Part 2 – Off we Go!
Approaching the shoot area for the start of the race, I positioned myself near the front of the middle pack. I knew the race started with about 300 meters of open grass area, so there was plenty of room to jockey for position once the gun went off before the single track sections began. One of the challenges of a trail race course that quickly turns into single-track is that you can find yourself stuck in a “train” of people that are either too fast or too slow (thereby either holding people up, or going faster than you’d like) so I appreciated that this course had plenty of time to find a rhythm before it bottle-necked.
The course was an out with a lollipop, back to start,where you repeated the course one more time, for a total of 26.2 +/- miles. I am not a huge fan of these courses, as it can be demoralizing getting to the “finish” where the half marathoners were wrapping things up, only to turn back around and repeat the course. However, on the plus side, you know what you are getting the second time with these courses, so you can plan your second loop accordingly. I really felt that this course went pretty quickly, too, so that was nice!
At 0730am the gun went off, and we were on our way! The first half mile or so was navigated over grassy, flat and relatively wide trail sections (see above). We quickly turned left into a copse of trees, and then the continued on for another half mile or so before hitting a short segment of blacktop. After that, it was into the forest we went, and the single track began. I like to call this section the steeplechase/hurdle section; the entire 2-3 miles ahead was one fallen log/branch after another. I am on the shorter side, with a long torso and short legs (thanks Dad!) so it was hard enough getting over these logs, and all I could think about was how *awesome* this section was going to be the second time around! (Yes, that was sarcasm)
The next few miles went by in a blur as we weaved in and out of the single track/hurdle sections. The trail opened up for a short stretch before we took a quick steep hill down where we had to jump over a drainage area (the rain from the night before probably made this fuller and muddier than it would normally be). They also had a cameraman hiding in the bushes here, straight out of a National Geographic Safari special. I didn’t know he was there until the flash went off. Well played, Mr. Cameraman. I’ll be ready for you come round 2!
After my brush with the cameraman, it was up a steep, short, muddy hill and over a guardrail to the levee. We ran about a quarter mile on the levee before heading back into the woods for more single-track, but this time things were kept interesting with plenty of wooden bridges and stairs. Which were not only muddy (read: slippery) but also reminded me that we get to go back UP them on the way back. And then down and up them again for loop #2. Yay!
As we emerged from the single-track and the forest, we entered the lollipop section of the course, which circled around a man made lake area, mostly on large crushed gravel, which proved pretty tricky to run on! From here it was back into the woods, and then back on to our original trail to head back to the finish…erm…half way point.
For the better half of the second loop, one other guy and I stayed very close to each other, with him right behind me. I would attempt to make small talk, but all I would get in return is a “huh” or a grunt. Okkkkaaaay, I thought, he’s not into chit-chat with strangers. It wasn’t until I came across a gorgeous buck, with fuzzy antlers, and I stopped to point the deer out to my trail partner, when I realized that he wasn’t ignoring me or not the talkative type; English was not his first language. I pointed out the deer (holding my hands at the sides of my head like horns) and he flashed a giant smile and quickly stopped to take a picture. From then on out, as we took turns passing each other, we communicated with smiles and hand signals.
With about 7 miles to go, my hand-signal partner had ended up passing me and holding a pace about a minute ahead of me. I made conversation with two gentlemen who were there not only doing their first trail race, but also their first marathon. Kudos to them! They paid me what I thought was a huge compliment when they told me how consistent I was running that day. As that was a big goal of the day, I was very happy with this praise!
I swung back through the hidden cameraman one last time on the way back to the finish (but I was ready for him this time)
I quickly found myself alone, and spent the last 4 miles of the course by myself. This was ok, as things were getting a little tough mentally, and my right IT band was starting to talk. I have had an issue with my left ITB in the past, so this was making me nervous. I tried not to let it mess with my head, but I was getting fatigued, and it was challenging not to focus on it.
Before I knew it, I saw one the best sights in any race (aside from the finish line!) – the ONE MILE TO GO sign!! I was almost there! About a half mile from the finish I caught the heels of my foreign running buddy, to whom I exclaimed “We’re almost there!! Finish!” to which he responded with a very enthusiastic “YAY!” We bounded up the last stretch of grass, and crossed the finish line.
My foreign friend had finished just ahead of me, and was looking so happy and once again had his camera out. I made the international sign of “I’ll take your picture for you” planning on getting a shot of him with the finish line in the background, to which he beamed and said, “No, we take together.” So, arms around each other, grinning into the camera, I had my picture with my new friend.
I love the finish area of races. Everyone is cheering, happy, and congratulating each other. I quickly hiked back to my car to clean up a bit, and was chatting with the gentleman parked next to me, when heard them start to call age group winners. All of a sudden, I heard MY name! I had placed 2nd in my age group (30-39 women)!! I looked at the guy I was chatting with and all I could say was, “Oh my goodness! I placed!” My shoes were off and so I slipped my flip flops on, and ran (yes, I had enough energy to run) back to the start, where I was directed to get on the podium for my award. A PODIUM! I had never done that before. What fun!
All in all, it was an amazing experience. I had made my goals for the day; sub 5 hour finish, while keeping control of my nutrition, pacing and hydration. I did not bonk or feel close to hitting the wall. What a success, and a huge booster for my 50 miler next month! And to top it off, I got an age group award.
I headed back to my car, changed discretely in the parking lot (although you do learn to lose some modesty at these events) and drove 2.5 hours back home. Lest you think my amazing day would get to my head, don’t worry about that. I opened the door to find three piles of kitty vomit which needed to be cleaned. Leave it to my kiddos to keep it real and keep me humble.
Many thanks to the Planet Adventure Race crew for a brilliant day! It was a fantastic and well supported event with a great course and cheerful volunteers. I will be back!