Thursday, March 19, 2015

Marin Ultra Challenge 50K: That One Time I Slipped On A Crab (And Everything Else That Happened)





I registered for the Marin Ultra Challenge 50K in San Francisco for three main reasons: 1) My training plan for the Leona Divide 50 called for a 30 mile run with decent elevation gain that weekend, 2) The course looked gorgeous (and hard!), and 3) After telling my boyfriend about the race, I convinced him to sign up as well (he chose the 50-mile option). Triple-win!

With a little more than a month left to train for Leona, I approached the MUC 50K as training run rather than a race. My intention was to finish with enough left in me so that I would still be able to reach my goal mileage for the next week. This was the first of two week of my highest mileage for my training plan.. The goal was to hit 50-55 miles for the first week, and hit 60-65 the next week. That's a lot of miles and time to iron out the kinks for my nutrition and gear. And for breaking in my new Luna Sandals (the Gordos).

The night before the race, I laid out the contents of my hydration pack, course map and gear on the table in front of me.



I made sure my Garmin was fully-charged. Double-checked that I had my heart-rate monitor and Salt Stick Tabs. Counted the safety pins attached to my race bib. I considered the relative benefits of carrying two handhelds versus a hydration pack. Rearranged the order of my gels, from least-favorite to most favorite. 

To a non-runner, it must have looked strange to see me stuff several small gels into a pocket of my pack, only to pull them out again moments later, contemplating the order of which I may or may not want to eat them during my race. Espresso gel first thing in the race with no nearby bathrooms? Maybe not the greatest of ideas...

I wouldn't necessarily consider myself to be the type of person who is overly attentive to detail, but with racing, I'm downright OCD at times. I find this stage of race preparation oddly therapeutic and calming. It makes me feel better have everything ready to go and organized the night before the race. That left me with more brain-space to dwell over other important things like whether or not the ice in the cooler will keep the beers cold until the end of the race. 

For my nutrition, I planned on using Tailwind (a sensitive-stomach friendly electrolyte / nutrition powder you put into your water-- think of it as Gatorade on crack), a Bison EPIC bar, Salt Stick Tabs as needed, three  or four gels (some with caffeine, some not), five Medjool Dates, and a chocolate-covered marshmallow egg (because things like that make me really happy in the middle of a race). I figured I'd also be picking at the food at the aid stations, but in general, I liked to be fully-prepared by myself. I also had my headlamp (we would be starting in the dark), sunglasses and my trusty Dirtbag Runners trucker hat.

Even with my obsessive packing and scanning over the map, I still I went to bed that night feeling restless. I wanted to run.

Race Day Morning - A Crab-tastic Beginning 




Peter woke up early the morning of our race (around 3:30 am!) and went into the kitchen to brew a pot of coffee. After a few minutes, I dragged myself out of bed, still sleepy-eyed and feeling like I didn't really sleep at all.


After a cup of coffee each and a few bites of food, we filled our thermoses with the leftover coffee and drove to the starting line of the race.

The event start and finish was set up just below the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. We arrived forty-five minutes early to give ourselves plenty of time to finish our coffees and handle business. As we wandered around killing time before the start, we walked to the shore's edge, taking in the sparkling reflection of the bridge in the water. It was beautiful.

As with every race start, I found myself observing other runners and their gear. What kinds of hydration packs they had, what types of headlamps they used, the shoes (or lack thereof). I looked down and realized I was probably the only person running in Luna Sandals. While at the Born To Run Ultramarathon my feet would disappear among a sea of Lunas, in the Marin Headlands of San Francisco, I looked mildly out-of-place.

Regardless, I felt confident that the model I was wearing / testing out / breaking in -- The Gordo-- would hold up well on the terrain. It was thicker and burlier than the typical Lunas I ran in, and had a sole that was specifically designed for trail running. I was also planning on wearing them for the Leona Divide 50, so this was the perfect setting to put them to the test.

The race director called for the runners to head to the starting line --the 50 mile and 50K would both start shortly after 6 am.

Peter and I wished each other good luck, and soon we were all off running into the darkness.

Peter happily bounded towards the front of the pack, and I hung back a little (okay, a lot), finding a comfortable pace and making sure I kept a reasonable heart-rate. 

It was still pretty dark out, and my headlamp was doing a bad job of lighting up the ground in front of me. I tried to carefully watch where I was stepping.

I was only maybe half a mile out when my right foot landed on something large that crunch-SMASH-squished and I felt my center of gravity change drastically. It happened so quickly that my arms didn't even have a chance to brace my fall.

My left shin hit the ground first, dragging against the pavement to stop my forward momentum.

I hadn't even made it to the trailhead yet.

I'm technically running on the road right now.

Running down a steep single-track whilst channeling your inner Kilian Jornet? Worthy of a wipe-out.

Flat paved road? Nope.

A nearby runner stopped for a moment to make sure I was alright.

"I'm fine! Just a little scrape!" I said, quickly standing up and brushing the rocks off my legs.


I inspected my now stinging shin and saw dark red streaks run down my leg. 

The scrapes looked more like an animal had slashed the front of my shin. 

Thankfully, it didn't hurt too bad.

I pointed my headlamp in the direction of where I slipped, and I couldn't believe what had taken me out:

A fucking crab.

Like, the kind of crab with big claws you might find steamed and served alongside melted butter at a seafood restaurant. The back of its shell was cracked down the middle and it's insides were spilling out through the sides.

Brutal way to go out, little dude.

It made my scratched-up leg look like a paper-cut in comparison.

I thought about taking a photo, but the mob of runners was still pretty dense and I figured it was better just to keep moving forward. I had an important task at hand: running. Far.

The Marin Headlands 



The next few miles passed like a blur.


Up up up, down down down.

Up down, up down.

I watched as the twinkling headlamps bobbed in the darkness of the valley in front of me. 

As the sun started to peak it's way out from the mountains behind me, I was able to finally see the surrounding mountain ranges. It was gorgeous.

Everything was green and vibrant. Spring was in full bloom and I was grateful to be able to run during such a perfect day. The weather was set to be the low 70s during the day with some clouds, so needless to say, I couldn't ask for better conditions!

At around mile 8 we began to climb along the coast and I couldn't help but stop and take a few photos.




The rolling single-track ran along the coast for a few more miles, and then drifted back into the mountains. I found myself running down a path that led alongside a farm. 

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw two figures swoop down from a nearby fence and position themselves in the middle of the trail ahead of me.

I stopped running, startled.

The two birds ruffled their feathers and gobbled menacingly at me.




This has got to be a joke...right?

Right?

...Do I try to scare them away? Should I attempt to run by?

I didn't really know what to do.

I took a few tentative steps forward, and one of the turkeys lunged at me. 

The thoughts raced through my mind:

Are turkey beaks sharp? Can a turkey bite draw blood?

Is this some sort of retribution for all the turkey I've eaten in my life?

How fast do turkeys run?

...Can I run faster than a turkey?

Why do these turkeys hate me so much?

Feeling anxious about how long a stand-off with two turkeys could take, I decided to take a chance and just run for it. 

I barely got by as one of the turkeys stumbled over its own feet to reach me.

Now the bigger turkey was angry-- and he ran after me-- gaining speed as I pushed hard towards the aid station in the distance.

I glanced behind me and saw with horror that the turkey was actually getting closer. It was like something out of a cartoon and I wished that I had taken those martial arts lessons as a kid, so maybe I could have just kung-fued the turkey as a last resort. 

The aid station volunteers looked over and realized what was happening.

Instead of rushing to my defense, they did what any other self-respecting group of people with smart phones would do -- they started taking photos and video-taping.

The turkey chased me all the way to the aid station, where I quickly ran behind the table. One of the volunteers shook a jacket at the bird and it scurried off back to its perch, waiting for the next runner to torment. The volunteers were doubled-over and laughing.

An older volunteer came up to me, giggling to herself. 

"They've been doing that to the poor runners all morning! Just sitting on the fence and jumping down when they see the next one coming!"

"Today has been more eventful than I could have anticipated," I said, grabbing a gel from the table. 

"One of the birds ripped a guys shorts earlier! You got out lucky," she told me. 

Then she noticed my leg. 

"Nevermind! It looks like something already got to you!" She said, eyebrows raised a little. "Want us to clean that up?"

"No!" I said a little too quickly. "Thanks, though." 

I really didn't want to mess with it until after the race, fearing it would just make it hurt more.

"Okay..." She said, with a look of disapproval that reviled my Grandmother's. I knew the look well. It said: You young kids these days think you're so invincible... 

I grabbed half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. "I'll take care of it after I'm done. Promise!"

I smiled and left before she had a chance to talk me into a bandaid. I ran up the trail, eating my sandwich and attempting to pick up the pace a bit.



As I made my way up the biggest climb of the day, I felt my legs slowly loosen up. I felt strong. It was strange to think about the fact that I started to feel my best around the four hour mark. Talk about a long warm-up period!

After an exhilarating descent into the next valley, the trail twisted and led to an expansive grassy field where the grass grew higher than my head. It felt like wonderland and I could barely see more than a few yards ahead of me. 

Suddenly, I was climbing again, and the trail had become a thick canopy of trees covered with vines and flowers. It reminded me more of a jungle in the Amazon than in the mountains above San Francisco. The quickly changing settings was a little shocking but amazingly entertaining. 




I lost track of time between miles twenty and twenty-nine. At some point, I do remember looking down at my watch around mile twenty-five, and thinking to myself that this was the half-way mark for Leona. I wondered what another twenty-five miles on my legs in a month would feel like.

I was nearing the end of the race when my hips started to feel pretty tight and a few hot spots started burning on the bottoms of my feet. I saw the San Francisco bay in the distance, and I felt a pull towards it. 

I thought of a saying of my Grandpa's in this moment: 

"Nothing to do but do it."

Nothing to do but do it.

The remaining miles passed by in what seemed like seconds.


The course ended up finishing at a little over 32 miles (thanks for the bonus mile, guys!). I ran through the finish line, elated. My legs felt trashed but relatively good considering the seven thousand feet of climbing I had just done. I hobbled to the nearest grassy patch on the ground and sat down. I looked over at the mountains I had just ran through.

I felt nothing but pure satisfaction. 

Post-race entertainment

I slowly made my way to the finish line aid station, and marveled over an assortment of snacks, food and drinks. 

"We have soda, gatorade, tailwind....beer," One volunteer told me, perking up a bit at the end.

"What kind of beer?" I asked, hopeful for something other than a Coors Lite or Budweiser.

"Sierra Nevada and Laguanitas IPA," She told me.

I smiled.

"An IPA would be amazing, thank you!" I said.

She pulled the beer out of a cooler filled with ice, popped off the top and handed it to me.

I took a long drink. It tasted amazing. 

I stood there in a daze, eating a couple of slices of watermelon and trying to gain motivation to do anything other than just stand there and stare at the food.

My left leg stung a bit and I looked down at it. Having been mentally separating myself from the cut for the majority of the day, the reality of the situation suddenly came into seriousness. My whole left leg was covered with dried blood and dirt. It looked pretty gross and looked like the perfect breeding ground for a serious infection. If someone was going to get sick from not cleaning out a cut well enough, that person would probably be me. 

So I figured I should probably run some water over it at the very least. 

I asked one of the volunteers if they had access to a hose.

"What for?" He asked.

"Oh, I just want to wash off my leg," I said, pointing to my battle wounds. 

His eyes widened, "Why don't you just go to the medical tent?" He suggested, pointing to a little tent a couple yards away.

I grimaced, already knowing what was in store for me. 

The only thing worse than cleaning out a cut is letting another person do it for you.

I drank the rest of my beer, hoping it would help curb the pain I was about to endure. 

I walked over, hesitantly.

A small old woman with a large straw hat sat in a lawn chair reading a book.

As I approached, she looked up and then put the book down in her lap. It had a picture of a shirtless man with long hair, riding a horse on the beach. I tried not to laugh.

"Are you the medic?" I asked.

"Sure am! What do you--" She said, eyes trailing downward to my leg. "Oh! Want me to clean that up?"

"Yes, please," I said. 

"Sit right here! I'll get you put back together in no time."

I sat down in the chair and watched as she rummaged through a box of supplies, pulling out a pair of latex gloves. After putting them on, she then gabbed a bottle of soap and a cloth, wetting it slightly. She pulled out a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and alcohol and set them on the small table next to us.

"This is going to sting a little," She said, holding the cloth above my leg. She held onto the back of my calf, securing my leg in place.

That made me worried.

I took a deep breath and nodded and--

OH. MY. GOD.

I couldn't stop myself from yelling. 

AaahhhhhrrrrgggggggughhhOWowOWWWWWW!!

So. Much. Pain.

The old lady scrubbed at my leg like it was an old dish that hadn't been washed in years. The cloth felt like a brillo pad, and I looked down in horror as the blood started pouring down my leg again, the cut looking fresher and deeper than it they had originally looked. 

"I'm sorry, I have to get all the little rocks out!" She said, scrubbing harder.

I felt nauseous. 

She held a paper towel to my leg and then reached for the hydrogen peroxide.

No! No that! I don't need tha-AAHHH!

She was in full-Grandma mode, ignoring my pleas and continuing to scrub deeper into my leg. 

It hurt worse than getting a teeth cleaning from an angry dentist. It hurt worse than any tattoo I'd ever gotten. It hurt worse than getting my nose pierced or ankle broken. It made ultrarunning feel like a casual stroll through the park.

"If it makes you feel any better, I made an old man cry earlier," The old lady said, smiling wider than I would have liked. 

I wasn't a bit surprised. 

I couldn't even talk back. I could hardly breath. 

I stared in the direction of the race start and finish, hoping to distract myself as she scrubbed and dabbed and rinsed.

"Almost done!" She said.

I then saw Peter coming through the finish line, a mere hour after I came in. Taking into consideration that I was slowly running the 50K and he was racing the 50, I wasn't completely surprised. 

Dude is fast. 

"My boyfriend just finished, I'm all good now, thank you, I gotta go!" I said, trying to get away from her as fast as possible.

"Hold on, I gotta put something on that!"

"I'm good! I want it to air dry, please!"

I got my second look of disapproval that day. 

"Just be careful!" She said, frowning. 

"Thank youuuu! I really appreciate it!" I told her, slinking out from her grasp. 


I tried my best to walk as normally as possible over to Peter, who was standing in the shade of the finish line aid station.

"Dude! Good job!" I said, giving him a high-five. "How was your race?"

I could tell by the look on his face that he was feeling the same pure joy I felt at the end of my race. 

He told me that he pushed hard the entire time and hit a PR for the 50 mile distance by a little under an hour. It was a challenging course and I was happy to see him so pumped about his finishing time. 

He noticed my leg. "What happened?"

"It's a funny story..." I started, wondering if I should just tell him that I wiped out, Kilian-style while running down one of the descents.

"I slipped on a crab."

He didn't look surprised. 

We shared our stories from the day and sat in the shade of the finish line tent. We talked to few other runners and enjoyed a couple beers. It was a rad ending to a pretty rad day. 

I think I earned my stripes on this one.

T-minus thirty days until the Leona Divide 50!