This race has me a little confused, actually. My first part of the year hasn’t been that great, things really haven’t been great running-wise for over a year. But more recently I’ve been able to get a few miles in and get some mini-workouts in, and for whatever reason I’ve actually been running a bit better. I know a big reason is that I haven’t had as much pain over the last month or so.
Signed up for this race mostly because my friends were, as it doesn’t really fit what I’m doing right now. But I have been doing some long trail runs with cuch trying to help her get ready for her 100, and I’m pretty sure those are what were key for me today, just in terms of time-on-feet.
Michelle, Michael, Greg (fun run) and I, arrived at Pineland Farms only about 75 minutes from home. It was a gorgeous day, a bit warm for running. The place was weird because it’s this big farm, but when you arrive it looks more like a big beautiful college campus.
We brought a tent and a cooler and chairs, hung out til the race started and got ready to go. I sort of knew generally what to expect, which was a wide variety of terrain, from woods to wider carriage roads to pretty much running through a hayfield. 2 loops of 25K, would go by the tent also at ~17k and 42K. But the biggest thing was that the course is never flat. The hills are not terrible, they are just ever-present. Updownupdownupdown. And everything is cambered left and right on the sides of slopes.
Michael said he wanted to run easy and we would maybe hang together, but I also knew this was his first trail race, and he doesn’t train on them often. Trail running really is different mentally and physically. He mentioned running 9’s and I knew that wasn’t going to happen for me, so I decided I just was going to run my pace. I also decided to approach this race differently than the 50 mile, and different from what is conventional in that I wasn’t going to go out too easy. Especially on trails, if I lock into a slow pace, I just can’t get unlocked, and my thought was with the heat and lack of training the quicker I could get this over with the better off I would be.
Off we went, down for the first few miles, and I’m sure I was sub 9 through here. I wasn’t trying to take it easy, just go with what was comfortable without labored breathing. Down into the woods, out into the hay fields, turn right, turn left, camber, repeat 1000 times. Pretty early on I was being passed way more than I was passing, oops I must’ve lined up too far forward. None of my friends seemed to be around. The course was marked in k’s which immediately became sort of a mental fascination and I think was a key for me. I didn’t start my Garmin because my battery wouldn’t last that long, I was going to start the second lap. But I sort of just fell into a rhythm of clicking off the k’s in about 5:50. It was a short enough interval that my mind could grasp it easily and I wasn’t bored in between. I also was hyper sensitive about running upright and with quick steady cadence. Looking around, it seems like the better trail runners are just really consistent metronomes despite inconsistent footing. I forced my hands up which helps me shorten stride and tried to imagine I was looking good (though I’m sure I wasn’t).
Aid stations were great, plentiful and well stocked. But one thing I took from the 50 mile was that I spent way too much damn time there. I went through every one, but it was a quick stop grabbing something each time. After the crowd thinned after 10k or so, the rhythm was really good and I was sort of running close to the same few people. One guy was an old dude with his shirt off which made me think of Gadbois. He would blow by me on all downs, and I’d sort of catch up on the ups. Then I’d pass him in an aid station, and the process would start over. Saw the tent and Sherm and Allycia at 17K and felt really pretty good, still counting k’s.
By the time I came back through the first loop I was around 2:23, about two minutes ahead of my best-case scenario. I was tiring, but I knew the next few miles at least were net down, and I could hold pace for a bit longer. I also tossed my shirt because I was really concerned about overheating. Somewhere here I lost Gadbois and some dude with pink socks, maybe I lost them at the first aid station post loop. By now I sort of had a rotation going that was working for me. Alternating sugar and salt at aid stations, m&ms for sugar and a pretzel or two for salt. Also 2 salt tablets (as opposed to 20 at Stone Cat on a much cooler day, a mistake). Gatorade and water at most stations. 2 Gu’s.
The second loop was going to be frustrating at times. The 25kers started two hours after us, so I was going to be passing some. Even at the 4k or so aid station, there were big packs of them crowding the station and I had to fight my way through. Delay. Then there would be groups running 4 wide on the trail. It was a little ridiculous. But it also was OK in the sense that I had an endless supply of targets to pass.
Started counting k’s again and it was more like 6:00 or a little more. But my form was holding together OK, and everything was fine. I had decided to not start the Garmin because the counting K’s was working, keeping me distracted. And I knew I’d mentally freak if I started to see my pace slow. So I never used the Garmin, just the watch.
Somewhere around 35k I saw Gadbois up ahead. I caught him on an uphill. Oh, I should note that there were maybe 10 places on both loops that walking worked just as well as running. I powerwalked right up the slope, and it helped keep my breathing steady as well as engage different muscles, I think.
Caught Gadbois, and expected him to pass me again, but I never saw him. In fact, I think from about 25K on I never got passed by anyone except the 50 mile leaders (amazing) and I passed what seemed like hundreds of people.
But by 35K I was definitely a little slower. By 40K I was more like 6:10-6:20 vs. 5:50, but I really didn’t care. Form was still fine, and I felt oddly OK. By the tent at 42K, I was tired but tried to look strong and I knew I only had 5 miles left.
The last 8k was pretty uneventful, passing tons of people I assumed to be 25kers. The last 3 k I tried to pick up a bit and I think I did. The last k I was flying (or so I imagined). I came out of the woods running hard and down the chute. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this good at the end of a marathon, never mind the second longest run I’ve ever done. Second loop was about 7 minutes slower than the first, but with the heat, 25k traffic and aid station delays I don’t think that’s too bad. I had decided that for where I am I was going to be really happy with sub-5, and I was.
Really weird that after I wasn’t in too bad of shape. I was walking mostly OK. My friends all came in one by one, looking great, and we all hung out and had bbq and a few beers. Then we packed up and left and when I got home, I had to go to another party (without showering and in sandles, so I looked like I’d been playing in mud all day). I was on and off my feet for 5-6 more hours at the party, with little ill effect. As I write this, my feet and ankles are sore, but the rest of me is fine. This, of course, has me thinking stupid thoughts about 50s and 100s and such in the future, but for now, this was just a really good day.