I've given a lot of thought over the past few days of how I would summarize this race. The following list is what I came up with:
- Challenging - This was my first trail race. Although I had spent the last month running a longish trail run in preparation for running trails, there is no way I could have prepared for the various trails at TNF. In addition, the heat and humidity were a factor.
- Inspiring - There were many things that inspired me as I ran the race, as well as after finishing. Some of those inspirations include: the amazing, elite athletes competing in these events, the challenged athletes that don't let physical limitations impair their ability to reach their goals, and the overall drive and determination of each individual that participated.
- Fun - Trail running is definitely interesting and fun. Between the people participating, the change in running terrain and elevation changes, being out in nature and "exploring", there is so much to look forward to and to prepare for that makes each race unique and exciting.
- Motivational - I realized that I don't want to be a middle-of-the-pack finisher. I want to be competitive, which is going to require more focus, more intensity, and more dedication to my training
|Race Elevation Profile|
Race Day - Getting to the Start
I woke up Saturday morning to the alarm at 3AM. Knowing that I had all my stuff ready to go, I took my time getting out the door. I did some stretching, ate a couple mini-bagels that I had bought from the grocery the night before, drank some Muscle Milk Light and was ready to leave by about 10 till 4. The race start/finish was only about 5-10 minutes from my hotel. I mixed some Carbopro with water to drink on my way. Once I arrived at the race, I sat in my car for awhile. I had initially planned on carrying my CamelBak handheld water bottle, wearing my Camelbak hydration pack with the hydration reservoir removed so I could carry things like my pre-measured baggies of Carbopro, and having a drop bag available at the Great Falls Aid station which I would pass a total of 4 times during the race. While sitting in my car, I decided against carrying the Camelbak hydration pack and just throw my Carbopro in my drop bag along with a change of socks, an extra shirt, my Camelbak hydration belt and an extra Camelbak hydration bottle. I figured since I would be at my drop bag 4 different times, this would be sufficient so I would not have to carry anything on my back. At about 4:15 I took my drop bag over to the drop-off tent and then walked around the race area a bit. I talked briefly to a couple people as I drank a cup of coffee. It was great that North Face provided things like coffee, fruit and bagels pre-race. Every 5 minutes or so, they would make an announcement about the time until the race started, and any facts they had about the race course. Some interesting facts they mentioned:
- There maybe snakes on the course, so pay attention (I saw a very large black snake while running)
- There would be over 100,000 gallons of water available throughout the race at the various aid stations
- There maybe some very muddy portions of the trail and some streams to cross due to the rain the night before - should have been a trigger for me to bring more socks!
As I talked to different people, it was surprising to hear how many people said they were nervous about the race. I'm not sure how you can be nervous about a race that will take you 9-11 hours, but they were. I'm sure the pre-race announcements didn't help them at all, but I kind of liked the announcements. It made it more interesting than just standing there waiting for the start.
Race Day - The Race
The race started at exactly 5AM. There was a countdown from 10 to 1 and then "Go!" and we were off. Within the first 100 yards, I learned exactly what single track meant. Basically the path is just wide enough for you to follow directly behind the person in front of you. It is extremely difficult to get around someone unless they stop to let you pass. There was a lot of single track along this course.The first part of the course took me around a large field and then onto a paved golf cart road. The paved road was probably less than 1/4 mile and then we switched to a gravel path until we reached the first aid station. I was already sweating a lot from the early morning humidity, but I chose to pass this aid station because I still had plenty of water and I was only about 1-2 miles into the race. Once I passed the aid station, I switched back to a paved path for a half mile or so. Finally, I got to a real trail for the first time. This trail was the first loop portion of the course. It's a good thing the race requires you to wear a headlamp or carry a flashlight during the first part of the race because it was still dark out and it made it even darker under the tree-cover. I would say this trail was minimally technical with some roots and rocks, but nothing that would prevent you from running a decent pace, which I did. I ended up finishing the first loop and 4.8 miles in just under 45 minutes according to plan.
The second portion of the course was where the hills and more technical trails started. This portion of the course ran about 10 miles to what they called the Great Falls aid station. There was a variety of terrain including single track trails with waste-high grass, mud, a few steep climbs and small stream crossings. Once I progressed about half-way into this portion of the course, I was pretty much on my own. I was now approaching the 14 mile point and the spacing between runners had dramatically increased. This stretch was about the only part of the course I was a little disappointed in with regard to the number of available aid stations. There was one aid station at mile 8.1, and then no other aid stations until mile 14.8. This made for a long stretch without the ability to refill my water bottle. I reached the Great Falls aid station, mile 14.8 at 2:22 which was about 5 minutes behind my planned time.
|Great Falls Aid Station|
|Views of Cliff Portion of 7-mile loop|
Little did I know, the last 15 miles would be very difficult for me. The first 7 miles were most difficult for two reasons. One, I did not have enough water to be able to run and stay cool during this stretch which forced me to do a lot of walking. Two, a large blister on my left heel was very painful. I could only run the up-hills and flat stretches because the down-hill stretches rubbed my heal so much. And my running was more of shuffling. Eventually, the blister did pop and I was able to get some pretty good stretches of running in within the last 5 miles of the race. I felt really good about this.
As I approached the final mile of the race, I had several thoughts going through my head: 1. Don't get passed by anyone 2. Try to catch someone 3. Be happy about completing my second 50 mile race. I managed to be successful with thoughts 1 and 3. There were 2 people I would have really liked to have passed in the last few miles, but I was unable to. It was really cool as I approached the finish line and they announced my bib number and name. I felt good.
After the race, I went immediately to a tent where there was food, water and ice-water buckets. I sat in a chair and put my feet in the ice-cold water. It felt so good. I also managed to get an ice-bath for my legs for about 10 minutes. It was a great way to cool off and is also good for your legs post-race. I changed into dry clothes and hung around the finish area for about an hour. I was able to get some post-race food and watch other finishers complete the race. That was a lot of fun and a relaxing way to end the day. I am already looking forward to my next race!
|Temperature During the Race|
What I did right:
- Ditched the idea of carrying my Camelbak for the purpose of carrying things that could be included in my drop bag
- Took my time to get through portions of the race where I was running very low on water
- When I walked, I walked fast. I was averaging 14-14:30 miles when I was walking (when I didn't have my blisters to deal with)
What I learned from this race:
- Take into account the weather
- How will humidity affect wetness of my socks due to sweat
- What do I need in my drop bag to prevent blisters (multiple pairs of socks, powder for my feet, maybe even an extra pair of shoes)
- Know how far one aid station is to the next
- Make sure I have adequate water between aid stations
- Make sure I have adequate nutrition between aid stations
- Don't be so conservative with not running hills. Just because a lot of other people are walking the hill, doesn't mean I need to. Have confidence in my training and run hills if I can run them.
- If it is very hot and humid, use my small Camelbak. Maybe start off with it empty, but if I need extra water, I will have an option to fill it at an aid station.
- When I am on a single track course, take advantage of any small widening of the track I first see if I even think I might want to pass someone, otherwise, I may be behind that person for a very long time.
- Spend less time at aid stations, get what I need and move on