A long time ago, Alanna told me about this really inexpensive 50 miler in MD in November. So I immediately signed up. It was $35. I wasn't even sure if I could go, but I love RD's who put on inexpensive races and want to spend my money at those events.
If not for Alanna planning everything for this race, I would never have gone. She booked a hotel, she drove, she knew where to go and at what time we needed to be places. I didnt finish packing until Friday morning, before work the day before we left. I felt like my head was not in this at all. I have been really worn out from starting a new job, then dealing with the hurricane, then the blizzard, and then catching up at both jobs. Work has been extra busy and understaffed. I feel like the last three weeks of my life have been tension-filled and I just needed a vacation.
I have an aversion to long single loop ultras. Mostly I am not a fan of carrying all the stuff I need on me. I don't use drop bags and never pack any when I have the option. I have no idea what I am going to need at mile 29 of a 50 and I don't feel like loading up a bag with crap I wont need or use and then forgetting to collect half a day later.
This was primarily a trail loop. Because of my low energy this week, I imagined a rocky, rooty, autumn-leaved covered, ankle-breaking trail. I imagined 50 miles of me cursing under my breath as I miss important dangling strips of surveyer's tape marking our course because I scan the ground inches ahead in fear of breaking my toes kicking rocks or knocking my teeth out tripping and falling on my face. I already know I will never be as fast on trails as I am on road courses (not many are), but the idea of taking a long trip to run slow and fall down a lot always starts to lose it's appeal as it gets closer.
Only last Thursday, I looked up the race so I could figure out what to pack. I also found a race report about the elevation and course. The race report happily shared that this race was flat, fast, and a combination of bridal paths, single track trails, and road and not something the purist mountain-trail runner would love. I got excited and thought maybe a new 50 mile PR could be possible. Alanna's husband, who lived in the area, shared that he thought that the report had to be completely inaccurate. (Yes, he was correct.) I decided I would make a game day decision about whether I would run with Alanna and have a fun relaxing day or go for a PR or blow up trying.
Race day morning offered up some cold weather. 32 degrees that felt like 28, with the possibility of it rising to the 50s through out the day. We arrive about 5:15 for a 6:00 am start. I decide to wear capris, a newer pair of trail shoes, a long sleeve tech shirt with a t-shirt over the tech shirt, gloves that convert to mitten and my head lamp. I had on a neck warmer, and a fleece hat. I was so cold still. Alanna suggested I slip my arm warmers on under my long sleeve shirt, when I said that I wish my shirt was thicker. That was brilliant and it worked perfectly.
I wore my hydration pack with about 4 gluten free, dairy free bonk breaker bars, some endurolytes and a few tylenol if I needed them. I was worried my feet would hurt and I was planning to wear the same shoes for the entire race. I was worried that my plantar fasciitis would act up and I would be in pain with 30 miles to go. (The shoes were awesome and my feet never hurt!). I also wore my small nathan's waist pack to collect the items as I not longer needed them (like my headlamp, my gloves, wrappers from the bonk breaker bars. etc... It was a good system. I didn't even know I had it on.
As we start in the freezing cold, I can already tell I am not motivated to run for a PR. I decided that it would make this whole race a billion times more enjoyable for me if I just stayed with Alanna and spent the day with her. She is probably my most favorite person to run with. It is always a nice run with her. We are not competitive with each other and are always supportive. Alanna's strategy always seem to be to run a steady consistent effort that gets her to the finish line every single time. My strategy is generally to run as hard I can from the gun leaving me to either snag a fast race or to blow up trying.
After the first hour, we took so long to hit 5 miles (mostly because a crowd moving through single track trails in the dark is not often incredibly speedy), that I knew getting sub-10 hours was going to be hard unless we started running 11 min miles.
Then by 6 miles in I really needed to find a real bathroom. Yes, I understand that for trail runners, the world is the bathroom, but I actually prefer a real one when possible. By mile, 13 we were out of the woods and running across a highway to another trail system. Alanna spotted a Starbucks and we made a pit stop. (Clearly we were in a huge rush :) ). There is nothing like stopping in a coffee shop in the middle of a race!
By the time we hit 18 miles our pace had dropped to 13:00 per mile. I had no idea what 13 minutes per mile x 50 miles equalled so I dediced that shooting 12 min pace was better anyway. Alanna and I started alternating leading on the single track as we ran along. We tried to knock time off our pace and managed to drop about 14 seconds off our average pace before things got hard. At that point we decided 12 hour finish would be acceptible.
By the time we hit mile 24, we had a lovely flat tow path to cruise along but all the ups and down beat us up so we ended up hiking along this section discussing how nice a 13 hour finish would be since 13 hour was the cut-off. We added a few running breaks in to our hiking (Alanna is the faster walker I have ever met. I had to jog at times to keep up). We met a few people along the way and had a lot of fun.
At mile 33 we reached an aid station. Someone asked how far into the race we were, and we were told 35! My watch was about 2 miles off ... in our favor! I had renewed energy from that lovely news, or from the Mt Dew. We left the Aid Station and continued onward.
Alanna started to get rejuvenated! Suddenly she was taking downhills in low 9 minute mile paces and we were hauling for long stretches of trail. When we hit 9 miles to go and had just under 1:40 minutes until 11 hours I started to think we could run sub-11 hours if we could average 11 min miles on the way in.
Alanna and I started pushing the pace and working hard. We hit the next Aid Station and someone said we were at mile 42, but we had calculated that we should be at mile 43. With about 77 minutes left, I was sure we could crank out 7 more miles, but not 8 miles. I asked another Aid Station worker who stated with authority that we were in fact at mile 43! I knew it!
I started rushing Alanna and declaring that we can make 7 miles in time, when another runner stated "You have 8 miles left not 7, the course is 51 miles". What? Alanna looked defeated and releived at the same time. We cant make it. We need to run sub-10's. I refused to believe him and said that I think we should try. I thought I could go for sub-10 pace for 77 minutes while hoping there was only 7 miles left, not 8. Alanna told me to give it a shot. I took off.
I was running fast and it felt like I just started. I felt fresh and it was awesome. But then I started to get concerned that I was missing marks. The tape was spread so far apart that it seemed I had made a wrong turn. The last thing I wanted to do was to be cruising sub-9 in the wrong direction. I would slow down to conserve energy in case I needed to back track and it was slowing my pace to greater than 10's just to make sure I wan't going the wrong way.
As I slowed I got cold since the temps were dropping. Finally with about 4 miles to go, I stopped to get my winter gear from my pack. This was the deal breaker. A man caught up to me as I dug through my pack and confirmed that the course was 51 or more miles. At that point, I knew I could't make it. I put on my hat and gloves and slowed down. We hit the last aid station. I hung around and had soup and a few sweets. I then ran/walked it in slowly finishing in 11:46.
I was cold, tired, and ready to go home. I didnt check results. Alanna was a few minutes behind me. We left to head home shortly after her finish.