Monday, April 13, 2009

McNaughton 100: A Final Farewell

The end of an era. The McNaughton Trail Races are complete, a 9 year run from 10 to 150 mile races at the McNaughton Park are history. History as in Andy Weinberg as director; of course someone else may pick up the race but it will never be the same.

Andy put together a series of events that changed racing in the Midwest. He had a personal stamp on the events; cheering for every single person that raced, giving a pat on the back, asking what the runner would need, amazing. A very personal approach to race directing.

After adding the 100 miler a few runners asked about doing 150. Sure, we can add a 150 .. and he did, and they came to run 150 miles!! Simply amazing.

This year Ryan Dexter blew the 150 mile course away with finishing in 34 hours. Way to go, Ryan. Amazing. Simply stunning.

As Regis was running his 150 mile race, finishing up, or going out for even more than 150, I heard him say "Hey Andy, what about 200 miles?" Andy was on top of it immediately. He ran from the table, off to the course and said to Regis "YES, 200, in Vermont!" No problem. You want it? Andy will have it for you. He's an Ironman TRIPLE. Yeah, 1 Ironman wasn't enough, either was 2. Andy does Ironman TRIPLES.

A few years ago Andy visited Vermont and fell in love with the state. Last year he and his wife packed up their family-without jobs-and moved to Vermont. Both of them found teaching jobs and Andy, again a coaching job. They are very happy there. Thankfully he came back to Pekin IL for one final farewell to the McNaughton Trail Races.

When I think of McNaughton I become nostalgic. I feel like I grew up into an ultrarunner at this race. I had been running ultras for 1.5 years when I went to run my first 100 at McNaughton. I didn't know anything about running 100 miles other than what I had read and asked of others. I traveled with friends Bonnie, Donny and Larry, who I met through ultrarunning. My racing of ultras wasn't too fine; a few 50 milers where I missed one cut off but was still able to finish over an hour later and just made the other two cut offs by seconds. Nonetheless, I was willing to give it a try.

I finished that McNaughton in 29 some hours and took first woman. I couldn't believe it. I learned so much about racing, about myself, about others. I learned that I needed to find a solution for my blisters. They were atrocious and almost caused me to drop from the race. I learned how to run during the night, how to fuel for a race. I learned that ultra runners make great friends. I met Doug Hansel here; a winner of 100's, including the Superior 100. I was afraid of the dark and he ran the night with me. His slowest 100, my first finish. What a guy. I learned that I had a bit of competitiveness within me. When I learned I was in first place my blisters no longer mattered. I ran like hell. Fun.

My second McNaughton, and second 100, I went with friends again. I had the most fun road trip ever, traveling with John, Scott and Alicia. It was crazy fun. The race was incredible as well. The people, Andy introducing me as last year's champion, it was nuts. I finished faster than the previous year but took 3rd or something. I still hadn't figured out what to do with my feet. They were hamburger.

My third McNaughton I traveled with Maria, who ran the 50. She helped me out by figuring out my damn flashlight problems and to dress for the cold night. Karl Melzer and I were top boy and girl. It was incredible to watch him run through the mud, effortlessly. Maria had to bring me to the ER on the way home as I couldn't breathe. Two nebulizer treatments later and I was OK.

My fourth McNaughton I went solo. I would have never been able to go alone in the past. I would have been afraid of getting lost, of not taking care of myself while running, of feeling sad by being alone, of not knowing anyone. I've come a long way. I met Jim Wilson from Minneapolis who stood at the start/finish for almost every lap I ran and asked me how he could help me. The people at these races are amazing. I finished top girl again, 2nd overall and Andy made sure he said so at every lap I came across. I gave up swearing at the mud that is always at McNaughton. I finally learned to mix my foot potion and had NO blisters. What a relief. It made all the difference.

I ran my first 100 finish at McNaughton and +almost+ my 13th finish. I didn't get it. I was part of the high attrition rate, yet again, at McNaughton. Last year 19% finished the 100! I'm not sure what this year was, but know it was low again. I don't know why McNaughton carries the lowest finishing rate other than Barklay. I think people underestimate the course. The constant short steep hills, the mud that is always out there.

2009 McNaughton. I again travelled alone. This year I had decided to sleep in my car at the race and it worked out well. I was snug as a bug in a rug; stayed nice and toasty with my pillow and down comforter from home.

My iPhone woke me at 500, I reached into my cooler for breakfast. Cold fried egg whites + one yolk were fine, but the oatmeal, not so much. I ate the eggs and then a banana. Little carb, little protein. Got dressed and followed my nose to the coffee percolating at the race start.

The 150 milers began at noon the previous day so I watched some of them come and go, cheering madly for them. Just awe inspiring and jaw dropping. 150 freaking miles. 11 finished, I believe. They had to start the race in the rain so the course was pretty muddy. Well, more than pretty muddy. Ugly muddy. If you have run McNaughton you know what I mean.

We started out with dawn just approaching, I only needed my flashlight for a short while. It was 40F; warm enough for shorts and a jacket. My plan was 230 loops for as long as I could and whatever it took to finish.

By the second loop I left my jacket at the start, dropped off my flashlight and changed into a tank top. It was feeling good! The sun was bright and wonderful. I felt good, waiting to get into the zone which usually hits about 40 miles for me. My laps were all under 220.

The mud was taking its toll. Kind of think of skiing down mud hills-with big muddy puddles that are shoe sucking up to the ankle and over, deep. The mud stinks and I could smell it before I would approach it. Blech. It was just a waste of time to try to get around it, I was going to get muddy and then wet by crossing the two rivers that were knee plus high anyway so tramp tramp tramp through the mud. Oh, my pretty pink gaitors and Inov-8's that had only 8 miles on them pre race.

I ran with Travis for many miles, like half of the race I think. He was doing well, except for one loop when he became sick, so walked for a while. He did catch me the next loop however and looked very strong.

It was so incredible to see the 150 milers on the course. I could tell who they were immediately when coming upon them. They had the '100 mile shuffle' going on and more clothing than the 100 or 50 mile racers. When running for 24 + hours they are slowing down and becoming depleted and the chill is on. I patted Tracy Thomas, who was running the 150 on the back and told her she was a Rockstar, as she is. She told me 'you might as well take the win today, too, Julie' I told her the conditions were getting too good for a first. I didn't think the attrition rate was going to be so high as the mud was beginning to dry out and it was sunny as could be.

This course is odd in that it can be drenched, soaked with mud but as the day dry outs it kind of turns over with all of our foot traffic and the sun and becomes tacky, which is much better than all mud. There were still huge mud holes that you still had to wade through but at least the mud skiing down ALL of the hills was in the past.

30 miles in I was finding my groove. No blisters, I was able to eat and drink. I drank Hammerheed which was on the course and ate peanut butter jelly 1/4's at each aid station. Eventually I was hitting the sugar: jelly beans, easter candy and at Totem Aid a woman had made homemade gingerbread cookies that she rolled out and cut with a cookie cutter into easter eggs and a shark with a pair of legs coming out of his mouth with bright red 'blood' frosting! It was tasty and funny, too :)

At 50 miles I was just under 12 hours, grabbed my jacket and long sleeved shirt, hat, gloves, flashlights, etc and headed out knowing it would be dark soon.

As I was running down the hill after the rope rock ( a rocky hill that actually has a rope to help the runner get to the top) I noticed my right quad muscle contracting and then releasing. I've never felt that before. During the next few miles this continued and as I was again running down a steep, muddy hill I felt it contract, release, contract and POP. It felt like it expanded much larger or with much more pressure release than the release I was feeling the last few miles. I knew this wasn't normal 100 mile muscle fatigue or normal DOMS that sets in during a 100. I knew this was something else. There was a sharp intense pain.

I took the first Advil of the day, hoping it would cut the pain. It didn't. There was a sharp constant pain reaching up along my quad and down into my calve, coming from the inner quad muscle. Not good.

I continued to drag it along, I wasn't able to pull my leg forward as was necessary. My hamstrings were working hard, trying to push the leg forward without the quads help. Going uphill was OK, I could move up the hill with my hips but down hill was miserable. At Buffalo aid station they taped me up and I felt better for a few more miles. The muscle was stable and not as painful. I hit 60 miles and told myself I was just going to take the race aid station by aid station. I wanted to finish, I couldn't imagine not finishing but that possibility was staring me in the face. I went through all the scenarios. What if I did more damage?What if I tore the muscle? What if I finished the race but did so much damage I couldn't run for weeks? Would I rather run with Topaz each day for 8 miles or finish the race and not run again? It was miserable being in my head.

At 60 miles my leg was so swollen that the duct tape was cutting off my circulation. When I arrived at the stream I pulled the tape off and put it into my pocket, then stood there soaking my quad for a while. It felt good to let it soak.

60-70 miles was a battle mentally. I had to decide what to do. I realized that I had grown up as an ultra runner. In the past I would have belittled myself, beating myself up for thinking about stopping. Now I know better. Now I knew I had to take care of myself and made the decision myself. Nobody else could make the decision for me. I now knew the difference between 100 mile fatigue pain, mental tiredness just wanting to stop and injury pain. As I came into the two aid stations I decided to continue to 70 miles and would make the final decision there.

As I hobbled into 70 Andy had taken a nap and had another person posted to check in on us. He asked what my problem was, I told him, and told him I was going to made a decision now as whether to continue or stop. He told me his opinion: quit. I told him I was going to go to the fire to make the decision myself. As I approached the fire many questions were asked and advice given. Jim brought me icy hot and rubbed it into my leg, John offered to find biofreeze for me and another man said he could make a brace for me. I didn't think I should go back out there but wasn't 100% sure as of yet. As I pushed myself out of the chair I realized I couldn't bear weight on my leg. I walked around, hobbling, as the pain sliced through my quad. I shouldn't go back out. It wasn't worth it.

So I didn't. Jim removed my chip and gave it to the time man. I was done. I was part of the high rate of attrition at McNaughton.

I made the right decision. I have always told myself if and when, as it is going to happen, an injury comes along, I would rather drop a race than not be able to run my daily run with Topaz. I don't want to lose that, ever.

After commiserating at the fire I went off to my car to sleep again. At dawn I went back out to the start to watch the runners come in and around. I was able to see Travis finish 4th overall! I saw Ollie come in at 90 miles, onto his 100 mile finish. Fabulous stuff.

Our Minnesota contingent at McNaughton consisted of 1 50 mile runner, Jim Wilson, who finished and 4 100 mile runners: myself, Al Holtz, Karen Gall and John Taylor. None of us finished.

Again, when I look back on McNaughton I am filled with nostalgia. I feel like I grew up at McNaughton, like I cut my baby teeth there and developed into a more experienced ultra runner upon that trail. I've learned so much. I think about how I felt about DNFing at Superior Sawtooth 3 years ago and how I enraged I was at myself, for being weak and not finishing. I didn't get it. I do now. I get it.

Each race is different, with different obstacles and that is part of the challenge, even when upon the same course, you don't know what may happen out there. It is all a learning process. I have to know when to say when.

McNaughton is filled with wonderful memories. All of the people that I met at McNaughton, and would return each year, to see again. Ollie, Juli, Joe, Tracy, Ryan, Beth, Travis, Jess, Charlotte, Hans, Casey and of course Andy. What a great run.

After some coffee and packing up the car I headed for home. I stopped for some ice, taping it to my leg, adjusting the cruise so I didn't have to use my right leg too much. I made it home safe and sound before my family arrived home from Easter dinner. They came home with a plate of dinner for me and the rest of the Southern Coconut Cake I had made for them to bring along. I eased their fears of me being horribly injured and stated I was just fine, all would be fine.

They wanted to play Guitar Hero so I played a few songs with them. When I received a score of only 50% on Ozzy's Bark at the Moon they looked at each other and said "Mom has ultra brain" Life is good :)

I have an appointment with a sports doctor this afternoon. My quad is all bruised and when Topaz and I went for our post race walk, my inner quad just doesn't feel right. I know what quad soreness feels like post 100, this is something else.

A big congrats to all of those who toed the line at McNaugton and a huge thank you to Andy-for making it all possible! All of my memories of McNaughton are just fabulous!


Anonymous said...

I figured when I did not see your name in the results you were sick or injured. So sorry! I hope your injury is not serious and you are back at it soon. I know you will take what the Doc says and follow it to the letter. Best wishes!

Helen said...

Julie - great report - you made the right decision under tough circumstances. It's been a great race over the years for you and must have been difficult to walk (limp) away from. As you say, it's a measure of growing up in this ultra world. I hope I'm smart enough to do the same when it happens to me.

Matthew Patten said...

I have followed your "growing up" as an ultra runner from the get go.

It has to be a tough day when you and Al call it quits.

Doing the first 50 in 12 hours sounds pretty awesome from what I have heard.

McNaughton was a topic on everybody's mind at the campfire Friday night.

I bring some of your reports and experience with me on races.

I thought of you (Ozzy Fan) when I was climbing up a hill directly into the moon.

I think your nickname should be "crazy train"

Run On

Awesome work

JojaJogger said...

I hope that your injury is not serious and you're out on the trails again soon. Thanks for the great race report, I'll be attempting my first ultra (a 50k) in two (gulp!) short weeks.

Anonymous said...

Hi Julie, it was nice meeting on Loop 1. I enjoyed your report. Congratulations on getting 70 miles. That's still awesome!

We'll see you at Javelina this year.


Jeffrey S. said...

Ooo tough go Julie. Hope you are better soon. It's probably nothing a little CAKE won't fix. Mmm cake!

Travis said...

Julie, It was a pleasure running with you at McNaughton. It's always great to see you. Thanks for letting me tag along for all of those miles, it really made a big impact on my day out there. Rest up and get well soon!

SteveQ said...

We all heard that the weather was going to be bad at McNaughton (we got lucky at Zumbro), but I was sure you'd come in first yet again. Sounds like you have your first injury, something I know about - and I have my first finish, something you know about.

I've wanted to tease Ryan Dexter since he planned to do 150 in 24 hours at Badgerland and did fewer than 40, but now he's more than redeemed himself!

Olga said...

Julie, you don't owe anybody explanation, really, but we tend to do it anyway. As we grow in this community, we almost feel responsible to others for what we do in a race. But as i learned myself, others are completely understanding and don't think any less of any of us no matter what decision we make. Only we, ourselves, are our worst challengers.
We grow on as we go. I remember first DNF, it was as if my life stopped, I am so useless creature! But time goes, we get smarter, we want to be in it longer...and yes, we get injured too. I DNF'd 3 times at a 100. Each was an injury. Only the first one was tragic in terms of mental state.
I hope your quad has less of a thing than it seems it may have. I am afraid it is not so. Just take care of it, Jul. We are in it for a long haul:)

Kel said...

Sometimes I think it's tougher to pull the plug than to continue on even when you know you shouldn't. Sounds like you did the right thing.
Recover well!

keith said...

Good decision...sorry it ended like it did; of course that doesn't mean it's over. I hope you recover well.

Anonymous said...

sorry Julie! you did the right thing though! hope you make a quick recovery!