Sunday, January 13, 2019

Oxbow 50 Ultra

Oxbow 50 shirt large redux

I broke most important rule of endurance athletes- DO NOT DO ANYTHING NEW ON RACE DAY and believe me, I paid a high price.  Lesson learned.

 The Oxbow 50 is a 50k trail ultra held on the Trans-Canada, Epinette & Newfoundland Trails of Spruce Woods Provincial Park .

Oxbox Ultra was held May 5, 2018 at Spruce Woods Provincial Park in southern Manitoba.
We drove to Brandon, MB the evening before (Friday night), checked into a hotel and got our race gear laid out.
Saturday morning's alarm went off at 5:45 am with the usual pre-event busy-ness.  Picked up oatmeal and coffee from Tim Horton's and headed to Spruce Woods Provincial Park about 40 min away.  I am not a big morning eater on the day of an event.  Every other day, I eat a lot at breakfast but never on race day.  I picked away at my oatmeal and drank only a few sips of my latte.  (Hmm, if I could just go back and see the problems this was going to cause.  BIG mistake.)
I am NOT a coffee drinker and have only in the past couple years periodically enjoy having a Tim's latte or Starbucks macchiato.  It really helps keep me perky while we are travelling, and I knew I could use a bit of help today.
Check in at 7:30 with the pre race meeting at 8:15.  Lots of energy and laughing.  It seemed everyone knew each other.  I have heard the ultra community is pretty tight and it was obvious.  We ran into a couple people we knew from our winter ultra activities.
The morning was partly cloudy and around 8 C with a bit of wind.  It felt cool to me.  I don't think I have every started an event where I haven't been cold.  It was nice to get running.

The beauty of this event in my opinion is that it was broken into 6- 5 mile sections in an almost completely looped course.  There was an aid station at each of the approximate 5 mile intervals.  The first 5 miles was an out and back but the rest was a big loop.  I like loops a lot, new stuff all the time.  We stayed about in the middle of the pack of the 88 runners.  Advice from a long time ultra runner was to walk the uphills and run the downhills- stay steady.  I was pretty gungho and ran maybe more uphills than I should have and a few times Terry (roaring runner) needed to tell me to slow things down.  I was excited and having fun. 

The first thing to interrupt my fun was the edema that started in my hands.  This happened within the first few miles.  It is so difficult for me to tell if the water retention is from too much/not enough water or too much/not enough electrolytes.  I ate a pickle at the first aid station and hoped it would help.  I used F2C glycodurance in my hydrapack and sipped periodically to keep my fluids and electrolytes up.  I also know that edema can happen with changes in temperature and I was pretty cold when I started and quickly warmed up as the sun came out and the course made me sweat.

The course itself was very deceiving in terms of difficulty.  There were no big hills, no brags of huge elevation gain but was difficult none-the-less with the constant rolling hills.  Flat sections were rare; it was always up or down.  There was various types of vegetation and trees but not many shaded areas.

In the second section, we met some new runner and visited, which made time pass by.  Aid station 2 was stocked with chips, sugary candies, chocolate bars, pickles, coke, water and NUUN.   I refilled the bladder in my hydrapack with NUUN, grabbed a piece of a kitkat and hit the trail.  I carried Generation UCAN bars with me and I had eaten parts of it along the way so I finished it off.

Issue 2 came not long after departing from the aid station in the form of a complaining right hip.  My pelvis doesn't seem to stay in correct alignment so the fundamentals of my hip/knee/ ankle are all affected.  I get a lot of pain in my hip/butt/lower back area then my knee starts to lock up and become very painful.  I hoped 2 advil would at mitigate the pain. 

Aid station 3 had water only.  We basically just said hi, thanks and kept going.

Issue 3 came very swiftly soon after.  It was like everything was good then bang it wasn't. I was planning to run today; not have the "runs".  Enter morning coffee.  I will spare the details but it was relentless, exhausting and painful.  7 stops I think I counted.   My stomach never settled for the rest of the run and my nutrition/water intake was very minimal.

I was on my own for a big part of the 5 miles between aid station 3 and 4 as when I stopped the first time to find a bush, I told Terry to keep going I would catch up.  I thought it would be finished and done.  Insert witch cackle.

The steepest hill was between aid stations 3 and 4.  A few trickles of water, lots of trees, birds singing.  I tried to focus on the beauty and not on my suffering.  A sign showed the aid station 500 m away and my spirits lifted only to find another sign 500 m later that said "Not even close".  Oh the humour of seasoned running volunteers!

Aid station 4 was a welcomed sight.  2 of the volunteers (Todd and Scott) asked right away how I was doing and what I needed.  I said my stomach was really sick and I immediately had a can of coke in my hand.  I was a bit nervous about this because I am also not a pop drinker and I feared the wrath of the coffee and pop would put me over the edge.  Todd assured me it would be fine, asked if I was sweating and if I was peeing.  My pack was taken off my back and filled with NUUN and I was given stern instructions to try to keep drinking.  It was very comforting to be in the volunteer hands of those with tons of experience.  It was evident they knew how to crew for a runner.  Thanks so much Todd! 

Terry was waiting for me at the aid station so from that point on he stuck with me.  I noticed right after leaving the aid station and having drank the coke, I had more energy and was able to run more.  This seemed to wear off after a mile or two and it was back to the run/walk thing.  It was pretty sunny and warm (+18 C), light wind which was so nice to keep us cool.  A perfect running day.  If only I could have enjoyed it more and been sick less.  I kept trying to drink and did feel really thirsty but my stomach would revolt so it was a real balancing act.  Evidence of my lack of fluid intake came from a immobilizing calf cramp that happened when I stopped to tie my shoe.  The yelling/howling/screaming charlie horse kind of cramp that needs to rubbed out and renders you useless until it is.  Oh the fun just keeps coming.

Aid station 5 I drank a few sips of coke and was given a handful of chips from the volunteers to eat.  I managed to eat a couple.  I was overjoyed to find a real outhouse so I could actually sit and not hold myself up.  If you have never experienced the pleasure of trying to squat numerous times on legs that were very shaky, you haven't lived.  I have heard of the marathoner rule of not stopping to use the bathroom 1-2 miles before the end of a marathon and I know why.  I at least had the foresight to pack a small baggie with a squirt of chamois cream and it literally saved me a whole lot of agony as the chafing from the highly acidic diarrhea was now adding to the day's list.

I have also read about how the final few miles seems like they are twice as long as the first few miles and it does seem true.  It felt like we were in the middle of nowhere still even with 1/2 mile to go.  A winter ultra friend,  Pete, came riding up along side us.  I think he was riding his bike, sweeping the course to check on everyone.  He said I looked as fresh as a daisy.  Flat out lying like that can't be bad right?

I was very thankful to see him as I was starting to wonder if we missed a turn.  The thought of getting lost and needed to go farther than necessary would have sent me into a full out fit.  Thankfully Terry was spared my tears as we were indeed on the right path.  We climbed up a decent hill and all of a sudden there it was; the people cheering, the finish line waiting, the end in sight.  Oh my.  I survived.

Brandon Search and Rescue was at the finish to assist any racer who might need medical assistance.  I have participated in a ton of events and I have to say this is the first time I considered that I may need medical help.  I felt very unwell.  People like me must have "I am in pain" written on our foreheads as they asked me how I was doing immediately when I finished.  And it seemed that at every aid station, the volunteers came to me very quickly to assist.  I guess suffering has a look of its own.
Our vehicle was very close and I wanted to sit down and reassess.  ( a big perk for this event is parking right beside the start/finish)  I said I would return if necessary.  I spread my towel on the ground and attempted to lay down on it.  A video of this event would certainly have made it to the top of the funniest video list.  I may have even become a youtube sensation.  Especially if it included me removing my shoes, socks and calf sleeves while lying down and then getting calf cramps once again in both calves at the same time.  Should have just cut the calf sleeves off.  Clearly had some swelling in my legs as the sleeves were really difficult to remove without pointing my toes.  If it didn't hurt so much it would have been truly funny.

A towel and water to wash my dirty, salty face felt heavenly.  Flip flops on, shirt change, some water and we headed to the food truck Extreme Fries, to receive our complimentary meal.  Hamburger, fries and a drink.  I drank some 7-up but could not eat.  Nor could I eat the ice cream at Dairy Queen we stopped for an hour later.  A few rice crackers given to me by a friend was all.

Interesting enough, my stomach remained unsettled for 2 more days.  Very little eating and still loose stools.  This greatly impacted my recovery process.  I was unbearably sore for 2 days and it still took 2 more days to really get back on my feet.

SO, my first experience in the ultra world was interesting.

1 week post run and my stomach is kinda back on track, my hip/knee is still acting up, I have 2 black toenails, I am somewhat caught up on sleep, my confidence is in the tank.

I have another 50 km in less than 2 weeks and I am not sure yet what is going to happen.

My conclusions:
-my diet up until the event was good, whole foods, chicken, salmon, stayed away from fiber foods 2 days prior
-stay away from coffee race day
-eating and consuming proteins after an event greatly impact recovery: bring protein shakes next time
-I ran in shorts, tshirt, calf sleeves, arm warmers -arm warmers came off after 2 miles so next time leave behind, calf sleeves felt very tight with swelling legs and I am not sure I liked that much so still on the fence about it for next time
-mix the F2C glycodurance with nuun tablets to get more electrolytes
-carry salt tablets
-always carry minimum 4 advil  as well as tums
-this was without a doubt the worst I have ever felt to date during any endurance event and the worst recovery I have ever had.  My stomach took days to settle and it made me see how very important eating properly after long bouts of exercise HELP recovery soo much.

So just to answer the question you are thinking:  If it was so bad, why didn't I quit?  Answer: during the prerace meeting, the RD explained that any racers who pulled from the event could do so at any aid station but they would need to wait perhaps quite a long time to get picked up or they would return to the finish area when that aid station closed up.  I figured that I was more than 1/2 way when I was feeling really bad so it would be easier to keep going than sit at an aid station for who knows how long also feeling really bad.

My thoughts on the event:
-though I had a crappy run (hahaha) the course was very nice.  I never felt like I knew where I was and with so many turns, I was mixed up about what direction I was going in but the changes made the miles go by.
-Race organizer Joel Toews, did an awesome job with everything.  Good aid stations, shirt and patch at the finish area.  It was an awesome event.
-the weather was pretty much run perfect.  Beginning of May with nice warm temperatures but this area even a month later could be very warm.


Sunday, January 6, 2019

Tuscobia 160 Winter Ultra

Sunday, Dec. 30 at 8:35 am after 26 hours and 35 min, we rolled into the finish of Tuscobia 160 mile Winter Ultra.

This was a tough ride.  Sometimes I still need to look at the finish line picture to remind myself it wasn't a dream; that I really did complete it.

The course was an out and back that left Rice Lake Wisconsin at 6 am with 3 checkpoints.  Ojibwa was at mile 45, Park Falls (the half way turn around) at mile 80, then back to Ojibwa for 115 miles to the finish at Rice Lake.  Lots of riding before any checkpoint.

Tuscobia live tracker showed the following info;
Rice Lake   Ojibwa in  out      Park Falls in  out     Ojibwa in  out      Rice Lake
6:00             12:07     12:31       17:15      18:13         23:26   00:14    8:35

Basically 6 hour ride the first 45 miles to the checkpoint 1.  30 min to dry the neckwarmer/jacket/change chemical warmers in boots/eat.  4 hours 45 min for the next 35 miles to the half way point with an hour there to eat/change clothes.  5 hours to cover the 35 miles back to Ojibwa where I spent 45 min.changing/fueling up.  Then 8 hours to cover the 45 miles back to the finish.  Though there was no designated checkpoint between Ojibwa and Rice Lake, a volunteer organization at the community of Birchwood (15 miles from the finish at Rice Lake) had a tent set up with cookies and hot beverages through the night and we stopped there for 45 min.

The long distances between the checkpoints was the most mentally challenging thing for me.  Especially once I was at checkpoint 3 and needed to get my head around another 45 miles to the finish when I was already tired.

Start time Saturday morning was at 6:00.  It was dark, a pleasant -15 C but very slippery/icy.  There was very little snow in the area.  It had rained Thursday with a sprinkle of snow in the evening.  The 160 mile runners left Friday morning and reports were that the trail was slush.  Temperatures were to drop from Friday to Saturday so all the slush and rain was going to be ice and ruts.  And indeed it was.  I fell within a couple miles after starting which only heightened my nervousness.  The bikers with studded tires would have a big advantage. I would take another spill 10 miles down the trail.
The first 15 ish miles had lots of hills, exposed rocks and uneven trail.  The community of Birchwood was at the end of this section where some riders stopped at one of the 2 gas stations for coffee or food.
The next 15 ish miles was nice trail.  Net downhill, away from the main roads through forest.
The trail then got tough until the checkpoint.  It appeared that a truck had drove down the trail while it was wet so there were 2 narrow ruts about 4-6 inches deep that took all the concentration I had to keep the bike upright in the rut.  Outside the rut was soft snow so it was certainly easier to be on the packed rut trail but took a lot of straight arm handling.

Ojibwa was an tarp enclosed outdoor cookhouse.  It was warm and cozy with tables and smiling volunteers ready to bring up some ramen soup or a hot beverage.  I took off my jacket, vest, neckwarmer and toque and hung them all on the line by the fire to dry out.  They weren't really wet just a bit damp.  Soup was delicious followed by a few cookies.  I put fresh chemical warmers in my boots but otherwise didn't change anything.
The trail from the Ojibwa checkpoint on for about 10-15 miles was perfect.  Packed, wide, pretty smooth for easy riding.  This was followed up with 15 miles of very soft trail with unpacked snow. Lots of traffic through this part as we met the 80 mile bikers and runners that started at Park Falls that morning and were heading to Rice Lake.  The final 5-8 miles until Park Falls had a good packed trail.  It was getting dark and we were anxious to get there.  Up until this point, any time we needed to eat or drink we stopped as trail conditions did not make eating/drinking on the go very conducive without taking a spill.  So as we approached Park Falls, I couldn't stop thinking of all the food I was going to consume.  I was so hungry!!

Chicken noodle soup, grilled cheese and hot chocolate was served to us at the Gastro Pub by amazing volunteers.  I scarfed down a donut before starting my main course.  And I don't even like donuts.  We filled our faces and met new people and visited around the table.  It was so nice to see a couple familiar faces and receive some encouragement from them.  Thanks Scott and Sue!
After eating, we grabbed our drop bags and went upstairs to use the bathroom and change clothes.  I had a full change except for my bike shorts.  A mistake to not have fresh shorts as chaffing and blisters were already formed on my inner thighs/ butt area.  I covered them with bandaids and hoped it wouldn't get much worse.  My clothing choices seemed really good up until this point as I thought I wasn't really wet or sweaty.  Slightly damp shorts would have contributed to the chaffing but unfortunately there were more players in the game.
After leaving Park Falls with a temperature of -12 C, we stopped a couple miles down the trail so I could remove a top layer and another biker caught up to us, stopped also and asked if he could tag along with us.  Introductions were made and the 3 of us stuck together until the finish. One of the best parts of doing events like this is meeting up and riding with other people.  It was really hard to converse while riding single file added to the noise of the bikes but we stopped frequently (20 min) to get a drink or pee or eat something.  At times, we walked/ran our bikes to chase away the sleepies.  The soft part of the trail was much more driveable now after being packed through the day.  We reached the well lit Ojibwa checkpoint at midnight to volunteers flipping pancakes, a warm fire and a packed tent.  Us 160 mile bikers had caught up to some of the 160 mile runners.  Lots of tired, happy people.  The outdoor biffy was cold on the butt and I knew I needed to increase my fluids.  I had only used the washroom at the checkpoints and no where along the trail.
Though we were 3/4 of the way, I was so overwhelmed by the distance yet to the finish.  Something was wrong with my bike set up (though I had changed nothing from what worked in the past) however a sore back had plagued me since around mile 30 and I knew my seat chaffing was due to me trying to sit more comfortably on the saddle to alleviate my sore back.  My right hip and knee were now both complaining very loudly and the thought of needing to withstand the constant pain for another 7 -8 hours seemed inconceivable.  I took a few walking breaks along the way as walking seemed to reset the hip and it wouldn't hurt for awhile again.  I also took a couple rest breaks.  I'm sure Mark (the rider with us) thought I was crazy but I just stopped, plopped my bike down and laid down on the trail with my eyes closed for a couple minutes.  Secretly, I think both Mark and my husband were feeling as tired as me, they just didn't admit it.  I am not as comfortable following especially in the dark.  I like to see everything and like a bright front light.  So the gentlemen with me obliged and let me lead for a lot of the 80 mile return trip.  I think it is harder on the eyes being in front, paying close attention to the trail, finding the right place to drive and watching for the ice spots but I was happy to be able to see more. 
The good part about the return trip from Ojibwa to Rice Lake was the trail was in better shape than it had been on the outgoing trip.  More packed down, evened out.  But the ruts weren't nearly so bad.  At times I thought I was hallucinating, not sure what I was seeing ahead on the trail then all of a sudden a runner pulling a sled was there.  Thank goodness for the blinking red lights.

Reaching Birchwood was a monumental feat of victory.  The trail was slippery and though we had kept a decent pace up until this point, I was slowing down and the boys behind me weren't yelling at me to pick it up so I knew they must have been tired too.  The tent had a heater, homemade cookies and warm broth!  I was abruptly overtaken by spells of shivering to find after taking off my jacket that my 2 shirts were soaking wet.  I took one off and put on my puffy coat.  Socks were soaked too.  Also put on my down mitts and sat by the heater downing cup after cup of broth.  We were in no hurry to leave, enjoying the conversation with the few others there, resting and preparing for the final 15 miles that sounds like not much but in reality was still probably close to 3 hours of riding.

If possible, this section of trail that was hard going out seemed much worse heading back.  Very rough, so slippery, uneven and tons of hills. I worked hard to turn my mind off and concentrate only on a mile at a time.  Keep moving forward.
The final 4 miles was the only section not on the Tuscobia trail system but utilized local trails.  It seemed like it kept going on and on.  I have so often heard how the final few miles before a checkpoint or the finish seem considerably longer in mind than they are in actuality and it is true.

All of a sudden, I could see the parking lot where our vehicle was and I knew the hall was just in front of us.  Mark's wife was outside by the finish cheering for us and lining us up to take pictures.  It appears I didn't even have the thinking ability or the energy to turn my headlight off and take my goggles off.

 We were greeted and congratulated inside the hall by Helen, the race director as well as other volunteers and fellow competitors.  And it was over, just like that.

I was so thirsty and drank cup after cup of water.  We changed our clothes, unpacked our bikes and loaded everything up.

McDonald's pancakes were calling our name.

photo credit
 and T.Schnorr

Many thanks to the race directors Chris and Helen for a superbly organized event.  Doesn't get much more personal than when a race director (Chris) comes past us on a snow machine at 4 am letting us know the Birchwood tent was 3 miles away.  Or when Chris and Helen make special arrangements for us to pick up our drop bags.  Many thanks.
Also so much appreciation to the many volunteers that gave up their day and night to help us achieve our dream of completing Tuscobia 160.
Thanks to the communities of Rice Lake, Birchwood and Park Falls for your support of this event.  And a special thanks to the other racers- your "hello" and "good job" as we passed in the darkest hours of the night and conversations at the checkpoints were a constant encouragement.