Orange Curtain 100K race report

In this past month’s UltraRunning magazine, there was an article titled “Getting Through Your First Ultra.”  Although the article was definitely geared toward the newbie crowd, there were some great quotes that all experienced ultrarunners could relate to.  Here was my favorite:

“…marathons are pretty predictable.  You run, run, run and finish pretty much where your training puts you.  Not so with ultras.  With ultras, you have to expect the unexpected and get ready to roll with the punches because you’re going to get punched.”

This was the theme of my day running the Orange Curtain 100K race on February 20.  I showed up prepared and well-trained, but definitely ran into unexpected problems and issues along the way.  At least at this point in my “ultra career”, I know well enough to expect some points that flat out suck.  Being able to succeed in any ultra event certainly involves accepting that a certain amount of “sucking” is just going to happen and being able to say, “oh well.”  You just have to keep moving, no matter how much it hurts.

The Orange Curtain 100K is a home-grown, old-school event.  Not much ceremony, no ridiculous entry fee, not much hoopla, no massive goodie bag, no big corporate sponsors (although I did receive a really nice technical T-shirt).  This is how I prefer my races, small and low-key.  It’s a race geared for speed, designed for runners who are trying to qualify for other events which have 100K time requirements, like the Spartathlon.  The cut-off is only 14 hours, so you have to be reasonably NOT slow to be able to finish within that time frame.  The course consists of a 5K stretch of bike path along the San Gabriel river, between Cerritos and Long Beach.  You run out and back 5K for a total of 10K each loop, and repeat (ad nauseum!) ten times.  The course is almost completely flat, with negligible “hills” going underneath three street overpasses.

At first glance, you might think, “How hard is THAT going to be?”  I have to say, the toughest part of the race was the mental component.  Repeating the same loop over and over again can be a mind-numbing experience.  And, you pass by the main aid station at the start/finish after every loop…which means you pass by your vehicle, parked a short distance away.

Race morning: I woke up at about 2:05 am, ate a quick breakfast (and updated my facebook status), heading out the door by 3:10 to pick up my friend Jeri.  We had decided to carpool to the event, which proved to be a very SMART move (more on that later).  The forecast for the day called for rain, and we encountered some serious downpours on the drive from San Diego to Orange County.  We kept our fingers crossed that the rain would hold off for the duration of the event.  By the time we arrived at the race site, around 5:30 am, the rain had stopped and we never experienced any precipitation during the event.  Instead, the weather turned out to be perfect for running 100K – cool, slightly overcast, light breeze, low 60s.

There were somewhere between 50 and 60 people signed up for the combined 50K and 100K events.  Everyone had a lot of nervous energy at the start, and there were massive lines for the port-a-potties up until the 6 am race start.  I lined up in the very back of the crowd, partly to be able to take pictures of the actual start, but mainly to make sure that I started out slowly.

ready to race!

everyone's ready to roll...

It always astounds me that, despite the collective racing experience of ultrarunners, that most start out way too fast.  I guess it’s adrenaline or something that makes people jet out from the starting line like rabbits.  For me, many times I start by walking and just let myself get warmed up.  Let the rabbits go.  However, it’s also mentally tough to start out dead last (which I pretty much did at this event) and know that you’ll start passing people after three or more hours (which I also did).

My game plan was to stick to a 12 minute/mile pace for as long as possible.  The first loop was completely uneventful, as was the second loop.  I used my run/walk strategy, suggested to me from the lovely folks at ZombieRunner (DC and Gillian are the best!).  My favorite is a 8:2 run/walk ratio.  It keeps me from going too fast, and the 2 minute walk interval provides enough recovery time that I rarely get tired.

I spent the first two loops checking out the local scenery.  The San Gabriel river is the quintessential SoCal river – surrounded by concrete walls on each side.  I spent quite a few hours contemplating the weirdness of having a river completely being enclosed by concrete.  On the other side of the race course, the highlights included a park with horse stables and a small petting zoo, and further down, the Long Beach Wal-Mart store.  For a while, I entertained the thought of doing a pictorial essay on “Wal-Mart throughout a day”, something like a “day in the life of Wal-Mart”, complete with arty shots of Wal-Mart at sunrise, noon, mid-day, and sunset.  However, I got so involved with the running that I gave up the idea.  Next year, perhaps!

I knew from checking out the splits from prior years’ races that most runners slow down during the third loop.  That’s when I started to speed up, and tried to keep things either faster or constant through loops 3-5.  I hit my 50K split a few minutes ahead of my intended schedule (I was shooting for 6 hours) in 5:55.  I felt GREAT through the 50K mark!

Loop 6 was where the unexpected began to happen.  I think at that point the constant ingestion of sugary, energy foods took its toll on my tummy, and I ended up having to make a 10+ minute pit stop at one of the toilets just off of the race course.  During that time, I noticed the crazy chafing that had started to accrue in certain parts of my anatomy that will remain nameless in this race report.  “Hamburger” would be the proper adjective to describe what was going on.  I’m a big fan of Bag Balm as a lubricant against chafing, but I think I would have literally needed to drop myself in a vat of the stuff to have had any chance against what happened to me during this race.  Loop 7 offered little relief from the issues of the prior loop – I found myself slowing down and adjusted my run/walk ratio to 7:3 to give myself more recovery time.

I started feeling better during loop 8, and continued to improve despite having to stop an additional three times for bathroom breaks (those were not fun).  By loop 10, I was running strong again, and felt excited at the prospect of being DONE.  Finally, after 12 hours and 49 minutes, I crossed the finish line and was informed that I was the third place woman.  Of course, there were only five women who completed the race (several dropped down to the 50K distance apparently), but I’ll take my props where I can get them.  I was awarded a beautiful bouquet of flowers from Jay Anderson, the race director.  I’ve never received a race award in over twenty years of racing, so I was genuinely touched!

awww...my very first race award...

Overall, I loved this race.  My friend, Jill Childers, highly recommended it, having run it twice before.  She was right!  It’s a great race – the RD did a fantastic job of organizing the event.  Everything went incredibly smoothly from start to finish.  The aid stations were AWESOME.  The start/finish aid station had an incredibly spread of food – every kind of fresh fruit imaginable, the typical potatoes/salt, deviled eggs, gels, several kinds of sodas (not just Coke)…and all served on really cute matching serving trays (hey, I’m a girl and notice these kinds of things!).  The race volunteers were the highlight.  I have to say, the aid station folks at the turnaround were a riot!  They greeted me by name each time, and even sang “Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson” to me almost every time I came through.  Friendly, sweet guys.  The timing guy even got a hug every time!

For me, this was probably the hardest I’ve ever pushed myself in a race.  Normally, I’m content with hanging in the back of the crowd, and just meeting people and enjoying the scenery.  Don’t know what got into me yesterday, but I just decided to “go for broke.”  My coach said in an email, “I hate to tell you this, but you RACED yesterday.”  Yeah.  Never expected to break 13 hours in a million years, but I did it.

As a post-script – just a word of advice to any of you ultrarunners out there who might be reading this: it’s just as important to plan how you’re going to get home from an event as it is to train for one.  Because I pushed myself hard, my whole system was completely out of whack following the race…and I had a two hour drive back to San Diego.  My friend Jeri (who finished in 10:58…DAMN FAST!) ended up having to drive my SUV back because I was so out of it.  We had a quick bite to eat at the Whole Foods in Tustin on the way home and something just erupted in my system at that point.  Funny how we as ultrarunners put so much emphasis on the race itself but not enough care in the aftermath.  I would never have made it home if Jeri hadn’t been there to take over the driving.  Be safe out there, folks!

Jeri and I at the finish line. I look like I'm about to keel over!!!

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