Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Swiftwater 50k Race Recap: My 2nd attempt to run a really long way.

"Pacing in an ultra is about leaving enough in the bank to last you to the end. There is a golden rule of ultra pacing, or at least an old adage: If you think you are starting the race slow, then slow down even more."-Hal Koerner
These are wise words I wish I had read before running on Saturday!

Regardless of not taking Hal Koerner's advice, I still had an unforgettable day, finished my second ultra, Swiftwater50k, with a
PR and and enjoyed miles and miles of beauty along the North Umpqua river in Douglas county, Oregon.

Beautiful photos by Steven Mortinson, (used with permission) stevenmortinson.com

Here's how events played out.

Pre race:
I am especially grateful to my parents who were able to watch my 3 boys while my husband is doing some out of town training, so I could race. I am so blessed to have 2 sets of very generous grandparents for them. Without them, I would not get to do events like this.
I dropped the boys off at their house the night before so I could get a good night's sleep.

I arrived a half an hour early to the 6 am shuttle and had a little time to rest and get my things together for the van. I had already had coffee, a small breakfast burrito (egg and sausage) before 5:30 and ate a Kashi bar at about 6:15.

The race shuttle was a clean van that took us upriver to Horseshoe Bend campground. On the way I chatted with a new friend, Angela, about the UCC shooting that took place on Thursday in the county seat, Roseburg. It's very hard to put something like that out of your mind and be excited to race.

There are still so many people in pain and shock over it here, it almost felt wrong to be racing. I was glad that "the Joe's" (race directors Joe and Johanna Blanchard) had a moment of silence before the race to honor the victims.

Start to Aid station2
As the race started, we took off on a short section of paved road to meet the singletrack that would comprise 99% of the race. I found my legs feeling quite fresh, and I contribute that to some excellent email advice I got from a respected friend regarding her own 50k taper last year.

I was surprised, given the entrants list I had seen, that there weren't more women in front of me at the start. There were several ultra ladies (and men) who were highly ranked. But now I know why they weren't there. They are smarter than I am!
sidenote: Honestly, I hadn't given much thought to pace. I just wanted to run by feel. And after my first ultra, I wanted to go out a bit harder this time. Nothing ventured nothing gained.
Somehow I found myself comfortable running upriver in the 9 minute mile range (about 2-3 minutes/mile faster than my usual easy training pace on the NUT), I stopped to take off my arm sleeves and a woman ran by, who commented, "Yeah, this is about the time those things come off." (Later I would learn her name is Amber Singh). At this point there was just Amber ahead of me, and about 5 or 6 guys (but I can't be certain on that).

When we got to the first aid station (around mile 5), I didn't stop, but drank from my bottles and cruised through the turnaround, where the first woman was drinking. She caught up to me and started chatting with me. It was then that I realized I was running too fast to talk and run at the same time! I let her go, and by mile 8 she was out of sight.

Watch... as she leaves us all in her dust!
photo graciously supplied by stevenmortinson.com
Aid station 2 - Aid station 3
When I hit aid station 2, I took more from my bottles (one had water, the other had agave/lemon juice/water/salt) and passed right though.  I walked much of the hill just past the aid station and then started running again.

The trail started to get a bit trickier with rocks, roots, one big log, and ups and downs for creeks. At about mile 10 I started to struggle mentally. I knew I had to slow down. With more than 20 miles left to run, it was not a good time to start feeling tired. My legs still felt good, but overall fatigue was creeping in.

Somewhere between aid station 2 and 3, I made a stop, and it was miles later that I realized that I had somehow burst open the peanut butter/jam/honey baggie in my front vest pack pocket (you may recall my recent fueling post). It was oozing out of my pack. So, for a mile or two I ran down the trail picking large, damp (we had a little rain before the race), leaves, and tried to wipe a sticky mess off of my front pocket before it got all over me.

I ate some from the baggie before I disposed of it in an "environmentally friendly" manner. Then I licked what I could off of my Garmin and my arm. This accounts for a few slower, but very tasty, miles.
Right before the peanut butter ziploc bag blew up?, smiling because I still have about 20 miles to go...
Photo by Steven Mortinson

The section between aid station 3 and 4 is a bit of a blur but I know I filled my water bottle back up and also picked up 3 gu chomps and ate them over the next segment.

Aid station 4- the BIG hills
At aid station 4, I decided I did not need any of the extra stuff I had dropped "just in case" (including a full change of clothes due to rain). I also dropped my hat there. The volunteers at the table were friendly and helpful. I drank some water from a cup and then moved on.

The next segment, Mott, is nice for running fast on, (except for the slippery rocks near the end) . I mustered what I could and ran my best, knowing there was still 14 miles to go.

When I emerged at the next aid station right before the Tioga segment, I knew I would finish, but still had so far to go- an 8 mile segment, plus a 1 mile stretch to the finish line.

I was still in second place for women, somehow, but my fast start would catch up with me here.

I know this intense climbing section because I ran it several times in training -RAN up and down all the hills, every one of them! However, after racing 23 miles.. I knew where the hills were and was not looking forward to them. Furthermore, I was worried about being caught. I had passed a few men, but I knew there were women behind me. I just didn't know how far back.

Every once in a while, I looked behind me and saw an orange shirt through the trees. The orange shirt kept me from walking, but my legs weren't too peppy anymore. They were downright drained.

It was one stream crossing after another: Run down, cross a bridge, run up. Run along a ridge for a bit, then down, then across a bridge, then back up. Get the idea?
I was trying to keep the orange shirt from closing in on me, but I was struggling to do it.

Maybe around mile 26, the orange shirt finally caught me. It was Kelly Dreibelbis. Her feet were moving at a nice steady rhythm, consistent and pushing up hills. I had been fighting some nausea, and overcame it, but seeing her float by made me realize how much other people must have held back at the start.

To the extra aid station

I was still in 3rd for women, but man I hate being passed late in a race.
There were 5 miles left to endure, and I was conversing with myself, "Why did you want to run an ultra? This thing has to end. Just get to the end."

Another woman was fast on my heels within a few minutes. I recognized her from the start of the race as Tiffany Carson. She signed up last minute and flew out from NY with her hubby Stephen England, to do her first ultra. I waved her past me not realizing there was an aid station just ahead of us. She was cheerful, smiling, and looked very fresh.

I stopped for a water refill (and a break) while Tiffany powered past me up the toughest stretch of hills on the course.

The last aid station to the end
I walked a little, and jogged maybe 10 feet up a mile of hill. Then once I was over the hill, I started to run. A few steps later I plopped down on the side of the trail and dumped out a tiny rock that had been in my shoe for who knows how long.

With about 5k left, I did not feel like getting up. I really wanted to just take a nap.
(I have heard of this in hundred milers, but not 50ks. Maybe I should try a hundred!)

About the moment I got my shoe back on, over the hill came another female.
 "Oh NO." I said to myself. "Here we go again. The whole dang race is going to pass me".

But rather than try to pass, the sweet angel of a girl, Melissa Tucker, asked how I was doing. I might have whined a bit at this point, but I started running with all I had left.

I had the nerve to ask her age (without really looking at her face), and when she told me 32, I might have let out a whoop. I still had a chance at being the first master female!

Melissa's optimism was refreshing and carried me through to the end. She even said she wouldn't pass me, because she made her goal. She must have felt pretty sorry for me! haha.

As we entered the finish chute, Melissa kept her promise and we finished 4th and 5th females with only a second between us: 5:46:01, 5:46:02. I gave her a BIG hug and thanked her for talking with me and running with me when it was hardest. I wish the best for her in all her ultra adventures!

Post race
Immediately I went over to the cooler and cracked open a cold coke. I drank all of it in probably 15 seconds. It was so good, and I am NOT a soda drinker. Then I went to the table where my drop bag was sitting and found the sleeping bag I brought. I threw it on the ground and laid down on it. Everything hurt, but I was just so happy to be done running.

A barbecue was well under way since the first men, Nathan Stroh and Gerad Dean, arrived in 4:24:50, also only a second apart. I reunited with Amber who finished 3rd overall, and first woman in 4:59:50!   Also, I learned that Kelly and Tiffany finished strong in 5:35 and 5:39.

Awards were presented and I was given a pair of shoes and a bottle of wine for finishing first master female, and also received a very special and unexpected award, a hand painted rock with the words "Top Douglas County Finisher 2015"

As I ate, my body loosened up a bit. I sneaked into the nearby Susan Creek campground and took a hot shower, which helped a lot, and came back to see a new instagram friend, Didi Clark, finish her second ultra. I hope she knows how proud I am of her, because with anywhere from 4300ft to 7300ft of climbing (depending on whose watch you go by), this one was NO easy course.

I have no idea why anyone ever wants to run an ultra. It is so painful! But already, my wheels are turning, thinking of what I could do better if I did another 50k.
There must be something wrong with me!


  1. Big congrats to you on the female masters win! You and me, too... Pushing our bodies so hard and then racing again... I guess there's something wrong with all of us then!

    1. Thanks Tina! There'll be another chance for both of us soon, I'm sure.

  2. Congrats to you! You finished strong and that's what counts (even though it may not have felt that way). Every ultra is a learning experience in my opinion. Nice work out there! Congrats on the first place Masters Female too :) (Oh and you will do another ultra and probably increase the distance too...just sayin')

    1. Thanks Robin! I don't know.. I really don't know how someone does a 50 miler. I could not imagine 19 more miles. ha!

  3. Nice job Raina, well done!. I've enjoyed your post, and I had a good laugh more than one time :), eg. when you thought "I still had a chance at being the first master female!". Congrats again and go for more, of course!

    1. Another? Yes.. just to work out the kinks!
      Thanks for reading and for the encouragement, Benjamin :)

  4. Fantastic race and congratulations on the Masters Win! I loved the write-up!

  5. Fantastic race and congratulations on the Masters Win! I loved the write-up!

  6. way to go raina! that's an awesome feat ... hope you recover well and enjoy the spoils of success!

    1. As of Tuesday night, feeling 90% recovered! Thanks Partrick!

  7. Incredible job Raina. I'm so, so impressed. Way to go.

    1. Come, Run with me Jodi! I think you'd be great at the Ultra!

  8. I love reading your race recaps, even though I know ultras aren't for me! Congratulations on the first master's finish. And you are so new to the distance, too!

    1. Yes! New enough to make rookie mistakes and feel OK about it:)
      Thanks for reading, Gracie. I always enjoy your comments and writing.

  9. Congratulations Raina. Sounds like you ran a great race with great strength of mind, and it was good of Melissa to stay with you. So, what with a bottle of wine to celebrate being 1st Master female, and a new pair of shoes, I reckon you'll be already pencilling the next ultra into your running diary? Cheers!

    1. Well, it's on my calendar anyway! Haha

  10. Congrats on the race and Master's win! I haven't done an ultra (yet) but I feel like it's just such a big difference from other things (even marathons) and you are doing great working your way into it, I really loved reading this recap!

    1. You'd be great at the ultra Laura! Its not that different.. just different terrain and a much faster recovery. I'd love to see you do one. :)

  11. Congrats on the Masters win!! That is such a long time to run! but a great time :)
    It would be expected to hit some fatigue, and I wonder if "saving some" in the beginning would really mean you would feel much different by the end, it sounds like the last of the course was the more difficult...I say you paced just right to get your win:)
    I bet you will do another lol

    1. This is exactly what I was thinking heading into it. I wanted to run the runnable sections! Unfortunately.. it just didn't leave much in the tank. Maybe next time I'll take a different approach and finish in the same time. Ha!

  12. Great write up and pics! I think a fade on that course at mile 26 isn't bad at all! Strong run!!

    1. Thanks Dawn! It started a little sooner than that, but i'm thinking this made for a really good long run and was a ton of fun! can't wait for the next one.

  13. There's nothing wrong with you Raina -- I think you're a natural at this trail ultra caper! I expect to see you training up for a 100 miler before too long - mark my words!

    1. don't put any money on it! ha!

  14. Congrats on the win! It's so hard to hold back when you feel good and want to RUN! Way to hang in there when it got tough. Great story.

  15. Congrats on your race. Great pr. Proud of you for finishing through all the adversaries. It was so funny when you said you that it was the sweetest mile when you were licking all the ooz off your garmin and all over you.

  16. Wow! Congrats on such an amazing race! Melissa sounds like an amazing woman! Pictures were awesome!


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