Nothing marks the beginning of the ulra season for me like the Way Too Cool 50K. If you live in another part of the country, I’m sure you have a similar race – the one where you finally see all your ultrarunning friends again after the hiatus of winter and its accompanying holiday binging. Cool is a big race – approximately 700 runners – and although I typically prefer fewer people, in this case that’s one of the draws. The excitement generated by seeing so many friends is a great way to start the year.
Jenelle and I carpooled down the hill together, and soon we were gathered in the start area with Jamie, Clare, Amy, and several hundred of our closest friends. Truthfully though, standing with those ladies before the gun was a great feeling. They are all fast, badass chicks who I know can push me to have a good race. Plus, they’re all super fun to run with!
My legs were still in pretty rough shape after Napa, and I could feel the soreness in my quads just walking around. I had run only easy, recovery miles in the previous six days, so taking off at 8-minute pace was a bit of a rude awakening for my legs. I knew I had put forth a truly hard effort at Napa and wasn’t nearly recovered, so my expectations for Cool were wide open. It would be nice to go under five hours and run a similar time to last year’s 4:56, but I also knew something like 5:30 might be in the cards. I was still pretty stoked about my new marathon PR and happy to accept whatever race I could muster at Cool.
I ran the first few miles with Jamie. That’s not typical for some reason, and it was a really nice way to feel relaxed about the fact that it was a race with a lot of fast people. Clare and Amy were just in front of us, and Jenelle, possessing the most leg speed of the group, took off out of sight. Jamie and I got caught up on life together before I eventually moved ahead on a downhill and kept my eyes glued to the back of Clare’s pink shirt in an attempt to stick with her.
|Please do not mock my running form. My PT would laugh at this picture. But what the heck - I'm having a blast!|
After about two miles, runners merge from the road onto singletrack. The landscape is marked by open, grassy hills dotted with broad, ancient oaks. We were still running in a long line of people both ahead and behind, but I felt the pace was right for me; I didn’t feel crowded or trapped. Shortly before the first aid station at mile eight I ducked into the bushes in a move that was to become a theme of this race for me, although this time it was just for a quick pee. This allowed a solid gap to open up between Clare and me, but I knew she was close and I worked on regaining my place.
After exiting the aid station, which is at the start/finish at the fire station, runners hit a nice, downhill singletrack heading toward the highway 49 crossing. I was flying down this technical section when I suddenly realized I really needed a bathroom. Like, NOW.
Have you ever run down the trail while squeezing your butt cheeks together in a desperate attempt not to soil yourself? Well, yeah, so have I. But doing it in a race, while trying to run fast? That’s a whole other level of challenge. Holy-moly, I thought I might die! I knew there was an outhouse at highway 49, so I just tried to hold myself together until then. Sadly, I had to slow my pace for this effort, but certain things are more important than being fast, you know?
Of course, the most horrific of nightmares ensued when I arrived at the Quarry Road trailhead outhouse at highway 49 and it was occupied. Gagh! Nevermind – I knew there was another port-a-potty about a quarter mile down the trail. No problem. I was sure I could make it.
Until I got there and it, too, was occupied.
I let the occupant in on my state with a bit of a door shake and a solid scream of frustration. I’m certain he appreciated that.
But wait for him to leave? It was a race! I was too freaked out by my own quandary, and my brain apparently had shut down because I made the huge mistake of running on down the trail, bathroom unused.
This section of the course, on Quarry Road, is quite wide open. No bushes. No trees. Just river to the left, and steep slope up to the right. No place with even a shred of privacy to do my business.
It only took a half mile before I knew that not stopping to wait for the outhouse had been a fatal error. I began to imagine the scenario if I crapped my pants. I can’t even write this without laughing hysterically, but at the time, I was near tears. It was sure to mean a DNF and an annihilation of my dignity.
Miraculously, I could see Clare and Jenelle ahead now, and I tried to focus on closing the distance. If I could just get my mind on something else, maybe the lack-of-bathroom situation wouldn’t seem so dire! Slowly, in my squeezing-the-butt-cheeks-shuffle, I came up behind them.
Just when I was close enough to say hello, I spied some picnic benches about a hundred yards off the trail. Could there be an outhouse near those benches??? It was hidden by a slight bend in the trail, but I was sure there must be. I sprinted off course to investigate. Hallelujah! I’m saved!
I must have spent at least five minutes in that outhouse. Maybe more. I could not have cared less about all the runners who, I knew, at that very moment, were flying by on the trail. I had found an empty outhouse and some toilet paper, and that was really all that mattered in life. Seriously. The race was over. I had won!
When I finally got back on the trail I wore a triumphant smile, but inside somewhere, I knew my body had not yet had its final say. What’re you gonna’ do though? I just kept running.
Turning up the American River Canyon Trail, we traveled my favorite miles of the course. Beautiful singletrack follows creek and waterfall, eventually connecting with the Western States Trail. Past the ALT aid station runners are treated to miles of smooth, runnable, and just slightly downhill singletrack. Heaven.
If it hadn’t been for my intestinal rumblings, that is.
One advantage of being familiar with the course was that I knew at this point there was no hope of a bathroom until the finish. I also knew the options for ducking into the bushes weren’t going to get much better. It required a sketchy scramble down a steep ravine to find any privacy, but, once again, what’re you gonna’ do? I was only worried that I might lose my balance and go tumbling down the hill through gobs of poison oak with my shorts around my ankles. Things could be worse than just a little upset stomach, right?
I had to make one final dash to the bushes to finally put an end to the drama. After each stop, I worked hard to catch back up to the same people. There’s the guy with the argyle arm warmers, the girl with the braids and green headband, the girl with the Urban Cow shirt. Every time. Same people. Was I even getting anywhere in this race?
Once I realized I had control over my bowels for good though, my attitude shot way up. Did I care that I had lost at least ten minutes to digestive issues? Nope. I really didn’t. I felt great, and I was no longer worried about finishing the race with diarrhea legs. (It’s the little things, you know?)
I was all smiles up Goat Hill, happily greeted Norm and Helen at the aid station, and had a blast pushing my pace to see if there was any possibility of catching up with any of the girls. I knew everyone had to be well in front of me at this point, but I figured I had nothing to lose by running hard the last eight miles.
I knew the last aid station was 1.4 miles from the finish, and I’d been keeping a close eye on the watch. I came through at 4:46, giving me 14 minutes to go sub-five – exactly 10 minute pace. Normally that would seem pretty doable at the end of a 50K, but I was also aware that those 1.4 were nearly all uphill miles. I ran straight through the aid station, knowing it would take a little effort to make it in under five hours.
I crossed the line in 4:59, ecstatic to see Jamie and Clare cheering me across the line. Jenelle and Amy had already gone to clean up. We'd all finished under five hours!
It may seem strange to feel good about a race where I had so many problems, but I can’t help feeling proud of myself. Given the post-Napa state of my legs, and the fact that I lost at least ten minutes to emergency bathroom breaks, I can hardly believe I was only three minutes slower than last year. The stakes were not high for me at Way Too Cool, and I figure if I was going to have a race with such issues, this was a good time to have it.
|Recovery beverages and frog cupcakes in the lounge.|
Afterwards, Jenelle, Jamie and I kicked back in the Patagonia “Recovery Lounge.” Oh yeah – Patagonia knows how to recover in style, with plenty of sofas and a keg. It was a perfect place to enjoy our frog cupcakes! Jenelle and I entertained ourselves when we found a copy of the latest Ultrarunning Magazine and searched out all our names on various top-100 lists for the year. I already knew that I train with some hardcore ladies, but I’m glad to see the rest of the ultrarunning world knows it, too.
Thanks and congratulations to RD Julie and everyone who worked hard to put on this fabulous event. It makes a perfect start to the season, and seems to get better every year!
Gretchen! I love your story! I have yet to experience what you went through.. but I am sure that it will happen in my future. It's expected, right?! I am thrilled you had such an amazing race - you are a HUGE inspiration to me! I must admit I chuckled a few times at your situation.. only because I probably would have acted just like you. Panicked, scared and not sure what to do. I am so glad you didn't crap your pants. That would have been awful in so many ways! Congrats on a great race!!!ReplyDelete
Aww thanks, Tina. Hopefully these situations aren't expected, but truthfully I can't figure out what I ate or what I did to cause it so ... I guess the lesson is that in ultras you should expect the unexpected. Congrats on your race, too!Delete
I laughed. I cried. Well, actually, I laughed more. "Way Too Go"!ReplyDelete
I laughed pretty hard too. I mean, once it was all over.Delete
I saw the sub-5 and was so impressed, but with crappy issues? You had raised the bar, girl. I was re-living the story all over again from my WS'05. It is a laughing matter once it's over, but in the moment of but-squeezing run...my hat goes off to ya")ReplyDelete
Thanks, Olga. Having those issues at a race like States though? That is the kind of thing I dread. Very "character building." Yeah, lovely. ;)Delete
Try to race for top 10 with it:) Luckily, I had no clue!Delete
As for heel striker, I think your form is just fine, heck, it works for you, what else do we need?
Oh, I don't really care about my form, I've just seen people get criticized for it on their own blog, (and not teasing, like Pam). but surely no one that obnoxious and stuck up reads my blog! :)Delete
Heel striker!!! Haha. Seriously, Gretchen, you are on some kind of Go-Girl-Wild-Ride! I am thrilled to be along to watch (so to speak). Amazing back to back runs. And a super glute workout to boot! (Weird coincidence: I was just writing a story about a guy out running and desperately looking for a bathroom, so reading your post was kind of surreal.) Keep on keepin' on......looking forward to the Rest of the Journey.ReplyDelete
You are such a meanie, Pam!!! (But you made me laugh pretty hard.) Well, we can't all be fancy Chi runners like you. ;) You'll really laugh when I tell you I considered not posting that picture because I couldn't let everyone see what a (gasp!) heel striker I am. Mostly because I've actually put some effort into my running form. Ha! Oh well.Delete
You won! You won! The race to the empty potty! Giggle. I laughed so hard reading this.ReplyDelete
Probably your foul bowels kept you from going too hard on your not-yet-completely-recovered legs and kept you from jumping into the deep end of a long, long recovery. Maybe you can, thus, thank the poops for keepin' it real.
Every time I read one of your race reports, I think, oh wow, I want to go do that race next year! Same thing with your Napa report last week.
Interesting thought about that helping prevent running too hard and thus overdoing it. The one suggestion made to me that makes sense about what happened is that perhaps my digestive system wasn't fully recovered from Napa yet. I actually think that might have been the case, and isn't it nice to think the body has its own built-in system to prevent you running too hard when not fully recovered? Go nature!Delete
Haha, it's like being stuck in a really bad dream! I'm glad you made it to the potty and finish line in time. You're super speedy.ReplyDelete
Oh, totally ,Karen! I hate those dreams!Delete
That was pretty hilarious! The weather was perfect out there! With the huge crowd of people, I didn't see you, or else I would have at least said hi. I'm glad you had a good run despite your GI problems. You would have really killed that race if you were fully recovered from Napa and didn't have those funky GI problems. See you at Miwok!ReplyDelete
Thanks, John. Sorry I missed you! I will definitely keep an eye out at Miwok!Delete
Diarrhea legs...that's where I lost it. I held it together, giggling quietly to myself throughout, and then I read that phrase and let out a roar of laughter. And I can't quiet explain the outburst to my co-worker; she just wouldn't understand ;)ReplyDelete
Girl, I KNOW YOUR PAIN! When nature strikes like that, there is NOTHING more important than getting to a bathroom, and when it happens I swear there are angels singing on high somewhere, and there's probably cheering and clapping, too. I'm glad you were able to finish so well and with diarrhea-less legs!! Woohoo!
Glad I could be the source of some work day humor, Paige. :) And YES, you clearly have been there because your description of the angles and the clapping - that is so right on! That's EXACTLY how it was!Delete
Gretchen, Thanks for the great read, as always! I had that "need to go NOW" feeling on a run a couple of weeks ago... it is simply mind-boggling how much energy it takes to squeeze those butt muscles and run at the same time. It is also mind-boggling how our brains can cease to function correctly in a race situation (skipping an occupied outhouse, for example). It's nice to hear that rock stars like you face the same challenges as the rest of us!ReplyDelete
Oh yeah, I think everyone faces this at some point, although this was the first time for me in a race. Hopefully the last! Still, somehow I recall it as a fun day. Talk about mind-boggling ...Delete
Hi, just wandered over here from the Ultrarunner podcast site and I loved this race report!ReplyDelete
I'm no expert, but it occurred to me looking at your "form" picture, since you are up in the air when the shot was taken, your body is still traveling forward from your rear leg push-off. Hence, by the time you landed your body would have moved forward over that front leg and you could well have landed more on your midfoot. If this was the pic of you landing then definitely a heel strike, but mid-flight hard to say.
Ha! I am vindicated - NOT a heel-striker! :) The wear pattern on my shoes would actually indicate I'm not a true heel-striker, but who knows. And, as Olga said, as long as what I'm doing is working (which it is, for now), no one really cares. (But I appreciate the feedback.)Delete
Glad you enjoyed the report.