Monday, October 14, 2013

Flagline 50k – Expect the Unexpected

By Ryan Manies

I will be the first to admit it, I made a huge mistake in my first real Ultramarathon, theFlagline 50k.  I was prepared physically, I had run another 50k three weeks prior in the middle of the Nevada Desert and just by having a 50k finish under my belt boosted my confidence (albeit it wasn’t very pretty the last 4 miles).   I was smart with my long distance fueling and felt experienced in what my stomach could and couldn’t handle on longer runs.

Rain, sleet and snow at the aid stations
So what was my big mistake? I was overly optimistic about the weather.  Even at 6am when I peeked out the window to look up at Mt. Bachelor on race morning, I still told myself that the clouds and weather would ‘burn off’.  Unfortunately for me and my fellow ultra-runners, it did not, and this optimism caused me to under dress.  When I got to Dutchman Flat 10 minutes before the race I realized how cold, wet and windy it really was - I never arrive at races very early, it gives the mind too much time to think about what is going on.  I went through the trunk of the car hoping/praying to find a beanie, a pair of gloves, a poncho?  Anything to shield me from the elements.  My life saver came from a Nike Drifit rain jacket which had been left in the car on accident.  It had no insulation but it would keep my upper body dry.  The legs?  Well they would be on their own for this race.

I walked to the starting line – no I didn’t warm up, I count the first 11 miles as a time to do that – and before I even had time to contemplate what I was doing we were off on a single track trail towards Swampy Lakes.  Even as the first couple miles rolled away I told myself that I would shed the jacket at the first aid station (mile 8) because I didn’t want to overheat on the uphill after that.  As if the weather reacted to my thoughts, a few miles later it started snowing.

Before I knew it I was at the first aid station.  My plan was to stop at the station to eat and drink but I was so cold that continuing to run seemed like a better idea.  As I made my way uphill I forced down a gel and some water.  It’s difficult to stay hydrated on really cold days, you never really get that thirst quench like you would on warm or hot day.

Ryan leaving the FootZone aid station.
Does that face say I'm cold or what am I doing here? Maybe both!
I threw in some ear buds in hopes that music would help me power up the mountain.  For the most part I was on my own during this section, it seemed like the group of people I had been running with earlier had all stopped at the aid station.  It was too late to worry about why now.  I could see some runners in the distance, and not being very experienced on climbing, I took cues from them when I should walk certain sections.

My biggest issue was that my core temperature was still cold.  I couldn’t feel my legs at all, which looking back at the race now might have actually helped me.  The next miles were a constant battle in my mind of whether I should walk or run.  Ultra-running is all mental, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  I wanted to walk the steep parts to conserve energy, I still had 20 miles to go after all, but I noticed that my core temperature dropped even more when I did this.  So I ran more than I probably planned on, but it was important to keep myself from freezing.

Finally I hit the awesome FootZone aid station where the crew helped refill my water.  I had plenty of gels with me so I didn’t need to eat anything.  Before I could really question if I should keep going, I was already off down the dirt road.  I was able to run a few miles with a fellow Bendite and talking about life, work, etc. seemed to keep my mind off the real task at hand – finishing.  I wasn’t able to take advantage of the downhill as much as I had hoped for as my quads were starting to tighten up (I still think this was due to the cold weather as I have run longer downhill stretches before with no issues).  I let my friend pull away as I knew I was holding him back.  When I got to the stream crossing I was grateful to be going back uphill again.  Some Mt. Bikers cheered me on and I asked them ‘Where is the hot tub?’ They laughed and said ‘The finish’.  BUT SERIOUSLY I NEEDED TO BE WARMER.
More rain and snow.

On the way uphill I had arm sleeves on underneath and pulled these down around my hands but I could tell that these were now starting to feel cold as well.  I was staying positive about finishing and reminding myself to eat and drink, eat and drink but this part of the race was definitely a blur for me.  This section had to have been my highest calorie intake.  Unfortunately I think the temperature continued to drop.  I can only surmise this because both my ipod and Garmin ‘died’ on me and they were both fully charged before starting the race (whamp whamp whaaaa – that’s literally the cartoon sound that played in my head when I found out everything was dead). 

I finally made it to the FootZone aid station again (the course does sort of a figure 8) and they topped off my water again. I really can’t thank the crew enough, the support definitely lifts the spirits.  I even saw this with other runners in front of me who were dragging but then hearing a cow bell a short distance ahead pick up their form and pace in a matter of a few steps.  After two cups of Pepsi I painfully asked how much farther was left and was told 7 miles.  The only good news was it was mostly downhill from here.  I was off again.
This next section, I can only imagine, probably had some awesome views but it was so bogged in by fog and clouds that you could barely see the road ahead of you.  I kept trotting on but again realized I was not taking advantage of the downhill.  Eventually we made it back into the forest and the single track trail was just what I needed, not to mention the protection from the elements.  The last aid station told me it was approximately 5k to the finish and I knew that one last gel was probably a good idea. 

Keep on moving, one foot in front of the other.  Keep on moving, one step forward is another step towards the finish.  This was the mantra going through my head.  There was an awesome section of downhill where I felt like I was a roller coaster.  I had to be careful about going too fast as I didn’t want to trip.  But man did it feel like I was flying at no effort at all.  Down, down, down until finally I was back at Dutchman.  It wasn’t over yet though as I still had 1 mile left.  In the scheme of things what is 1 mile after running 30?  I had to walk a little bit just because I couldn’t see or visualize the finish yet.  When my wife came into sight and then the finish it was the biggest race relief ever.  I picked it up a bit and gels started flying out of my pack (probably mostly due to poor form, but don’t worry I went back and picked them up).  Through the finish
Finish line!
and it was all over.

I changed out of my wet clothes and went back to the finish for a well earned beer.  If I learned anything from this year’s Flagline 50k it is to ‘expect the unexpected’.  I will always have extra layers with me going forward.  I’m always apprehensive about carrying too much weight on runs, but on races you have the advantage of leaving things at aid stations if you want to.  As long as you label everything, name and phone number, I am sure someone in the ultra-running community will get it back to you.
Thanks Superfit Productions for putting on another great race and thanks to FootZone for helping out, from the ultra-running clinics at the store to the aid station on the course and everything in between.

Ryan Manies short bio:
I moved to Bend 4 years ago in order to take advantage of the outdoors.  The trails in central Oregon have reinvigorated my passion for running.  When I am not on the trails you can catch me doing Online Marketing for Altrec or at a pub enjoying a locally brewed IPA.  Mmmmmmmmm IPA.

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