Sunday was a very special day. I have taken a few days to think about everything that I accomplished before sitting down the write it all but even now I know that I will fall so short a sharing what an amazing experience this day was for me.
First, the race was my anniversary.
I was celebrating One year as an Ultra trail runner.
This would also be my first chance to go for a course PR in an Ultra. Having run Seneca as my first ultra
Iwas eager to see what I could do on the course this year as my fourth ultra.
Adding to my day's excitement was the fact that race day was my 300th day of running.
I had so much on my mind that I almost forgot to be nervous about the race. I was too busy arranging for the kids and planning that I never really got nervous about the actually running of the race and I didn't miss the nerves.
So after finally finding out if I had no sitter who could go with the kids and I to the race at 5:30 p.m. Friday night I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to leave the kids with my sister and her family and go to the race alone. While this may not seem like a big deal, it was the first time I have left my family over night to go race. But I knew that the kids would have fun and be well cared for as I drove the 2+ hours to my hotel.
This is a photo that we take at every hotel before a race.
It is usually me in the mirrored door and the kids in the closet.
I missed the kids already.
Once I arrived at my hotel I got to business laying out my clothes, double checking directions, checking in with family and getting to bed early. That was one of the biggest treats of going alone, I got to pick the bedtime!
Why do I always over dress?
You may have noticed that I didn't talk about eating after getting to the hotel. I didn't really. I had eaten a little bit after work at the house and I had peanuts in my hotel room while getting my clothes laid out but I didn't go eat a meal. I had eaten carb heavier meals the two days prior and was trying to see if my "stomach" tolerated the stress of race morning better if I didn't put a heavy meal in it the night before.
I was up before my 5 a.m. wake up call. I knew I had lots to do pre-race including pump. Yeah, the joys of breastfeeding. So along with the usual trips to the bathroom, dressing, hydration pack filling, fuel loading prep I got to play with my...okay you get the idea.
With everything done and going smoothly I hopped in the car and headed to the finish line to catch the bus to the start. A quick 15 minute drive later I was there. I caught a ride with a volunteer who was taking 3 other runners. (Thanks!) She was so nice and an avid runner. She chatted with us about her racing plans. Which helped calm our nerves considering she took us the scenic route. I wouldn't say we were ever lost but we didn't take the most direct route. This did teach me to always ask if the driver knows where they are going before accepting a random ride before a race.
Waiting for the start
The race start was a laid back affair. You dropped off you application and $20. Yeah $20! And got a bib which was recycled from another event. Not kidding. Then we all waited. After a brief talk from the RD and a ready, set, go we were off.
I did bring a camera this time but did not take it out very often.
The clock was on my mind more than I wish it had been.
But I did snap some really bad photos of myself at most aid stations and a few random shots along the way.
We started on a paved park road which allowed the field to spread out before entering the single track trails. This is my least favorite part since I often start out too fast and have to remind myself that I have a long hilly twisty way to go. In this first section is the big creek crossing. I didn't stop for a photo this year. I simply jumped in and ran across. There are stepping stones and a rope but the water was only knee deep at most so I didn't bother with getting into the line of runners to go slowly across.
Before I knew it I was at the first aid station wondering how did the distance pass so quickly. I did not take anything at this station. I was carrying 8 Gus and my hydration pack. I was planning on taking a GU about every 45 minutes to an hour.
This year we enjoyed mud instead of snow and ice.
The trail was amazing. Perfect. I enjoyment level when running on trails is just so addictive.
I apologize for the bad photos. I think this is aid station 2 but I missed a photo at one of them.
Sometimes when you are running you search for the place where your mind floats away and your body simply takes over the duty of moving it's parts to propel you forward. On the road that is a wonderful place to be, on the trails it's not always the safest place to find yourself. As I cruised along somewhere around mile 10, I found myself lost in thoughts of the daughter. I knew I was running along the creek I could hear it to my left. But I was more aware of the regret I was feeling for not taking a photo of myself to send to the kids to let them know I was thinking of them before the race.
That was the ground. Now I was wondering how the ground got all the way up to my face.
Lesson learned. Stay present or buy new capris.
After my graceful fall I didn't allow the adrenaline to go to waste, I got back up immediately and kept running.
My entire kneecap is blackened from the rocks I fell on.
I wish I had the recall to share the mile by mile recap but I don't.
But some things I remember through this section are the burn off that went on for what seemed like miles. I don't know if it was intentional or a brush fire but the smell was stomach turning. Luckily it was through a very runnable section so I could move quickly.
The miles were flying by and I was actually caught off guard when I found myself at the next aid station. At this point each runner can choose to run the lake loop and make it a 50k+ or continue without the loop and run a marathon+. Even after my earlier fall, I was feeling great. I loved that the sun had come out and I was now at the lake.
This aid station like most along this race was stocked with all the ultra goodies that you'd expect. I had planned to rely on myself with the exception of needing to top off my pack twice through the race. I had however been taking pretzels at most stations and carrying them to eat for the mental boost. So I thanked the great volunteers and my morning driver who was helping at this station and headed off around the loop.
Fall number two. I don't know what I actually did wrong except pushing my pace on the up and down hills that rolled around the lake and sixty-five zillion inlets we had to run around but there I was rolling down a hill again. This time I only smashed my forearms and crushed my newly gotten pretzels.
I quickly got up and got back to running. No immediate pain and no noticeable blood.
Nearing about 18 miles
After the lake loop runners returned to the same aid station. I topped off my pack for the second and last time during the race. Grabbed a small cup of Coke or Pepsi - you might remember this is the only time I ever drink soda with calories - a few more pretzels to carry and I was off. I was losing about 2 minutes at aid stations even with only topping off my pack a few times and grabbing a drink of soda or water occansionally. This was something I forgot to factor into my pacing.
During the race I used somethings that I had learned in previous races to help improve my preformace and enjoyment level. One thing is learned was that I don't enjoy running slowly (this is a word as defined by my abilities at any point in the race.) I much prefer to give what I have on each section given the terrain. When I first ran this race I got behind runners who were running a pace that was uncomfortable to me but I didn't pass them thinking that they probably knew more than I did. That is flawed thinking. So I focused on keepin my 5 mile blocks at 45 minutes to an hour which I easily did over the first half of the race. I passed runners when their pace was too slow for me to comfortably run. I allowed runners to pass me when their pace was too fast for me to hold. My form stayed strong throughout the race thanks to listening to myself.
The Goldfish aka everything is Yellow aid station.
The next aid station was fabulous. I just can't thank the volunteers enough. I never hit an aid station where someone neglected to ask to help me. They are all so cheerful and encouraging. The volunteers along the course are just the same. I know I couldn't be doing this without them!
Along the second half of the 50k course there were signs with fun facts about Goldfish, funny sayings about crazy dedicated runners, and general silliness to help keep the runners motivated. I lost a little time here when a volunteer noticed my knee and took photos and asked how it happened. There is also a suggestion board to write on as if a runner who has been running this long can make good suggestions!
The second half of the course seems much more hilly than the first. Looking at the profile there is 8000+ gain and 9500+ loss. That downhill extra distance is on the front end of the course with the hills becoming closer together through the second half.
As is the case in the Ultras I have done so far I find myself running alone most often however it is so nice to share a mile or two with other runners. I ran with a young couple who chatted about fitness and Jillian Michaels, I ran with a gentleman from Valley Forge PA, I ran with newbies and veterans, young and old. I saw runners working together and encouraging each other. I helped and encouraged and laughed with so many. Where else can you be provided with the opportunity to give so much to a group of strangers. It was an amazing filling day.
Pushing into the finish line
Even as I saw the race coming to an end I was so amazed that I get to do this thing.
It is a fact that isn't lost in the efforts of the day but enhanced but it.
I crossed the finish line 6:06 with pretzels in hand.