Monday, May 27, 2013

The Amazing Race!

I've spent the past 48 hours making mental notes about Sulphur Spring Trail Race. All the things I wanted to convey in this post about my run, the event, the records that were broken, the inspirational stories; ALL of it! Here's hoping I don't ramble on for too long and I remember everything!

My race rocked. No other words can describe it. It rocked. I'm not entirely sure what factors all came together to make the race so great for me but I have some ideas.

I didn't feel like I had trained enough going into this race and I had mentally come to terms with that. However I was incredibly nervous. I don't remember being so nervous about a race actually. I had run the same race a year earlier with a time of 3:38 and I figured anything faster than that was great. But needless to say, in the back of my mind, I thought 3:10 might be doable. I have no idea why but 3:10 stuck in my head.

Saturday morning was simply a runner's dream. Well, this runner's dream anyway. Some people felt it was too cool but honestly, considering how the previous weekend had been (hot and humid), I was happy with a bit of chill in the air and sunshine. The conditions were perfect. A few muddy sections but nothing crazy and the trails weren't too soft or too hard. This baby bear felt it was just right! I really enjoy the course at Sulphur Springs. It probably has one of the nicest and most balanced mixes of flat and hilly trails of all the races I've run. And it's so pretty!

Jeff and I stayed in Waterloo the night before the race so we'd only have an hour to drive the next morning. Like usual, I barely slept. Someday I will figure out a way to get a good night's sleep the night before a race. Although I read a great runner's blog last week that said it was better to focus on the week before the race and getting solid sleep then and not focus so much on the sleep the night before a race; add that little tidbit to the arsenal!

Jeff was great, as usual, and got up before me to make coffee and oatmeal. He was going to run training loops during the day and then pace Bill Lovett during his 100-miler in the evening. He just seemed to sense my nervousness and got me ready to go. We drove down to Sulphur Springs in plenty of time and I got my bib and swag and said hello to a few people. I was still debating what to wear under my hydration pack with about 5 minutes to go before race time but I opted for just a t-shirt and I'm glad I did. I didn't overheat at all which for me is a minor miracle. I also used my hydration pack for this race which I'm never leaving behind again. I'm happy to say I'm hooked on hydration packs and won't do a run longer than a 10k without one EVER again.

The 50K and 25K runners all started together at 7:30 a.m. and I was at the back of the pack on purpose. The crowd of runners was large and because of that, those of us at the back really didn't get into a "run" until we were down the "hill of hell" and into a small meadow. This allowed my legs to get warmed up and I really needed that!

Once I got into a pace that I was comfortable at, I seemed to just chug along. I normally start out too fast but I was conscious not to do that. And I was passing people. Which also doesn't happen all that often. And holy cow, was I in a zone. A good running friend, Robin, apparently tried to get my attention and say hi as I passed her but I have no recollection of that at all! Interestingly, another thing I've stopped doing of late is running with music. I like it when I'm on the treadmill but I'm not using it when I'm running longer distances outside. I seem to be focusing better without it!

I ran the 5K spur in 33 minutes which was slower than I wanted but I have to keep reminding myself that running 5K on trail is different that road or the treadmill. Having my watch with me was great and it was useful to just keep an eye on the time. I trudged up that "hill of hell" at a pretty quick pace, blew by the aid station, and let gravity and my legs draw me down that hill again. I was feeling great going into my full 20K loop.

I got into a great pace and just kept on motoring towards Aid Station #2. I ran by that Aid Station too as part of my plan was not to stop unless absolutely necessary. It seemed like a good idea in theory. I love the Main Loop of the trail. Between the ravine, the orchard, and the river, I'd be happy just to run around there all day. Not far from coming back around to Aid Station #2 again and heading back though, my energy went from zippity-doo to zapped. That was something I hadn't planned on. I had some Stinger chews with me (my absolute fave) and literally devoured those in a matter of seconds and that helped until I got to the aid station.  However nothing at the table at the aid station really appealed to me. Knowing I needed energy pronto I did grab some oranges, a cookie, and a cup of Coke. It did help and I was able to get back to a comfortable pace; a very comfortable pace in fact. I kept looking at my watch and taking double-takes!

Once I got to Aid Station #3, I grabbed more oranges and coke. I knew I had the "Three Sisters" to contend with shortly and I wanted energy for that. Interestingly, about five minutes later, my stomach started to roll a bit which has never happened before during a race. I don't know if it was my body starting to react to the pace or the fact that I had been eating so well up to race day and my stomach was reacting to the high-sugar content of the Coke. Regardless, I just kept going. Now the "Three Sisters" has a more suitable name but as I hope my kids will read this blog someday, I'll keep it light. It's an exhausting climb but to be honest I believe the "hill of hell" at the beginning and end of the race is far more tiring. When I did make it to the top of the ravine though it was like a switch went off because I knew that I was on the far end of the loop with less than 5K to the finish line. And I ran; hard.

I passed Cath on my way back and it was great to see her smiling face. She was on her second loop of her 100-miler and she always looks so relaxed and genuinely happy to just be running. It was a good shot of motivation. My legs were starting to feel tired, my stomach was still rolling around a bit, and even my arms were getting sore. I grabbed Heed on my way by Aid Station #3 and just focused on the fact I was about 1K away from the finish line and just had to make it up the "hill of hell".

I did two things wrong at this point. First, I slowed down and started to walk because I figured I could conserve energy for the hill climb. Second, I should have grabbed one more orange because my energy level dipped again. It was hard for me to get back into even a slow jog. I was tired out. However, a quiet voice said to me, "you can make it under 3:10 if you push it to the finish". I looked at my watch. It was possible. So I picked up the pace again as best I could. I was passing people on the hill on my way up and all of a sudden that goal of UNDER 3:10 lit a fire under me. I got to the top, saw those orange pylons and just ran.

I finished with a time of 3:07. I shave a full 31 minutes off my time from last year and ran my fastest race ever. It rocked. I love Sulphur Springs!

I learned a lot from this race which I think I'll write about in another post. Suffice it to say, all races should have some key learnings but this one had some really good ones for me.

The other races were quite incredible to both witness and be part of as well. After my own race was done, I showered, rested for a bit and then got into crewing mode for two of my good friends who were both attempting the 100M race. I have to admit that I secretly love crewing. You get to be part of something incredibly special without actually running! ;) You are also obligated to stay for the entire race which means you can watch some pretty monumental things. I watched many people complete their first 50M and 100M run, which is always so inspirational to me. I also watched the 100M male and female records smashed AGAIN this year and if you are looking to find some incredible mentors that define hard work and determination, I have some names for you!

As always, the Sulphur Springs Trail Race did not disappoint. I love this race and I can't wait to be there next year!

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