Friday, August 22, 2014

Turkey Swamp 50k, Turkey Swamp Park, Freehold, NJ 8/17/14 (Road Racing Flats for a Trail Ultra; How to be Over and Under Hydrated at the Same Time)

Top 3 ladies.
Photo provided by Sonia B (on left)
who took 2nd in her first 50k.
It has been almost a week since I raced Turkey Swamp 50k. I needed to think about what I wanted to say about this race. In 5 hours a lot happens. This is my report:

It has been a month since I last raced. That race was Running with the Devil, which doesn't file away in my mind in the same way most races do.  That race is a feat of strength and endurance in a much different way than any other race I run.  Turkey Swamp is quite the opposite of Running with the Devil.  I feel that Turkey Swamp is best described as beginner trail.  It is a beautiful introduction for road racers into the world of trail running.  Due to a few rooty spots, a grassy section that lacks any semblance of shade, and the heat and humidity of August, I believe the course is a bit slower than it seems like it should be. Otherwise the course is a very runnable mixture of terrain that breaks up the loop nicely.

I was nervous, but I am always nervous before a race.  I don't expect to PR at every event.  I show up mindful of the training and circumstances surrounding me at the time and set my goals accordingly.  But even if I know I won't have a great race, even when I am not supposed to care about the result, I simple do care.  This is who I am.

And at Turkey Swamp I never expect a great race. My PR weather seems to be 37 degrees and rainy.  This is August.  Like most runners, I am not very resilient in the heat and humid.  In fact, I have learned to relegate my summer running focus to (1) recovery from spring, (2) surviving hot and humid training, and (3) fall race prep work. I am happy to just finish the races I start from May through mid-September without feeling disappointment about my slower summer performances.

The Course:
The course is a combination of dirt road, rooty and/or sandy trails, and fields.  The whole thing is runnable.  It is flat, with the exception of two little uphill sections in the fields.

We start in a parking lot, run out the North Side of the lot onto a woodsy trail section.  We exit the trail onto the dirt park road and make our way back towards the very same parking lot we started in, except this time we are on the South Side.  Here at .5 or so miles into the course we find a set of porto-potties conveniently located just steps off the course which makes it very convenient for runners traveling on that part of the course to make a pit stop. These port-o-potties are also available to runners as they finish their loops, but the runner will have to walk all the way through the parking lot towards the north side of the course to access them. It is not that far away, but it just seems smarter to run all the way around the course and then stop at them.

The dirt road continues until we are about 1 mile into the loop, where we turn left and enter the woods.  We travel through the runnable woods for about another .8 miles until we enter the fields. This is about the half way point of the lap.

The fields are separated in my mind into two sections: (1) the top cooler sections and (2) the bottom warmer section.  The top section has more shade cast from the trees during the race which keep it slightly cooler up there. There was also a water stop and port potties if needed.  After completing the perimeter of the first field, we reached two very short but noticeable hills, and the 2 mile point in the loop.  There we start to run a gradual incline around the field which felt shadeless to me and therefore cumulatively sucked the life from me during the last 6 loops. Stephen felt this section was fast, but I felt like the grass was grabbing my feet and holding me back, while rays of sunshine pummeled the life out of me.  Once around the cars parked in the final field, we entered the woods for a short trip back to the start finish line at 2.6 miles.  There was fluid and aid available.  Repeat that 12 times for the 50k. 

Road Racing Flats for a Trail Ultra? (And Why I love High Drop Shoes):
My biggest decision leading up this race was what shoes to wear.  I have been posting a lot lately on my FB page about my love of High Drop Shoes. This may be quite odd when the running community is so very much in love with Low Drop.

Please let me share my secret thoughts about drop. One drop isn't best.  High drop doesnt make you a heel striker.  Being a heel striker makes you a heel striker.  I run in high drop and I run up on my forefoot.  In fact, I find that low drop makes me more of a heel striker than high drop does. Low drop challenges more of my achilles and calves. I can feel them working harder, even my gluteus too since I find I sit back over my heels more in low drop, rather than ride up on my forefoot.  This extra work is what is supposed to makes us stronger.

But Low drop isn't always going to be the better choice over Higher drop options.  I believe the right answer is to rotate your drops in a reasoned way.  I have about 7 pairs of running shoes I use for a variety of reasons.  They vary in drop, weight, and traction.  My drops vary from 0mm through 12mm. I have training shoes, racing shoes, and trail shoes. And after reviewing my race results and analyzing my best races, I have discovered this pattern: I find that when I use low drop shoes for training, I engage more of my achilles and calves. The extra work can act to keep the strong, flexible and healthy. This is true until they get overworked, then I need to train in high drop to help them recover.  If I stay in high drop too long and I lose those benefits of low drop.  Since I run a lot, I periodically feel my achilles or plantar fascia getting irritated.  I know the only thing that resolves this almost immediately is to train in high drop shoes until the achilles and PF are happy again.  I am constantly choosing shoes based upon what my body needs, not what marketing or others say I should use.  One last observation is that my fastest races have been raced in High Drop, Light Weight, Low Stack Height Shoes. My motto (for now) is going to be Train Low, Race High.

If you read my last race report, I had some serious achilles pain and managed to survive Running with the Devil.  I immediately ordered some 12mm training shoes since I was training in 9.5mm and 4mm shoes and feeling pain.  After a week in the 12mm my achilles were happy.

But I was very concern that by racing 31 miles in my 4mm trail shoes, I was going to reverse all the hard work and patience I had put into my recovery.  Rather than risk this, I decided to wear the same pair of racing flats (but a new pair) I wore at Strolling Jim 40 miler in May, the ST5 Racers.  These are not my lightest racing flats, but they are under 6 oz for my size, have a 12mm drop, and they have a supportive post under the arch.  I am a neutral runner, but for some reason I found that the stability posting of this shoe helps to eliminate all foot pain in ultra distance races.  I just love this shoe.  But it is road shoe.  The tread is not meant to navigate roots or manage muck.  But like I said earlier, Turkey Swamp Trails are beginner trails so I suspected Road Racing Flats would work and they were perfect.  I ended Turkey Swamp no worse for the wear than before I started.  No achilles pain.  No blisters.  No plantar fasciitis pain.  No black toe nails.  Nothing was wrong and this is a big deal.

Over-Hydrating while Dehydrating and What to do about it:
Hot humid weather is tough, but this year Turkey Swamp started out extremely mild. Mid 60's in a blessing in August.  The early laps were enjoyable.  I manage to run about 5 laps of the race non-stop without worry.  It felt easy.  I wanted to start just under 9 minute pace and that is where I was by lap 5.  Thank you Stephen for the company at the start. I knew I would not run all 31 miles non-stop since the heat would beat me down.  I started to take the one little hill in the field as a walk break on lap 6 and hoped I would not need to add many more walks to this day.  But turns out I was wrong about that.

At 5 laps in, I could already tell the humidity was getting to me.  It is not a good sign for me when I am struggle before the half way mark. The temperatures rose significantly from the early morning.  The sun broke through the clouds and beat down on us strongly.  At two points we had the gift of a light rain, but that didn't last very long.

I was carrying a bottle and drinking cups of fluid at the stations.  Thank you Alanna for filling my bottle at the station to help me out.  I tried to drink as much as I could but even though fluid sloshed in my stomach, my mouth was extremely parched. I needed hydration so badly but simply could not get it into my body fast enough.

I had two options at this point.  I could try some sodium to see it that would help trigger some faster absorption… or I could slow down and walk more to try to sweat less while digesting what I had consumed.  I didn't want to do that, so I took the salt.  I haven't taken much salt in races in a long time, so I hoped this would work.  Unfortunately, it really didn't help much.

I continued on, slowing a little hoping to digest the fluids still bloating me. I tried to focus more on pouring water over me to try to cool myself down rather than drink.  At the same time I began to try to figure out my race position.  I needed to think about strategy not speed if I wanted to get through this.  Thank you to Sidney and Stephen for doing all they could to sort out the race information and getting me some leader board info.  They did a great job with limited data and it helped me keep my head in the game.

I needed to start walking more just to make sure I was getting some hydration. I knew I didn't need to drink more, but out of sheer thirst and reflex I was still sipping fluids.  By the start of lap 8, my stomach couldn't handle me trying to push in any more fluids and I ended up throwing up everything I was trying to put in.  Because this bout of vomiting had nothing to do with stomach irritation, I actually felt better.  This is not the same thing as when my stomach starts bleeding at hour 14 of an ultra and nothing helps.  This did help some and I was able to run again.  I continued to douse myself and sip water as I moved along, but my pace suffered.

As I came around lap 10, Sidney told me I had about a lap on the second place woman and was this a relief to hear. At this stage, I just wanted to finish this but knew I was still teetering on the edge of a DNF if I threw up again.  I was feeling very unwell.  I was dry heaving when trying to force in calories.  I was on the verge of throwing up at all times and it felt horrible.

During the entire race, I was only able to get in water, some diluted gatorade, a sip of mountain dew and 1.5 gels the entire race, and one of those gels I threw up. This is about the same as running 31 miles on practically nothing.  My energy was shot, and I was unraveling completely.  It was a suffer-fest but I had surprisingly not reached my limit yet. I admit that already started thinking about how much I wanted to just stop, but this time I was able to shake those negative thoughts away easily and I did everything I could to keep moving forward.  I was still running, but just adding more walking when I would have gagging fits.

When I started lap 12 and realized that I was still over a lap ahead of 2nd place, I knew I was going to finish the race and take home a first place for my effort. This was a big deal to me because Sidney was able to make it out to this race and I didn't want to fail at one of few races he gets to see me run.  He was incredibly helpful and even made me laugh a bit when he tried to hustle me out to run after I lingered a little too long at the aid station before lap 12.The final lap was a death march but I didn't care.  I was finishing and that was such sweet relief.

This race ended up being over an hour slower than my best 50k and slower than I ran Turkey Swamp last year, but I am so very very proud that I got this done.  It took hard work to cover each and every step of that course.  I was falling apart.  I could only focus on one thing and that was to get to the finish line and officially be done.  What a great feeling it was to get to do that.

I want to thank Alanna for being at the aid station and helping with my bottles; Stephen for running the miles he ran with me and then getting me race data when his race was over; (The Amazing) Kim for sticking around after her half plus 7 miler to be there at the finish; and to Sidney for being there to provide such great motivation and support.  It is nice to have such great people in my life. :)

Thank you Tom for RDing one of my most favorite races :)  It is alway so great to see how genuinely supportive you are of all the runners out there on the course. You do a great job!
Sidney walks behind me as I finish. photo by Vivian Corlew

31.1 miles
1st Female
6th OA


  1. I was excited to see you finish and push through, you did great!