Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Run Rabbit Run 100

So my entire summer of living in Colorado came down to the race on Friday. Being a 100 miler and given the length of time these things take to get done I am afraid this is a rather long blog post but I hope I can keep it as interesting as possible.

Thursday night was the usual with lot's of nerves and little worries about injuries but waking up on Friday at 6am after a reasonable amount of sleep I was ready to run. I grabbed some coffee , ate some cake and then headed out of the hotel to the start area at 7am. Lauren(Woody) , Kim and Angie were my support team and pacers for the journey ahead.....

Ready to go
Start to Long Lake - Mile 11

We started off with a big climb(1300m). I was jogging really well up a lot of this until we went off the trail and headed directly and steeply up the piste and through long grass , rocks , roots etc..I did say before the race I would go slow here but I was feeling great and climbing really is one of my stronger points so I just headed on up how I felt and before I knew it I had made it to the top of the climb in 9th place in 1hr 18mins! Nothing to get excited about as from here I made myself slow down. I knew I would be quite near the front of the pack on the climb and lose places later so it really was no big shock for me to find myself in this position. By this point I was at mile 5 with 6 miles to go until the Long Lake Aid station. The next 6 miles was amazing single track with lots and lots of little ups and downs. I really eased back on my pace here and wasn't bothered being passed  by people who were stronger flat runners than me. I arrived into Long Lake at 10.30am. I grabbed a drink of Coke and headed off to Olympian Hall.

Heading to Long Lake
Long Lake - Mile 11 to Olympian Hall - Mile 20.5

Now this section went very very well for me. I wasn't really feeling myself on the flat and rolling terrain during the early hours and even the start of this section is a mile of flat single track and I just couldn't find my usual rhythm here. I decided not to push as I knew we had a big descent to come so I hung on until it began. I love to descend fast and technical trails and I was in for a treat here. Once the incredibly fun descent began I really took off and flew past people. I was not holding back one bit here and before I knew it I was at the Fish Creek Falls Trail head at mile 16.5 with only 4 miles on road to Olympian Hall.

Feeling good
This road section was on an unclosed main road so I was allowed someone to run with me here for safety so Kim met me and we cracked out the 4 miles rather well considering I hate roads but we just chatted to each other and it was over in no time. I arrived in Olympian Hall at 12.06pm and in 7th place! Woody and Angie were there shouting at me as I ran in and they helped me get refuelled for the next section. Woody did drop it into my ear how high up the placings I was but I was still not getting excited. We know I can go fast up and down hills so this kind of placing early on was not too big of a shock for us. Plus it was only mile 20 of 100. There was a long long way to go and I told them on this section I would lose places and be slower. I was honestly expecting by the time I had done the next 20 mile loop to Cow Creek and back to Olympian Hall that I would be in the 20-30s. I was more impressed that I had arrived here over 2 hours ahead of my predicted time.

Enjoying Mtn Dew at Olympian Hall
Olympian Hall – Mile 20.5 to Olympian Hall – Mile 41.3(Via Cow Creek)

I had already trained on this loop in the summer so I knew what to expect but it by no means made it easy. It is a 4 mile climb up , then a rolling descent for 5 miles to Cow Creek Aid station then 2 miles of dirt road , another 7 mile climb and finally a 4 mile descent back to Olympian. The first climb went nice and slow and steady but on the next bit I was terrible. My legs didn't feel too great and again I found it hard to get them going on the rolling terrain. I lost a lot of places between here and Cow Creek but was still super happy with my time. The 5 mile single track descent really was one of the race highlights and I did stop here twice(for seconds) to just look around. I arrived into Cow Creek at 2.05pm. Again I was really happy with my time for that section considering the first climb is really tough. I was even more stoked to see my team here as I thought they were going to skip this checkpoint so it really cheered me up seeing them there even if my face didn't tell the same story. It did mean a lot guys! It had taken me 2 hours to get here which was what I expected but I had dropped to 14th place. Next up was the 2 miles of dirt road and this went fine. I met another runner at the start of this and we ran along it together chatting away and this stretch passed in no time. After that was the climb back up and over to Olympian. I wasn't looking forward to this section however it went rather well. I was just speed hiking all of it and nobody was passing me so I was happy with my pace. I arrived at the high point faster than I expected too and then it was a nice cruisy run back down to Olympian Hall and I was feeling really strong on the descent with no knee pain whatsoever.

Heading into Cow Creek
Out I go
Olympian Hall Mile – 41.3 to Dry Lake - 64.5

I felt great coming into Olympian at 4.46pm and was greeted by my awesome and ever enthusiastic team. I just threw down empty gel wrappers and handed over my empty bottles and they refilled them and handed me new gels. I went into the aid station and grabbed some bacon(yes bacon at an aid station!) watermelon and some crisps. From here I could pick up my first pacer and Angie was there ready to go. We left the aid station just walking as I was still finishing my bacon and then downed a can of red bull which was not too wise.

Coming back into Olympian alongside Woody
We started a little jog on the next 4 mile road section but I had to slow right down and even walk a lot of it as my stomach was not agreeing to the mix of Red Bull and Bacon(who would have known!) I didn't feel right on this whole ascent up the road to the next trail head but I never stopped and somehow I wasn't sick even though I tried. We hit the Fish Creek Falls trail and began the long 6.5 mile hike up to Long Lake aid station. The hike went okay. I was still plugging away at it but I just wasn't feeling my usual self climbing up here. My stomach was all over the place but my legs were feeling fine. Angie helped me out a lot here just chatting and feeding me. Just before we hit the Long Lake aid the head torches came out and extra clothes went on as the temperature really started to drop. We got into Long Lake(51.4) at 7.55pm(11hrs 55mins race time) A little longer than I had hoped for but still hours and hours inside of the cut off time. We got some ramen noodle soup here and some coke(both of these are an Ultra runners lifeline) and headed off for Summit Lake at mile 56.9. We were still climbing here. Nothing  steep but it is still uphill to Summit Lake and again I was not feeling too much better. It was getting really cold but that wasn't affecting me too much.

Angie and I heading off
I had enough clothes on but as usual my hands were pretty damn cold but not quite life threatening so I just had to put up with it. Angie spurred me on talking away without much response from me but I was just having a bit of a downer for a lot of this section. I wasn't ever going to quit but I just had to get through this little blip. Eventually we arrived at the amazing Summit Lake Aid 56.9 at 9.40pm and what an Aid Station it was. The volunteers were so so friendly and all the tents had been joined to make some sort of little shack which was stacked to the roof with amazing food and was warm as hell. I didn't want to leave. We set off from here for the long 8 mile descent to Dry Lake. This is again dirt road and goes on and on and on for what seems like forever. I was hoping to run a lot of this descent but by this stage my left shin was getting pretty sore. It was hard to run on and I knew if I pushed it here it could jeopardise my race later so we went for a jog a bit walk a bit routine. I knew Angie hoped to run down this with me but I just wasn't willing to screw up my shin at this stage of the race and possibly DNF so I took it very easy here. We arrived in Dry Lake 64.5 at 11.28pm and had dropped down a few places to 21st.

Dry Lake Mile – 64.5 to Dry Lake 74.5

I felt a bit better getting into Dry Lake and my team were here to urge me on. Kim took over here from Angie to pace on the next 10 mile out and back section. Kim and myself had already ran this section earlier in the summer and knew I could run the 5 miles downhill single track and then speed hike it back up and to my surprise it went exactly as planned. We jogged down the track chatting and eating and to both of our surprise we rounded a bend and seen the turnaround point. We were both pretty surprised by this but neither of us complained. We stopped here for about 10 mins as Kim stuffed ice into my compression socks to numb the pain of my shin and it worked a treat. Then it was time for the McDonalds! I know some non runners out there will think this is a stupid idea but trust me it ain't. On this kind of distance a bag of lettuce ain't going to do anything for you. You need calories and lots of them. Everyone has their own favourite whether it's pizza , crisps , bagels etc... but for me a McDonalds burger(which Kim had bought earlier in the night for me) tastes bloody good at mile 70 in a race and it's packed with a ton of calories to keep me going.

I'm Lovin' it
Spirits were high here and the medic in the tent was chatting away to me impressed that a Scotsman was doing so well in the race. He then asked if I swear a lot and you can all guess my response which received a lot of laughs. So off I went with Kim on the hike back up to Dry Lake. Again it was just a nice fast pace and in what seemed like no time at all we were back with the rest of the team at Dry Lake 74.5 at around 2am still in 21st place.

Dry Lake – Mile 74.5 to Summit Lake – Mile 81.1

Getting back to Dry Lake I changed into some warmer clothes for the long slow hike ahead. From here I picked up Lauren who was going to see me to the end of the race. It's no surprise that Woody and I like to run together so I was super excited to get to her and then see what we could do with my pace to the end of the race. Off we went up the long dirt road. I and my team expected me to go back up this road in around 3hrs.

Woody and I set off
Over the entire course so far which was 18hrs in I had managed to pee just once! Not a good sign. I was drinking lots but if your not peeing then something is wrong and it can go very very wrong if it stays that way. Kidneys not working time! However as we headed up the road I needed to pee! Thank god. I stood at the side of the road and shouted out loud “I have never been so happy to pee” and from then I had to go another 3 times on the climb so the kidneys were doing fine. Panic over. Woody and I just chatted and laughed pretty much all of the way up here and somehow we got to Summit Lake Aid in 2hrs 22mins it was 4.22am and I had moved up to 16th. Spirits were high...but not for long. We grabbed some soup here to warm up and off we went.

Summit Lake – Mile 81.1 to Long Lake – Mile 89.7

We were both excited about this section as it was amazing single track all the way to Long Lake and we were hoping to blast this out if we could. We/I couldn't. Pretty much as soon as I started this section my mind went to shit. My legs were fine , a little heavy but not sore and no cramping. I had done a great job eating and keeping my salt levels good all day. My shin was in agony here and being so tired I kept leaving my foot trailing and my toe would clip rocks and roots and stretch my shin and it was pretty damn sore. It was really really cold and we were out all on our own with not another runner in sight. Woody kept freaking here thinking we would come across a bear but I wasn't giving a damn.  If we had seen one I would probably have tried to hug it. Woody really was great here. She kept feeding me gels and chews as I pathetically just turned to her and opened my mouth and she would ram some in. Another McDonalds burger didn't work so well this time as Woody stuck it in my mouth and I just let it hang there and then fall out. I was getting worse and worse. I was worried we were not running but she assured me we were going at a really strong pace. I kept asking her why nobody was passing us and she kept saying “nobody is passing us because your moving fast and everyone else is destroyed too” This was for sure my lowest point of the race. My eyes were so heavy and even shutting at times. I am sure I freaked Woody out a little more as I said “all the grass on the ground keeps coming into my eyes!” No joke , every time I blinked the ground was jumping out into my face and the grass I swear was getting into my eyes. Woody knows me well enough and could tell I was on a major downer but I wouldn't stop moving. She just kept me moving and eating and just kept telling me we need to get to Long Lake and some food and by that time the sun would be up and I would feel better. The girl did however freak me out a little when somewhere along the trail she all of a sudden shouted "STOP!" I thought she was going nuts. She thought there was an almighty hole in the middle of the trail but it turned out to be a huge puddle as I continued walking and said "it's a f**king puddle Woody". Once we were a mile from Long Lake the sun was coming up and almost instantly my mind changed and I really started to perk up. I only had a half marathon to go and I was done!

Long Lake – Mile 89.7 to Finish – Mile 102.5

I was so so happy to get here. It was 6.44am. Apparently here I was down to 23rd place but not a soul passed us between Summit Lake and here and at Summit Lake I was in 16th so I am guessing there was a problem somewhere with the timings. Anyway I sat down next to the camp fire here and started to change from my warm clothes back into some cooler stuff. Woody handed me coffee , crisps and noodle soup. The transformation here from zombie to eager runner was incredible. I was a totally different person once I got that coffee and changed into new clothes and shoes. I don't normally have a strategy for an Ultra but before this race we had planned that if I got to here and felt good then we would give it a hell of a go. That is preciously the reason I held back on a lot of the dirt roads earlier on. I wasn't having the best time at those stages so I knew to slow it down and not push and burn out and to try and keep some gas for a fun finish. I knew if I got here and had anything left then Woody was the person to get it out of me. So off we went for the finish. We started jogging. The shin was sore like really bloody sore but I knew it would get me 13 miles to the end albeit with a lot of moaning.

Not holding back
The first few miles of this section is rolling terrain with the odd little climb. Woody asked me what I wanted to do and I said let's try running the flats , definitely run the downs and speed hike the climbs. It all went to plan. We were doing great and started passing more and more runners here. Woody was a bit scared I was going to have one almighty bonk at some stage so kept insisting on me eating and drinking which I kind of agreed to. My head was so focused here on running. The flat and downhill running then turned into me continuing it on the climbs. Woody would occasionally say “easy now Thornton” she wasn't trying to slow me down but she was just not wanting me to drain myself as we still had 9 miles to go but I felt good. We knew the last 6 miles was all downhill and I had to keep some gas for that. We caught sight of the final Aid Station at the top of Mount Werner at mile 96.1. It was a small climb up to it and two other runners with their pacers were hauling themselves up the small climb. We were still running and my legs felt so strong that I managed to run up this climb and passed the two surprised runners.

Following Woody to finish
Our original plan was to stop here at this station and get a photo of the two of us before the last descent but I felt so so good we got to the aid station and I shouted to Woody “we are going, we are going” we didn't stop and shouted to the aid crew my number and told them we weren't stopping. They too were surprised but gave us massive cheers as we both smashed it through the last checkpoint and headed on down. We both LOVE to run downhill and we took off here. I was running as fast here as I would run fresh. I kept saying to Woody I had no idea how my legs were doing this. We were really smashing it down and couldn't really keep the smiles off our faces.

Couldn't have been happier
This descent went on forever and we did slow a little in the middle to make sure we were going the right way. The dirt road winds away and away from Steamboat before heading back over in the right direction. Near the bottom another runner and pacer appeared ahead of us. It was a quick glance to Woody as we both nodded and then headed to pick off the next runner. We then left the road and onto the mtn bike trail. Rounding this corner we seen Angie and Kim waiting a mile from the finish to run in with us. I put on a bit of speed here as Woody muttered a little “uh here we go , christ” She then took off and was yelling at me too keep up. We got closer to Kim and Angie and they realised our speed and told us not to wait on them that we should go go go. I was chasing Woody and we were hitting the little techy single track at an alarming pace. I was loving it. My shin was a mess but my legs were powering on. It was such a great feeling running with my friend at this speed at mile 101 of a race. All along this was our plan and it worked so so well. We ran to the finish and up the steps to be greeted by the race director who gave me a massive hug. Woody then came bouncing up the steps and grabbed me and was going wild. Kim and Angie were close behind and Kim arrived also going wild. I had done it. 102.5 miles , 25hrs 23mins , 13th/188.

With the amazing race director
What a race. Amazing course , amazing volunteers , aid stations and spectators. Too many people to thank who I met over the course of the day who made me laugh , spurred me on and helped out so much. I really can't describe how grateful I am to have had the best crew and pacers out there. Each one of them was brilliant in their own way. They too had been up from 6am Friday and never got back to sleep until 8pm Saturday. I really can't believe that time or placing on a 100 mile race. Yes for sure I trained all summer for this but I trained aiming for a middle of the pack 30hr finish. Not quite a finish like this. I also can't believe our race strategy worked so well to hold back and not blow up in the middle , I knew I was having a bad time so there was no point pushing and we knew my strong point would be with Woody on the final descent if I had anything left. From looking at the timings we were only 7 minutes slower than the elite winner(Rob Krar) on the final 6 mile descent! I haven't looked at everyone's times but I think we were in the top 3 fastest times overall on that descent. The final mile I ran with Woody was a 6.25 min mile! The shin is still bloody sore so it will be rest rest rest until it heals , I have a 50 miler in 2 weeks in the Lake District!

We smashed it pal!
I have so much more to tell but I will bring this blog to a close now before it gets way way too long and boring. Thanks to everyone out there for the messages. I was getting updated all through the day from my team about all the FB messages and every time I heard something it really meant a lot and kept me pushing hard.

Kim , Angie and Woody. Total legends. That time would never have happened if I never had you guys there with me. GAS GAS GAS!!!

Kim , Angie , Woody , Me. The day before the race.

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