Primary - Stay vertical (don't eat it on the trails) and have FUN!
My old running partner, Mark, graciously volunteered to run the 50K with me, despite the fact that he is running the San Antonio marathon next weekend since Doug was not going to be able to be at the race. Thank you, Mark!
Since the race had a 6:00 AM start time, Mark's family let me crash in their guest room - giving me a precious extra 30 minutes of sleep Saturday morning. We woke up around 3:45 AM and left Mark's house around 4:10 AM to make the drive to Huntsville to pick our packets and prep for the race. It was a nippy 40 degrees out so after picking up our packets and timing chips we huddled in the Jeep to stay warm and finish getting organized.
Since we didn't fall back until Saturday night, it was still very dark at the 6:00 AM start, so that meant wearing head lamps until the sun came up. Of course, my head lamp died 3 minutes before the race start! Thankfully, I brought a light for my visor as well, so I took off the headlamp and clipped on the visor light and it was show time. Note to anyone doing a race that requires a headlamp – change the batteries for new batteries before the race, regardless of how old or new the batteries are!
The pack of 100 or so started off fairly slow in the dark – everyone seemed to be being cautious, which was a great way to loosen my legs and get used to the trails. My light was not at a great angle, so I relied heavily on Mark’s light, and ever the gentleman, he made sure I could see and pointed out anything he thought I might miss.
This is also probably a good time to mention that I rarely, if ever, run off road. I am a pavement queen. The main reason comes down to time – driving somewhere to run adds yet another time requirement to my already over scheduled day. I am also a flat-lander and as most Houstonians will attest, unless you are going over an overpass or running in a parking garage, there are not many hills to be found. All of this to say, I did exactly zero trail runs in preparation for this race. I give serious kudos to those that run almost exclusively on trails – a mile on the trails and a mile on the pavement are not created equally (as evidenced by how much longer it takes me to run off road!). Sure, pavement pounds your body more – but the uneven terrain and hills more than make up for it!
Ok, back to the race report.
The good thing about running in the dark is that you only worry about the 10 feet in front of you and that’s it. You aren’t looking at the big hill you have to climb because you can’t see it and by the time the sun wakes up you are warmed up (well, maybe not temperature wise) and well into the run.
Lap 1 - 15.5 Miles - 2:50:11
Mark and I make good running partners because we both like to talk while we run, so we keep each other relatively entertained for hours on end and without fail he always make me laugh so hard at least once on a long run that I almost fall over, and this race was no exception.
The first lap passed in a blur. After the sun came up the hills felt hillier because I could see them, but I was still glad for the light amongst all of the roots. The trail itself is fairly technical in sections, but there are sections where the course takes you down jeep roads that are far more forgiving and you can push the pace a bit more in those sections. When we reached the turnaround and the end of our first lap, we both shed our jackets, but the temps were still cool, so I opted to keep on my skull cap, bolero (arm sleeves) and gloves.
Half Way Photo-Op
We took off for lap two, laughing at the photographer who told us to “hurry back now” …
Lap 2 - 3:03:47
The next 5 miles passed in a blur because the next time I looked down we were at an aid station and 20 miles into the run. It seemed like time was flying by ... and then it stopped ... well, time didn’t stop, but it stopped flying.
I felt pretty good up until about mile 25 or so and then my legs started to feel heavy and I started to get hungry (cue more nutrition!). My darkest miles were probably from 24 – 28. We kept running though, even though our conversation died down a bit during this stretch. Unlike road races, there are not aid stations every mile, so you just run and run and run and run until the next aid station. They are usually only 3ish miles apart, but when you are getting tired on the trails, it can seem like a long way. With only 100 or so racing the 50K, there were long stretches where we didn't see anyone else. Thankfully, the trail was very well marked so there was no question as to whether we were going the right way.
When we finally hit the last aid station all of the volunteers cheered for us as we ran in – I felt like a rock star. They celebrated that this was my first ultra and my first trail race and everyone was great. I told them that my goals were to have fun and stay vertical and so far, I was meeting and exceeding those goals. One of the volunteers (all ultra runners) quipped that you have to give something back to the course (blood, for example), that is just part of the trail running experience. I told him I was happy to have kept myself vertical and not paid homage to the trail and he reminded me that I had three miles left …
So, up until this point Mark and I both had had a couple of close calls but nothing serious. Mark said he stumbled a bit in the dark and over the course of the day we both stubbed toes and had a couple of shaky steps that reminded us to pick up our feet - pretty much the best you can hope for on a trail run.
As we departed the last aid station, I lamented to Mark that I didn't think we were going to break 6 hours based on our average pace and the time on the race clock. In his typical Mark manner, he replied, "huh, if only that was in your control". Enough said. I was there to have fun, but my competitive spirit wanted to break 6 hours so we started hauling it.
Amazingly, my legs felt great and it felt so good to be running fast. Running fast on trails it a bit nerve racking because you have less time to think about where to put your feet, but everything was falling into place perfectly. We finally caught someone on the trail - the happiest guy I have ever seen - and he gave us both fist bumps as we passed. It felt like we were flying and I knew we had 6 hours in the bag ... and just as I had that thought, I rolled my ankle.
Insert expletive here.
It hurt. I didn't stop running, but I had to slow my pace because it immediately affected my stride. I was so mad at myself for tripping but most of all, I was mad about the fact that I was so close to breaking 6 hours and my misstep would likely squash that goal.
The very smiley guy we passed saw what happened and heard my reaction and in the happiest voice he said very reassuringly to keep running and that the pain would work itself out. I have no idea if he had experience in these matters, but I knew I had to get back to the trail head and I was able to put weight on it, so I took his advice to heart. We were probably 2+ miles from the trail head at this point. After a couple of minutes at the slower pace, I started to feel sure-footed again and I told Mark to open it back up. He asked if I was sure and I replied that I was, and then he took off.
To use a Twilight reference, I felt like we were either Vampires or Werewolves (depending on whether you are Team Edward or Team Jacob) speeding through the woods. Not much talking - I was running too hard and breathing too heavy for that! We really opened it up in the last half mile and finished strong with a total time of 5:53:58 - well under my 6 hour goal! My Garmin read 31.2 at the end of the race.
Lap 1 - 2:50:11
Lap 2 - 3:03:47
50K Total - 5:53:58
With less than 100 people racing the 50K (there was also a 25K and 10K that day, but those folks were long since finished), there was not much of a party at the finish line. I was happy to see my Trarkkers Teammate, Jeff Irvin though. He ROCKED his race, as expected! the last time I saw Jeff we were running the last lap of IMTX together!
Trakkers Teamie Jeff Irvin
View Near Finish Line
So, there was only one thing left to do -- run .8 miles to hit 32 miles in celebration of my 32nd birthday. After collecting my finisher plaque and saying hi to Jeff, I quickly decided there was no time like the present and I took off to complete my goal. Surprisingly, it didn't feel bad at all, and with a quick .4 miles out and .4 miles back I was done!
I did it!Mark and I hung out a bit before making the trek back to town. When we got back to his house, I noticed that my ankle was starting to swell - which it continued to do for the rest of the day.
Thankfully, I am still able to walk on it just fine and I have been resting, icing, and wiggling my foot as much as possible to get as much range of motion back as quickly possible. It is getting progressively better every day but I am not sure when I will attempt my first run. I am contemplating another 50K on December 3, but that will depend entirely on my ankle recovery. For this week at least, I will be sticking to the spin bike and the elliptical.
I loved this race. Running in the woods is so cathartic and the ultra community is so welcoming and nice. The race was well organized and the course was well marked, with great volunteers. The food at the end could have been better, but that is not a deal breaker for me. I would definitely recommend this race. One of the reasons I am considering the Escape from Huntsville 50K (the old Sunmart race) is that I had such a blast at this race, plus Doug HATED to miss a big race, so why not run it again just for him? :)