Friday, June 29, 2012

Race Report: Tap Knupke Mohican 50 Miler

What can I say about this race? Going into Mohican I had every notion that this was going to be my hardest challenge to date, but I truly had no idea just how hard it was really going to be. The course if beautiful well marked and fully staffed with volunteers. I knew a dozen or so other runners so I never really felt like I was out there all by myself like I thought I would. My good friends Gale and Zach McCardel and I had all planned to stick together for the race since it was our first 50miles for each of us. We all arrived throughout the evening on Friday and met up with other running friends to enjoy the pre race dinner provided. We ran into Michael Varanese Schaffer who joined Zach McCardel and me for a little dinner in the grass. It was great to get there, check in and mingle. The process really helped calm my nerves quite a bit. After filling our bellies we got to chat up some amazing runners like the legendary Fred Davis III (who would later play a pivotal role in my finishing), Wild Bill Wagner, Zack Johnson and Kevin Tenkku. 
After a short pre race meeting and last minute course instruction it was off to bed for me and everyone. I have to tell; while I slept great I could not believe how fast 3:30am came. I woke up, stretched a bit, posted a few comments on face book and watched other runners start pulling into the parking lot (one even took a little morning leak next to my car not realizing I was inside!). I got dressed and grabbed what I thought I needed and headed to meet my dear friend Tony Cutway at the check in, he came all the way from Toledo to volunteer and crew for me... he is truly one of the sweetest men I know. 
The morning was a bit of chaos, I am usually more prepared but the thought of running 50 miles was getting to me and I forgot a ton of crucial pre race rituals. I did manage to fill my water bottles about two seconds before they said "runners go" and then it was on. We started out at 5am, so we needed headlamps. The run to the hills was pretty much like a herd of cattle, people jockeying for positions and the slower runners like me just trying to get out of the way. At this point Gale, Zach and I were right on target with our pace and staying together but when we hit the trail we got separated. The climb up was fun, I love technical and felt great so I got in behind a group and forged my way to the top with them. During the process though I lost Gale and Zach. I had thoughts of stopping and waiting for them, but remember Wild Bill telling me once "never wait... it's your race too" so I kept going thinking they would catch me since they were faster runners. The next 17miles were a blur of joy and happiness. I shine in the technical so the turns and ups and downs at this point made me smile and I was hitting a good pace behind another group of runners that felt great. 
As we headed into the river bed and root climb the group lost me and I found myself alone for the first time in the race. It was a little scary going through the downed trees, I was more worried about getting lost and not seeing the markings than anything when I looked up and realized how insane the course was. All I could see were trees laying about in crazy ways so I jump on top of two and in true goofy Tap fashion yelled out "I'm on top of the world", and then I heard of voice say "yep, you sure are". It was a random runner who was ready to pass me and he and I got a good laugh. We navigated through the technical sections and I impressed him by keeping up until we hit the root climb out. I had been waiting months for the chance to get to do this section, as it has become somewhat famous. The random runner was about half way up when I grabbed the first root and started up myself. He yelled back "hey, are you Ok" and when he turned to look I was totally on his heals smiling and said "I am great, I got this". We got to the top and he commented that I was like "some sort of spider monkey" and then he was off. He looked strong so I was not about to try to pace him so I trotted up to the next aid station at the covered bridge. When I got there I saw Tony waiting with my drop bag and was so happy to see a face I knew since I had been running alone or with unknown runners up to that point. I could feel that blisters where starting which surprised me because for the past 2 1/2 years I had not had any feet problems. Lucky for me I had Tony and Wild Bill's wife Celeste was there too so she helped me bandage my feet, fuel up and move on to the next part of the course. The next section would turn out to be my nemesis and downfall all in one. 
The trek up to Hickery Ridge was not at all what I was expecting and the blisters that had developed from the morning were evident. I suck at hills, this I know about myself and accept, but those hills were just ridiculous!!! This is the point where I was joined by the amazing legendary Fred Davis. I was so happy to see a friendly familiar face I hugged him. I told him about how bad I suck at hills and how much my feet hurt and we discussed the how and why of what caused it. Lesson one: never change your running technique. On the first climb up I ran on my tip toes, partly because it was steep and partly to just go fast because the heard was so thick I was afraid of slowing anyone down. I never run on my tip toes, thus blisters formed on the balls of feet and my toes. Fred and I talked a ton, he is such a great man and I knew I could learn a ton from him, plus he is so darn funny! We walked the hills and ran the technical and downhill, he even commented on how good I was going downhill. I told him it was my favorite and if the entire race could be downhill technical I would kill it. Unfortunately... this section was all brutal up hill. I complained, a ton but Fred kept me moving and we finally reached the top and the last of the aid stations before the half way. I was tired, my feet were killing me and I was so hungry but knew we only had 5.8 miles to get to the start/finish half way point so I sucked it up the best I could and we kept going. I have to tell you that 5.8 miles was the longest I think I have ever felt but we made it to the start/finish and it felt good to know I was half way done. Tony was there waiting for me and I did the best I could not to cry when I saw him. I told him how bad my feet were so while Fred headed to his car to reload I headed for the medic to see if they could magically fix me. The look on the guys face was priceless when I removed my shoes, this I remember because I kept apologizing that they were both disgusting and dirty. They poked and cut and poured things on my feet but all I could think was "please fix me so I can go back out". The thought of quitting at this point had never even entered my mind. I did realize at this point that I had not eaten nor had I gone to the bathroom. I was so focused on getting to where I needed to be that I forgot about my nutrition and or going to the rest room. Hydration was not a problem for me at all. I drank a ton!!!! I was a little worried I hadn’t gone to the bathroom but Fred assured me it was OK at this point as long as I had been drinking, and I knew I had been drinking well. A quick stop to the bathroom and Fred and I were off to see if we could make up all the time we had lost. Running through the campsite hurt like heck on my feet but by the time we got out and into the trails again my blisters had found a comfy spot and no longer hurt. I thought this was a good sign so Fred and I did our best to take advantage of my good feet and get some running done. 
The first section I love, I live for the technical and the turns but man do I hate the hills so once again we found ourselves slowed down by those darn things. Every step up was painful on my feet so we basically crawled up the hills and tried our best to run the down. 
We made it to the first aid station on the second loop when it hit me I was starving and had not really eaten anything more than some peanut m&m's and sports beans. I tried to eat a turkey sandwich because I was so hungry but it pretty much came right back out a few seconds later. This was lesson two: you need to eat! Pre race I had always trained and ran depleted because I have a hard time processing foods when I run. I knew and told myself over and over before the race that I HAD TO EAT, however with all the excitement and everything going on it slipped my mind until it was too late. For the next few miles Fred and I worked our way from aid station to aid station and each time I tried to eat something only to end up puking or nauseous for the next however many miles. It sucked, truly sucked and for the first time I was feeling like I should quit. By the time we hit 32 miles I was tired, hungry in pain and not sure what the hell I was even doing there. My thoughts were, well I have done 50k's and at the least made it to a 50k distance, should I go on or should I just stop and end all the suffering. There was no way Fred was letting me quit. Each step we took after that 32mile mark he reminded me that it was the farthest I had ever ran. For the next several miles he kept me smiling and laughing by joking that "this mile" was now the farthest I had ever run. I think he was planning to say it for the next 18 miles and he did, god love that man!!!!!! 
Once we hit the covered bridge I saw Tony again and I was so happy I wanted to stay and never leave the aid station, but Fred yelled out to us as we hugged "there is time for that at the finish now it's time to go" and off we went for that awful climb to Hickery Ridge. I was pretty emotional at this; I can admit that even if it makes me a candyass. I had made so many mistakes at this race I was totally beating myself up like crazy. Maybe I ran too hard at the start? Why did I run on my toes? Why didn't I eat? Why does the sun set in West and rise in the East... haha... kidding on that one. The other thing weighing heavily on me was that I was not really running, I was walking a ton and not even walking well. Every step I took hurt like hell on my feet and gosh darn if I did not stub my toe on every rock and tree root out there! As I watched my goal time of 14hours come and go I got emotional all over again. 
Lesson three: plan for aid stations and medical breaks. I had not planned for all the medical attention I ended up needing nor all the bathroom stops to puke or pee so that made my goal time go out the window. Fred being the legend and humanitarian that he is reminded me that time did not matter. Who really cared when I finish as long as I do finish. He was right, about that and a lot of things we talked about that day. I can see why he is a legend. That and he kept pushing me and making me move forward. At one point I started crying and all I remember is Fred saying "stop crying, when you cry you slow down and we need to get going". I didn't stop crying, I just tried to cry softer and then he busted me. Fred: "You know, I can still hear you crying. Just because you cry softly I can still hear you now get moving". I started laughing so hard I stopped crying and started moving, when Fred tells you to do something you are wise to do it! The second climb to Hickery Ridge proved to be way worse than the first. I was hungry, I was exhausted and my feet hurt like they have never ever hurt in my life. Every step I took I was in incredible pain but we needed to get off the trails before dark as neither of us had headlamps. 
Lesson four: stick to your plans!!! We started the race with headlamps and had the chance to drop them at the aid stations. My plan had been to hold it until the covered bridge and leave it my drop bag for the second loop in case I needed it but I had never thought I would be running in the dark. That morning at the first aid station we were in such a large group still that we all were single file going into the aid station and the guy there was taking head lamps so like a good little marching soldier I instinctively took it off and handed it to him never realizing what a huge mistake that would end up being. As Fred and I made our way up to Hickery Ridge we talked about how the heck we were going to get down because neither of us had light. Even Fred had made the mistake of forgetting his headlamp and handheld light so we were both screwed. Fred did his best to make me not cry and move up that hill as fast as well could because we were both worried about the trip down in the dark. I wanted to go fast, but I was so hungry and sore I just couldn't. My emotions were going crazy again and when we hit the aid station Fred went one way to reload and I went to the side and had a total melt down. The aid station lady came up and asked me if she could help or if I needed anything and I started crying uncontrollably blubbering something about "please take me to my car I am done I don't want to go don't make me go". I was avoiding Fred because he had joked that if I had tried to quit he would knock me over the head and drag me back out onto the course... and I think he would have! I felt awful for stressing out the poor aid lady, she was giving up her time and her day to be there for us and I was really making her feel bad. She rubbed my back and I can see in her eyes she would have taken me to my car if she really thought I wanted to quit, but I think she knew like I knew I wasn't really going to quit. She tried encouraging me by saying "it's only 5.8 miles to the finish honey you can do this" and I responded by saying "are you freaking kidding me!!! Do you know how long 5.8miles is?" This is funny coming from me; the girl who always says "it's just a 50k". But at that point 5.8 miles seemed like an eternity and it was already getting dark and I knew we needed to go. 
Fred rolled over and didn't even acknowledge my melt down he simple said "it's getting dark lets go" and off again we went with me limping and blubbering like some big giant baby. Early when we did this portion I had thought it was longest trek of my life, but I had no idea that really at this point it would truly seem like forever to the finish. I still couldn't run and fast walking was slowed due to no lights and darkness setting in. I think Fred was worried but he never showed it and he never left my said. As we made our way down he called out the rocks and roots to me and encouraged me to run when I could. 
This is a quote from Fred about our descent in the dark: Frederick F Davis III There was just enough moonlight for color distinction (avoid the dark areas) and we just happened to be passed by runners in the "all dark areas". The last 4 miles went something like this: " Roots by the big trees, stay to the right, (me turning around) stay close to me, root, (Tap: ouch #$@!), root, rock, you can run here (of course Tapatha Knupke didn't), come on, we just have to get off this hill". The "ouch #$@!" may have been repeated twice/mile the duration of the race." He totally sugar coated it because I will tell you behind every ouch came a pretty colorful word. My trail mouth kicked in and I was cursing like a banshee every time I hit my feet on something. Fred got me down and I have never been more grateful to anyone in my entire life. He could have left me at any point in this race, but he stayed with me and he got me threw everything. When we reached the bottom we knew we were out of the woods but we still had that long road to the finish. 1 1/2 miles never ever felt so long and we could hear everyone at the finish line so that made it worse. I wanted to cry but I think I was too dehydrated at that point because I had realized that way before we hit Hickery Ridge I had stopped drinking because I was so upset and delirious. 
Going up the stretch to finish was both exciting and frustrating. I wanted to run but my feet were no longer working. As we walked up the hill and started to see cars and had some light for the first time since dark we got a little energy and actually found ourselves running. We hugged and grab each other’s hands and Fred said "you got to finish running" and off we went into the finish line. It felt so good to be done all I remember is running in, seeing Tony and running straight to him and hugging him. His words almost started me crying uncontrollably again, he said "it's Ok, it's over now". If the race director had not have come over to give me my medal a breakdown would have surely followed!!!!! I talked to a group of friends who were at the finish and worried about me and then off to medic I went. I did not even want to know at this point what my feet looked like; I knew they would be bad. After some time with the medic I was all bandaged up and ready to head home. There were highlights and lowlights... but in the end I finished! Throughout the race I ran with many runners, some who finish and some who didn't. What is amazing to me is that some of the ones who quit were trained strong runners and some that finished were weekend runners like me. In the end, I can't help wonder what it all matters... some of finished and some of us didn't. I was just glad that I finished. Some of my favorite highlights of Mohican:
The start of the race, looking out and seeing a sea of headlamps and smiling faces.
The aid stations, these people gave up their day and their time for us and I am forever grateful to each and every one of them
The tree root climb! I had been waiting forever for this moment and I loved loved this part of the course. Had the whole course been this portion, I can only imagine how well I would have finished.
The trail talk. I love that once on the trails all bets are off and every topic is open for discussion. Fred was not only a savoir to me but our talks were priceless.
Singing and goofing around on the trails. Yep, in true Tap fashion I did a little bit of both. I sang a bit by myself and then with Fred I was singing the Wizard of Oz song "Out of the dark" from when the left the scary dark woods "we're out of the woods we're out of the dark and into the light" totally off key but hey... what can I say.
Begging for hot dogs. Around 36 miles I was starving and all I wanted was a hot dog with ketchup, mustard and relish. When we saw camp sites I kept begging Fred to let me ask them for a hot dog. Then at one of the aid stations I asked for a hot dog but they didn't have any. I think I promised them something outrageous... and even illegal if they could produce one for me. I still haven't gotten my hot dog.
My "York" moment. Somewhere around 40plus miles we were running up this meadow like hill. The sun was setting and I remember thinking wow this is so beautiful and I get to see this. I had a moment of goofy going on and I started running with my arms out and saying "I would love a York peppermint patty right now. I can almost feel the sensation... the find whipping through my hair, the cool breeze on my skin" and Fred was laughing at me. I think I made him laugh more than anything and maybe that's why he stayed with me who knows.
Puking at the aid station. While you would think this would go in the downside of my list but it has to go here for the sheer humor in it. I was starving and knew it was too late to keep food down but kept trying to eat. We came to an aid station and I told the girl how hungry I was. She said to try Tums or turkey. I explained that I had been trying to eat but it wasn't staying down and she insisted I try some turkey. Who am I not to oblige so I shoved some turkey in, she gave me a look and I gave her a looked at which point I turned my head, puked, thanked her and headed to get Fred. I can still see the look on her face... it was a riot.
Friends and family. While my family couldn't make it to my race it was so great to hear at the finish line that they were so worried about me. All though that made me cry even more because I knew I could not contact them to let them know I was OK. I had foolishly given them a projected time and when that time came and went they were pretty upset. My mother even sent out a mass email on face AND contacted the race director. God love my family. My running friends offered great support as well. While I never ended up running with Gale and Zach M. I thought about them and what they must be going through the entire race. My friend Tony Cutway, the truly nicest man I have ever met and I mean that with all my heart. Tony only met me once before the race, while we have talked and texted and emailed a ton we really didn't even know each other all that well yet he not only came to the race to offer me support and crew, he volunteered the entire day! As a fellow runner, I think he knew a little bit about what we needed and what we were going through so to have him there meant the world to me and I am sure everyone he helped and encountered that day.
Not getting lost!!!! How about that Joe Jurcyk, I did not get lost!!!! I can tell you all, I am the queen of getting lost but this course was so well marked and with the guidance of Fred I did not get lost not once. This is huge for me.
Now the lowlights (which I will lovingly call lessons)
Training is key, I knew going into this I had not trained enough. Being a single mom with two small kids it's tough. I don't want it to sound like an excuse, but I don't have the luxury that single people or people with spouses have to get in long runs and lots of needed hill work. I know this and accept it, plus knowing that someday they will be a little more grown and able to be alone long enough for me to get in those long runs is something to look forward too. I train when I can with what I can and that is good enough for me. I know there were people betting I would fail, while this makes me want to cry, I get it. I was not 100% ready, but then again whoever is? There were well trained runners there who did not finish and I did so what does that say?
Nutrition. I have always ran depleted and while this has worked for me even up to 50k distances I knew I needed to work on my nutrition. I had every intention of eating well throughout the race but so many factors happened that my eating was the last thing on my mind. This proved to cost me the entire last part of the race as I was almost so nauseas I couldn't even walk.
Feet and running style. For the last 2 1/2 years I have thought I had my feet issues dialed in. No blisters, no sore feet... not even after my last 50k in April. However, I did not intend nor foresee what would happen on the hills at Mohican that caused me to change my running stride and ultimately lead to unbearable blisters.
Overall, my highlights outshine my lowlights and 3 days post Mohican I am eating normal, walking normal and my blisters are all but dried up. I am actually looking forward to a nice short run tonight, which is great considering 3 days ago I was thinking of never running long distance again. The final lesson I learned, is that it's all a lesson. Time heals the wounds and life goes on. I will train harder, eat smarter and work on my hills skills for Oil Creek 100k.
I owe this, my first 50 mile finish to the most amazing man I have ever met: Fred Davis III, you will forever and always hold an even more special place in my heart than you had already held my friend.
Runwell, Outrun and live happy
Tap Knupke
June 16, 2012 Mohican 50mile ultra endurance marathon