Not too long ago, in my training for the Nov. 6, Pinhoti Trail I earned my first letter (when I gotta a P) in my motivational technique of spelling the event name in order to show progress toward my goal. 100 when I gotta P? Well, I've progressed since then!
Next, (and I haven't really blogged about this, but I will when my memory fades a bit, and I can freely embellish), I earned a letter by delivering an address to the Florida Track Club in Gainesville, "Andy an Ultrarunner's Tail." This made me like Thomas Magnum and gave me PI.
PI is a long haul from Pinhoti Trail 100, but I have time, and feats of the feet must be rewarded! So, in search for my N, Orlando Ultrarunner Tracy Cook and I went to see my great friend Colorado Chase Squires to take on the Pine Valley's inaugural Northfork 50.
Andy, Tracy and Chase (together we add up to 17, a 3 a 10 and a 4) pre-race.
The trip had a rough start as I was unaware that Colorado Kool Aid is actually an alcoholic beverage. And I was chugging the stuff as if it was like.... well, Kool Aid! Fortunately Chase sent me out on a hangover curing running route the next day that involved running, sandwiches and lots of TV on the couch! Even then, it was a two-day recovery.
With me all better, Chase, Tracy and I set out for the race bright (and I do mean bright, the sun was out early, often and STRONG!) and early for the Rockies. We made it to the park in time to pick up our numbers and watch the flood of runners switching from the 50-Mile race to the 50K race in response to the 90+ degree temperature forecast. Tracy was already running the 50K as she prepares to make a run on qualifying for Boston in October. And Chase and I, well, we weren't giving in to the heat (well I did ask the race director to switch me to the 50K due to general pudginess. She was sympathetic, happily, Chase was not!)
As for the race, no lie, I was worried about finishing in 14 hours, not only because of the heat, but because traditionally I do not handle altitude well. I am a flatlander, can't cure that with reading or going to the gym (though a few pushaways couldn't hurt). So, I did seriously consider the 50K, but on race day with encouragement from my running buddies (don't worry, we'll wait all night for you to finish if we have to, and we probably will), I stayed with the 50M. I am really glad I did!
The course was breathtakingly beautiful from the start by the river all the way to the mountain's top. The course was nice and flat for all of .5 miles then it went straight up, and up, an up the mountain for about 2.5 miles. I really struggled on this climb, as I expected. I started with Chase and Tracy, but soon I was tracing their steps as I chased them. They pulled steadily ahead and by mile 2, they were out of sight. I pulled into the first aid station at 3 miles all alone and passed on the bacon and hash browns (yes they really had those, Chase told them, I'm hungry, not stoned!) and snagged some watermelon, which was the only solid food I ate all day, and filled my bottles. After a mile of gradually up and down, the big downhill finally arrived, and I sprang to life. I started fairly conservatively, but after a couple of minutes I started zinging past people. by mile 5.5 I'd caught my companions, by mile 6 they were no longer in sight, but behind me this time. I was feeling good thinking, "The heck with 14 hours, 12 is possible!"
I glided into the next aid station and was met by an angelic 6 year old bearing an ice cold sponge, perfect medicine for this scorching day during which temperatures would surpass 90 degrees. Once again I grabbed some watermelon and took off. According to the volunteers, it was only supposed to be 3 miles till the next aid station, and then 5 to the one after that. Turns out the aid station was 3.5, and all straight up the hill. After 3 miles of hard walking I slowed considerably, giving back most of the places I'd conquered while cruising down the previous hill. I had to keep checking my progress against objects more stationary than me to make sure I was moving at all! The whole time I was waiting for Chase and Tracy to pass me. But I pulled into the next aid station tired and battered, but not beaten and still in front of my comrades. As I was hanging out, refilling bottles and putting ice in all my clothing (turns out George Costanza was right about that issue) I saw the bright red shirt of my Orlando friend approaching. So, I hid and told the couple working the aid station to cheer for Tracy, and say, go Florida and junk like that. They cheered her on as she bounded up to the aid station. Sadly Chase was nowhere in sight. Evidently the heat as soured his stomach (he insisted it wasn't the 14 beers the night before, but he said, "Can't mess with the routine!" and blamed the heat). I knew as I saw Tracy just ease into the aid station that I'd never be able to keep up with her in these mountains. She's a much better climber and her slight frame is better in the altitude than my frame (which Mike Melton kindly described as "Body by Budwiser). Turns out I was right. Once again, she steadily pulled away from me, finally at one point she waved, and said, "See you later Andy." I was happy she was feeling so well and running so well, also, this shook me out of my altitude induced funk. From then on, at around mile 25, I would allow no one to pass me, and I steadily moved up the ranks. On the next long downhill I even caught Tracy again. Tracy later told me that no one had passed her since before mile 20, the way she was running, I believe it! Having caught Tracy, we chatted a while until the next long ascent where she left me for good. Still, she had peaked my confidence when she told me how far along in the race we were. I figured we were 18 or 19 miles in, but she correctly placed us at more like 25. I knew I had plenty of gas left for 25 more miles, provided I didn't try to match her on the ups. So, she pulled away. From then on the closest I got to her was being able to catch a glimpse of her red shirt in the distance as I re-passed all those turkeys that had overtaken me on the that earlier dreadful 3.5 climb.
Tracy ran very well. Her 7 hour time was exactly what I had predicted before the race. I hit the 50K mark in 7:02, just a minute or two behind her, and a little math told me that I only had to run 19 miles in 5 hours for a 12 hour finish. Forget 14, I was now going for 12. Of course, I had to base this on effort, because I quit wearing a watch years ago. I don't know much, but I do know how to push myself. I don't need a timepiece to tell me if I'm pushing or slacking. Finishing in 12 hours would leave no room for slacking, as I had to go right back up the very same hills that had just pushed me around for 30 miles!
As I made the turn to the left, which meant 50 Miles, instead of the turn to the right, which would have meant a finish in .5 miles and beer, I was rudely greeted by the same 3 mile climb that started the race. Well, I'd gotten through this one before, so I knew I could do it again. I trudged up. Still, even though my progress was glacial in pace, I passed several people hanging out under shade trees. "It's hot!" they exclaimed. "Hot, it's only 92, and it's that dry heat!" I replied. So on I trudged, waiting for people to pass, yet no one did. As I cruised into the aid station at mile 34, I looked longingly at the Hamms beer on the volunteers was quaffing. No, that must wait, I said. Wait until the end of the race (or near it anyway.)
The course then varied from the first loop, and I didn't really know where I was on the course, but after walking a few slight hills, I thought, balderdash, I'll never finish if I don't run, so I started running. It felt pretty good, so I ran some more. I passed a few more folks and hit the 40 mile aid station. 40 miles in the mountains! 40 at altitude! I can do this, I will do this!! The next 2.5 miles were a long downhill and I was feeling dandy (can't have dandy without Andy!). I narrowly avoided a cute little rattlesnake going into the aid station (me, I was going into the aid station, I don't know where the snake was going. He was a baby though, I know because he had a rattle :). I felt so good at 42.3 that when the volunteer offered me a beer I didn't turn it down! It was a sassy summer wheat, and it was great . . . while I was drinking it. It didn't taste so great as it nearly came up on the 3 mile climb out of the aid station. Darn, I knew I'd have to regain all that altitude I'd lost when I was cruising by everyone coming into the aid station, why did I have to drink that beer? Er, because it was 91 and the beer was cold, and I like beer, and it was free, and I'm not sharpest knife in the drawer!
To avoid do what Chase could not and avoid regurgitating, I actually had to sit down for about 3 minutes on a nice boulder in the shade. I gave myself a pep talk. "Hey, even if you puke you've only got 6 miles left, you can do that even with vomit all over you!" During my little break this gal that I'd passed going into the aid station repassed me, as did a couple of others. I knew that if I wanted to remain the champion of the midpackers in the race's 2nd half I'd have to get back and get going. So, after my 3 minute hiatus, I was up and at 'em. I didn't leave on the run, but on a controlled walk. When it was flat, I jogged, when it was up I walked. I was in holding until the last 3 miles which I knew were downhill. With 4 miles left I started feeling poorly again and was walking a flat portion when from out of nowhere came this fella from Charlotte who was not in the race, he was out there helping people after his buddy had finished the 50K. I said, hey, good work, he said, "You're coming with me, and I'm running!" So, I did. I hung right with him too, for about 100 feet, then I said, screw it, the downhill's coming soon enough. But then two more people passed me, once again led by Mr. Charlotte, who had circled back. I went with them again, this time, I stayed. Then I passed Mr. Charlotte and his caravan. I went off in search of the aid station and my 12 hour finish.
As I pulled into the aid station I'd repassed everyone who had passed me, and I was feeling good, but not great. I quickly got some water and took off to a nice long downhill. As I got into a rhythm I was feeling better and better. I set my sights on a couple from Denver that were running smoothly. I pushed and pushed and as I finally overtook them the lady said, "I can't believe I'm getting my @ss kicked by someone from Florida!" Well, if I needed any encouragement not to let up before race end, she gave it to me. There was no way I was going to fly by her, just to have her pass me back with 1.5 miles to go.
I ran almost all of the last 1.5. I had to slow down a couple of times so as not to pass Kristin, the lady that passed me while I was sitting and digesting my beer. I couldn't pass her because I'd made a deal with her, when she finished she was to announce, here comes Andy, so Tracy would get up and snap a picture of me as I finished. Well, I guess I stayed to close to Kristin, because Tracy didn't get a picture of me (sure she had a picture of some fat dude dressed like me finishing, but no way that was me!)
Finally, I had finished a mountain ultra in Colorado. This was a much better feeling than my only other Colorado effort at Leadville in 2008. As for my time, 12:04. Darn that beer, without it I'd have surely finished under that 1/2 day mark. Still, it was a good beer, and the course was so pretty, another 4 minutes were a-ok.
Chase was able to turn his issues around and finished in a a very respectable 12:53.
As for placing, well, I came in 18th. Not bad. I was first from Florida (yes and only!) 77 had signed up for the 50 Mile, but ony 32 finished, the rest either pulled a DNF or switched to the 50K. Chase was 25th, and Tracy was 44th out 78 in the 50K. But we all ran well, and had a great time! Most importantly, my confidence is back up and I'm injury free!
Wayne Newton may have found his heart in San Francisco, but I found my N in the The Rockies. I've never been anywhere like them. Great for sight seeing. Great for skiing. Great for training, really hard for racing!
A few more runs like the Northfork 50 and I'll go into Pinhoti just a shadow of my former self!