Sunday, August 5, 2018

Angry Owl Ultramarathons 2018 24hr Race Recap

Time: Just after 2 am. Place: Bush's Pasture Park, in Salem, Oregon. I had been in motion for 14 hrs. I was leaning on the aid station table, staring at the lap sheet. Or at least pretending to. I was really just trying to avoid going around the loop anymore. 50 miles is good enough, I was beginning to tell myself, already starting the "It's ok to quit" rationalization. Everything hurt, and I had long since lost my "100 mile" pace. Why keep going? There is a nice comfy bed over there in a nice comfy tent with my nice beautiful wife. I could just crawl in there, try to ignore the sweat stench, and go to sleep for a few days. Thankfully, my wife had other ideas...

I don't really even remember where I heard about the Angry Owl. Must have been Facebook. I do remember thinking that it was going to take far too long for December and the Across The Years 48 hr race to get here, so I needed a loop this summer. The first one I saw and wanted to do was the Elijah Bristow 24 hr in Eugene, Oregon- but I had a scheduling conflict. However, just a little farther up the freeway in Salem, Oregon, was the 1st 24 hr version of the Angry Owl Ultramarathons, which started as a 6 and 12 hr race last year. What's another hour's drive, once you have driven eight or nine? I signed up and started training up.
As usual, I obsessed over every detail of the race, from the course, to camping, the aid station. I read and re-read their webpage. I friended the Race Director, Josh, on Facebook and began pestering him with questions. I read the blog post from last year's 12 hour winner, Rachel.
Some key points:
  • It's a minimalist race. So, the aid station is not the never-ending buffet that you will find at Across the Years. But, it has everything you need to survive if you had to: Tailwind, which is really all you need, Gels, PBJ, pickles, candy, cookies, and potato chips, the usual snacky stuff. And Josh makes amazing burritos on the George Foreman grill, and ordered pizza for everyone at dinnertime. It is cupless, so bring your own cup. May I recommend the collapsible silicone cup from Aravaipa? I just left mine in a pocket, and had it when I needed it.
  • Since it's a minimalist race, there are no finisher's medals, no age group awards, no t-shirts. Just an awesome loop to run long, awesome chip timing, awesome volunteers to keep you moving, and an awesome RD who truly loves the race and his runners.
  • 1st place male and female in each race gets a "functional" award. I won't spoil the surprise, but it was cool. And every runner gets a kickass Angry Owl Ultras hat. Which hasn't left my head all week.
Camping is available, in the form of setting up whatever you choose to bring. But it is a public park, and no one is watching your stuff, so if you are solo- be warned. I brought everything, as usual, but I also brought my amazing wife to crew me, so I didn't worry too much about my stuff. I can't stress enough how amazing it is to change into dry socks and shorts every few hours when your bits are beginning to chafe. So, I brought everything, and then some. I looked like I was running the six-day- but never once did I utter "I wish I had brought (insert item here)"..  And no, there is no six-day option at Angry Owl. We brought our big tent, air mattress, pop-up, sleeping bags, folding chairs and table. April was very comfy at camp.
Speaking of: I reserved a room for two nights at the Knights Inn in Salem. Don't do that. There was a woman who was clearly "living better through chemistry" in the parking lot in front of our room, who informed us that her kids were on weird schedules, and to "just knock" if they were too loud in the middle of the night. They were. On the sidewalk. Outside our window. All night. Mission Street=good. State Street=not so much. After the race, April had to do some negotiating to get us out of our second night, and we moved to the Hampton Inn on Hawthorne. They upgraded us to a suite, and gave us a discount. Heaven. I felt like a king. But, I digress...
The course was fantastic. Packed gravel, grass, a little asphalt, and some soft and springy dirt through the woods by the creek. Just watch the couple of root balls sticking up that I knew were there, but still managed to trip over every damn lap. Here is the nickel tour:
Speaking of the creek, it is apparently clean enough to take a dip in (several of us did), and I can't tell you how rejuvenating it was after 40 miles to go sit in the creek up to my neck and cool off. I was a bit afraid to put my head under, but so far, I haven't contracted typhoid, or shown any symptoms of creatures swimming up my urethra. Try the creek. You won't be sorry.
April and I rolled in about 8:30 am, and last years winner, Rachel, was making laps. I asked her what she was doing, and found that she would have to leave early, so she was getting in her miles. I think she ended up running 25 miles before the race even started. This would turn out to be huge motivation for me about 24 hrs later. We set up camp, said hi to Josh, and got dressed for the race. 
Start time was noon, and it was about 88 degrees at start, I believe? It was warm. My wife was amazing, and kept me in cold Tailwind and Nuun, and icy cold towels every couple of laps. I ran the first 50k or so in my Altra Torin 3.0. I have both the knit and mesh 3.5's, but neither had enough miles on them to make me feel comfortable going to them. Funny enough, I did go to the Paradigm 4.0's after the first 50k, when my feet started to get sore- and I had even less miles on the Paradigms. But they are just so uber-cushy, I had to do it, and everything turned out well. My initial strategy was to walk a couple of minutes every time I came through the aid station. That held up for a few laps. Then I just decided to walk where I felt like it, and where I could. There is maybe a six-foot hill after the grass that felt like 1500' of vert late in the race, so I made sure to walk it almost every lap. Anytime I could steal a little extra time in the shade, I walked. I also used my new Blink 3.0 from Heart Zones for the first 8 hrs or so to make sure my heart rate was in the lower zones with the heat. It worked well. Someone on Facebook said to "try to be in last place for the first 8 hrs, pick it up for the second 8, and give it all you have left for the last 8.." That was my goal, and I think it worked really well.
All in all, I just tried to pace myself to leave enough juice to pick it up when the sun went down. In the beginning, I had the lofty goal of hitting 100 miles in the 24 hr, so I had a goal chart, ticking off 4.2 miles per hour. I stayed ahead of that pace for about 7 hours, and then started lagging a bit. When the sun went down, and I was not making that time up, I gave up on that goal, (and almost the race). Steve Walters was in the lead, and the guy is awesome. He had 403 marathons completed at the start time, and warmed up with a half-marathon in the morning before even coming over. I had to resist the urge to try to run with him, or any of the runners doing the six or twelve hour distances, because they were flying. So, to me, it felt like I was crawling. I walked a ton. I hit a marathon at 6 hours, 50k at 8:10, and 50 miles at 13:51. I hold no delusions of being fast, mind you- but once you lose your primary goal, it becomes easy for your brain to start sabotaging your race. The answer: my wife and I agreed on my "B" goal- go farther than I had before. I went 64.03 miles at Across the Years last year, so I wanted to beat that.
So, I found myself leaning on the scorer's table at 2am, with 50 miles behind me. My wife walked up and asked what I was doing. I mumbled something like "Trying not to quit". I was cooked. I know Ultrarunners go for days without sleep, but this is new territory for me. Even at the last 48 hr race, I got a full eight hours each night. Not gonna lie. I just wanted to quit. My brain had given up. She asked if maybe I wanted to go lay down for a bit and reset. Take an hour and sleep, and get back out there. I agreed, so she led me to the tent, and down I went. But, sleep was not to be. Between adrenaline and Dr. Pepper, my mind would not stop. In what seemed like minutes, her phone was starting the gentle, melodic alarm that I know so well. I panicked. "But I haven't even got to sleep yet!!", I whined. She said ok, and gave me another hour on the clock. My electrolytes were so out of whack, I was shivering uncontrollably- giant body-wracking convulsions- even though it was a quite warm night, even more so in the tent next to her. I wrapped up in my huge North Face parka and tried to pass out. This time I slept, but again, her alarm started chiming in what seemed like minutes. I hit snooze. It went off again. I turned it off, and slid into blissful sleep.
"Babe, it's six am". She was gently nudging me. I so wanted to just stay there. But with many a groan, whine, and perhaps a whimper or two. I got back up. My legs felt petrified. Six hours left. I had managed to sleep for about three hours. I put on a light jacket and hobbled over to the aid station. I saw that Rachel had left, with 63 miles complete- and she was in third place. If I could do 14 miles in six hours, I could pass her, and finish in third place? My half PR is about 1:55. Surely I could do one in six hours... So off I went, walking the kinks out for the first couple of laps, but then actually running a few. 
By 10 am, I had done it. 64 miles, and I had moved into third overall. I could quit! Or so I thought. My wife intervened again, showing me on the sheet that there was another woman just two miles behind me. If I quit now, she could move past me, and all the work I had done to get into third would be for nothing. So, off I went again. I had two blisters on my right foot, where I had missed with pre-taping, and both my big toe and my little toe on my left foot were screaming at me. In addition, my left Achilles tendinitis was pissed. It did not like this running stuff at all. But the thought of this runner passing me motivated me. I ground out 20 minute miles for two more hours, constantly looking over my shoulder, wondering who this woman was, and if she was coming to get me. I even ran the last lap, just in case she had narrowed the gap and was going to pass me at the mat. I crossed the mat at 11:50:10 am with 67 official miles in third place overall for the 24 hr race. What an amazing feeling! By the way, I don't think that woman ran another lap- she finished with 63 miles. Right where she was when I took off to stay "in front of" her. But I appreciate her and Rachel motivating me without knowing it, pushing my brain to push my body. Without the two of them, I might have allowed my brain to talk my body into quitting. My watch said 70 miles at the finish, which accounts for the laps being a smidge over one mile, and a few trips to the bathroom, back to the aid station (never backtrack), and so forth. I had beat my previous distance record, and met my (new) goal. For the record, even Steve, who won the race with 88 miles, didn't hit 100, unless you count the half he did in the morning before our race. So, I am incredibly satisfied with 3rd place, and 67 miles.
Things I learned:
  • More salt caps. I took a few during the heat of the day, and felt great. But at one point, around midnight, Rachel suggested I lay down and put my feet up on a chair. It felt great, but when I went to stand up, my hamstring tightened like a guitar string. I rolled around on the floor of my tent, screaming silently, trying to get the cramp to let go. I immediately ate a salt cap, and swished several mouthfuls of my homemade pickle juice, and felt better quickly.
  • Shot bloks, Sport Beans- When my stomach quit wanting food, those would have been good. I will eat them pretty much anytime. But, they were not in plain sight, and I was not thinking very clearly. Next time, get them out on the table. I unpacked pounds of them, untouched, when we got home.
  • DO NOT take your Injinji's off and go to regular socks because your toes are swollen. I ended up with blisters that I should not have, because my toes were rubbing on each other. Stick to the plan. Stick to what you trained in. I know this, yet in the pain of the moment, I chose to ignore it.
  • Blister pads- I had amazing gel blister pads that I could have put on at the first hot spot. Instead I found them in my kit when we got to our hotel later. Take care of your feet. They are your lifeblood in an Ultra.
  • Keep drinking Tailwind, even when nothing sounds good. At one point, I started alternating bottles of Nuun, and those tasted so good, that I stopped alternating Tailwind and went to straight Nuun. I needed the calories, as I wasn't eating. Stick to the plan. Your body needs calories. I burned 10,000 calories over the course of the race. I didn't eat anywhere near that.
  • Compression sleeves when your legs get tired. I hate running in them, because I feel restricted. But I think the support might have helped when I was smoked. I had them. (I brought everything, remember?) I just didn't try them.
After the quick awards ceremony, we thanked everyone, shook hands with Josh, and headed for our hotel. Well, we headed to our first crappy hotel, got out of it, and headed to our cushy new hotel. Grabbed a shower, and went to Denny's on the corner, where I promptly drank a peanut butter milkshake, a Sprite, and ate a half-order of nachos, and a bacon cheesebuger with bacon cheddar tots. Calories inbound stat! Back at the room, I grabbed a quick Epsom salt bath, and climbed into bed. Passed out by 4pm, and slept until midnight, when I woke up ravenous again. Sat on the couch in the dark and ate April’s and my burger leftovers, cold, and washed them down with a couple of O'douls. Back to bed for another eight hours of comatose sleep.
Hit Denny's again in the morning, and ate another two-thousand calories. In fact, I haven't stopped eating all week. Couple that with not running, and I am porking up a little bit! I feel really good. The initial pains and blisters healed in a couple of days. My Achilles is still pissed, so I am resting it and waiting for my Physical Therapist to work me over on Tuesday. But all in all, I feel good. 
Nothing major on the schedule until October, when I start ramping up for California International Marathon and then Across the Years 48 hr in December.
I want to thank Josh and Emily, and all the Crusty Cap folks and volunteers in Salem for putting on such a fine event. I love a race where they know my name, and encourage me every lap. I love them even more when they hand me a delicious burrito. I will be back next year. And I especially want to thank my beautiful wife, April, for crewing me. She was positive, encouraging, and quick to offer a solution to any problem, when my brain quit working or wanted to give up. She asked what I needed every lap, and had it ready for me. She moved my bib and chips from wet clothes and shoes to dry clothes and shoes. She bent over and picked up every thing that I dropped that I couldn't bend over to pick up. She set up and tore down camp. She sat and watched her idiot husband run around in circles for 24 hrs. And above all, she encouraged, coaxed, cajoled, motivated, and refused to allow me to quit. Would have been a much shorter race (and recap) without her. Thanks, baby...

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