Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Alaska Endurance Trail Run race report - part 1

This weekend, I ran my first 24 hour race, the Alaska Endurance Trail Run, in Fairbanks. Let me tell you all about it. Fairbanks is about 300 miles from where I live, so I took the day off work on Friday, and drove up there. I totally enjoyed the trip because I got to drive my new car, and the sun was shining the whole way (hello, sunroof!!). I took my 17 year old daughter and one of her friends with me to crew for me, and that was a GREAT decision, even though said 17 year old daughter did not enjoy the sunroof nearly as much as I did.

“Mom, can you please close the sunroof and turn the music down? It’s too loud.”… talk about role reversal… it’s like she’s the old lady and I’m the teenager… very weird.

The course for this race is a 6 mile loop, with an aid station at the start and finish line, and an unmanned water drop at about halfway around. Because there was such frequent opportunities for water, I didn’t feel like I needed to wear my hydration vest, and instead opted to carry a small handheld water bottle, refilling at both places each loop. The only problem with this was that on Friday morning I could not find my handheld anywhere. So when I got to Fairbanks, I made a quick stop at Beaver Sports, and got a Nathan handheld soft flask to use. It was the first time I used such a thing, and it worked pretty well, and wasn’t too cumbersome to hold. It had a strap that wrapped around my wrist so I didn’t have to grip it at all to hang on to it, just to use it.

I had arranged to have access to a friend’s cabin. Susie was also running the race, and agreed to let us stay at her place for the weekend. I went there before the race and grabbed a quick nap, since I was tired from the drive. After my nap, I got to the starting area with about an hour to get ready, which I thought would be more than enough time, but turned out to just barely be enough. There were 9 people that chose the 24 hour race, and soon enough we were all lined up at the starting line, setting our watches:

Photo credit: Chris Butcher

Susie ran the first loop with me, which was pretty helpful. The course was well marked,  but there were a couple of places where there was at least a possibility of going the wrong way if I had been by myself.  We ended the first lap feeling pretty strong:

Photo credit: Chris Butcher

That's me in the pink. The second lap I ran by myself. I started with Susie, but she had decided on a run/walk interval strategy. I had no strategy, except to walk up all the hills. I decided to simply run for as long as it felt good to run, and then walk when I needed to. I waved goodbye to Susie, and ran off when she did her first walk interval. We wound up leapfrogging each other throughout the race, I think.

Travis paced me on the third loop, and I had begun to feel the miles enough to complain about his fresh legs.  I was still moving along fairly well though, and we finished that loop right after midnight, and I said goodnight to Travis.  I told him to thank his wife for letting him spend his Friday evening pacing me. I hope he remembered  Kim, you’re awesome!!
Loop 4 and the first half of loop 5 passed without incident. At some point during these 2 loops, the sun set and rose again. The sun is just amazing during Alaskan summers, and this was one of the most amazing things about this race. Luckily I wasn’t too tired yet to appreciate it. As I was running, the sun slowly set, and the sky in that direction turned pink and orange. It never got dark, and at some indefinable point, the sunset became a sunrise, and the sun slowly rose. It was truly beautiful.

 Just after leaving the water station halfway through loop 5, my Garmin died. I am missing a good chunk of data from loop 5, which I found very annoying. When I got back to the start area, I plugged my Garmin into a portable charger, tucked it into a waist belt, changed my shoes, and put on a long sleeved shirt and long pants over my shorts and tank. I had also planned on dealing with some chafing to my chest where the band of my sports bra was rubbing, and forgot, until I took off down the trail, and noticed it within about 50 feet, and had to turn around and come back. I applied some KT tape, which was actually fairly difficult as there was no privacy and I was trying to hide in my sleeping bag and put the tape on at the same time. Then I took off down the trail again, on loop 6.

This was when things really started getting hard. By the time I was done with loop 6, I was really tired and cold. I stopped at the end of the loop, and curled up in my sleeping bag. I figured I would sleep for a little while, but didn’t wake up until heard the race director announcing the pre-race meeting for the 12 hour race, just before 8 am. I probably wound up sleeping for an hour and a half or so. To avoid the crowd, I stayed put until the new runners left, then got up and got moving again.

Probably because I had stopped running for so long, my legs were really stiff and sore when  I started loop 7, but I still managed to run about half of that loop. At that point, I started contemplating quitting. I was tired, I was hurting, and I just didn’t feel like running anymore. I even texted Travis, who was planning on running another loop with me later, saying I was done. But I knew at that point it was just because I was tired, and off I went on another loop.

Loop 8 was horrible. By then, it was late morning, and it had gotten hot out. My water bottle that needed to last 3 miles, lasted me less than a mile. By the time I got to the water station, I was really struggling to just put one foot in front of the other.  I refilled my water bottle, and sat down against a tree for a few minutes to gather strength for the last 3 miles of the loop. During the second half of that loop, a lot of it was in fields, out in the sun, and I was getting pretty dehydrated, I think. I knew I needed to drink my water, but I didn’t want to. I had to force myself to drink it, and even then, I still had a couple miles to go when I ran out.  My feet were killing me, and my quads were totally cramped up, and I felt that it was physically impossible to run. I watched fresher 12 hour and 6 hour runners go by enviously. I didn’t feel like I would ever make it back to the starting area. By the time I made it back, I felt like I was in pretty rough shape. Travis had shown up by that point, but I wasn’t able to go back out. Everyone was very helpful, and offered me Tailwind, a different flavor than what I had been  drinking the whole race, and which I suddenly found completely revolting, water, apples, etc. The only thing I could even remotely consider was a popsicle, which I accepted gratefully.

Of course, as soon as I stopped, I started shivering, which is completely normal for me. I sat in a chair, wrapped in my sleeping bag until I warmed up again and ate my popsicle. It was delicious. At that point, I knew that I really was done running. Loop 8 had taken me almost 3 hours.

I knew Travis was going to check on me when he got back from running his loop, and I know he was hoping to convince me to do another loop. I felt bad, but at that point, all I wanted was to get a shower, so I left before he got back. Sorry, Travis!! We got some dinner, then went back to be there for the end of the race.

All told, I got 8 loops, officially 48 miles, in 18 hours, although the course was just over 6 miles, so it was actually a little more. I had 2 goals for this race: to keep moving for the full 24 hours, and to get 75 miles. I had gotten 41 miles last September during a 12 hour race, so I thought that was doable. I didn’t make either of those goals, but I did go farther than  I ever have before, and I knew when to stop. Although I didn’t perform as well as I wanted, and was miserable for the last little while of the race, the race itself was amazing. The trails were all very runnable, with no exceptionally steep climbs, and the route was pretty.

The aid station was well stocked with just about everything imaginable. The volunteers and director were kind and helpful, and I lacked for absolutely nothing during the race. I brought my own fuel and only used my Tailwind and Nuun out of my own stash. I think it was a really good idea to have staggered start times so that almost everyone finished at the same time, because the finish area became a great little party, with burgers and grilled salmon, and plenty of time to trade stories and ccelebrate with friends:

We stayed the night Saturday night at my friend’s cabin, which was just overwhelmingly cute, then drove home on Sunday. Halfway home, I stopped to get my daily run in on some trails close to the highway, and managed 1.17 miles without any significant difficulty, which sort of surprised me. I’ve run every day since then, with virtually no residual soreness. I took amino acids before the start, every 4 hours during the race and immediately afterwards, and I think it helped prevent some of the soreness.

I’m definitely doing some version of this race again and I would totally encourage anyone that feels like they can do at least the 6 hour event to give it a try. It really was a great race!!!

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