Sunday, November 6, 2011

2011 Surf The Murph 50k

I've been targeting Surf the Murph as my end of the year race for a while.  Initially I was going to attempt the 50 miler, but based on how the summer had gone I adjusted my goal and decided that the 50k would be a smarter choice for me. Surf the Murph is a little unusual in that because the farthest distance is 50 miles, the other races they offer are a little off in their distances. The 50 mile course is 3 loops, the 50k course is 2 loops and the 25k course is 1 loop.  This means the 50k course is long by about 2.5 miles.  I mentioned the race to a couple of running friends, Maggie and Heather.  Maggie, the seasoned ultra runner was very interested in going down for the event.  Heather's interest surprised me a little. It was a bit out of her comfort zone, but I think that was the appeal of the event to her. Maggie wound up signing up to do the 50 miler along with another local ultra runner Tim. Heather and I both signed up for the 50k. Erin and Cory came along to crew for us, and as an added bonus, Rick came down to the cities for the weekend with one of his daughters.

The week before the race wasn't quite what I was hoping for.  I had planned on running some short hard runs to finish my taper and prepare for the race. Instead, I was sick with a cold and not getting much sleep, let alone doing any running at all.

The day before the race, Erin and I picked up Heather after work and drove down to the cities.  On the way down we stopped in Freeport at Charlie's Café for supper.  By the time we made it to the hotel it was around 9:00 and after checking in we headed to bed straight away.

The next morning we got up, got dressed and drove to the park.  It was a bit on the cold side with a very clear sky.  We picked up our packets and then met up with Maggie, Tim and Cory.  Maggie and Tim started an hour before Heather and I.  Heather and I had lots of time so we just talked with Tim and Maggie has they were getting ready.  I wandered off to use the bathroom and ran across Rick and brought him over to the group. Eventually we made our way to the starting area and watched Tim and Maggie set off into the dark.  As they ran off, we could see the headlamps bob through the trees for a short while before the forest swallowed them completely.

Heather and I then took some time to get our gear rounded up. It wasn't long before we were standing around listening to our final announcements before heading off.  Just before the race director started to give her talk I overheard her on her cell phone saying something about #8.  I thought this was an odd coincidence because I noticed Maggie's bib number was 8, but didn't think much more about this at the time. The race director described the course and how it was marked before we all lined up and took off. Heather and I started near the back of the pack, the advantage to this was being able to see the line of runners ahead of us with their headlamps on and have some idea of what was coming.  It didn't take too long before she was a good bit ahead of me I and I was in a group of 4 at the very back of the pack.

My pack of 4 stayed loosely together for the first couple of miles.  There were a couple of girls who had come to the race together dressed in mother nature costumes, another lady in white and myself. I would gain ground on the downhill, but lose some on the uphill. After around a half an hour the sun was coming up and the headlamps weren't doing much good anymore.  Around this time the pair of ladies in the mother nature costumes decided to go their separate ways with one of them picking up the pace.  The other paired up with the lady in white. Even though my average pace was basically the same as the 2 ladies, I didn't get much of a chance to talk with them because they kept a much more consistent pace.

Near mile 3 was the first aid station along the course.  When I arrived I looked over the spread of food they had and was relived at how good everything looked.  My initial plan was to carry most of my own calories, but after seeing what they had I quickly changed the plan to use the calories I was carrying as emergency rations and to do my fueling at the aid stations.  At the first stop I had part of a PB&J sandwich, some sort of chewy candy, some coke, and a couple of endurolytes.

The 2 ladies that had paired up beat me into the aid station, but as I left they were still chatting with the volunteers. I didn't feel rushed, but it was nice to have gained a little time through the aid station. I hadn't thought too much about the terrain up until that point because it was dark out, but now with the growing light I could see just how much up and down there would be on the course and I knew that it was more then I had planned on. The lead I had out of the aid station didn't last for long before the 2 ladies passed me again and I was once again at the back of the pack.  Normally this bothers me a little and I try to push myself harder so I'm not last, however today it didn't.  I had prepared to be out on the course for a long time and knew I had to pace correctly or I wouldn't finish. I took this opportunity to look around and enjoy just how beautiful this course was, before stumbling on a tree root.

After  more hills then I would have liked, I was making my way into the second aid station.  My feet were a bit banged up from kicking rocks and sticks along the trail, but although I stumbled I had not fallen. As I went into the second aid station, I saw the 2 ladies I had been following still there.  It was nice to see I wasn't terribly far behind.  I had some more coke, heed,  endurolytes, another chunk of PB&J and then I made the discovery that they had peeps and a smile crept across my face.  After putting down 5 or 6 of the pumpkin peeps I headed out again to the trail and again I had a lead on the 2 ladies who lingered just a bit longer at the aid station.

Again my lead didn't last for long, but since the course had flattened out I had more of an opportunity to talk to them as they passed.  Once mentioned that she had run the Fargo marathon and we talked a little about Trail Mix. Eventually we found a hill and I dropped back far enough that conversation was impossible. Despite falling back a little I was picking up the pace a little on this flat section.  There was a lake on the right of the trail and I thought I could make out people running on the other side of it. I figured the trail went around the perimeter of the lake and because of this was probably flat and I was right. I made a mental note to make up time in this section when I came back around for the second lap of the course.

After the lake there were a few more hills, but nothing like the first section of the course.  Before long I was rolling into the third rest area and again found the 2 ladies that I has been going back and forth with.  At this stop I finished off my Poweraid and had my bottle filled with heed.  I also had some more peeps, another bit of PB&J and some fun size snickers. As I looked up to head out I couldn't figure out what trail to take, none of them were marked for the race.  I asked a volunteer and that's when they pointed me to a small opening in the trees with an orange flag.  I came up with some comment about them being sadistic, but by then I had already set off and the comment never made it past my lips. The 'trail' we were on was barely wide enough for 1 person and had a few logs that needed to be either climbed over or under.  In reality this was fun, but a bit more demanding then what I was expecting from the first part of the course.  This section didn't last for very long and then I was out on the open trail again.  I began to think about what was coming, the race director had talked about a section of the course called 'smurf village' and I was getting excited for it. From the last aid station it should be about 2 miles. These next 2 miles passed slowly for me.  I had made it out of the aid station before the 2 ladies and I was expecting them to catch up again, but this time they didn't.  Instead the 25k runners started to overtake me.

Shortly after the leaders of the 25k race had gone by, I entered a section of the course that seemed like it was a field of tall reeds that had been pushed over.  The ground was dry but very spongy and it seemed like I was going against the grain of the reeds that had been knocked down. I decided that I would walk this section because the ground felt a bit unstable and I didn't want to jab myself with the reeds like I did a few weeks prior with some buck brush. This was probably my least favorite section of the course. After navigating the field the course returned to a normal trail for a bit before I finally arrived at smurf village.

Smurf Village was some very narrow single track game trails populated by homemade signs with smurfs on them. What was really neat about running through this area was how little of a trail there actually was.  I would run to the next flag and then have to look around to find out where the next flag was. It was a little like a treasure hunt. Near the end of the 'village' was a good sized hill with a sign that said something to the effect of "papa smurf says stop slacking". I guarantee no one was running up that hill.

Once I made it past smurf village I was on the normal park trails again for a bit until reaching the last aid station, which was just the back of the second aid station.  I grabbed some food and started eating and then I spotted some barbecue potato chips. I finished off half a bowl of the chips before setting out again. They were some of the best chips I have ever tasted.

The hilliest part of the course seemed to be the section from the last aid station to the finish. I could feel myself getting tired and was looking forward to starting the second loop of the course. I knew the 'fun zone' was near the end of the course and kept waiting to get to that.  I was starting to feel a little out of it, like my head was cloudy, or underwater.  Somewhere around this point I thought I saw a polar bear, but it was just a stump.  I decided to take a 5 hour energy to see if it would help clear my head. When I reached the fun zone I found that it was properly named, it was fun but challenging. As I was traversing the run zone the 2 ladies I had left behind at the third aid station caught back up to me. Shortly after they passed me one of them went on ahead, so I stuck with the remaining one and chatted a bit. It was either the caffeine or the conversation that helped, but I felt a little more grounded in reality when I finally had to drop back a bit.  Just after we separated was the finish line area.  I had completed 1 loop! Rick and Erin were waiting for me. Erin filled my water bottle and got me some endurolytes while Rick helped me drop off some of my gear.  I told him about the odd feeling I was having and he suggested more electrolytes, so I took 2 more endurolytes and headed out for my second loop of the course.

After leaving the finishing area, I was a little surprised at myself.  What was I doing back out here? Oh, yeah... I signed up for the 50k.  I really should have signed up for the 25k, that would have been perfect. This didn't last too long before I remembered to look around and take a little time to enjoy what was happening.  The course was incredibly beautiful and I would have another shot at going through smurf village, now I just needed to get back to smurf village.  When I made it back to the first aid station they were serving 'lunch.' Either tomato soup or chicken noodle, and grilled cheese or hot ham and cheese. I had a couple of chunks of grilled cheese and wished to myself for a little mustard to go with them. I downed a couple of peeps for a little more sugar and took off again.  I was halfway through the hilly part at the start, I just needed to get to the next aid station and things would flatten out again.

 As I ran, I looked back on occasion to see if any of the faster people running the 50 miler would catch up.  Sure enough a little after the aid station a slim guy shot past me.  I was a little amazed that this guy would finish 50 miles in less time then I could do a 50k.  After that, I had some time to myself before I noticed a couple of people up ahead of me.  Not to disparage myself, but if I was catching up to someone on this day they were having problems.  When I pulled along side of them I chatted a bit, the guy wasn't very talkative, but the lady was.  It turns out she was just out there to help the guy who was having an issue with his knee. By the way he was moving down the hills I thought his day was done.  He could make it to the next aid station, and even through the flat part of the course, but I didn't think he could physically make it through the hills at the end.  I was a little sad for him as I picked up the pace and we parted ways. From there to the next aid station seemed to drag on forever.  It seems that my familiarity with the course was starting to work against me.  I knew what was coming up, but didn't clearly remember how far away it was. In addition to getting really tired my stomach was starting to tell me that I needed to make a pit stop which didn't make running down hills any more fun.

Eventually I made it to the second aid station and the horse camp and spotted Erin heading towards me.  I checked in at the aid station, tossed my handheld water bottle to Erin for a refill and headed to the bathroom.  Peeling off my sweaty clothes wasn't the most fun, and when I took care of business it hurt.  I felt like someone had rung out my insides and squeezed out everything.  I just attributed this to my body trying to adapt to some severe demands and went back over to the aid station to get some food down.  I was fortunate in getting the last 2 endurolytes they had. Erin told me that they were going to watch for Heather coming into the aid station on the other side and then head to the finish area. 

I left the aid station and tried to focus on gaining ground.  This was the flat part of the course and I knew this is where I would get the last of my running done. At this time of the day there were a number of people out on the trail with horses which was a bit unsettling for me.  I didn't want to spook them as I passed them, but I also wasn't going to dawdle around at their pace either.  I tried to give them as much space as I could when passing and I needed to be a little more alert for fresh crap on the trail. As I ran around the lake again there were a number of 50 milers that were starting to catch up to me.  I focused on getting to the next aid station because I knew after that I would get to run through smurf village again. Again the aid station seemed like it was further off then what I remembered, this might have been due to my slower pace the second time around the course. When I finally made it to the aid station I grabbed some more food and endurolytes and took stock of how things were going.  I felt better then I thought I would at this point in the event and felt that I had made good time to this point, but I also thought about what was coming up and wasn't sure I would be able to give what it took to get it done.  I opted to keep going with my mental strategy of focusing on the next landmark on the course and not look too much at the Garmin for details on how far I had gone, or how fast I was moving.

Leaving the aid station I took the game trail again and this time had much more difficulty going over and under the trees on the course.  I started to focus on the section of the course with the knocked over reeds.  It was my least favorite section and in just a bit I would be done with it.  Again it was further off then I remembered and it felt like an eternity to get there.  As I traversed the field there were a number of the 50 milers who were passing me. They seemed a bit more supportive then the 25k runners who had passed me earlier in the day. I started to wonder about when Maggie and Tim would catch me and if I would make it to to smurf village again before I saw either of them.  It was nice having something like this to push me and I felt like I made good time here.

The second pass through smurf village was a bit disappointing. By now the trail was much more well worn and my familiarity with the course took away the exploring excitement I had the first time. Oh well, at least it was a mental boost getting there.  When I left smurf village I was feeling a bit dehydrated.  The temperature had peaked for the day and I was out in one of the areas of the course without much for trees.  I wished for a closer aid station to get more water, but that wasn't going to change things so I rationed out the water I did have with me.  At this time the Garmin started complaining about a low battery.  This focused my attention on it and I looked over my data. I was hoping I would have come further then what I had.  I started to focus more on the Garmin data then what was coming up and it felt like I was making no progress.  I really started to think about dropping out at this point.  Even though the course was long, dropping out at the aid station would leave me short of a 50k.  I was still weighing the options as the aid station came into sight.  I limped down the hill leading into the aid station and turned the corner and spotted Maggie. "What the hell are you doing here?!"  I found out that her day was over before I even started mine.  Around mile 3 she had stepped into a hole and sprained her ankle.  Erin grabbed for my bottle and I told her I needed water.  I asked Heather if she still had her Garmin on her but she didn't. After Erin filled my bottle she said she had her Garmin in the truck and would go and get it.  I grabbed some food and looked at how far off Erin was.  I told Maggie that if I didn't leave now I wouldn't finish the event and headed back out on my own.

As I turned the corner and the last aid station was out of sight I felt some mixed emotions. I wasn't sure if my crew had evaluated how I was doing objectively, and I wasn't sure I had what it would take to finish. Since I wasn't going to head backwards and return to the aid station my only option was to press forward even though I didn't really want to. I could still run for little bursts, but the bursts were getting shorter, and the walking time between then was growing larger and larger, not that this section of the course lent itself to running.  It felt like I was constantly going up hill and making little progress.  After a while, I noticed that it was starting to cool down which worried me.  If the temperature dropped too fast I would be in trouble. I didn't have any of my cold weather gear with me anymore, and I wasn't moving fast enough to generate enough heat to stay very warm. I started to focus more on the trail markers and making sure I didn't make a wrong turn.  If I did find myself in trouble I should be able to use my phone to call for help and if I was still on the course it should be easy enough to find me. Even walking up the hills was getting very difficult. Several times I would have to walk up partway and rest for a bit before continuing. Eventually my occasional bit of running stopped for good, and I knew it was walking from here on out. In retrospect I failed to consider that I was recovering while walking and I may have felt better after a long enough rest. Even though I felt I was mentally broken by the course at this point I did have a sense that things would go better next time... There will be a next time. Somehow I lumbered through the fun zone and eventually saw my crew waiting for me on the trail.  It was nice to see some friendly faces, but it definitely brought out some whining from me. As I walked and complained I expected to see the finish line come into sight. I was wrong. They had walked a bit further along the trail than they thought they did.  At least I had company to share the burden with. I heard a little bit about how Heather's day had gone and I was happy to hear she had fun. This made the whole trip worth while for me. Finally the finish line came into sight and I 'jogged' to the end at a pace just a bit slower then someone using a walker in a nursing home.

Just past the finish area there was a chair. Just a simple folding chair.  It was the most comfortable piece of furniture I've sat in. Erin was kind enough to take care of my finishers block of wood while I sat.  Our whole crew was there: Cory, Maggie, Tim, Rick and Becky, Heather and Erin. I was very happy to see all of them and touched that everyone waited around for me. I found out that Tim dropped out around mile 37, so Heather and I were the only 2 finishers from our group of 4. I was humbled by being fortunate enough to finish what I had set out to do. Eventually, I found my way over to the pizza and that made me feel a little bit better. After that, the only thing left to do was make our way to our vehicles and go our separate ways.

Heather, Erin and I made a stop by the hotel for some much needed showers before hitting up the cheesecake factory for supper.  It was delicious.  We got some cheesecake to go for dessert and went back to the hotel to hit up the hot tub.  We all got changed and went downstairs to the pool area, only to find the hot tub closed. A pump had gone out that morning and they were waiting for parts to come in before it could be fixed. We were disappointed, but found solace in the cheesecake waiting for us in our room.  The next day we checked out and went to the Origional Pancake house for breakfast.  It was fantastic as always.  We then spent a little time at REI shopping and stretching out legs before starting to head home.  When we got to the outlet mall we stopped again for some shopping and to stretch out our legs.  From there we went home to end this little adventure.  I'm hoping next year we can get a good crew together again for this event.  It's a well organized race on an incredible course.

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