Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Grey Rock 50k Race Report

The Grey Rock 50k is billed as the "Toughest 50k in Washington" - while I have no experience with other 50k's let alone others in Washington - I'm inclined to believe this.

I ran the Grey Rock 50k on July 10. To be honest I didn't have much expectation coming into this "race." This was my first ultra and I wanted to run well. Some part of me thought I was conditioned enough to run in the six hour range. I felt I had a good plan for fueling (what to eat / drink) but did not have a lot of thoughts about the trails. I knew I could cover the distance as long as I stayed safe and since I've done a lot of hiking I felt I could avoid injury on these types of trails.

This was my first 50k so I went in with pretty open expectations. I knew it would be tough - I've hiked these types of trails before but never run. I had an idea about the profile (1800' up, then down, up 2000', down 200' then go back for 6000' of elevation gain). I had a fueling plan and I knew what time the race started. That was about it.
I have done some trail running this year but nowhere truly approaching a long run so I knew I'd have to take it easy. And I would run trail ultra style - walk / hike the ups, run the flats, hammer down. I had just run a marathon two weeks prior and another three weeks before that so figured my legs would be a bit fatigued.

I was hoping for a time in the 6:30 range.

Preparation & Nutrition
The only real prep was to get my nutrition figured out. Based on some previous reports and knowing how the aid stations were situated I planned on nearly completely supporting myself.

We had a drop bag opportunity at the first aid station but not the second so I planned around that.

I was prepared for about 300 calories an hour and wanted to consume protein and fat along with carbs. This is important in an endurance event and also helps to keep stomach / GI issues at bay. I had four "feed bags" two of which had real food (fig newtons and pineapple slices) and two had prepackaged energy (Clif Bloks + Sport Beans). I packed some extra gels and Shot Bloks.

For hydration I used Hammer Perpetuem in my Nathan bottle and water in my hydration pack. Refilled the bottle each aid stop. Would refill the water as needed.

All-in-all this strategy worked well. I actually didn't eat all my food on the first "leg" so I didn't take full fuel for the second - I had extra already and the aid stations were well packed.

My big mistake was forgetting to refill my bladder at the last aid station. I refilled at #2 and thought about it all the way down the second ridge but once I got there I was preoccupied with my bottle, my other fuel, etc. and simply forgot - more on this in a bit.

I also took several Endurolyte caps with me. These are electrolyte replacement supplements and what I could find before the race. The weather was to be fairly warm (85-90) on course and I wanted to make sure I was replacing lost fluid & electrolytes. I took these every 30 min or so or as I felt the urge - I didn't keep myself to a strict regimen. My hands and feet were a little swollen during the race so I may have underdone it (or overdone it according to what I've read!). But I felt well-hydrated all day (other than the last climb) and was totally rehydrated within an hour of the run.

The Course
We started most unceremoniously (and gloriously) at the trail head after some instructions from the RD. I was with my friend Deb and we stayed near the back and started to power hike up the first ridge. This was an 1800' ascent across switchbacks for about three miles. I settled into a groove and soon noticed that I'd lost Deb somewhere in the starting melee. I slowed a bit to check on her and saw her at one of the switchback turns and she yelled at me that she was ok (of course I find out later she most certainly was not if I may do a bit of brute force foreshadowing). I trotted off up the hill.

The first ascent was not too bad - I'd walk / hike the steeper parts, run / jog on the flats. We reached the top and got a bit of downhill and I took off. It felt really good to stretch my legs. After a bit of this cruising I realized I was pounding pretty hard and that I needed to save my legs (and I had just read the WS100 race reports where some guys did this with TK and GR) so I eased up. I hit the 12k aid station in 1:33-ish (I left at 1:36).

The next uphill was 12k of mostly up. On exposed ridgeline. And the sun started coming out. The first 1000' was pretty constantly uphill and I hiked nearly all of it. We broke onto a logging road and I wet my hat and scarf in a stream and carried on.

Incidentally the aid on course is manned by local firefighters which was awesome. There were a couple perched on the logging road at this point and it's a great feeling to know you have really good support on course.

The next section was more winding so I got a lot more running in while going up. We went through a completely open field that was gorgeous and then over loose rock piles and then up into aid station #2. I refilled water + bottle here. At this point we heard a runner had seen a bear on course. I was too tired to care. After all that up I just wanted to run down.

I had been pretty alone through the ridgeline up so it was nice to be around a few runners at the aid station.

We then had a small out-and-back to get the full 50k in. This section was under heavy tree cover and as as result there was still lots of snow on the ground. It was in fact quite mushy and I got pretty wet and muddy in this section. I had pretty good form downhill and was hiking up most of this on the way back. I left the aid station (2nd time through) after 2:36; overall time 4:12.

At this point I knew that 6:30 was out of the question. Maybe somewhere around 7:15 would be possible. I was up 4000' of the total 6000' so this seemed reasonable.

On the way out of the aid station I started meeting more runners still coming up. I was looking for Deb among the group but did not find her. Once the last five or six had gone by and a couple of minutes had passed I knew I would not see her. The worst possible thoughts went through my head - she had broken her leg, sliced open her foot, etc. I hoped for the best for her and continued to plod downhill slowly convincing myself she would be ok.

I felt good on the way down - ran / jogged through the first section and then walked through the exposed rocks under the sun. I was a bit drained but took some water, gels and caps and got back on track. This is the trick in long endurance events - get through the lows quickly and recover on the run (so to speak).

I got caught at this point by another runner (getting caught by someone with 35 total runners is kind of an interesting process) and led him down the hill for a couple of miles. I don't think he was doing well so he let me lead and eventually he dropped back. This was good because he didn't see me ass out head first further down the slopes!

I still felt pretty good at this point but knew I was not breaking any speed records. I hit the firefighters again and stopped to get some extra gels out of my pack. The previous runner passed me at this point and I hiked and jogged down the last part of the ridge. It was getting pretty warm by this point. Running west was nice because there was a good breeze but east was a bit more of a challenge.

As I came into the last aid station at 38k I saw the bright yellow shirt of the Salty Bananas on Deb. She was safe and I was quite relieved.

And this is where I made my crucial mistake.

I refilled my bottle with more fuel and water. I grabbed extra food. I grabbed food from the aid station (watermelon). What I did not do was refill my mostly empty bladder in my pack.

I had come in at about 5:37 which meant about 1:12 down the last section.

Deb decided to go back with me v. hitching a ride back. This turned out to be great since she had water with her and I was able to steal it from her since I'd forgotten mine. I was happy to see her and know she was safe and we told our various war stories of the day.

It took forever to get to the top of the ridge (1:45 as I recall) as I was really getting dehydrated at this point. Fortunately at the top there were a couple of firefighters who had water. I grabbed two bottles and refilled my bottle and took the other. On the way down I tried to start running but I was pretty sapped and my body was not having much of it. I'd work through sections of just "fast hiking" and as we lowered I did get to be in better shape once the water started to kick in. But it was just too much to push through in the end.

At the bottom I came out of the trail head and Deb let me go ahead and run for the line. I crossed in 8:19:25.

Here's the great thing about trail runs and ultras. All the way up and down as we met others everyone would give words of encouragement. There is competition on the slopes but just as much (if not more) camaraderie. As I crossed the finish line the RD said "great run Jeff" which you'd never hear in a large marathon. Other runners and support staff clapped you all the way in a cheered. I had not run a good race of posted a fast time but everyone was encouraging.

Of course you cannot discount being on such beautiful terrain. Mt Rainier and Mt Adams were out in all their glory. The valley views from the ridgelines were remarkable. And how cool to run through snow (as sloppy as it was) in July?

As for the race hell this was my first ultra. It was on a challenging course. And it ended up being a hot day. I didn't deal very well with wet feet and got blisters as a result (I never blister when I run). I made a crucial mistake in not taking water. I'm glad that Deb was ok and I'm glad I finished. I'm not terribly happy with my time in retrospect but I'm already looking forward to my next ultra.


Anonymous said...

Wow, what a recap! Sounds like a crazy challenging race! The photos make it look that much more inspiring. glad you made it, & glad you learned from it.

mjeswoosh said...

Great recap. I used to live in Washington but now reside in Chicago. I love returning back out West to run and take in the scenery. This run is on my to do list so I really appreciate your candid recap. Keep chugging!!!

Jamey Bilyeu said...

Very well written. Sounds a bit White Riveresque, in a good way.