Whoa, it’s been awhile. I fully intended to write a race report about my first race of the year, Phunt 50K, that I ran nearly six months ago. Oops!
Well, I still would like to share an abbreviated version.
It was kind of cold (upper 30s) and a double-loop course. It started to rain as I neared the end of the first loop. The course got sloppy. Many people dropped to the 25K distance. I feared missing a cutoff once I learned they had them (uh, as I started the second loop) — and came really close. In fact, a volunteer at the last aid station asked me how I was feeling, and said he was supposed to start pulling people one minute ago. He asked if I thought I could finish within the eight-hour time limit. Glad he let me keep going, I had plenty of time! (07:42:31)
I was nearly last (only five people behind me), but I think most of them I managed to pass in the last few miles. There was at least one person who got pulled at an aid station (I saw it mentioned in a Facebook comment), and a lot called it quits after one loop. I’m proud of myself for pushing through. And the finish time is EXACTLY the same as my NorthFace 50K a couple years ago. Crazy!
After Phunt, I took a little race break except for a 5K in February. But I was working on bigger things …
Like running a marathon on my birthday!
The B&A Trail Marathon (right up the road from me in Severna Park, MD) originally would have been a race where I tried to run fast (for me). But after Phunt, I had a fracture scare (shin). Turns out it was muscular, but I took a few weeks off as a precaution. So I went into this marathon a little bit undertrained (only made it to 17.5 miles in training). It worked out fine, though. My friend Dan was much more undertrained and was looking for a race buddy. (He’s a seasoned ultrarunner, though, and knew what he was getting himself into.)
We took it easy and stuck together the whole race, which otherwise would have gotten quite lonely. It’s a small race with a 1,000-runner limit for both the half and full marathons … but only 300 do the full marathon. It was a beautiful, though chilly, day, and I was happy to start my new age group with my 13th marathon finish!
That ended up being my last long run before my next big adventure race.
More on that later. Hopefully it won’t take me another six months for a race report!
It’s been awhile since I did a race report. A lot has happened since Raleigh 70.3 on June 1! I should have my first 2015 race report written up soon, but wanted to fill in the blanks before I get to that.
In mid-July I did the 45-mile Tour de Keuka bike ride in Western NY with one of my college roommates as part of an unofficial girls reunion weekend. At the end of the month, I ran the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon marathon. Did you know there was a Grand Canyon in PA? Neither did we, so naturally we had to run it. It was really hilly and hard!
In August I went to Ireland to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Dublin half marathon, and spent a week touring the country. I also did the Iron Girl Columbia triathlon for the seventh time.
September I headed to VA Beach for my 10th time running the Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon there. Our favorite end-of-summer trip (that just so happens to include a race). The following week I headed to Dover for the Amish Country Bike Tour. We did the 50-mile ride this time. I hadn’t ridden in awhile and it was a little uncomfortable, but at least it’s flat!
The end of September was the start of a challenging fall race season. A friend and I headed up to Philadelphia for the Sloppy Cuckoo 12-Hour race. The race is on a 6.55-mile trail loop, and you run around it as many times as you can (or choose to) in 12 hours. We made it around six times for an official distance of 39.3 miles, but ran out to a milestone marker to round it up to 40 miles for the day. Holy cow, that’s far!
I had some IT band issues following that race, but sought help and kept moving! The first few runs post-race were a bit painful, but I made it through the Baltimore Half Marathon comfortably in mid October. At the end of October, I ran the Patapsco Valley 50K with a group of friends. That was an interesting experience! We started at 6 a.m. in the dark with headlamps. Patapsco Park is full of challenging trails, and I was still babying my knee/IT, so I took my time and enjoyed a gorgeous day.
I wasn’t done with the distance after that race, I was just getting started! That was my last long run before the JFK 50 Mile Race — my first 50-mile attempt. Emphasis on attempt. Going into the race, I knew I was super slow on trails, and that the 12-hour time limit was going to be a challenge. But only the first 16 or so miles are on trails, the rest canal towpath. My strategy was to do run-walk intervals once I hit the canal to keep an even pace.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t run/walking fast enough. And I didn’t realize how far behind I had fallen until it was too late. The checkpoints along the way required different paces to meet the cutoffs. I got through the hard part with nearly 30 minutes to spare, but just barely made the mile 27 cutoff. I was technically 10 minutes late to the mile 34.4 aid station, but they didn’t seem to care. I kept moving, skipping many of my walk intervals to try to make up time … but how fast can you really move after 34+ miles? I stayed hopeful as I inched closer to the next cutoff time, wondering where that 38.4 aid station was … and when I finally got there, I was six minutes past the cutoff. But this time they cared. My bib tag was pulled, my race was over. DNF.
In a way, I was kind of glad to stop. I was tired! But I also knew I could have managed another 12 miles in the nearly three hours left before finish line cutoff. It was heartbreaking. A lot of people were pulled off the course at that station. The man next to me on the shuttle bus was only two minutes late.
38.4 miles is still really far. I’m still proud of what I accomplished. I loved the race, and I will be back to finish what I started. Probably not this year, but definitely in the future.
I finished out 2014 with a few shorter races. The Thanksgiving day 10K just five days after JFK was pretty slow and painful, but I recovered well enough a couple weeks later to place third in my age group in a local 5K! The Celtic Solstice 5-miler in Baltimore is always a fun time. And the last race of the year was my running club’s 15K anniversary run. Not a great race day for me, but I got it done.
July 27, 2013 was the third year my running club has held the Endless Summer Six-Hour Run. In previous years, I either had other events, or just wasn’t up to that kind of mileage.
They allow both relay teams of three and solo runners. Some of my friends did the relay, but I was more interested in the personal challenge. And with the North Face 50K less than two months prior, I felt my body was in good enough shape for distance. I didn’t train specifically for this event, but I had to give it a shot.
I was on the fence for a while, until I saw a Facebook posting that they were counting down the remaining spots before closeout. Only 14 left! I jumped off the fence and registered that day.
The race is held on a paved trail through Quiet Waters Park. There’s a loop that’s slightly over four miles long, and you run as many loops as you can in six hours. Sounds horrible, right?
I usually hate loop courses, but I really wanted to do this for some reason. And it actually wasn’t bad. In fact, I had a really great time! I was a bit nervous going into this race, but I’m glad I had nothing to worry about.
It probably helps that it was a small race, and that I knew many of the racers and most of the volunteers. You’d check in at the end of every loop, and stop to refill water and snack at the well-stocked aid station. After my first loop, a chocolate chip cookie called to me, but shortly after I realized that wasn’t the best fuel choice. Tasty, but didn’t feel the greatest. I stuck to watermelon and bananas after that, and took Gu a few times around the midpoint of a loop.
We got lucky with great weather. The previous week was a heatwave, but it was in the 70s and as pleasant as we could hope for in late July. The park is mostly shaded, too, with just a few short stretches in the sun. Sure I was super sweaty most of the day, but I wasn’t too terribly uncomfortable.
I kept my pace easy from the start, and walked up the biggest hills. For my first five loops, I had three walking sections. After that, I added a few more! Where did those new hills come from? 🙂
Still, even as I fatigued, I kept a fairly steady pace. My times slowed as the loops increased a minute or so at a time, which will be attributed to extra walk breaks and longer aid stops. I felt strong, even to the end. When we were on our last loop, we were given a small flag with our bib number on it. When time ran out they sounded an air horn, and we put our flag in the ground.
The race volunteers measured our partial mileage to give us totals for the full six hours. I heard that last year, they didn’t count partial loops. I was glad for the change back to the first-year format. I still had 30 minutes left after my last full loop, and managed to run another 2.36 miles!
Official total for the day was 31.41 miles and seven full loops (Minutes for each loop: 43, 43, 45, 47, 48, 50, 53). My Garmin was only slightly ahead, which is pretty good considering all the tree coverage. There have been times Garmin has lost a couple miles in this park when only doing one loop!
That’s a 50K and a little extra, folks. I couldn’t have asked for a better performance from my body! Well, it would have been nice to finish eight loops, but I’ll take it.
I had such a blast. There was no ‘wall’ that usually happens during a marathon. I’m not sure if it was the break every four miles, the extra fueling (I usually take one Gu per hour and that’s it), or the fact that speed didn’t matter to me (some people may have been trying for faster, but I was mostly concerned with pacing myself for the hours!). Maybe that made it a little mentally easier.
How long’s the race you’re running? However far you get in six hours!
I even put my first-ever running sticker on my car. Not sure why I never got into the distance stickers, but I really like this one. And I’m proud of my race!
Will I do it again next year? I’m not sure. I haven’t figured out my 2014 plans yet, but if my legs are up for the mileage, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. It was a great experience!
On Saturday, I tackled my second-ever ultramarathon as part of the North Face Endurance Challenge. I’m actually kind of glad my first 50K back in Nov. 2011 was a really challenging course. I was expecting much worse!
Starting in Sterling, VA, over an hour’s drive away, I was glad a couple friends and I decided to get a hotel the night before. We had to be on shuttle buses by 6:15 am. We would have had to leave home at 4:30 to make sure we didn’t cut it too close. Ick. So much nicer to get a hotel in the same business park where we picked up the bus in the morning!
We drove to the hotel Friday night after traffic died down, checked in, and (gasp!) went out for a beer. One of the girls, running the marathon distance (her first!) had a race night tradition, and we just had to join her, right? I’d been hydrating well and wasn’t worried about one drink. (It was delicious.) We didn’t stay out too late, and tucked ourselves into bed around 11pm.
After a usual pre-race restless night’s sleep, we got up at 5am and started preparing for the day. We ran into some friends at the shuttle stop, and some more at the start/finish area. A nice group! We had about an hour to kill, but time moved quickly. Plenty of time to hit the port-o-potties a couple times. They had food and coffee available, but I stuck with my water and peanut butter sandwich.
And then we were off! I started with a friend, but a few miles in she started to pull ahead. We train together, but she’s faster. And competitive. Meanwhile, I knew it was going to be a long day. I couldn’t start too fast!
I figured I wouldn’t see her until the end, but I caught up at the first aid station. I didn’t need to refill my hydrapack yet but grabbed a potato and dipped it in salt (yuck — potatoes were a bit undercooked!). I made the stop quick so I could run with her again.
It was short-lived, though. She was running faster than I wanted to, and I watched her slip away again. Just as well — we’d both be happier if we ran our own pace!
It surprised me how runnable and flat the course was. I was actually almost looking forward to some hills to climb so I could take a walk break …
There were some steep climbs … but the were fortunately not too long. I felt like I was doing OK, and the miles were ticking by. There was a long stretch between the first and second aid stations — they said 6.7 miles — and I was happy to finally get there to refill my pack. I also grabbed a Clif Shot Gel (vanilla! yum, tastes like pudding!) and some Shot Bloks, and headed on my way.
There was an open (real!) restroom with no line shortly after that rest stop. I thought it would be crazy not to stop! This was a good call, otherwise I would have had to make a pit stop in the woods later on! I also took the opportunity to splash cold water on my face and neck.
We had a couple out-and-back sections from miles 13-20, which looped us through Great Falls Park. There were 50-mile racers out running too. They started two hours before us at 5am, but one of the big differences from their course and ours was that they completed THREE loops of the Great Falls area, and we were done after just one. Phew!
It happened to be the most challenging section of the course, including lots of incline and rocky paths. I was glad to “only” be a 50K runner during that loop. It was beautiful, though. I wish I wasn’t too lazy to take my phone out of my pack and take photos. It’s not like I was moving all that fast!
After the Great Falls loop, we headed back the way we came. One more aid top to top off my water and I was headed back to the finish!
I took a lot of long walk breaks. At first it was just on the inclines, but I did hit a patch where it seems all I did was walk. I wasn’t alone. People would pass me, but then I’d decide to run for a bit and pass them walking a few minutes later. Lots of leapfrogging — but it was also fun to keep seeing the same people and start chatting.
That aid station that was 6.7 miles away? On the way back it seems like it moved a mile farther. Everyone I talked to kept looking at their GPS, wondering why we weren’t there yet.
But finally, I got there. And they assured me they hadn’t moved! One more refill, some more Shot Bloks, and a bunch of orange slices and I was off again. They said we were 5.4 miles to the finish, and we’d hit another aid station in about 4 miles. Excellent.
I feel like I might have been moving a little better after that aid station. Maybe not necessarily faster, but I needed that mental break!
By the time I hit the next aid station, my Garmin said I had already completed a 50K. I wasn’t surprised the course was long — I had been warned by friends who had run it before. I stopped one last time and grabbed a drink, got cold water dumped over my head, and ate some potato chips. 1.65 miles to the finish, they said!
Even though I was so close, I just couldn’t run. The gravel road (my least favorite!) seemed to be ever-so-slightly uphill, and my legs wouldn’t have any of it. So I walked. I joined another runner who had the same idea, and we chatted for a while.
My watch beeped as it hit mile 32. I looked at the time, calculating how much should be left based on what the volunteer told us. And I looked at how much time had elapsed. I realized I could come under the time I estimated when I registered, but only if I started running again.
So I ran.
I wasn’t breaking any speed records, but I wasn’t walking.
The gravel road ended, and the course rounded onto an asphalt path. I was getting close. I started passing spectators, and then I could see the parking lot.
And then I was done.
Nope, not at all surprised by the mileage. I estimated it would be 33 around the 20-mile mark. I hoped it would be lower, but I wasn’t surprised. Most of my friends tracked closer to the 32.5 mark on their watches, so I’m not sure where mine thinks I ran?
Official Time: 7:42:31
Age Group 15/27
I’m usually a below-average trail runner, coming in towards the back of the pack. It makes me very happy to be much closer to the middle! I also put 7:45 as a finish time, thinking that would be a long shot (seeing how my first 50K took 9 hours). I was very happy to beat that, too!
Yes it was a long day. It was hot. It was hard. And my feet hurt. But it was also so beautiful running along the woods. And so nice to spend so much time running/walking on the shaded trails …
Yesterday I took on what is probably the most difficult challenge I’ve ever put my body through. There were times when I wanted to quit. There’s no shame — plenty of people cut the mileage short, and this low-key event doesn’t even record DNFs. They record how many miles you completed.
But I’m stubborn. And in the times when quitting was possibly an option, the thought ran through my head that if I didn’t finish the distance, then I would have to try again. And if I kept going, well, this could be my one and only ultramarathon.
I know at least during the first 10 miles as we ran from DC into Virginia, when I was still hanging with a nice woman experienced with this trail, there were people behind us. And while she charged forward when we hit the first rocky portions that slowed me down — trail inexperience plus the extra caution I was using — nobody passed me. Well, except for one woman who got lost and ran four extra miles by the time she passed me.
By the time we got to a short out-and-back portion that checked in at the same aid station around miles 17 and 20, I knew there was nobody else behind me. I saw all the other runners already on their way back.
I was alone. I was dead last. And I didn’t care.
My legs were aching, and I was barely running. The downhills started to hurt my knees, and the uphills just hurt everything. I would attempt to run whenever it was flat — but it was typically short-lived until I got to a stream crossing or rocky trail.
Most of my (limited) trail training was on fairly runnable trails. The only streams I’d crossed were so small you could probably jump over them. I didn’t know that much about this trail, but had seen some pictures of stream crossings and rocky terrain. I knew this was going to be a challenge, but I wasn’t prepared for how difficult this course was going to be!
I do think I got lucky — one picture from last year showed people actually wading in the water. We must have had more rain last year. I was happy there were always enough rocks to cross, and I only got my feet wet a tiny bit.
I did almost fall in a stream around mile 24, but since I caught myself, I find it funny.
Just after that crossing, I hit the last aid station. They cheered for me and offered me a ride if I wanted to call it quits. At the pace I was going, I risked not finishing before it got dark. One volunteer asked if I had a flashlight. I didn’t, just my phone’s flashlight app, assuming the battery didn’t die searching for signal in the woods.
There was no way I was going to get that close and quit. After a quarter of a PB&J sandwich and some peanut M&Ms, I continued on the course and hoped for the best.
After crossing Chain Bridge, I was able to run for a bit along the canal, until I got back into the woods and had a few more rocks to climb. The trails in DC are a little easier, though. While I was still walking a lot I attempted running more frequently. Still very slowly. But mentally, I was feeling better. I was in the home stretch.
It was starting to get darker, but there was enough light to see the chalk markings to find my way back. I was glad there were still people walking the trails, it might have been a little scary to be in the woods alone at dusk.
The last mile was in the street, so I didn’t have to worry about darkness anymore.
I made it.
Nine hours and six minutes later, I am an ultramarathoner.
Looking up from the same spot I took the other photo. I was following the green blazes (see rocks on the right).