Howl at the Moon Race Report
So I’m training for my second North Coast 24 (24 hour ultra in Cleveland in September). I ran it last year and finished with 62 miles, which was well under my goal but about as good as I could do that day. This year the plan was to keep my miles consistent, and improve my race day nutrition, as I know that played a big part in my disappointing first NC24.
I heard about Howl at the Moon, an 8 hour ultra about 90 mins from my house. I had several friends who had done it previously and considering that it was celebrating it’s 24th year and was 6 weeks before my goal race and was relatively inexpensive, I had to do it. Man, I’m glad my friend’s encouraged me to sign up right away because it was sold out in a week. Another sign that this was going to be a good race.
So – training this summer has been going very well. Miles are consistent and I’m getting all my long runs in with the exception of my last one that I had to cut short at 19 instead of 26 due to being stuck in a park bathroom for 45 minutes (no lie). I also used a 1 mile run, 1 minute walk pattern that worked really well for me.
My A goal for Howl was 40 miles and B goal was 35. Since it was a trail race vs road race like NC24 is, I knew the terrain would be more challenging so I was being flexible with my goals. Also, running in early August vs mid September was bound to be hotter which would affect my miles.
Race Day – I get up at 5:15, dress, eat a breakfast burrito, wake up Brett (who was crewing me) and we are on the road by 6:15 eastern time. The drive from Indianapolis to Danville, IL was uneventful. The sky was completely overcast and the weather was on the cool side, low 60’s. I couldn’t have asked for better weather and hoped it would continue. We arrive at Kennekuk Park outside of Danville about 6:45 central time. The area is already crowded with cars, tents and canopies, which were all line up along a ¼ mile stretch of a grassy field. Brett and I run into our friend , Jeff, who offered to let us share his canopy so we drop our stuff off there and I head to the registration area to pickup my packet. My packet was actually a small cooler and a race shirt. I then head to the score tent and check in with my scorer who would be counting my laps throughout the race. The laps only count if the score guy marks them off so it was very important to check in with him each time I passed the tent.
Brett and I get our crew area set up with food (bagels, peanut butter, PB filled pretzels, Gu, Gatorade, Starbucks bottled frappachino, Coke, gingered ale and Nerds). Brett had paid close attention to how Harvey Lewis’s (who won Badwater this year) crew had their table set up during NC24 (where he ran 150 miles!!) so he had an idea of what we should try out for ourselves. It was different as I would only see him every 3.3 miles instead of every .9 mile but we would adjust.
The race started right at 7:30. Weather was still perfect, overcast and 64*. 350 people were registered but I don’t know how many actually started but it was a lot. I took off as well as I could but the first mile was very crowded. We ran along a mowed grassy area that was basically about 10 feet wide. So it was slow going for the first mile until we hit some pavement and could jostle around a little. The first mile consisted of mowed grass (not a fan of running on that), dirt road, mowed grass again and about 200 yards of pavement. The next mile was more mowed grass that had some small hills but also ruts, holes, low branches and some thicker grass (which is hard to run through as your feet get caught on it). About 1.5 miles into the course, there is more pavement and the aid station. This was set up very well with potatoes dipped in salt, M&M’s, granola bars, pop, and other items. The volunteers were very friendly. I skipped this station as I had a Gu Roctane at the start and was carrying a water bottle filled with Gatorade. Next the road changed to dirt road with a nice little downhill that I enjoyed (ever since running down Leg 1 of Hood to Coast, I LOVE to fly down hills!) The next mile or so was the most challenging for me as far as terrain. The dirt road had lots of chunky rocks, ruts and holes that I had to avoid, there was no “tuning” out. There was also parts that had recently been re-graveled with pea gravel that hadn’t really crushed down well enough to be stable. So I’d step in gravel that shifted unexpectedly. Yeah, not my favorite part. Finally, I saw a road and turned when I hit it only to be greeted by a huge hill! Everyone was walking it. So I joined them as we all pushed up the hill to a very excited group of volunteers, handing out water. Again I skipped this station. We continued on this paved road for another ½ mile and then turned back into the woods for another rutty, rooted, grassy, holey path that brought us back to the canopy’s and the starting line.
I stop at my canopy and check in with Brett. First lap time for 3.3 miles was 34:36. I pass the scoring tent and my scorer was looking for me, yelled my name and marked down my first lap. I’m back out for the next lap. So – laps 2, 3 and 4 were uneventful. I ate some at the aid stations, took some salt tablets, drank water and Gatorade. My times were 34:35, 34:39, 35:34. Weirdly consistent! I was feeling great. Stopped for the restroom during lap 5 (37:10) and still felt very strong for 16.5 miles. Lap 6, I started to notice that my hips were feeling a little sore from the uneven ground. This lap was 37:21 (19.8 miles total). Lap 7 was a longer restroom stop and longer aid station stops (38:49, 4:13:45 overall time for 23.1 miles). Lap 8 was slower as well, I’m just getting tired and was having a harder time keeping my speed in the grass and gravel but I was staying under 10:00 min mile pace on the paved portions (43:29, 26.4 miles, 4:57:15 overall). I was really happy to hit the marathon point under 5 hours and still feeling good. Lap 9 - At this point, I was feeling a little tired so decided to drink a bottle of frappachino. I had read in someone’s blog that the mixture of sugar and caffeine worked well for him so I thought I would give it a try. BAD CHOICE!! The full cup filled up my stomach to the point that I was very uncomfortable. Maybe the dairy in it too. Whatever it was, I felt full and sick for the next entire lap. I was pretty pissed at myself too. I took a long walk break in one of the grassy areas around mile 27, cursing the grass as I trudged through it. An older man wearing a 50 marathon, 50 states TWICE shirt teased me, calling me a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle due to my green outfit. I talked to him for a few minutes as I was having a private emotional battle – “I’ve run 27 miles well, I can walk the rest and be happy with that. It will be easier to recover if I don’t go all out. Damn grass!! You didn’t drive here to phone it in, just try to run a little bit. Make yourself puke so you don’t have the sloshing feeling anymore”. It was around this point that I noticed the 100+ marathon runner with double knee replacement was now 20 yards in front of me! Dang it – get yourself together!!!!! So I started running again. I came up to the next aid station and grabbed some potatoes and ran into two friends also at the station. I was happy to see familiar faces and ran the next mile with Dave, discussing how outrageously expensive weddings are and how wonderful my kids are and about how the damn hill was growing and how I don’t like watermelon but that maybe it would help my yucky tummy and about how we didn’t like being passed by Western States runners who looked like they were running at our 5k effort. We stayed together until we hit the grassy area again and Dave cramped up so I kept going. Checked in with Brett, updating him on why I was so slow (50:46, 29.7 miles). He offered to run with me for a little and take pictures so I welcomed the company. It was very nice to have him there even when he was teasing me. He agreed that the rocks, roots and ruts were challenging at times. I told him when I wanted to walk and he kept those breaks short. We actually ran most of this lap, even part of the hill as he wanted an “action” picture (yes, I wanted to punch him!!). Finished the lap in 44:49 with a bathroom stop. 33 miles down in 6:32:45. I knew my next lap would be my last as they shut down the course 30 mins prior to the end and have runners do a ¼ mile out and back trail to keep distances accurate and participants together.
I run most of the last lap but much slower. More of a trudge than run. But it was forward movement and I enjoyed it. I tapped the sign for Scott Hathaway, the runner who passed away on this course a few years ago. I said encouraging words to everyone I passed and to everyone who passed me. I stopped that the aid station for a margarita and enjoyed drinking that strong cup for a long time! A lady with a Scottish accent yelled that it was “too early to be walking, Greeny” as she ran effortlessly past me after I pulled myself up that damn hill. I watched her run away and thought, she’s right, I’m running the rest of the way and I did. I got to Brett, finishing my 11th lap, 36.3 miles with a lap time of 52:34. I timed it right as I only had about 2 minutes before they were starting the out and backs, my friend whose canopy we were sharing had 18 minutes to wait (he didn’t trust that he could finish another whole lap in 48 minutes). I check in with my scorer and he explains that I would get a straw every lap and turn those in to him before the clock hit 8 hours. If I didn’t get them into him by the buzzer, then none of those laps would count. I line up with the rest of the runner (probably 50 of us) and took off running. I felt like I was really pushing myself but man, some of the stronger runners were flying. This route was very rutted and mole hills and thick grass so it wasn’t fast. I was pushing myself though, I really wanted to get at least 3 laps in. This was actually the longest straight running portion that I did all day! I ran the first lap, grabbed my straw and went back out. Another lap, another straw and 15 minutes to go. Ok, let me get another lap in and then I’ll stop. Got my 3rd straw and heard “8 minutes to go”. I headed out for another lap as I knew I could get it in before time was up. I swear I cried out loud when I hit a root and stumbled a bit but I kept running. I grabbed my last straw and ran to the scoring table. I turned them in at 7:55:42. My Garmin said 37.85 but that must be off because 36.3 for 11 laps and 4 laps for another 2 miles puts me at 38.3. I don’t have the official results yet. Anyways, I was done!!!!
I got cleaned up, Brett bought me an elephant ear, we grabbed some beer and some of the post race meal. We stayed for part of the awards, long enough for me to get the “I completed the Ultra at the Moon” medal and then headed home because we had to pick up our kids. On the way home, my friend Christy texted to say that I had actually won an AG award too!! I was stunned. My AG was Open Women, the largest AG there. She said they awarded the top 10 or 12 in each AG and she thought I was 4th or 5th place! She took my medal for me and is mailing it. What an awesome and unexpected surprise.
So – to recap – I need to stay away from dairy during and post race (yeah, threw up a strawberry shake I had when we got home). My results proved that my training is on track for NC24. And I’m feeling very confident about my goal race next month. Howl at the Moon was a terrific, well organized race. Highly recommend. I would do it again next year if my schedule allows. Now, time for a nap!!!