The first rule of trying to beat your PR is to know what your PR actually is.
AG (F30-39): 36/39
Time: 8:22:49 (Since there was a timing mat at the beginning, I didn’t start the watch til I crossed the mat, but it appears they used gun time for the official time)
Distance: 31.02 mi (this is crazy because during the race it seemed very off)
Heart Rate: N/A
What I ate the night before: half of a peanut chicken noodle dish from Noodles that wasn’t very good
What I ate on race morning: bagel with cream cheese
What I carried with me: 8 gel packets, water, water with electrolytes in a disposable water bottle, mints
What I wore: t-shirt, shorts, arm warmers, ball cap, hydration pack
Gadgets: GPS watch, fitness tracker
I am so happy with how the race went, even though I didn’t make any of my goals and didn’t PR. I didn’t even make my fake PR, which I thought was 8:23. I don’t know what I was thinking, since my PR is 8:14, but I didn’t think of that until like 20 miles into the race. I even linked to the race report from the Fall Back Blast, where I set that PR, but I didn’t even verify it. I was mixing it up with my trail marathon PR, which is 7:22, I guess. This ended up being a good thing because it gave me something to fight for when I realized all of my goals were out of reach.
I drove down to packet pickup the night before, then made a quick drive-by of the race start to check it out, then drove to my hotel about a half an hour away. I ate a depressing dinner; I guess I should have stuck with the spaghetti or something but I was worried about getting heartburn from the red sauce. I sort of put myself in the hole, nutrition-wise, but oh well. I went to bed fairly early (for me) and I actually slept! I think I got about 5 hours. I woke up before my 6:45 alarm, but overall I was very happy with the amount of sleep I got, considering I’d have an almost 5 hour drive ahead of me after the race.
I got to the race start with about 20 minutes to spare, which is a lot less time than I’d like, but I had enough time to do everything I needed to. Parking was very easy, and it was a very short walk to the start/finish area. The 50 milers had been off for hours, and the half marathoners would start after us 50Kers. The start was a bit of a surprise for most people, but that’s because so many people were talking while the race director was giving his speech.
Section 1: Start to AS 3 (1.5 mi section, 1.5 mi overall, 13:32 section pace, 13:32 overall pace): I guess I really cruised through this section! It’s fairly easy, a few little rolling hills and then a nice section through some pines. The trail is really wide here, so there wasn’t the normal bunching that you see at the start of a race with single track early on. I breezed through the aid station as I didn’t need anything. This section is actually run 4 times during the course, but this was the only time I did it in that “clockwise” direction. I can’t tell if it’s much easier that way, or if it was easier because it was the first segment in the race. Possibly both?
Section 2: AS 3 to AS 8 (0.9 mi section, 2.4 mi overall, 14:47 section pace, 14:00 overall pace): I’m not 100% certain why there are two aid stations so close together, but with three vastly different courses for the three distances, there is probably some logic to it I don’t understand. I didn’t need anything at this aid station since it was also so close to the start, so I cruised through. Honestly, I don’t remember much about this section, other than the “Confusion Corner” point, where there are so many different directions to go. The 50 milers have to go through that section quite a few times and go different ways, so they have volunteers out there helping to get people through. I slowed down a bit here so there must have been some climbing involved, but since it was less than a mile, it’s easy to forget.
Section 3: AS 8 to AS 9 (4.2 mi section, 6.6 mi overall, 15:29 section pace, 14:57 overall pace): This section is really hard! It has probably the most challenging climbs of the day, including a huge one right after the aid station. It does have some sections to run, so it’s probably my favorite type of trail running. I don’t mind a few decent climbs, as long as they aren’t as steep as Moose Mountain. I think the course description undersold how much of this section can be run, but maybe for a faster runner it wouldn’t seem that way. For the amount of climbing/uphills in this section, I think that’s a pretty freaking great section pace! The aid station/turnaround was near a horse camp, and I could hear some horses whinnying when I passed. I don’t really like horses, but that was kind of fun! I drank some pop at the aid station and grabbed a couple cookies. At some point during this section, I ate a gel. Since it was an out and back, I got to encounter all the runners ahead of me on the way back, which is okay but also gets old.
Section 4: AS 9 to AS 8 (4.2 mi section, 10.9 mi overall, 16:20 section pace, 15:29 overall pace): Dang, I slowed down a lot here! I am surprised. I did have some minor stomach trouble here, as I drank too much pop at the aid station and it made me feel kind of gross. I ate one of the cookies but had to force it down, and then ate a mint (Lifesavers wintergreen). I need to break those mints in half because I was sick of the darn thing but didn’t have anywhere to put it and was not about to litter. I didn’t have a gel during this section because of the stupid mint! That was probably dumb. I started running into 50 milers during this section, which was neat! They were spaced out farther than the 50Kers on the previous section, so it didn’t interrupt my rhythm as much.
Section 5: AS 8 to AS 3 (0.9 mi section, 11.8 mi overall, 17:12 section pace, 15:37 overall pace): I have no clue why I slowed so much during this section. I didn’t stop at the aid station, so I guess I was just dawdling.
Section 6: AS 3 to AS 2 (start/finish) (1.5 mi section, 13.3 mi overall, 15:30 section pace, 15:36 overall pace): Here, I started to encounter half marathoners finishing up as well as 50Kers finishing their first loop. Both were a little demoralizing, especially since the half marathoners were finishing the same distance as me, but had started 45 minutes later. Of course, they had a bit easier terrain to run and they didn’t have to conserve energy for another 18 miles, but still!
Section 7: AS 2 to AS 1 (5 mi section, 18.3 mi overall, 15:48 section pace, 15:40 overall pace): This section starts out with about 2 miles to just cruise. I vowed to myself that I would run all the runnable sections, because I think at this point I had realized that my A and B goals were out the window but that my C goal was within reach, if I kept on it. I also thought that meant a PR, so I was really holding on to that. Once the two miles of mostly flat terrain ends, it’s 3 miles of rolling hills, some of them rather large. I think this section’s hilliness is undersold, which is the opposite of the description of the first portion of the course. I thought the aid station was 4.5 miles away, not 5, so I was getting extremely frustrated until I checked my pace chart and realized it was farther away than I thought. At the aid station, I reapplied sunscreen and some Vaniply to a few spots that were chafing.
Section 8: AS 1 to AS 2 (3.9 mi section, 22.2 mi overall, 17:29 section pace, 15:59 overall pace): Woof! This section was hard! The funny thing is, I don’t remember it being hard physically. I do remember it being hard mentally, because I was running with a lot of 50kers who were finishing while I had one more lap to go. It had a few hills, but still.
Section 9: AS 2 to AS 1 (5 mi section, 27.2 mi overall, 15:32 section pace, 15:54 overall pace): I left the finish line determined to give it my all on this last loop. I knew that AS 1 was closing at 3, so I planned to run right through it. I was starting to hurt a bit at this point, and I know my gait was starting to get wobbly, but I continued to run even if I wanted to walk and/or lie down in the grass and quit. And sure enough, I ran this section 4 minutes faster than the first time, although most of that was because I didn’t stop at the aid station. At this point, I still had hope of finishing in 8:20, and I was jazzed leaving the aid station.
Section 10: AS 1 to the finish line (3.9 mi section, 31 mi overall, 18:03 section pace, 16:12 overall pace): Well, any hope of finishing in under 8:20 died in this section. I am still a bit confused about what was so hard about this particular section, because it isn’t that bad, but I was also sort of crushed by it. I had the physical energy to continue but my joints were starting to hurt, especially my hips. The bottoms of my feet weren’t feeling great either, and I had blisters on both heels. At one point, the blister on my right heel burst and it started to feel like absolute fire every time I took a step, without the nice cushion of fluid to prevent my sock from rubbing on raw skin. I was demoralized and knew that I didn’t have the 8:20 finish in me, but I kept going. I ran when I didn’t want to run, even some uphills. I was getting passed by 50 milers who looked like they were in much better shape than me for the most part. I thought even the 8:23 was beyond hope, but I kept on pushing. I didn’t want to give up, and I started to look at the race as mental test for what I’ll be facing at FANS. I saw the red Saucony signs which marked the approach of the finish line, and realized I could still squeak under 8:23 if I pushed. So I pushed, and even though the stupid finish is UPHILL for some terrible reason, I ran through the finish with a smile on my face and finished under 8:23 per my watch. (If only I’d known to start my watch at the gun instead of when I crossed the timing mat…)
After the finish, I got my finisher’s token and walked around elated. I know why this race is so popular, and it’s not because the course is challenging but fun, or because the scenery is beautiful. It’s because everyone involved is so nice. Like, I want to cry when I think about how nice everyone was. The finish was crowded with people who were shouting encouragement at me, and I couldn’t stop grinning and thanking them. I sat down and had a ginger ale and talked with a volunteer, then headed off to find a bathroom. I decided I wasn’t quite ready to go inside anywhere, so I sat down and had a nice conversation with a 50 miler name Pat, and then another guy who I know by face but not name (and was too spaced out to ask for his name) who recognized my Rocksteady Running gear. I talked with Pat’s cute daughter who was telling me all about her dolphin she had gotten at an arcade or something (I wasn’t quite following), and then I had to get up and go because some woman in the medical tent was throwing up her entire soul and I couldn’t deal with seeing that or even trying to ignore it but knowing it was happening.
I walked over to the lot where I thought my car was, realized it was in a different grassy lot, and hobbled over to that lot to change my clothes (I changed everything except my sports bra and underwear, I didn’t even care that I took my pants off in the middle of a field) and then drove home.
I had a lot of thoughts and feelings during this race, mostly about my future as an ultrarunner. I don’t know what was going on in my head, but I was thinking “Why am I doing this?” quite a bit. That tends to happen a lot when I’m doing a race that’s far from home and requires a lot of money and effort to attend; I feel like I would rather just go back home and go to bed. Unfortunately this race gives a couple primo opportunities to just quit, since you come through the finish area at 13 and 22 miles. And I thought about quitting a couple times, and I’m not sure why. I really do enjoy the sport and by the end I was reminded why I do it: because of the strong connection with other runners and volunteers, because of the beauty of the outdoors, because I do love the challenge and the struggle, and because a runner’s high is an unbeatable feeling.
I was surprised by how much self-doubt I felt during the race despite overall performing pretty well. I suppose that’s partially because I have not been training that hard, which was evident from the pain in my legs and feet. I know I made a lot of nutrition mistakes during the race (and leading up to it), but I never really felt like my energy was lagging, I just felt like it hurt so much I didn’t want to run. But I still did. I ran almost all of the runnable sections of the race, with a few exceptions: one downhill that was pretty steep and a little bit of time after my blister exploded (but it actually hurt more to walk than to run). I feel like I pushed harder than I have in the past, and I’m pretty proud of that. This is still faster than both of my other runs on the Ice Age Trail (as part of Chippewa Moraine – obviously a different section of the trail), so I’ll call it an Ice Age Trail PR.