My Ragnar buddy Ed Rudman had seen me thinking out this race online, so we signed up together. After we signed up, he shared info about the race with some other Ragnar teammates including my cousin and best friend Rebecca Makas, and Rebecca and our friend Deb Ross decided to come up and do the half. So – rather than a solo training run, I had an opportunity for a long training run with a friend, as well as a chance to run a chunk of it with other buddies too. This for me is special as I spend lots and lots of time running alone.
Problem was, as the race was approaching, I was not looking forward to it. Rather, I was facing it with dread and trepidation. As in “what have I done?” Primarily I think the issue was fear of injuring myself further, after my spill from 2 weeks ago. I have been getting so much joy out of running big miles – almost all of them on roads, and I had this sick feeling in the back of my mind that I was putting that ability in jeopardy by throwing myself into a race I really wasn’t all that prepared for. Distance? Yes. Terrain… not so much.
One of the nice things about the race was the start time – with a 9:00 start for the half and full marathoners, I was able to get out and back in the same day rather than drop money on lodging. I woke up only about 5 minutes earlier than my usual 4:30 and was in the car by 5 to head out to the forest. Unlike many previous drives to races where I start to enjoy a sense of anticipation, I continued to feel nervousness and a bit of dread. The only bright spot in the drive was looking forward to seeing people I love and spending the day in a beautiful place with them.
Breakfast consisted of a bacon, egg and cheese bagel from the Dunkin’ Donuts next to a Love’s travel stop near Pittsfield. I was wearing my Vegan Power 50K race shirt (which I love! It’s bright red and totally badass), and the clerk at Dunkin’ looked startled as I gave her the order. “Did you say… bacon?”.
“But… your shirt….”
“Oh. It was a race – it was a Vegan support event but they let me in anyway.”
I got to the forest with plenty of time to spare, and before Ed, Rebecca and Deb arrived. I picked up my bib and just drank coffee until they showed up a few minutes later.
|Rebecca and Ed - pre Race|
|Deb, Amy, Rebecca and Ed Pre race|
The trail loops were each 12.5 miles, so in order for each respective race to hit the required distance, an extra stretch was added on to the beginning of the race. The half marathoners added on .6 miles, while the marathoners added on 1.2. This meant that Ed and I started out the race more than ½ mile before Rebecca and Deb – which sort of threw our plan to run together into disarray. Becca and Deb said they’d “meet us at the top of the hill”, and I think we all assumed we’d see them shortly.
|Rocky Terrain - new to me!|
|Ed posting on the trail|
The add-on stretch was pavement, but shortly thereafter we hit the trails and started climbing. As the elevation map had indicated it would be, the first stretch of the first loop was pretty much all climb. Although the “hiking” portion of ultra running had surprised me on my first trail “run”, after seeing the elevation map I had pretty much been mentally prepared that I’d be doing a bit of hiking early on. Still – running is my thing. So whenever we hit portions of the trail that appeared more runnable, we started trotting. I have to say I felt pretty good about the first 3-4 miles of the race. I was pleased with our pace, and pleased with the sections of trail that I found “runnable” – especially given the rocky terrain, which I was not at all familiar with. Ed and I kept thinking we’d run into Deb and Rebecca any minute – but in fact we didn’t see them until we hit the first aid station which I believe was somewhere between 3 and 4 miles into the course. Rebecca was easily identifiable by her bright orange compression socks.
We took advantage of the aid station goodies and soda, and then started on our way as a group of 4. One of the other racers informed us that the hill right out of the aid station was known as the “Thrasher”. There are some writings on the race website about where that name came from, but all we knew is that it was STEEP.
I was actually OK with this – I’m a pretty strong climber when it comes to hiking, and I can power my way up most hills without too much huffing and puffing. That is to say, the non-technical uphills are the piece of trail running I do well. I was a bit ahead of my buddies on this part of the trail.
One of the best and most delightful parts of this race were the stream of obscenities pouring from Deb’s mouth. Deb is, simply, amazing. She is witty, crass, astoundingly funny and shockingly obscene when she chooses to be – and she was choosing to be. She kept us in stitches for the rest of the half marathon. Going up the hill: “Whose F@#ING idea was this anyway. F@*ING AMY. DAMN her! “ Funnier still was when we got to the aid station where I got stung by a wasp and without even thinking, I swore loudly. Deb said gently “Amy – don’t swear. Swearing offends me.” She then apologized on my behalf to the aid station worker for my mouth. It was Deb’s birthday and she was waiting for the exact moment when she turned 48 (1:00) so we could take a birthday selfie.
After we conquered the Thrasher we hid a much more level and rolling section of trail – and even though Deb swore every time we hit another “up” (there were plenty), in fact this section was pretty enjoyable. It kept looking like we would break through and be on the top of the mountain soon, and every few minutes, Rebecca would state “Where’s my lookout? They promised us a lookout damnit!” I was thoroughly enjoying this and feeling pretty happy that I hadn’t fallen.
And then. Running along in a nice stretch of woods – and my left foot gets caught on a sneaky root and stays hooked there while my butt separates just a little bit from my leg and I can feel my hamstring pull EXACTLY where it had on my fall a few weeks ago. And then I swore just like Deb, “F@#K!!”, terrified that I had ruined myself for my upcoming 50 miler.
That pretty much blew my confidence for the rest of the race. I gingerly started running again, the hammie yelling at me for my clumsiness. Forutnately after a mile or 2, the hamstring pain started to subside significantly.
We finally hit the overlook and it was as incredible as promised. We spent WAY more time there than I would normally spend at an aid station at a race – which was fine, because this was all about running in a beautiful place with friends. There were other runners up there, including Ana Wolf – who I had met briefly as the Race Director extraordinaire of the (much more runnable!) Vegan Power 50K, and with whom I have been Facebook Friends ever since. It is always great to spend time with my runner friends in person.
|Deb, Rebecca, Amy and Ed|
|Meeting my friend Ana on top of the world|
It was also up on the ridge where I got stung by the wasp. Didn’t even see it coming but all of a sudden my arm was on fire. Made sense that it was a yellow jacket – the aid station workers said they were hanging all around the food table all day. I swore loudly (chastised gently by Deb), and hoped that today wouldn’t be the day I’d develop any sort of sting allergy.
Fortunately there was no need for epi-pens as we progressed down along our way. After our highly enjoyable vista stop, we headed back into the woods for the last 5 miles for Deb and Rebecca, and that last 18 for Ed and I. The next 3 miles was unremarkable. There was one more aid station after the vista, where the aid station volunteers said “the rest is easy! There is just one more little up hill, and then no more single track – just downhill the rest of the way.”
Easy my ass. (My sore, pulled, ACHING ass!) The one thing they were right about was the downhill part. Oh boy was it downhill. Leaf slippery, rock slidingly, impossible footingly downhill. Not too far from where we started our descent, I went down. My goal going into this race was to stay upright and not get injured. This fall was pretty disheartening – again because I had gone into this as a training run for a 50-mile road race – and what good is a training run if you come out of it unable to run? After I got up from my tumble, I was much more cautious on the remaining downhill. Deb and Rebecca hopped down it like billy goats, while Ed was a bit more cautious. I brought up the rear. Some minutes later, we saw a clearing up ahead, and there we were – Deb and Rebecca done with their race, and Ed and I at the halfway mark. It was also pretty cool that our friend Sharon – another Ragnar teammate, had come to watch Deb and Becca finish and to cheer Ed and I on!
Again we spent a bit more time at the aid station than I would normally do – and we headed out on lap 2 – with Ana and Marie right behind us.
It was pretty clear on lap 2 that most of our productive “running” was done. The uphill seemed “uppier”, and EVERYTHING seemed rockier and rootier again. At this point I had 2 remaining goals – not to fall again, and not to DNF – and a not very strong but still present goal of trying to finish in less than 8 hours.
Whereas on our first loop we had plenty of miles that were anywhere from 13-17 minute miles, on the second loop we were happy with anything under 20. And believe it or not, in those sections where we were hitting 18 – we were actually doing a bit of running.
So here is the thing that gets me about trails. Deb said it just right as we were hiking up the Thrasher. She said “I like to RUN trails. I don’t like to hike to get to my run. If running is your drug, then this part doesn’t do it”. Yes – that. I’m into this thing for the run. So on the parts where, for whatever reason, I can’t comfortably run – it feels like I’m either cheating, or failing. Despite the fact that I KNOW that except for the top runners in these races, pretty much everyone is doing a bit of hiking. Some more than others.
But running is my drug – and, well, I was not doing that much of it on loop 2. But neither was I falling. What WAS happening was my quads were getting more and more angry.
Although it had seemed like a second loop would be take forever, in fact the time flew by – as it often does on these things. Ed and I talked about anything and everything – and he jazzed things up a bit by singing a bit of Bruce (he’d just been to a concert). At one point we were merrily belting out the song they sing in the Stripes marching scene – “There she was just a walkin’ down the street, singing Doowa Diddie Diddie Dum Diddie Do…”
I channeled my inner Deb when we got to the last aid station – my recollection had been that it was just a bit over a mile to the finish from there (which was what my GPS was telling me), but when the aid station volunteers indicted it was 2 hours – F#@K came flying out. I just wanted to be done and go home and lick my wounds.
Down the rocky, leafy descent we went. On this last section, there was pretty much no running this time around. Well, until we were maybe a half a mile before the end, when a couple that had been a ways behind us appeared to be catching up. I knew I wasn’t doing well in this race, but I wanted to at least keep any lead I had. So – rocks be damned – I was running the rest, with Ed right along beside me. We managed to run in approximately 30 seconds to a minute in front of the 2 folks behind us – which put me 22 out of 30 finishers with a finish time of 8:03. Almost twice as long as my best marathon, and only 7 minutes faster than my first 50K trail – which was ALSO a tough course, with about as much elevation as this one, where I was the 2nd woman in.
Well damn. What just happened?
And here is where the Monday morning quarterbacking comes in. My buddy Rich tells me “ya gotta learn to not be so hard on yourself”. But still – I’ve worked pretty hard at this ultra-running thing in the past year – and so a finish time of 8:03 at the very least makes me think “how could I have done better”?
So number 1: Train for the terrain, dumbass.
OK – yeah. So why in hell would I expect to do at all well when this wasn’t what I trained for? Isn’t what I AM CURRENTLY training for? Is, in fact, an almost entirely new thing for me? This was my 4th trail “race”, and even for my other ones I didn’t have THAT much more trail running under my belt – but at the very least, before my 50K, I’d gotten in 3 or 4 solid 8-10 mile trail runs. This one – next to nothing. And, although I’d gotten some root practice on both training runs and previous races, really NOTHING in my past running career prepared me for the kind of rocky terrain that was everpresent on this course.
Number 2. I was overly cautious.
On previous races – despite trips and falls (I’ve had at least 1 on every trail race – hell, almost every trail RUN I’ve done..), I managed to get back up and get in the groove again. But because of my fall weeks earlier that had ended up giving me pain for weeks, I was so worried about injuring myself that I didn’t allow myself to get back going again.
Number 3 – This wasn’t “THE” race.
So yeah – it definitely makes a difference in motivation level if you are deliberately going into a race as a training run rather than to “race” it.
Number 4- Probably 10-15 minutes lost at aid stations.
I guess those are mostly the things that could have been opportunities for improvement.
Still – it was humbling. When I finished that second loop, my legs were literally shaking. They were jelly. And that was after HIKING most of the second loop – not much running in that go-round at all. I was used to being able to finish 26 miles before breakfast and then spending the rest of the day cleaning my house. This 8 hour jelly-leg crap was a whole new humbling gig for me. I couldn’t fathom how anyone had done 4 loops on that course. (And the lead person only took an hour more for the 50 that I took for my marathon!! HE wasn’t hiking up those hills, for sure. He was running them!).
Clearly, IF I want to improve at this particular type of race, there needs to be some lots of trail specific training thrown in.
Although I spent my drive home and most of the rest of the afternoon and evening growling at the whole concept of trails, by the next day I was feeling a bit more like I might consider getting back out there and trying to conquer them. There were plenty of moments in the race that were in fact pure perfection. Particularly in the first loop, before pulling my hamstring, running smoothly and comfortably over the gentle hill portion of the course, my buddies behind me on an incredibly beautiful day in a stunning venue – well, it just can’t get any better than that. And the view from the top? Priceless.
But I think I’ll wait for after my 50….