There are many unique things about this race that makes it so much fun (as long as you are resigned to the fact that you will be doing a lot of hiking in order to make it up the hills).
This race takes place on a ski slope at Mt. Creek in Vernon NJ. We actually start inside the building and run out the doors and up the mountain. NJ Trail Series, first teases us with a short steep uphill that leads to a runnable trail that leads us to the Devil of a hill.
At about .7 miles into the race, we hit the kind of UP that makes time moving forward feeling like it is going backwards. It creates a burn in my quads and calves that I only get to feel one time per year. This section of the course travels up the steepest hill I have ever climbed in a race. According to my Garmin data, I see that we travel from the base of the hill that begin at 845.7 ft and reach the top of the complete climb at 1154.3 ft before we get relief as we travel a runnable .3 mile ATV trail through the cool woods. That works out us running up 308.6 feet while covering only 354 meters (1,161.42 ft) of ground. It is intense. Painful. Absolutely crazy. According to rise/run, that works out to about a .30 slope... now I don't know what that really means... but it is steep!
I have been wearing night splints to help me loosen up tight calves and achilles so help reduce some plantar fascia pain. I was shocked by just how much this hill hurt my calves on the first trip. I only got about half way up before I needed to stop moving due to the burn. I was sure that the next lap would be accompanied by fatigue that would make the pain worse. I was hoping to get to 12 miles before I was unable to continue on.
As I slowly moved forward, my friend Diane caught me and we continued on together. She is recovering from knee surgery and this was going to be her longest hardest effort since being able to run again some time ago. We moved along together enjoying anything runnable, laughing at how chicken we both are on downhills, and cursing together under our breathes while propelling ourselves up the Ups.
At about 1.65 miles, we reached the summit. I stopped to tighten my laces, as my feet were slipping out of my loosely tied Grits. Once snugged up, my calves felt a lot better.
The total lap was a 5k. Much of the return trip was incredibly runnable, if you do not mind the possibility of falling forward down a hill. I seem to have too much fear to be good at this race, so I basically try to get momentum and keep moving, while also holding myself back from a face plant or a butt slide. I think heel strikers may have an advantage over my "up on my toes" foot plant when running down steep steep hills. I end up running like I am skipping with one leg being braver than the other.
The last section of the trail is a steep decline into a small loop under a walkway and back up into the lodge. We run through the building, back out on to the porch, down the stairs, and out onto the loop.
I placed my cooler right next to the door to the porch which saved me tons of time refueling. Actually I wasted very little time between loops. I stopped to pee just once after loop 2. After loop 4 I had to get a rock from my shoe and I filled an ice bandana that I wore for the last two laps. Otherwise, I was just filling and grabbing a 10 oz handheld each lap. I did eat a 3 cookies and took a few swigs of juice every 2 laps, but otherwise I ran this whole race on a water and a little sodium. I felt great and actually ran my last lap faster the the ones before. I didn't plan to go low on fuel, it just felt right. I ate a banana and 15 oz of juice before the start.
Diane and I stayed together for 3 full laps, where Diane veered off for the short loop. She was in the 3 hour race and did not have enough time for 4 big ones. I was so happy to see that she crushed her two lap goal. The nice cooler weather helped us move faster than we thought we could.
I went out for lap 4 which was a bit lonely without a partner to commiserate with. I managed to keep moving and find motivation in the fact that once I finished loop 4, I was over half way done with the crazy race. A few more laps and the pain would stop.
In races like this, unless you have a crew with you to provide you with some intelligence, it is very hard to figure out what place you are in and where you competition is in relation to you. A good crew will be able to tell you how fast your competition is moving and where they are on the course. When alone in a race that starts with two races together, you can't recognize who you are racing against. It is hard to know whether your competition has dropped out, took rest breaks, or ran to the bathroom while you ran by.
When I completed 5 laps I began to think about strategy. In the last hour we can run the short loop. The short loop is .5 miles, but I know nothing about it. I know what the big loop looks like and it is isn't pretty. I know Rick is unlikely to make a small loop easy, but he can't make it as hard as 306 feet up over 354 meters? If I can run 7 short laps in 56 minutes, I would get more mileage than if I did 1 big one in the last 50 minutes. If my nearest competition was on the same lap as me but less than .4 miles ahead of me, I could possible end up with more mileage by doing the short loop instead of the big.
However, my quads felt shredded and my body ached. I wasn't sure I could do the short loop in 7 times in 8 minutes each since partial loops don't count. I had no clue, except that part of the small loop down hill merged with part of the big loop's down hill and that steep down was a slow part of the run for me. To help me strategize, I asked Rick if he had a choice 1 big or 7 little what would he do (since he marked the course). He commented that I couldn't do 7 littles. This made me want to try to, but I knew since he knew the loop, he was probably right.
I made a decision to go for mileage since I had no idea if I was even competitive with anyone. My guess was that I was probably in 3rd place or worse. So just as I reached the fork requiring a choice between big or small, I headed out to the big. If it took me too long and my last lap didn't count, I would still get 21.7 miles run and that had more value to me than 20 miles and quitting.
Off I went to say goodbye to the big loop until next year, but that steep hill would not let me say goodbye. I held me there on it side, stuck in time, frozen. I tried switch-backing over the steep double wide track. It worked to take the pressure off my aching muscles but it too way too long to go up. But when I tried to go straight up, my legs burned so bad that I would have to stop. I could feel the time ticking away and feared my delay would cost me the lap. I dug deep, started grunting my way up and made it to the top. I knew there was two more up hills to face before I hit the down. Running was hard. The burning was distracting but I was proud to still be running. I was winning this fight against myself! I felt strong and weak at the same time. Up that last hill I went knowing that if I hit the top with over 15 minutes to go, I was sure I had it.
I got to the top of the ski lift, refilled my bottle for the first time at the summit and saw that I have over 20 minutes to get down. I kept moving, trying to decide if I would have enough time for a small loop too. My body was burning and it would be close. If I had 10 minutes left, I would try for 1 loop. Less than that and I would call it a day. I don't know what I could do a short loop in, but at this point I was breaking down and mentally was satisfied with my effort.
I crossed the mat with 8 minutes to go and decided I was done. It felt good to stop.
Turns out I was 3 short laps behind second place and 1 big lap behind first. It was a really nice surprise to be 3rd woman, and 8th Overall.
Now to take the year to recover and forget.... Good Bye Mountain, I will see you next year. :)
Time: 6 hours
Distance: 21.7 with 14000 ft elevation change (1000 up, 1000 down per 5k loop)
Female Place: 3rd
Overall Place: 8th
Link to photos from the event: http://www.backprint.com/view_event_photos.asp?PID=bp%1EsBz&EVENTID=105251&PWD=0