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Everyone's a critic!
December 19, 2008 - Erik Brown
I’ve been catching some flack about my blog lately. Make that my lack of blogging. The criticism: “It’s taking you longer to write about it (the Tussey Mountainback 50 Mile Ultramarathon), than it took you to train for it.” What can I say? I’m guilty as charged. It’s been more than nine weeks since I ran the Mountainback. This is my seventh post on the subject and I still haven’t written a word about the actual race. That ends now.
Without further adieu then…
Race Day – 4:00 A.M. I’m not a morning person, but this was one of those days when getting awake is much too easy. I took a shower to calm my nerves then tried to relax while I had my breakfast - four Eggo waffles with syrup, and some O.J.
4:45 A.M. I loaded my provisions for the day into our car. These included a hat, gloves, extra shoes, socks, shirts, a container of Sport Shield (anti-friction skin guard), plenty of water, and my “drop bags”.
Quick reminder: the Tussey Mountainback 50 Mile Ultramarathon consists of 12 legs ranging from 2.8 miles to 6.2 miles in length. At the end of each leg there is a transition zone / aid station (T.Z.). Ultra runners are permitted to have drop bags, packed with goodies, delivered to T.Z.’s 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11. Race volunteers delivered our bags to the designated T.Z.’s on the morning of that race.
True to my somewhat obsessive nature, I had meticulously packed my drop bags. Each bag actually consisted of three ziplock bags: a snack sized bag containing a dozen or so low sugar Gummy Bears and a piece of gum, a quart sized bag containing PB&J sandwiches and a vanilla Power Bar gel, and a gallon sized bag to hold the two smaller bags and a bottle of water. Each gallon sized bag had a strip of white tape with my name and a T.Z. number written on it. A couple of my drop bags had a fourth ziplock bag containing three, 200 mg caplets of Ibuprofin.
4:55 A.M. We pulled out of the driveway and headed for the Tussey Mountain Ski Area. Deanna drove. I ate a homemade roll leftover from the Spaghetti dinner she had made the night before, drank a bottle of water and tried to relax. It helped that we were on schedule and I had a good plan.
The plan was for Deanna to drive me to the starting area and register our car as a support vehicle while I went through the ultra check-in. Then she was going to stay with me until the 7:00 A.M. start. Once the race started however, she was going to drive into State College to see three of our sons run for Hollidaysburg in the State College XC Invitational. I wouldn’t see her again until I arrived at T.Z. 9 (Colyer Lake), 36.5 miles into the race. Fortunately, I also had Joe Shuta in my corner. Joe had generously offered to meet me at T.Z. 3 (Whipple Dam, the 11 mile mark), and again at T.Z. 5 (Alan Seeger Picnic Area, 20.6 miles). Two nights before the race he stopped at my house to pick up a cooler containing the same provisions I had in my drop bags. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Joe is a four-time Mountainback finisher, and was a tremendous help to me as I prepared for the event. His role on race day was to yell at me if I got to T.Z. 3 too soon, walk with me as I ate and drank, and otherwise lend moral support. Not surprisingly, he surpassed all expectations. I’ll explain how, in detail later.
5:50 A.M. The brain really is an extraordinary thing. Like a NASA engineer preparing to launch the Space Shuttle, the brain systematically prepares our bodies for the effort on race day. That nervous feeling all over, the yawning when we really aren’t sleepy, the unexpected, but very welcome zip in our legs – these are all good signs that the brain is doing its part to get us ready to go. I sometimes tell my kids to be thankful for the butterflies in their stomach before a race. For me, the pre-race jitters always include multiple trips to the bathroom. The longer the race, the more pre-race bathroom breaks I need. So I was quite pleased with myself when it occurred to me that a quick stop at the Boalsburg Uni-Mart would spare me the hassle of standing in line to use a port-a-john in the dark at the starting area. Can you believe I devoted an entire paragraph to that? No wonder its taking me so long to write this!
6:10 A.M. We arrived at the starting line at the Tussey Ski Area. I was relieved that we got a good parking spot – one that would be easy for Deanna to leave from after the race began. I sat in the car and made my final preparations for the race. I applied Sport Shield to my feet, arms, legs and chest, and took a preemptive dose (three 200 mg caplets) of Ibuprofin. I stepped out of the car to gauge the air temperature one last time before deciding to wear an old T-shirt over the top of my yellow singlet for the first few miles until the sun came up. At that point, the temperature was about 50 degrees.
6:20 A.M. Deanna and I walked down to the check-in tables by the go-kart track. She registered our car as a support vehicle while I checked in and turned in my drop bags. They weighed me (195 lbs.), but since I was still wearing my warm-ups, I doubt that the data was meaningful. After that we headed back to the car to keep warm.
6:30 A.M. My father-in-law called on the cell phone to wish me luck which was nice. His relay team, the 5 PMers, was scheduled to start later in the morning.
6:45 A.M. I headed over to the start line to get my pre-race photo taken by the Mountainback banner. You’ll notice the white strip of tape on the front of my singlet near my waste. By rule, the ultra runners had to finish in eleven hours or be pulled off the course. So, my number one goal was simply to finish. I had written the time that I needed to reach each T.Z. on the tape so that I would know if I was on pace without having to think about it very much. I stuck the tape on my shirt upside down so that I could simply flip my shirt up as I approached each T.Z. Pretty clever, eh? My secondary goal was to break 10 hours - basically, one hour ahead of the schedule I had written on the tape.
6:55 A.M. I got a kiss for luck from Deanna and took my spot at the start line. They took a few group photos and Mike Casper provided some last minute instructions, but I have no idea what he said. The “moment of truth” had arrived.
7:00 A.M. I don’t recall if they used a pistol, bell, whistle, or simply a voice command to start the race, but we were off and running. I waved to Deanna and started at a very easy pace. I was determined to stay relaxed and not expend too much energy in the first 10 miles.