So it was time to open my race account for 2016 (note I typed 2015 the first time I drafted it and had to correct it, so maybe I wasn’t ready just yet).
I woke up at 3:00 AM on race day:
A. Ready to jump out of bed and put on my race kit which I had meticulous laid out the night before.
B. Hit the snooze but grudgingly got out of bed to get ready.
C. Almost puked at the thought of how early it was.
The race was to start at 7:30 AM with a 7:15 race briefing. Given that I had never been to Lake Anna before (it’s a little less than a 2 hour drive from where I live in Northern Virginia depending on traffic and if Google maps thinks it would be funny to send you on some roundabout route). As one of my followers, @melissa_raguet , pointed out, at least I would be some sleep-deprivation training to go with my run.
Icy-8 is a well-organized trail race where you have a choice of running an 8 mile loop or a 4.7 mile loop (or any combo you wish of the two) for 8 hours. Only full laps count so there is some strategy involved as well to maximize your mileage (and trying to do mental math going downhill during an ultra which is always a source of amusement). You can also sign up for the Ground Hog Division and only run one type of loop the entire race.
I had signed up for the
A. Regular Division so I could be considered regular for once in my life.
B. Groundhog because I like rodents.
C. I didn’t remember and had to check ultrasignup the night before to find out (regular it was).
Well leaving early had the advantage of getting there in plenty of time to hit the bathroom a couple of times before the start (I am sparing you a picture of the bathrooms this time). Since I was able to park my car within 30 yards of the start/finish line (always a plus) I hid out in my warm car until the race briefing.
One nice thing they do with this race is recognize all the first time ultra runners (and give them a Mardi Gras lei). I’ll take the opportunity here to thank the race organizers for putting on a good race.
The start finish area and parking lot in the pre-dawn hours
So it was time for my first real trail ultra. From the start finish you go down a steep little hill and I was mostly hoping I wouldn’t trip over a root and fall in front of everyone in the race. I managed to get to the pavement part without tripping (yea me!). There is about .3-.4 of a mile on pavement which includes a fairly long hill. For the first lap i decided to run the hill (I wised up and mostly walked it on subsequent laps). I went out at a fairly leisurely pace and was pleased that when I hit the first mile split I didn’t feel like I had been pushing it (spoiler alert: I wasn’t entirely correct). My plan was the run the 8 mile loop 3 times and then see how much time had elapsed be deciding on if I should shift to the shorter loop for the rest of the race.
The pack thinned out pretty quickly and I soon found out I have the directional skills of a drunk squirrel. In road racing it is hard to go the wrong direction, but it didn’t take long for me to start going the wrong direction only to see others runners going the correct direction and having to quickly turn around.
After a few miles I noticed there were a group of people stopped looking down. At this point I knew I was in trouble.
In the long loop there is a short water crossing. Now if I was your typical trail runner I would just splash my way across, but after my blister issues during The Nutcracker 12 HR race, I didn’t really want to get my feet wet that early in the race. I came up to the water and there was a person looking at the water. He looked up at me and told me I could go first.
I quickly assessed the situation.
- I couldn’t leap across the water.
- There was small rock I could jump which would give me two options.
A. Jump to the small rock and then leap to the embankment. This was a possibility but had the downside that there were small trees along the shore and there was a very real shot that someone of my limited coordination would step right back in the water.
B. Jump to the small rock and jump from there to a smaller rock and then jump to the shore. At 6’2″, 200ish this option required me to make two sharp shifts in momentum and I figured it would be just quicker to do face plant in the water.
I thought about just charging though but I figured I should give option 2A a shot thinking the worst that could happen would be I would get my feet wet and show the guy behind me what not to do. I could have used The Pig and his wings at this point. Here is what happened:
I trotted up to the edge of the water, “leapt” off my left foot, hit the rock and leapt to the shore. Success! Well, until I started to slip backwards toward the water. There was a small brush/tree in front on me, and I started grabbing tiny branches to steady myself, but they kept tearing off in my hands. I resembled a wood chipper the way I was tearing branches off as I was slowly slipping backwards. Finally I made a last desperation effort to hug what was left of the tree and I was able to steady myself and get back on the trail. I then turned to the guy who had let me go first, pointed to the water, and said
“Now THAT’S how you do it!”
So I went along my way and trail opened up to a wide treeless area that were it was easier for me to run. There were a couple of sharp hills (walk up) and I could tell that my quads were in for a long day. All in all the first loop went pretty well and felt I was in good shape.
I thought I would try the short lap out next which is mostly the same as the long lap except you have a cut through in the middle that allows you to by-pass the tiny stream and two short steep climbs. I had run with a handheld in the first lap and after checking in the lap keeper, walked over to my car to get my hydration pack and off I went. This lap I walked most of the climbs I tried to relax on the downhills (with some limited success). The temp was now above freezing which was good from a warmth perspective, but now all the mud that was frozen was starting thaw. When approaching mud I:
B. Took a half mile detour to avoid the mud.
C. Waited patiently for someone to put their coat over the mud so I could cross.
This is my first extended experience running in mud, so I was learning as I went on how to pick the best line, when to go the edges and when to just charge right through. I could have used The Pig’s advice on mud, but he had wandered off to play in the mud.
The 2nd lap was where I started to pay more attention to heart rate. My lap paces were fine, but I soon noticed that my heart rate was spiking over 80% too often so I slowed things down a bit. Even with that though, my heart rate wasn’t dropping much when I power walked the hills. The 2nd loop finished and I headed back on my third loop. I decided to run the short loop because:
A. There was less climbing.
B. To have access to the aid station more often.
C. Because I wasn’t sure there was any foliage left for me to destroy if I tried the water crossing again.
During the third loop I noticed my pace slowing down. I knew mentally that road running paces do not equal trail running paces, but I guess I really needed to see it for it to sink in. Despite the pace slowdown everything was still going reasonable well. I had a couple of instances where I almost rolled my ankle (and with 30+ ankle sprains in my life, I am not looking to add to my collection) but each time I was able to quickly regain my balance with no damage. Then, my foot clipped a rock buried in the mud and I went flying. I was fortunate in the fact that I was thrown out of the path of the mud but I landed squarely on my hip. There were a couple of people who saw me wipe out (isn’t this always the case?). They quickly asked if I was OK. Fortunately I had recently listened to the ultraordinary podcast where I heard the standard answer during trail races if a limb isn’t severed, is “I’m OK”. As I stumbled to my feet they asked “Are you sure you are OK?” in a tone that suggested they weren’t believing me for a second. “Yeah, I’m OK” was my response and I finally got up and made a particular effort to run from the scene of the crime to prove my OKness. Yes, I started to walk a soon as they were out of sight.
The rest of the lap was uneventful until I got to the start/finish area where I started to hear my left knee “click” when I walked (have bone spurs in that knee and had extensive reconstructive surgery when my ACL/MCL was torn back in the early 90s (1990s not 1890s for the record). This usually means my knee will swell up. I checked in and went out for the next lap after grabbing half a sandwich and swapping my left sock since I feeling a hot spot.
For the next lap I again walked the initial hill, but as soon as I was back on the trail I noticed that during the downhills I would get a short pain in my knee whenever I misstepped (my left foot has a habit of splaying out sometimes) or when initially transitioned from running to walking. Given my intense desire not to come in last, I slowed down the pace and focused on my form and that seemed to do the trick. At the aid station I grabbed half a sandwich and headed back out.
By the time I left for this lap, I looked at the clock and knew I probably only had two laps I could complete at best. I went with more power hiking than running for most of the lap. There was one moment on a downhill where I felt relaxed and was flowing down the trail and moving around to avoid roots and rocks. It felt great until I looked at my Garmin and noticed I was above my Lactate threshold. It was nice feeling while it lasted.
The Pig finally came back from his mudding in time to go home. I didn’t ask how he cleaned up so nicely, The gaiters did a nice job stuff out of my shoes.
By this point my knee was swelling up some so I decided to power walk the last lap. The strangest thing that happened on lap 6 was:
- I passed someone who was running.
- I slipped in the mud but managed to keep my foot and not face plant.
- Someone said “Aren’t you the guy who writes the Running Lonely blog? I read it last night.”
All three of these things happened but I assumed the last one was an ultra induced hallucination. However, later in the lap, a guy came up behind me and asked if I wrote this blog. I said yes and he mentioned that he was looking for race reports for Icy-8 and ran across my blog (since I hadn’t run the race I was thinking about how I had managed to disappoint another blog reader). He said he liked the blog and”Love the Pig!”. As he started to run again I said he was the first person who had randomly come up to me about the blog before. “At least that wasn’t a threat” was his response.
The power walking went reasonable well though I noticed the pace variations were greater than I find during road walking (walking on mud < walking on pavement (duh)).
I power walked up the hill to the start/finish one last time. It was 7:15 into the race and I didn’t have time for another lap, so my day was done at 31.5 miles. Not exactly what I wanted, but I learned a lot and managed to put ultra number 5 in the books.
Post race picture with the lake in the background.
I would like to thank the volunteers for this race. They did a great job keeping track of how many laps we did, fed us great food and were super encouraging. A highlight for me was meeting one of the volunteers (and blog reader), Felicia Wilkerson. Felicia is a Marine Corps veteran, has run the extremely tough multi-stage Marathon Des Sables and if you doubt she is a total badass, she had a conversation with me while downwind and I smelled like a cocktail of sunscreen and dumpster. We talked about ultra running, our blogs, and future races. She of course mentioned how much she loved The Pig (who was still gallivanting in the woods).
So the Pig eventually did came back and we went home back to Arlington. I can’t say the race went as well as wanted, but I can say I did what I could do on the day, learned a bunch and figured out if I need a career change, I can always become a tree assassin.