2011/03/12: Prickly Pear 50k (race report)

Short version: Ultramarathon #5 complete: Prickly Pear 50k (6:56:27). The Good: New PR (barely). Got to see some old friends. Neat finisher medallion. Only fell once. The bad: Warm, 85 degrees by the finish. Lightneaded for a significant portion of the race. Fall was on switchback part of trail and did half a somersault, scraped my knee and shoulder, banged hand on ground, hit head on ground. The ugly (literally): Feet are more blistered than ever, not sure why. Overall: Fun time!

LONG version: This is the only race I’ve done three times.  It just so happens it’s an ultra.  The first time I ran it in 09, I did it in 6:58:11 toward the end of a marathon training schedule, so I was in decent shape.  Last year I did it with a lot less training with the idea in my head that I could do it again because I’d done it before; I finished in 7:42:xx and I hurt quite a bit.  This year, I hadn’t trained for it specifically but had some decent (by my standards, low by most others’) mileage.  I hoped to get a PR but really wanted to get under 6:35, which is around what my 50k split was in a 12-hour timed race in January.  However, I looked past the fact that the PP50 is on a trail (not road) in the daytime (not at night when it’s cooler).

This race takes place in a park in San Antonio; it consists of 3 loops of just over 10 miles.  The majority of the trail is runnable, but some portions have a lot of rocks and there is another portion that is a swithback that goes downhill that must be navigated VERY carefully.

The first loop flew by and I finished it about 7 minutes faster than when I got my previous PR.  I felt good.  I did notice that my feet seemed to be sliding around in my shoes more than normal and that there was something not right, but as time went on, I chose not to do anything about it.  Honestly, I knew that if at any point I took my shoes and socks off to fix myself that I wouldn’t want to put them back on, let alone run anymore.  But when I got rocks in my shoes, I did stop to dump them out.

Also in the first loop, about 10 minutes into it, I made a startling discovery.  After I’d washed my water bottle last night, I didn’t get rid of all the soap.  It wasn’t just a soapy aftertaste, it tasted like the soap was straight from the detergent bottle.  I tried squeezing some of it out and when I squeezed out white bubbly water, I couldn’t help but laugh.  I ended up dumping the water and refilling and purging water from two consecutive aid stations, but the soap did go away.

Around Mile 14, I started to feel a bit lightheaded and dizzy.  I had been drinking water, although perhaps not as much as I should have due to the problem noted above.  I had also been taking a gel every 45 minutes as I usually do.  I took in some salt at an aid station in the form of a boiled potato dipped in salt.  This seemed to help a bit, and at all aid stations the rest of the race, I repeated this.  I still felt faint until about Mile 19, at which point I was feeling a little better.  I was walking a lot which made me frustrated because I felt FINE except for the lightheadedness and uncomfortable feet.  I just didn’t want to pass out on the trail; so I erred on the side of caution.  I felt okay when I was just walking, so I kept forward motion, just slower than I wanted.  My time at the end of the second loop was barely faster than my cumulative time at this same time in the race when I got my PR, due to my significantly quicker first loop.

At about Mile 24, I felt really lightheaded again but just kept drinking water and eating gels and boiled potatoes and salt.  The weather was also getting a lot warmer (85 degrees by the time I finished) so I was sweating out a lot of salt.  My skin was covered crusty salt by the end, yuck, lol.  I should also note that a girl who I’d previously passed in the second loop had managed to pass me early in the third loop and we were playing “leap frog.”  She was hurting and had resorted to just speedwalking, but she was relatively fast at it.  I worked hard to keep her in sight while still walking an ample amount myself.  When I got to the switchback portion this time around, I was concerned about my dizziness and balance and decided I was going to take it excruciatingly slow.  The other girl who was ahead of me had the same idea and I managed to come to within about 10 feet of her and we chatted a bit.  And then it happened, my first fall of the day; I’d tripped numerous times but not fallen.  Of course I had to be very original in how I did it.  When I started to fall, I fell forward (since I was going downhill) and managed to do a half somersault.  I was scared about going to the right because there was a steep embankment, so I rolled a little to the left.  In the process, I managed to bang my right hand on the ground pretty hard (from propelling myself to the left, away from the embankment), scraped my left knee up pretty good, scratched my left shoulder, and hit my head on the ground (luckily I didn’t have much momentum).  Once I got to a sitting position, everything seemed to be flipping and I literally just sat there for 4 minutes before I felt safe enough to move.  The other girl didn’t see what happened, but she heard it, asked if I was okay, and when I said I was, she continued to increase the lead she had on me (which wasn’t hard to do considering I was still for so long).  This really scared me and I decided I was just going to walk for an indefinite amount of time, but at least until the next aid station that was a couple miles away, where I could get some more salt.  So I walked and walked and walked.  I knew toward the end of the second loop that my goal finish time was out of the question and suspected any PR was not feasible.  However, after my fall, I was sure of this.  I walked almost nonstop for about 4 miles and could no longer see the girl ahead of me, but this wasn’t of any concern to me.  I just wanted to finish.

Somehow, I started to feel better around mile 28 and ran a few downhill stretches and still felt fine.  Hmm.  I started running even more and still felt okay.  I even caught up to the other girl and passed her and another guy.  I also ascertained that the idea of getting a PR may be possible, but I wasn’t sure of this until the last half mile.  I was too tired to sprint as fast as I normally do at the end, but my fastest instantaneous pace near the finish line was 6:02mm.  My official finish time was 6:56:27, a minute and 45 second PR.  In spite of everything, I was satisfied with this.

I also met up with my friend Paul and his girlfriend who both did the 50k as their first ultra.

I didn’t score any hardware this race, but that’s fine.  I did get 4th place in my age group, which again, I’m happy with, given the circumstances.

I sat around the finish area for about an hour to help cheer in the majority of other finishers who were still on the course.  From about Mile 28 through now (several hours after the race), I haven’t felt lightheaded at all.  I think the salt did the trick.  In previous ultras, when I get too much salt, my fingers swell.  My fingers didn’t swell at all today, which is good since I didn’t have too much salt, but I also don’t think I had enough during most of the race either.  The only part of my body that hurts right now are my feet.  I’m sure I’ll have muscle soreness tomorrow, but that’s easily manageable.

What struck me as funny in the finish area was the large number of people with skinned knees and other body parts from falls.  I don’t recall this in previous years, but there’s just something comforting to be surrounded with a bunch of other dirty bloody people, haha.

I waited to take my shoes off until I got home.  As I suspected, I had multiple blisters, including a blood blister on one of my baby toes.  But my feet got me through 50k, so I really can’t complain!

Also, the finisher medal was actually an etched glass medallion.  Everyone also got nice short sleeved tech shirts.

Overall, I truly had a good time!  I think that maybe one of the reasons I like it so much is because it’s not easy and I evidently have a hidden liking of voluntary shared misery.

Here are some photos:

Somewhere in the first two loops:

Elevation chart:

Paul took this one.  No, I’m not hunched over because I’m in pain.  I’m just trying to get my scraped knee and shoulder in both in the photo, haha.  Of course you can’t even see the scrapes on my shoulder in the photo 😉

Three more (the lump on my stomach in the first two is one of my earbuds, fyi):



My feet (just because they looked gross, even though most of the blisters can’t be seen due to the dirt and being under my toes, except the blob on my left baby toe that’s the same color as my nail polish isn’t actually nail polish):



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