Pemberton 50K Race Report 
Sunday, February 15, 2009, 09:43 PM
Posted by Administrator
Paul and I each took half days at work and were on the road by mid-afternoon. We took our time getting to Fountain Hills, stopping in Phoenix for an early dinner at Picazzo's and some trail shoe shopping at REI.

When looking for lodging for this race, I discovered that there just aren't many options in Fountain Hills other than the Holiday Inn and Comfort Inn - and they were charging $150 per night. In Fountain Hills?!? Not one to give in to the chain hotels easily, I did some extensive internet searching and found a vacation rental studio in an apartment complex - more comfortable than a hotel room and only $100 per night.

We arrived here in the early evening, dropped our bags and headed back out to meet up with Chris and Chase, who would also run the 50K, and Denise and Trish, who would run the relay version of the race. Although we were in bed by 9:00pm, I slept horribly. It's been a while since I lived in an apartment and I had forgotten about those thin walls. Between the noise and my nerves, I was up much of the night. This was despite the fabulous handmade mattress. Check out the sign on the nightstand:

The Big Day

We awoke to the 4:30am alarm and mid-30 degree temperatures. Pretty chilly! But it was not raining, and so I was happy. In fact, it turned out to be ideal running weather for much of the race, as it quickly warmed up to the mid-50's. I ate a banana and half a bagel while getting dressed and we were at the race site around 6:15am, where we sat in the car for warmth.

As it got closer to the 7:00am start time, we wandered out into the cold for final potty breaks and to greet friends. There was a nice contingent from Tucson and it was wonderful to see so many familiar faces, including Renee. At that point, I really wasn't too nervous - just ready to start running and get warm.

When the gun went off, I did my best to get in the back of the pack. Apparently there were a lot of people still waiting in the porta-potty line, because a ton of runners ended up jumping in behind me. It was pretty congested for the first mile or two with lots of passing on the narrow trail, but then we spread out pretty quickly.

This race is two loops of the 15.5-mile Pemberton Trail with aid stations spaced about 5 miles apart. I like the set-up as I didn't have to think about running 31 miles, rather I just concentrated on getting to the next aid station. What's another 5 miles, right? As far as trail races go, this is a fairly easy one in that you're not running up a mountain. It's rolling hills with a gradual uphill on the first half of the loop, followed, you guessed it, by a gradual descent.

I was on my own, but chatted a bit with others as we leap-frogged the first few miles until everyone found their pace. At the first aid station (mile 5.5), I skipped the food, but stopped just long enough to strip off my ear warmers, long-sleeved top and gloves, leaving me with a short-sleeved top and arm warmers.

Shortly afterward, there was a man running right on my tail. I moved to the side of the trail, but he didn't pass. When I walked, he walked. When I ran, he ran...just inches behind me. I could see our shadows overlapping on the ground, but I couldn't talk to him because of his blaring IPod. Finally, he turned down the volume and asked if I had done this race before. I told him I had not and he informed me that he planned to stick with me because he liked my pace...and then turned his music back on. Great.

While I was somewhat flattered with his confidence in me, I was also irritated. If you're going to latch onto someone during a race, at least do your part and offer some interesting conversation. Otherwise, hang back a few feet and give them room to breathe!

It's just not in my nature to tell off a perfect stranger, and so, instead, I had a conversation with him in my head. It went something like, "Turn down your freakin' IPod, get off my ass and pick up your damn feet! Are you going to shuffle like that for all 31 miles?!?" Strangely, this was somewhat satisfying...and it killed some time.

I felt a little pressure with him on my tail and I picked up the pace a bit. This turned out to be serendipitous as we soon caught up with another small group of runners being led by Paul - not my Paul (he was much farther ahead!), but a 61-year old Indian gentleman who races every weekend...twice a weekend, when possible...and ultras whenever he can. He had amassed a small group of ultra virgins who were following his lead.

It was great to have people to talk to and I really wanted to stick with them, but I was a little concerned that we hadn't taken walk breaks in a while and was afraid they would lose me. So, when they all stopped at the next aid station (mile 11), I kept going, knowing they would catch up with me over time while I snuck in some walk breaks.

First, I was passed by IPod-man and was pleased when he ran on by. Next, I was caught by Paul and Peggy, a very upbeat woman who was a pleasure to run with. They also passed me, but then started taking walk breaks again when they hit some hills and I managed to catch up and match their pace. Here's Peggy and Paul in front of me:

When I ran this loop for practice in January, it took me 3:15 and I felt terrible at the end. Based on this history, I had estimated that my first lap would take me between 3:15 and 3:30, and so I was amazed (and somewhat concerned) when we completed our first lap in just 3:05. I felt good, but worried that I was going too fast and would hit the wall. I took just a few minutes to hit the porta-potty and grab some real food (fig newtons, potato and M&M's), as I had begun feeling hungry.

I was pleased to find Paul and Peggy heading back onto the course at the same time I was and we gladly banded together once again to start our second lap. We talked quite a bit - politics, what we ate for dinner the previous evening, race experiences, whatever. Both Paul and Peggy had done the Antarctica Marathon and Peggy will soon be doing her 7th continent marathon during a trip to Australia. Paul would be doing a marathon the following day and was signed up for a 100K race next Saturday. He was still searching for a race for next Sunday. Wow - they are impressive runners and, both being over 60, give me lots of hope for a lifetime of being active and adventurous!

My contribution to the threesome was statistics. Paul doesn't wear a running watch and Peggy had left hers at home in Minnesota, and so I gave occasional updates of distance and time.

At the next aid station (mile 21), I grabbed a few M&M's and kept walking until they caught up with me. I didn't want to stand too long and get stiff. Paul had plans to catch up with a friend that we could see in the distance and I had my eye on IPod-man who was losing steam ahead of us. We caught them in the next few miles and stuck together for a bit. My spirits were high - my legs hurt a little, but I was feeling really good, had left IPod-man in my dust, and knew I was going to finish in well under 7 hours. Yeah!

With about 10K left to go, I noticed that Paul was doing a lot more walking. Peggy started to pull away and I had to make a decision. I owed Paul a great deal of gratitude for pulling us along this far and had qualms about ditching him. On the other hand, he does these races all the time and was probably saving a little something for the next day's marathon. This was my first ultra and a BIG deal for me, so I followed Peggy's lead and pulled ahead on my own.

At the final aid station, I downed a small cup of water, which turned out to be a bad move. It sloshed around in my stomach and gave me a bit of cramping. But, I was 4.5 miles away and nothing was going to stop me! I could see Peggy in the distance, but never managed to catch her and so I was on my own for the final miles. It definitely got hard. But, at that point, I had run farther than I had ever run in my life and realized I was feeling much better than I had when I finished the San Antonio Marathon in November. I was taking more frequent walk breaks, but pushed myself to run as much as possible.

Although I had my GPS, I was elated to get to the sign announcing 0.9 mile to the trailhead. And, about one-half mile later, I saw Paul walking down the trail with his camera. I shouted out to him and saw that he was clearly shocked to see me so soon. He wasn't expecting me for another 20 to 30 minutes! The fact that I was running so well shocked him even more, as he too remembered my dead man's shuffle at the end of my latest marathon. Just a few minutes later, the finish line was in sight and I managed to run across the line with a smile on my face and an official time of 6:35:27. I was glad it was over, but thrilled that it had been such a great experience. I finished in 120th place out of 147 people.

I traded hugs and congratulations with Chris, Denise, Chase and Trish who had all had done fantastic, especially Chase who came in second overall and Paul and Chris who took 10th and 11th - very impressive! Then I made a beeline for the food. I opened a cooler looking for a drink and was overjoyed to see Popsicles - not something I usually eat, but absolutely the best post-race treat! Over the next hour, I had three of them, along with tortilla chips and a roast beef sandwich. After so many hours of XOOD and gel, it felt good to have real food in my stomach.

I was also happy to find Peggy again and congratulate her on her impressive second wind!

I was in pain from my hips to my knees, but was walking pretty well. Paul talked me into picking up some ice on the way back to the condo, so that I could have an ice bath, as this had helped my recovery considerably after my last few long runs. But, when I put my feet in the tub, the pain was just too much. I spent about five minutes pulling my feet in and out of the freezing water as excruciating pain shot all the way up my legs. It was the closest I had come to crying all day and I finally told Paul I couldn't take it and popped a few Ibuprofen instead.

Post Race
To celebrate our race and Valentine's Day, we had a delicious dinner at the Waters Edge Restaurant before settling into bed at 9:00pm. Amazingly, I had another terrible night of sleep. You'd think I would have passed out from exhaustion, but no such luck.

On Sunday, we spent some time in Phoenix where I enjoyed my first visit to IKEA and then lunch and browsing at the Heard Museum. All day, I marveled at how good I felt! Yes, I am sore, but it's nothing compared to the pain I endured after my road marathons. I even walked down stairs without having to walk backwards!

Overall, this race was a fantastic experience. I really enjoy the low-key atmosphere of ultras and the beauty of the trails. It was gorgeous out there! I also discovered that sticking with a group makes running more enjoyable for me. Had I run the entire race by myself, I know that I would have hit some low points and gotten discouraged. Running with others makes the miles go by faster and takes my mind off the pain. A HUGE thank you to Peggy and Paul!

What's next? Well, for a while, I'd like to enjoy not having a major goal hanging over my head. I'll be doing some shorter races, including Dave's Run for ALS and probably a spring half marathon, and Paul and I have some biking weekends coming up. Will I do another ultra? Absolutely! I'm not sure when or which one, but I look forward to another great experience.

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