Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Backroads in Hell

The very first ultra I signed up for, the Booneville Backroads Ultra is my favorite race. The people are awesome, the experience is awesome, and the race is hard. There are no race markings, long distances between aid stations, and inclement weather every year. After completing the 100k in 2016 and the 100 mile last year, I decided I'd come back and give the 100k another go. I am looking for a trail 100 miler this year since my last two were gravel roads, so I didn't want to take the Sunday off to do the 100 miler here. Plus, why not try to break the 12:17 hours that I finished in last time?

It was not going to be a day to run a PR.

For the first time in 3 years there was no rain in the forecast during this race. It hadn't rained for days leading up to it, and Saturday was calling for full sun and heat. I would have never imagined that a hot sunny day would be worse conditions than rain and hail that we ran through last year. But it was hot! The temperatures reached 97 degrees with 104 degree heat index. Adding to that, there wasn't a cloud in the sky or any chance for shade all day. And for the first time ever, no breeze in Iowa.

At first I thought heat would be okay. I run through the summer in the heat of the afternoon, because I hate early mornings, and I was sure it wouldn't affect me.

The race started cool enough and at the 10 mile aid station I was feeling great. As usual, my awesome crew was there - Katie, and our friends Matt and Jolie.
The second aid station isn't until 23 miles in, and I knew that would be a hard 13 miles. It was getting hot and I could tell I was going to go through tons of Tailwind on this day. But the worst part was my feet. My experiences the past two years at Booneville have been wet and that meant soft gravel roads and awful muddy B roads. This year, the roads felt like concrete. And though I was initially ecstatic that the B roads were dry, they actually felt even worse than the gravel. I hadn't realized the break that the mud was on my minimal shoe-wearing feet. My Vibram FiveFingers V-Trail are definitely up for the challenge, but the bottoms of my feet felt it more than I remembered.

By the time I got to the 30 mile aid station, I was hot. And worse, I was chafing. At the 23 station Katie put some ice in my buff and it helped keep me cool around my neck, but it also melted and got my shorts wet. So now they were wet and rubbing my thighs and I'd never chafed this early before. But the ice was a necessity and I took off for what I expected to be the hardest part of the race: the last 12 miles before I get a pacer. And that was a tough stretch, but it didn't prove to be the worst.

At the 42 aid station I thought that I was okay, though I was hot and tired. I don't know if it was the heat or my less than impressive training that led to my very tired legs. But I figured I'd be okay now that Matt would run with me to 53 and then Katie to the end. I was wrong again.

Matt and I took off and soon we were walking at best. More like trudging. I was completely out of energy. And I was hot. Every time I saw shade, we stopped. And after awhile, my bottles were hot and I was starting to feel like I needed something cool. There was nothing to be found. And the hills kept coming.

Matt helped get me through this awful section. He was patient and encouraging, and probably the only reason I actually made it to the next aid station. Several times I had to stop and dry heave on the side of the road, which was a new unwelcome experience in ultras.

Aid Station 53 finally appeared and I took my sweet time cooling off, eating, and getting myself back to form. The volunteers were amazing and helpful, and I started to feel better. And I got to have Katie run with me to finish the race. Most of all, the sun started to go down and the temperature started to drop. And we started to run to the finish.

This was a tough race. Instead of finishing under 12 hours like I planned, it took me 15:07:37 and I finished in 5th place. Everyone took extra time and many of the 100 milers dropped early. But I learned a few things. Like, mud roads are better than super hot days. I can't ever underestimate an ultra. I definitely need to train better.

Next time, Booneville. I'll tame you, yet.

Gear: Garmin Fenix 5X watch, Vibram FiveFingers V-Trail shoes, Injinji Compression socks, Ultimate Direction AK2 vest, Camelback insulated bottles, Tailwind Nutrition, Aftershockz Trekz Titanium bone-conduction headphones, Booneville buff, Goodr sunglasses, Road ID bracelet (in case I died on the side of the road).

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