I haven’t decided yet if this is going to be one LONG post, or if I will break it down into a few. It is amazing how the race day has so many elements. The pre-race, race, and post-race almost feel like 3 different events.
You all know about the FEAR I had as I went into this race. I saw myself tip-toeing nervously on my hurt ankle for 32 miles, trying not to get hurt. That would make for a REALLY long day. So, I called my best friend who happens to be a sports psychologist. I had her talk me through some visualizations, and fill me with some positive thoughts for the race. Then I contacted my rock star friend, Katie for some nutrition advice. I followed her advice and had my last meal around 5pm (small plate of pasta) and then a bagel with coconut oil and half a banana at 5am. (3 hrs before the race) These were 2 big changes for me. Usually I eat a later, bigger dinner the night before the race, doing MOST of my carb loading at that time. However, after lots of reading and researching I learned to start my carb loading 3-4 days before. I also hate waking up early, so for most of my past races I wake up about 90 minutes before the race and eat breakfast then. I am hoping all these changes lead to this great change in my pre-race events: I did not have to “use the bathroom” once at the race and during the race! Since most people reading this are probably runners or friends, I am not embarrassed to admit this. And if you are a runner with issues like this, you know how huge this is!! So far so good as I toe the start line.
I went into the race with a goal of finishing under 6 hours. Based on my training, I knew I was capable of this. I knew I could definitely place top 10, possibly top 5, and on a REAL GOOD DAY top 3. However, this was my first ultra, and only my 4th trail race. Before this my longest being the Bimblers Bash 10k. This was a whole new ball game. I stalked this race, over-researching details as I do with everything in life. I watched the video from 2011…2 hours of taking in details: Aid stations, terrain, what runners did, wore, etc. I then looked at the confirmed entrants. I compared them to the past years results, seeing which racers who finished as top females were competing. It looked as though only a few were. AND, I see that the girl who beat me by 3 seconds in the Summer Solstice Trail Race for 1st Place was running. The competitor in me saw opportunities all around.
Before the race I saw a girl who looked strong, heard her name was Amy, and heard talk of course records. I assumed it was Amy Lane, and thought, “I swore she didn’t sign up.” (I found out later it was another Amy, a Team Inov-8 runner who represented the USA in the World Championships of Trail Running this year). I also saw the girl who beat me at Gay City, and went over to say hello. She said she was looking to do under 6 hrs, so I thought I would maybe pace with her. (After a lot of back and forth in my own head I made the decision to only use the clock on my Garmin, not the pace or mileage.)
After the pre-race briefing we lined up at the start for the National Anthem. I knew we would do a lap around the field and enter the woods right after. From watching the video and reading blogs I knew if you entered towards the back it would bottleneck, forcing you to walk up the first climb. So my plan was to enter in the Top 20ish. I did this, staying right behind a girl who looked like a strong runner. She looked familiar and I had a feeling she was a top female. I ended up running right behind her for the first 9 miles or so. I settled into her pace, which seemed to be strong, but not too fast. I was instructed numerous times by my “training partner” to go slower than you want at the start. However, without my Garmin I did start to worry, “is this too fast?” After about a 8 miles the guy she was chatting with turned around and said, “you’re quiet back there.” I told them I was just trying to stay with them because I didn’t want to get lost (my biggest fear) and it was my first ultra. I soon found out the girl I was pacing with was someone I “knew of” (another Amy) from Bimblers Bash and who finished a few spots ahead of me. Right before we entered the 2nd aid station was the first time we “got lost”. It wasn’t bad, just 3 of us, standing still saying, “which way?” We would eventually find the trail and continue.
At aid station 2 I saw my hubs and parents, refilled my nutrition, and then headed for the Bluff Climb. I knew what to expect, as Erik and I had done this part of the trail when checking out the course. As we climbed, I realized one area I need to work on…my hiking/climbing. Amy pulled ahead as I huffed up the mountain. Once at the top, I caught back up and we continued to chat. This was by far my favorite part. We found out we had mutual friends, talked about triathlons, IRONMAN, etc. It was effortless and the miles and time flew. WELL, it was soon after we realized we were off track. We were descending a rocky, gravel road when a kid in front of us yelled up, “do you see any markers?”. I then said, “I was just thinking I haven’t seen any in a while.” Big decision: do we keep going down this hill, looking for markers, making the climb up longer if we are off track? I decided no, and told them I am heading back up. My adrenaline was pumping. I was so upset. The race was going perfect. We were running as 3/4th female and I was feeling good. How far off track are we?!?! I went WAY too hard trying to make up time, found the turn, yelled to them, and continued to go as hard as I could to make up time. However, now I was paranoid and I would descend a hill, not see any markers, run back up, wait for someone who would say it was right and then keep running. So much wasted time and energy. Urgh.
Finally, I got to the 3rd aid station. I figured I lost a lot of time and places, which is why I was very surprised to leave the woods and hear, “3rd female”. At this aid station (mile 16) I refilled my pack with water, and proclaimed “we got lost”. I was informed everyone was saying that, and I was still only 2 minutes behind my brother (who got lost at the same spot). It was right after this station I hit my first wall. I am not sure if it was from the adrenaline filled hard pace I had just come off of, or the fact that I was now solo. I started to walk climbs that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. There was no one in sight. No one behind me or in front of me. Part of me wondered, should I let Amy catch me to make this less miserable? I decided to keep truckin’, and finally spotted someone, and passed him as he stretched. I asked if he was ok, he said “yeah, I just keep worrying I am off track” Ok, I wasn’t the only one. This was my first ultra, and I wasn’t sure if what I was experiencing was just me. I then hit an area of single track mountain biking trail. It seemed to wind, twist, and turn forever. Even worse, it was marked all pink ribbons and I had no idea if it was even the course. All the other ribbons were red and white. I didn’t see any of those. Was this talked about pre-race and I missed it?!!? I literally wanted to cry at this point. Was I even running the right trails? Finally I popped out and soon found white and red ribbon. I ran up the trail, but found people running in all directions. “Are you looking for the Aid Station?” “What mile are you at?” “Is it an out and back?” I saw my brother and after running up the trail a little more, decided to turn back with a few others. I felt like I had been out there more than 6 miles and I started to worry I skipped over 4th aid station. I started to see signs stating, “soup is near” and knew I was close to an aid station, but which one? As I popped out of the woods to see my hubby and fan club I knew it as the right station. Phew!
My goal for the next 8 miles (which I was warned by many blogs and the race instructions would “feel much longer”) was to pay attention as close as possible to NOT GET LOST. The issue was, at this point my eyes started to get real blurry (I started to worry about this, but later found out it is “normal” from looking at the leaves for so long) and couldn’t see the markers until I was right on them. With the sun shining through, the white ribbon was hard to spot. I had MANY moments of, “oh no, is this right?” but would luckily decide to keep going and soon see a ribbon. It began to bring me so much relief, and I chose to use these sightings as “energy”. Part of the sports psychology 🙂
All reports were right, it seemed much longer. I ran out of water and I was hurting. I was trying to do math in my head. A volunteer told me 10K left, 6K to next aid station. Was I going to hit my 6 hour goal? A little later I saw a hiker who told me just over a mile to the aid station. Oh my, will this ever end? Just then, a blister must have popped because I had a burning pain on my toe that hurt like hell. Finally I saw my girlfriend on the trail and she started to run with me. She said, “oh no, where’s your brother?” What?!?! I never passed him, which meant he was lost again. Shit!
I was approaching the aid station I had dreamt and visualized about. Only 2.5 miles to the end. In my dreams, however, 2.5 miles felt so much shorter! My Dad gave me a high-five as I entered the last aid station and my fan club, Mom and Hubby cheered me on. Erik then says, “listen babe, it’s your song!” Out of some hidden speaker I hear, “Let Her GO’ by Passenger. A song I am currently OBSESSED with. The sun was shining, the fall colors bursting, and (looking back) it was perfect.
All I could think for the next 2.5 miles is DO NOT GET LOST. This section actually seemed to go by pretty quick. Well, looking back that’s what I remember! Music to my ears was when a volunteer told me 100 yards left. I just thought, “just a football field.” I ran down the last hill, making sure I didn’t fall, and felt strong as I crossed the FINISH. My time read 5 hrs 44 minutes! To my surprise I was told I was 2nd female and 12th overall! As I hugged my parents and hubby I was immediately handed a chocolate milk by one of the top finishing men. What I read is true, ultras is a different breed. How nice of this guy. He made sure I was ok and told my the blurry vision was normal.
5 minutes later my brother crossed. He was 13th overall. His Garmin read 35 miles! Oy Vey! What a day we had. I learned so much, and could not believe how stressful it was. I was so mentally and physically exhausted. I guess this is ultra-running!
While I am very pleased with my results, I know I was not the 2nd best female. The girl who was in 2nd the whole day must have gotten VERY lost during that 8 mile stretch. A hiker had told me around mile 23 she was about 4 minutes ahead of me. I also know I was in 18th most the race. Many would argue this is all part of Ultras, but I will take from this race what I needed from it. I have a lot of work to do to place in the big races, but I also know I am not too far from being a top racer. Now I need to decide where I go from here.
I have what it takes, but it will take everything I got!