25 March 2012

Dances with Dirt Green Swamp 50 Miler - 3rd time around is 3x as hot!

                So I signed up for the Dances with Dirt – the  50k originally, then decided not to do the Santa Barbara 100 Miler, so switched to the 50 miler. Fifty milers are my favourite distance!
                It was cooler at the start, but we quickly warmed up. The high was 87, but it felt much hotter, especially with the sun, the constant exposed areas, and the incredibly high humidity.
                The race had the usual chill feel at the start of an ultra – joking, bantering, organizing, smiling, complimenting, chatting. I love ultras because you don’t get the super-hyped up stressed-out feeling that tends to permeate road races sometimes.
                We started at 5:30a.m., in complete pitch black darkness. Because I packed when I had food poisoning (Yes, I had food poisoning Sunday night onwards, so my week was a cycle of stomach issues and general weakness.), I forgot a lot of crucial items, including a water bottle with a  functioning top and a headlamp. Luckily, my dad had a headlamp at his place down here, which a volunteer duct taped smaller to fit on my head. I quickly learned it was a miserable option as a running headlamp – it was too heavy. Still, it lit the extremely dark path, which was filled with logs and roots and the usual. It was a 5 mile loop and with lots of tricky footing and extreme focus in following the trail. The course was well-marked with pink flags for fifty milers and reflective tape on the earlier sections in which we’d be running with headlamps. It took 48 minutes for the first section and when we got back to the start/finish/drop bag area, I left behind the heavy headlamp – and ran like hell for a guy running with light.
                “Hey, can I run next to you? My headlamp was really uncomfortable because it’s a borrowed one,” I asked a tall and friendly-looking guy.
                His response? Handing me a small light.
                Thus I stuck with Rob for the next few miles, until shortly after daylight when I hung back to pee. Later, he passed me – he had gotten lost at some point. I found the course exceptionally well-marked, but a few people still did get lost – which made me hyper alert.
                After I was alone, I began smelling campfire. No, make that fire. The course went through an area that had recently had a forest fire, and some of it was still smoldering. That gave a rather eerie mood to that area with small bits of smoke rising from the embers. My stomach also began hurting a little at this point, and I realized doing an ultra so soon after food poisoning was probably not a good idea. Oh well. Too late. I swallowed hard and hoped I could finish.
                The course is fairly flat (It’s Florida!) with some short ups and downs, nothing too crazy, with lots of running through fields and through little weird forest paths and past where armadillos live (though I didn’t see any). I ended up with lots of dirt inside my shoes, and my legs were pretty filthy upon finishing. The exposed sections felt especially brutal and it’s no wonder I had a sunburn after. The volunteers were super friendly, joking with me, being very helpful. The aid stations didn’t feature the most amazing food, but were fully stocked with all the basics, which was great.
                My back began aching, possibly from putting a much bigger than normal water bottle in my waistpack. Also, my hamstrings began cramping up, something that never happens, which was probably due to the heat. I was taking an endurolyte every hour, drinking a cup of Gatorade at every aid station table, and managing down just a few saletines every aid station. I also ate two and a half packs of Power Gel Blasts/Honey Stingers, but only one gu. My stomach was still destroyed from food poisoning. My whole body hurt – back, hamstrings, feet, oh my god, my toenails, all the dirt in my shoes was definitely causing blisters.
                And the heat. It was so hot. At one point, after peeing, everything felt all hot and horrible and I knew I was on the verge of being in trouble. So I squirted water in my face, poured it on my head, and walked. I was too hot. I needed to cool down. I spent time at aid stations putting ice in my bottles, drinking more Gatorade, and trying to remain mindful of my body and how it felt.
                The race went on. I wanted to cry, I was in so many pain. Everywhere. It was hot. Blindingly sunny. Humid. Every step ached. I laughed when I got near the water crossing, and my legs were so tired, I almost fell in.
                The course consists of a 5 mile loop, a 20 mile loop, repeat the 20 mile loop, and cruelly, do that 5 mile loop again. I say cruelly because when I was rehydrating and getting ready to finish my last 5 miles, they were announcing the winners of the 50miler. Grrrrr. I was still running.
                That five hour energy shot may have worked, or maybe it was my determination, or maybe it was that this part was shady – but I did great. I didn’t run as fast as my first loop obviously, but I kept up a steady pace, was laughing. Where the hell was the finish? This wasn’t five miles, it was fifteen. Oh my god. Faster. Push it. Yes.
                And the finish line. As I ran past the aid station that had helped me so many times so kindly, they erupted into cheers. I was so happy, I finished with my hands in the air.
                And then – the news.
                First in my age group, fourth woman overall. I took home a snazzy mug and a neat little clip light.
                And you know what?
                I bet I’ll be back next year – for more dirt, fun, and sun!

   Side Observation:
             I know why people run with headphones. Not only did I have Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie in my head, but I also had Wilson Phillip’s Hold On stuck in my head. I couldn’t get them out of my head, though when I ran through tricky-to-run-through Lord of the Rings-like gnome land, I sang Total Eclipse of the Heart out loud, much to the amusement of some spectators waiting to watch me do the water crossing (which luckily, was much shallower this year and didn’t require getting wet unless you were clumsy).

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