hours or more was looking more and more likely.

It's interesting to notice in a race like this how, one by one, certain parts of your body go numb. First your feet don't feel the wet or the cold or the pounding from the ragged rocks or stubbing your toes. Then the back and side muscle soreness dissipate. Eventually you don't even notice it when your feet slide out from under you. There was a constant drizzle/mist during the race - I could never feel it hit on my skin, I just know I was never getting any drier or warmer. I was soaked to the skin literally from my head to my toes, and at certain spots on the course where the temperature was a couple degrees cooler, I became worried about hypothermia, which is something that you can't put out of your head once it sets in. Halfway through the third lap this became a real concern, and I gave serious thought to stopping after three laps, and getting credit for a 50K. I was torn because this was a test for me, I didn't want this to be another drop out/drop down. On the other hand an extra 3 1/2 hours could be really bad. I was thinking, "OK, running in the ice and on the rocks and the mud might be fun for a 50K, but 50 miles? Who wants that? Am I miserable or am I happy?" (Actually, I really did love running in the mud.) Like I said to one runner I was chatting with about this time, what I want and what I want are two different things. But in the end the cold never really got any worse and as much as I tried, I couldn't find a legitimate excuse to stop at 50K. Plus, I got a boost of energy near the end of the lap, so I went on through.

By now I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. And I enjoyed meeting up with some 50K runners on their last loop (they started at 8:00 a.m.), including Rebecca Schaffer, who ran my 100-mile race last year, and Mike Costello, who crewed me at my first Badwater, and who I haven't seen in quite a while. And it was easier to count down the miles, and thinking, "I only have to do this section one more time," as I passed it. I was also alone more of the time, which felt good to me, more of a chance to get into my own mind. Of course, on each lap I was grunting more and more, cursing more and more at the rocks and the ice, a good way to let out frustration.
Happy to be finished
With Michael Samuels and Elaine Acosta
With Otto Lam

So then I managed to finish in 9:27:30, 7th place. Didn't set any records by any means, and not as high a place as I'd hoped, but I claim it as a victory, since I overcame the urge to quit, toughed it out in tough conditions and finished the damn thing. Very nice of course, as always, to spend some time after the race with good friends. So let's see if I can learn and remember, I never regret sticking it out.