So how did I get here? That’s what I usually ask myself. It’s always when I ‘m pushing myself to some new extreme or event that I had never done before. I was browsing this subreddit when I came upon the video “Running Madness”. If you haven’t seen it you can check it out here (WARNING: You may feel the need to enter an ultra after watching. ) That video helped spark the idea of, “Would it be possible”? Would I be able to get ready for an ultra in under 2 months? I had already put in a decent amount of training to complete Steelman a few weeks ago. In my previous post, I had mentioned I was following this schedule. I would fit the long runs in during the week with running to work, and then get the rest in during the weekend. At least that was the plan…
This same time last year, I was preparing for the Philly marathon and having some issues with top-of-the-foot-pain. I worked hard to correct my form, I even recorded myself running on a treadmill to analyze it. That information helped me correct my form and I haven’t had an issue since. I’ve done high mileage and some of the hardest runs to date. So everything was falling into place, if I was able to get in more miles and stay injury free the ultra would be easy, right? Well that’s what I originally thought, I would later find out that they made a HUGE change to the course.
I felt as though the training was difficult but not unbearable, I actually started to really enjoy my long runs to work. They were a time to relax and unwind, except for the part where I run through a state park at 5:30AM in the dark. Running in the dark was a new experience and I picked up this. Either way, most of my miles were done with a mix of road and light trail. This didn’t fully prepare me for the new course this year.
Of course the night before the race it starts raining. This has me worried about what conditions would be like, and to top it off, it starts pouring on the way there. I know that this won’t be good for the trails, I had run a trail race earlier in the year, the Mt. Penn Mudfest, in the rain and nearly twisted my ankle twice on the course. The idea of doing that again was starting to worry me, I was fortunate in the fact that the rain stopped right before the start of the race.
So the race is off and I seeded myself near the back. I know I’m going to be in for the long haul and I wanted to avoid as much pain as I could. I was amazed at how fast some people went out, I guess I was expecting more of a leasiurly pace but that wasn’t what most seemed to be doing. They have you start with running on the road for a half mile before you enter the trail. It was 98% trail, there was only a few short sections where you had to run on the road. Most of the time you spent it running parallel to the lake, or opposite corn fields. The rain had made conditions very slippery. I can’t count the number of times I had to catch myself from slipping on mud and going down. The week before I had spoken to multiple people who had done the course last year. They all said the same thing, it wasn’t much of a challenge, and it’s relatively flat. They had done an out and back but this year they opted for one big loop . The first 10 miles were relatively easy, as you can see from my Garmin data below, the difficult hills didn’t come till later in the race. I had done hill work but nothing near the level of what I experienced. Looking back, I know I should have spent more time with hill training. I had heard from someone else that you should walk the larger hills of a trail race, so that’s what I did. I think this helped save my legs for the finish.
If I had to say anything about the people you meet in a trail run, it’s that they just seem to be a nicer group. I talked to a few different people along my 31 mile journey and they were all very friendly. I actually took a spill going down this one hill and a guy took the time to stop and help me up. He even turned around and pulled the tree root out of the ground that tripped me so it didn’t get anyone else. You don’t experience this when you run the big city marathon. Everybody has their headphones on and focused on their run. There’s a bond between trail runners as you suffer the course together, it makes you talk to your fellow runner. That, and the fact that there’s not 20,000 people running the race at the same time.
I had an additional “ace up the sleeve” to help me get through the race. My parents were actually worried about me heading out on such a long run, my Dad offered to drive up with me. In the “Running Madness” video they talked about pacers, so I asked him if he would be willing to meet me for the last portion of the race. I can’t begin to explain the difference this made, after mile 22 I had been running alone. When I got to the last aid station to meet up with him, he had already run 4 miles out to meet me. I was dead at this point and my legs were in pain, but when I got behind him to finish out the last leg of the race it gave me a second wind. I was able to pick the pace up and continue on to the finish. I wouldn’t have done nearly as well for those last 4 miles, the most difficult to complete. I can see why a pacer is so critical, especially if this had been a longer race.
When I did cross the finish line it was the single best experience in running to date. I have never felt such a sense of accomplishment as I did completing that race. As for my results, I was 17th with a time of 4:45. I’m pretty happy with all things considered. I learned a lot in this race, and I learned just how critical your pace can be. I should have taken it easier on the start, maybe walked a few more hills, and pushed a little harder on the downhills. This was the most fun I have ever had running a course. The aid stations were packed with good food and good people. I can say for sure that I will be showing up next year. I heard they are doing the course in reverse!!!