I have given myself a couple of days to process, yet somehow it still doesn’t seem quite real. I often have this feeling after big races, as if it all might have been a dream. I woke up to my alarm clock at 3:40 am on Saturday morning after a surprisingly restful sleep. I did all of my usual pre-race things. Coffee, dressed, packed, pb&j, banana, car. I ate half of my sandwich along with the banana during the 45 minute drive to LaGrange. I wasn’t nervous, just ready. I arrived at the race site around 5:15 am, plenty of time to pick up my bib, use the facility, and hang out with some friends before the 6am start. Part of what I love about trail running is how laid back everyone is. There is no vibe of nervous anticipation jitters that you would feel at the start of a road race, just a bunch of people who would like nothing better than to spend the day running through the woods.
At 6am, we were off. I reminded myself over and over to take it easy though the first 9 mile loop. I wanted to feel like I wasn’t even starting to breathe hard, virtually no effort. I knew that it was going to be a long day, and that I’d better pace myself if I was going to enjoy it.
[photo copyright Ali Engin Photography]
The first couple of miles seemed really long to me, but I just tried to settle into an easy pace. I listened to a lot of conversations going on around me, but didn’t really talk to anybody. Once I got into a groove, the loop was over before I knew it. I started counting down the miles until I would see Steve at mile 17. I made it a point to eat early and often, and arrived at 17 feeling great, except for my right ankle which was feeling pretty stiff.
I asked Steve if he had any Advil in his car and he said no. Oh well. I continued on towards the turn around. The next portion was easily my favorite part of the race. I started seeing a lot of people I knew who were ahead of me coming back the other way, and cheered for each of them as they passed. I also counted the women ahead of me, and determined that I was in 12th place. My two best-case goals for the day were to break 9 hours and to finish in the top 10 for females.
After the turnaround, I saw a ton more people I knew that were still heading out. I said hi to everyone and great job. At one point the guy running just in front of me said jeez, did you bring your whole hometown to the race or what? I said no, just a really awesome running club. At mile 26 I saw Steve again, and he had procured some Advil packets from a gas station. I stuffed them in my pocket and kept running, still feeling good.
After a while, the miles started to wear on me, and I had my first low point of the day. All of a sudden my legs felt awful, I was sucking wind, and I didn’t know how the heck I would be able to finish. By the time I started up the hills on the last out-and-back section, I was hurting with nearly 20 miles to go. I took a walk break and threw an electrolyte tablet into my water bottle. Then I remembered the Advil and decided it couldn’t hurt to take one. I was a little nervous that it would upset my stomach because I’ve never taken anything like that while running before, but it turned out to be fine. I also ate half of a Larabar at that point and hoped for the best.
I don’t know what did the trick, but within 10 minutes I was feeling great again. The trail had flattened out and I felt like I was flying. I started to pick people off one by one, and I was so glad I had taken it easy in the beginning. I came into the final turnaround at mile 40 feeling nothing short of amazing.
With 10 miles to go, the end was in sight. I knew there would be one last really tough hilly section, but I got through it knowing how close I was to the finish. When I got to the final aid station at mile 48.5, I somehow confused myself into thinking that there were 3 miles to go. Don’t ask. Imagine my delight when a guy ran past me and said less than a mile to the beer! This was the first time all day that I checked my total time, and I was absolutely shocked when I saw that I was about to finish well under my 9 hour goal.
My official time was 8:48:25, 8th female and 1st in my age group. I could not be happier with this finish, and I am so proud of this race. To train hard for months and then have everything come together perfectly on race day is a feeling like no other.