Saturday, April 21, 2012

Zane Grey 50 mile Endurance Run Report

This was my first time attempting the Zane Grey 50 mile race. My first ultra was the Zane Grey 50k (33 miles) in 2008. I wasn't even running with TTR at the time and certainly wasn't very trained for it.

I was a little more trained for the course this time, although not like I would have liked to have been. I have been plagued with tendonitis in the ankle/shin and overall shin tweakiness, which has kept my running mileage down since Old Pueblo 50 mile race 7 weeks ago.

So, I trained on a stepmill at the gym during the week (like a rolling escalator) and did a really long run on the weekend. It paid off; I wasn't super fast, but I hiked those Highline trail hills with fierce determination, my legs felt pretty good most of the race, and I wasn't too sore afterwards.

I had also finally lost a few pounds prior to the race. I was happy to be a little leaner for race day; I usually gain weight right before a race. Less 'me' to haul around for 50 miles. :)

Dallas ran it last year and I crewed for him. After seeing all of the race carnage, I said "I'm doing that next year!" Makes sense, right?

Here is the course profile:

This race is considered one of the harder 50 mile races in the country. Dubbed the 'rite of passage' for ultrarunners, it chews people up and spits them out. Heat, elevation (between 5,300 and 7,000 feet), cumulative elevation gain (my elevation corrected Garmin showed 9,300, but it is allegedly around 10,000 feet), a burned area with no forest shade in the middle of the race and more rocks than you've ever seen in your life - all of these things take their toll.

Good thing is - that's exactly what type of terrain we train on down here in Tucson with TTR! We're used to rocks. We have a lot of them.

Also, the course is remote and the trail is sketchy in parts, so many runners get lost. After my OP50 10% course add-on (got off course), I vowed to stay focused and not get lost. Thank goodness I didn't, as this course is hard enough without adding on extra mileage. They do mark the course - more on that later.

I was up at 3am after a very restless night's sleep and checked in shortly before the race start at 5am. There were a billion stars in the sky!

I predicted a 14.5 - 15 hour finish. It was looking to be a long day. My goal was to have a little fun and finish!

Tom, me and Chris from TTR
Me and famous ultrarunner Honey Albrecht
And, we're off! In the dark. Yikes! (I'm on the left)

The section from the start to Geronimo AS at mile 8 was fast. There was some hiking here and there, but a lot of runnable sections. I was mostly in a runner train the whole time, although a ton of people passed me in this section. I tripped once when I was walking, so no damage. My only fall of the race, which was good! A few times, I caught myself getting lightheaded and slowed down a bit. Even so, I pulled into AS 8 at 1:49, a little head of my predicted 2 hour time.

Coming into Geronimo leading a train

Dallas was my crew. He fixed me up with a pack fill up and a Diet Coke and I was off and running in 4 minutes. Off with the headlamp, on with the new Tifosi red lensed photochromic sunglasses, which were awesome!

The next section to Washington Park, I slowed it down a bit. This section also has some runnable spots and is really pretty. However, I started feeling lousy and I blamed it on the fact that Dallas didn't put Nuun in my hydration pack when he refilled it. I felt 'low' on electrolytes. Nausea was kicking in - it would stay with me almost the whole race.

So, what did I do? I arrived at Washington Park AS 17 about 4:20 into the race and was really cranky with Dallas. He was his usually kind and gentle self with me. What a crew/husband.

I drank some perpetuem and a V-8 and Dallas got everything reloaded. I only spent about 5-6 minutes here.

Headphones and Ipod on now, I headed on and was feeling better.

Denise (Chris' wife) was worried about me after I left AS 17. Dallas told her - Renee will be fine, she runs a smart race. He relayed this to me this after the race and it made me feel so good.

I wouldn't see Dallas until mile 33 aid station. There is an AS at mile 23, but no crew access.  About a mile into the next section, I started feeling bad that I was so harsh with him - I almost cried!  After about an hour, I realized that the electrolytes and Perpetuem had kicked in and I was feeling pretty good. I made it to AS 23 (Hell's Gate) in a decent amount of time.  I spent a bit of time in this section with Tonja from our group. It was nice to have the company. Shortly after leaving AS 23, she took off.

I couldn't keep up, for by this time, the tendonitis in my right ankle/shin was returning. I stopped shortly after mile 23 and took some Aleve and some capsuled turmeric. This enabled me to focus on the next 10 miles of burned out, zero-shade forest. This was a very hard section for me. Hot as hell.

However, there are multiple stream crossings in this race. Every time I crossed one, I wet my neck, arms and legs down. Really cooled me off! All in all, the heat wasn't too bad. Tucsonans are used to it.

Course markings between AS 23 and AS 33 were not very prolific. Many runners got lost in this section. I almost went down a wrong drainage in this section, but realized the right trail pretty quickly. The rest of the course was marked pretty well, but this section was not. There were times that I thought - I haven't seen a marker for a while, wonder if I'm on the right trail? It is not a good feeling. I just ran the trail 'intuitively' and that seemed to pay off.

After trudging along for a while, I was running low on water. I was drinking a lot. 2 miles out from the next AS, there were race spotters. I asked for a little water and they were so nice to oblige. Thank goodness! I didn't drink anything at AS 23 and I should have.

Arriving at AS 33, the Fish Hatchery, it was 9:06 into the race. The cutoff was 10 hours, so I was feeling good about that. When I did the ZG 50k in 2008 (completely untrained/first ultra), it took me 11:03 to get to this point. Amazing what a little training and experience will do.

I yelled, 'Hey Baby!' to Dallas as I was coming down the hill. I apologized to him immediately for being cranky at mile 17. He is forgiving! He fixed me up - bladder Nuun refill, Perpetuem, turkey/avocado wrap, diet coke AND a V-8. I wet myself down and left almost 15 minutes later. I needed that longer break at this point in the race. I think about aid stations for over an hour before I get there. Sometimes it is a bummer to have to leave them so fast.

Headed down trail to AS 44 - this section is 11 miles of some pretty steep, rocky climbing. We had run this section in a training run 4 weeks ago, so mentally, I was prepared for it.

However, shortly after leaving AS 33, I felt awful. The heat, the long, rock-strewn climbs. My belly was full and I was continuing to feel nauseous as I had for quite a bit of the race. I was slow and getting slower.  Within a few miles, I was in shade again and I found my legs and took off! I really do love the Highline trail. It is beautiful.

Ultras are like that. One minute, you feel terrible, next minute, everything is great! My stomach was still feeling queasy off and on, and I only ate one gel and a small chia brownie (we make them) in this section.

I power hiked the heck out this section and passed a few people. Thank you stepmill!

I predicted 3.5 hours or more for this section (an average for people), and it took me 3.25 hours. I pulled into AS 44 at 12:35 into the race (13.5 hour cutoff).

Dallas drove from AS 33 to the finish line, parked the car, and ran backwards on the course to AS 44. He was so excited to see me coming in - he thought I was looking great. I was still in the game and he was pumped up!

I took two more Aleve and more capsuled turmeric and drank more Perpeteum.

After a 5 minute break, we pulled out of AS 44 at 12:40 into the race and he paced me the last 6 miles into the finish. I only ate one gel this last section. By this time, the tendonitis was in full swing and my right ankle and shin were excruciatingly painful.  Dallas would say, 'This is runnable, come on, let's run!' (Dallas is the drill sargeant style of pacer) I ran as much as I could. The sun began to set.

I finished this last section in 1:51. We had to use our headlamps the last 15 minutes.

I made it into the finish at 14:31. Given my minimal training leading up the race, I was thrilled to cross that finish line.

'Between the big rocks' at the finish

The best crew/pacer a gal could ask for

126 started, only 84 finished. I was 67th. And very proud of myself, I might humbly add. Tom called me a Princess before the race, but a Warrior afterwards. I felt like that!

Princess Warrior Pinkcorker!

TTR had 9 finishers, over 10% of the total. Only one TTR did not finish the race, but they made it to mile 44 before timing out. TTR rocks!

Thanks to Dallas for taking such good care of me before the race (all of those calf massages and good food you made to keep me healthy) and during the race. He believed in me that I could finish and it helped me believe in myself! Believing you can do something really does help you accomplish your goals. So much of running ultras is mental. I finished Zane Grey! Cool.

Most of the pictures in this post show smooth trails (coming in and out of aid stations). I didn't carry a camera with me, so I have no pictures of any of the trails in between. Trust me - this race is loaded with rocks. A zillion of them.

Post ZG thoughts:

I ran into Bob R. after mile 33 - he was pacing Todd out a little and was returning. I told him, "I'm finishing this dog so I don't have to do it again!" He said, "Check back with me in a month!" I laughed, but thought, there was no way I needed to do this race again.

That night after the race and into the next day, my thoughts turned towards next year's race. If I were trained better, I know I could do better next year. If my tendonitis hadn't flared up, I know I could have run more of the course. Etc. Etc.

Okay, Bob was right. I will probably do this race again next year. I love the Highline trail.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

TTR Esperero Ventana Loop

I've run Esperero trail before (not the whole thing - only to Cathedral Rock junction), but I've never done the traverse from Esperero to Ventana Canyon trail. This is a pretty popular trail as it ascends to "The Window", a natural rock formation on the front range of the Catalina Mountains.

Only 5 'hardy souls' showed up at Sabino Canyon for the run. Many thought that doing this run 2 weeks out from Zane Grey was not a good idea. 2 weeks to taper is perfect and with the climbing, it was a great last training run. Dallas was up for the challenge, so we showed up for a new adventure.

The views heading up Esperero are always picturesque.

The 'Twin Spires'

Esperero trail is pretty steep, but starts getting very steep after Bridal Veil falls. It is ridiculously steep at parts leading to the topout at about 7,250 feet.

After topping out, the trail starts a steep descent downward. Shortly thereafter, the 'Window' appears.

We reviewed the map, making sure we knew how far ahead our connector trail was - Ventana Canyon.

We continued the steep descent - so steep, that I got down on my hands and bottom and 'crab crawled' down. Too much loose scree and I didn't want an uncontrolled slide off the mountain!

I don't know if I'd do this trail again - the dowhill on Ventana is so steep that running is fairly impossible for long periods. There were a few really runnable spots, though.

A wonky cactus!

The Window was cool and this part of the Catalinas was very beautiful.

An awesome cairn!

Desert cactus are starting to bloom

After reaching Ventana TH, we had to run almost 3 miles back on road to return to Sabino Canyon, which is where we started. David, our run director, and his wife were there to give us cold water and food before we hit the last stretch.

Total distance: 18.5 miles
Elevation gain: ~ 5,200 feet
Time: 5:57

I'm pretty slow on that super rocky descent.

Time to taper for Zane Grey! It is 2 less than weeks away. I have not been doing much running mid-week. Mostly doing the stepmill since my shins have been so tweaky. I am not as ready as I'd like to be for ZG, but I will do my best on it. I've been doing a lot of climbing runs and with my 56 miler at OP, I'm hoping my muscles have some memory of the training.

I am looking forward to getting past ZG, taking a break from running for 3 weeks or so, and slowly working my mileage back up to a good base for the summer. We are planning a Grand Canyon R2R2R in October. Always some new adventure in our back pocket.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

TTR Mt. Bigelow Ascent/Descent 50k

Total distance ~ 31 miles
Total time: 8:19
Total elevation gain: 7,600 feet

This was my first time doing this run. I have run all of these trails before, but never this specific run.

Route: up Sabino Canyon tram road, Sabino Canyon trail to East Fork trail to Palisades. Then, onto Butterfly trail and up Bigelow. I traveled along with Steve, Chia-Chi, Lisa and Kathy for a while. Lisa and Kathy turned around halfway up, and Chia-Chi and I pulled away from Steve shortly after that. So, it was pretty much me and Chia-Chi for about 5 miles. I am usually by myself, so it was comforting to have someone nearby. We arrived at Palisades TH at 3:53 feeling good! This is about 13.5 miles up.

Dallas and Mark were waiting there for our group with aid and they were hooping and hollering for us when we came in! I drank some Perpetuem, relaxed a few minutes, and then Dallas and I headed to the top of Mt. Bigelow, about another two miles up. The topout is about 8,500 feet. We started at Sabino Canyon at 2,700 feet! 


Mark, Chia-Chi and Me at our lovely aid station. Chia-Chi was done at this point.

We headed back to the aid station and I ate some macaroni shells and cheese (it was a little cool at the top and the guys had hot soup and shells and cheese on the stove!) I resupplied and got ready to head back down the mountain. Thank you Dallas and Mark for the fabulous aid.

Ken was behind me on the uphill, but he passed me heading back down.

Palisades is rocky and so I'm slow on the dowhill, but managed to get down from Palisades in 3:20. I had a rough patch on the tram road the last mile or so, but otherwise I felt great! I was the last one in, but I finished!

No problems with the anterior tibial tendon - I kept my shoe a little loose to prevent any irritation. However, I did twist my ankle a handful of times because of that. I ended up with a bruise on my outer lower leg. Nothing too painful, so it should heal fast.

My mileage is way down because of all of my issues - I am pretty much doing the stepmill at the gym during the week to get ready for the climbs at Zane Grey 50 mile and running a big run on the weekend. 3 weeks until the start of ZG - I hope I'm ready. I'll be slow - looking at 14-15 hours for a finish time.

I'm determined to finish, though.