Green Lakes was my fifth ultra. I’ve done two timed ones (8 hour, 12 hour) and two 50 milers. This was my first attempt at 100k, and my goal race for the summer. I’m a 47 year old woman.
I had an injury this winter (VMO atrophy) which kept me from running until mid-march. I tried a marathon in April and DNF’d. In May I completed my ninth marathon in just over 4 hours, my slowest one ever, but I was healthy.
My training from June through August ranged from 35 to a max of 70 miles/week. I probably averaged 55-60. That included cycling roughly twice a week (I completed four 100k rides) and about 12 miles/week on the elliptical, counted as running.
I did not get injured and took a day off about once every ten days. My taper was two weeks.
Race Day Conditions and Course:
The event was Sunday, Aug 28, the day hurricane/tropical storm Irene visited New England. Out in Fayetteville, NY home of the course in Green Lakes State Park, near Syracuse, that meant rain and wind were expected. The race was slated to start at 6:00 am. It was about 62 degrees and raining at 5:00 am.
The 100k course is eight laps of a 12.5k/7.75 mile loop. The first segment is 2.2 miles including flat, wide trails along Green Lake and steep climbs in the upland forest to the first aid station. The next 3.2 miles are on a grassy meadow called the Seregenti and end at the second aid station. The final segment, 2.3 miles, heads back down through the upland forest and back to the flat wide trails and paved path that pass by Round Lake and the beach on Green Lake. The main aid station is at the start/finish, where there was also a tent to store drop bags.
I got my chip, stored my warm clothes for after the race in the Great Room, and stored my drop bag on a picnic table in the tent. I covered the drop bag (a plastic shopping bag) with a garbage bag. I planned to run four laps, then change clothes for the remaining four.
I started in shorts and short sleeves with a running cap and headlamp. I carried a handheld water bottle (10 oz size). The first half lap was very dark and I couldn’t get a sense of where we were. We “back of the packers” stuck together pretty well until the uphill when people drifted apart. It was easier to run two or three abreast on the Seregeti since it is mowed in wide windy curves and has only a few hills. Runners conferred at one set of flagging to be sure we were going the right way since there were several areas with two-way traffic. I dropped my headlamp at the end of the first lap, happy to have my head feel lighter. My shoes, socks and pretty much everything else were already weighted with water and mud, so I’m not sure I was really any lighter than when I started.
On lap two I met a woman from Ottawa new to ultras (I wondered why she picked 100km for her first) and a second one from Connecticut (CT) prepping for the 100 mile Grindstone. I informed the newbie that my plan was to run about 90 minute loops, roughly 30 minutes for each segment. I also was clear that I was older than she was. CT said she planned to slow it down to 105 minutes since this was just a training run for her. Ottawa went ahead and CT hung back. I was feeling pretty good on lap two and enjoyed seeing the whole course is the gray light of the morning.
By lap three I’d figured out the course and began to name landmarks and mud formations. I learned that some mud that looked slippery was hard and bumpy, and very grippy. Some of it was was yellowish so I called it “yellow mud” and looked for it and chose it over drier looking areas with mud footprints. I also learned that sometimes the path of the water down the trail was the firmest, if the wettest.
I competed lap three having refilled my water bottle every two aid stations. When I visited non-fill stations, I had a cup of Heed. I also had a gel at aid station 1, and alternated sweet and salty at aid station 2. At the main aid station I had peanut butter sandwiches and after lap three hot chicken broth. I am not a fan of chicken soup, to my Mom’s dismay, but this salty yellow stuff tasted so good after a wet lap. The aid station folks asked if I was cold and I said yes. They suggested I was not eating enough, and pushed me not to stay too long. They asked if I had another shirt and offered a rain poncho. I explained I planned to change after one more lap and headed out. I was doing laps just under my 90 minute goal but wasn’t worrying too much about it.
Lap four was tough – the wind was up on the Serengeti – and I could feel some hot spots on my feet. I was looking forward to dry socks but not the effort to put them on. I put my plan together as I rounded the beach: take off shirt and hat and replace them. Put on jacket. Then sit down, strip off shoes and socks. Wipe feet to remove mud/water. Put on some protectant then socks and shoes. Finally, make sure the timing chip is still around my ankle. The only glitch: I had to remove a crew member of one of the 50k runners from in front of my stuff. It took just about 10 minutes to change, then I got some broth and headed out for lap five.
I saw more 50k people (they started 45 minutes after us) on lap five – many were walking. They looked cold without jackets or hats. They seemed to know I was doing 100k, perhaps because I was running and they were not. I saw one woman in Vibram Five Fingers and one guy with what looked like sandals. The fastest guys (I guess both 50k and 100k) I saw wore running shoes and shorts – no shirts or hats. They bounded down the steep hills appearing not to look at the trail at all. I made sure to yield to the downhill runners and cheered on the walkers.
After lap five I asked the main aid station people to check in with timing to see how I was doing. I was fourth of the women. I was pretty jazzed. I kept an eye out for women, but only seemed to find and pass guys. There was Mr. Orange, Mr. Red and Mr. Gray, named by their shirt colors. They were most supportive. I thanked them for being there, noting how hard it was to run these laps without seeing too many other folks.
When I hit the first aid station on lap seven I saw a woman ahead of me. I’d seen her earlier in the day and recognized her green dayglo jacket. I noted to the aid station volunteers that best I knew, she was third and I was fourth. They said I should go get her. I was tired but thought about it. I ran the Serengeti the way I’d run it all the other laps – with tangents (that is in short straight segments, not following the curves). The Serengeti is the only place you can really do that since it’s wide and the footing (save some holes) is pretty good. I caught her about 1/3 the way into the Seregeti. I shared what I knew about our placing at that point. She said I looked strong. I noted she was moving very steadily. I said my plan was simply to keep going and see what happened. She said, “Go on ahead” graciously and confidently. I was not sure how to take that, but fully expected to see her again.
I hit the main aid station and prepped for the last lap. I had a half a cup of broth (they started to pour it as they saw me coming) with chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies. The hot liquid melted the cookies and it was strangely tasty! I didn’t stay long and kept looking back for the dayglo green jacket.
As I started the last loop I started to say “good bye” to the landmarks I’d named: the wood chips, the turnip (turn up – get it?), the bridge, the yellow mud, the series of single spindly trees in the middle of the trail. Then I hit the grassy trail up “powerline,” which follows the right of way of a powerline. Everyone walked it because it was really steep. As I approached the top I got queasy, then dizzy, then cold. Uh-oh! This happened to me only once before and ended my 12 hour run. I started to picture the race staff driving up on the thin trails to get me. By the time they get there, I’d have hypothermia I was sure. I’d DNF!
Thankfully, the first aid station is at the top of “powerline.” I chatted with the volunteers who quizzed me on eating and peeing. Both were ok, they said after hearing my replies. I had some ginger ale and decided I should “walk it out” and see how it goes. It took a few walk/jog pairs before the queasiness went away. I decided to forgo the tangents this last time so I wouldn’t twist an ankle in a hole. And, to keep warm I even jogged some of the hills on the Seregeti. I had some more ginger ale and waved good bye to volunteers at the second aid station who confidently stated I’d make it. They looked at their watches before making that statement, prompting me to consider how dark it might be in the forest. I did not have a headlamp. It was about 6 pm when I left them.
I headed into the forest and it was a bit dark, but not too bad. Once off the hills I thought, “I’m so glad I feel good enough to enjoy this last part of my last lap.” At that point it stopped raining for the first time all day! It seemed brighter and many of the puddles on the trail were already smaller, a nice bonus for the final lap.
When I finished the volunteers and timing crew cheered me in at 12:29 (6:29 pm). No one else was around.
A volunteer helped me carry my drop bags to my car, then I headed to the Great Room to change. I had planned to take a shower in the beach house, but didn’t want to walk that far. Besides, I needed to get dry and warm sooner rather than later. I put on pants and a clean shirt and shoes and my Vermont 100 Pacer knit hat I received back in July. Then I joined two senior men for a post race meal. Neither of them finished but one noted that last year he made only four laps due to heat. This year he did five. I congratulated him. The other fellow said simply, “I decided to live to run another day.” I agreed the conditions were tough.
A volunteer brought me more broth (in Starbucks cups!) and I had a tuna sandwich and some fruit. There was very little left after the 50K and eight 100k folks chowed down. I got my finisher’s glass and a can of ginger ale from the race director as he cleaned up. There were still about nine people on the course I was told.
I checked in with timing and learned that despite passing the woman in the dayglo jacket, I was still fourth woman and ninth overall. I was officially the first masters woman, though the second woman was also in my age group. Ottawa and CT did not finish, completing three and four laps respectively. Several of the color-coded men didn’t finish either. Mr. Blue came in to eat just as I was leaving. Thirty-three people started the 100k; only 15 finished. Still, the cool weather yielded new course records for both men and women. Serena Wilcox, who set the new women’s course record, 9:52, won the Vermont 100 this year. I find it funny that I was at both events she was and she was probably off the course and in bed before I finished!
Wet shorts for 12 hours means abrasion. I got a good set of rashes that thankfully only bothered me after I was done. I need to learn how to manage that better. I wonder if the solution is compression shorts rather than traditional running shorts. I wore the latter and put Body Glide everywhere the shorts touched me. But I guess it wore off over 12 hours.
I get cold faster than everyone else. I should have put on a jacket earlier in the day. And, a knit hat might have been a good idea for second half of the run. Maybe gloves, too.
Chicken broth is awesome! I looked forward to it at the end of each lap and savored the saltiness of it on my lips as I left the main aid station.
Bad patches happen. Work though them and do not assume they are the end. Give your body time to shake them off. I am very proud of how I handled my bad patch during lap eight.
Don’t waste time visiting bathrooms off course. Instead, find solutions on the course. The women found an area in the Serengeti we called “The Ladies Room.”
On a loop course learn the footing challenges. Learn about the footing issues and take full advantage of the best options. Sometimes those are counter-intuitive: splashing through puddles may be better than tackling sticky mud. I didn’t fall once in 12.5 hours!
Talk to and listen to aid station volunteers. They may know things you do not. And, they can open your gu’s when you can’t.
Eat potato chips from paper cups. Pour them into your mouth (like a drink) to keep your hands from getting greasy.
Wool socks are the only option for rainy running. My feet did not get cold though my SmartWool socks were completely black with mud after the race. A few trips through the washer got them near new.
Name fellow runners by color. Mr. Orange got a huge laugh when I asked, “So, how are you doing Mr. Orange?” Mr. Red said, “I honestly didn’t remember what shirt I put on this morning!”
Hand-carry bottles work great on well supported courses. This was the first time I raced with my 10 oz bottle. I’m sure if it had been hot, I’d have appreciated and probably filled the bottle more. But I know I drank better carrying it than I would have drinking only at aid stations. I intuitively switched it between hands so neither got too tired. I used this one in training much of the summer and highly recommend it for not so strong/not so big runners.