Pilot Mountain Payback Trail Marathon
Place: 8th out of 80 finishers
This year I ran my third Pilot Mountain Payback. I love everything about this race. It was my first marathon in 2011. I get to train on the course every weekend. It has great scenery. I just love it. Abran Moore is a great race director and he'll have me coming back year after year.
After running a 4:01:53 last year, I was determined to go sub-4 hour this year. But the lack of training in December made me second guess whether or not I would be able to sustain the pace needed to run it in that amount of time. Only one way to find out though. I have been doing all of my long runs without food recently, in an effort to train my body to burn fat economically and not rely on consuming so many calories to keep the fire going. Since doing this, my plan was to not stop at the aid stations during the race. I would be carrying two handhelds; one with water and the other with Accelerade. Summer was going to meet me at the summit and swap out my Accelerade bottle with a fresh one for the second half of the course and give me an Ensure to drink. This would be the only calories I would have the entire race in an effort to minimize time at the aid station and run the fastest race I could.
Going into the race I thought about how it was going to be tough to meet my goal. I knew that the second half of the race was going to be a test. But I vowed to kill multiple birds with one stone. Since I knew the fatigued feeling would definitely set in late in the race, it would give me an opportunity to work on the mental side of things. In long distance running, eventually your body will begin to say no and at that point, you have to overcome and mentally push through. This will be the name of the game in May when I attempt my first 100 miler, the Massanutten 100. Back to today though.
The traditional 9am start usually allots for the sun to come up and provide some warmth on a February day. The last two years we were graced with perfect weather including sun and temps nearing 60. This year, not so lucky. Forecast was mid-30's at the start and 50-60% chance of rain/snow throughout the day. The temperatures were not expected to exceed 37°. And with the rain we had the week leading up to the race, the creek crossings wouldn't be avoidable.
As the start drew near, I decided I was going to get in the front. Last year I failed to do so and when we hit the single track trail, I was bobbing and weaving trying to get around other runners so I could run my own pace. So I lined up at the start line, and we were off.
There is a creek crossing 30 feet from the start line so no use in trying to avoid getting wet. There's also a long gravel road hill that we have to climb. As usual, I got caught up in the 'race' atmosphere and took off like a banshee. Soon I was passed though but not by too many folks. Then we finally hit the single track and I was getting into my groove. At the end of this short single track trail we hit the gravel road that leads into the park entrance. There are two more creek crossings before we hit the 6 mile corridor trail that takes us to the base of Pilot Mountain.
For the first two miles, I notice I'm running sub-9 minutes on each. I had set my Garmin's virtual race partner to 10:15 per mile pace which is what I needed to equal to run a sub-4 hour race (yes for you math geeks, the course is a little short....the elevation makes up for it though). I did learn this year though, that the first race, in 2010, the course was a full marathon's distance. But the summer after it, the made changes to one of the trails and those changes ended up making the course a little short. I knew I couldn't hold this pace though. I decided to slow a little and just run by feel. If I felt good, I'd keep the pace. If not, I'd slow down. But in this sport of distance running, there's only one way to find out whether or not you can do something. And that's to try. So I figured, I'm going to go for it. If I blow up, so be it. So I ran pretty hard on the downhills, and slowly ran the uphills for this first half of the race.
I finally hit my groove about five miles in. Another runner was behind me and as we approached the road crossing where a motorcycle rider wrecked during my first marathon, I heard the sounds of another motocycle's engine revving up in the distance. I instantly had flashbacks of this moment and I began to tell this story to the other runner. He began piecing things together and asked me if I had a blog to which I replied yes. He had read my race report from that race, trying to learn a little about the course he was planning to run. In fact, he was hoping to gain a little insight to the multiple creek crossings that the course holds. Maybe I need to take some pictures next time on a training run and put them on here. We introduced ourselves and Jeffrey informed me he was from Raleigh and was there running the half. We covered miles together, eventually splitting off at the turnaround for the half.
Nearly eight miles in and we reach the Pinnacle Hotel Road aid station. The half marathon runners turn around here, completing the out and back route. The full marathon runners continue on, up the Mountain Trail that eventually leads to the summit of Pilot Mountain. This trail is one of two technical sections of the course. I love this trail. I love going up it and I love going down it. After running it numerous times over the past couple of years, I know this entire course pretty well. I know where to run and I know where to walk. This is the part of the race that can make or break you. Push too hard and you'll really leave yourself hanging out to dry in the second half. I've learned this the hard way.
I see one other runner up ahead of me. Another comes up from behind and passes me and I give him the normal 'great job' as he continues on. He's running, and I'm walking. I know that we'll soon trade places. In my opinion, you have to be a really good mountain runner to run the entire 3.5 miles to the summit. Eventually I make the pass and there's no one close behind me and no one in front of me that I can see. Just me and the trail. Exactly how I like it.
The end of the Mountain Trail soon comes and I hit the tail end of the Ledge Springs trail that takes you to the Grindstone trail, which then leads you to the summit. This is the steepest part of the course as the trail is mostly man-made stairs. I don't even bother trying to run. I hike quickly and soon reach the summit. Summer and her parents, as well as Gemma were there to greet me. No time for chit-chat. I grab my Accelerade and the Ensure and continue walking as I down it. As I start towards the knob, I hear Summer yell something at me. She was informing me was in 10th place. Good to know, but I'm not here for place. I'm hear to beat 4 hours. And up until this point, everything was right on track.
Gemma and Scout playing at the top of the mountain
Coming up to the summit
Giving my sweet baby a kiss before tackling the second half.
I headed for the knob. If you have ever driven through Pilot Mountain, you know what I'm talking about. Runners circle the knob and then head down the Ledge Springs trail and then down the other side of the mountain. Once I finish the loop, I see another guy standing and talking to another runner. He was asking if that guy had gone around the knob. He said no. He asked me, and I said yes and I asked if he had. He had as well and I said go left. We ran together a little bit and he told me he had gone around the knob twice. That really sucks. Another reason I'm lucky to train on this course and know it so well. We both headed down the Ledge Springs trail together. Here I am wearing my super comfy cushy Hokas and this guys wearing Vibrams. He must have sandpaper on his feet. I don't see how he ran this whole race like that.
Once we reach the downhill part of the mountain, I take off. I pass my Vibram friend, and then a few other people but I'm not sure if they were in the race. I'm really concentrating on running this downhill as fast as I can. I end up running two miles at sub-9 minute pace. The next few miles are mostly downhill with some ups but no major climbs. Another part I'm very familiar with and I know when to push and when to not push. Again I'm all alone with no one close behind and no one up ahead.
After coming down the mountain, there is a short 1.75 mile trail that takes you back to the Pinnacle Hotel Road aid station that served as the turnaround for the half marathoners. I arrive to find my parents there to cheer me on. There are no other runners and only a couple of volunteers. I tell them thank you for being there and without stopping, head down the hill for the final 7+ miles to the finish. I knew what was in store. I knew fatigue would start to set in, and before the race I told myself that the mental test would begin here.
I ran as much as I could. I was power hiking the uphills, and running everything else. In my head I was loosely using a phrase that I had learned before my first 100k: "Walk before you think you should. Run before you think you can". I had slightly discarded the walking part, but trying to enforce the 'run before you think you can' mentality. It's a mind game. When you're tired, your body says stop. But you have to power through. "You are stronger than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can". Another quote I was using in my favor. I felt good that I was running, but when my Garmin would beep at the next mile mark, I noticed my pace for that mile was 10:29. Sort of deflated my feelings. I keep going and next mile is 11:04. Again, frustrating. It's times like this I should have just ignored the Garmin.
The race started at 9am. I knew I needed to finish by 1pm in order to break 4 hours. It's go time. With less than three miles left, I had my work cut out for me.
Nearing the end of the corridor trail, I pushed the fatigue and pain aside and ran as hard as I could. I didn't look at my watch but I ran a 9:59. Followed it up with a 9:34. Less than a mile left now and I'm done with the corridor trail. It's mostly flat from here on in with 3 more creek crossings. As I reach the entrance of the park where the race starts, some people are leaving in their car. Others are gathered around talking. They all yell positive things to me as I push forward. I get to the final creek crossing and the finish line is in sight. This is the deepest of them all, coming up to my knees. I almost stumble due to the rocks on the bottom but I grit my teeth and I think I grunted out loud. A few people were standing on the banks of this creek and they gave me some positive encouragement as I sprinted for the finish.
Sub-4 was a given now. I had beat my goal. I saw Summer and Gemma, as well as my parents and her parents. I threw my handhelds down and Summer handed me my baby girl and we crossed the finish line together. Officially 3:56:58. Surpassed my goal by three minutes and beat last year's time by almost five minutes. Doesn't sound like much but to me it's a big deal.
Summer making the handoff so I can run across the finish with Gemma
Clock says 3:57:02 but results on website showed 3:56:58
Gemma and I after the finish
Me and my wonderful family.
I ran my race. I ran hard. I pushed harder than I thought I should have. But if I hadn't, I would not have ran the time I did. I was proud of myself for once. I set a goal, and I pushed my body mentally and physically, and I achieved that goal. Some people are afraid to set goals for fear they will fail. Others are afraid that trying to do something that seems unattainable will 'hurt'. Of course it will! If it was easy, everyone would do it. Getting out of your comfort zone should be done regularly. You'll learn more about yourself when you do. This race really boosted my mental confidence and is another step in the right direction as I continue on my quest of completing my first 100 mile race, the Massanutten 100.