I’ll start by saying this: hills. Foothills of the Appalachians, to be exact.
I’ll follow by saying this: training in Michigan. A flat state.
So this race was challenging for me elevation-wise. It was a 10.3-mile loop, run 3 times; downhill start, followed by 4 miles of upupdownupupupdown, then it got a little nicer. Uphill (though not terribly steep) finish.
We started at 7 a.m. with the promise of perfect race weather – just under 50 degrees, low humidity, moderate cloud cover, and a decent breeze. The first lap around was great; everything was fresh from taper week, and I was raring to go. After being stuck behind the line, I was able to break out about halfway through the lap and pick up my pace. There had been some rain the night before, leading to more than a few eight-inch-deep mud crossings and tricky slippery, rocky downhills, and the trail was a little rougher than I’d been expecting (pretty rocky in a decent percentage of sections, and one awful/treacherously sloped half-mile or so – seriously, about a 40 degree slanted trail. Not great for the ankles.). Came through the start/finish aid station still feeling good and took off for my second lap.
Now that I knew what to expect, I had a much better feel for the course and was able to adjust my strategy. I flew down the downhills and through flat sections, doggedly hiking up the steep hills as fast as I could manage. I was drinking plenty of water and what I thought was yellow Gatorade mixed with sprite, but I found out at mile 24 that it was, in fact, Mountain Dew. Good for caffeine, I suppose, but what I needed was electrolytes, as I found out the hard, cramped-calves-y way on loop 3. But that comes later. The first half of my second loop went really well. I picked up my pace even more and (although I only doubtfully suspected it at the time) was first female… until my hip started giving me some trouble after the slanted section of trail. I stopped to walk what would have otherwise been a very runnable section of trail, and second came up from nowhere and passed me on an uphill. Had I known I was in first, I would have fought that, but at the time I was mostly oblivious and therefore let her go. The second half of the loop after that was slower and a bit more cautious on the downhills, me not wanting to risk anything with my hip (which has been a longtime issue).
I came through the start/finish aid station with two guys who I had first left behind somewhere in the first loop, but they’d caught back up to me when I slowed during the second loop. As they refilled my water, they told me first was only three or four minutes in front of me. “Well,” I said as we took back off, “I can’t just let that go. You guys gotta pace me if I want to get her.” And to my great surprise and utter gratitude, they did, one pushing from behind and one pulling me ahead. I knew as soon as I started that loop it would be a tough one; my legs had already taken a beating from the hills simply because I wasn’t used to the hills (Michigan!), and my hip was getting pretty stiff. We kept the lead in sight for the first couple miles, then she glanced back, saw that I was there, and took off, running up the next seven miles of hills and ultimately beating me by eleven minutes*. This lap was the wonderful cramp-filled electrolyte-deficient lap, and had Jeremey and Justin not stuck around (providing salt tablets as well as good conversation), I definitely would have foundered out there. With three miles to go and two of them mostly downhill, my spirits picked back up a little; with one mile to go, I was the “slavedriver” egging them to run some of the hills. The final stretch, as I mentioned, was uphill, and I’m afraid I did walk that last hill – until just before we emerged from the trees, of course. Then I picked up my feet and ran the last couple hundred meters, both calves and my right hamstring cramping all the way. I finished in 5:58, certainly not speedy by any stretch of the imagination, but the course was not a course for PRs. (The hills, oh the hills.) The third woman finished a mere three minutes after me, so I’m so glad I pushed when I did.
After the race, I absolutely did not feel like eating or even drinking, though I forced myself to have some water, Gatorade, and Sun Chips and roasted peanuts. Throughout the entire race, I’d only eaten half a PowerBar, a couple peanut M&Ms, and half an oreo. After hanging around for a while, nibbling on something just because I knew I should and talking with the other runners, my friend Megan (who had come down to support me) and I found a lake for me to ice bath/wash the mud off my legs and the salt off my face, then… drove four and a half hours back to Michigan. My legs were not happy being in a car for that long, but now (three days later) they’re finally beginning to loosen up.
So, final thoughts: challenging, but oh-so-satisfying. Will I do it again next year? Maybe, if I can find some decent hill training around here somewhere. 🙂
peace love and running!
*The first female was accomplished ultrarunner Star Blackford, who has run and placed in several 100-milers, as well as placed third in the 2011 USATF national 100-miler championship. So I’m fine with being respectably beaten by her. 😛