Sunday, July 20, 2008

Running into the Night at El Scorcho

Ryan Valdez and Jason Costantino have created a really unique race up at Fort Worth's Trinity Park - the El Scorcho 25/50k. I just wish I could have given it the performance it deserved. As the name suggests, the event takes place in July - the hottest time of the year in Texas - and starts at midnight. As per the website, the course is a mixture of crushed limestone, asphalt, concrete sidewalk, some foot bridges and a basketball court. It is a kind of pseudo-trail run, very similar to Brushy Creek. As such, it attracted a good number of road runners. The park is very pretty with some lovely views of the downtown Fort Worth skyline. The race packet was also very nice, with a great technical singlet, a finisher's medal and a "sheriff's badge" for the 50k finishers.

Nancy, Gavin and I drove up to Fort Worth on Saturday evening for the midnight start, and set up the "shark tent" for Gavin (and Nancy) to sleep in. A lot of folks commented on the tent and came over to ask us about it (I swear I could have sold a bunch of them).

The 50k was run over ten 5k loops (yes, 10, count them - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 loops). I have to say that the organization was spot on - everything was running smoothly, which was an amazing achievement since this race is only in its second year, and has grown up really quickly (they sold out with 400 runners this year). The volunteers and spectators were very enthusiastic and vocal. They had to be because 10 loops was a very tough mental challenge to overcome ("oh, I'll only be through this aid station another 9 times"), and I had to dig deep into my mental bag of tricks. Having said that, the positive side was that you got to come back through the start/finish area 10 times, see your loved ones and get cheered on by the large number of spectators (and serenaded by a very humorous group of beer drinkers).

Just before midnight the call came out for the 50kers to line up, so I grabbed my headlamp and handheld and headed over to the start line where I had one of the more bizarre conversations in recent history. A guy turned to me out of the blue and asked "so what's your lactate threshold?" I tried to think of something to say back, but I needn't have bothered because he really just wanted to tell me that his was basically his maximum heart rate and that he was going to smoke the course. A series of "ahhs", "wows" and "ooohs" seemed to satisfy him because he then turned around to a girl the other side of him and repeated the same conversation.

Maybe that factored into my thinking, because when the gun went off I got sucked into a fast pace and ended up running the first 5k in 24 minutes. I'm not sure what the temperature or humidity was (it didn't seem that hot), but by the end of the first loop I was drenched. I scaled back on the second loop, but still passed through the 10k mark in around 49 minutes. However, I had started to notice that something was not quite right as I was getting really bad stomach cramps. I have never had these in a race before and wasn't sure why I was getting them now. Everything else seemed fine at this point so I just blocked them out, but things swiftly started to go downhill.

After the second loop, I stopped peeing. This was not a good sign. I was drinking lots of fluids - alternating between water and nuun, and taking sports beans and salt sticks, but I began to get the idea that maybe the sports beans were causing the stomach cramps (I really don't think they were) and started to scale back on them. By loop 5 I was beginning to get concerned over this. I was very aware of hyponatremia (one of the reasons I refuse to take NSAIDS) and especially concerned when I started getting a dull ache from the kidney region. I checked off the warning signs. Lightheadedness - no, nausea and vomiting - no, finger swelling - no (I kept sliding my wedding ring around to check). Still, I felt I needed some salt but the salt sticks didn't seem to be working, and there wasn't much at the aid stations apart from gu. Thankfully, around loop 6 one of the aid stations got a big container of pretzels, and the other a good supply of oranges and bananas. I went straight for the pretzels and I think that saved me (it certainly took care of the kidney pain), but the stomach cramps and lack of peeing were still a concern. I spent a good portion of loop 6 fantasizing about a porta-potty (hard as it is for me to admit that :-)), but when I found one that didn't help. Finally, around loop 7 I took the decision that this was a training run, things did not feel right, so I would use the rest of the run to practice my power walking. This was frustrating because I was not breathing hard and my legs still felt fresh. I asked myself a number of times if I was just being lazy, but I stand by the decision. I've been picking up tips from Gabe and Henry, both excellent powerwalkers, and I used this time to practice some of the things they'd told me. From time to time I would alternate with running (which sometimes provided some relief from the stomach issues), but for the most part this was good.

As I was beginning loop 8, I passed a guy who was obviously struggling. I stopped and waited for him, and asked if he was ok. He said that he too was unable to pee, had been having trouble keeping things down and his legs were just about done. He was taking regular s-caps but that didn't seem to be working. It was his first ultra, so I spent a few minutes with him, let him talk through his issues and gave him some encouraging words. He was a loop behind me, so I told him all the mental tricks I'd used to see myself through the prospect of another 4 loops.

One thing I noticed was that each loop seemed to go by quicker than the one before it. Maybe it's because by the second half I had everything mapped out - my landmarks and such like. By the time I got to loop 10, I tried to figure out what my finishing time might be only to find my Garmin had died (yes, it was that kind of night), so I resolved to run it in from the final aid station to the finish line. Surprisingly I found that the running was easy and my legs felt good. I don't have the official times yet, but I think the race clock was at 5:29 when I crossed the finish line.

I got my medal and chatted a while with one of the volunteers, and as I wandered off I heard someone call out, "is that Welshrunner?" I turned around and there was Ryan. I congratulated him on putting together a great race and we talked about some of the races we'd signed up to do over the winter. We're both signed up for the San Antonio marathon, the Bandera 100k and the Rocky Raccoon 100 miler. I think we're both at the same place going into these (50 miles is our longest distance), so maybe we can run a portion of them together.

So that was my race. Why did I have these problems? Was I dehydrated? If so, how? I drank my entire supply of pedialyte when I got back to the tent and that soon cured the peeing problem. I have no after effects whatsoever, and very minimal soreness, though the stomach issues still remain. I suspect I picked up some kind of virus as I was feeling a little under the weather yesterday too. Maybe that's all it was. I also wonder if I started taking in too many fluids, as I seemed to empty my handheld between each aid station for the majority of the loops. I also have to take into account the fact that this is my off season, and I did virtually zero training for this race. That is about to change as I'm moving back into pre-season mode, but may have been a factor. Enough wondering - I'm just going to chalk it up to a bad day and forget about it.

Postscript and other Thoughts
I bumped into my "struggling friend" from loop 8 in the carpark after the race. He had finished and thanked me for helping him through a down spot.

Every time I run a trail race in road shoes, they end up wrecked. As this was my only pair of "active" road shoes, I may be looking for a new pair this week.

Will I run it again next year? Maybe. I feel as if I have unfinished business with this race.

I felt energized driving home......for the first 30 miles or so, and then I gladly let Nancy take over and promptly fell asleep.


GandaMan said...

Thanks for joining us, amigo. I hope to see you at San Antonio. And I know we will hook up at Bandrea and Rocky Raccoon.

Derek said...

Great race report, and yes we probably did exchange words along the way. I like to talk when I run so I was giving good wishes to a lot of runners, and getting them back. The pretzels saved me as well. Hope to see you at some more ultras in the future as I think I'm hooked!!

Mark said...

Gandaman - thanks again for putting on a great race, and I'll see you at one of the fall runs.

Thanks Derek - I enjoyed reading your report too. That kind of runner interaction is the best part of doing ultras. It doesn't matter how fast or slow you are, everyone encourages everyone else.