Great Cranberry Island Ultra 2013 – my second 50k
Warning, apparently ultra runs require ultra blogs. You might want to grab a Gu for this one . . .
The first road race I remember watching was the 10-mile Lobster Classic held in Hancock, Maine every summer when I was a kid. My twin and I manned the water table at the halfway point. At the time 10 miles seemed an unfathomable distance only runable by summer people with blue-blood talent and fancy running shoes.
I was a knock-kneed misfit kid that liked to wiggle and since running wasn’t something anyone I knew did, I joined the aerobics class at the Blue Hill Town Hall and jumped around to the Pointer Sisters with my friend’s mothers.
But there is something very cool about doing something you weren’t made to do, something you never thought you would do, something everyone you know scorns as indulgent or dangerous (or both).
So, the summer before high school I started running the one-mile into town from my mother’s house. A former teacher pulled over to tell me that landing that hard on my heels might not be safe and a class parent, also the local chiropractor, winced at my poor footwear (boat shoe knockoffs bought at Ames in Ellsworth). But I liked how far I could run. A mile, three miles . . . five miles! I started running further than my mother drove me places. I ran under the blazing summer sun and I loved to run in the rain. In high school I ran off hangovers and break ups and I discovered the joy of running for hours through the woods alone.
In college I ran to train for xc ski season, and later to train for thru-hiking. I ran through stress fractures and torn knee ligaments, I ran to lose weight and to keep up with my mountaineering partners and one particularly fast grad school professor. I ran up and down bleachers and up and down 14,000 ft peaks.
I didn’t know how slow I was until I ran my first marathon and fell into step with a 70-year-old doctor from Ireland. We ran the last 10 miles together talking easily and at the end he thanked me for slowing down to join him. But I hadn’t slowed down!
I ran a few more marathons and once I practically killed myself trying to come in under 4 hrs. I accomplished neither. (Killing myself or finishing under 4hrs).
Then, I was forced to stop running for six years, because yes, hard heel striking and shitty shoes were a bad idea. I was told all kinds of stupid things which can generally be summed up as “humans aren’t meant run and even if we were, you most definitely were not”. But my absolute favorite nay saying/bullshit advice was given to me by a former Olympic chiropractor “Charlotte, your angry 3-year-old alter-ego is hitting you in the back of the knees with a baseball bat trying to get you to stop running”. Right.
So I got creative and five years ago I was able to start running again. First I ran up my driveway to Curves where I joined the same wonderful ladies I had done aerobics with 30 years earlier. After a few months I was in good enough shape to run past Curves. Thank god. I still remember the day I worked myself back up to 3 miles, and then 6. It was only last fall that I could finally run 13 miles again.
The point of this entire prelude is that my running isn’t pretty, and it isn’t fast, and it’s a damn miracle.
GCI Ultra (Great Cranberry Island 50k) Race Report
I tried to join the Crows for a Sunday morning group run in July, but no one showed up, so my cousin and I ran the 12-mile “Around the Mountain” loop from the Brown Mountain Gatehouse on our own. That turned out to be my single long run between the Pineland 50k and the GCI Ultra. Otherwise I did a good amount of swimming, biking, yoga and Pilates and raced a couple of sprint triathlons. because I will always think of myself as the fat slow kid, I was worried about beating the 7pm cut off time and wondered if I should take advantage of the early start time . . . I opted for the extra hour of sleep instead.
I started the day with a handful of these amazing enzymes that have absolutely no scientific basis whatsoever but have worked miracles on my Achilles tendons anyway. An hour later I had my every day breakfast of green juice (kale, lemon, apple, celery and lettuce) and chia seeds soaked in homemade hemp milk and I also made a cashew butter and marmalade sandwich on brown rice bread and a thermos of my favorite Earl Grey tea to enjoy on the ferry.
As for actual running fuel I packed several Lara and Luna bars, caffeinated and extra salty Cliff blocks, some random Gu’s from previous race packets and plenty of Cocohydro and Emergen-C powder. Since I missed out on buying tickets for the post race lobster dinner I also packed my own awesome post-run meal. I made my usual green smoothie with Vega protein powder, fresh blueberries and tons of greens, and for dinner I put together a container full of black beans, avocado and all the fresh vegetables from our garden and King Hill Farm CSA that I could find. If nothing else, I was going to eat well!
Pre-race clothing planning
The only reason clothes were even an issue for me was because on that very hot “Around the Mountain” run a few weeks ago I discovered chafing for the first time and I was not going to suffer like that again. So I scrounged up some black spandex shorts (ewww!) and was still on the hunt for a comfy jog bra. I threw in a brand new stick of Glide and some socks just in case. Oh, and some shoes. Oops, I almost forgot those!
When I arrived at Southwest Harbor’s Upper Town Dock I was surrounded by brightly colored compression socks, way too short shorts and out of state plates. Since I still don’t think of myself as a “real” runner thin legs and sharp cheekbones can easily intimidate me. But, when I joined the crowd of runners on the dock waiting for the Mail Boat everyone was super-friendly and by the time we arrived at Cranberry Island I had already met some great people.
Great Cranberry Island is the bigger, quieter sister to Little Cranberry Island. Together they make up the town of Isleford (not to be confused with the island of Isleboro). It has a general store, post office, library and an uninhabited grade school.
Walking up the road to the start of the race I saw two girls setting out a table of water cups and I remembered how I’d done the same thing 30 years ago. I didn’t know then that one day I’d be one of those runners sloppily (but gratefully) grabbing a cup of water as I wobbled by.
I had plenty of time to get ready, which might be a first. Without kids to feed, entertain, take pee, and otherwise raise, I was free to browse the vendor booths. Where, as luck would have it, I was given a nice new jog bra with the Crow Athletics logo on it. The print was faded and thus apparently unsellable, but it was lovely and soft and fit me perfectly (thank you!).
As the 10:30 early crew headed off down the road I once again wondered if I’d made a mistake by not joining them, the cheerful, slow paced, Clydesdale crowd looked an awful lot like me!
I decided to run barefoot as long as I could. I had broken my second toe the week before and I hadn’t even tried to wear shoes since the fateful groundhog trapping, boulder-dropping, toe-stubbing incident. At the last minute I decided to set my shoes out on the lawn near the turn around point, just in case.
I love the beginning of a race because it is so easy to run fast. I know I shouldn’t, I know I should hold back and trot along at my usual ultra-sustainable plod, but it is just too much fun to feel the ease of the crowd and get caught up with them. I don’t usually drink or eat the first two hours of a run, and at the 2:08 mark I had run a half marathon and I was on empty. Oops. Also, my foot pads were scorched. The sun was
overhead and there wasn’t a white line to run on. Plus, they had recently filled some potholes with soft sticky tar, pieces of which were scattered across the road and attached to my feet like sea urchin spines. Ouch! I stopped to put my shoes on, then I stopped to take the insoles out (I swear my feet get bigger every week), then I stopped to poke out a hole in the fabric over my broken toe . . . I was hungry and hurting and the stop and go was killing my early momentum. That’s when Jerome came running toward me! He had taught my morning yoga class in Blue Hill and then caught the ferry over to join me.
Running and crewing
This is the first year that Jerome has trained for anything and it is beyond fun that he can run with me now. Running up to me fresh and excited like a labradoodle puppy, he helped me grab some cliff blocks, took a few pictures and then proceeded to bounce along beside me and . . . not talk. That’s when I realized that women generally make better running company. When I threatened to put my earphones in he indulged me with some work gossip, and then cheered me on with things like “Look Char, a downhill, free speed!”. (Hint to long-distance pacers, unless your are Killian Jornet, downhills are not free speed, they are a painful reminder that your quads have become lactic-acid jello shots.) At one low moment I forgot to grab any fuel when I passed the turn around so once again I slowed to a crawl . . . just barely passing the 26.2 mark at 4hr52min, Jerome misread his watch and told me it was 4hrs12mins, which I was pretty psyched about and it gave me a new shot of strength. Until mile 28 when I realized the mistake. But who’s counting? One way or another we all end up finishing in the same geologic epoch right?
Running and pooping
Over the course of the last ten miles I stopped several times to off-load my pre-race, fuel. I know one is supposed to eat low fiber, perhaps even constipating foods before a race, but I haven’t figured this part of long-distance running out yet. In the mean time, I’ve gotten really good at the fast squat. And no, I’ve never used your alleyway. I swear.
Running and making friends
The best part about this race was how we all passed each other at least a dozen times, and how by the end I was feeling this mushy love and admiration for all these people I’d never met before. There was Doug with a Mohawk (and his daughter Charlotte), Eddy who plans to run a barefoot marathon in all 50 States, Caolin a running coach from Colorado, Dave the friendly lobster hat guy who ate his weight in ice cream bars and took a million pictures (while running the race), Wayne with the pink beard hanging tough, Roger with the Hawaiian shirt, Jackie and Alison, a mother and daughter team running together, Jeremy with the toe shoes (who will also be at the VT50), Bill the green turtle-hulk, Mark from Paris and Maine (but not Paris, Maine) and of course Gary Allen, running his final GCI (last minute) with a good amount of focus and grit.
Running to the end
I crossed the finish line at just under 6 hours, no fanfare, no high kicks or sprinting, no cheering throngs of family or friends, no tears, or passing out, just (my favorite husband) Jerome clicking off a few photos and a very patient volunteer waiting to put a lobster claw medal around my sweaty neck. I chose out my finisher’s rock and lay down with my feet propped up against a tree, happy to stare into the sky.
Where I lay wondering why I do these things . . .
Since I never once doubt that I will finish, why do I even need to start in the first place? If you know you can do something do you really need to prove it? Well yes. I am more than a head and a heart, I am a body too. My head can know, my heart can feel but my body needs to do. I was not born into this world to sit back and watch, I am here to live through my senses, to feel the sun on my skin and the earth beneath my feet. I am here to literally smell the roses, not simply imagine their sweet fragrance. Maybe that’s why I run ultras.
The final mile
I drank my green smoothie and shared a coconut bar with a fellow runner who looked like he might pass out from hypoglycemia. Then, while I was enjoying a quiet moment of bliss rinsing off under a spigot shower, Jerome starting yelling at me to hurry up so we could run the half-mile back to the dock to catch the ferry in time to put the girls to bed! I thought “I’m a mom, I can do this!” When we got home the girls jumped all over me while I lay on the floor lamely trying to stretch my hip out. They told me all about their very exciting day with Uncle Leithan, how they were still hungry, how their feet were sore and sunburned and how their legs could use a massage . . . . Maybe one day I’ll write a book called “The Final Mile: Running and Parenting”. It will involve a lot of horizontal poses, some benign neglect, and a good amount of transference (“Mom, my legs reeallly ache tonight!”)
Run hard, recover harder
I wish I could say I slept like a rock that night, but it took a solid 8 hours for the deep-muscle aches to subside. That’s the thing with running far, it’s not like when I stop running everything goes back to normal. There is generally a fairly hellish period (up to a day) after the run that things actually hurt more than they did while I was running. Since I’m not just in it for any single run or race I don’t take painkillers or drink alcohol because they slow my muscle recovery way down. Instead I take lots of Ashwaganda, Shatavari and vitamin B’s to help counter the effects of stress hormones on my system. My recovery this last week included a day of easy yoga and foam rolling, a day of swimming, a day of biking and by Wednesday I was back to running. In two weeks I have a half ironman, and two weeks after that the Coast to Katahdin challenge. And in a mere two months the VT50 (because really, how hard can an extra 19 miles be? ; )
Thank you Gary and Mary, the Crows and all the GCI residents for hosting a fantastic event.