Well Friday was pretty awesome too, and when Nick picked me up from work I had that going-on-a-road-trip giddiness. That stuff rarely lasts more than an hour in the car. And most times the trip never ends up being as exciting as you've built it up in your head. I'll admit that after 2 or 3 hours in the car I was wondering, "Are we theeeeerrrre yet???" I've never driven by Branson before, but I'm still pretty confused about what and where it actually is. I saw signs for what seemed like hours. Meanwhile, the side of the highway was dotted with an never-ending stream of businesses, gas stations and homes, which made it seem like we were driving through a very very long small town. I still have no idea whether Branson is a city or a small country in Missouri.
We caravanned with a couple of lovely ladies: my oldest (not talking about age) ultra lady friends, Debbie and Coleen. After what seemed like an eternity, we arrived in Mountain View, Arkansas, ate at Pizza Hut then headed to our hotel to meet up with the rest of our posse: Deb, Stu and Paul. We settled in, chatted and giggled. Ok, the guys laughed and the girls giggled. Don't want to offend those male egos. I think we turned the lights out by 8:30. And not long after...after we were done laughing about farting stories...silence came.
We got up dark and early at 5am! I was already pretty excited. More excited than nervous actually. And I was literally bouncing around by the time we were getting ready to drive to the start line. We arrived 1.5 hrs before the start and we spent most of that time discussing our trips to the bathroom. "I think I need to go again." "I've gone three times!" The general consensus is that ultra runners were raised by very impolite wolves, who promote discussion of farts, poop and chafing.
We finally saw Micah arrive, a runner from Lawrence who would be doing his first ultra! It suddenly occurred to me, that as newly elected president of the Lawrence Trail Hawks, it was my responsibility to gather everyone together, grab a stranger to take a photo, then exclaim "Picture formation everybody!" I learned this from the previous president, Gary, who takes a photo at every group run. I think he'll be proud.
I ran with Debbie, Deb and Coleen from the start. We started off on a flat road and after a quarter mile or so we went up a big hill. I thought we'd walk but everybody just kept running. It was like a game of hill chicken. Nobody would walk because they thought nobody else wanted to walk. I tried walking for a few steps but nobody else joined me so I started running again. Once we got to the top of the hill we turned onto a dirt road and got a nice downhill section. We soon arrived at the infamous water crossing, which was reportedly at a record low this year. In the deepest section, it was a little over my knees.
Right out of the water crossing, we began our trek up a steep hill. We walked of course. Sections of the course reminded me a lot of trails from home. Sometimes I thought of Clinton Lake. One time I actually felt like I was heading toward Land's End except the drop off was on the wrong side. Sometimes I thought of Perry Lake and there were even a few spots that reminded me of WyCo (minus the mud). The trail conditions were great. There was very little mud and it was confined to the few miles around the river.
I remember thinking, after the first aid station, that I was surprised to still be hanging with the girls. In case you don't know, I run with some pretty tough chicks. Just two weeks earlier I was on a training run with them and lagged behind most of the way. Well I suppose my legs were pretty fresh after taking a week off running for a tailbone injury and a very light pre-race week.
I was even more surprised when I accidentally dropped Deb and Debbie after leaving the 2nd aid station. We had started an unofficial leader rotation. I think the Double D's had both lead for a while and eventually I stepped up, although I was worried I'd just slow everybody down. Running order is an interesting thing. For the same speed, I always feel like I'm being pushed harder when I'm following somebody. When I'm in front I feel more comfortable and sometimes even run faster. Well the gap was growing between us and the Double D's, and I thought about slowing down but Coleen reminded me that it was a race and it was ok to run ahead.
So we went on but after a while I did realize that I was breathing pretty heavily and decided I needed to back off a little on the pace. I started to let my breathing dictate the pace since my legs felt pretty solid. The course is an out-and-back, so it was easy to size up our competition. And say hi to people. We started counting the number of women who were ahead of us. 1, 2, 3, 4, and before we knew it 15! I haven't been in many ultras that HAD 15 women total. And we definitely didn't feel like slackers. Just speaks to the awesomeness of the ladies who were out there.
We reached the halfway point at 3:15, and Coleen mentioned that we could finish in 6:30 with even splits. I thought that was pretty unlikely, until Coleen started leading out of the aid station. She was a machine and I was hanging on to her heels for dear life. If anyone could get us to the finish line with even splits it was her.
It turned out Coleen was the perfect running partner. I kept thinking, "There's no way I'm going to keep up with her. I'll just hang as long as I can." My thoughts were grounded in a good deal of statistical evidence. I have never beaten Coleen at anything. Maybe a 10k once a few years ago? Anyway, she generally kicks my butt at any distance from 5k to 100mi. The only advantage I have over her is in sprinting, and that is pretty much useless in an ultra. She ran hills I probably would have walked. I told her later that I felt like I was cheating, running behind her, because I probably wouldn't have run those hills. She replied that she ran them because she thought I would give her a hard time if she didn't. I guess sometimes lack of communication pays off! Maybe there is some benefit in bottling up your feelings in an ultra. If I told Coleen I was getting tired, maybe she would say she was tired too so we would both agree to walk more instead of run.
Coleen started having trouble about a mile out from the last aid station. Her calves were tight I think. Since I was feeling the urge to visit the facilities, I agreed to go on ahead so I could go to the restroom at the aid station and not lose too much time. Well it turned out she was only a few seconds behind me when we reached the aid station, so she graciously grabbed some food for me and walked while I took care of business. Once we started running again Coleen was going like she was on a mission. She had her headphones on. I started doubting myself again and thinking I wish I had some awesome tunes to listen to. By the time I asked her what she was listening to, thinking maybe she could sing to me to share some energy, she wasn't wearing her headphones anymore. I was obviously clueless. I was feeling a little spacey the last 10 miles of the race. Not particularly tired, just fuzzy. I ate and drank when I started feeling off.
The last 6 miles didn't last nearly as long as I was expecting them to. The trail was also much less hilly than I expected it to be. I guess I didn't study the elevation map very carefully, but I was really expecting a BIG climb. Actually I was looking forward to it. I wanted a walk break. Before I knew it, I was back at the water crossing. Coleen started crossing as I reached the other side and I shouted words of encouragement at her. I was really looking forward to crossing the finish line with her, but she urged me on ahead. I asked the volunteers at the crossing how far the finish line was, and they told me it was a little over a mile. At this point, that seemed like a long way to me.
I felt bad leaving Coleen behind after she had pushed me for so long. She had even filled my hydration pack for me at the last aid station so we wouldn't lose time while I took a bathroom break. But knowing Coleen, she would probably smack me around if I didn't try my hardest. After all, it was a race, as she had pointed out to me. So my first goal was to finish strong. My second, to catch that dude in the yellow jacket. And my third, to catch the chick in red who was ahead of the guy in yellow. Hint: Two out of three ain't bad.
Before I knew it I was at the dirt road that was mostly up hill. I walked the hill, meanwhile keeping yellow shirt in my sights. I wasn't sure I could catch him, but before I knew it I noticed him turning the corner to get on the paved road and head down hill. When I reached the road, I realized I had no chance of catching "chick in red". Yellow shirt also had a good lead so I tried my best to close the gap between us. I was getting pretty close to him toward the finish line, so I decided to sprint it in. I felt it would only be fair to warn him that I was about to pass him, but he couldn't match my pace. We joked about it at the finish line. He felt that the crowd should have warned him that I was sneaking up on him. I think my time was 6:26-ish, but I haven't seen the official results yet.
Coleen finished just a minute or two behind me. Micha finished in 6:55, and the Double D's finished just under 7 hrs. I have to say the race was definitely a success. The course was beautiful, the weather was perfect, and I was able to push myself the whole time without crashing. This wasn't a 50k PR for me, but if you take into account terrain, I feel like it effectively is. My 50k PR was 6:07 at Lunar Trek. It was neither as hilly nor as technical as this race.
Micah crosses the finish line at his first ultra.
So when I think about what went right and what went wrong, here's what I come up with:
- Coleen set a great pace. She is awesome!
- I've been practicing walking lately. I've been setting the treadmill to max incline and walking as fast as I can for 10-15 minutes. A suggestion of Coleen's. Although I could not match her HOUR. I think I would shoot myself on the treadmill for an hour. Besides, speed walking is a lot harder than you might think. I also walked with my coworkers at lunch time. I have a coworker who can walk a 35-minute 5k! So many ultra runners take walking for granted, including me, until recently. But practicing walking will teach you how to walk efficiently, and that definitely helped me on those hills.
- Strength training. I've been working out with a personal trainer 1-2 times per week for the past couple months. Like so many runners, for a long time I only ran. But a strong core is also important, especially for trail and ultra runners.
- Great weather. I prefer cool weather. I suck at running in the heat. I think it was in the upper 50's to low 60's, which was pretty good for shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. A few degrees cooler would have been nice too, but I really can't complain.
- Ok, I guess my mileage has been pretty low lately. Maybe I could have pulled off a better performance if I spent a little more time running during the week.
Debbie and Deb at the finish line.
P.S. Sorry I didn't post more pictures. I didn't actually take any except for this one of the Debs. But they do exist! I'll post them when I get more.