This weekend I ran about 40 miles over the two days. That may not the smartest thing to do during recovery time but YOLO. How did that happen?
You know you might be planning to run too much when even Teaspoon is telling me that I might be overdoing it. But it feels like all my friends are going (maybe because all my friends are also crazy running friends now…). I know, I could hang out to volunteer and cheer, but I miss running a lot- it’s been weeks but feels like months. I’ll take it easy, I bargain. Back-to-back long runs are a normal part of my training, right, so this is no big deal. It’s purely for training, not racing, I promise. Last long run of the year, okay? And so on…
And hey, it’s not like I was scouring Ultrasignup to find two events to run this weekend, but it just turned out that there were two things I really wanted to do on consecutive days. This year the Broadway Ultra Society organized one of their occasional casual year-end races, the BUS Fat Ass Trail Mix-Up, with 30K and 50K options for Sunday, December 21. Meanwhile, my friends Otto Lam and his twin brother-from-another-mother Juergen, who is visiting from Germany, had decided to give their previously cancelled Bryan Court 100 (60K) another go, and set the date for Saturday, December 20. What to do? Bryan Court promised to be a great running party, while BUS events are always a good time, and they were going to give out the signature BUS ski hats as swag. The truth is that I’ve been eyeing those hats on people’s heads at various ultra events over the past year or so and knew they were hard to come by, so here was my chance!
I signed up for both. I wasn’t sure if it would be a good idea to run the 100 laps of Bryan Court required for the full 60K, but Otto assured me that there would be no DNFs at their race, only DDs (drop downs). And realistically, I planned to run the BUS 30K and not the 50K. So again, rationalizing that this would be not at all different from all those weekends when I’ve doubled up with a 15-20 miler plus a 25-35 miler, I would go for it.
This casual long-running weekend would also help develop my cold-weather tolerance and allow me to play with my winter gear. It was chilly all weekend but not like drastically below freezing, and despite the complete lack of sunshine both days we had no rain and only a few snowflakes spotted by the eagle-eyed Maggie on Saturday. As a bonus, I also got some unfortunate lessons on how bad my stomach can get if I don’t start taking better care of things like my nutrition.
Bryan Court 100 (60K)
Saturday morning on the way to Bryan Court I was already tired. In fact, I’d been very tired since the early evening on Friday. Nothing a little more coffee couldn’t fix though, right?
Otto lives in the middle of Bryan Court, a sort of barbell-shaped cul-de-sac in northern New Jersey. The idea for the Bryan Court 100 (60K) came to Otto as he wondered what it would be like to run an ultra on his block. He and Juergen measured the loop and found it was exactly 600 meters, ideal for a 100-lap 60K run. They had originally planned to host the event in May, and though that was canceled, clearly the idea lived on in the minds of these two men. They invited a few people who just might be mad enough to run a tiny loop for hours on end, and were somewhat shocked and overwhelmed when a bunch of them actually showed up. All day, Otto kept saying, “I can’t believe you people are here. I thought no one will come.”
Apart from the somewhat challenging course, the set-up was top-notch, and the amount of care put into all the small details was really touching. A classic ultra aid station table was set up on the lawn outside the Lam home, with a wide variety of food and drink, some provided by the runners, who were asked to bring something to share. We also had access to the kitchen, living room and two ultra comfortable bathrooms, which I came to appreciate greatly later in the day. Lots of spouses and partners and kids were on hand to volunteer, cheer, take photos and keep a steady supply of hot and tasty food and drink coming to the runners. It was amazingly luxurious and would have ruined anyone who ran their first ultra here- the next one will surely not be as accommodating!
After setting up my drop bag in the living room and my soft cooler bag on the lawn, we hung out outside and took a lot of pictures, including the obligatory group #ottolamming pose. I dressed up for the occasion in some holiday-colored running clothes, along with a random dog-ear headband that I wound up with on my head after the Whippets holiday party the previous weekend, so I looked like an elf with giant floppy ears. There was a bit of a spontaneous theme with runners wearing funny and mostly animal-related headgear.
The kids sang the national anthem and they were a little shy, so all the runners joined in as well. Then we were off! I’d say about 20 of us were running that day and we all started out together like a loony parade, with at least half the runners wearing funny headgear and others taking turns holding a 3-hour pace sign that had survived from the New Jersey Marathon. What did the neighbors make of this? We were laughing a lot as we ran the early loops, and as we spread out a bit we could always see the others and wave and cheer each other on.
Maggie and I ran together and chatted, but there was no denying that this loop felt really long and that there was something subtly difficult about it. Was it the up-and-down the block, the tight turn at one end, the concrete, the gray skies and cold, or a combination of all of the above? I’ve run a bunch of short loop races but nothing shorter than about a mile with no issues, but when I think about running a track ultra some day the thought of it makes me feel a bit eeewww. Is this what it’s going to be like?
After about 8 mile and change Maggie and I were hungry and we attacked the aid station table. Coke, PB&J, potato chips and pretzels, a cookie, plus a hot chocolate and coffee mix to go as we walked a lap. When we started running again, we picked up the pace a bit and I just zoned out a bit and followed Maggie. A few miles later we took another break and went inside for what was probably a long time, came out again and were still not quite at 20K. By this time we had lost our “lead” to Jun, who was about a mile ahead. We resolved not to stop again until the halfway point and picked it up again.
At some point the volunteers started calling out our lap numbers to us, which was not what we wanted to hear! It made getting to halfway feel like it was taking much longer than it should. Each lap felt like a mile to me even though it was only about a third of that. Maggie kept shouting at them to stop telling us, but I don’t think they ever did.
It was also around this point that my stomach started getting funny and my “race” took a nosedive. First there was gas and then cramping pains as I tried to make it to lap 50 before stopping. Not gonna happen. I stopped around lap 45 for a short pit stop and then again at 47 for a much longer pit stop and told Maggie to go ahead. When I came out she was enjoying her halfway-done break. I continued to run and could hear the contents of my stomach sloshing, even though I’d just emptied my guts and hadn’t been drinking too much. The sounds were freaking me out. I made it to the 30K mark before I had to stop again for another extended bathroom break. By now I felt pretty depleted so I had some soup and crackers and mainly walked a few laps, but then again, another gut-wrenching toilet stop, and another, and another…. I have to say if there was ever a race to have the worst case of runner’s trots in, this was it— Clean toilets and a very short loop! But I knew I was pretty much done. This was not the day to dig deep and gut it out and suffer until I collapsed. I’d rather cheer my friends and enjoy the party later.
I went and sat in Teaspoon’s warm car and passed out almost immediately, waking just in time to catch Maggie a few laps before she finished. I walked around a few times as she wrapped up her ladies win and then we headed inside and ate some pizza and everything else. Then I went outside one more time as the sun went down to see the Christmas lights on the houses of Bryan Court and to complete an even 60 laps. Yes, I’m the kind of runner who will go up and down my block a few times at the end of a run to hit exactly 6 miles or 1-hour or whatever. We celebrated into the evening with cakes to for Chris’s birthday and Lisa’s lifetime 50th marathon/ultra—and she’s only 27!
Finishers got finishers buckles and the rest of us got “participant” (or commemorative) buckles designed by the ultra-talented Grammi, which featured the Chinese zodiac animals of our RDs: Ox for Otto and Tiger for Juergen. Sweet!
BUS Fat Ass Trail Mix-Up 30K
This was one mixed-up event indeed. Originally scheduled to take place in Forest Park, apparently a park bureaucrat didn’t like the idea of a laid-back little ultra race and nixed the original plan, which was to run 30K of loops on Forest Park trails followed by 20K of loops on Forest Park roads. Luckily, BUS RD Richie was able to secure another venue on short notice; however, instead of running on an all-trail loop for the first 30K, we would be running half-trail, half-road. We had several emails about the course and directions, but it was still pretty confusing since I wasn’t familiar with Alley Pond Park (or really any park besides Central Park). I hoped that I would be able to follow people at least the first time around.
And even though the event was called a Fat Ass, it was even less of one than Bryan Court! There was a modest entry fee of $25, and we were spoiled with two aid stations, scorers, swag, post-race food and drink, and awards. I think the RD just liked using the “Fat Ass” name to differentiate it from most of the other BUS events that are part of the New York Ultrarunning Grand Prix series, and also so he could call this one a “Half Ass.”
My stomach problems felt like they had cleared up and my legs didn’t feel too bad when I woke up on Sunday. I had a typical cobbled-together pre-race meal of milky coffee, half a Clif bar, a piece of chocolate, a handful of dry cereal and a couple of homemade cookies nabbed from the Bryan Court aid station, while Maggie had a serious runner’s breakfast of black coffee and plain oatmeal with peanut butter and A GEL mixed in. I really need to rethink my nutritional strategies.
We caught a ride with another friend who was running, picked up the swag and set up our drop bags and stuff in a big tent, and said hi to so many people I knew. I ran my first BUS event in July last year and by now I really feel like a regular in this crew of ultrarunners of all ages. My jaw dropped a little when I saw I’d been granted the damn bib number “1” for this race, probably because I won the last BUS-affiliated event in October. I knew I wasn’t going to live up to my bib number today but figured at least I’d make a nice target since we had to wear back and front bibs for this one.
I was a bit all over the place in terms of sorting out my gear and missed most of the pre-race briefing because I was fiddling with last-minute things in the warm bathroom, including munching on a couple of precautionary Pepto Bismol tablets. Just stay with runners for the first loop and you’ll be fine. I wasn’t sure where the trail started or how narrow it would be so I lined up towards the front, but behind the really fast guys, just in case it got tight early on. I knew Maggie’s friend Taryn was well-trained and going for the 50K win today so I wasn’t going to follow her, but there were some other guys and a girl I recognized as good to stick with. I looked around for Maggie but she was hanging back with Otto and others and I knew she could catch up soon enough.
We took off and I followed the lead pack, which soon became the second pack as Taryn and another guy pulled way ahead. The first 1.8 miles were all on road and I started to recognize it from the BUS 3-Hour Race in March. Despite my totally groundless reassurances to myself to the contrary, it was not flat. There were some short and ugly steep hills that I remembered running on the last time. But also a nice long flattish section, maybe ½ to ¾ of a mile where I could get my speed on. I did but it felt way too fast and I wondered why I was so out of shape. At the March race, I had started out with a friend and we had agreed to stick to an 8-ish pace, or not faster than 7:50s, and wound up comfortably running around a 7:30 average. Right now on the flats, 7:30 was not too comfortable, but I kept dropping the pace because I knew the trail might force me to slow down a lot. Partly out of laziness I had decided to wear my “cold-weather” road shoes, the Adidas Energy Boost, since the Boost foam doesn’t harden as much as other materials in frigid temperatures, but if the trail was very rocky or rooty, I was going to have to take it real easy. My first priority in any trail race is to avoid getting hurt.
We got to the trail part which started as springy wood chips. I slowed a little to watch my footing while the small pack of guys ahead of me kept their pace, but I still had two others right behind me. I started “racing” a little to stay ahead and promptly fell down the side of the wood chip trail. Doh! Okay, time to back off. The two others passed by as I was hauling myself up and I held back as we hit a rockier portion of the trail for about half a mile. Remember goal number 1: Don’t fall down again.
The trail wasn’t too bad and I felt I’d made the right decision on the shoes, but the rest of my gear was bothering me. I felt way too hot and stuffy and was trying to figure out what to take off at the end of this first loop. Cap or fleece headband or buff? Down vest? Fleece mittens? I’d decided to carry a 10 oz. handheld because I didn’t want to stop at the aid stations too often, but holding it with two pairs of gloves on was awkward. I have the dual problem of getting cold really easily and sweating a lot, so depending on my pace, if I wear too much and run fast I’ll be drenched but if I don’t wear enough and slow down I will freeze my butt off. So far I was getting soaked.
At the end of the loop the course returned to the asphalt and we circled around a playing field to the scoring tent, then made an out and back to the aid station and drop bag tents. Or I thought it was an out and back. As I approached the tent. Richie the RD yelled at me to go back and make a right. What?! I had missed a turn: Instead of taking the U-shaped path back to the tents we were supposed to take a hilly path on the other side to get back to the aid station. The distance seemed the same but it didn’t matter because I had gone off course and had to correct it. I went back and saw an arrow on the ground that was only visible to me once I was going the right way. Oh well, so that’s what I missed at the pre-race briefing! I was in a bit of a daze as I tried to decide what to leave of my gear and wound up only dropping the handheld, but then I couldn’t even figure out which way to go to start the second loop and had to ask around for directions.
To round out the fun, as I took off running again, a couple of friendly unleashed dogs wandered towards me. One of them came right up to me with a silly expectant look on its face before I had a chance to slow down, so I wound up slightly knocking into the pup as I tried to swerve around. Nobody hurt? Okay, keep moving but take it easy. That was enough disaster for one loop.
Feeling unlucky, but now knowing what was in store, I decided to adopt a new strategy for the rest of the day. Instead of trying to race the whole time, which I knew I really really was not supposed to do anyways, I would use this as an opportunity for a moderate interval workout. Run faster on the road portion, especially the flattish section, to below marathon pace, and recover on the trail. Road: music on, zone out. Trail: music off, pay attention to the footing and directional signs. Drink and refuel at each aid station as needed. Repeat.
I felt good. This was fun, even if I got passed by another lady when I stopped after the second loop for a gel and another couple of Peptos, though I’ll admit it was hard to take my time and not try to regain my spot. As I approached the end of the third loop, my Garmin had me at over 11 miles, and I was under the impression that we had to run six loops– you just never know with ultras: GPS can be unreliable (especially on trails) and RDs have a lot of leeway to creatively interpret their distances, plus with all the course changes I wasn’t even sure how long the loop was supposed to be. I asked at the scoring tent the next time I passed by and was told the 30K portion was only five loops, not six. Score! Around and around two more times to finish just under 2:40, well under my 3-hour goal, and 3rd female to cross the 30K mark (the other two went on to finish the 50K). The award was a trophy of half of an ass (the rear half, of course!)
After the race, I felt not so good. I got into some dry clothes, drank a bit of hot chocolate, took a bite of a bagel with cream cheese and then… Yup, it was like a flashback to where I’d been 24 hours earlier, sitting on the toilet in a lot of pain, and so on for hours after I got back home, with some red tint that could be nothing other than blood, since I haven’t wasn’t eating beets yesterday. I did some Google research and learned that, although it sounds like the end of the world, bloody diarrhea after a long or hard run does not warrant a full-on freak-out if it resolves within a day or so. I hydrated with a lot of watered-down Pedialyte, rested and eventually– once the cramping pains died down and I stopped pooping my guts out– was able to have a light meal for dinner. Now it’s time for some “real” rest– and I don’t mean any more of this, “I’m recovering but going to run most of an ultra anyways”—until early January. No speed, no long runs, just two easy weeks of whatever. Happy holidays!