Triple Lakes Trail Race 40 miler
Placed 20th Overall; 5th place Age Group
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"
This Charles Dickens quote came to my mind Saturday during the Triple Lakes Trail Race 40 mile ultramarathon in Greensboro, NC. After my first ultra three weeks ago, I knew it'd probably be a while where I have another race where everything went that well. This one was no exception. This 40 mile ultra is on 99% trails according to their website, and I'd say that's a fair statement. I was looking forward to that aspect of this race.
About 45 minutes from my house, I was able to sleep in my own bed the night before, and Summer and I headed out early on Saturday morning. It was cool at the start, in the 40's I believe. The half marathon started first, followed by the marathon, 40 mile and 40 mile relay starting altogether. I had somehow came up with a sub-7 hour goal for this race, which would equal a 10:30 pace for the race. With no mountains or huge hills that I knew of, I figured that would be attainable for me. Boy was I wrong.
The first 1.4 miles were on roads and I was saying to myself "I thought I signed up for a trail race". Finally we made it to a greenway, and then onto some trail. Mentally I knew my goal, I knew what pace was needed to meet that goal, and I blatantly disregarded one of the top five rules of ultrarunning: GO. OUT. SLOW. This was the advice Ian Sharman gave me before my first race, and it worked like a champ. I did not heed this advice this time. With my goal in mind, I knew I didn't want to run TOO slow, so that I had a lot of time to make up in the second half of the race. So I tried to run 10:30-11:00 miles.
Somewhere around the 7 or 8 mile mark, I started having some pain in my left foot. A week after my first ultra, I did a 6.5 mile training run up and down my local mountain in my new Hoka trail shoes. Sometime after the run, it felt as though I bruised the ball of my left foot. This pain would come and go for the next week and the week before the race, I tapered enough that it went away. Well, it decided to make an appearance after those first 7 or 8 miles, forcing me to slow down. I knew at that point my goal was gone so mentally, I threw it out the window and said lets just try 8 hours. So I continued on. Even though I was not too far into the race, it seemed like I had been running for miles and miles and miles and I was 4-5 hours into the race, when in reality, I was nowhere near that. My legs just were not cooperating with me, and just hoped the tides would turn at some point.
The aid stations were not the greatest, so I relied on Summer (my crew) and my own supplies for majority of my nutrition. However, 'crew access' was not accessible at each aid station. The toughest stretch was an 8 mile section only the 40 milers ran, and it was an out and back. This section I really struggled on. It was here I started seeing the leaders come by in the opposite direction, already making the halfway point of the race and heading to the finish. Me on the other hand, I just wanted to get to that next aid station. Finally, I made it. The course markings said I was around 19-19.5 miles. My Garmin said 18.15. But with the tree cover, it could have been skewed. I do know I was 3h35m into the race, and not feeling good.
I sat down with Summer on a blanket and seriously debated on quitting. There was no way I could run another 20 miles with the pain in my foot, if it kept getting worse. But I knew I didn't want to quit. I ate a 1/4 PB&J, some shot bloks, and switched out of my Salomon's and into the Hokas, hoping that the cushioning they provide would help with the foot. Then I headed off, knowing the next 12 miles would be the turning point of the race, either for the good or bad. It was 12 miles until I'd see Summer again. I got about 10 yards into the trail and the light bulb came on. I'd try some ibuprofen. I had thought about that before I got there, and almost forgot as I left. So I turned around and went back and popped three of them.
Then I headed off. Immediately, I could tell a difference. Not from the ibuprofen, but maybe from the food or just the rest. The Hokas were amazing too. I see now what all the fuss is about. The cushioning in these shoes made me feel as though I was running on clouds. Seriously. Yeah the pain was still there in my foot, but it wasn't as noticeable. So I continued on. I felt better as I went, running quite a bit and not walking very much at all. I knew if I could get through these 12 miles, I'd have 9 left and if I kept feeling better as I went, then maybe I could pick up the pace and try to pick off some runners to improve my placement.
Solid foods didn't do it for me all day. I was eating gels, shot bloks, and drinking accelerade and would have an Ensure every 10 miles at roughly mile 10, 20, and 30. The liquid diet was in full effect.
I passed a few people on this second half of the out and back section. They were walking and I was feeling good and kept running. I made it to the next aid station, filled up with some water, ate a gel, then continued on the last four miles to the next crew access point. Passing people as I continued, I finally made it to the crew point. I told Summer I was feeling good and wasn't spending much time there. Downed an Ensure, grabbed some pretzels and kept on trucking.
Mentally, I was feeling better, but I really wanted to be finished. After the events of the day, I was exhausted in many different ways, but all I could think about was finishing. I had somewhere around nine miles to go, supposedly. I say supposedly because at the beginning of the race, we were told the 40 mile course would be somewhere around 39.5. My Garmin was off all day, but I figued it was due to tree cover. The last nine miles there were signs on trees saying 33/40 etc. so I just went by those, counting down to the finish. I came off one trail to a road and there was the final aid station. I filled up with water one last time and headed to the last trail section. I had passed a few more people on the previous section, but didn't see another person the rest of the race. My goal at that point was to not let anyone sneak up on me.
With three miles (or so) to go, I had about 29 minutes to beat 8 hours. I knew I couldn't run 9 minute miles due to my legs feeling so fatigued, and I had to walk occasionally, but still making sure no one was coming up on me. And here I was, with what I thought was a little over two miles to go. I hadn't been paying much attention to the mile markers, just watching for the yellow arrows to make sure I was still on course, as there are so many trails that branched off from the one I was on. Soon enough, I could hear a voice coming from some speakers so I figured I was getting close to the finish, but wasn't sure if the course just came close to the finish before wrapping another two miles in some other direction before coming back here. I then came off that trail and saw a man that said "Through the cones, around the pond, and to the finish." I was like...umm.....ok, sounds good to me! I picked it up almost to a sprint. Ended up passing a guy who was doing the marathon and he was walking. I told him good job and keep it up. I came to the finish, happy I was done, looking down and stopping my watch at 7 hours, 48 minutes, and 20 seconds. Good enough for 20th place overall and 5th in my age group. However, there must have been a screw up somewhere with the mile markers. My Garmin said 37.45 miles. As I said earlier, tree cover can skew the Garmin, but no way it did so by 2.5 miles. But at the end of the day, we all run the same race.
So I did it. I faced the mental and physical demons in this race. I battled them the first half of the race, but conquered them in the second half, and finished. Key word being FINISHED. I definitely learned a lot from this race, and I'm glad I did it. Of course I had aspirations of going longer, but I think I'll hold off for a while. I want to do a 50 miler, but that'll have to wait until at least late 2012. But hopefully I can continue to train, and get there someday.
Thanks again to Summer for giving up her entire day, and to our little girl who will soon see me race in person.
And we're off! Starting in the back of course.
1.5 miles in, finally hitting some trail.
One of the lakes we ran around.
Near the half way mark, not feeling good.
Feeling strong with 9 to go, sporting the Hokas.
The Hokas that saved me!