Monday, January 20, 2014

Out of the Woods- Into the light

Hello 2014! Let's just say I kicked off this year's race season with a bit of anxiety. I had  planned to race 5-100 mile races including the Pinhoti Slam. I wanted to step up my long distance game and add to my belt buckle collection- what girl doesn't like a little more bling?! After a great race in October at the White Water Center 50 miler (yes I was slack and did not blog about it) I felt confident in my racing again. I was excited to have a year of long hard races in my future... Until December came around

It started as a skip- a second of breathlessness- a pounding in my chest...then it started to happen more often that I was comfortable with. I was referred to a cardiologist in December and have spent the last 30+ days hooked up to a halter monitor. Results are still pending on the tests but so far so good.  With having good days and bad days  I wasn't sure what to expect from my body this past Saturday. I hadn't been on a run longer than 16 miles in months and my training was sub par. The original goal with this race was to set the course record. A very fast 10:01:34   with an average of 9:37/mile. I was pretty sure I wasn't going to able to maintain that pace so I adjusted my goals. I decided to shoot for:
1. Finishing
2. A win
3. A PR
Any combination of those was going to make me happy and just finishing was a priority.

Let me start by saying that this race is one of my favorite races. Marie Lewis and her entire crew of race volunteers are awesome. The aid stations are well stocked and manned, the facilities are gorgeous (heated bathrooms!!) and the course offers a speedy challenge! I ran it 2 years ago with a lot of success and was anxious to get out there again. The Magnum Track Club and the Runners From Hell that put it on do one heck of a job and they are some of the coolest people in the Ultra world.

Friday around 5pm- Tom, Val, Danielle and I packed into the car and drove out to Southern Pines to stay the night before the race. The house we stayed at belongs to a racing teammate of Tom and I's and its a quick 10 minutes from the race. We unloaded, made a fabulous dinner and all turned in to get some sleep.

Pre- Race Dinner prep with the crew
Race morning held chilly temps in the 20s, but we were expecting a clear, dry day. We met up with Phyllis at the lodge and set up camp next to the course. Marie briefed us at 7:30 and before we knew it, we were standing on the line ready to go. As the gun went off, I said a silent prayer and asked God to give me whatever race he felt I deserved; it was up to me to foot in front of the other, one loop at a time.

Two laps in I was feeling good- that's exactly what I was thinking as I found myself face planted into the soft sand about 1 mile into the course. I got up, brushed myself off and vowed to pick up my feet- less I want to spend the rest of the race limping through my laps. I'm not exaggerating when I say its a minefield of roots if you aren't careful; they can reek havoc on a racer. The course is a 4.5 mile loop which you complete 14 times. Yes, its a lot but the upside is there are 2 aid stations and you can run the entire loop if you have fancy enough feet to handle the roots. After my fall, I allowed myself to settle into a comfortable pace and was keeping time goals- reach this bench at this time, one minute stop at the station to eat... if I stuck to the plan I would be setting myself up for a pretty darn good performance. At the 50k split, I was starting to feel worn.  I knew my pace would slow but tried to stay on track;I was one, then three, then five minutes behind goals. I decided to turn the watch off and run with how I felt. I picked up Phyllis for a lap and she gave me a little pep in my step with her light running style and wordless grace. I truly am blessed to have her as a friend and a running partner- she's an incredible runner and her blogs are chalked full of motivation

On the next lap she told me was in first with a stealthy lead and all I had to do was hold on. With 4 laps left when I grabbed my ipod for some musical motivation knowing that the faster I ran, the less I would have to race in the dark. I ran happy on those laps with my tunes in my ears- singing to myself and thinking about all this past year has held for me. I had fallen in love with my running again, was crazy in love with a good man, Chad,  and was surrounded with wonderful friends and my running family. I let that joy of all those people and my life flow through my feet! God was smiling with me every step of the way.

With about 1.5 laps left, I had to don my headlamp. The dark slowed my progress a tad but by then I was on the victory lap. At the "3 minute station"  I thanked the volunteers for the help along the way and headed for the homestretch. I had realized that I was going to hit a PR for this race but when I crossed the line and hour plus ahead of my previous time, I was ecstatic!! I had not only finished the 62.5 miles but had accomplished my entire list of goals. My finish time was 11:25:08- good enough for 1st female and 5th overall.

Tom finished a strong race and Steve took a good training run home with tapping out early as temps dropped into the teens. Many runners were beginning to suffer in the cold temps and made the same smart decision. Our cheering section of Val and Danielle, joined by Phyllis were incredibly patient and supportive as we knocked down lap after lap of the race and only had mere minutes to exchange a few words before we were off into the next loop. It takes a lot to run an Ultra but it takes a bigger heart to stand in the cold waiting for your runner to come in.

I feel cautiously optimistic about my performance this past weekend and am shooting for a 4 of the 5 hundred milers that were on the original schedule.  All I want is to run as happily as I can for as long as I can one step at a time. Next up is Double Top 100 miler on March 22nd so fingers are crossed that that race can go as well as this one.

Full Race results courtesy of Lee Timing:

Race photos courtesy of Timothy Hale: