What is it about ultra people – and runners in general – that makes us so likeable? We’re friendly and talkative. We all share a passion. We’ve all had similar experiences, and some different ones to share. Which is why group runs are just so damn enjoyable. You drive in (hopefully finding the trailhead without too much difficulty), wait for everyone to show up, and then just kind of take off. As you fall into line and into the running rhythm, conversations start up with those in front of and behind you – introductions, past races, how you started running… As your feet become familiar with the dirt and roots beneath them, you become familiar with your future race mates.
I was a bit apprehensive about going to this training run; I was worried I’d show up at 7 a.m. to find four or five hardcore guys who all know each other, “Ok, let’s go do 6:30s!” and I’d be, “Ok, well see you later.” But nope. To my relief, I pulled into the trailhead to find an assortment of 30 to 40 runners. I was by far the youngest, but that’s fine (I actually like it that way), and there was a good variation in running levels as well. We had seasoned ultrarunners training for the 100M and a guy who had signed up for the trail 50M never having run on trails… only to discover that he doesn’t like trail running (????). After going over the course as best we could with either the RD or an assistant RD – I’m not sure, I didn’t catch her name – we traipsed off into the woods, that lovely line of runners going single-file over a fallen tree at the entrance to the trail, then beginning to jog.
The pace was pretty slow for the first 3 miles or so, and I was more or less stuck in the front of the middle, but once we hit the Lakeland Trail (part of the rails to trails program), a couple guys and I were able to get ahead to where we should be, picking up the pace. Which brings me to an important point –
This course is fast. It’s flat and downhill and FAST.
It starts out on horse trails (so not the best footing, but wide enough), then hooks up with the Lakeland Trail, then goes on some actual dirt roads before connecting with the southern loop, which is really nice singletrack. After the southern loop, you go back on the dirt roads for a little bit (not sure on exact distances since we got lost on the group run), then add a little 2 or 3 mile loop. But notice all the flat areas for picking up speed. The dirt roads, which aren’t hilly; the Lakeland Trail, which is flat; and so much of the southern loop is either basically flat or nicely rolling.
So, to my surprise, I found myself fairly flying along with the top couple guys during the group run, rollercoastering it up on the trails and pushing the pace a little (for me, anyway) on the dirt roads. We ended up accidentally cutting off the top loop, but since we’d gotten lost, we ended up running about 15 or 16 anyway. I drove away feeling jubilant and exulting in the joy that is running.
The next morning, I went out on the course again, this time with my dad (who is not a trail runner and “was not endeared to trail running” by this run, since he took two spills). Still felt just as great as yesterday. It’s just a bloody fast course. Before I ran on it, my goal was technically Finishing, Maybe Sub-10. Now my goal is 8:20 (10 min/mile) and, if the field is similar to last year’s, coming in first woman. (Last year’s came in at 10:30, 12:31 min/mile). On both of my training runs, I’d say the pace varied from about 8:45 to 9:45. Now, I realize that I will in fact get tired after three 16.6-mile loops, but still. I’m feeling confident in my running ability.
So I ended up not doing the dreaded back-to-back long runs, but I’m planning on going out this Saturday and getting two full loops in, hopefully at what my race pace will be so I can get a better feel for the correct pace. But man, I wish the RACE were this weekend. I feel ready. So. Ready. But until then, I’m just going to eat-breathe-sleep-live running (more than I already do, that is), and become and stay the best runner I can be.
Then it’s time for the 100k.
peace love and long-distance running!