And so it begins. With this race I start my slow, steady run up to an ultra distance race (to be named later) sometime next spring. More than likely it will be a 50K. I’m open to ideas and suggestions for races… 🙂
I have run this race twice. Once as a 7 miler and once as a 25K. Neither time did I have any idea what I was doing and mostly just signed up for it because my friends organize it and I wanted to support them. I didn’t really “train” for it then and it showed. I had fun and really liked it, but it took me about 3 hours to finish the 25K and I turned several ankles on the run so I kind of got what I deserved for my lack of preparation.
This race always cracks me up at the start line when the race director says things like “knee high water crossings” and “lots of holes/debris on the trail”. Not because of what he is saying, but to watch the reactions of the people running it who have no idea what they are in for. They see “trail run” and think MKT trail, not “singletrack, hiking trail”. So their eyes bug out and they get that “what have I signed up for?” look on their faces. READ THE DESCRIPTION! …and, yes, you are going to get your pretty little shoes muddy…
I almost signed up for the 50K on this one. Even though I can say I’m in much better shape this time around… that DOES NOT equate to “50K” shape. I’m pretty sure it would have ruined me, for several reasons that I will get to in a minute. Actually, I almost bailed out and ran the 7K when I went by the cut off. I probably wouldn’t hurt near as much today if I had, but I’ve never been the sharpest stick on the trail anyway.
It seems odd to start with conditions but unlike a road race where, unless something extreme happens, it really doesn’t matter, conditions make all the difference in the world on a real trail race. I had been watching the weather closely for about 10 days. I was really mostly concerned with the temperature. I melt in the heat and the trail flows through a heavily wooded area that gets pretty close, blocks the wind and holds heat and humidity. However, I ended up being concerned the other direction. Race day temps were in the middle 30s!!! With about a 15mph breeze. It was PERFECT. I love cool/cold weather running so this was great.
Everything good that happens to me seems to come with a little down side…
Three days previous to race day Columbia received RECORD rainfall. Over 7 inches at my house in 2 days. With only one day to dry out, I knew the trail would be highly suspect. And, unfortunately… I was right.
Most of the trail was fine. Of the 15+ miles I would say only about 4 miles of it were muddy. The water crossings (4 decent sized ones) were about knee high and COLD! It felt kinda good, actually. What I did not expect was the swamp crossing on the back side of the Gans Creek section of the trail. I think it was from a flooded pond off of the course someplace, but regardless, it took me by surprise and was deep and snotty.
Besides the above mentioned juicy bits, this trail is gorgeous. It is a state park just south of Columbia. It winds through woods, creeks and meadows and across bluff tops with amazing views. The weather had started to tame the plant growth a bit so we didn’t have to wade through the jungle grasses and clinging vines of summer. The trail is a mix of dirt (Missouri clay) and rock (a few small rock gardens but nothing serious). A few hills, but nothing more than a quarter mile and only one that is really steep. As an added surprise, the race director took us down this hill (not the usual route) and then back up a new (to me) section. Then back up it later. Evil, mean nasty race director… There is a lot of side hill, off camber stuff, some tight singletrack and the same creek to cross several times. Overall, on the difficulty scale, I would give it a 3 when it is dry and a 4+ when it is wet or snowy. A great first race for those new to Ultra running.
I really feel like, especially with this race, I was pretty prepared. I had been running 1-2 days per week off road and another 3 days a week on the usual roads and trails. I will eventually switch this up more so I’m running on trails most of the time, but for now it’s what I’ve got.
My plan was to only carry a handheld since there were 3 aid stations on the course. And in that I only put water. I carried one Honey Stinger gel with Ginseng and Caffeine. In hindsight, this was not the right setup. I should have put EFS or Tailwind in the water bottle and the Stinger was just wrong. Nutrition is a mystery I must solve if I ever want to go longer distances. Clearly, I still don’t get it.
I wore shorts, compression calf sleeves, a single, long sleeved shirt, a thermal lid and wind shell gloves (I love those things). My shoes were Asics Gel Kahanas (comfy, if heavy and NO MUD TRACTION). I tend to get hot even in very cold conditions so even though the temps were in the 35-45 degree range I ended up taking off the skull cap and gloves about 12 miles in. I have a feeling this will also be a challenge for me. Finding the right combination of clothing. I know I don’t have a good rain shell and don’t have enough of the right socks, hot weather gear, etc. I can see this is going to be a process.
As with all trail races, this one started out with a casual shuffle. The RD sent us out on a half mile loop to spread us out. The 7milers and the 25K all started at the same time. Spreading us out a little before we all dived into the singletrack trail was a great idea. I ignored the 7 milers (except to give a few of them crap for being sandbaggers) and really tried to focus on starting off slow. Once we got on to the trails, I just tried to settle in and focus on the trail. I chatted with a few people and worked on conservation on the ups and relaxing on the downs. I wanted to push the flats but the mud would have none of that. After several near falls, I gave up and just tried to stay upright, which I did for the entire race.
I would love to tell you how beautiful it was out there but one thing I have really tried to practice on is staying focused on the trail. The whole “If you look up, you will go down” thing is pretty much spot on for me, so being in the moment and considering every foot placement is critical for me. Staying that focused for that long is hard for those of us from the School for the Easily Distracted, so it takes all the brain cells I have left (both of them) to stay on task. While this makes the miles go by faster, it also tends to run me into rocks and creek crossings with little warning so I have to take a peak up every once in a while.
Overall, I felt good for the first 11 miles and then I started to tire. Not surprising for my first trail race in a while and also my longest run of the year. I tiptoed across the creeks, dodged persimmons, walnuts and squirrels. Got passed a few times and passed a few people and generally just solidified with myself how much I really love running trails. I think I finished around 2:45:00 and finished around 9th out of about 50 or so. If this is the case it would be about 15 minutes faster than last time. I had some really bad cramping in my legs after the race (debilitating) so that’s a big, red nutrition flag that I need to address. Two days later my quads really hurt, but otherwise I feel good.
Next up is 2 road half marathons in the next month! One I HAD to do because it is only a mile from my house. The other one is in Springfield, MO and just sounded like fun. I almost signed up for the full marathon but chickened out at the last second so that distance will have to wait for spring. I have 4 more races left this fall. The two half marathons and then a turkey day 5K and the race formerly known as First Night (5K) on New Year’s Eve.