Red Dirt

There was a big group for the Saturday Giro. It was another week of interrupted training, which is pretty much normal this time of year. I always say that February is actually my worst winter month, and I’m usually right about that. After a decent enough start to the week, Friday morning arrived wet and nasty and I decided it would be a good day to skip my morning ride and set my sights on Saturday instead. By the time I was ready to go to work things looked better, so the commute downtown was There was a big group for the Saturday Giro. It was another week of interrupted training, which is pretty much normal this time of year. I always say that February is actually my worst winter month, and I’m usually right about that. After a decent enough start to the week, Friday morning arrived wet and nasty and I decided it would be a good day to skip my morning ride and set my sights on Saturday instead. By the time I was ready to go to work things looked better, so the commute downtown was fine. There were to be complications, however. Yes, Woody still rides bikes. Danielle had left with the car the day before for Natchitoches, LA to help Shannon who would be doing the Red Dirt Ultra 100 mile trail run that started at 6 am on Saturday. We were scheduled to go up there ourselves, mostly as moral support, on Saturday after my 11 am LAMBRA meeting. That meant I needed to rent a car. So I left work a little after 4 on Friday and rode down Tulane Avenue to the Enterprise car rental place to pick up a Nissan Rogue. I threw the bike in the back and rushed home, grabbed Danielle’s two dogs, threw them into the car, and headed down to Tchoupitoulas Street to drop them off at Canine Connection where they would be staying until we got back. My timing was looking pretty good, but then I ran into parade preparations at Nashville where various marching bands and other assorted parade components were staging. For a minute I was afraid they had already closed Tchoupitoulas, but fortunately they hadn’t and I was able to make it to the doggie country club before they closed at 6 pm.  On the way out I had to wait for some horseback riders to go by. Yeah, it’s getting to be Mardi Gras time in New Orleans. Saturday was going to be kind of tight, but I was determined to get in the full Giro Ride prior to the LAMBRA meeting prior to hitting the road for the 4 hour drive to Natchitoches. This is what the trail looked like Sunday morning – after the rain had stopped – and there was light. The forecast for Saturday, whether in New Orleans or Natchitoches, was not looking too good, especially for people running through the woods in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night with significantly degraded cognitive and motor skills. On the plus side, we had a great turnout for the Giro Ride. It wasn’t very cold or terribly windy, and the whole entire group managed a few solid paceline rotations on Chef Highway before descending into chaos prior to the turnaround. The local riders are just now starting to think about getting back in shape before the spring races start, I think. The speeds never got out of hand or anything, but it was still probably the quickest Giro we’ve done this year. That was a good thing because it got me back home with enough time to jump in the shower and get something to eat before driving over to the Tulane Cycling headquarters for the annual LAMBRA meeting. The meeting itself went fine. It’s really just a good time for everyone involved to exchange ideas and information about the upcoming year. Some ideas will actually come to fruition, some won’t, but as long as we all keep heading in the same direction I guess it’s fine. The LAMBRA Crit championship is still pretty much up in the air. One suggestion was to see if LAMBRA itself could promote it in Natchez. Another option would be downtown Jackson, MS. The fall-back plan would be do designate the Harbor Master crit in New Orleans as the championship. The Road championship is also a little bit up in the air as well, at least as far as the date is concerned. I think the consensus is that we should try to have it on the course we used last year in Flora, MS., so that’s good. I think some decisions still have to be made about the date of the Mississippi Gran Prix stage race and then which other weekend will work for the Flora venue. We’ll see. So anyway, I ran out of the meeting and rushed home where I threw some warm clothes into a bag and we somehow hit the road around 2 pm or so. By then it was starting to rain, and it would stay that way until some time Sunday morning. Danielle helping Shannon immediately after finishing as the timer chases her down to record her bib number and time. The Red Dirt Ultra is held in the Kisatchie National Forest, near Natchitoches. The start is so far in the middle of nowhere that even in 2017 you can’t get a reliable cellphone signal. That also means that Google Maps has some difficulty figuring out where you are once you get close. Fortunately we had the written directions with us, because by the time we exited the interstate it was dark and we were on lonely wet forest roads that we weren’t familiar with at all. Amazingly we found our way to the parking area without any problems, and stepped out of the car into rain-soaked mud. Danielle had a pop-up tent set up but it took us a little while to find her. Stream crossing near the finish Shannon was expected to show up in a few hours for the, I think, 70 mile checkpoint, so we hung around in the cold rain. Every now and then you’d see a headlamp bouncing through the woods toward us and someone would yell, “runner!” Some were just finishing the shorter 100k run or even the 50k run.  Others had been planning to do the full 100 miles but quit. Their rationale was the same. It was too wet and slippery and they didn’t want to get injured. By then I was giving Shannon about a 60% chance of finishing since she’s injured knees and ankles and feet numerous times in the past and there was really no way to run on that trail in the dark without crashing a few times. Finally we spotted two headlamps coming our way through the trees. It was Shannon and another female runner. Shannon was, of course, absolutely soaking wet and, as expected, had fallen a few times already. She sat down and Danielle helped her change to dry shoes and socks and clothing as she tried, somewhat unsuccessfully, to eat the rice and chicken she’d prepared. By the time she was ready to start going again she was shivering pretty badly. The woman she’s been running with took off a bit before her with a Pacer, which was allowed for the last part of the run. A few minutes later Shannon disappeared into the darkness. Candy and I drove up to Natchitoches to get a little sleep at the hotel. We were up again at 5:00 to head back to the finish. By then it was chilly and very foggy, but at least the actual rain had stopped. Checkpoint before the final 31-mile loop – cold and wet It would still be a few hours before Shannon would finish. She had planned to mostly walk the stretch from the last mid-loop checkpoint to the finish, and by then it was clear that should would easily make the cut-off of 32 hours. Her optimistic goal had been 24 hours, although with the trail conditions that goal had pretty much gone out the window by the time she started the last loop. As the sun came up somewhere behind the solid cloud cover we decided to walk down the trail a bit. It was much, much warmer than it had been the night before, and by then we were expecting to see Shannon fairly soon. The trail was a combination of rocks, white sand, grey clay, and red clay/dirt, punctuated by the occasional shallow stream crossing. I couldn’t imagine actually running on most of it, although we walked only a mile or so. As I was walking one of the finishing runners came by. He told me he’d been holding off someone behind him for hours. There wasn’t anyone behind him. He’d been hallucinating, which isn’t particularly uncommon after 25 hour of running. Anyway, not too long after that Shannon came sprinting out of the forest finishing at 25:58:49, which was pretty impressive, and yeah, there were still a number of people behind her. I doubt she’ll be walking normally for a few days to a week. It all made me happy I’m not a runner! The drive back home was nice and smooth and dry – way better than the drive up there had been. By the time we got home I was pretty tired. I guess it was mostly just the lack of sleep and long drive.

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