Wow, 18.6 miles of trails will be a great challenge...*
Hmmm, that'll be a great training run for Pere Marquette...*
*Famous last words
The training: After signing up for the Big River Running's Skippo 30K because it seemed like a good idea at the time, I actually did do a little better with my training: I ran on the Marquette Park trails a couple times, on the local singletrack trails a couple times, and did one 16-mile run on the trails at Castlewood (my only double digit run), and two shorter trail races. I also did a couple of nighttime sidewalk jogs, and that was pretty much it. Stellar preparation for a demanding race.
The taper: And by "taper" I mean 16 miles of mountain biking Saturday morning. My friend Robin led a group ride at our local trails, and though she made me be there at 7 a.m. it was pretty awesome...once I was out of bed.
|Photo credit: Robin Rongey|
Though it's not on the video, I did fall once. True to form, it was on a not-tricky part of the trail. I took a dip wrong and went over. It didn't really hurt, but apparently I still made my displeasure known. Chuck, who was ahead of me, told me, "Well, at least you're consistent...you curse every time you fall!" Come to think of it, he's been riding ahead of me for all of my falls but one, so I'm starting to think he's sabotaging me for entertainment value or something.
Pre-race: I wasn't surprised when I woke up and heard the rain, but I'd hoped the forecast was wrong. I briefly (ok, maybe not so briefly) thought about wimping out and going back to bed, but that wouldn't be very Super. Plus, I'd paid my registration fee, and I hate to waste money. So, I hit the road, learned that my tires suck in the rain, made it to the park in time to park in the park, and sat in my car for the next 45 minutes or so, only getting out when I absolutely had to.
|Everybody huddled under the tents and near the heaters before the start. Sooo chilly.|
About 5 minutes from start time they
And we're off! The race course was a 10K loop. The bulk of the runners (176 finishers) ran the 10K (one loop), 136 finished the 20K (two loops), and a whopping 42
Lap 1: With all 350ish runners on the trails for this lap, the singletrack was pretty congested. This didn't bother me because I used all those other runners to keep my pace in check. I'm not fast, but sometimes my body thinks I am at the start. Instead of trying to pass people who were slower than I was, I focused on sticking behind them and running a conservative pace; after all, I was going to be out there for a while.
Despite all the runners, I did virtually no talking during this lap (shocking, I know) other than the occasional "on your left". Nobody around me had much to say, I guess. We started off down the road, onto the trail along the river, which was the only windy spot . Mile 1 came up quickly, and yes, I mentally counted down all 18.6 of them. This first section was nice and flat, but that was remedied by the infamous 200+ Castlewood stairs. People had reminded me not to run these, as if I physically had the option of doing so. If a man with a chainsaw and hockey mask had been chasing me, I couldn't have run these. Kill me now...
After the stairs, we climbed a slight hill and then a bigger hill, but that took us to the best part of the race for me, a long, somewhat technical downhill stretch. I've definitely grown as a trail runner because I had a blast on this section. I really focused on letting gravity take me and keeping my feet moving. Another highlight was the creek crossing. A slight rock bridge had been raked up in the creek, but I ran right through the water because 1) I prefer to run on the nice, flatter rock and hopefully not turn an ankle, and 2) it's just way more fun to run through the water.
The next section had a long, hateful hill. I didn't manage to run too much of it. This was followed by more level trail and then a shorter, less hateful hill where I got stuck behind some people who were walking in a spot that was hard to get around them. We crossed the road at the top of the hill, where the volunteer was holds up some really pissed off drivers, and then ran through the muddiest stretch of trail, which was weird because it was one of the upper trails that was the worst. I finished lap one in about 1:10, which was more or less what I'd expected.
Lap 2: Passing the finish line after the first lap wasn't too painful, but I did start doing some math (never a good thing). Nearly 400 runners + 2 kegs of beer + and only 50 or so of us running the full 30K = little chance of any beer left when we finished. The funny thing is, I don't even really like beer that much, but I started obsessing about it. I decided they should've gotten 3 kegs, one for each distance, and the 30K keg doesn't get tapped until the first 30K runner crosses the finish line (and probably mentioned this plan to everyone in earshot. I'm sure it wasn't annoying at all). On the other hand, I love food, and I didn't worry at all about there being food left. Go figure.
As I ran onto the trail along the river, the guy next to me and said, "You aren't likely to get shot by a hunter in that outfit!" (You'll have to take his word for it because the one--one!?!--race picture of me is hideous). That started a great conversation about running/biking/adventure racing/family/etc. that lasted until the top of the stairs when Chris dropped me. Among other things, I had shared with him my beer concerns and tried to convince him that if he finished ahead of me he should meet me along the course with a beer handup. How cool would that be?? As Chris ran ahead of me down the trail, I called out, "Don't forget my beer!!" Alas, it was not to happen.
On the stairs (just as bad the second time around), however, I met Jim, a fellow adventure racer who was also
I spendt the last couple miles of lap 2 with Terri, who was running the 20K. I'd let her pass once, thinking I was slowing her down, but then she had to stop and tie her shoe. When she came up behind me again, I offered to move over, but she said it was a good pace for her. I think for pretty much everyone I ran with, I was that slow person who helped them keep their pace nice and easy, just like the ones I followed in lap 1. That's OK, though, because she was great company, and we got to swap marathon stories as we ran .
The power of social media: Lap 3 actually happening had been in some doubt for a few days as I started realizing that I wasn't ready for this race. I mean, 30K is 18.6 miles! That's a distance I didn't get to until well into my marathon training, and this was going to be on trails. What were the chances I could actually do this? I had toyed with the possibility of stopping after 20K, BUT, I'd been talking about this race on my blog and on Facebook for a while. I'd have felt like an ass if I wimped out and didn't at least try to run the distance I'd signed up for (and of course I'd have owned up to it if I'd quit...there's no fun in telling what you've accomplished if you don't also admit when you fall short.) So, while I thought about calling it a day after 20K, I never seriously considered it. For long, anyway.
Lap 3: Kevin joined me as I was walking away from the water stop by the finish line, and we ran together for the rest of the race. Funny...he went to Big River Running to buy trail shoes after signing up for the Pere Marquette race and got talked into the Skippo--a 30K for his first trail race! It's amazing how much you can find to talk about with total strangers...and how much better the time passes when you have company. AT the next water stop, a volunteer told me I was the 11th woman ("Out of 11?", I asked, but apparently there were more). I really wished she hadn't told me, because I didn't want to feel like I had anything to hold onto. Luckily, there were no other women in sight, so I didn't have to do much to protect my "ranking".
As we reached the stairs, another guy came up behind us. I offered to let him go ahead of me because I knew I'd be dragging on the stairs, but he said, "No thanks, I've been following those socks for the last couple miles." So then we were three. I can't tell you how much better the last two laps were because of having people to talk to. I had a blast. Trail runners are awesome people.
The three of us stuck together for the remainder of the race. I think this was the first trail race for either of the guys, which I guess makes me the wily veteran (or at least the one who should have known better). I think they both enjoyed the trails, though Paul mentioned that he felt like he was the very last person. I was a combination of feeling pretty good (considering) and really wanting to be done. Around the halfway point of the lap, I noticed a couple a ways in front of us. Eventually I realized one of them was a girl. "She's probably not in the race, right?" I said, "so it doesn't matter that she's ahead of me."
"There's tenth place," Paul said, and as much as I tried not to care (I mean really...tenth place...big deal), I felt myself picking up the pace. We steadily chipped away at the distance and passed her with around a mile to go. And then I was done. It was ridiculous. All we had was a downhill, a little field to cross, and the finish line, and I could hardly make myself run. Paul pulled ahead of me, so I told him, "There you go...not last anymore!" "No," he answered, "c'mon, you've got this," and the guys pulled me the rest of the way as it started to sprinkle. It really started to rain once we were under the pavilion. Timing is everything.
Time: 3:43:13, which is more or less what I expected my time would be.
Age group: 4/5
Part of me wants to feel sad looking at those numbers, but I'm mostly happy just to have finished. Third last is actually a bonus, because I truly expected to be last. There are no walkers to pad my place in a race like this.
I'll run 30K, but I won't walk to my car: Because I arrived so early, I scored a parking spot about .1 mile from the start/finish, but it might have well have been 10 miles. There were shuttles running racers to the overflow parking at a nearby school, so I begged a ride with one of them. He didn't even make me feel bad for being such a wimp.
All in all, it was a fantastic race. Big River Running has put on some of my favorite races. They outdid themselves this year: organized parking, great race shirts (Nike dry fit), heaters at the start/finish, a fun course, a bag drop area, enthusiastic volunteers, good music, food and beer afterwards, and plentiful water stops.
Oh, but while there was beer left, all the BBQ was gone.