Monday, July 9, 2012

Kal-Haven Trail and then some FA unassisted

I am not exactly sure when the idea came to me to run the Kal Haven trail again.  I joked with my sister several times since the first time I ran it last year saying that I would run it again, but start at the Kalamazoo Valley River trail and make it closer to a 50 miler.  ;)  

The invite came in the mail earlier this year to attend my cousin’s bridal shower.  I had the idea to attend on the back burner for weeks.  I was not sure if we would be able to make it.  Finally, the Friday before the shower we decided to make it a go!  The trip would be for the shower, a 4th of July party, and in my mind, a 35+ mile run to South Haven.  My family just did not know it yet.

I got there Saturday afternoon and spent time with the family.  I dropped hints that I wanted to go to the beach while we were here and mentioned in passing that I would like to run there, just to see what the reaction might be.  Karen seemed pretty neutral on it, so by the time our plans were made and Monday evening rolled around, I was preparing to run the Kal Haven trail unassisted.  

The Kal-Haven trail is a 33.5 multi use trail. It is usable for all non-motorized bicycles, hiking, and snowmobiling when there is a 4-inch snow base.  No horses.  It was once a railroad.  Its surface is crushed limestone with a few miles that are asphalt around Bloomingdale and South Haven (which hurt the legs after being on the soft surface for so many miles).  There are 7 primitive restrooms and water pumps along the route.  

I woke up before my alarm before 5:00am.  I got up, had a quick ‘breakfast’ of strawberry milk, got my things together and about 30 minutes later was ready to go.  I had 2 - twenty oz handhelds, and each pouch was packed with 3 gu’s.  I had a little zip bag of s-caps in there as well.  I wore my spi belt which had my ID, a credit card, some cash and of course mace and a knife.  I carried my Medoc hat clipped to my belt in case I needed it as a sun shade, but starting this early, I didn’t want to wear it.  I had a pouch on my arm for my phone/iPod so I could listen to some tunes, take pictures, and post updates.  

I stepped outside and was amazed at how humid it was!!!  The past few mornings had been great, with low humidity and cooler temps.  Not today.  It was mid 70’s, cloudy, and holy humid.  I checked the radar and there was rain to the north, but it did not appear that it was going to reach the trail.  

I left my sisters house and headed up the road to the trailhead.  When I arrived, I took off my tank top as it was already soaked with sweat from my ‘warm up’ ha!   I tucked it into my spi belt.  I took a picture of my adventure, posted it, and I was on my way.  

Right away I realized that i forgot something very important.  Bug spray!  The deer flies were HORRIBLE!!!  They are not quite like horseflies, they are smaller and swarm by the dozens.  They were really throwing off my mojo.  I was trying to keep a good pace and focus, but the dumb flies kept following me!!!  It was better when the trail came to a clearing, but when I was in the woods, they were really bad.  

The first few miles were humid.  I was soaked with sweat very early on and it was not evaporating.  It was about 5 miles in that I heard what I thought was rain.  It surprised me as I thought the rain was not going to be an issue.  I kept going, listening to what sounded like a downpour.  Up ahead I saw the trail was soaking wet.  *ahh*  it took me a minute, but I realized it was the irrigation system for the cornfield right next to the trail.  I had no idea how much water came out of these things!  It looked like a double size fire hose watering the trail!  I had no intentions of getting this wet so early.  It was so humid, I would never dry....  All I could do was go as fast I could through the spray.  I ended up getting wet, got mud on my legs from the trail, but overall, it was not too bad.

I took a picture around mile 9 when the sun was peeking a bit through the clouds.  I was thankful it was a cloudy day, or it would have gotten hotter, faster, and with the humidity it would have been awful.  It was great to hear the bing of everyones comments on the picture encouraging me along.  The trail was quite lonely and the encouragement was awesome :)

At mile 9.6 along the trail (about mile 11 from my sisters house) I saw a sign along the trail pointing to a gas station in Kendall.  I looked down the road and saw the station.  This was good, because I had not planned to stop until Bloomingdale.  I had grossly underestimated how much I would drink.  I was nearly out of water and was only 11 miles in.  I jogged down the road to the gas station.  Inside were two retired aged gentlemen reading some magazines.  They said hi and I asked where the gatorade was.  One pointed me over to it and we talked for a bit.  He seemed really nice - kinda like a grandpa.  He asked how far I was running and I told him all the way to South Haven.  When he gave me my change he leaned over the counter slightly, held my hands, looked me in the eyes, and told me to be careful.  I told him I would.  He wished me the best and I was back out on the trail.  

The trail did not have many runners, walkers or bikers on it at all.  One biker passed me early on in my run, and she passed me again several hours later.  She smiled and said “great effort runner!”  That was the first bit of encouragement I had heard on the trail, and it was welcome!

Up ahead there were 4 walkers.  They were walking and chatting and quite honestly had no idea what was going on around them.  I kept gaining on them and when the time was right I pulled my best Laura and said “on your left please!” For a brief moment I felt ‘fast’ and it made me feel awesome.  Guess what, I scared the daylights out of them.  They had no idea I was there.  After a brief chat and “holy smokes you are running that far” I continued on.  

I was once again running out of water.  I was awaiting the next water pump or gas station.  I knew it was coming up, but was not exactly sure how far.  There was a house along the trail and someone was outside.  I came up to him and asked if I could fill up my water bottle at the hose and how far the next gas station was.  He said sure and the station was about a half mile up the road.  His wife was outside as well and asked how far I was running (as she lit up a cigarette) and could not believe I was running all the way to the lake.  He handed me my bottle back and they wished me all the best.  

I started running again and sure enough, there was the gas station.  It was about my halfway point, and was the only place that I had originally thought I would get water from.  I went inside, got some ice for my water, a coconut water and a chocolate milk.  When I was paying for my things, one of the clerks saw my back and said “wow, you got bit by a lot of deer flies”  um, yeah...  Like I didn’t know...  

I took my stuff outside to a picnic table, stretched some, drank my milk and got ready for the second half.  I carried the 2 handhelds, and somehow finagled the coconut water container for several miles in one hand too.  

It was by this time that the clouds had gone away, some of the humidity had lifted, but the sun was hot.  

I’ll tell ya, I was so annoyed by the deer flies.  In the sun I had refuge from the flies, but cooked.  In the shade I had refuge from the sun, but not the flies.  Somewhere along this stretch, a biker said to me “the flies sure are bad!”  “I said “yeah, have any bug spray?”  On the inhale from asking the question I inhaled one :P  I was coughing and spitting and I am sure it was a sight, but the guy had some bug spray!!  wooo!!!  He pulled it out of a pouch on his bike and sprayed my back.  He mentioned how bad the welts were as well.  The spray stung, but I was hoping it would work.  I thanked him and was on my way again.  The bug spray did not keep the flies away, however, it did keep them from biting!  I became amused watching the casual bikers go by with a swarm of flies behind their head/neck/back.  I wondered if that is what I looked like too.  If the bikers could not out bike them, I know I had no chance in out running them...  :P

I stopped at another gas station, got some ice cold water, and filled my bottles.  It would be my last gas ‘aid station’ stop.  

I was staying well hydrated in the heat, despite sweating so much.  I had to ‘go’ again.  This time there was not a gas station or primitive rest area for miles...  I was soaking wet with sweat and was thinking how much of a pain it was going to be to try to work with the wet, tight fitting, shorts...  I kept running while looking around for “a spot”.  It was then that I recalled an article featured in Ultrarunning magazine April issue.  It was entitled “how to pee standing up”  Yes, it was geared towards female runners and gave advice on the seemingly difficult task.  My running partners and I talked about this article a few times on our Saturday morning runs.  None of us were brave enough to try the task that particular morning, but here in the hot sun and with my fading sanity, I thought I would give it a try.  I peered up the trail and didn’t see anyone, looked back down the trail from which I came and saw no one there either.  There was a log right off the trail which I put my right foot on (kinda like Captain Morgan, but with my right foot instead of the left), moved the bottom of my shorts over, and went!  Ya know, it was not a 10, but I would give it a solid 9.  None got on my shoes, socks or gaiters and my legs stayed dry as well.  Not bad for the first time!  With that done, I got back on the trail feeling pretty good about what I just accomplished.  LOL!!  Yeah, I know, its the little things sometimes...  

In the first half I saw 2 bikers and 5 walkers in 19 miles.  It was a very lonely run.  This half of the run there were more people on the trail.  Not like a Saturday morning at Umstead, but there was a little more life out there other than the deer flies, however, iIt was tough going and was taking much longer than I anticipated.  I was hot, tired, lonely, and my right IT band was starting to flare up.  All I could think of was hurry slowly, but hurry....  I may have whimpered along here saying “remember, you did this for fun!”  There was one section that was very open and was incredibly hot.  I ended up walking most of it.  Where was the irrigation system when you need it?  ;)  There was a tree - actually a grouping of huge weeping willows with a picnic table under it.  It was SO tempting to stop and take a rest.  I should have at least taken a picture, but I didn’t :(

Somewhere along here I stopped at a water pump and filled my bottles again.  They were not the easy ones like at Umstead where you lift the handle and it comes out with a ton of pressure.  Nope, these are hand pumps.  It took a few good arm movements to get the water to the surface then a few more to fill the bottle.  Felt like I was wasting what little energy I had left!

In traveling along this trail, I ran under three sets of high voltage power lines.  Hearing the buzz of the electricity running through the wires was kinda an eery feeling and made me run just a little bit faster under them ;)

In getting closer to South Haven, there was much more bike traffic.  Most of the bikes were rentals from the beach.  Had someone ask how far I was going and told him I was 33 miles in and couldn’t believe it.  Had one older man on a bike go by and asked me how I was doing.  He said he was heading to South Haven, but would come back to check on me.  Sure enough, a few miles later he did.  He also said “you don’t look as bad as I thought you did”  LOL!!!  Guess running in the heat makes one look weary.  I also had a refocusing of sorts when I realized I only had 2 miles to complete the trail - I could smell the barn!!  

I heard a sound coming up from behind me of a motorized vehicle.  I turned and looked and it was a policeman in his patrol golf cart.  He waved, flew by me and in the process kicked up a TON of dust :P  There were some bikers ahead at the bridge that saw what happened, and talked to the officer before I got there.  They let him know that he literally left a runner in the dust.  When I caught up to the bikers, they told me that the officer said he was sorry for kicking up so much dust and to apologize to me.  He didn’t realize that is what he had done...  hmmm.

The bikers went on and so did I.  I was within a mile of the finish.  The trail became asphalt and was a hot, hard surface for running.  I came up that hill to the park entrance and was ecstatic!  I made it the length of the trail!!  Wooo!  But that didn’t last for long.  I still had more to go to make it to the beach.  My water bottles were empty.  I was hot, tired, dusty, sweaty and thirsty.  Now I was on asphalt at 2:00 in the afternoon with a 98 degree sun blazing on me.   

My Garmin died while I was making my way to the beach.  Once again, I outran the thing!  It quit at 37 miles.  I had to walk over the drawbridge, and nearly got sick with how much it was moving with the cars driving over it.  I continued my way through the town and anxiously awaited seeing the lake.  The closer I got to the lake, the heavier the traffic and people.  Straight ahead I saw a parking lot right at the beach.  I started running again :)  Ran right down to the sand and had to walk another ¼ mile along the water to get to where my family was waiting for me.  

I saw my kids swimming in the water first, then I saw my sister who greeted me with a huge hug!  It was so great to see them!!  My mom and dad were there as well along with my nieces and nephew.  

I had my sister take a picture of me with Lake Michigan in the background.  THIS was the unfinished business I had from the actual “Kal-Haven Trail Race” I ran in March 2011.  I ran all the way to Lake Michigan, yet, I never went to see the lake or get a picture.  This was the reason I ran the trail again.  To get this picture :D

I took off my dusty gaiters, shoes and socks and found my feet in pretty good shape.  There was plenty of dust and sand in my shoes from the trail but no blisters!  

I slowly waded into the water with my running clothes on.  It was nice and cool - perfect for tired, sore muscles.  I took my time getting in - I did not want to go into shock from being so hot to cooling off too fast.  I chilled out for a little while thinking about the morning and early afternoon and taking it all in.  

I finished my swim, limped out of the lake (my ITB was in extreme pain), and headed home - this time in the passenger seat of my sisters Trailblazer ;)  No, I didn’t feel I needed to run back.  I will save that for another day - lol!

It was overall a good run.  Conditions were less than ideal.  It was 95% humidity and cloudy at the start with temps in the mid 70’s.  By the time I was done it was almost 100*.  I severely underestimated how much I would drink.  I had planned on refilling my 2 water bottles once at the halfway point, when in actuality I filled them both 5 times, with either water or gatorade, plus drank chocolate milk and coconut water.  I went through all my gu’s and most of my s-caps.  As far as fuel goes, I planned that pretty well.  Another gu would have been nice near the end.  I am thankful for no blisters despite the gritty trail.  I will lose one toenail, which just happened to grow back from U100.  My right IT band was very sore for the rest of the day and into day 2.  The pain was nearly gone by day 3 and was navigating the stairs again like a pro.  

Running an unassisted long trail run was tougher than I anticipated.  I was not quite prepared for the loneliness.  When you run a race, you are surrounded by people and can usually find someone to run with, even if it is just for a while.  Talking with someone sure makes the miles go by faster, and knowing someone is right there with you is good too.  

I enjoyed people posting to my page on facebook.  The ones that really stood out were the ones that came after I posted the picture at 28.5 to go:  
~  Keep those legs turning gal!!! We are cheering you on!!!
~  The key word there was "moving" . . . slow or not, just keep moving!  
~  Keep going! Great job!  
~  Go, Amy, go! And smile!!!  
You offered encouragement and it made me smile each time. It meant a lot!  

I also think now that all aid stations are awesome - even the ones with just pretzels and water.  Ok, so some aid stations might be less than ideal, but hey, its better than nothing!  Using water pumps and gas stations adds more to the travel distance, not to mention your time.  

If you are an ultra runner and you have the chance, go out and do a long, unassisted run.  I learned a lot and will carry it with me into my training runs as well as races.

*run happy*