Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Rouge-Orleans 126.2 miles

Status: DNF at mile 95. (31 miles short of the finish)

Why this race? Well, I was looking for an ultra race where I could not get lost :) The fact that the Baton Rouge to New Orleans run was along the Mississippi with no (or few) chances of missing the levee - I signed up. With that done I emailed the ultra hero friends I had (Anil Rao and Rajeev Patel) looking for some tips on how to go about training for this distance. To my good fortune, Rajeev Patel signed up for the race as well. Given that he would be around made things easier for me. This would also be the first time we ran an ultra together. We have paced each other in the past, but never run an ultra together.

Training: As part of the training I ran a 100 miler at Alan/Rajeev's race in November, Run d'Amore. After a short trip to India in December, I was back with a few runs. There were a few runs with Martina at Rancho and a few other long slow runs.
The biggest training issue for me was to slow down my pace. I had to force myself to run at 11, 12 min/mile pace on the longer runs and to add a bit of walking. That did not come naturally to me and if I stopped concentrating, I'd find myself running at a 8:00/8:30 pace.

Diet: I stuck to my regular food, nothing special and no diet changes. I flirted with going gluten free (again) but gave up on that idea. My plan for the run was, gels every hour and a half, water and at the aid stations, pbj sandwiches, soup, potatoes and salt tabs (as necessary).
Shoes: Hoka - no hot spots no blisters. But the lack of long training walks in them could have been the cause of my injury.

Course: The levee was not soft mud, it had stones strewn about and our feet took a beating. It was not scenic either...the Mississippi is probably one of the most industrialized rivers around. We had Refineries & Chemical factories for as far as the eyes could see (and nose could smell). The course is paved from mile 90 onwards. So the last 36 miles are on a paved bike path.

The race:
With Shridhar, Madhu, Dhvanee, Renuka coming to cheer us on, I knew this would be a fun weekend. All of us (except lil' Dhvanee) were in Muscat together in the mid 1990s, so it was a reunion of sorts. Patel, Renuka and I got to Baton Rouge on Thursday Morning after a long hopping flight SFO-Vegas-Houston-Baton Rouge. We checked into The Belle of Baton Rouge, a rather nice hotel. We drove into town for lunch and then scouted the course for about 7 miles - checking the GPS co-ordinates provided by the race director. The levee looked nice and even and we were looking forward to a good scenic run. Shridhar, Madhu & Dhavnee came in around 11 pm, they drove in from Dallas.

Friday was spent arranging our drop bags and resting a bit in the afternoon. We had taken the 8:00PM Friday start option, which meant we would be running through 2 nights (Friday and Saturday) in order to finish sometime around 10-11AM on Sunday.

At the race meeting we were told that the cannon from USS KIDD would not be used as the starting gun because someone had blown off 3 fingers firing that a few months which Patel quipped 'Well, he should have used a Nikon instead' :) NUT!

Friday 8:00PM the race started off with a horn sounding off and we began with an easy jog/walk. For a few hours we kept company with a few other runners. Patel was in full flow, regaling all of us with stories and jokes. A few hours later we struck out on our own, settling into a 6 min run 4 min walk for a few hours. Cathy Nevans and her team (She was running solo and her crew were doing the relay) kept us company for a few hours. Songs were sung, jokes were cracked and Renuka and Madhu met us at relay points to give us water. We reached the first aid-station (mile 28) in good time and were feeling pretty strong.

Saturday morning dawned grey and overcast. It was cold and our feet were hurting a bit. Given that the race only had two Porta Johns (Yup, 2 for the entire 126.2 miles) we found some open portas (probably owned by the refineries) and managed our nature calls. We plugged on through the day, Shridhar, Dhavnee, Madhu and Renuka came out to cheer, feed us and take photographs along the way. Madhu ran (or rather walked - as we were walking at this point) with us for about 7 miles and we kept it going. Dhavnee was just too funny as she put on a southern drawl and pink mustache and egged us on at every stop. Aid-Station 55 was the next stop and we were still feeling fine. As night fell I could feel the sleep coming on (we had been awake since 9:00AM on Friday, which meant around 9:00PM Saturday it was 36 hours of us being awake). The night was cool and overcast and Madhu/Renuka continued crewing us. We tried to get a 10 min nap, but I could not sleep. We tried again after an hour and still, I could not sleep a wink. It was a strange place to be...sleepy during the walk/jog but could not sleep once we got into the car! At 11:30PM we took our first caffeine tablet and that got us going for a bit. I could tell that Patel was feeling sleepy too as he had gone quiet...yea...PATEL HAD GONE ON SILENT MODE!!!! He actually has a silent mode!

We were officially bored around mile 65-70. The course was just rubbish, scenery wise. The smells from some of the Chemical plants were getting to us too. The caffeine lift lasted till about 12:30AM (Sunday) and then the sleep came back. I was weaving about a bit. My Tibialis Anterior muscle (right foot) was really hurting, I could not dorsiflex my foot at all and was dragging it along. We talked about trying to run a bit, Patel said we should wait till the paved section at mile 95 and then run - that made sense as the stones would have been a problem for me with my 0 foot lift. The third aid station at mile 80 was a disappointment. They had no hot soup and had only one boiled potato left (we shared that). Thanks to Renuka/Madhu who got us sandwiches and hot Ramen noodles from a gas station a few miles away. This was sad, here you have a 126.2 mile race with only 4 should have these fully stocked and have backups in case of a stove malfunction (We were not the last one either, there was a group of runners who started at 3:00AM on Saturday...they were all behind us). I was probably tired and hence got a bit more irritated than I would normally took a few miles to get that out of my system.

At 1:00AM we took our second caffeine tablet...the effect of that lasted only half an hour!! It had started raining and around 2:00AM we got to relay exchange 20 (mile 90) and finally managed to sleep for 15 mins in the car. Once we were up, we insisted that Madhu and Renuka head back to the hotel. We could make it to the finish before 2:00PM if were got 20 min/miles (3 miles an hour). At mile 90 we hit the pavement and we felt a lot better. My foot was really bad and I could feel the swelling too. Patel asked me to stop at that next exchange point and not push through causing more damage. I mumbled something about being fine and making it for 30 more miles. It was pouring now and very windy. I did not want to stop at the mile 95 exchange as I did not want to call Renuka back (She had just left about an hour and a half ago!).
But better sense prevailed, I called her from the exchange point and she said she would come back to pick us up (20 mile drive! Poor thing!). Patel called the race director to let him know we dropped out. A relay team of local Baton Rouge folks let us sit in their van till Renuka came by. It was cold, raining and windy outside.

Shridhar and Renuka picked us up around 3:30AM and we went around looking for a hotel room. WE finally found one and after dropping shridhar back at his hotel - I showered and crashed around 4:45AM (we were up for 43+ hours! and were moving for 32 of those). While Patel has done longer races and stayed awake for well over 60 hours, this was the longest I've every stayed awake.

Our crew (Madhu, Shridhar, Dhvanee, Renuka) were just awesome! Cannot thank them enough. This is definitely not a race to do solo without a crew. The race amenities are basic at best and you must have crew support.

Conclusion: I have finally figured out that ultra running is not my thing :) - I get bored easy and need the distraction of a different sport. Or, I need a sport I love - swimming. So it is back to the pool for me and I may try some ultra swimming in the coming years.

Foot update: Wednesday Feb 13th, the swelling around the ankle is still there, the Tibialis Anterior is still sore and a bit swollen. I have a little more range of motion in my foot, but still cannot fully dorsiflex. Will keep resting for a few more days and then see if a short run is possible.