Sunday, May 22, 2011
I had no idea what to expect out of my body going into this race. It had been a long weekend of fun and celebrating with my brother's graduation on Friday and the USNA ring dance the night before. To be completely honest, I only really signed up for this thing because this is what Mike really wanted to do the morning after the dance. Whatever. I wasn't the one who was going to quesiton his sanity.
My first small warm-up jaunts across the field to packet-pick up actually felt pretty good. This could have been the effects of the 2-3 cups of coffee I had just finished off that morning in my desperate attempts to make up for the three hours of sleep I had gotten the night before. I double checked to make sure that I had all 3 double caffeine Powerbar gels attached to me somewhere. I had really in no way prepared for this race and was probably going to need all I could get to get me through. I had also not really done a carb load (c'mon, I had to look good in my dress!) or taper of any kind. Plus, getting lost in College Park for an hour during a desperate attempt to run off the previous night's cheap tequila is not my ideal pre race strategy.
Aside from having more people than usual, the tone of the morning seemed like the usual pretty chill ultra start. Well, except for the race director was dressed up like a dirty german.
Little pre race stretch to make sure that all the muscles in my feet and legs were still in-tact after walking around in stilletto heels the night before for about 8 hours.
I sported my wrist corsage from the night before and Mike wore his bowtie at the starting line. (I wasn't expecting this thing to last for much of the race, but I wanted to keep the spirit at least for the first few miles. I had a feeling I would be ripping it off and throwing it in the woods at around the same time I crashed and burned later.) The race started, and, for an ultra, everyone seemed to set out pretty quickly. I assumed this was because there was also a 25K, which consisted of only one of the two 15.5 mile figure eight loops. I didn't want to push it right off the start, but I also hate being stuck behind the congestion of runners on a single track who sprint ahead for the first three miles and then die twenty minutes later, so I tried to get to the trail head relatively quickly.
As soon as we jumped onto the soft muddy tree-rooted path, I fell in love with the course. These were my favorite trail conditions, and aside from the humidity, the temperature was also pretty perfect. After an entire evening of being prim and proper, I was definitely trying to get down and dirty.
Mike ran with me for the first four miles or so, until the speed demon finally cut loose. It's almost hard to imagine him ever not feeling a race. But I knew better than to try and stick with him and had plans to run at my own pace today. I soon met a couple of friends and enjoyed listening to a some 100 miler ultra runner tales. Maybe this is the reason I ended up running off course for almost a mile when we missed one particular 180 degree turn about halfway through the first figure eight loop. I was still a bit surprised by how good I felt at this point though, and how comfortable I felt in my zone. There were a few places where there were road segments for a couple of miles at a time. When I hit these segments, I let myself pick up speed a bit. I like races that have a trail/road combination. Trails are fun to agile your way through and bound over obstacles, but you have to stay sharp-minded in this. Roads running is more automatic, especially on the flats, and you can usually push harder. You find your stride and your cadence and then turn on autopilot and let your body set into the rhythm and do the work.
At the half and the end of loop 1. My new friend on the right. I didn't see him much of the second loop. I was on a mission.
Not entirely sure how this was happening, but by the end of the first loop, I was blowing by people. My legs were tired, but I was still feeling good considering. My new ultrarunner friend, who had just competed in a 100 miler a couple of weeks prior, told me that was trying to stick to my pace and let me pull him. I don't think he did so well on the second lap of that race though because I didn't see him the entire second half. When we cruised into the halfway point aid station, which was also the start and the finish of the 25K, a woman working there excitedly told me that I was third place female. Then she pointed to the second place who was not 200 meters out from us, just leaving the station. I didn't waste time at that aid station. I grabbed two caffeine gels, as they refilled my handheld with Gatorade and I was off.
I could feel fatigue just beginning to set in coming up to the halfway point at 2:20, but I felt it was something I would be able to push past on the second half. I had never seen the girl ahead of me in the race before, meaning that she have slowed down. Fortunately, consistently pushing through the soreness and fatigue that set into the later half of these races is my specialty:-) If you have run smart up until this point it won't all hit you at once; it sets in over time. But the more slowly it sets in, the more capable you are of being able to battle it mentally and push it away again. I think this is usually how I am able to overcome my race lows. I ran behind her for a mile or so on the single track. She was still pulling a pretty decent pace and I knew it was not my time to pass. I just worked on keeping that even medium between us for a while. As we climbed up some of the short steep ascents, I reevaluated the situation and considered exactly what I was up against. Because the only thing visible going up those hills were tree trunk legs of solid muscle. I could visibly see both heads of the lateral hamstring, not to mention every superficial vein running up her legs, defined and visibly threaded between the two heads of her chiseled gastrocs. This chick was ripped. But she wasn't a runner. As the gap between us narrowed and I started talking to her, my suspicion was confirmed. Yes. A cyclist. No wonder. Right after we encountered a group of eight horses and a couple rather unpleasant riders, I made my pass as gracefully as I could without getting hoofed in the face. I never saw her the rest of the race.
When the trail dumped back out onto a road segment soon after, I started to turn up the heat a bit. I was still feeling good, and I wanted to gain some distance with the energy I had left. I was probably running sub 8 min/mi for most of the remaining road segs. I knew I was doing well when I started passing people again. Yes-my favorite time of the race had come! It was time for the signiture move of seeing many guys I could "chick" (-DCH, I learn from the best ;-)) I was on my own now, and for the first time all day, I felt like this race was within my power.
I knew the energy I was feeling now could not be coming just from me. It was coming from somewhere else. People ask me what I think about during the hours I spend out there running ultras. Well, at moments like these, I try not to think. I just let the energy come as it is given to me. And it's moments like these when I know Moe is with me. People also ask me why I tend to stick to the low-key back woods races rather than the bigger, more busy, more glamorous road ones. Part of the answer is that I am more comfortable in the small crowd country setting. The other part is that when I am out on the middle of the woods and setting into my rhythm in the quiet nature around me, this is when I feel her the most. Maybe it's because I am able to zone everything out, or maybe this is where she wants me to be.
Today, I also thought about the woman who was the namesake for the first Delaware female award, which I had gotten last weekend at DE marathon. She was an amazing runner who was tragically run over by a snowplow while on a run training one winter, and I felt honored and touched to be the recipient in her honor, despite my mediocre performance during the race. I knew some of the energy today was coming from her too.The trail had turned to single track again and, I was still cruising. Only now, instead of lightly skipping over small branches that jutted out onto the trail, I ploughed right through them. The sharp stings of small branches and thorns scratching my legs let me know I was happy and alive. I was on top of the world. It was a great feeling. There was this one part of the single track that is really convoluted and has some rolling hills that are just steep enough to be fun. And I was having fun. I felt great. And the mud was making this even greater. My legs were sore, but I had so much energy mentally that I could have kept running through those woods all day.
Going in hard to one of the sharper turns coming out of the maze part, I lost traction and fell in mud. I leaped out of the guey mess and was running again almost before my mind had even processed what had just happened. My hands were now caked with mud, so to get rid of the extra I blacked out the bottoms of my eyes with it. It seemed like the logical thing to do. I almost didn't want this race to end.
Coming in strong to the finish. My pacer for the last half mile close by:-)
Soon I heard voices from the finish line and knew I must be less than a mile out. I cranked things up a little higher. My legs were really feeling it now as I tried to keep powering over the small rolling hills. With less than half a mile to go, Mike unexpectedly showed up coming the opposite way on the trail. It was good to see him, but no time to chat. After the last small rolling up hill, I reached down to see what I had left. Apparently alot. The sprint felt so good I felt like I could maintain it for another couple miles (felt like..but I think it was the endorphins talking). I finished strong across the finish line in 4:31. I had negative split this lap by almost ten minutes.
Before/After race pics. Just cannot decide which I look better..the important thing is that the corsage AND bow tie survived all 31 miles through the woods and mud!
I cannot say that this is THE best I have ever felt during a race, but strangely I felt a million times better during this 50K than I did at any point during Delaware marathon the weekend before. I have a feeling that it has something to do with Devon Crosby-Helm's idea of the "comfortable uncertainty."
"At my best races I came in genuinely uncertain about what the day would hold for me. I usually had diminished expectations for one reason or another. I always felt comfortable uncertainty...I genuinely didn't expect a thing and was prepared for the possible outcomes."
Comfortable uncertainty. This is something I have had at the starting line of every race I have done exceptionally well in. Otherwise, I tend to try and run the race of another person or get down on myself when I don't meet the expectations that I have laid out, like in Delaware marathon the weekend before or AC marathon the previous fall. When you set out for any given race, nothing is for certain. In order for you to have the best race, there are so many factors that have to fall into place, with a majority of them being mental and most of the rest coming from factors that are outside of your control. Sometimes, it just doesn't happen, and you can't beat yourself up over it because it didn't. And when it does happen, there is no greater feeling in running than the perfect race on the perfect day. I train hard for the races that I do, but I don't account for my entire self-worth on the basis of the results of one race. I know what I am capable of and try to take pride in it. Bad days happen for a reason. They can be valuable learning experiences and, more importantly, they will make having that perfect race on the perfect day that much more amazing :-)
Annndddd the reason I entered this damn thing. Prize cuckoo clocks and dirty German weather veins!