Sunday, August 12, 2012

H9 Marathon- August 11, 2012

Honestly, I was scared to sign up for this race.  I was stewing on this race since late winter and finally, I just went ahead and signed up for it in June.  I've heard from other runners who ran this race previously about the level of difficulty and poor course markings.  I wasn't as worried about the level of difficulty so much because I knew I'd have 11.8 hours to finish.  I was more concerned with getting lost and no one finding me since I surmised this would be a small race and would likely run the majority of this race alone.

My goals for the race were as follows:  1.  Stay injury free  2. Eat and Drink 3. Run as much as I possibly can even if it was at a slow trot.  4.  Never stop on the climbs  5.  Do my very best  6.  Have fun!  7.  Use this as a good training run and as a gauge of how I might do on upcoming races that I am signed up for.  I figured it would be a good "test" to see where I am at now and what I might need to do to better prepare myself for my future races.

Three weeks before this race I ran the Coosa Backcountry trail with friends Jessica, Gayle, and Alan.  I am so glad this training run happened because it really boosted my confidence about H9 because it was the best I have ever felt on Coosa.  It was also awesome that we actually ran into Perry (RD of H9) weed eating the course while we were there.  He assured us that the course would be well marked.  That was my biggest fear, but felt so much better about this aspect of the race after talking with Perry.  So, after this particular training run, I knew H9 would not be the beast that I imagined it to be.  And, if it was, then I had it under control and felt prepared for whatever may be in store for me. 

As race day approaches I am finding that I am less nervous and then not nervous at all.  This is rare that I am actually NOT nervous before a race especially one at this level of difficulty.  I am actually excited and happy that I signed up for it and embrace the challenge.  I know I can do the mileage, I know I can climb hills, and I know that I am now stronger than I have ever been.  So, what is there to be scared of?  I know at the very least, that I will finish. 

The only other thing I want to have worked out is a time goal.  It just helps me to have a time in mind when preparing for a race.  So far, having a time goal has worked out for me and keeps me on track during a race.  But, this race it's harder for me to gauge because I don't know how many climbs there are and how much actual running there will be.  Finally, I just hope to come in between 8 hrs to 8.5 hours...and then just days before the race I settle in and hope for a sub 8 hour race. 

This race boasts about the August heat and humidity of this particular race.  I have prayed for rain all summer just for this race.  Funny how that works out for me as I end up running most of my long training runs in the rain for the last several weeks!  Always a reminder to becareful what I ask for!  The night before the race there is a terrible storm, and I am wide awake before 3am.  This is not unusual for me.  The thunder is so loud that it actually shakes our brick house and makes me jump in my bed!  I finally fall asleep before 4:30am only to be rudely awakened at 5:15am by the alarm.  I am so sleepy that I come back to bed and lay down for another 10 minutes.

I eat my usual peanut butter toast and a glass of milk, pack my last minute stuff and head to the race at Vogel State Park.  It's a much cooler day and surprise it's not raining anymore!  It's just wet and cool.  My favorite running weather!  How could I have asked for a better day? 

I check in at cottage 12 and pick up my awesome shirt, shorts, and a little lunch bag with the race logo on it.  Now, I am not really one for race schwagg as I'd really rather race for good chocolate, but this is really cool because there are none of those sponsor logos on the back.  It's all about the race.  I love it!

Now, I already know this race is really small, but I am shocked to discover that there are only 3 women signed up for it.  Really?  I just can't believe it.  I know there are some really tough fast ultra women out there, and I can't believe there are only 3 ladies including myself signed up.  Then I am still surprised to learn that only two of us ladies have shown up!  Margaret and myself!  So, now there is really no pressure of competition because I know how awesome Margaret is.  I know she won this race last year for the ladies.  All, I have to do is run my personal best.  I know that as long as I run my best race that I am going to be happy.  And, I have 2nd place.  So, all I need to do is focus on running.  I am already happy to run free before the race starts.

Perry gives a brief overview of the race directions which I listen particularly close to.  He says the course is really well marked and to follow all of the flags to our right marked with letters.  Great as I can follow flags just fine.  We line up for the race, and I am guessing there maybe 10-12 of us runners in total.  By far, my smallest race yet!

The race starts and I'm surprised that we are starting through the campground but that's just fine with me.  I end up running in the middle of two friends Tommy and Joe.  We are chit chatting and I learn they are from Atlanta, and we talk about a few races that we have run in.  We discover that we are all running The GA Jewel 50 mile and DRT 50k.  I'm guessing that somewhere between mile 3-4, Joe takes off and runs ahead, and then I run ahead of Tommy sometime after mile 4.  I ran behind him for awhile, but I can already see that his running gait or stride has changed and he's slowing down on the climb up Coosa.  I have finally felt warmed up at this point, and I am ready to go.  I started this race slower and now I am ready to go get it.  So, I ask Tommy if I can get by, and he kindly obliges, and I never see him again the entire race.  So, at least I am not DFL because honestly when I was on the starting line and saw all those guys, I figured that I would be DFL even if I did get 2nd place for the ladies...!  I know it's a matter of time when I do come in last, but it just wasn't going to be this day.

So now, at this point, I am climbing Coosa alone.  It's really not bad at all.  Nothing like I experienced at the DRT run, and I am actually able to run sections of Coosa Bald.  Imagine that! Then at some point, I am surprised that the flags are turning me away from Coosa down some FS road.  I am carefully watching all of the flags, and I continue to see the flags, so I know I am on course.  Eventually, this rolling FS road turns into one mother of a hill.  It is steep.  It kind of reminds me of the one at The Jewel race I ran. But, I make it up that one and continue to run.

I get to the 2nd aid station at mile 8 and see Aaron there with another volunteer.  I do not know her, but she told me she ran this same race last year and placed 2nd!  These volunteers were so awesome and kept me laughing the entire few minutes that I was there!  I asked them if I had to loop back around up that same hill, and they said, "no" and showed me which direction I would run in next and when I came back to them I'd be at mile 18 or so and would come in from a different direction behind their aid station and not in front of it like I did this time.  I said, "Good, because that hill I just came up was terrible, and I don't want to do that one again!"  This came out sounding so funny that we all laughed hysterically and then Aaron said, "Well, then you are not going to like this next one coming up!" and again we all bust out laughing again!  They by far, get the award for the most entertaining volunteer crew that I have ever encountered!  I almost just wanted to hang out and laugh some more as they were so much fun!  But, dammit, I've got another 18 miles to go! 

So, I'm off and climbing up this hill and long about maybe mile 8.5?  This guy scares the crap out of me running and yelling behind my back.  He's asking me if , "I went the right way?".  I said, "yes, I have followed all of the flags, and they are still on my right and that the volunteers at the aid station pointed me in this direction".  He said that he has run 18 miles.  I am floored that I am actually being lapped by someone on my race.  I've been running just over 2 hours at this point.  I can't figure out how he could have run 9 miles an hour on this course, and he's not from  I ask him his name, and he says Johnny C.  I recognize his name from The Jewel race that I ran, as he won that race in a questionable speedy time there as well.  He is quick to ask me which race I am running and if I am in the 50 mile race.  I tell him, no, I am in the marathon race and he says that he is to and that he is in the lead.  So, I tell him that he is lapping me as I figure there is at least one person behind me as i passed him at least 4 miles ago.  He also says he has already been up this hill once.  I again tell him that I KNOW that I am in the right direction.  He runs ahead and then it's not long before he is yelling again and headed my way...  I need to start a new paragraph now because my friends who know me well are going to slap their heads when they read what happens next!

So, Johnny runs to me and asks me to run with him because he is not sure if he is going the right way and wants me to help him determine if he should go left or right!!!  LOL  I am laughing hysterically in my head because he has just unknowingly asked a very directionally challenged person for directions on a race course that I have only run sections of!  If you refer back to my "Stupid is as Stupid Does" this will be even more funny to you.  I am not about to tell him of my worst personal flaw and shortcoming because I do have some pride, and I am happy to help if I can.  Afterall, I am just out here following  I mean seriously, who cannot follow flags...haha!  I am really pretty entertained at this point, so I pick up my pace to keep up with him.  He is kind enough to ask me if I am ok as we are running at a good clip, and I say, "sure, I needed to pick it up at this point."...LOL  Poor guy...I do kind of feel bad for him.

We make it to the top of Coosa, and I see his dilemma.  He has probably run over 19 miles at this point and there are flags to the right, which I know I should go down but then there are flags to his left turning into the top of Coosa.  He is not sure where to go.  Well, since he said he ran 18 miles already when I first saw him, I figure he must need to go down Coosa into the park as I know it's about 7 miles down give or take.  So, I point him in that direction and before he does I ask him if he thinks I should go to the right where the flags are, and he says, "I don't know" before he takes off down Coosa.  I just had to laugh, but later realized that he should have known because he would have already run down that section if he was indeed at the mileage he claimed he was at.  It did make me wonder.

So, I head down this section, and I know it from when I was here 3 weeks prior.  It's pretty rocky, muddy, steep, and wet, so I carefully make my way down to the FS road.  Now, I am perplexed because all I see are flags to my left straight away.  I remember Perry's warning that if we see flags to our left then that's the wrong direction.  I have followed all the flags to my right thus far.  So, I walk into the middle of the road and look to the road on my right, and I can see that there is an orange flag on the right down that road.  So, I naturally take the right and run down this FS road.

I am enjoying my run when a guy catches up to me.  He then tells me that he made a wrong turn and had to back track about a half mile because the flags were marked on the left and they should have been to the right.  We quickly run up on a water station and dam this is supposed to be at mile 14, and I realize I have missed the mile 11 aid station!  I ask this runner what he thinks I should do, and he advises me to run in to the 18 mile station and have them help me figure it out.  Based on his GPS and my GPS calculation we estimate that I lost about 2 miles.  DARN!  I am really really disappointed!  I want the race to be a fair race, and I don't want to cheat myself.  So, now I am worried.  Soon Margaret catches up to me, and I explain how I lost 2 miles and will have to figure it out at the next aid station. 

So for the next several miles, I am bothered by this because I figure by cutting 2 miles that I could quite unfairly come in ahead of some of the guys that I shouldn't be ahead of.  I know I am going to need to make up the mileage or else I won't feel right about the race. 

I make it off the FS road and start on a trail and there is a Gatorade station there, so I grab one and run with the bottle.  This trail is gorgeous as I run along a ridge, and it's uphill but who cares?  It's beautiful up here.  I trudge along as quickly as I can and run when I can.  I am really enjoying this section.  It's so quiet and peaceful and the weather is perfect. 

I make it to the 18 mile aid station where the volunteers are still happy and laughing.  My GPS reads 17.56 and I realize that even though I cut off 2 miles, that dang..I am making great time for ME...I am actually quite surprised that I am running as fast as I am and that I am actually running pretty much everything including small sections of hills and still only climbing the major mountains.

So, I tell the volunteers that I made a "boo boo" and explained what happened.  Aaron advises I run into the finish and ask Kena what to do and she could have me run around some trails at the park.  I really don't want to do this because I do not want to finish and not actually be finished, and I do not want to run to finish ahead of some other runners that I wouldn't have finished ahead of fairly.  So, I tell Aaron that I'll make up the mileage before the finish.  Aaron was kind enough to explain which section of the trail I missed and has the mileage in front of him and determines I missed 2.1 miles.  That's awesome because I knew it was at least 2 miles based on my discussion with the previous runner who also missed the section because of the flags being on the left.  The 3 volunteers there all assured me that "it's ok" and that it happens at every ultra and at least 4 other runners have gotten confused as well. 

So, after spending way too long at the aid station this time trying to figure out my mistake, I head back up the same hill that I met Johnny on.  I come out onto a FS road and see Perry there, and I tell him what happened although he already knew what happened when he radioed in at the aid station and the volunteers were explaining that I got confused at WildCat gap.  So, I tell him not to worry about me because I intend to make up 2 miles before I finish, and I don't want anyone to worry if it's taking me longer to finish than what it should. Perry points in the next direction I am to run in on yet another trail.

So, I go running on the trail and then the flags point yet to another FS road.  I haven't been on this road before, and I start to worry if I am on the right road, but here again I am following all the flags and Perry has pointed me in this direction.  I decide to quit worrying, then I run very low on water and then I am virtually out of water.  But, guess what?  Now, my GPS says I am at 22.69 and I am at the road, and I know exactly where I am at!!  So, I decide to turn around and run to 23.74 miles which would be 1.05 miles and then turn around to run back to the road for my 2.1 miles to make up the time that I lost.  As I am running my one mile back, I pass 3 guys at different points, and I tell them as I pass that I am making up my 2.1 miles that I lost.  It's funny that I was previously running down this mile stretch and here these guys are walking when I pass them going back up.  But, I am not finding it too funny when I to have to stop and walk up up and up some more.  That one mile couldn't pass quick enough.  So, at 23.74 arrives I turn around and go back to the road.  I know that I am not far now from the finish! 

I am happy and I am sad.  I am happy because I've just started to feel tired around mile 21 to 22, and I feel quite good, and I didn't expect to feel this good at the end.  I never hit a low point or a lull physically.   I am happy because I know I've run this course so much faster than I thought I could.  I am running to the finish, and I feel strong as it's a nice even and downhill finish.  I am sad because it's almost over, and I can run some more!  Then excited because maybe just maybe I can feel ok running 50 miles at the Jewel, after all it's still another 10 weeks away. 

I run to the finish and another runner who has finished his marathon is clapping and cheering me in.  Kena tells me I can stop running now, but I just want to run it in to the cottage because I  have been out of water and want some water pretty bad now. I stop my Garmin and Holy Cow, it says 6:51 hours.  What?  I look again, yes, it's sub 7 hours!  I finished an hour plus faster that I anticipated!

Kena is so sweet and has offered to make me anything I want to eat, but all I want right now is water, and I promise to eat before I drive home.  I try to tell her what happened but she says that Perry already told her and that I was going to make up my miles.  I tell her that I did make them up, and I am so glad I did so that the other 3 runners could come in before me who were actually ahead of me.  I also share some of the story about Johnny C. 

Kena was very apologetic about the flags at WildCat Gap and assures me that there were others who were confused as well.  It's really ok.  I was disappointed that I didn't figure it out on my own, but I know how much work they put into that course.  I saw so many areas where it had been weed eated and cleared and there were so many flags. Often times, I had no clue where I was at, but just watched the flags.   I can't imagine how much time it took to mark that course.  I really felt they did a great job overall.  I would certainly run this race again, and I would definitely recommend this one to any runner looking for a challenge.  I loved the course.

In the end, I just felt extremely grateful and thankful for so many things.  Thankful first, to my husband, Lee who affords me the time to run and is so supportive of my running and never says I shouldn't or that I can't.  And, who has never asked, why?  So, thankful that I have the opportunity to do something I love and have wanted to do for so many years, but it was never the right time.  Thankful to my running friends who have meet me rain, snow, sun, heat, humidity, before dawn and after, just to run those long grueling trails.  Who put up with me on my good days and my not so good days.  Who when I ask if we can run farther, they do even if they don't always want to.  Thankful they offer advice and share their own knowledge which only helps my running and hopefully, I am also helping them. 

Most of all, thankful that I am able to be me.