I woke up on Saturday thrilled to get going. The race didn't start until 9am so when I woke up at 6 I had plenty of time to leisurely eat breakfast and get my pack together. I was sharing a cabin with some of my best running buddies: Nick (my VERY good running buddy), Coleen, Sarah, Debbie, Julie, Deb and Stu. The excitement was just overwhelming. As you can see we had this awesome cabin, the sun was shining, my best friends were with me, and we had 3 days of awesome trail running ahead of us! It felt like I was at summer camp. I've never been to summer camp, but I thought it would be exciting like this. But who knows. Maybe summer camp actually sucks.
You couldn't beat the scenery and weather at the start of the race. A bit chilly in the morning, but clear and sunny! Just look at these views! The race was on much of the same course as the Sylamore 50k that I ran a few weeks ago. The start/finish was the first and last aid station at Sylamore, so I knew we would be going up a big hill to begin with.
Once we started, I hitched onto the tails of Coleen and Sarah. Within a mile I realized I was going too fast, especially since I had 2 more days of racing. I was breathing heavily and I didn't see Debbie, Deb and Julie behind me. I hadn't run all week and that usually makes it hard on my lungs for a while. So I stepped off the trail to wait for the rest of the girls.
I was really excited to run with Debbie, Deb and Julie. Sometimes I go several weeks without seeing them since they live in KC, so being able to spend the whole day with them was definitely a treat. I also liked their pace. I didn't really come out to this race to "race". I thought of it more like a nature hike, with light running sprinkled in. This was pretty acurate, considering the length and steepness of some of the hills.
Debbie definitely has a special place in my heart, as my trail mom. She was the first good friend I made when I started trail running, and she's always treated me like family. And she's cheery. And she just always makes me happy! So running on these beautiful trails with my Debbie and all my wonderful friends on this sunny day was like heaven, until....
Three or four miles in I started getting some significant pain in my IT band. I thought this was pretty odd as I rarely have trouble with my IT band anymore, and if I do it just gets a little sore toward the end of an ultra. Not this full-on-downhill-limp-3-miles-in crap! I had a lot of miles left to run! I had a bit of a meltdown which hopefully nobody noticed since I was running in the back. But somehow I pulled myself together. Possibly with the help of some ibuprofen. I don't remember exactly when I took it, but I know I had some earlyish in the race.
I went back to being a happy cheery camper with some dull background pain. Thank you drugs. I think. We were running around, happy as can be. There was a steep long climb after the 2nd aid station (around 10 miles?), and the slope was exposed to the sun. We started complaining about the heat, although in retrospect it was really mild compared to the next day.
A couple miles in, we saw our KC friend, Brad, who informed us that the unmanned aid station was out of water. None of us had filled up at the previous aid station but I wasn't particularly worried with my 2 liter pack. I also figured the RD would just go out there and refill the water. I was wrong about the refilling. Apparently that location is impossible to reach in any reasonable amount of time. I didn't end up running out of water, but a lot of people did. Some people were running with single water bottles and were not prepared to run 10 miles at midday with no refills. Some people started filling their bottles in the waterfalls along the course. I guess that was a better option than refilling from the stream but I was glad I didn't reach the point where I had to do that. I don't want no giardia!
At the turnaround point, things started going to hell for some of my friends. Deb was out of water and had an upset stomach. I ran for a while thinking my friends would catch up, but I couldn't see them behind me. I stopped and waited for a while and still, nobody showed. I thought I heard Debbie telling Julie to go on ahead but I couldn't tell what was going on. Eventually, I decided to run on. I found out later that Debbie had turned her ankle pretty badly. Luckily she had friends to keep her company.
I, on the other hand, had unwittingly been bitten by the competitive bug I had vowed to ignore. One of the girls we were running with, Laura, had run on ahead while I waited for the other girls. I started thinking about catching her. Silly me. So I started running faster than I did the first half. Then I started thinking that I could get a negative split. Now I was racing against people AND myself. Drats.
Eventually I had Laura back in my sight, but when we reached the aid station she was in and out like a ninja. It took me a while to get in and out. I was waiting for access to the water. My hydration pack is also a pain to deal with in general. I have a Camelbak bladder inside a Nathan pack because I prefer the bite valve on the Camelback, but it doesn't fit very well inside the Nathan. Requires a lot of cramming. Well when I finally got everything filled and recrammed, Laura was long gone.
I slowed down a lot in this section. At least I felt like I did, because I couldn't see Laura anywhere. Eventually the pain from my IT band started creeping back and I took another dose of ibuprofen. I struggled a lot in this section and did more walking than I would have liked. My stomach was also pretty grumbly, so I was glad when I reached the last aid station.
I made a pit stop then grabbed a few bites to eat: pringles, cookies. Mmmmm. The volunteer at the aid station asked if I needed anything else. "Nope," I said, "just want to get to that finish line!" Leaving the last aid station is almost always an energy booster. It certainly was for me. I had a renewed desire to reach the finish line as soon as I could. I looked down at my watch and it said 6:20-something (time on the course not 6:20 in the evening). I was pretty sure there were about 5 miles to the finish line, so I set an agressive and hopeful goal of getting to the finish line in an hour.
Seems like a pretty slow pace, but when you're talking about technical trails, 12-minute miles are pretty good. And I knew there were some big hills I'd have to walk. So I tried to keep a decent pace on the flat parts. Probably 10-minute miles. I wouldn't let myself walk unless I was going up a particularly long, steep hill. After a while I caught up to and passed Laura. We guessed about how much mileage we had left and decided it was probably 2 to 2.5. I knew I'd have a big hill coming up, because I knew the end of the race was downhill for about a mile. So I ran as much as I could. I even ran part way up the steep hills.
I felt like I was probably running a little recklessly for the first day, but man, when I'm near the finish line, I can't help but kick it into gear. As I was power walking the big hills, I noticed a new pain. My left achilles tendon was starting to ache. I figured it was just irritation on the surface due to my low-cut socks and high-backed NB 100s. I was stupid to wear the low-cut socks. Not only did they slide down on my ankles, they also allowed a bunch of leaves and crap to get in my socks. By the time I realized I had a problem I was too committed to the finish to slow down or care about anything. I ended up finishing well, in 7:23. I had a 17-minute negative split. Of course, this was much slower than my 6:27 finish at Sylamore, but I ran the first half slower on purpose. And there were some pretty gnarly hills at the end of the course that weren't part of Sylamore.
I happily gathered my clothes and towel and headed to the stream with Coleen. Who needs the trouble of making an ice bath when there's a cold stream nearby?! It was really cold when we stepped in, but after hanging out for a few minutes, it became pretty comfortable. The water was clear and I saw tiny fishes swimming around my feet. I thought they were cute until Coleen started making jokes about Jaws. One of the fishes was gray like a shark. I kept imagining a tiny shark approaching me. I moved my feet around and yelled at the fish to move along. They didn't pay much attention to me. But they also did not tear the flesh off my ankles, so everything turned out ok.
I was definitely sore after the race, but I wasn't worried about the next day yet. To be continued...