We set the alarm for 4:30 AM. Steve's race didn't start till 8:30, but my registration opened just before 6, and I knew the drive would take me a little over 30 minutes. I got to the race site easily. My practice run there last week made me comfortable finding the site. I parked and went to find Guy and Jenny who were about to start their 50 mile race. I gave them both huge hugs and thanked them both for all of their advice over the last couple of weeks. A few minutes later, they were off!
I checked in, and it was just like Guy and Jenny said it would be. Everybody was super laid back and friendly, just standing around and chatting it up. I prepared my two gear bags then struck up a conversation with a fellow 50K runner. It was his first distance race. He skipped the marathon completely before braving a trail race. I don't think I would have been that crazy!
A minute or two before the race, we all filed out of the small park chalet. There was no "official" starting line. Nobody was running wind sprints to warm up. There was no National Anthem. We all stood out there with our head lamps on as the race director made it very clear that we were supposed to follow the flag markers and not the runners in front of us. Then he shouted "GO!" and we all took off. The 50 milers had started at 6, and the 25K, the marathon, and the 50K all started together at 7.
As we all headed into the darkness, you could hear all of the happy chatter between the runners, some between old friends and plenty of people making new ones. I talked it up with a couple of guys who were doing their first 50K, and we ran the first 3.5 miles together or so. When we hit that first aid station, I quickly learned the magic that is the food at trail races. They had everything - gummi bears, M&Ms, Gardettos, Cheese Its, Heed, Hammer Gels, and loads more. I wondered if I'd be able to peel myself away from the aid stations down the road!
I don't have a Garmin, so my plan was just to guestimate my pace using the approximate location of the aid stations. My lungs weren't burning too bad, but I hit the first one in 35:19 and quickly decided that I needed to slow down. I was in the most difficult area with lots of huge hills covered in rocks, roots, and leaves that required walking up them. I knew I needed to take that area slow in order to still be moving in 28 miles!
As I headed to the next aid station, daylight crept up, and I was able to take my headlight off. Miles 3.5-6 took me 35:09 (I'm not quite sure that the aid station was really at 3.5). It was the hilliest section, and there were times I had to walk the uphill and the downhill because the terrain was too steep and uneven.
The course sort of looks like a figure 8, and we did 2 loops. We left gear bags at the start and at mile 6, the middle of the figure 8. I dropped off my headlight and extra shirt, grabbed some more food (including a handful of yummy gummi bears!), and was off to start the bottom loop. Boy was it muddy! We had a beautiful day out there, but it had been raining for days, so the grassy area was pretty soupy in parts.
I hit mile 10 in 1:51:46. That aid station had all of the normal goodies plus pumpkin soup and banana bread. How cool is that? Right after that aid station, we headed onto some single track
Some of the single track
One of several downed trees in the path
Then the trail opened up to the real mud...
Much of the lower loop looked like this
I think this pic speaks for itself
I chatted it up with one of the 25 K runners for a while. His wife is an ultra marathoner, so it was cool to hear him talk about some of her races. He had to stop to change his shoes at the horse trailer aid station (which I hit in 36:5 for 2.5 miles - pretty sure that was off...). I kept going. It was on my way back that I met Hollie and Kami. Hollie had done a couple of 50Ks before, and Kami is a rock star who's done ultras all over the place, including Sawtooth 100 miler. Yes I said 100 miles. Holy. Smokes.
It took me around 1:04 to cover the last 3.7 miles. This part was a little single track before going back to rocks, roots, leaves, grass, and hills. Then we hopped onto some very adventurous single track to complete the loop. I finished the first lap in 3:33:21. I grabbed some more gummi bears from the aid station and refilled my Sharkies supply.
I also grabbed my cell phone. The plan was to have it so Steve and I could connect at the horse trailer aid station at mile 21.5. He called shortly after to say he was nearing the park, and I told him I'd be a little while, so he grabbed a foot long sub on his way. He'd already run in and placed 3rd at the Monster Dash 10 miler earlier that morning. My stomach was starting a little funny at that point, and I knew I was done with the Sharkies and the gummi bears. I was ready for some real food. My general rule for distance races is that if something sounds good, it'll go down and stay there. I was really in the mood for some PB & J, but the aid station didn't have any, so I grabbed a cup full of Gardettos. Yummy! I hit that aid station in 45:14, nearly 10 minutes slower than my first time covering that section.
It took me 35:37 to cover the next 2.5 miles or so, and the hills seemed MUCH bigger the second time around! I was still running with Hollie, Kami, and 2 other women, and at one point somebody commented that we had half to women's field in our pack. Now this atmosphere is FAR from competitive, but I think that comment got us all thinking a little bit... I was getting excited as I neared the horse trailer station because I knew Steve would be meeting me there to run the 6 mile bottom loop (the 50K and 50 mile runners were allowed pacers after the first loop).
I neared the park, looked up, and saw Steve sitting by the fire. The horse trailer aid station had PB & J, so I ate two 1/4 sandwiches and was on my way. It was SO fun to have him running with me. I apolized for taking him on the muddiest and least scenic part, but it was still beautiful.
Running with Hollie. Steve had just started with us.
The leaves were rustling, the geese were honking. It was just a gorgeous day.
We had great weather!
We ran the next 4 miles or so in 50:16. Then I headed into uncharted territory for me. That aid station was right around mile 26. I've run 11 marathons but never anything further...
The next 2 miles took us 41:42 (again, markers probably weren't exact).
Running through the reeds
Near one of the lakes
Running through the sumac
And then we saw the aid station.
(You can see the aid station on the far left.)
We said goodbye, gave each other a smooch, and Steve took a shortcut to the finish line in his car. I had just under 4 miles to go. The funny thing is that during a marathon, 4 miles seems like an eternity, but yesterday I "only" had 4 miles left. I tried to walk fewer hills. I just kept telling myself that I didn't need to conserve energy any more. I didn't have much choice but to walk when we were on the steep leaf covered muddy single track hills or when I was climbing over trees, but I kept running when I could. When I crossed from single track to open trail for the final time, I saw Steve sitting at the top of the hill. He was cheering like a maniac, even after running 20 or so miles of his own. He jogged with me to the finish.
Coming out of the single track. You can see the markers on the right.
One last hill...
The "finish line"
I did it!
I had just finished. Guy and Jenny were heading out
* There aren't any official results up yet, but I'm guessing I was in the bottom 1/4 or so. I'm sure with more than 2 practice trail runs beforehand, I'll feel a lot more comfortable knowing where and when to conserve my energy and when I can use a little more of it.
* I LOVE this community. It totally suits me - the food, the friendliness, the beauty of the course, everything. I thought more than once while I was out there that I was racing in the gorgeous fall woods with 160 new friends while Steve was in the middle of downtown Minneapolis with over 5000 other runners worrying about traffic, parking, and porta potty lines. Not to say that I don't like that once in a while, just not every time.
* The race went by SO fast. I know it sounds crazy, but there wasn't a lot of down time to dread how much further I needed to go.
* It's so much fun exploring a new athletic community. I remember when I first started in the tri community, I had no idea what Clearwater was. Yesterday I heard all sorts of race names that were totally unfamiliar, and it was exciting. It was really nice to know a couple of people who've done this before who I could harass with questions beforehand. It made a HUGE difference in my preparation for the race.
* This course was GREAT. The race directors are well known in the ultra community, and they did a fabolous job setting everything up. Everything went well, and I don't have a single complaint. The course was marked so well that at one point I hadn't seen a marker in a while and was sure I'd missed a turn somewhere. Turns out there just wasn't a need for extra markers at that point, and I was so used to seeing them all the time that a brief period between them got me a tad worried :)
* Training for a 50K isn't that much different than training for a marathon, but it's so much less about your mile splits and so much more about pacing yourself.
* I got some SERIOUS core workout yesterday. I coughed at around mile 27 and thought my entire core would explode.
* That being said, I'm really not too sore today. I would say that my muscles are a little more sore than after running a marathon, but my joints hurt FAR less. My right arm is killing me from carrying a water bottle for around 20 miles, but I'm not worried.
* If you're thing about trying a trail race of any distance, go for it! It's a blast. It's 100% different from road races, but you may just get hooked. I think I am!
Enjoying finally sitting down!
Those shoes looked new when I started. I think they look better now!
Steve and me warming up by the woodstove in the chalet
I don't know why, but my fingers REALLY swelled up afterward.
Before I hopped in the shower. Notice the swollen toes to match the swollen fingers. What's missing? Blisters. I don't even have one...