This was kind of a spontaneous race sign up for me, but turned out to be a pretty good decision. I was a little apprehensive because I had just raced 38 miles the previous weekend in the WV mountains and was not sure how my legs, not yet accustomed to back-to-back weekend racing and long distances, would handle it. But I think I have missed the trails so much that I was in…plus I really needed redemption after the wrong turn and 3rd place finish from the weekend previous. Alan had been planning to come visit and we had been searching for possible trail races we could do over the weekend and this one was one of the only ones that really sounded appealing, and a couple days before we decided the 3 hour trip would be worth it. Especially since the race was sponsored by The North Face and we were sure to score some good swag. We drove up on Friday night, got about 5 hours sleep in a motel and signed up the morning of the race at the starting line.
After last weekends mountain climbing, I was looking forward to this race which was described as “smooth” and “flat” from the course description online. False. After the gun went off at the start what started as a couple of minutes on the smooth grass soon turned into a steep rocky hill of single track and I was power hiking up a wall within the first 10 minutes. After I saw my first mile split was 11 minutes, I let go of any hopes that I had for this to be a quick race. Again, after a week in the city, it felt good to be back on the trails. These trails were pretty smooth single track, with hard packed dirt, seemingly from lots of foot traffic or mountain bikes. It reminded me of WCC, except with more rocks and roots. And there were lots of logs and trees down in the middle of the trail that made me think that those 5am hurdle drills with my roommate training for the steeple chase might not have been a bad idea…
After glancing at the times from last year, I was surprised at the pace many people went out at. Only the top 5 times, including men had been under 5 hours. I was mid-to back of the pack starting out, but I started passing other people, including women, about 20 minutes in on some hills. No one hill was ever really bad-just short and steep enough to resort to power hike mode. About 30 minutes into the race and I had slowly closed the gap between myself and two women in maroon Indianapolis running club singlets. When I caught them they informed me that we were the top women. They were running at a decently comfortable pace for me so I stuck with them for a while. I learned that the younger of the two was the track and field and XC coach for Indiana University and a reputable 5Ker. We joked how we’d stick together until 5K to go, and then she’d make her move and crush me. At the pace we were going right now, I wasn’t planning to pick things up much till then so I thought it might actually happen.
So I played back and forth with these two women for most of the first half of the race. They might pull ahead on a steep hill that they went charging up and I chose to power hike. I would usually catch or pass them on any technical segments, particularly downhill because I am not as afraid of busting my butt on these things as most people. They would pass me again at an aid station where I stopped to fill up my hand held and they breezed through, water bottleless. The whole first loop I felt decent, but never really great. I couldn’t really identify exactly what it was that was preventing me from feeling great…my legs, my head, my sleep deprivation from a long week at work…but I just felt like, while not feeling horrible, I couldn’t find my rhythm. Still, I felt decent so I made due with what I had.
I came through the halfway point at the end of the first loop in 2:07 with the two women probably a minute behind me. I heard the announcer announce their names as I hit the trail again. As much as I wanted to cross the finish in my Delaware singlet, the day was heating up fast so I had pulled it off at the halfway point and went with the sports bra. I saw Alan on my way back out for loop #2 and he told me I was in 3rd place. Interesting since I had assumed I was in first from the information the two behind me had said. I found one of the women about 2 minutes later on a hill. She looked completely dead. I quickly passed her and wasn’t really concerned with her catching me again. Still, I knew the other two women were right behind me and thought I might have even heard them.
This part of the race was not particularly my favorite in the way it was structured. I was on my way out for the 2nd loop, and all the slower marathoners and half marathoners were coming in from their first lap and the narrow single track got crowded. Someone had to be pushed off into the trees and it was usually me. Some people gave me words of encouragement about how good I looked which seemed to give me more energy. We came out to the strip of road in the middle of the race that was a steady up grade of about a mile on asphault. That’s where I first noticed that I was passing other marathoners. The standard guys that went out too hard too early and were hurting now. After getting back on the trail after the road, I was by myself for a few minutes without seeing anyone. Then I came across this younger guy, a marathoner, who was walking looking completely demoralized. He was lean and fit, probably a XC runner trying to go for the trail marathon and I felt a little sorry for him. When I passed him going down the hill I told him to hop on my heels. He actually did and for the next mile or so I had some company. And my assumptions were correct. It was short lived and he needed to stop to walk again, but by the time he dropped off, I was feeling the best I had all day. Now we were on a gravel canal path that looped around the lake and I just put myself in cruise for a while. I really couldn’t gauge how fast I was going, but I guessed it had to be sub 8minmi pace.
I saw a woman running back towards me on the single track, who must be a marathoner who was way ahead of me, but didn’t look like she was moving fast enough to be beating me by this much right now, or even beating me at all actually. I told her good job and she responded that she started the marathon early and wasn’t actually officially racing. So I was winning right now. It lifted my spirits more, especially since I was feeling pretty good already. But I was still being chased, or so I thought.
I was really cruising on the single track now. I continued to chick the field of out-too-hard guys, which was particularly dense for this race I thought, and people coming towards me encouraged me on “First woman!” This sounded all-too-familiar from last weekend I thought, but it did make me laugh a little inside my head. No wrong turns.
I was actually looking forward to the long gently down grade of road for a mile so I could pick up some speed on the way back in and I was feeling pretty good, but when I actually hit the asphalt, something suddenly hit me. I felt the heat of the sun on my face, body, in my eyes and suddenly felt dead. Within a minute my legs seemed to retaliate against me and every stride took some effort. I felt like I was hitting the wall and hitting it hard. The only thing that kept me moving as quickly as I could was the fact that I was being chased by a 5Ker and running scared. There were about 4 miles to go, and if she caught me now I knew I was done.
So I kept cranking out whatever I could with my fear of being caught, but I could tell my pace was dropping drastically. Still, no woman had ever passed me in a long distance race past mile 2 or 3 and I was going to do everything in my power not to let it happen now. I was getting a head ache. Then I realized I couldn’t remember the last thing I had eaten during the past 4 hours and considered it was probably combination heat, tired legs from the previous weekend, and nutrition. I was a little ashamed of my rookie mistake and quickly sucked down a gel, even though I knew it was probably pointless. I don’t really know why I had forgotten to eat. I really wasn’t hungry and had been drinking the watered down HEED at the aid stations, but it wasn’t enough.
Even with my drastic drop in pace, I was still passing guys, which offered some encouragement in my state. I was headed back on the single track again with about 3 miles left to go, going down a hill, when I saw this older guy swaying a little bit in his stride walking up the hill I was going down. As we approached each other all I heard him say was “It’s so humid…” Then he puked on me. UGGGHHHHhhhh!!! All down my left leg. It looked like mostly fluid with minimal chunks, fortunately I guess? Welp, in all my adventures of trail running, that’s never happened before. And of all the places to get puked on, the middle of the woods in a trail race…I had always imagined this could be a risk of going to a college bar, but never considered it for these types of events. But I did what any girl winning the race would do—kept running!
I was pretty happy to hear the voices and music of the finish line as I approached. Of course I still found it in me to kick it in for the finish, giving a quick glance over my shoulder before I did so for the 5K girl, who I was sure could probably also beat me in an 800 too. But no one to be seen. I crossed the finish line happy. Happy it was over because I had been dead for the past 4 miles, but mostly happy that I knew I was back to running and had finally won a race again. My time was 4:20, the second loop being 6 minutes slower than my first, which was slow for me in peak condition, but I wasn’t in peak condition, and I was happy with this. In actuality, I had been running scared for the last few miles for no real reason; I had put almost a half hour on any woman in the field.
Thrilled to be finished.
I waited for a long time for the next woman to come in and made friends with some of the top fast guys. During the time the awards ceremony for the top 3 men was announced and after a while the RD even asked me if I would like them to just announce me as the female champion so I wouldn’t need to wait for the others, which I thought was funny. But I was waiting on Alan to finish anyways. He finished in about 5 and half hours, the humidity getting to him a bit. TNF awarded me with a $125 check and a $150 TNF gift card along with a nice plaque for the I Love Me wall. Then we went to the distillery on the way home and I spent about half my winnings in Wild Turkey 101 bourbon. Good day all aroundJ
Middle Podium once again! Unfortunately, this race didn’t have tape for the champions to break through so can’t cross that off the bucket list just yetJ
Although I wasn’t thrilled about my 4:20 marathon time, it did feel good the be the female champion again in a race. I have been smart with coming back from injury, trying not to do too much too fast, but just thinking about how hard a 4 mile run felt about a month ago to winning marathons and ultras (well, almost), my exponential improvements are very encouraging. It certainly give me the boost I am going to need when it’s time to run with the big dogs at UROC in a few weeks!