A Change of Plans in California: Run-de-Vous Endurance Runs, August 17-18, 2013

This was supposed to be my first official 100 miler. With a 32 hour time limit, an asphalt surface, and an easy 2-mile loop course, Run-de-Vous should have been the perfect race for me. And it no doubt would have been ideal had I not begun the race with a couple of injuries. The shin splints from my previous double marathon in San Antonio a couple of weeks earlier had essentially subsided but I was still limping because of a tight piriformis muscle, with the result that I experienced a nagging pain in my right thigh every time I took a step. This was an ominous sign and all my attempts to ice, rest, and stretch that sore exhausted muscle were to no avail. Still, I was eager to begin the race and hopeful that my excitement (and perhaps my insanity) would overrule the pain. It was not to be.

My husband and I left in the wee hours of Thursday morning for the 2 hour drive to JAX airport. We boarded the first of the three flights that would take us to San Jose, California. We knew it would be a long tiresome day but it turned out to be much pleasanter than expected because we were upgraded on all legs of our trip (thank you, Delta). As a result, though we were tired upon arriving in California, we were not starving or exhausted. Our Hertz rental car was waiting for us and we quickly loaded our luggage in the trunk and headed out to our hotel in Morgan Hill. We were staying at the Hampton Inn to take advantage of our Hilton Honors points but there were a number of other hotels close by. The neighboring town of Gilroy, a bit further to the south, had other hotels as well.

After checking in and unloading our stuff in the room (the hotel was undergoing remodeling but our room was clean, spacious, and quiet), we decided on an early supper so we made our way around town to a nearby Red Robin (I had a hankering for their sweet potato fries). The long day of travel soon caught up with us so we made it an early night. We woke the next morning refreshed and ready to explore. After a quick breakfast at the hotel, we drove to the race site to check it out. The course is held at Coyote Lake-Harvey Bear Ranch County Park in San Martin, about a 20 minute drive from Morgan Hill. There are a number of paved loops and paths in the park, but the races are all held on one 2-mile loop right near the entrance. Darcy and I walked the entire loop once to get a feel for the course. There was no worry about getting lost here. In the center of the loop was a large area enclosed with a barbed wire fence; several cows grazed and occasionally moo’ed at us. On that Friday morning, we also saw several coyotes frolicking off in the hills (so THAT’s why it’s called Coyote Lake!). Signs also warned of the presence of wild razorback hogs. Thinking about the presence of wildlife was a little unnerving but I figured that with all the people – runners and supporters – animals would be sure to give us a wide berth. It was another early night for us.

After a light lunch at Betsy’s Diner, we spent the rest of the day at the hotel. I prepared my two drop bags, figured out my strategy for the race, and tried to relax. And unwind. And mentally prepare for the race. I was excited but not especially nervous. I thought that this race was well within my capability to complete. I would not get lost and there were no roots or rocks to trip over. Still, there is always an unknown quality to every race.

Packet pickup was officially held on Friday evening at a location in San Jose, but we opted to get my race packet early on Saturday morning. We arrived at 4:45 am, just in time to help our friends Joyce and her husband Ray help set up their tent and table. Joyce was doing the 100 miler with me and we had promised to help each other get through this. At 5 am, the race director, Rajeev Patel, and his corps of friendly and helpful volunteers, were ready for us. Our goody bags included several water bottles, a short-sleeve blue tech tee shirt, and a black polyester jacket. I pinned my bib to my crops and was ready to go. I tried to be patient until the 6 am starting time.

Promptly at 6, everyone lined up behind a mark on the ground. There was no chip timing here but there was a computer monitor that was supposed to give real-time results. I never actually saw my name on the monitor so I am guessing that it only including the very top 20 people in each race. Two or three people were on hand at the results table to take our numbers as we shouted them out every time we passed by. There were two portapotties at the start/finish and three more evenly spaced around the loop. Just past the timing table was the single aid station. There was plenty of food and drink here, along with some specialty items like mushroom risotto. The full complement of usual ultra fare was available, including pizza at 5 pm and plenty of sweet and salty foods. At some point during the evening hours my stomach was queasy and I was eager for some ginger ale. They had none at the aid station but the volunteers were making frequent grocery store runs and someone kindly got some for me. In fact, the next time I went by, a wonderful volunteer poured me a cup of ginger ale and ice and handed it to me (he remembered I needed it). Very nice!

My plan was to try to do the first 25 miles in 6 hours, the next 25 in 7-8 hours, and the remaining two 25 mile segments in 8 hour increments. It would have worked out wonderfully if my legs had cooperated. I did complete the first 25 miles by noon and was looking forward to accomplishing the next 25 well before 8 pm. Unfortunately, my right leg had troubled me from the beginning but I managed to ignore the pain. This was possibly unwise because I must have changed my gait to accommodate the pain, and soon an area behind my left knee began to burn. I kept moving forward but could definitely feel the pain affecting my pace. My energy level continued high and though tired, I was alert and mentally sharp (or as sharp as I could be at that point). However, I was beginning to be troubled by my unaccustomed leg pain.

As darkness fell, I slowed considerably. This was partly due to the pain in my legs but it was also normal for me because of the lateness of the hour. I don’t see well in the dark and, since I am usually in bed by 8 pm, this was my sleeping time. I had my knuckle lights and backup headlamps to help me see the course. More troubling than the dark was the fact that I had to stop and stand still every half mile or so because the pain would cease only when I stood still. Once I began to move again, the pain returned. You can see in the photos of me at the beginning of the race and at around 6 pm that my pain level, posture, and even my mood had changed during those 12 hours.

The Run-de-Vous event consisted of several races: a 50k, 50 miler, 100 miler, and relays for the latter two. RD Rajeev had sent out an email stating that 100 mile participants could drop if necessary to 100k (62 miles) and still get an official time and a 100k buckle. I was aware of this option and by 11 pm Saturday evening it began to loom as a legitimate way to finish the race without a DNF (Did Not Finish). It was a struggle for me to do the final laps to achieve 62 miles but I managed. I don’t think I could have made it 38 more miles at that point. I have since asked myself over and over if I should have hung in there and tried to finish the 100 miles; possibly not and then I would have ended up with a DNF anyhow, but with my legs completely trashed. I am just not sure. I think every racer at some point faces that question about whether to go on or quit. I am certainly thankful for the opportunity here to avoid a DNF, finish the 100k, and come home with a buckle.

My friend Joyce also decided to drop to the 100k. For her, it was a result of the day’s heat; she does much better when it is cool. The weather was not a problem for me since I prefer the hotter temperatures. However, there is no shade on the course, so I appreciated the occasional cloud cover and breezes. I noticed that there were several other 100 milers who made the decision to drop to the 100k as well.

At some point during the evening hours, there was a mix-up with the numbers and some confusion as a result. In addition (or maybe as part of the same problem), results of the 100 milers and those of us who dropped to the 100K were not accurately recorded. Rajeev is aware of the problems and is working to resolve them. I believe I finished the 100k in 18:45.

Run-de-Vous 053

Would I do this race again? Yes, if I lived on the west coast. If I do sign up for another 100 mile race, it will be closer to home. If I had an injury or a problem of some other sort, it would be easier to opt out without risking airfare penalties. It could be that 100 milers are outside my scope. But we’ll see.

Trying to Beat the Heat in the Alamo City – x 2! (San Antonio, TX – August 3 & 4, 2013)

Trying is the operative word here. San Antonio was HOT – very hot – as well as intensely humid, even in the wee hours of the morning. Still, because I usually prefer warm weather to cold, the temptation to sign up for the I Ran Marathons Majestic August Double (with a last-minute triple added on Friday) was something I couldn’t resist.

The mastermind behind the I Ran Marathon races is Parvaneh Moayedi, an inspirational runner who just a few weeks ago successfully completed the Badwater 135 (reputed to be the world’s most difficult footrace). I had met Parvaneh in Grapevine last November when we were both doing the UltraCentric and we later saw each other again at the End of the World Marathons in December. Later I discovered that – in addition to being an avid runner herself – Parvaneh also is race director for a number of marathons in San Antonio. The races all take place on the same certified marathon course, the Leon Creek Greenway, a paved ‘trail’ that is open to walkers, runners, and cyclists. Pedestrians have right of way and, for the most part, the many bicyclists who use the greenway are polite and careful (of course, there are always a few who are pains in the butt).

After I signed up for the Saturday and Sunday marathons and made our plane and hotel reservations for Friday through Monday, I learned that Parvaneh had added another marathon to the weekend, this one for Friday. Well, it was too late to change our plans, so I decided this would be a double weekend rather than a triple. I think that was probably wise, considering the high temperatures and the difficulties I had with completing these races.

My husband and I flew to Texas via Atlanta and arrived in San Antonio around 1 pm. After picking up our luggage and rental car, we headed to our hotel, the Residence Inn, located in the new Stone Oak neighborhood north of Loop 1604. Although we had visited San Antonio several times over the past 24 years, we hadn’t driven extensively around the area during those brief trips and so we were very surprised to see how the city had expanded, especially along the northern edge. There were so many new stores, hotels, and restaurants as well as hospitals and businesses. Darcy and I first met in San Antonio 26 years ago, so the city has lots of memories for us and it was fun to be back in the area again. Of course, the temptation of fajitas was another positive reason for traveling back to the city.

We dropped our bags in the hotel room and drove to the Drury Inn several miles down the road. This Drury Inn was in fact the host hotel, but because I don’t belong to a loyalty program for that hotel, we decided to stay at one of the close-by Marriott hotels. Since we didn’t stay there, I can’t vouch for whether the Drury Inn was a clean and comfortable place to stay but it certainly was convenient for people who did decide to stay there. The trailhead is located directly behind the hotel; it was possible to leave your room and walk less than a minute to the start and finish line of the race.

Packet pickup was set for Friday from 1 to 4 pm at the Drury Inn. Parvaneh had a table set up with all the bags arranged by name and bib number. In addition to a bib, there was a cotton tee shirt and several Snickers Marathon Energy bars. It was great to visit with Parvaneh for a while, and I had an opportunity to ask her some questions and take a look at the trail itself. By this time, both Darcy and I were famished. We hadn’t eaten all day and it was now around 3 pm. We wanted fajitas so a lunch stop at Taco Cabana was definitely in order. After eating our fill, we headed back to the hotel so I could get my stuff ready and try to calm my nerves.

I was planning to do the double marathon, but this race series included more options than a marathon. In addition to signing up for one, two, or three marathons, a person could opt for a 10k, a half marathon, a 50k, or a 50 mile race on one, two, or three days. The distance was determined by the number of times the runner or walker did the certified loops, and the loops could be short or long (two short loops equaled one long loop). It was a bit confusing at first (all that arithmetic!) but I figured it out beforehand and knew exactly what my plan would be each day. There were three aid stations, with water, soda, and Gatorade, plus real food and energy bars. Patient and cheerful volunteers staffed the aid stations and were unfailingly pleasant despite having to sit in the heat all day.

Time limits were amazingly generous and forgiving. The races officially started at 6 am, with a 5 am early start (and that turned out to be flexible) and ended at 9 pm every day (although I believe everyone finished well before that deadline). I opted to take the early start each day. When I arrived on Saturday morning at 4:35 am, Parvaneh said that some people had already started, so I turned on my headlamp and took off. I couldn’t see any reason to just hang around waiting if I could be moving. This turned out to be a great idea. In fact, on Sunday I started at 4:15, so I could try to ‘beat the heat’ before the sun came up.

Although it was dark and I definitely needed my headlamp during those early hours, the course was paved and smooth. I was very careful with my footing on the first couple of loops because I was uncertain about where I was going and what kind of barriers and obstacles might stand in my way. By the second day, I was much more familiar with and confident about the course. There was wildlife aplenty (but no snakes, thank goodness, dead or alive). On Saturday, I saw at least a dozen small cottontails by the side of the trail as well as a huge porcupine. On Sunday, I heard a loud thrashing in the brush on the side of the trail and was greeted by an enormous buck that crossed the trail right in front of me and literally stopped me in my tracks. I waited to see if any more deer would follow but none did.

Temperatures were extremely high, 75 degrees at night with about 80% humidity. During the day the temperatures rose to 100-101 degrees and the humidity kept pace. Even before the sun came up, I was sweating profusely and my hair, skin, and clothes were soaked. Fortunately, I was wearing some shorts and shirts that were light and airy, with an SPF of 50 embedded into the fabric, and I was slathered in Blue Lizard sunscreen. I drank water and Gatorade as necessary, supplementing frequently with peanut butter crackers, energy bars, and S-caps.

While the heat was to be expected, one thing I didn’t prepare for was shin splints. For some reason, maybe because the course was so flat (there were only a few minor changes in elevation), my shins took a real beating and I could feel the pain very early on the first day. Rather than dissipating after a night of rest, my shins seemed to be even worse on Sunday, so my finishing times on both days were pitiful. They were not my worst finishing times, and I wasn’t last in either race, but still – I was a little disappointed to finish in 6:25 and 6:30. My excuses were the heat and humidity (naturally), the unexpected shin problems, and the energy I expended talking to other runners during the race. So, big deal – these races were pure fun! At the end of each race, Parvaneh greeted everyone by name, placed a medal around our necks, and posed for a photo with finishers. Volunteers rang bells and cheered for finishers. This series of races is definitely recommended for walkers who can take the heat. And for those who prefer cooler weather, Parvaneh offers other races year-round in San Antonio (see her website http://www.iranmarathon.com).

We did manage to successfully achieve our fajita fix for at least a couple of months. On Saturday afternoon, we lunched at Alamo Café with Darcy’s college friend Ernesto and his significant other Anna. We finished our journey with another fajita meal at Taco Cabana on Sunday. That should last us for awhile at least.