Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Haney to Harrison 100 km Solo

Haney to Harrison (H2H) was a race I was interested in doing last year but decided to do Honolulu Marathon instead. I was interested in doing it this year but I thought New York Marathon (NYM), which I had signed up for 8 months prior, was on the same weekend and put H2H out of my head. In September I realized that H2H was the weekend after NYM and signed up right away.

I had been training all summer in the trails and it was nice to switch it up and train on the road. I must admit, my body didn’t take kindly to the pavement. It had been so spoiled all year with a nice soft surface and I knew it was going to take a lot more prehab to keep me injury free. I started getting massage once a week and did so for about a month and a half. My aunt is a massage therapist so I was fortunate in that regard.

So with NYC Marathon done as a training run and with one expensive hour massage in NYC I felt as ready as I could for this adventure.

The race starts at 4am, which meant Peter (my crew/boyfriend)and I were up at 2:00am and out the door at 2:45am. It was suppose to rain heavily and I decided to put my jacket, headlamp, arm warmers, and heart rate monitor in a back pack and change into it once we got to the start line. I didn’t eat breakfast because I didn’t feel digested from last night’s dinner (whole wheat pasta w/ cherry tomatoes). I think next time I would eat normal pasta as fiber can sometimes take longer to digest. We were about 30 minutes into our 40min drive when I realized I had forgotten my backpack with all my race stuff in it. I was pretty choked because my heart rate (HR) monitor is an essential part of my race plan. I was trying to keep my HR down to ensure I wouldn’t burn out my legs. Getting my HR up to high in the first 5 hours or so would be detrimental to my race. The jacket and arm warmers were important as well. Peter kindly went back and got them for me. This meant that I wouldn’t have race support because there is none on the entire course. Every runner needed to have a crew to carry their fluids and fuel.

We got to downtown Maple Ridge at 3:30am, just in time for the racer and crew briefing. It was such an experience being there with 30 other runners at 4am and all of us wearing reflective vests and headlamps. You had to wear those until it was light out. The race director counted down 3…2…1…and we were off. I always have this beaming smile on my face when the race starts, especially because it’s pitch black and the only light is coming from 30 headlamps. I was taking it slow. A friend of mine named Kerry Ward decided that we were going to run about the same pace and ran with me all the way until the half way point (50km). It was nice to have someone to run and chat with along the way. We would share how we were feeling and talk about our race plan. I got to know his crew a little bit because I’d see them every mile or so taking care of Kerry. Until Peter got back from retrieving my bag from home I had to run with a camelback and a headlamp with a cord extending from it that attaches a battery pack which is stored in my backpack. This headlamp became extremely irritating as I tried to take my bag on and off to get fuel or take off my jacket. I was happy when I saw Peter about an hour and 20 minutes in. It was lightly raining but quite warm. I immediately took off my spandex tights and rocked the spandex shorts I was wearing underneath. Peter gave me a handheld 500ml water bottle to carry like most people and switched my headlamp to a smaller one that clipped to my hat.

As I said earlier I did not eat breakfast and my belly was slowly starting to process everything. I had an empty feeling in my tummy. If you have ever ran with me before when I have an empty stomach, you would know it sounds like there is water jiggling around in there. Usually taking gels helps my stomach jostling and I took 2 pretty quick into the race. Those gels made me have to go to the bathroom. I went twice before I saw Peter. After I saw Peter I went one more time. Right after that I was starving. I needed to eat and when I saw Peter again he gave me ½ a peanut butter and jam bagel, which filled me up nicely. Besides a few road side pee stops (6 in total), I didn’t have to go number 2 again. I was lucky that it was dark out at the start because going to the bathroom with any privacy later in the daylight became increasingly difficult. I was feeling good for legs 1-3. Then my legs started to feel quite heavy and I remember thinking to myself “wow, this is going to be one long hard day”. I also remember thinking “Oh my god, I am only 3.5 hours into this run, how am I going to do 7 more hours”. Nutrition was the key to my success.

I asked Peter to keep track of when and how much I was eating and drinking. I was aiming at taking in about 500ml of water an hour, 2 salt pills an hour, and 200-300 calories an hour. When you are burning over 700 calories an hour, it is imperative to replace some. Peter and I had a great system going. Peter would stop and give me ¼ of a bagel and my handheld water wattle (which was only half full). I would then take a gel about 20-30 minutes later. I would try and finish all of the water in the bottle. Somewhere in there he would also give me my salt pills. Whenever I felt any sort of tightening in the legs I would take an extra salt pill. I really didn’t want to risk cramping, and I never did.

The rain stopped and around 40-50km the sun started to come out and there were patches of blue sky. At one point, Kerry and I ran through a sea of falling leaves. It was really beautiful. Earlier in the race I had Kerry telling me whenever we reached an hour mark (ex. 3 or 4 hour mark). Reaching another hour mark meant we both had to scream out a big “WOO HOO” to celebrate another hour gone by. We were one more hour closer to the finish. When a race is this long, you have to keep it interesting some how. Having a “WOO HOO” is something to look forward to. Around 50km I caught up to another runner I know and have ran a few ultra’s with, Pat Malaviarachchi. He is a great runner and I was on a mission to catch him. As I passed him, his crew told him that he was at the half way (50km) mark, we were both excited. It was here that I started to feel really good. All the discomfort I was feeling in my legs had gone away and I was feeling really strong. The emotional rollercoaster you go through during an ultramarathon is pretty crazy. You may feel absolutely horrible one moment and then an hour later feel completely different. I had people telling me I looked really strong and that I make it “look easy”. Trust me, it is never easy! Hearing people say that though, makes you believe you are feeling strong and motivates you to keep moving.

I was now running by myself and I really enjoyed it. I was just one with the road. I was happy to have an I-Pod to listen to. It gave me something to focus on other than the running. I usually never run with an I-Pod on the trails or in trail races but I knew I would need something to distract me from the consistent straight forward motion.

I was feeling really good up until leg 7 (79km). People who had done this race had warned me about leg 7. It is a hilly section and the last leg is completely flat. I think I would have preferred not knowing how far I had gone. I have this habit of slowing down in the final stages of races, unless I have some sort of incentive. If I know someone is going to pass me (especially a female), then I will keep up the pace to the end. If I am going for a specific time and I am on pace then I will strive to finish well. If my only goal is to finish and I have no chance of anyone catching me or me catching someone else, then I have no motivation to really pick it up in the final stages. At points I thought to myself, “You can go faster Nic” but I really just didn’t want to push it to the limits. I had already been out there for 8 hours and I just wanted it to be over. At that point I could have cared less if I was 20-30 minutes faster. The rain started to come down at stage 7. I was getting really cold. Peter helped me change into my waterproof Mountain Hardware transition jacket and put on new warm gloves.

Eating became increasingly hard as the bagels became harder to chew. Next time I would have made peanut butter and jam sandwiches on regular white wonder bread. They are way easier to eat and go down smooth. I had a few emotional moments as well. One of them was spurred on by hunger. I needed food and Peter was not in sight. I just started to cry and I cried until I saw him a few minutes later when he pulled up. As soon as I ate, I was totally fine. The emotions that come over you in an ultra are so sporadic. I was stoked to get to leg 8, the last leg. I knew it was flat and I was home free. I was going to finish this thing. I started to drink coke but quickly decided I wasn’t really into it. I pretty much stopped eating and just drank water. I am sure that was a poor decision because my pace slowed right down but at the time, if no other ultra runners passed me, I was happy with that. A few of the relay teams passed me in this section and it was neat to see them fly by.

Peter left me with 2 km to go. He wanted to be there at the finish line. Those last 2km were never ending. All I could think to myself was “where the hell is the finish”. Finally I could see it and was overwhelmed with relief. This long journey was finally going to be over. As I came across the bridge where the finish line is, I saw my mom. I didn’t know she was going to be there and that really excited me. I crossed the line, game Peter and mom a hug, and smiled in relief. I was done emotionally and physically. I finished in 9 hours and 31 minutes. I was the 1st place female and 6th overall.

All in all, this was the longest running experience of my life. It was the most mentally challenging event I have ever done. I would not have been able to do it without Peter. If it wasn’t for him being there to change me out of my wet clothes, provide constant words of encouragement, and stay on top of my nutrition, I would not have been able to do this so efficiently. I thought a lot about the last 21km. What can I do differently so that I do not slow down? I think for me, I need to tell myself that I have at least 20 more km than I actually do. That way I will stay strong till the end. I waited for team IF to come in. They were doing an 8 person relay and they ended up winning with team mixed corporate division. I had been trash talking them all week, saying that I was going to beat them and cross the finish line first. I did just that, but I had a 2.5 hour head start!!!

The highlight for most people is the after party. I attempted to make it there but when I went no one I knew was there yet and I gladly went home. I slept all the way home and was happy to crawl back into bed 20hours after I had left. I would recommend this event to anyone, as a relay or as an Ultra. The weather is never perfect but it really is a wonderful course.

Nicola Gildersleeve


Gary Robbins said...

Awesome work Gilder, congrats!
I sometimes lie to myself and pretend someone is chasing me when they really aren't, whatever it takes to keep the legs turning over!


Bella Vadeboncoeur Gildersleeve said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bella Vadeboncoeur Gildersleeve said...

You are amazing Nicola, just discovered your blog and I can't stop reading it! I'll have a way to know what's happening with your running and more good stuff in your life, I love that! When I read your blog, I feel like running, exercising, doing something to give me more energy to play my music, to do my african dance, what you achieved in that very long run is incredible!!! I am sooooo impressed with your mental work, your physical endurance and your focus!!!! WAY TO GO Nicola!!!! I'm so proud of our family, of you!!!!