Well, more early and less bright since it was dark when I got up at 4:30am. And dark when I fed at 5:00am. And dark when I pulled into the staging area in cool at 6:30. AND dark when I checked in just before 7:00am.
I checked in and sat in my car until the pre race meeting at 7:30am and dug into my goodie bag - which made me very excited!
The scores of very muscle-ly people wandering around my car did not.
What did I get myself into? I started calculating my potential finish pace, and verifying I would be off course by the 4.5 hour cut off.
Like any good runner I had at least approximate PR's (personal records) in my brain and did some rough calculations (because what else are you going to do at oh-dark-thirty prior to a race start besides get into the porta potty line?)
Based on nothing more than gut instinct, I decided 3 hours was a reasonable time to do a course that looked like this: (Google map of the course here)
This translates into a pace of about 13:44 min/mile.
Here's the sketchy math my gut instinct was doing at 5:30am
Fact 1: My last marathon and half marathon season with regular training was 2006.
Fact 2: The last 1/2 marathon I did was a road (flat) race in spring 2011. I finished in 2:58. Didn't train, miserable finish that ended in me basically crawling and clawing my way over the finish line. And being passed by a guy in a cast in the last mile. No kidding.
Fact 3: The only long distance running I've been doing since is the 10 mile Buffalo Migration races the last 2 years - which have been at a pace ~10:30 min/mile.
Fact 4: I did this course in reverse as a ride and tie and with 2 humans and 1 horse, and I managed to finish this course in ~2 hours.
Plug this information into a complicated, sleep deprived algorithm (patent pending), and the result is 3 hours.
Having this result was vitally important, because I had a feeling at some point on the course I was going to get very very tired and the only thing going to keep me going was the whole "I only have to run until 11am" trick. After 11am, I could lay down and die or do whatever until I turned into one of those skeletons on the trail that were holding signs saying "I made it this far. Oct 2012".
I had struggled with whether or not I should take a camera, but had decided that I didn't want the weight or bulk and once I stuffed my fuel belt pouch with Justin's nut butter pouches there wasn't room anyways. I've been having issues with my back lately and even had to buy a new fuel belt for this race because the one I have been using during the ride and ties was doing unkind things to my lumbar muscles. Trying to shove the camera on the belt threatened to put pressure on the same areas that I had spent $50 avoiding......
Then, last minute I discovered I could stuff my phone into a side pocket of the stretchy undershorts of my running skirt and so brought it along. Life is short and crappy pictures are better than none.
I had a few goals for this race
1. Enjoy the scenery
2. DON'T FALL DOWN
3. Finish upright, and not on my hands and knees begging to be put out my pain
4. Be able to drive myself home post race (and then therotically study for my 8am block exam the next day...)
I now direct you attention to the elevation map above.
Do you see that downhill portion? I did what every sane person would do when faced with the uphill that comes shortly afterwards - run like an insane person down the mountain so that I could crawl up the other side if necessary.
My mantra down was "toes up don't trip toes up don't trip toes up don't trip". It actually wasn't so hard this early in the race. I wasn't tired, the trail was a nice wide jeep track and since I have short legs and a low center of gravity I flew down that grade like a crazy person.
Besides calculating race finish times at the start, my other big decision was what shoes to wear. The Merrells have been getting progressively more uncomfortable for long distance running. The longer I run barefoot, the wider my feet get and the less they like being constrained in any manner. The Merrells, which were OK 12 months ago and borderline 6 months ago, are probably best reserved for endurance riding where I do my running in short spurts. I was guarenteeing myself toe blisters if I wore them on this race - but my alternative was my runnamocs 3 - which have a very very very thin sole. At a previous rocky training trail run had bruised up my soles very quickly. About 1 hour pre race I decided that some hot spots that weren't actually unbearably painful while running were perferable to bruised painful soles, so went with the Merrells.
Which was a very very very wise decision. Lots and lots of rocks....hopefully I read this post and remind myself of this fact when I'm agonizing over a shoeing decision next year.
I felt compelled to point out to the runners I was with where I had biffed it 2 weeks prior. My palms are even healed yet. I passed both spots with a bit of a shudder. Toes up toes up toes up!!!!!
Apparently my post fall trauma stress wasn't unique. Over the course of the race I heard many other runners point out sections of the trail that they had done spectacular falls in the past. I actually saw someone in front of my fall twice in a row and split her lip open pretty good. So, my conclusion is that stumbling and falling, especially once you start getting fatigue is one of those hazards of trail running.
Finally we were headed up. I was walking but so was everyone else.
It was really interesting. In most (road) races I've done, I'm one of the few runners doing a walk/run strategy. At a trail run EVERYONE (at least, everyone that is mid pack) is doing a run walk strategy depending on what the terrain looks like. One or two long legged guys passed me going up the hill, but for the rest of the time I held my own and managed to trudge up that dam(n) hill no slower than all those other muscle-y people who were talking about their 50K and 50 mile races. I even broke into a jog every time there was a little flat spot before there was incline again.
We finally reached the top. There was an aid station serving Gu's, water and gatorade, so I filled up my bottles but reached for the Justin nut butter packets I brought with me. I just can't do the carb heavy Gu's without protein anymore.
The trail was really well marked.
Apparently one person got lost last year.
They had a special sign for him.
At 1.5 hours in I felt pretty good. Tired, I could feel that my right IT band was "there" but it wasn't actually giving me problems, I felt a twinge or two in my right hip (also IT band related), and I just had an overall feeling I needed to be careful to not to something weird with my right side or I might end up on the ground. Not that unusual - I have some chronic issues on my right side from over training when I was in my late teens and it was a reminder that I've been a bit lax on PT exercises. But honestly, if that was all I was going to pay for, screaming down that huge hill, it was going to be a good day.
There was a pretty little flat section that was single track on the side of a hill that just went on and on and on. I fell in with a group of runners and we ran along for a couple of miles at this perfect little pace. It was wonderful. I've never run with a pack of runners like that. I'm usually too slow, or because I'm doing walk run during my longer distances and I'm faster than the typical person that does a run/walk strategy, no one really matches up to my pace. But apparently, trail running is where everyone my pace is :).
At 2 hours I had to fight the urge to ask fellow runners how far we had come. I knew dam(n) well that I had 1 hour to go, and I had gone about 9-10 miles. I was still managing a nice little run when it wasn't uphill but I was having to be really careful of my feet. I wasn't able to recover from little stumbles as well, and it was far far better to prevent a stumble than expend the energy and muscle to keep myself from slamming into the ground.
I told myself "just 3 more miles to go" and since it was 10:00am, that I would be off the trail by 10:30!!! (knowing darn well I wasn't going to do 10 min miles into the finish....but it's amazing how you can lie to yourself, knowing full well you are lying....and have it make things more OK.
At about the 10 mile mark was another aid station. A runner caught up to me and exclaimed how "strong" a runner I was. I looked at her in shock. Strong has not been an adjective used to describe my running. Ever. I smiled and laughed and told her it was my first trail race and she told me I was doing really really well. And then, because I was using approximately 90% of my concentration at that point to keep from stumbling and falling down, and talking apparently occupies 20% of my concentration, tripped and had a minor fall. Meaning I fell on my hand that still has a healing scar, but since I did not bleed, cuss, we will count that as minor.
At 2:15 I told myself that I could walk all the uphills AND the flats and only run the downhills.
At 2:20 I found out that running actually hurt my muscles LESS than walking so I did a version of fartlek training. ie: I ran as fast as I could to a certain point, and then I walked. We will ignore that the "point" I was running towards was measured in yards, and "as fast" was this slow pitiful shuffle that was designed solely to propel me towards the finish line faster. I've never ran until it hurts less to run than to walk before....
At 2:23 I told myself that I could reformulate a different plan of "attack" for the trail at 2:30. But between now and then I had to just keep going without thinking. At 2:30 I would do *something* different. And that *something* was going to be magical.
At 2:25 I tried to take a pretty picture of a pond. But my camera was out of juice. Kind of like me. So I'm reposting someone else's pic of the pond.
At 2:30 I started asking runners how much further, even when I knew where I was and it was about a mile and when they answered "about a mile" I would cheerily say "I thought we were close!!!! " to hide the fact that my asking was one of those end stage desperation questions designed to trick my brain to keep going.
At 2:33 I started to think of the pointy rocks and the narrow banks of the trail as evil and malovelent, just ready to reach out and grab my little feet and flip me end over end, bashing my face and healing palms into the ground. I think at this point I start to really define what makes trail running different from road running for me. Notably, in a trail race/run I can't go into that "zone mode" late into the race where I just pretend I'm a zombie and keep going with minimal of effort. I have to stay engaged every second to make sure I don't trip or stumble on rocks and roots. I've perfected over YEARS the minimalist stride that wastes no effort or energy and just skims over the road. That's a recipe for disaster on the trail and I had to work really really really hard to NOT go there where I was really tired. I also found myself holding back and keeping more in reserve because I didn't want to get to the point where I was so tired I couldn't recover from a stumble.
At 2:35 I told myself that I could see cars parked on the road and I could keep going. I started giving myself little pep talks about what I want to accomplish athletically in the future.
At 2:38 My calves started to cramp, which was a total WTF moment - I'm having elyte issues on a cool day? Really? I've been taking a good amount of elyte caps, drinking plenty of water, and ate on the course. It was only after the race that I realized that my brow was completely caked in sweat, that I had sweated enough that the pink dye on my older sports bra stained my white shirt, AND although I drank consistently and refilled my bottles at every aid station, I didn't have to pee until I got home. And when I actually calculated my caloric intake I only ate 360 calories for a 2.5 hour effort, which is a tad low (250-300/hour is a good target). I don't get sick running like I do during endurance rides so I thought I could just wing it when it came to eating and drinking. Which just goes to show that unless you have a PLAN for an event and stick to that plan, you can't make the best decisions in the moment.
2:41 I turn the corner and there's 30 seconds on the clock. I tell myself I can make it over the finish line before the clock turns 2:42. And I do it. And I get a little choked up because it was HARD and I had to pep talk myself, which doesn't usually happen, and I haven't done a lot of things that have been truly hard FOR ME and where I've felt I've really given it my all - and I really feel like I did that day. And even though my three hour goal was a totally made up goal that wasn't based on anything but a guess of when I would finish, I did it faster. I ran 'til the end. I didn't get hurt. I kept going even when I didn't feel like it. Now THAT'S a Dam(n) good race.
I knew with the number of runners milling around there was no way that I was in the placings for my age group, and felt like I just needed to get home - probably a bit of cramping muscles, tiredness from being up at 4:30, and the stress of knowing I needed to study SOMETHING for the test. I ate pizza and drove and took off my shoes.
That wasn't the hard part.
Trying to dump the appropriate amount of water out of my nalgene bottle out of the window in order to mix up a packet of cytomax, while driving the canyon out of Cool was the tricky part. The cytomax packet was YEARS old but I felt a certain craving in my stomach that I know means drinking cytomax will help and is needed and hoped that something that processed was immortal....but after taking one sip decided not to risk whatever mycotic infection was waiting for me in THAT particular mix and threw the Nalgene bottle in the back seat.
The race results were uploaded really quickly after the race and when I got home, I saw to my surprise I was 5th out of 11 for my gender/age group!!!!
That evening I was pretty sore. Just like post-10 mile Migration my IT bands and hip flexors were SCREAMING.
But then, just like after the buffalo migration, I got up this morning (the next day) and I'm barely sore. Not sore going up stairs at all. Can feel the quads a bit going down stairs and my IT bands (both sides) feel like I probably shouldn't do anything radical for a day or two.....but overall I'm FINE. I suspect I'll be a little more sore tomorrow (DOMS and all that) but I have to conclude that I'm preparing adequately for this kind of athletic effort. It's just so weird. To be doing so many LESS miles and feel so much better at double digit races.
In fact, my arms and lats are as sore as any other part of my lower body from stabilizing and balancing.
FYI - this is where I'm going to start blabering on about training and stuff and I'm pretty much done with my story. So feel free to tune out :).
Early on in my marathon training someone told me it wasn't the mileage that made you tired - it was the time spent on your feet and over the years I've come to believe they are right. In backpacking and hiking at some time point (usually around 5 hours) I'm sore, tired, and done and the point doesn't move based on how much weight I'm carrying, or how fast or far I've gone. My feet are just DONE at a certain time point. The interval training is preparing my cardio (was never out of breath in the 2 1/2 hour effort) and to some degree my muscles. My other normal activities (taking the stairs, walking, running the down hills in endurance rides) must be doing an OK job on the remainder of my muscle conditioning. I think the major thing I need to focus on is time on my feet - my treadmill I use for my walking desk still isn't unpacked, and I've been sitting in class instead of standing. I also need to see if I can do something to reduce the inflammation in my hip flexors and IT bands. So far it doesn't seem like any of my old issues are cropping up - the reduced mileage running "program" I'm doing is helping a lot - but I want to be careful.
Trail running may carry a higher risk of falling and traumatic injury, but I feel a lot less beat up than after a road 1/2 marathon or even after a 10 mile road race. The variation in terrain does a good job of "spreading" the stress around to different muscles and areas of the body, and is certainly easier on the feet. My ride and tie partner Michele told me that trail runners are less beat up than road runners and it possible you can keep doing it longer, and I think she may be right. I think I'll seek out trail races rather than road races in the future, even though trail races have those nasty things called hills.
In summary, I think doing a trail race is an excellent way for me to be "rider fit" and so far is the best non-horse activity that I feel really is adequately preparing me for the rigors of a 50 or a 100 mile endurance (horse) effort. It will be interesting to see how I feel after I do my next 50 on Dec 1!