Run from the Ducks is run by Tony and Carolyn Mathison and their daughter Cayla, along with a race committee of volunteers. It showcases the lovely Clark Gardens, and raises funds for The National Vietnam War Museum. Tony, an ultrarunner himself, starts the race by drawing a line in the dirt with his toe (in Saturday's case, in the mud). At then end of the day, he recognizes every runner (he and Cayla put on a chip and walk the course a bit so that they are the last place male and female runners; he doesn't want a registered runner to be in last place). The course tours the gardens on dirt, grass, and gravel in a .854 mile loop.
In the past, Vietnam vets from the area counted laps, but this year they added chip timing, which probably made it a much easier day for the vets. There were still several there to cheer us on. (On a side note, it crossed my mind that they probably endured rain and mud a million times worse in unthinkable conditions as they served our country in Vietnam. A humbling thought. . . .) Also present were Mr. Clark, the gracious namesake of the Gardens, and his daughter. The family atmosphere, home-town feel, small field, friendly race directors and volunteers, and great setting make RFTD exactly the kind of race that I got into trail/ultrarunning to enjoy.
The day started out wet. I woke up to pouring rain and lightning. What a great day to sleep in! But I dragged myself out of bed, confident that it was a passing storm. During the drive west to Weatherford, the rain stopped, so I thought it was clearing up. I was wrong. At Clark Gardens, the rain continued with a vengeance. Thankfully, the support tent was large and dry. This is probably the only race I'll ever go to in which the support tent has chandeliers, carpet, and tablecloths. (Clark Gardens hosts lots of weddings and receptions.) We watched it pour, watched the lightning, and waited for a one hour delayed start.
We finally did get started at 8, not that the rain had stopped. It continued to rain for about 2 1/2 more hours. Needless to say, we got wet. The raised beds at the gardens did a nice job of retaining the water--on the trail! Even after the rain stopped, we splashed through the mud and puddles all day. But it stayed very runnable; even the worst muddy spots were better than the best spots at Grasslands last spring.
So we ran, around and around, all day long. The weather cleared up, but it didn't get too warm. The one aid station (a logistical advantage of a short, repeating course--fewer aid stations to stock!) had plenty of the usual supplies. Passing by there, and by the support tent where I had some other supplies, once every .854 miles, made this an easy race to run. In many ultras, you might have 5 miles or more between aid stations, so you really have to think, what will I need over the next hour or so? At RFTD, if you get hungry or thirsty or need something else, it's always less than a mile away.
This is a great race for people who love timed races, obviously. I spoke with several runners who have run similar races and love them. For those who don't love them, it's a wonderful way to try ultrarunning. If you have run a marathon and want to try a longer distance, this a perfect setting: flat, even course, accessible aid stations, friendly folks, and the ability to stop at any time. And in my case, this serves as a perfect training run for a longer race, getting in time on my feet with support provided.
One of the things I enjoy about these events is getting to know other runners. RFTD is especially well-suited for this since the course is so short; even if someone is slower or faster than you, you'll eventually see them again as you lap each other. So I got to visit with some nice folks:
- Dan--who said he weighed 400 pounds 2 years ago, had gastric bypass surgery, and now competes in endurance events to raise money for childhood obesity awareness.
- Thomas--who runs marathons most weekends, sometimes 2 a weekend. He's a machine. If I remember correctly, he ran the Rocky Raccoon 50 miler in February, then ran a marathon the next day.
- Buddy--an experienced ultrarunner, he paced for Drew Meyer at Western States.
- Jeff--another experienced ultrarunner and Leadville 100 finisher.
- Robert--who was running in his first ultra.
- Katrina--who's leaving in 2 weeks for Iraq, serving in the Air Force. Won the women's division.
- Claude and Andy--who kept running by me like I was standing still, and who finished 1st and 2nd.
- Deborah and Tammy--who were on the race committee. Both of them like to race in timed races.
- Carlos--whose wife sat out there ALL DAY cheering him (and me) on.
- Ken and Lorri--the only married couple on the course (as far as I know).
I set out to finish 35 miles. I figured I could do that, and if I had a great day I could break 40. I started out pretty well. The first 4 hours I ran a lot with Jeff, Buddy, and Robert, eventual 4th, 5th, and 6th place finishers. I enjoyed talking with them, and picked up some racing and training tips, but after a while, I took it a bit slower. The second 4 hours, I had segments where I ran well, but couldn't keep up that pace.
With the wet conditions, VFFs were a good choice to run in. I stopped once about 5-6 hours in to clean them out; I think the only shoes that wouldn't have collected mud and gravel would have been waders. I did get some chafing in some personal areas, even using my cream to prevent it; when you're that wet for that long, it's hard to avoid! Overall, my body held up well and I was even able to walk the next day!
So what did I learn? I was reminded that my biggest weakness in ultras is nutrition, and maybe hydration. I am quite sure I didn't eat enough, and I may not have drunk enough. At about 4 hours, I ate a sunbutter sandwich, which sat in my stomach like a stone. I subsequently had some cramping and 2 too-long potty breaks (one additional benefit to a small loop course--the potty is never more than .854 mile away, and it was an actual bathroom with plumbing, not a skid-o-can) which slowed me down. By the end, I was doing a lot more walking than running.
The bottom line, I ran 37.05 miles, according to my Garmin. Official race results, 10th place overall, 43 laps, or 36.722 miles.
Is That a Runner?
Sometime after 7 hours had passed, I was walking along, counting the minutes to the finish. A little boy, maybe 3, came the opposite direction with his daddy. He asked his daddy, "Is that a runner?" I'm sure I didn't look like a runner, but I was running on the inside!!