Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sunrise to Sunset


Our main goal in Mongolia was to complete the trail marathon, except for Anna. She was crazy enough to sign up for the 100K (um yeah, that's 62 miles). Months ago Kathleen sent out the link to the race kind of as a joke. I think she was surprised when multiple people wrote back that it sounded like a great idea.
We all loved Mongolia when we got there. As you know from the previous post the country was stunning. We also liked the camp and the other racers were great, but the sanitary conditions left a little to be desired. The bathrooms were a little sketchy, there was no refrigeration, and electricity was available when they turned the generator on between 9 and 11pm. None of us really minded these primitive conditions until early Monday morning when Avery (Kathleen's 17 year old daughter) got sick. We thought she just had a virus because the rest of us felt fine. However, after dinner Monday I got majorly sick, Andrea got moderately sick, and others also didn't feel well. I'm pretty sure my food poisoning came in the form of the packed lunch that just sat out all day until you were ready to eat it. The camp directors and race doctor wouldn't admit it was food poisoning, but at least 10% of the camp went down that night - pretty much everyone who ate the lunch with meat.
Yep, that's right. The Monday night before the Wednesday morning race I was losing fuel at both ends. It wasn't pretty and Anna can vouch that it didn't sound good either. So I eliminated all of my Monday fuel and on Tuesday I wasn't feeling like eating, especially anything from the camp kitchen. I was able to keep down 6 ritz crackers and forced myself to have peanut butter on 2 of those. I also ate a few pringles and Sprite tasted heavenly. My main focus for Tuesday was staying hydrated and not tossing my crackers. I think I was pretty successful.
So, if you're keeping track, at this point (less than 24 hours before the race) we have 3 folks with food poisoning. To top it off Kathleen was walking in flip flops, slipped on wet grass, and her foot went over the top of her toes. She broke her fourth toe. We were starting to look like quite the motley crew.
On Wednesday morning a horseman rode through camp playing a flute for our 3 am wake up call. This horseman would go on to take second in the male division of the marathon. My stomach was still not quite settled when I woke up. It felt like maybe I could use the bathroom, but that wasn't happening. I ate a quarter of a pita with a smear of peanut butter, but that didn't stay with me long.
With little food and a queasy stomach I was unsure if I would be able to finish this race. I've never DNFed (Did Not Finish) and I didn't want to start now. I knew that I would leave everything on the race course.
video
We lined up and at 4:30 the race began. About 75 people started the race for the 42 and 100K. We started in the dark and immediately went in to a forested, rocky, rooty section of the course. Most racers speed walked this first couple kilometers because nobody wanted to get injured and taken out of the race so early. After this treacherous bit we popped out on to a road that hugged the lake until we hit the first aid station at 12K. It was still low light, but headlights were no longer needed.
I was still feeling pretty crummy at this point, but I knew I felt better than Avery. That poor girl was flushed and pale at the same time. I was a little nervous for her. Kathleen was running with her broken toe and this flat part might have been the least painful section for her. Luckily, her 15 year old daughter Corinne had a lot of pep and kept us all going. She was the youngest female competitor to ever attempt this race.
Trying to "fake it 'til I make it" with a smile and wild horses behind me.
At the first aid station even though we were all attempting to run we were still near the back of the packers, some of who were walking. It was going to be a long day. We all had enough water in our packs that we didn't want to chance a refill. We were told the water at the aid stations had been boiled, but after getting sick I was less willing to chance anything. At the aid station I did grab this little apple and it was deliciously sweet, but again, that didn't stay with me long.
Me and Tam at the first aid station.
Kathleen at the beginning of the climb.
Once we left the first aid station we started the first big climb. This is the climb that made me question my sanity when I saw it on the elevation profile. We climbed about 2500 feet over 5K (about 3 miles). It was brutally steep with a lot of switchbacks. I also took myself out of this climb mentally. There was a thick fog that was suffocating. I felt so claustrophobic and I hated not being able to see the top.
The fog beginning to roll in.
However, when we got to the top the fog lifted and the views were spectacular. I thought to myself that those fast suckers at the front missed this by getting over the mountain so quickly. Sometimes it's good to be sick and slow at the back of the pack.
Slopes are just a wee bit steep, eh?
Top of the World - I am a champion!
After the climb we got to a great pass and realized that we were now the absolute last runners. How did we know this? Because at this point the local horseman started following us. It was kind of like the sweeper van, but more up close and personal.
When the downhill started I kept thinking about Kathleen and her poor toe. It was steep and made up of loose gravel. My toes were taking a beating being pushed into the end of my shoe. I couldn't imagine how it felt with a broken toe, but then I remembered what Kathleen told me before the race. She had talked to her husband, a Navy doctor currently serving in Afghanistan, before coming to Mongolia. He told her that he had just sent a young man home who had lost both his legs and one of his arms. We've got it so easy.
The Lennard Family
We continued on over some pretty easy terrain for a few miles and then slogged through some wet, mossy areas near a beautiful clear river. Our shoes and socks were soaked, but my stomach was starting to feel better. The cold water was numbing Kathleen's toe and Avery was getting a second wind as well. Things were starting to turn around.
The second aid station was at 25.5K. My camelbak was dry at this point so I chanced the water. It tasted slightly funny, but like water treated with purification tablets. This is also the point in the race where I decided to try eating my Clif Shot Bloks. These were the first calories that I actually kept in me. At the aid station it was our group of 4, our new, Australian friend Tam, and 3 runners from Hong Kong.
Aid station at 25.5K
Avery and I decided to push it a little at this point and with that push we never got passed again. Corinne and Kathleen stuck together a little ways behind us. This section was beautiful. There were meadows with flowers as far as the eye could see. A lot of this section was run near the river and was fairly rolling. The course was well marked and I was glad Avery and I were together. Neither of us talked much, but it was nice to have company. I wasn't sure how I'd like running an entire marathon without any crowd support because all of my road races were huge, but I loved it. I had my mp3 player, but I never took it out of my bag. I've never run for so long, but I was in this strange, zen place. I felt calm and at peace and after the first mountain I knew I was going to accomplish my goal.
The second hill was also a beast, but it was shorter and steeper. The fun part was that it was all this mossy, spongy terrain that was soaked from recent rains. Our feet sunk in water up to our ankles with almost every step. With all of this water I was worried about blisters, but my shoes treated me well. The steepness of this hill was brutal. Whenever I would stop to catch my breath I could hear my heart trying to beat its way out of my chest.
The second big climb was basically through a creek bed. There was no way to avoid soaked feet.
The downhill was almost runnable. It was long grass and would have been fun if it wasn't wet and slick. I only fell once and the only injury came in the form of a few scratches on my camera. Yes, I ran with my camera the whole time. During this downhill was our final water station before the finish. It was just one local man and his son. In exchange for water I gave them a Clif Shot Blok. They seemed to like the raspberry flavor.
I definitely took time to enjoy the scenery. The race director told us to expect to double our road marathon time and despite being sick and stopping for photos I was right on the money.
After this station the ground flattened out and we only had 10K left. This is where I started to feel really good. We had some rolling hills and instead of single track we had more of an established trail and then a dirt road for the last 5K. I had some shooting pain in the bottom of my left foot, but felt good otherwise. I tried to pick up my pace, but still took a couple walking breaks during the last 10K. Avery pulled ahead of me a little and I had to let her go. I just couldn't keep her pace. The finish was tough because you could see the finish forever, but had to go around a lake before crossing the finish line. I was so relieved to finish this race. I was out there for 8:39. Yep, over 8 hours of fun were run on 200 calories worth of Shot Bloks. I'm amazed at what my body can do.
video
Overall, I really loved this course. I wouldn't do the race again because staying at that camp and eating that food holds no appeal, but if I could just be dropped on to the trail I would gladly start running.