"You set the finish line where you want it..." -- spontaneous philosophical mile 14 trail chat.
I've been getting antsy for awhile about doing some sort of race. I go for long periods of time where I could honestly tell you I couldn't care if I never ever saw another start line again. But, there is seriously something addicting and rewarding about showing yourself what you can do.
So, when Tyler's coach told him that he should race the Colorado Bend 30k as part of Capt'n Karl's nighttime trail races series (Check them out here) , I decided that if he was going to go out there, then so was I.
I have done a bit of trail running in the past -- 2014, I participated in 2 of the 3 Rogue Trail series 30ks (a twisted ankle took me out of the 3rd and my overall standing -- boo!), as well as a second place female spot in the El Sendero 40K in 2013. But, it has truly been awhile since I had stepped foot on a trail for any significant amount of time. However, I knew that I am a much stronger runner now than I was back then, so I was determined to go out and run a great race.
Because I'm a competitive demon, I had to look at the times from the years prior and was happy to see that the top three females came in at times that I was comfortable running. No crazy race times, so I had a chance at a top spot! Goooooddddd.
Ideally, my plan going into race day centered on three things: 1) staying cool since it was a nighttime race and I knew the temps would be high until the sun went down 2) staying hydrated for the aforementioned reasons 3) keeping a steady and consistent pace.
The race started promptly at 7:15pm, fifteen minutes after the start of the 60k. I couldn't help but think about how crazy I felt like these people were--doing one loop in the dark scared me enough, let alone having to cruise through the start and go back out again!
I tried to position myself in the center of the pack at the start. I've learned the hard way that I didn't want to try to go out too fast and pay for it, but I also didn't want to start too far back and get trapped when we switched into the single track trails. I tried my best to count the girls in front of me and keep an eye on who I would need to pick off.
Having talked with a few people at the start, I knew that I needed to stay conservative for the first several miles because we would start climbing almost immediately out of the gate, as the trails took us away from the river. As a running coach, I spend a lot of time telling people to stay consistent, to stay relaxed, and it's always a funny thing when you catch yourself doing it to yourself. As we came into the first climb, a lot of people that I was running with were immediately hiking. I wasn't exactly content with the slow pace, but I knew that we had a long 18 miles ahead and I was going to need to keep my energy reserves. The terrain here was incredibly rocky and, even hiking, I was having a tough time keeping my footing. Small rocks were jutting out of the grass and I found myself continually kicking them.
Around mile 2, I had passed several slower runners and had fallen into a comfortable pace with a small pack. The route was still climbing and everyone was taking it easy. Two of the women I was with fell, and, after checking to make sure that they were okay, I moved on ahead.
The first aid station came up early, at about mile 2.8. I was surprised to see it, but rather relieved because the temps had been over 100 at the start of the race and my bottle was getting low already.
I saw one of the girls that I had been chasing, who I shall call Braids, running straight through the first aid station and was surprised to see that she didn't stop. What was more surprising to me at that point was that I noticed that she didn't have a handheld or a Camelbak and didn't seem to be carrying a headlamp. I made a mental note of this and assumed I would catch her in the miles to come and let her go on through.
Tyler had the bright idea to soak several bandanas in ice water before the start of the race and pack them with ice for our necks. By this point, the heat from my body had melted the ice, so I took what remained in my water bottle and dumped it on my head. I quickly handed off my bottle to one of the aid station workers, who filled it with ice and water while I took some big hurried gulps of Coke.
One thing that I hadn't originally thought of when we started this race was that with my new gluten-free diet, I wasn't going to be able to grab a handful of pretzels or animal crackers at the aid stations anymore. But, I felt like I had a solid nutrition plan, so I wasn't phased, but I did take a second to shed a tear at the animal crackers I was leaving behind.
After the second aid station, the trail smoothed out quite a bit and became a wonderful easy-to-navigate dirt path. I figured this was my time to make up some of the ground and play to my strengths. I got into a good rhythm and let my legs run easy. It wasn't too far in that I let my mind wander and took my first (and luckily, only!) fall of the race. I still don't know what I hit because I don't actually remember hitting anything with my feet. The path was one of the smoothest that I would see all day! But, nevertheless, I sprawled myself out on the ground and slid to a stop. Luckily, my water bottle broke my fall and my knee only suffered minor scrapes. I didn't really lose any time either--a quick look back over my shoulder showed that no one was really behind me. I suppose if you fall in the forest and no one sees it, it didn't happen. Right?
My nutrition plan with the race was fairly simply. One gel (salted caramel all day, every day) every 6 miles and one salt tab every hour. I had an extra gel tucked away for a special bad occasion, because I wasn't sure how my body would react in the heat and I wanted the backup, especially with fewer options to choose from at the stations.
I rolled on from that point, picking my way a little more carefully through the trees. The miles ticked by and I fell into a good rhythm. About mile 7, I started to get a little anxious. I had thought that I would have come up to the aid station by that point and it was starting to get dark and my bottle was running low. I was happy to see that we rolled out onto an old jeep road (which made it both easier to see and to navigate!) and that took us up to the next aid station, at about mile 8.
I quickly threw my bottle down and filled it again with fresh water, taking some extra time to drink and make sure that I was feeling good. I popped on my headlamp, flipped it on, and headed out again.
I still hadn't come across Braids at this point and was feeling a little frustrated. She was the only remaining female that I had thought was ahead of me and I was determined to catch her.
It was at this point that I had picked up some friends on the trail. This was the first time that I had had some camaraderie and I was happy to have someone to talk to. After talking for a little bit, I found out that one of the guys was actually running the 10k and had missed the turn off. The other was his cousin and he had convinced him to follow along with him and eventually drop off at an aid station if he needed to. I didn't realize at the time, but the guy running the 10k had no water bottle and no headlamp, and was relying solely on us to get him through. They were great company, and in incredibly high spirits, so it made the miles fly by.
At around mile 9, we hit some incredibly steep, step-like downhill....and we came across Braids. I was incredibly ecstatic because I knew that if I was patient, I would reel her in. She seemed to be struggling on the downhill and as we passed her, she jumped into our group as we hit a quick unmanned aid station at mile 10. I quickly dropped a bit of electrolytes/amino blend into my water bottle and chugged what remained down. After a quick water fill-up, I ushered the guys out of the water stop as fast as I could, eager to put some distance between us and Braids.
Shortly after leaving the aid station, we started a pretty steep trek uphill. I had been warned that the ascent up to mile 15 and the final aid station was rough, but this was a bit of a climb that I wasn't expecting. "Sump," the 10ker, was having a bit of a problem with the ascent, so we slowed down to a fast-paced hike. It was somewhere in here that Braids came sprinting past us and took off up the hill. The speed at which she ascended was incredibly disheartening, mostly because I had felt like I was going to be able to sustain the lead over her. As we reached the summit, she was gone.
I figured at that point she was gone. I still hadn't seen any other female runners and I felt pretty confident that I had a top five finish, if not top two, going into the final miles. I just focused on staying strong and making sure that my feet were steady underneath me. The donkey wins the trail race, not the racehorse.
The trail started to turn and it became a series of steep descending switchback turns, so the guys and I decided to slow down the "bus," as we were calling it, and make sure to save our legs into the final stretch. I could tell a lot of other runners were having difficulty with it too, as we were coming up behind and passing quite a few runners.
Once we hit the river, it felt like the Vietnam scene out of Forrest Gump. The trail turned relatively flat and sandy, but the tall river grass was up over our heads and it was hard to see where we were going. We were picking up speed though, and I was happy to see us ticking off some quicker miles.
This was the first time that I had run in the dark and it was something that I wasn't entirely ready for. My trail headlamp was a pretty standard one, but I felt like it wasn't giving off a very strong glow. I could see my feet just fine, but without a wider radius, it made it hard to scout the trails ahead and watch for markers at my feet at the same time. Luckily for me, the extra headlamp from the guys was helping to light the way.
We kept on for some time, having been warned at the Mile 10 aid station that the next one wasn't until mile 15. I continued on my nutrition plan, but even now, at mile 13, I was feeling great. I was really surprised at how great my legs felt, especially with such rough terrain. I kept telling myself to keep it steady and consistent because I wanted to save something for the final miles. I knew that somewhere out in front of me was Braids and I was determined to have enough left in the tank to not let her get away from me again if I found her.
The hike up to the final aid station was exactly as gnarly as I had been warned about. Mile 15 alone had 210 feet of elevation gain and the footing was the worst of the entire trail. Even hiking, I found myself stumbling on rocks, but I kept pushing through. At this point, Sump was getting tired and he fell back and told us that he would meet us at the aid station. I was determined to push on because I knew that I didn't have much time left if I was going to catch Braids.
It felt like a Christmas miracle when I rolled into the final aid station and saw her walking in! All my energy and effort had been to catch her up to this point. The guy that I was with knew that I was out to catch her, so he shouted "GO!" and I filled my bottle up as fast as possible and threw myself out of the aid station.
I knew that the final miles were all downhill from here, both figuratively and literally. Downhill running was definitely my strength, so I knew that now was the time to drop the hammer. The trail, however, was NOT nice. The rock was loose and crumbly and the downhill grade made it even more slippery. As I was picking up momentum, I found myself focusing on simply keeping my footing, because with every step I could feel myself kicking rocks and stumbling.
I got about a half mile out of the aid station and someone came running at me. I didn't know that the 60kers were going to be coming up the loop back at us, and for one paralyzing moment, I thought for sure that I was going the wrong way and I had blown it. When the runner shouted, "Good job!" I realized what was happening and kept pressing on.
The final miles were a blur. I was running hard and I was doing everything in my power to push on. I felt great, my legs felt strong, and I had pushed the fatigue out of my brain. I was so proud of how my legs felt, but I knew I had saved for exactly this moment. I kept passing runners, most of whom I believed were 60kers, but at this point, I was foaming at the mouth and using all the remaining energy stores that I had. I looked back a few times and felt like I didn't see any headlamps, which was incredibly reassuring, but I knew that she had come up behind me before with a huge surge and I wasn't going to let that happen again.
Finally, in the last half mile, the road opened up onto the dirt lane and I floored it. I was running all out and it felt so good to stretch my legs! At this point, I didn't know who was behind me and I didn't care! I crossed the finish line in 3:59:11. It felt so good to be done, but even better to be immediately handed a medal and a "Congrats! You got third place!"
Wait, what!? I had been so convinced that Braids was the front runner that I had completely missed two females that had been ahead of me. A quick check of the results showed that they had finished side by side in 3:40, so that made me feel just fine. They were gone from the start and there was no way that I was going to catch them!
I am incredibly happy with how the race went. I feel like I hydrated well, executed the race smoothly, and ran my best. Several people came up to me post race and congratulated me. One runner, specifically, said that he followed me into the aid station at mile 15 and couldn't believe how hard I took the last 3 miles. Apparently, I put almost 30 minutes on him! It's such a great feeling to get huge compliments like that from fellow runners.
So, now, I'm planning on taking a few days off, resting and recovering and then seeing where my training will take me. I feel like I'm in a really great spot and I can't wait to see where it takes me!