After far too long a break from doing any kind of trail race – I think it may actually have been in 2012, though I’d have to check – I finally got one under my belt this Saturday at the Pinckney Trail Weekend. I just did the half, but it went way better than I thought it would, actually – especially since the farthest I’ve run this month, and most of last month, is about 8 miles. But I’ve picked up my pace a bit on those short runs, which I think actually helped.
The weather was pretty much perfect for racing – cool (low 40s) and overcast, no rain, not much wind. I ran into one of my friends from high school cross country who said that she was aiming for around 2 hours, so I decided to run with her even though I expected, realistically, to roll in around 2:20 or something. So we got in the “9 min/mi” pace wave – there were waves, which was different from the last trail races I’d done where there were a couple dozen people – but of course the trail was pretty bottlenecked and congested for the first maybe 2-3 miles so those went by at closer to 11 and 10 min/mi, which I wasn’t thrilled about. But of course it eventually thinned out and I began to figure out a decent pace and pick my way up. Roughly the middle has a couple big hills (for Michigan, anyway), and I focused on actually working the hills, powerhiking up and cruising down. (A couple guys behind me were talking about hills and racing, and one of them said something like, “Yeah, people always get to the top and slow down, like, ‘Whew, that was hard!’ and that’s when you’ve gotta pass ’em and fly down the hill. Classic race mentality,” which kind of made me go Ah yes, this is a race, I should think at least a little about that.) After grinding out the middle hilly miles we hit a really nice fast part, still some hills but very runnable with nice flow. I always love that part on my runs out there, it just flies by. At an aid station around maybe mile 10 one of the guys I know from the running scene in Ann Arbor was working and offered me “Gatorade or beer?” I thought he was joking so I said “BEER!” and was handed a Sam Adams IPA. It actually tasted pretty damn good. The last four miles or so went by pretty quick (with the exception of that one last big hill about a mile and a half out). Also, my calves started cramping around mile 11, but I just kept my stride long and ran it out and it was fine. By then, I was really in the groove of things and I felt like I could go all day (with a pace adjustment, of course!). It was like my muscle memory was kicking in from so long ago. I pushed it the last mile and came through in 2:05:59, which I think was actually one of my fastest times on that loop… which just goes to show how big a role mentality plays in running distances (even just a half), and also that I probably wasn’t working hard enough in the past, because I was in way better shape than I am now :P I was 14th woman overall and 3rd in my age group. I suspect I could have broken 2h had I not been stuck for the first three miles. Also, my dad came through at 2:00 flat… had I known he was so close, I would have tried to catch him!
I’d forgotten how much I love being out there for hours, just chipping away at the miles for hours, just getting it done… and the feeling of having a strong, steady pace that pays off the more miles there are. I think only one or two people passed me in the last couple miles (mainly on the hills that I would have run had my calves not been spasming). It’s just the best feeling. Doing this race was so good for me. For the last probably two years, my lack of racing or really running far has been messing with me. I’ve felt incomplete, like I lost a big part of who I am. The race this weekend, even though it was just a half, helped me find that lost part. Before, I was doubting my interest in running long – like I wanted to want to run long, but it just wasn’t there yet. Now that desire is back, without a doubt in my mind. I would have signed up for the 50k the next day had my friends and dad not reminded me that I haven’t been running and that my shin would probably just explode. So there’s one in June I have my eye on. I can’t wait. Waking up too early, having that feeling of “Oh god why did I sign up for this, the bed is soooo comfy,” but getting up and putting on your running clothes and meeting at the start line in the early morning, when the air is cool and dew is on the grass and the sun is just peeking up, then your little group trots off into the woods to emerge five, six hours later, tired and triumphant… then laying on the couch under a giant comfy blanket and falling asleep. So good.
So anyway. I’M BACK! I did a shakeout seven yesterday, and my left calf is still sore/tight where it was cramping during the race, but thankfully my shin feels fine.
Life update time! I’m graduating this weekend, which is kind of terrifying but mostly exciting, I guess. The plan is to take a “year off,” which I put in quotes because it’ll be a year of calc and chem classes to prep for grad school, which I will hopefully be attending next fall (2016) for geology. So now I have to focus on narrowing down my fields of interest and finding a professor to work with (in a town with good trails and a good running community, of course!). But I’m pretty excited about that, and very pleased with my decision to go into geology. The work is interesting and I love the people – they like craft beer possibly more than trail runners and climbers, which is saying something. So that’s good.
Ok, time to go pick up graduation tickets and start packing. Blah.
peace love and long-distance running,