Xterra Trail Race Series recap

Xterra Trail Race Series recap

A few weeks ago I completed the Xterra Atlantic trail race series.  The series was four races, culminating with a half-marathon.  I’m slightly behind on blogging; however, after looking back I did recap the first two races of the series.  For brevity’s sake, I’ll just post finishing results for the first two races and recap the final two races of the trail series below.

Brandywine 12k:  1:05, 2nd overall female, 16th overall of 110

Lums Pond 12k:  57:28, 3rd overall female, 25th overall of 98

Wetlands 10k at Camp Edge: 

As the series progressed, I became less and less motivated to race.  I had no desire to race a 10k.  All I wanted to do was run an ultra.  I was craving the mountains, not the swamplands.  Yet, there I was on a humid Sunday morning pretending to be happy I was about to race.

It had rained for 4-5 days straight leading up to the race.  The local mountain bike team that my dad coaches practices and races at this venue – Camp Edge.  I’ve done numerous trail building days on these trails. I had even raced on these trails for the Sasquatch 5k.  I knew the trails didn’t drain well.  With 4-5 days of rain behind us, I knew that the course was going to be sloppy.  This also added to my lack of motivation.

I was happy that Jess was racing too.  I warned her about the mud and we both joked that we had signed up for a trail race, not a mud run.

“Sloppy” didn’t even do the trail conditions justice.  It was a disaster.  I went out hard for two reasons:  because I knew these trails inside and out, forwards & backwards AND because I knew the mud would get progressively worse as more racers ran through it.

Two women passed me around the two mile mark.  By mile three, I had mentally checked myself out of the race.  The trails were crap, I was sliding everywhere, and I did NOT feel like doing a second loop.

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This was one of the least muddy sections of the course

We ran through the finish line and turned right to head back out across the field and into the woods.  Here we go again.  Loop 2.  I gave up on running fast through the mud.  The mud was worse the second time around because now we were running through mud that 100 other people had already ran through.  I was frustrated.  I was agitated.  I was not having fun.

All I truly remember about loop 2 was focusing on not sliding in the mud and carelessly splashing through the puddles.  It was hot so the puddles were a nice relief.

When we exited the woods, my dad, Josh, and Steve were taking pictures.  My dad told me to pick it up and my response was an irritated “I don’t feel like it”.  I crossed the line as the 3rd overall female and 21st overall of 68, in 56:05.

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I was happy that Jess raced hard and finished 3rd in her age group.  I was super proud of her for finishing her first ever trail 10k and I hoped that she would attend the next trail race of the series with me!  I was also excited because we were all going to a wine festival after the race and I just love wine!

Disclaimer:  I won’t be doing this race again.  I didn’t enjoy the course conditions, I despise races that are two loops, and I just didn’t like the race atmosphere.

Big Elk Half-Marathon: 

I was hoping that I would be in tip-top shape going into the last race of the series; however, my running motivation had dwindled over the course of four months and my cycling motivation had peaked.  Due to work schedules, weekend events, and vacation, the training plan I had created for myself was merely a piece of paper hanging on my bulletin board.

My longest run leading up to Big Elk was 8 miles.  Despite failing at following the plan, vacation provided me with an opportunity to spend miles and miles on my feet, climbing up mountains.  I knew that the hills wouldn’t be a problem.  Instead, my endurance might end up being the problem.

On the morning of race day, we arrived to the starting area with 25 minutes until start time.  25 minutes to spare is considered rushing to me so I frantically ran from the parking lot to the bathroom and from the bathroom to the packet pick-up area.  I ran back to the parking lot, pinned my bib on crookedly, threw on my Ultimate Direction pack and ran back to the starting line.

The first mile was slightly downhill and I hoped that the crowd would eventually thin out.  I found myself leading a pack of 5-6 runners on some single track and I wished that they would just go around me instead of following so closely on my heels.  I was familiar with the trails so I knew what sections to be cautious through and what sections to speed up.

We ran past the first water stop and I yelled at a woman trying to pass me that she had missed the turn.  It pays to pay attention, people!  At the top of the next hill, Josh appeared!  I laughed that he was just standing in the middle of the woods.

Finally half of the group of people went around me.  A few still remained on my heels and I tried to shake them by speeding up.  They stuck close.

I was running faster than my comfort zone trail pace and by mile 6ish, my left knee started bugging me.  I couldn’t catch my breath and I just wanted to enjoy my time in the woods.  I pulled to the side and let a few runners go around me.  Finally, I could run in peace!

I spent most of miles 6-10 by myself.  I was content this way.  I listened to nature rather than the rapid breathing of myself and those that were once around me.  I finally relaxed into the race.  I was finally enjoying myself.  I even took breaks to walk up some hills.  All of this is my trail bliss.

The course went through a field with grass up to my hip.  I was frustrated because I knew this wasn’t truly a trail.  They just stuck flags in a grassy field to make things “interesting”.  The only thoughts going through my head were “ticks, ticks, ticks everywhere!”

When we got back on an actual trail, a few people came up behind me. I let them pass and I just kept at my steady happy-go-lucky pace.  Our course eventually met up with the 5k/10k course and there were a lot of runners on the trail now.

I passed a few people who were trudging through their shorter race and I knew we were getting closer to the end.  We ran through some streams that felt super refreshing.  By this point the top of my left foot was also bothering me so the cold water felt great on my sore foot.

The course exited the woods and brought us toward the finishing area.  I ran confidently towards the finish line and Josh yelled at me to smile.  I smiled.

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smiling

I crossed the line and looped back to find Josh, Jess, & Steve.  We talked about Jess’s 10k that she CRUSHED!  She beat her previous 10k trail time by 14 minutes.  We waited patiently for results, I changed out of my race attire, and then we waited for the awards ceremony.

I finished in 2:08:55 as the 4th overall female and 1st in my age-group.  The results posted online are incorrect (once again).  I knew my time would be around the two hour mark so I was more than content with a 2:08.  I had completed the trail series, Jess had crushed her 10k, and then we all celebrated with brunch on Main Street, Newark.

Conclusion:

I won the trail series for my age-group, therefore, winning a free entry to Xterra Nationals in Ogden.  I will not be attending Nationals because the plane ticket is far too expensive and by September I will be in full grad school mode.

Completing the series was more of a mental challenge for me rather than a physical challenge.  I found myself highly unmotivated for most of the races.  I enjoyed the Brandywine 12k the most due to the ruggedness of the trails.  Big Elk was my second favorite because I got to spend 2+ hours in the woods.  Lums Pond 12k was semi-decent because I’ve never been to that trail system before; however, it’s too flat for me and doesn’t benefit my strengths.  Wetlands 10k was my absolute least favorite race of the entire series.  The mud was annoying and I hate courses that are two loops.

Next year, I probably won’t run any of the races again.  It was something different for me to try this year in the interim of training for another ultra; however, my heart is set on ultras in the mountains.

It’s been real, Xterra, but now it’s time for you to crown another Xterra Champion.

 

Race Recap: Xterra Lums Pond 12k

Race Recap: Xterra Lums Pond 12k

This past Sunday I raced at Lums Pond State Park in Bear, DE for the first time ever.  I knew of some people that had ran and mountain biked at Lums Pond so I kind of knew what the terrain was going to be like ahead of time – flat, non-technical, but with a few scattered rooty sections.  None of these characteristics of the course played in my favor.  Truthfully, I have a better chance excelling on a hilly, technical, rocky course.  I wasn’t looking forward to this race at all and, honestly, I regretted even signing up for it.  I only signed up for it because it was part of a series of trail races and back in January/February I was desperate for some motivation to get myself out for runs.  So here I was on race morning, standing in a state park parking lot trying to find an inkling of trail serenity in a road-runner dominated field of runners (sorry, roadies).

Josh selflessly chauffeured me to Bear, DE so I was thankful to have him there to be my morning company.  I picked up my bib number and race swag and got back into Josh’s truck.

The morning was chilly but warmer than usual so I was trying to figure out what I wanted to race in.  I went for a warm-up with 3/4 length capris, an Altra sweatshirt, Sneakers & Spokes long sleeve, a base layer long sleeve, gloves, and my Team Altra buff.  I warmed up on the road for 10 minutes than discovered a trail that ended up being the last 1/4 mile of the race course.  By the end of a 15-minute warm-up, I decided I need to shed my base layer for the race.  I also decided I wanted to race in shorts and ditch the gloves.  Wardrobe malfunction!  My Sneakers & Spokes long sleeve was so long that it covered up my spandex shorts making it appear that I wasn’t wearing shorts.  DARNIT!  I tried pinning the bottom of the shirt up but it was a lost cause once the race started.

The race started on time and we ran across the parking lot towards the path.  We would be running one 6-7 mile clockwise loop around Lums Pond (literally, I giant pond).  I navigated around some racers and I could see 2 women in front of me.  I hoped to keep them in my sight, but that didn’t last long.

1.5 miles into the race I found myself pancaked on the ground.  My memory fails me, but I’m assuming I tripped on a root.  I had no chance to catch my fall.  One second I was running, the next second I was on the ground, and one second after that I was back to running.  The men behind me asked if I was ok.  I said bluntly, “yes, I’m fine”, as they sprinted around me.  Nothing hurt but I could see some blood on my thigh.  Not exactly how I wanted to run the next 5.5 miles of the race but oh well.

The course wasn’t exactly scenic.  There were a lot of little turns, some rooty sections, and very small “hills”.  The “hills” were basically speed bumps that slowed racers down a little but they took about 3 seconds to get up and 2 seconds to get down.  Not impressed.  I had lost complete sight of the women by this point, men were passing me left & right, but I just kept chugging along.  I was more focused on where I was putting my feet and less focused on catching anyone ahead of me.  My elbow started to sting but everything else felt fine.

I remember crossing a 200m mini bridge which was pretty cool.  I jumped over a few muddy spots to avoid soaking my Superiors.  We passed through a field.  Then we reached the part of the course I had ran earlier for my warm-up.  I knew I was almost done.  I heard Josh to the right and caught a brief glimpse of him with his phone out snapping pictures.  I crossed the finish line and they handed me a medal.

I looked down at my knees for the first time since I’d fallen and both were bloody.  My thigh looked like a bear scratched it up.  My elbow was still stinging.  I knew I needed to get my cuts cleaned up so I looped back to find Josh, told him I needed to clean my knees (which is actually when he even noticed my knees were scraped).  We walked over to the ambulance parked in the lot.  I asked them for some peroxide and they gave me saline water and a towel to clean myself up.  I sat haphazardly on the asphalt as I cleaned up.  They didn’t have any normal sized bandaids and I could tell that my right knee was still bleeding so the paramedic wrapped me up with gauze and medical wrap.  Josh told the paramedics, “she runs 50ks up mountains and doesn’t fall but here she is after a 12k…”.  Yes, the irony of it all.

31234945_2028515467407407_1324880377252151296_oI finished in 57:28 as the 3rd overall female and 25th overall out of 98.  The course was shorter than a 12k so technically it’s not a 12k PR.  I stayed for the awards ceremony and then left for the 2nd race of the day – spectating the NJ NICA race held in Alloway.  It was a busy but great Sunday.  I didn’t do a cool-down after the race because I spent my time with the paramedics, but I ran around the NICA course with Josh to cheer on the racers.

Would I race this again?  No.  The course wasn’t hilly or technical (despite the fact that I tripped on a root).  I thrive on challenging trail courses.  This was more so a cross country style race and those days of xc racing were over after college.  I don’t have the speed to keep up with those xc-type of racers.  I would rather go a little slower and be able to bomb some descents.  I still have a good story to tell as I take care of my knees.

Would I go to Lums Pond again?  Yes.  I would like to mountain bike there because I prefer non-technical trails for mountain biking (my mtb skills are lacking).  If I’m looking for a flat trail running loop and want to drive all the way there then I would run there again too.  But I’m not interested in racing there.  One and done!

You win some… & all others aren’t losses.

You win some… & all others aren’t losses.

Earlier today, I raced the Xterra Brandywine 12k.  I finished 2nd overall female by a mere 40 seconds after leading for approximately 6.5 of the 7.3 mile race.  Should I be upset?  Maybe.  Should I be mad at myself?  Perhaps.  But… I’m not upset.  I’m not mad.  It’s not a loss to me.  I ran 46 seconds faster than last year on the exact same course in similar weather conditions.

I didn’t finish as the 2nd overall female because I ran slower than last year.  My solitary goal going into the race was to improve my 01:06:36 finish from last year.  Any other accomplishments throughout the race would just be an added bonus.  I ran 01:05:50, finishing 16th overall out of a field of 110 (last year I was 44th out of 165).  If that’s not something to be happy about then I don’t know what is.

What I’m trying to say is that not all “losses” are actually a loss.  The woman that finished the last 3/4 of a mile faster than me might think I didn’t pace myself throughout the race or that I’m just “a young girl still learning how to finish a race in its entirety”.  Truth is, that’s not me.

I knew what I was doing throughout that entire race:

I ran the 1st mile in 7:33 because I knew that any time I could gain on the downhill/flat section would be time pocketed for the gruesome climbs to come.

I didn’t power hike the climbs because I knew that the faster I could keep stepping forward, the sooner I would get to the next downhill.

I passed the men in front of me confidently and without hesitation because I was racing against them too.

I didn’t hesitate at the stream crossing because I knew that a moment of hesitation wasn’t going to resolve the issue of crossing the stream without getting my feet wet.

I didn’t flinch bombing down the rockiest downhill of the course because I’ve ran down that hill hundreds of times; I knew the best lines to take.

I didn’t try to navigate carefully around the muddy sections because I knew the quickest line was straight through them.

I ran the fielded, non-technical sections of the course with all the energy I had left because I knew there wasn’t much further to go.

I finished 46 seconds faster than last year because of all of these decisions, all of these moments, all of these intrinsic race instincts.

Races are just like life:  if you try your hardest every single day to accomplish your goals, you will achieve success.  Nobody can take away your successes.  Nobody can diminish your accomplishments because their accomplishments seem “bigger” or “better”.

If you take initiative, if you take your goals into your own hands, if you make decisions to better yourself, than you are on your way to your own personal win – and sometimes that can be the best way to lose.

What I crave…

What I crave…

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to travel to Phoenicia, NY with Josh, my wonderful boyfriend, to support him during his Cats Tail Trail Marathon (actual length as advertised on the website is 26.5 miles) through the Catskills.  We met some trail running friends who were also racing which made the weekend exceptionally entertaining.  Not only did Josh do absolutely amazing during his race (finishing 13th of 89 finishers – don’t mind my bragging!), I was reminded of how truly enticing the trail running community is to me.

I spent this past summer craving trails.  I got out to the trails as much as I could but I always craved more.  I became increasingly intrigued by Appalachian thru-hikers following more and more Instagram accounts of SOBO and NOBO AT hikers.  I craved the serenity of the trails.  I craved dirt beneath my Altras.  Oddly enough, maybe I even craved the hills that torture my muscles (…maybe).  But mostly, I craved other trail runners.

I was reminded of this as I stood shivering at the base of a 5 mile ascent with my cowbell in hand at 6:55 AM.  I patiently waited for Josh to start the race at 7:05 AM.  The first wave of 15 runners went by me and I pleasantly greeted them with a “good morning” and wished them a sincere good luck knowing the next 26.5 miles would be tough ones.  Most of them acknowledged my existence and exchanged warm thank yous for cheering them on so early in the morning. The second wave of 15 avid trail runners came by next and Josh was in the front of the pack.  I wished him good luck as he began his ascent and traverse through the Catskills.  I wouldn’t see him until mile 9.5 and I internally wished him safe travels.

With a few more waves of runners to be sent on their way, I made the short walk up to the starting line where I met a few of our other trail running friends as they waited for their wave to start.  The lax atmosphere at the start of the race captivated me.  For years now, I’ve stood on many starting lines surrounded by anxious runners hopping up and down, checking their pulses repetitively, and stretching out one more time before they’re sent on down the road to pound out speedy miles.  But there, on that brisk October morning, the runners stood relaxed, talking  and joking with each other, and re-tightening their Ultimate Direction, Gregory, or Orange Mud packs.  Everyone knew the next 26.5 miles would separate the men from the boys and the women from the girls.  The trail would do what it does best – challenge every runner mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Again, this is what I crave.  I yearn for the moments where I can step up to a starting line and know that the trail will control the result of my race.  I want to be surrounded by people on a starting line who truly enjoy the swaying of the trees, the silence of the woods, the dampness of the rain sprinkles falling from the clouds, and the dirt caked on their shins.  I don’t find that feeling on the start of a road race.  Instead I find tense feelings and minimal human interaction.  I find people ready to pound their feet on hard pavement instead of loose dirt.  I find people who would rather stand in silence and not make eye contact than someone who is willing to extend a pat on the back and exchange a heartfelt good luck.

As I stood patiently anxiously at the 2nd aid station, waiting for Josh and our friends to come through, I was once again surrounded by down-to-earth trail runners.  The moment a racer came through someone made sure to ask “what do you need?  Water?  Food? Do you have a drop bag?”.  Not only do aid stations become a source of fuel and water but they also become a welcoming place of encouragement and motivation to continue moving closer to that finish line.  I saw this time and time again as I witnessed all 89 racers come through the only car-accessible aid station of the race.  I was truly grateful to be standing at that aid station for most of my morning because I realized how special the trail running community was.

After a 25 minute drive from the aid station back to Phoenicia, I found myself once again waiting.  Waiting for the first finishers.  Waiting for Josh.  Just…waiting. The time keeper and finish line photographer didn’t hesitate to come over and talk to me.  We briefly discussed the difference between the trail running community and the road running community.  Of course we mutually agreed the trail running community is truly special.  They asked me who I was so patiently waiting for with my cowbell in hand.  I told them my boyfriend and our friends.  They expressed concern that I might get tired of waiting, but I assured them that I could spend hours and hours of every weekend engulfed in the trail running scene if I could.  I was in my happy place and I would wait all day for Josh to come towards that finish line.

The first two finishers appeared and at first glance I noticed from a far that they were running stride for stride.  I thought to myself “wow, this is a close finish!  I wonder which one is going to out sprint the other”.  That sentence right there, that my friends, (and I’m ashamed to admit it) is a classic road racer mindset.  I snapped out of it once I saw one of the men had dry blood caked on his face. My next thought?  “What kind of trouble did this guy get himself into out on that trail?!”  The men finished side by side, tying for 1st place.

As the nosy person that I am, I decided to eavesdrop on the conversation between the race director and the two men.  As the story goes, the leader of the race had accidentally ran into a low hanging branch with a sharp knob on it which pierced his scalp.  The 2nd place runner came down the trail and noticed a pool of blood had accumulated.  He followed the trail of blood and came across his wounded competitor basically bleeding out due to this severe injury, but still moving forward.  The 2nd place runner luckily had two extra winter hats to offer to his fellow trail runner to control the bleeding.  With 11 miles still remaining in the race, the 2nd place runner wanted to keep the fearless leader of the race safe and in his care.  They stuck out the last 11 miles together and crossed the finish line with an epic story to tell.

It was a small moment like that as I continued to patiently wait for Josh that showed me the strength of the trail running community.  One man halted his competitive spirit to help a fellow racer.  Out of true sportsmanship, despite probably training for months to compete strongly in this race, he slowed his pace towards the finish line for the health of another man.  I crave the selflessness like that of the trial running community.

Shortly after, Josh rounded the corner and came towards the finish.  I congratulated him and guided him towards the table of food waiting for him and the other racers to munch on.  I asked him questions about the course which he happily answered.  I offered him Gatorade, water, more food, and some arm warmers for added warmth.  We headed back out to the finishing stretch of the race to wait for the rest of our trail running entourage.  And again, we waited.

Josh and I finished that day reflecting on our own separate adventures.  He had travelled 26.5 miles through rugged trails and slippery rocks.  I had seen only bits and pieces of the race and what the racers were experiencing and it left me wanting more.  More time spent in the mountains, more time spent on the trails, more time spent surrounded by other trail runners.

Two days ago I signed up for the Hyner 25k in April 2017 (returning next year as a racer rather than a spectator like back in April of this year) and I’ve been energetically researching trail races to fill up my 2017 race calendar.  I want to step on a trail race starting line and feel excited about the challenge of the trails to come rather than anxious about my pace out on the course.  I crave the ache in my muscles from tough ascents and technical footing.  I crave the stories I’ll be able to share upon crossing the finish line.  I crave the exhaustion.  I crave the passion shared between trail runners.

Don’t get me wrong, I am excited for the two remaining races of 2016 – both of which are road races.  I plan on running both my half marathon in a week and a half and my marathon in late November as hard as I can.  I know that I will ache and I know that I will be mentally tested during these races; however, I can’t help but look forward to my unoffocial “official retirement” from road racing and transitioning fully into the trail scene.  Hyner will be my official debut race as a rugged trail runner.

My wanderlust and craving for trails is at an all time high.  I look forward to satisfying these cravings.  I look forward to the dirt, the potential blood, the leaves crunching beneath my feet, the hydration pack comfortably resting on my back, the congenial smiles of my competitors, and the yearning for a challenge.

Yes, we may all show up at a starting line on a brisk fall morning with competition coursing through our blood.  Competition is inevitable in the human spirit.  But once out on the trail, the trail will speak for itself.  The trail becomes your biggest competition rather than the runners ahead and behind you.  I want to compete with myself.  I want to compete with the trail.  That is what I truly crave.

Dirty German 50k Race Recap

Dirty German 50k Race Recap

This past Sunday, May 15th, I finished my first ever ultramarathon.  I had signed up for the Dirty German 50k way back in the beginning of January because I knew I wanted to make the transition to ultrarunning.  I was itching for a longer race since I was officially fully recovered from my marathon debut back in November and I needed something to train for.  I had completed another Uberendurance race a few years back (the 1/2 Sauer 1/2 Kraut 1/2 Marathon) so I knew how well organized their races were.  I chose the Dirty German 50k because it was a trail ultra and I knew I wouldn’t want to do an ultra on the road.  It was also described to be “easy by trail running standards”.  In the description it said it would be a great race for 1st time ultrarunners.  This race was basically screaming at me to sign up.  So there I was on my computer on January 2nd signing up for this 50k.

received_10207427398541051Fast forward a few months and there I was on a cool May morning in Pennypack Park standing on the starting line surrounded by other racers.  I was wearing my Altra Lonepeaks, a neon SparklySoul, and my UltimateDirection Ultra Vesta pack.  I was accompanied by my boyfriend and training partner, Josh, who also had committed to running his first ultra on that cool May morning with me.  We had done 85% of all our long runs for the past few months together and we both had the same race goals so we decided to race it together.  Our goal was to run under 6 hours and as close to 5 hours as possible.  His speed and confidence running hills and trails mixed with my everlasting endurance and experience with longer distances made us a perfect team to race this ultra together.  So there we were together standing amongst nearly 200 other racers with an accordion playing German music before we were set off to run 31 miles.

I remember the first half mile to be rather crowded due to some congestion on the trail but I never felt like I was boxed in or stuck behind anyone.  There was always a way around runners if I needed to get around.  My anxiety about the start of the race was soon diminished as I settled in behind Josh and powered through some of the hills at the beginning of the race to get around people.

For the first 4-5 miles we were running with a few other racers as we settled into a pace that we knew we could sustain for the entire race.  We had set out to average about 10 minute pace but my watch kept recording splits in the 9 minute range.  I felt comfortable though and Josh didn’t feel like he was overexerting either so we kept the pace.

I passed a few women while hopping from stone to stone across the stream which allowed me to run right beside Josh now.  At some point in the race we also came across a dog owner trying to re-capture her golden retriever puppy who was just too excited to see all the runners.  Josh and a few other runners stopped to helped her but I (selfishly?) kept running.

There were also some sections of the course that were on pavement due to construction on one of the bridges we were supposed to originally cross.  Josh and I were pretty much alone at this point and we were both in very high spirits.  I was happy we were doing this race together and at this point it just felt like any normal Sunday long run we go on together.

Eventually a woman from NYC named Mary (shoutout to Mary!) who had raced this course before caught up to us.  She gave us a few pointers and tips about ultrarunning and Josh told her all about his race up at Hyner a few weeks ago.  I just listened in on the conversation and laughed at her clever race tips.  It distracted me for at least one mile and we got to meet a very nice person (hope you did well in your race, Mary!  It was nice meeting you!)

The miles were passing by quickly and I was barely paying attention to the mile splits we were running.  We stopped at an aide station I recognized that was near where we had started the 1/2 Sauer 1/2 Kraut 1/2 marathon.  I picked up an orange Gatorade and Josh asked for some ibuprofen which they graciously gave to him.  We continued on our way.  I ate some of my tortilla with peanut butter and raisins in it and Josh ate his Stingers.  Every so often we would pop a Shotblok in our mouth to replenish some electrolytes.  We were feeling good.

At every aide station after that we both would stop and grab a cup of Gatorade to maintain our electrolyte levels and to change it up from the water we were drinking from our packs (Josh has a Gregory which he loves and I have an UltimateDirection with I love).  Soon were heading back towards the finish line which would mark 25k complete.

As we were running up a hill, we heard a cowbell.  Josh made some snide comment about the cowbell and I predicted that it was probably my parents.  Surprise!  There were my parents standing at the top of the hill.  Josh surged up the hill and left me to climb up it myself (disclaimer: he’s a very strong hill climber so I’m used to it).  The next 2 or so miles we didn’t run together but I could still see him ahead of me.  I knew I would eventually catch him once the rolling hills stopped.  Some 25k racers who had started 30 minutes behind us began to pass me  – they were going sooo fast!  Regardless, before the completion of our 1st loop, I had caught back up to Josh and we were running side by side again.

Before race day, Josh had predicted that we would run a 5:15.  Through simple math, this would require our 25k split to be about 2:37.  We came through the 25k split in 2:23.  After some quick math we decided a sub-5 finish was completely attainable even if we ended up slowing down (which we knew was going to be inevitable).  Josh made us a new goal which would be to finish in under 5 hours.

received_10207427468102790So here were are back out on the course for the 2nd loop.  At this point we were pretty much alone except for a racer about 100m in front of us and whomever was sneaking up behind us.  We started passing 25k runners and 50k runners in the opposite direction as they were still working on their 1st loop.  A few 50 milers also passed us in the opposite direction, some of which were going much faster than we were.  I was amazed by how fast they were going for a 50 mile race!

We just kept running, kept drinking, kept eating, kept moving forward side by side.  At aide stations we took no more than 15 seconds to grab what we needed and continue to move closer to the finish line.  We had a deadline now.  One of the other racers called us a “pacing powerhouse” because we were running such a consistent pace.  This gave us the confidence we needed to continue moving forward at the pace we were holding.  We don’t know your name but we appreciate your compliment A LOT.

Along one of the paved sections I was feeling sluggish but just happened to look down at one of my mile splits and see 8:17.  At this point we were already 25 miles in to the race  – why did I just run an 8:17 mile in a 50k?  That was never a split I intended on running and I definitely didn’t feel like I was running that fast.  I decided to just go with the flow and keep running.

We also started running with a woman who was in the 50 mile race who was keeping an impressive pace (I think she was actually running faster than we were at some points).  She was extremely friendly and it once again distracted me from any soreness or fatigue I was feeling.  I don’t know your name but I hope you also did well in your race!

received_10207427470022838Once we were back on trails our legs didn’t hurt as bad from the pounding on the road.  By this point 95% of the paved part of the course was done.  We just had to finish the last 4-5 miles of trail and we would be home free.  We took one last cup of Gatorade at the aid station, saw one of our Instagram followers, saw my parents, and started running up another hill.  I knew at this point that we would be under 5 hours if we just kept pushing.  We did end up powerhiking some of the last few hills and we bombed the downhills as much as we could (well, at least it felt like we were bombing the downhills).  I just kept repeating over and over again that we were so close to being done.  Josh probably thought I’d never shut up about being close to the end.  So. Close.

received_10207427468822808The last few miles are a series of rolling hills but we just kept pushing.  We exited the woods with a little less than 4 minutes to get to the finish line before the clock struck 5 hours.  I knew we had it.  I knew we would run under 5 hours.  We ran towards the finishing stretch, made the last turn into the grassy field and made our way towards the finish line.  We crossed the finish line in 4:58:04.  My Garmin Forerunner 230 recorded we averaged about 9:40 pace – not too shabby!!  My legs hurt but I was happy.  We had totally crushed our original goal of being under 6 hours and Josh’s prediction of us running 5:15.  We had ran our sub-5 like the new goal we had agreed upon mid-race and we had finished our first ever ultra.

At the finish line two patient gentlemen ripped off our bib tags.  The one gentlemen also asked me my age and I was perplexed by this question.  I answered with a fatigued “22” and before I could process what was going on he handed me a box and congratulated me on being the 3rd female in the 20-29 age group.  Well, this was a shock!  Josh and I were handed a hat and a medal that also functioned as a bottle opener (pretty awesome medal if you ask me!).

We staggered further through the finishing chute, exchanged a sweaty hug, and reflected briefly on actually completing an ultra.  Shortly after, my parents found us and congratulated us on a job well done.  At this point all I wanted to do was sit down.  We staggered over to a bench and I slowly lowered myself onto the bench.  We took a post-race picture to further document our accomplishment.

received_10207427421301620I soon started shivering because the air was still a bit cool.  I changed into a long sleeve shirt and we all agreed to start walking back to the cars.  This is where the fatigue and soreness finally hit me.  I could barely pick me feet more than 1 inch off the ground and I had a half mile walk back to the car…uphill.  It probably took me close to 20 minutes to walk that half mile.  Runners who were starting their 3rd lap of the 50 miler probably thought I was being overdramatic or something.  I’m sure I looked ridiculous and because I was staggering I probably even looked like I was somewhat drunk.

Later that night Josh and I indulged in some wine (me) and beer (Josh) and pizza – the perfect way to recover from an ultra!  We reflected on the race and all the wonderful people we met along the way.  Surprisingly neither of us ever felt like we “hit the wall” during the race.  I think this is because we ran together the whole time which allowed ourselves to be distracted by any fatigue or pain we may have had been feeling.  Unlike my marathon last November when I still wore Asics, my feet never truly hurt and my toes never started to bleed all thanks to my Altra LonePeaks and their wide toe-box feature. (I am completely obsessed with Altras!)  Throughout the race, Josh and I also paid close attention to how much and how frequently we were eating and drinking.  I believe that our training was perfect for this race which gave us a great advantage with confidence out of the hilly and trail sections.

Just as this race was described, it’s a great 50k to start with for the 1st time ultrarunner.  The course was extremely well marked and not very technical.  Because of these qualities, I would recommend this race to anybody who is just entering the ultra world.  Uberendurnace races are always very well-organized and they always have great prizes, food, and music (i.e. the accordion player!)

We are both extremely happy and pleased with our ultra debut.  I am beyond excited that I got to accomplish one of my goals for this year.  I’m lucky enough to have done it with such an amazing guy – without him I definitely wouldn’t have done as well as I did.  Cheers to many more ultras in my future!  I can’t wait to do another one!