Ever have one of those days on the trail where you go, "Holy S#$@! THIS is why I love this! THIS is why I do this!" I had one of those days on Saturday. It could not have gone better in my opinion. The results speak for themselves. I went into the day with a very, very optimistic outlook. While I was still going to shoot for finishing under six hours, as was my stated goal, more than anything I just wanted to have a really good day on the trail and just plain enjoy myself.
But when you have volunteers shouting "Number two woman, way to go, keep moving!!" at every aid station for the first three hours, it's kinda hard to relax! I didn't go into the day with uber-competitive thoughts (I mean, I always have a competitive spirit, but this day I was supressing it...initially), but when you hear something like that, one can't help but think about kicking butt. All over the place. And picking up the pace, but just a little :)
Geof was running the 50 mile race and just planned to have a good day rather than worry about a time or pushing too much. Our training hasn't been of the 50 mile caliber of late, so he was just going to be happy with a finish. Geof ended up having a very nice day on the trail and finished in fine form and in much better shape than last year's race.
Hey, it's Geof! Photo courtesy of the Brelly
He even made time for some kisses at Highway 12 from our favorite pups, Britton and Mia! Photo courtesy of the BrellyThe 50k race started at 8:15, so I had two hours to kill after Geof's race started. I organized stuff in the truck and farted around some, then decided to go watch the 50 milers roll into the start/finish area, which was also their mile 9. Those front folks were burnin' it up out there, wow!! I hung out and cheered on runners and waited for Geof to come through before heading back to the truck to finish my prep and fill my Nathan pack. There was some on-and-off drizzle, but nothing to call home about. I stuck a super thin rain jacket into the cables of my pack, but I never did end up using it. Standing against the back wall of the bathroom building that was blocking the wind, I chatted with another woman before Jeff (RD) started his pre-race speech. And then, without fanfare, we were off! Oh boy, was I excited! I started out nearly all the way in back in hopes of properly pacing myself from the outset.
People were walking in back, so I picked up my feet and moved around a large clump of people and then slowly made my up, up, up. I didn't know where the lead pack was at the time, but in retrospect that is because I was a part of it. Ha! Who does that?! Eventually, it completely thinned out and we were rolling along on our way to the Horseriders turnaround point at mile 6.7. This part of the course was totally new to me and I was loving every second of it. Gorgeous, forested singletrack amidst tall pines and short shrubbery that was brilliantly green and lush from all the recent rains. I had no idea where I stood in the line-up, nor did I care; I had yet to be told where I stood. And I was running along comfortably in blissful ignorance, soaking up all the beautiful Kettle surroundings.
The wind was light in the woods, but stiff in the wider, more open prairie sections of the course. The drizzle tapered off to nothing and wouldn't return until I was nearly finished with my run. Everything felt calm and serene and I was in this really happy place. I was listening to my iPod Shuffle and I decided to play a little game...no changing songs, I had to listen to each song that popped up, and for some reason this really entertained me... Then, I wanted to see if I could outrun the battery life of my Shuffle. Again, this deeply entertained me. By the by, no, I did not outrun the Shuffle. I win!
There was nothing remarkable about the first half marry of the race, yet at the same time everything was remarkable. Ya know what I mean? I felt so consumed by the awesome of the day. I pulled into Horseriders to the announcement of "Second Woman! Keep it moving!" Kevin Grabowski (aka Super Fast WI Dude) was volunteering and helped me open my first Honey Stinger Waffle while I pounded a glass of very watered down Heed. He handed me my waffle and sent me on my way with some words of encouragement, "Get back out there so you can laugh at all the poor souls who still have to come see us here! You're doing great!" Funny guy, that Kevin :)
Oh, my nutrition strategy was very unstrategic, but mostly because it was cold out and it was "only" 31 miles. I ran with my Nathan pack filled with water and opted not to carry any bottles. I wanted my hands free and relaxed. I decided to just suck it up and stomach the Heed available at the aid stations, and relied on either one Waffle per hour, or 5 Honey Stinger chews (the Cherry Blossom flavor are my favorite!) per hour, plus one S!Cap for electrolytes. I did nothing but take a couple sips of water the first hour. I find I don't need much of anything the first hour, even on an empty stomach. Anywho, Heed usually makes me gag and hate things like babies and butterflies, but for some reason I was willing to risk it so that my hands would be comfortable :) It's a good thing that it actually tasted really, really good for once! I drank a cup of it close to every hour.
Let's see, oh yes, leaving Horseriders you head back the same way you came, so I got to see everyone behind me, including the next few chicks. I was warmed up and feeling really awesome by this point, powering down hills, maintaining cadence and moving well up hills. People jumped to the side and I would come flying down a hill, shouting words of encouragement. Peeps were all sorts of nice and it was yet another reminder of why I so enjoy the ultra world. I caught a glimpse of the third and fourth chicks and noted the pretty big gap between us. But I still made sure to maintain and keep moving. Before long, it was just me and woods again, and my music. I hummed along to my favorite songs and kept my eyes glued to the trail before me. I would not be taking any dives on this day, no time for that! There was one guy in front of me a ways and I decided to reel him in, slowly. He was running everything and moving well, but he treated the downhills like a snakepit. Before long I was within a few paces of him and we hit a final downhill before the road crossing taking us back to the Nordic loop, and I blew by him. It felt good. But mostly because it was one of those really lovely downhill sections that make one feel as though they could fly down it effortlessly, forever.
Back on the Nordic, it's another 1.5ish miles back to the start/finish area, at which point the 50k runners head out for two full loops of the 9+ mile Nordic loop. Pulling into the aid station I am greeted by cheers and smiling volunteers. I downed a cup of Heed again, considered pulling off my right shoe to empty it of some rocks, but then decided I just wanted to keep moving. Plus my favorite Coldplay song was on and it has the perfect running beat.
MUDD Michele snapped a quick pic on my way out of the aid station
I got to the first bench on the trail, around a bend, and decided it would be a foolish, rookie, mistake to not empty out my shoe. So I stopped and unloaded the 1/4 pound of trail debris and got back on my way. I had to do this once more before I finished, but both times I made quick business of it and removed my ear buds so that I could hear if anyone was coming my way. I was starting to feel that competitive surge. I had no idea where the next chicks were behind me, and I didn't want to find out. I turned up the music a little louder to try and drown out the thoughts. I don't like thinking about that kind of stuff; I wasn't out there to win anything, I was only out there to achieve a goal, it just so happened that I was doing really freakin' well while working towards that goal. I needed to keep my mind focused on the true task at hand and not let other things muddy it up too much.
Serenity now :)
Oh, look at that, it's time for another Waffle. Nom, nom, nom. Mmmm, soooo good!
I spent lots of time solo on the trail, until the half marathoners merged trail with us. Then, there were lots of people strewn about the trail, but it was never bothersome and never got in the way as it's a wide, multi-use trail on the Nordic loop. The first loop felt a little long to me, but that was no surprise because the Nordic loop always feels long. And it's fraught with these really obnoxious rollers...steep down, five steps recovery, steep up. Rinse and repeat. And it comes kinda in the middle of the loop. Then, you get to the most beautiful pine forest section, where you're running down the middle of rows of soaring pine trees, and the ground is covered in a soft bed of pine needles. It is magical. And it smells like heaven. But, just when you think you're about done with the loop and you're singing with the birds and prancing with the bunnies and thanking whomever you thank for being alive and well enough to be running, the ground turns back into big gravelly rock and grass and you get a couple more steep ups and downs, just in case you forgot what the Kettle was all about. It's sort of like a P.S., on the trail. P.S. don't forget how trashed your legs are going to be. P.S. that pine forest? It's done, now you pay. P.S. suckfest ahead. P.S. you love this, remember? Well, I had my own little P.S. for those final hills: P.S. kiss my grits, I own you!
Oh, I forgot to mention when I got passed. It was a moment that will forever live in infamy. No, not really, but I do remember that it was at exactly the 3 hour mark. The number three gal just blew by me out of nowhere. I made a point to never look behind me, I hate when people do that, so I never noticed her until that very moment. She said something, but my bad manners music drowned it out. Sorry about that. It was mighty impressive, her speed. It was about mile 20 or 21 when that happened and it didn't even phase me for some reason. I actually was a little bit happy. I was running a little less scared now :) She blew past and never let up, eventually finishing 7 minutes ahead of me. I thought the gap was going to be bigger, judging by how swift she was. So, yea, that happened.
I wrapped up that first loop, slammed another glass of Heed like a champ, and got back out for my final loop o' Nordic. But not before everyone and their mother shouted, "third woman, third woman!!!" That felt really good, and gave me another little surge. I was feeling the hills a little bit, but nothing like I thought I would. Actually, my legs felt flippin' good! I should note that nothing I thought would bother me ever did come to fruition. My IT band, hips and calves all played nice-nice. My anterior tib thingy acted like it wanted to piss and moan on some of the downhills and flats, but I found that focusing on my form kept that at bay. When I get fatigued, my mid-foot strike turns into a godawful looking heel-strike, so focus was needed to avoid that. And avoid I did. I absolutely cherished this final loop, and it helped that it just flew by. The final loop of any run is almost always the longest feeling, but for some reason that wasn't the case on Saturday.
I started to wonder if the Heed was spiked.
I was actually moving even better than the first loop, and my legs started feeling fresher (is that a word?). Now I kinda wish I had timed the two loops to see which ended up faster. I bet the second one was faster :) I don't think I walked a single step of that loop, except for that one really SUPER steep hill. The drizzle began somewhere on this loop and it felt good. I was actually getting a little warm due to the increased effort. I could feel a smile plastered on my face. What was I smiling at? Why did I think I needed a reason to smile? I was on Cloud freakin' 9 folks! Every pretty, happy thought imaginable entered my mind in those final 9+ miles: I pictured myself walking down the aisle to Geof all spiffed out in his tux and I in my sah-weet dress, I pictured us lounging by the beach in Hawaii with sushi and foofy cocktails and cupcakes, I felt myself blushing at the memory of when he popped the question just 6 short months ago, visions of mountains and Colorado, and Grey's Anatomy popped into my head (hey, I love Grey's Anatomy, and since I had missed the previous week's episode I was very curious about what happened :)), puppies and babies with fat rolls on their legs, and even a vision or two of actually achieving my goal...doing what I set out to do and doing it well. I felt a little hyperventilate-y (that is definitely not a word, but work with me here) as all these wonderful thoughts danced around in my runner's high mind. Seriously, who spiked the Heed?
The pine forest came, and I marveled at its magic once more. It's like the whole world stops when you run through that section. Cyndi Lauper was singing in my ears about love being a battlefield (love that song) as I pulled into the mile 27 aid station and tossed some garbage, announcing "Hot Damn!!" when the volunteer there said I only had four more miles. I surged up those next hills and kept on going. I grabbed a final cup of Heed at the last aid station and then busted my move. I saved up a little somethin' somethin' for those last 1.5 miles and I was excited. I checked my watch (it was exactly 5 hours in) and decided that worse case, I'd finish in 5:20. That got me even more excited. So I ran the rest of the hills, and before I knew it I was rounding the final bend and the finish area tent and bonfire came into plain view. Up the little hill and between the cones, I did a corny fist pump as I crossed under the finish line banner.
Victorious. I got to be a fastie for a day.
The final time on my watch? 5h:12m:50s. That's a PR by exactly 1 hour. The results say 5:13-something, but since I was in back when I started it took a bit getting over the timing mat. Hey, every second makes a difference :)
I felt...awesome. Totally freaking awesome. I just wish Geof could have been there when I finished, or finishing with me, but I found comfort in knowing he was enjoying his day as well. After chatting with MUDD Michele and a few other folks, I made short business out of changing into clean dry clothing to avoid the ultra shivers. I also slipped on my new pair of RecoFit Leg Compressors...now those babies can compress! It felt like a big bear hug on each leg, from ankle to glute. They felt sooooo good! I love that they are sleeves, so putting them on and slipping them off is a breeze and I can leave my shorts on :) Two thumbs up, give those babies a whirl!
I had a little time to kill, so I roamed around the finish area (which is very cozy and welcoming, with a huge tent, tables and chairs, a bonfire, warm food, cold beer, and front row seats for the finishline), noshing on the post-race BBQ, enjoying some local brews, and chatting with other runners and friends. The results were posted as people came through, so I checked the board after a bit and was very excited to see I came in third woman overall, first in my 18-29 age group, and 27th finisher overall. Hot Damn, indeed! The 50k awards started at 3:00, so I was still solo at that point, but it was still fun to hear my name announced as first in my age group and getting my little ice sculpture-looking trophy. I definitely was enjoying the moment.
I even got a little memento for my efforts
I really had a great time hanging at the finish area, and was pumped to see Geof rolling in for his finish smiling. The drizzle was picking up a bit so we ducked into the truck so he could change into warm clothes and then we joined the Brelly and some other friends under the tent for food, beverages and trail talk. We waited for the final 50 mile finishers to come through before hitting the road for home.
It was such a great experience and I still can't believe how much fun I had and how focused and in the moment I was throughout my run. I never experienced any dips or low points in my race, and I can't believe how good that Heed tasted... In the wake of it, I feel great, save for some good ol' fashioned leg soreness and post-race fatigue. Just a couple reminders of how hard I worked, yet how effortless it all seemed in the midst of it.
This is one of the best race experiences I've ever had. Everything just went so smoothly and without a hitch. All the training I've put in over the last 6 or 7 months paid off a little this past weekend and that makes me feel pretty darn good. It's a really amazing feeling to state outloud what your goals are and then to actually achieve them. Kinda cool, and something I highly recommend. Everything just...came together :)
And now, it's just 4 days until THE big day!! What a week!
Post-race chillaxin', GnP style