Thursday, February 16, 2012

Race review: Rouge-Orleans

I sprained my right ankle and dropped at mile 65.5.

Obviously not.

I drove to Baton Rouge on Friday and checked in to the hotel around 2 p.m., hoping to get a quality nap before the 8 p.m. race start. I laid off the caffeine and had been driving for quite a while in the rain, so I should've been plenty ready to doze off, but it didn't happen

I walked over to the pre-race party about 4 blocks away, picked up my bib and goody bag and walked back to my room. My pack was loaded with a change of shoes, extra clothes, skin care items and a crap ton of gels, Honey Stinger waffles and chews, candy bars and thousands of other calories. I was uncrewed and didn't have a way to throw together drop bags, so everything went with me.

The race started with a cannon shot from the USS Kidd that probably incited barking from every dog in a 3-parish radius. The first few miles were on a paved hike & bike path, and I jogged along at an easy 10- to 11-minute pace.

My plan was to take in some calories at each relay exchange, so at 4.1 miles in I unsnapped my pack and dug out some Clif Bloks and a Gu, walking as I ate before resuming jogging for the rest of the next leg. Shorter run/walk intervals were probably preferable, but my "running" was not intense at all.

By now we were onto the gravel portion of the levee that would be the dominant surface for almost the next 100 miles. We had gotten lucky in that the rain had stopped just in time for the race, but it left behind plenty of puddles to dodge. Trying to miss them was made even more fun by the thick fog rolling in off the river. I didn't miss all of them, but that would be the least of my worries when it came to trying to keep my feet dry.

At the third exchange at 12.6 miles, we came down off the levee to detour around a construction site. Pretty much every other departure from the levee was along a paved or gravel ramp, but not here. We came down through the grass, which of course was quite wet. Ditto for going back up the other side.

A couple miles further on, I was stopped dead in my tracks by a giant sandbag covering the width of the trail. I had to pick a side: go right and run on the dry concrete reinforcements but run the risk of a single misstep sending me tumbling down into the river, or go left and avoid this risk of death but ensure I'd need a change of socks sooner than I wanted. I went right, of course, for about a quarter-mile until the line of sandbags ended.

After a brief run of a couple hundred yards back on top, another sandbag blockage appeared. This time I went left -- but this time the line of sandbags stretched for a mile and a half without a break. I had a feeling I was digging my grave. I tried to seek out the flattest area I could, but when you're talking about the side of a levee, there is no flat area. At one point I stepped in a hole. I didn't feel a great blast of pain, but this is probably where I was injured.

The sandbags finally ended and I was back on top of the levee. I looked to the right and saw the eyes of some unidentified critter dashing along the bottom of the levee by the water. No idea what it was. Later we ran by a family of cows just a few feet away. Across River Road, the howls of wild dogs and the barks of domesticated ones broke the silence. Cows mooed, and I even heard a goat in there somewhere. I took note of how tremendous the weather was -- cool and misty, with little if any wind. I got to the aid station at 27.4, reapplied Aquaphor everywhere and headed on, feeling great at 5 hours, 32 minutes into the race.

After another hour or so, things started to go wrong. I felt my heart rate getting faster as I jogged. I blamed it on being ahead of schedule; for convenience I had plotted my feedings by mileage rather than time, so I was taking in more food and thus more caffeine than expected. Now the wind was picking up as well, and the air felt a good 20 degrees cooler than it had. I put on my gloves and head wrap, but the wind was too strong to worry about digging another shirt out of my pack, lest its contents be scattered in all directions. I would have to just fight through it.

By now it was pushing 4 a.m. I soldiered on with the thought that I would just have to make it a couple more hours until the sun came out. Yes, dawn is the coldest time of day, but the sun in my face would do wonders for how I felt.

When day finally broke, I was down to just a walk, albeit a steady one at a good pace. My ankle hurt, but I figured that after 10 hours and 40-some miles, things would hurt. I was fully prepared to walk off the last 70-plus miles; if I could keep the same walking pace I'd be done in around 32 hours, which I would have considered phenomenal.

I got to the next aid station at 54-plus miles shivering but upright. I was hurting a good bit more by now, but thought another layer of clothes and something hot to eat would be just the attitude adjustment I needed. Some scalding hot chicken broth got my core temperature back up in a jiffy, and off I went.

Eventually it got harder and harder to keep up the pace. I zigzagged across the path, seeking out a route with the smoothest surface possible to minimize the instability on my foot. Not long after the 14th relay exchange at mile 60.6, I couldn't take anymore -- though I was mentally out of it enough to continue on to the next exchange rather than turn back to the last one and save quite a bit of time and grief.

I got a ride to the next aid station and let the captain know I was out. He let me sit in his truck, out of the cold, until my ride got there to take me back to Baton Rouge. (Aside: I rode to the aid station with the crew for fellow soloist Ken Rubeli, i.e., his girlfriend, Stephanie. Didn't catch her last name or that of the organization she heads, a non-profit in the Nevada/Arizona/California area that puts on 5Ks to combat childhood obesity. If anyone knows her or them, please let me know where I can direct a donation to show my appreciation.)


It's a big claim to make, being 60 miles from the finish line, but I think I would have been OK with the distance if not for the ankle. The tremendous muscle aches that made things rough at the end of my other 3 really long runs in the past did not present themselves this time around.

I would not, however, have finished. After thinking I wouldn't need to bring my jacket, I tried at the last minute to find a way to cram it into my pack. But there was just no extra room, meaning that Sunday morning came around and it felt 20 degrees colder than the Saturday morning I barely survived, I would've been frozen solid long before I got to New Orleans. In a way, the pain in my ankle saved me from a much greater pain later on.

I learned plenty of lessons and can suggest a few things for anyone who wants to run this race (some should already be clear based on what I encountered):
  • I firmly believe this race can be done solo uncrewed, but you must plan exquisitely. For one, it's not enough to say you're going to consume 270 calories per hour and just pull whatever out of your bag that adds up to that. You'll want to mix up your intake so that you don't eat all your solids early and leave all your gels for the end, when maybe gel doesn't seem so appetizing and then you don't have any other options. Or if you want to ply yourself with steady low doses of caffeine to stay awake for 30-some hours, mix in some non-caffeinated stuff in between.
  • The usual rule of thumb for running is to dress for 20 degrees warmer. But when you're out there all night, and certainly not running hard the entire time, that rule goes out the window. Dress for the temperature and plan for colder. As I alluded to earlier, you can take things off if you're warm, but if you're cold, you can't put on something that you don't have.
  • Don't wait for an injury to strengthen your ankles. I doubt those sandbags are temporary so you can expect that you will run on a slope for almost 2 miles. Look up ankle strengthening exercises and work them into your training. Obviously, running on as much gravel as you can find will help too.
  • If you're not a local, know that Mardi Gras in Louisiana is not just in New Orleans and is not just one day. The race is moved around each year to coincide with some of the Mardi Gras events, and that means it starts in Baton Rouge on the same Friday night as one of the parades. Consider this when lining up accommodations (or stay somewhere else).
  • I guess you're not actually required to wear gaiters and trail shoes with rock plates, but I would very strongly recommend it.


We all got a tech T, pint glass, sling bag and water bottle. The finishers got a buckle.


Dash Down Greenville, Dallas, Mar. 17.

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