Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Another Dam 50K {A Race Recap}

With my Nathan handheld filled with water and having taken two salt pills, I headed down the now familiar bike path at Englewood MetroPark.

Rays peeked through the towering trees, the morning sun having matured into an afternoon blazer. The small field of participants at the Another Dam 50K had spread out in the 4 1/2 hours since the race start, and it felt like it was just Kim and me as we headed out for the fourth and final loop.

Our conversation had seemed to quiet, the day's effort settling in, but there was nothing that needed to be said. In those moments, as we made the turn toward the dam  (another turn on that dam road), we knew that we were going to do it. We were going to finish this race, a 50K -- something that seemed so audacious at times in the previous 16 weeks.

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The day before the race, checking out the course with the best friend and crew chief a girl could ask for.

Anther Dam 50K is a low-key race at a park just west of Dayton, Ohio. I was attracted to it for its timing - just far enough out from the IT100 that I could pace Joe and still have my own race -- and its price. The race has a no-frills option of $15, and I paid $25 to get a T-shirt and finisher's prize (a technical shirt that states on the sleeve that I did the whole dam thing).

Soon after I registered, my friend Kim found herself signing up and in the month or two leading up, my best friend from Nebraska volunteered to drive in and help crew. While the 50K gets a rap for being a glorified marathon, the 5 miles that sets it apart cannot be underestimated and her presence proved invaluable on Saturday.

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I couldn't settle my stomach. My nerves. My emotions.

Race morning, I wavered between tears and nausea. Blueberries in the bagel that I hoped would be plan were unsettling and the words of encouragement from my running buddies were so kind that I could feel them reverberate in each breath.

I think it was fear. The unknown. The build-up to this one day.

But once Pattie, Kim and I arrived at the park at 7:15 a.m., 45 minutes ahead of the 8 a.m. start, I had started to settle. The air was comfortable but not as cool as I'd like and the sun offered a welcome greeting. After a week of fretting about potential thunderstorms, the day's forecast offered another challenge - heat. The high was predicted to be in the mid- to high 80s and with a goal time of 6 hours, I knew that I would be finishing in the heat of the day.

Thankfully, my ultrarunning friends have taught me much. First, control what you can and don't worry about the rest (including weather). The only thing you can do is control how you react to those variables. Second, Joe sent me a message that morning to get ahead of my hydration, drinking early and often.

So I filled my pack with water and my handheld with Nuun Performance and gathered with Kim and the other participants.

With a long white beard and relaxed attitude, the race director reminded me of Lazarus from the Barkley Marathons. But I wonder how many people now make that comparison to every trail race director now.

He lined us up and gave a quick few words and with not so much as a horn, bell or cigarette lighting, he unceremoniously sent us off into the woods three minutes ahead of schedule.

"I don't have GPS," I declared as I fumbled with my watch, not accustomed to an event that starts early. So much a road runner, I tell you.

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Prior to the race, Kim and I had discussed a plan. We would run together as much as we could but there was no shame in falling back or surging ahead depending on what the day dealt each of us. And so I ran alongside my friend on the bike path on the first part of the course, which was described as a figure 8. (In reality, it looked like a crazy path with a middle finger at the top.)

We ran over a small foot bridge and turned right. We wound on paved trail and turned left onto a trail. There was some mud, some grass, and I breathed a sign of relief that my feet were home. My eyes darted right and left, trying to take in the sights but also looking for the orange flags that marked the 7.6-ish mile course.

We came out into an open green path and followed it briefly to more pavement before taking a sharp left.

A dam left.

Englewood, we learned, is known for five dams and part of the course is on a gravel path that runs parallel to one of them. It was open, hot, endless and the most grueling part of the course. But it was also flat, and Kim and I found ourselves moving at a decent clip amongst the crowd of runners.

I worried about the pace, in the 9's and far from what I had predicted. My goal was to run each of the four loops in 90 minutes, about an 11:45 pace, and we were more than 2 minutes faster. But I told myself not to get ahead, to think about the end game, and relax into it. There would be trail hills to walk (the organizers promised three significant inclines) and those would make up for it.

When we got to the turn, we found ourselves on a park road and running on a downhill. A glorious, shaded downhill. And so we continued at a solid pace albeit hot but it felt good.

And so it would go for that first loop. Over foot bridges and on dirt trails, across grass and up hills to gorgeous waterfalls. Just when things became mundane, the course would take a turn and we would find ourselves in new surroundings where the earth was cracked or the tree cover waned and shadows interrupted a bright, curving path.

Before we knew it, in about 1:20, we found ourselves at the start/finish area, with one loop down and three to go. Our best ever crew chief was there to help, and I decided to ditch my pack. My back was hurting from the weight and with the a handheld and good access to aid stations, I decided that I would be OK without it.

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The dam road. It's the place, I decided, that would make or break your race. And on the second loop, I decided that I needed to make it my race.

While I love(d) running with Kim, my frequent check-ins with pace and worry were wearing on me. I needed to run my pace, whatever that may be, and let her run hers. I needed to be selfish, to only worry about me, and allow her the same opportunity. So I told her that I was going to fall back and wished her well.

There's something about taking the pressure off that allows you to relax and, in that second loop, I did. My stride felt more natural, my stance taller, my body stronger. More able.

But to keep it that way, I had to be diligent with fueling and hydration - especially since I had ditched the pack. My goal was to take in 200 to 300 calories an hour and drink any time I even remotely thought about it. During the first loop, I had a pack of margarita Clif Shot Bloks and Nuun Performance and the second loop was Cherry Cola Honey Stingers.

There were two aid stations -- one at the start/finish with water and a sport drink that will go unnamed and one at the middle of the figure 8 with all kinds of trail goodies. I made my first stop in the middle of that second loop, refilling the handheld and slurping some of the refreshingly cool water. I also poured pickle juice into a cup and threw it down the hatch. Having been reminded the hard way during a particularly brutal training run, I wanted to be mindful of my salt and electrolyte intake. And so I continued this ritual of sorts through the third loop.

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"This is the dumbest thing I have ever done," I declared when I stopped at the picnic table after the second loop.

Looking back, there was no reason for me to say this. I was still running strong, still feeling good. Even having slowed down during the second loop, I had still finished it around 1:25. I think, mentally, I was getting tired. And when having discussed the race the day prior, I had projected that the third loop would be the hardest.

So there I was, taking two salt pills that Pattie so kindly got out, ready to take on the third loop. The part that I had told everyone would be the worst.

If running will teach you anything, though, it is that you can't ever declare that it will be one way and think it will be. While I was ready to fight and switch gears, I found myself cruising the third loop.

Well, sort of.

In the weeks prior to the race, I had a couple of tumbles running on trails. Part of it was rooty and wet conditions, part of it was laziness in picking up my feet. Joe instructed me that I would have a "dam" good race but I needed to pick up my "dam" feet.

It was great advice and if I had a mantra of any sort on Saturday, it was "Pick up your damn feet." And yet, I didn't. I fell once, on dirt, in the first loop but got up almost as quickly as I fell. In the third loop, I wasn't so lucky. On one of the wooden plank paths, running on autopilot, my toe got caught in a tiny gap and I flew forward. Thankfully, if there is a thankfully, I fell toward my left side - my good side and did so quickly that I couldn't brace myself. My knee and palm took the brunt of it and when I stood, I worried that this dumb thing could have taken me out.

It was  a short jog to the aid station, and I was able to rinse it off and assess. I was going to live! And live to run the rest of the race. I took a drink of water, poured some on my head and hat and grabbed a cup of pickle juice before going on my way.

I slowed up a bit just to see how things would feel but once I realized that the fall wouldn't affect my gait, I continued plugging forward. I walked the hills near the two waterfalls on the course (one up and one down) but was still running strong.

As I pulled into the aid station for the second time on the third loop, I heard a sweet, "Hey." I looked up and saw a beautiful girl.


"I know you!" I said with enthusiasm, so excited to see my friend.

She was heading out to finish the third loop but I had caught her and after pouring water on my head, hat and drinking some, I set out to find her. On the flat bike path, down a hill from the dam road, I ran past her. Slowed. Drank from my handheld. Got caught. And gained company for the final mile in.

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"What do you need?" the volunteer at the start/finish aid station asked.

"Do you have Mountain Dew?"

Mountain Dew. Once my drink of choice, I hadn't touched full-calorie soda in years and even a diet soda since last July. But somewhere on loop three, after trying one of the new Gingerade Gu's, I decided that solid calories were not my thing. I needed calories, though, and I decided it was time to embrace trail running and drink soda. Pepsi was gross but I could swallow the Mountain Dew. Flat and warm, it was calories and caffeine to keep me going.

I had a small cup at the picnic table before heading to Pattie the last time. I sprayed down with sunscreen and took two more salt pills. When she asked me how I was feeling, I said that it felt like I had run 23 miles but I was good.

Kim and I headed off quickly with the quiet understanding that we were going to do this. But we also knew that this loop would be different. It was hot, and we could feel it. And with the dam road just a mile away, promising an unrelenting sun, we knew that it could be slower and a lot less pretty.

I just didn't know how unpretty but soon I would.

I'm not sure whether it was the heat, the caffeine in the Mountain Dew or just the Dew itself, but my stomach started to feel funny. Nauseous. Sort of. And my heart, it was racing. The racing heart, I thought, could be contributing to the nausea.

I had been prepared to walk more in this loop but soon I found myself telling Kim, again, to move ahead. I needed to walk whatever this was out. If anything, I could get my heart rate down enough to feel good.

I walked much of mile 26, collecting myself at the aid station, and moved forward with a run walk. My plan was to do a 5:2 interval, which was pretty doable given the course. Unlike other trails I have been on (and despite what my elevation chart on Strava showed), I felt like this course was really runnable with very few trail hills. In fact, I think that was part of the challenge - so.much.running. (Imagine that!)

When I look back, one of the things that I most proud of is that I didn't get overly pissy during this time. I had accepted the reality but did not resign myself to less than what I could do.

Surprisingly, even though it was my slowest loop, the miles clicked by and I was surprised how quickly I found myself back on the bike path, heading to the finish. So kind as to end on an uphill, I walked to where the tree line started to give way to grass and parking lot and then I ran.

I ran the dam thing.

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With the clock reading 6:06, just 6 minutes slower than my goal, and the mercury at 86 degrees, I sat down on a bench happy.

Volunteers asked me if I needed anything -- water, pizza -- but in that moment, there was nothing.


  1. I LOVE sharing races and memories with you, running together, pushing each other, encouraging each other. Thanks for supporting me, moving me forward, and nudging me to signing up for crazy dam things. :)

  2. Fantastic report, and what an achievement! Congratulations on training and preparing, and then executing. That's a big dam achievement!

    Also, "If running will teach you anything, though, it is that you can't ever declare that it will be one way and think it will be." LOVE THIS because it's so true!

  3. Love this! and Love that I was able to come be on the crew! I promise to keep salt tabs on hand every time I see you just in case of emergency. xoxoxo

  4. Awesome race!! Way to keep mentally strong.
    I don't normally drink soda either but during a long endurance race, it is the best. It always makes me feel better but I'm sorry that it didn't work that good for you! :( I hope recovery is going well!!

  5. Congratulations! What an accomplishment!!

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