Turns out our training has gone better than we thought (oooo, foreshadowing!).
The race starts in Lincolnshire, IL with a short little out-and-back (~2 miles) heading south, then heads north along the Des Plaines River Trail into Gurnee, IL turns around and finishes where we started. Geof and I had only ever been on the trail once before, in Libertyville (a section we did end up running through during the race), and it was on the coldest, most depressing-looking day in Illinois history. Easily. And the trail was covered in ice and wintery crap. So we didn't have a good feel for what the trail would be like or how it would look.
Turns out the DPRT is a gleaming little gem of a trail!
The race started at 7:00 a.m., just as the sun was making its first appearance. The ground was covered in a blanket of frost and our shoes squeaked as we shuffled across a grassy area to the starting line. Brrr, it was friggin' cold! But that wouldn't last long.
The 50 mile start...you can see the frost in the grass...Photo: Bill Thom
There was also a marathon and half marathon that would start later in the morning, but for the time being we had the trail all to ourselves. I'm not sure how many peeps started, but 55 fine folks finished the deed when it was all said and done. Zach Gingerich was the early (and correct) pick for the win, and he didn't disappoint with a blazing 5:37:17 finish. In case you don't want to do the math, that's an average pace of 6:44/mile...for 50 miles. That makes me want to yak just thinking about holding that pace for that long. He looked cool and comfortable both times we saw him.
Anywho, there's a short little out and back to the south that you run before heading north for the day so that the mileage comes out to a little over 50 miles. We started in back, chatting with a couple peeps, then gradually worked our way up by mile 2 or 3. Ahh, we had the trail to ourselves...and that was pretty much how it was much of the day. We passed some folks early on that we thought we'd get passed by later on but that never did come to fruition. In fact, we managed to hold onto our 8th and 9th place pretty much the entire day, and others came and went. It's cool to look at the splits and see how grossly consistent we were throughout the day. We slowed a smidge on the way back, but that was expected. Otherwise, we were like a pair of metronomes out there :)
The trail was gorgeous. Did I mention that? All the leaves were bright yellow and explosively colorful once the sun came out for good and burst through the forest canopy. The trail was probably 40% exposed, 60% forest cover. Maybe less, maybe more. The exposed sections were just as lovely and the sun felt so good on the face and arms :) It warmed up into the 60s and I was able to remove my long sleeve shirt somewhere after the turnaround. The terrain is crushed limestone, so I was very thankful for having thought to unearth my gaiters for the first time all year. The trail is also very, very, VERY flat. There were two inclines where we thought to walk, but only because we would have killed for an excuse to walk. There are a few minor road crossings, but most of the time the trail goes underneath the roads, so we were nearly uninterrupted.
We were clucking along all fine and dandy, having clipped into a comfortable pace after the first 10 miles or so. My glutes and hams felt fatigued pretty early on, but they never got any worse. It was like they just wanted to cut to the chase and settle into their low level discomfort for the day early on. So that gave me plenty of time to get comfortable with the discomfort. That's a big battle in 100 mile races...getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. Somewhere before we hit double digit miles, though, we came to an aid station that Adrian Belitu and Maria Clementi were manning. Very excited to see them, it's been awhile! Adrian announced I was second woman, to which Geof shouted behind us as we took off, "don't encourage her!" :-)
I knew I was in second, but I didn't really care this time. Like I said, I wasn't out there to do anything surprising; I was merely out for a long training run. So, I let it be. And that felt good.
There were mile markers for the first 15 or so miles, to cater to the short distances, but it was fun to use the markers to calculate splits and to otherwise occupy the mind. Somewhere near the 14-15 mile mark, we came upon the first place woman standing alongside the trail, futzing with her stuff. We said hello as we passed by, and for the few minutes that followed I let myself fantasize about running in first place :) But then she caught up to us and proceeded to do something very odd... The trail is a very wide, multi-use trail. As in, you could conceivably run four across, comfortably. But this chick decides she's gotta have some Dunmore. Geof and I run side by side, leaving plenty of room to the left to pass. She was literally so close that if either of us moved our legs or feet slightly differently she would have stepped on our heels and down we all would have gone. If there hadn't been a breeze, I probably would have been able to feel her breath on my back. Um, WTF? And she was breathing heavy, slapping her feet with each footstrike. Was this supposed to be some sort of intimidation tactic? It wasn't working; it just made me want to throw an elbow up behind me. But instead, Geof and I just held tight where we were and figured she'd pass. She wouldn't pass. We held our pace, not pushing anything. And she continued on our heels. Geof eventually stepped a little to the left and she took that moment to step between us, run a few strides beside me, then take off. She must be new to ultrarunning. That was some BS. Who does that? She was moving very strong and that was the last we saw of her until the turn around. That was bad trail etiquette on her part. But, whatev, we have much bigger fish to fry :) Even if we didn't, I'm not sure I could have kept up with her. She totally smoked us, finishing almost 40 minutes ahead of us, LOL!
In any event, we continued on our merry way, sticking to our comfortable pace and reaching the 26.4 mile turn around in 3:47. Perfect. I had "budgeted" four hours for the first half and only stocked enough fuel in my waist pack to cover that. At the turn around, we had our longest stop of the day, maybe a few minutes. I changed into my Wildcats as my La Sportiva Quantums don't breathe very well and my feet were really sweaty (I think I'll reserve the Quantums for really cold days). We pounded a Starbucks Doubleshot each, resupplied my Honey Stinger Waffles and Geof's Gu's and then headed out of there. It took a mile or so for my feet to get used to the feel of my beloved Wildcats...they are much less cushiony and have a thinner upper than the Quantums, but they felt oh so good! My feet could air out now, and they weren't rubbing the fresh blister on my right foot.
We continued on, business as usual. Taking in the beautiful fall scenary, loving the warm sun on our skin, marveling as a couple different freight trains whooshed by us...those things are HUGE when you're down below them! I giggled like a little kid, loving the rush it gave us as they flew past.
The aid station volunteers were wonderful. We only stopped at a couple stations on the way out (there were 15 total), but stopped more frequently on the way back to refill our water bottles. I was pretty thirsty and making sure to keep on top of my water. That meant I needed to pee more often :) There was an awesome bathroom just before the 50k mark that we stopped in and I relished washing my hands. It's the little things in life. We farted around a minute there so Geof could empty his shoes and I stretched my glutes. We hit the 50k mark, and I looked down at my watch...a 50k PR, sweet! We covered the first 31 miles in 4:54, and after working some fuzzy calculations in my head at that point, I realized we would likely break 8:30 for the day. But, I didn't want to get ahead of myself. That's not what we were out there for.
Much of the rest of the race was very uneventful, which is always a good thing in these races. We stayed very, very comfortable, never pushing the pace. We walked in a few spots to eat or change up the movement, stopped to refill our bottles at Adrian's aid station, and found some more awesomely familiar faces there, too. What a great day, filled with great peeps! We were now in single digits, and the next aid station we were looking forward to seeing Brian, Kelly and Caleb. I was feeling the cumulative miles and time in my legs and was now having to work a little to maintain our pace, but that was fine by me, we were almost done!
With three miles to go we pulled into Brian's aid station, goo-goo gaa-gaa'd with baby Caleb, caught up on Kelly's race (she ran the 1/2 marathon; her first race since having Caleb!), and then we were off. I noticed we were just a little over 7 hours in with only three miles to go. This was in the bag.
Apparently, my calculations had been off...we weren't just going to go sub-8:30...we were going to go sub-8:00 even if we walked the rest of it! Buy why walk when you can run :)
I started to feel really excited, and Geof was feeling the pull as well. We passed the "1 mile to go" sign and we picked it up to kick it in strong, crossing the finish line in 7h:43m:47s, in 8th and 9th place overall. I snagged 2nd woman overall, and Geof was 7th male overall. Hot Damn!
I'm super stoked for how everything went, and how even-keeled my mood and stomach were. I am now really, really looking forward to JJ100, and really, really happy with our training this time around. What a difference a training plan makes!!