This Trail Race was unlike any other “marathon” I’ve ever attended. People weren’t doing any stretches or warm-ups. There wasn’t a nervous energy in the air. No one was wearing pace bands around their wrists. There were no outrageous lines at the port-a-potties. The only outrageous line was at the breakfast buffet where they were serving eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, gravy (I’m not kidding), french toast sticks, kolaches, juice and more. Even Denny’s thinks it was a little crazy! You couldn’t help but laugh as people loaded up on food items that surely couldn’t sit well for 50k or 50 miles. What do I know?! I had already consumed my usual pre-race banana and bagel/peanut butter combination. However, the buffet was just too good to pass up so I also grabbed a biscuit with some jelly and a kolache (glorified pig in a blanket for my Midwestern peeps), along with some potent-ass Gatorade.
The 50-Milers started at 7:00am which gave the rest of us 30 minutes to mosey around the start/finish area, visit with friends and stand in awe of the wonders of this Trail Run. Here’s when a little nervous energy kicked in (thank god there were no porta-potty lines). I couldn’t help but look around and size up the competition a little, but my goal was still to start slow and keep it safe and steady the entire time. Amy and I had previously discussed our plan to stay together as long as possible. We would hover around the 10min/mile mark for the first 20 miles and then take it from there. Of course, as most runner creeds go, if I was feeling good, I would go with it. If she was feeling good, she would go with it.
It was warm and humid…starting temp was already near 70 degrees. It was overcast, but incredibly thick with humidity. Hydration would be vital the entire day. Lots of experienced trail runners carry their own nutrition and water. Not this rookie. I was in it for the food and drink and didn’t want to be bogged down by unnecessary equipment. People of all shapes and sizes meandered to the start line about 5 minutes before the gun time. Again, no pressure to corral early or properly seed yourself. It was a race atmosphere and culture that I could definitely get used to.
Let me quickly outline the course.
3.07 mile out/back single track followed by two 12.5 mile loops.
The out/back was crowded and once we left the pavement for the trail, it was hard to really move up in the formation. It didn’t take long for the leaders to come screaming down the trail presenting a constant barrage of “runners up.” In between, Amy and I were able to “surge and merge” as I called it. We would speed up temporarily in order to get in front of some people and then we would merge right back in formation. It was mentally tough to start this slow… slower than we had originally planned with 10:20 miles. Unfortunately, we were also seeded by annoying running veteran named “Larry” who kept giving us his unwelcome words of wisdom. “Don’t start too fast ladies,” “Here come the rabbits again,” “Are you trying to place?” His constant comments were starting to get annoying and my only goal became burying this dude in our dust (which we promptly did).
The scenery and surroundings were beautiful and the trail was soft with plenty of leaves and pine needles under our feet. Of course, those things also served as disguises for the tree roots and stumps that were invisible and buried beneath. I was doing great at avoiding them, but did slightly turn an ankle or two in the early portions of the race. During the out and back portion, we saw our friend Ashley who was currently in 5th place of the female division. She had a smile on her face and was looking strong. I couldn’t tell where we were in the scheme of the pack…probably 1/3 back. I started counting females, but promptly shut my mind down and stopped. Not today, Carrie…
The water stops were exactly what I had heard–gluttonous. PBJ, oreos, jelly beans, bananas, melons, apples, chips, doritos, boiled potatoes with salt, power bars, etc. Your mind really wants to indulge, but the body was afraid to. We stopped and pee’d at Rest Stop #2, while fueling ourselves on a couple of gum drops and hydration.
Once we ended the out/back portion we saw hubby cheering for us, which totally made my morning. He has been the biggest supporter amidst all of my self-indulgent athletic pursuits. Amy and I were feeling great as we entered the first 12.5 mile loop. The trail opened up a bit and was no longer a single track. It was more jeep road in spots with some well marked trails. Passing people got easier. All the while, we hovered in that 9:53-10:00 per mile pace. We’ d pick it up for a bit, but were always smart to reign it back. Plus, we took our time at each and every rest stop to make sure we were drinking enough water and gatorade.
Through these first several miles, Amy and I were able to converse with little difficulty. Most of the conversation centered around our gratiude for our surroundings, health and ability to do something like this–that we never thought we could or would do. The miles passed with relative ease and so did the people. Little by little, we were just picking off runners. There was no blast from us. We were steady. It appears that these were people that went out aggressively and were now fading. Even the leaders were starting to fade as we saw them pass on the loop. It was only then that I started thinking, “maybe we can place today.” I started to notice other women who were ahead of me and trying to calculate how far ahead they were…20 min? 30 min?
I was about to find out…