Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Nancy Kleinrock & Steve from Finger Lakes

Long and slow, cold and sunny, snowy trails and chip timing -- the 2005 Huntington Ultra-Frigid Fifty (HUFF) 50K was a race of extremes. More than 400 runners gathered in the predawn cold to begin either one or three 10.8-mile loops around the frozen northern Indiana Huntington Reservoir, traversing 20% roads and 80% gently rolling wooded trails covered with about six inches of snow that was soon nicely padded down to what Nancy might consider the perfect running surface, although not one that would inspire any speed records. (How's that for a long sentence!) Both Nancy and Steve were excited about tackling their first ultra, but a niggling tendon or two left Steve feeling a bit trepidatious.

This race, directed by Mitch Harper and coorganized by others including Chris Reynolds' cousin Judy Tillapaugh, whom we had met this past summer on a Finger Lakes 50s run-through, is one that Steve -- who hails from the Hoosier state -- had participated in three times previously, although in the three-person relay of one loop each. Judy and her coconspirators put on a wonderful event. We can't comment on the pasta dinner or pre-race-day packet pickup, but on race morning we each collected a chip, personalized bib, HUFF T-shirt, HUFF hat, HUFF ice scraper, and manly deodorant -- huh? -- in a heated tent in the park campground, a location that would later double as a smorgasbord of soup for our postrace enjoyment. At the three aid stations, volunteers cheerfully offered up the usual (partially frozen) liquid refreshments, as well as a variety of cookies, pretzels, potato chips, peanut M&Ms, and suchlike. Loop after loop after loop those folks retained the encouragement and sunshine in their voices despite the likelihood of well-frozen feet and noses.

Some highlights of the race:

The Boom -- After standing in the midst of the crowded start line of shivering runners, a Civil War-era cannon sent us on our way just post-sunrise, with the shock wave reverberating strongly in our chests. Guess that's one way to make sure no one has a heart attack on the course: get any potential event over with before the running begins!

The Start -- It was just like Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh's "expotition" to the North Pole: a long line of everybody. The first half mile was on the park road to let the field of runners sort itself out, but it didnt work so well. With the intention of more than 32 miles to go, we started slow and easy. A good plan. But once folks ventured off the road and onto the snow, many didn't seem to know what to do with their feet. One would think that a person about to run either 10.8 or 32-ish miles on snow would first check out what that surface felt like. Good deal, though, that there was sufficient room on either side of the single-file line to trot along in the deeper snow at a comfortable pace. Three miles into the course came the first road section -- actually, a bridge across the reservoir's dam -- which spread out the runners, and the remaining hours brought no congestion.

The Gunshots -- Toward the end of loop 1, Nancy and Steve first heard them even though we were about a third mile apart (Nancy ahead of course!). Having lived in Schuyler County for a decade, and seeing no runners keeling over on the trail nearby, Nancy thought little of the gunshots that pealed out from across the lake. On loop 3 she definitively discovered the source. Early Saturday afternoon must be an active time for the firing range near the loop's sixth mile. Passing another runner as a shot rang out, Nancy remarked, "I bet they're doing that as an incentive to make us run faster." The reply: "Maybe it's working for you, but not for me!" After all, it was roughly mile 26. It was then that Nancy realized that she had indeed been passing by many men who had started out faster than suited them at this late point in the race and that she hadn't noticed another female three-looper in probably 20 miles.

The Thirst -- Shortly before that final encounter with the firing range, Nancy got suddenly thristy, despite steadily drinking ~10 oz. Of ice-crusted oh-so-delicious blue Gatorade at every aid station. Most likely it was due to impending fatigue to which she didnt slacken the pace but instead succumbed to mouth breathing.

The Surprises -- Nancy's finish was a surprise on several counts. First was her very even splits: 1:47, 1:53, 1:53 for a total of 5:33:15, which are in fact more even than first meets the eye: the first loop might have been a couple of tenths of a mile short due to the road start, whereas loops two and three included a perhaps-longer trail section at the outset; also, loops 2 and 3 included three aid stations, relative to the two of loop 1 -- and it takes time to down two doses of sub-32°F liquid in 20-something-degree air. The steady pace was a nice surprise.

The next surprise was mixed. As she approached the finish line, Nancy heard a wonderfully familiar voice cheering her in. That meant that Steve was at the finish first. Upon crossing the chip-mat, Nancy was instructed to "see this nice gentleman over here" to be relinquished of her bib tag and chip, but she said "I want to see this gentleman first!" -- the one with a bag of snow and ice numbing the tendons behind and alongside his knee, the tendons that began hurting Steve at mile 2 and with which he mustered out two loops for 21.6 miles (first 10.8-mile loop took 1:54, and he hobbled across the chip mat for his final loop in just over 4 hours). Despite the frustrating flare-up of the tendons, Steve felt otherwise mentally and energetically primed to tackle the final loop, as the rest of his body was fine and ready to go. Two days later, as we write this, Steve's leg is stiff but continuing to improve, and Nancy's various body parts feel as though they've done nothing much out of the ordinary. The continued hope is for a speedy recovery and a lively return to the trails of the Finger Lakes.

Surprise number three was Nancy's placement: fourth woman of 37 and 31st overall of 177 finishers -- better than expected on both counts, especially considering an initial registration count of 62 women and 261 overall, implying that Steve was not alone in succumbing to the challenges of the body and/or the course. Among the women who finished ahead of Nancy was Ann Heaslett (age 42) of the US Ultramarathon team in 5:10:39 and her Canadian counterpart Jenn Dick (age 30) in 5:14:33. Third place was Indiana native Michelle Didion (age 37) in 5:24:10; the winner on the men's side was first-time ultrarunner, but 2:26 marathoner, Brendon Moody in 3:55:49 (age 24). Full results can be found at http://huff50k2005ageresults.blogspot.com/2005/12/50k-age-group-results.html.

For anyone looking for a beautifully conducted event in who-knows-what winter conditions in a part of the country that too many people consider a mere flyover zone, we highly recommend the HUFF, and we're sure to return some year soon.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?