I know. I know. I haven't blogged in a month. It all started with my failure to write "3 Days of Syllamo: Day 3". So the synopsis is, my feet were all hamburgery so I didn't run the 20k. Instead I ate a lot of food covered in gravy. Also, we stopped on the side of the road to help a woman who had just been in a car accident (lost control coming around a bend), and I called 911. I felt very proud of myself for calling 911 for some reason, as if there was some other option, like just running around screaming.
In terms of the training blogs I haven't posted, I didn't run much the week after the races. I ran much more the week after that. Then I tapered.
I've run the Rockin K marathon twice. These have been my only marathons. The course consists mostly of horse trails in Kanopolis State Park in what I call "western Kansas" though it's truly in the middle of the state. The only part that isn't on horse trail is the part that isn't on any trail at all - Big Bluff Loop - just a path lopped through some brush, which sometimes follows deer trail.
In the mountains of Colorado, you can see horses on most trails, so you might wonder about the significance of horse trails in Kansas. It doesn't matter much in Colorado, as the ground is very dry and solid. In Kansas though, the ground holds more moisture and is softer. So horse trails in Kansas tend to have deep ruts and uneven footing, which is why horses aren't permitted on as many trails.
Back to the race. I signed up for the 50 miler last year but was injured by the time the race rolled around (thank you 3 Days of Syllamo, or should I say 2 Days of Syllamo, again). So co-RD Stacy Sheridan let me use the entry for this year's race instead. I've never really WANTED to do the 50 because I don't care for loops, but I was peer pressured. I should start hanging out more with slackers.
I've come a long way since my first running of Rockin' K. My first year I completed the marathon in a not-so-amazing time of 6:30-ish, while the second year I finished in 5:30-ish which earned me a 3rd place finish.
I had a great time catching up with all my Kansas friends at the pre race dinner. It was awesome to hang out with my some of best ultra girlfriends: Debbie, Deb and Coleen (too bad Sarah couldn't be there). Ironically all 4 of us were wearing the same shoes. I also got to meet Coleen's parents. I had never formally met them before but felt like I knew them anyway from being friends with Coleen so long. Coleen's dad ran Western States more than 30 years ago, before hardly anyone had even heard of ultrarunning. How cool is that?!
I felt surprisingly calm and collected going into this race. I'm usually a nervous wreck before every race. But this was my 4th year attending and 3rd year running the race, so that was probably a big factor. I was just excited to run and was not at all nervous.
As we gathered to the starting line, I decided to go ahead and position myself up front with Nick and Stu. I was sure they'd probably drop me at the beginning of the race but I just felt like starting there. Anyway, it's a small race so people could easily pass me if they wanted to. So when Phil Sheridan said "go" we set off down the hill, then up the hill and by the time we turned off the road to get onto the trail a half mile later I was surprised to still find myself hanging with Nick and Stu. I actually ended up in front of them both because I was on the inside of the turn onto the trail. There goes an extra foot or two I didn't have to run!
Theresa Wheeler was the only woman ahead of me. I knew she was a really strong runner (and she also has very long legs), so I wasn't about to make a move to pass her. I was running a comfortable pace. I didn't feel like I was exerting myself too much. I have no idea what that pace was because Nick was wearing the Garmin, but I would guess it was in the 9-10 min/mi range.
Miles passed and I couldn't believe that I was still running with Stu. Nick is always going on about how he wants to beat Stu at a race and Nick being the strong manly type, is faster than me. So I found it even more amazing that I was hanging with Stu. Three or four miles in, I was finally able to pass Theresa going up a hill. This course is nothing like the trails in CO. There are no extremely long climbs, but there are many short steep climbs, 20-45% grade for 50-100ft. I was having a BLAST running all the short climbs the first 13 miles. This really gave me an edge and the ability to keep up with Stu. Several guys passed me who I felt just wanted to pass me because they didn't want to be chicked. Seriously. If you're breathing so hard you sound like you just finished a 100 meter race maybe you shouldn't be passing me in a marathon (or 50). Nick passed me too but he was breathing normally, and anyway he needed to finish ahead of me so he could crew for my second loop.
At this point, I was really amazed that I was in front of all the other women, marathoners and 50 milers. I expected to do better this year than in others, but not THAT much better. I even took a bathroom break and still held the lead. I rushed on through the first manned aid station at about 13 miles to cheers of "first senorita" from Tony Clark. I guess I got ahead of Stu who had stopped a little longer, so the bathroom break didn't cost me too much. Stu and I hung together for the entire Big Bluff Loop, a 5 mile section that will sap the energy out of you before you know what's happening. Leaving the aid station you have a gradual climb for about a mile? It's probably only a 3-5% grade but it's somehow exhausting. Perhaps because it's not actually a trail, just mowed grass. The whole loop is not an actual trail.
Big Bluff loop is not named for that gradual climb though. It's named for the bluffs! There are 3 or 4 very steep climbs, of about 45% grade. Before race day I was trying to remember how steep they were, but since I wasn't in mountain shape the last time I ran the race, it was hard to judge what I "remembered". I was thinking they might actually be runnable, in my imagination. They were not. MAYBE on very fresh legs. But as I said, these aren't even true trails. Just a narrow strip of ground with a little less foliage than the surrounding area. Each climb, though they were no more than 100ft, sapped a little more energy.
I also noticed that my ankles were getting increasingly crankier on this loop of highly uneven terrain, but Stu and I hung together. I don't think I've ever talked to Stu that much in all of the years I've known him, so it was very fun. When we got back to the aid station, Nick was just leaving and Stu went on ahead and I opted to take a seat and change my socks. My feet felt happy with new socks. I grabbed my favorite ultra food, pringles, and headed on out.
I quickly noticed the sound of another runner behind me but didn't look back, assuming it was just another dude. About a mile out, however, a woman passed me. A marathoner. And she was running STRONG. Probably in the 8-9 min/mi range. I didn't give it a second thought. I needed to keep my pace under control, plus I wasn't running the marathon anyway. Plus my ankles hurt. I think she would have beat me fair and square even if I had wanted to race her.
At this point, I really could not complain about how I felt overall. I didn't have any stomach problems, my legs felt great despite being a little tired and the weather was great. Well the wind was out of the north, so running north kind of sucked but at least the wind was only blowing at 20 mph instead of 50 (which is pretty common for this race). Also, the temperature was perfect. I think everybody knows I hate running in the heat. In the morning, it was in the 50s and the temperature didn't get out of the 60s all day. Not too shabby. You couldn't ask for better really. In my previous experience, the race has started in the 30s-40s and gone up to 70s-80s in the afternoon.
Despite the favorable conditions, as I got closer and closer to the finish line, I kept thinking more and more about dropping at the marathon. My ankles hurt with every uneven step, which was all of them. With about 3 miles to go I caught up with Nick, who was having a rough time with his knees. We ran together for a mile or so, but eventually I went on ahead as he took his time soaking in the big water crossing.
This last section is highly annoying because it's covered in 4 inches of sand. So It was nearly impossible for me to run any incline with my tired legs and cranky ankles. It was probably faster to walk anyway. I just kept sliding back when I tried to run on it. But finally, finally I got out of the sand and onto the flat grassy area, the last section before the road!
When I got into the aid station/finish line I grudgingly had my pack refilled with water, grabbed more food and changed my socks and shoes as planned, but I was conflicted about whether I wanted to go back out. I really wanted Nick to be there, with his peppy positive attitude to help me work it out, but he was still on the course. People kept urging me to leave but I waited for Nick to get back. He wasn't his peppy self. He had a long, tough day on the trails. I was genuinely worried about the pain in my ankles. I would either be in increasing pain for 23 more miles or resort to loading up on ibuprofen, several times, which I really don't like to do. Honestly, my ankles weren't the only thing on my mind. I also thought it would be nice to get back home at a reasonable time.
So in the end, I caved. I wanted to spend time with Nick. I wanted to go home. I didn't want to mess up my ankles with another 50 mile race coming up in 4 weeks. Above all, I want to keep myself healthy to maintain and build my training for Leadville this August. Breaking 25 hours at Leadville is my BIG goal this year. Though I think it was a good decision, I can't sit here and tell you that I don't regret the decision at all. I had a 10-15 minute lead on the course record holder and would have LOVED to finally take home a win in a race that boasted more than 3 female competitors. Oh yeah, forgot to mention, I finished the marathon in 4:55, cutting another half hour off my previous PR. Yipeeee!