Come race morning, despite sharing a twin bed (better than the floor!) I had slept well and was feeling somewhat better. I only ate half my breakfast but the coffee was good! We hit the road for the starting line and blasted some good tunes along the way, which immediately put me in a better mood. An hour later my camelback was packed and we were off. This race has 3 distances: 16, 30, 50 miles and everyone starts together so it's hard to know who's in what race. I opted to run with my hubby and the awesomely large group of VT Ultra runners for the first 5 miles which was a pretty delightful way to start the day. It was definitely a little faster than I needed to start given the slight uphill grade, but we joked and laughed and it was the perfect distraction to get me going. After 5 miles of easy rail trail, we hit the technical trails and the real race had begun...
This is where I have to give a huge shout out to the awesome volunteers! I've heard reports on the stellar aid provided at this race and at this particular aid station I was approached by a lady with a big smile that immediately brightened my day. We made small talk as I dug through my drop bag. I dumped some hammer perpetuem into my camelback and we laughed because only half actually made it into the pouch. "I'm just not going to worry about that" I said, then she hurried off to refill the pack with water as I chatted with a few runners by the food table. It was SO NICE to not be in a hurry for once. Not much on the table looked appealing, but I forced myself to eat a quarter of PBJ sandwich, salted potato and packed a few mini Reeses cups to go before wandering my way back onto the trail. At that point I was the 4th female and 3rd was not far ahead. Half of me wanted to push forward and be competitive, but I decided to run my own race and let the placing fall accordingly. My husband will testify that I don't like to be rushed, and today I was definitely not in the mindset to hurry!
I took the second half of the race one mile at a time. Some miles seemed to crawl by and despite my efforts to push fluids and electrolytes, the humidity caused me to cramp pretty badly. I was also falling asleep, which I've learned is a sign that I'm not eating enough, so I pushed the calories a little more and risked my stomach feeling upset. At a certain point, your fueling plan goes out the window and you eat whatever is most appealing and tolerable. When I made it to the last aid station, mountain dew, watermelon and chocolate never tasted better! Once again, the volunteers were stellar (thanks Tammy!) and did whatever they could to provide comfort, encouragement and prepare us for the final stretch of trail ahead.
Maybe it was the mix of my expresso gel and the mountain dew (probably), but a few miles later (about mile 24) I finally reached the point where I was feeling great. I still wasn't moving overly fast, but for the first time in the race I was feeling my normal "running is amazing!" self. The high point of my day was reaching mile 26 and feeling accomplished to have run my first marathon in many months. How had I forgotten that running a marathon was part of this experience?! Anyway, I was running downhill feeling awesome and could hear cracks of thunder from above. I love thunderstorms and a big one was definitely brewing. I prayed hard that a downpour would quickly follow. Even though it would definitely make the technical downhill a little more dangerous, trail running in the rain makes me very happy! But nonetheless, the rain held off until after I finished...
Eventually I reached a paved road and knew I would shortly be back in Damascus and at the finish line. With my moon shoes it felt so great to be back on the pavement and I was ready to bounce my way to the finish line. Still, I took my time, running strong and steady. Part of me wasn't ready to be done!
This race has what they call an "ironman" and "ironwoman" competition at the finish line, which involves completing as many push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups as possible within 5 minute of crossing the line. I laugh because though I had no care to be competitive regarding the actual race, I decided well ahead of time that I wanted to win this mini competition (and I did, walking away with an ab wheel as my prize, yay). Speaking of prizes, thanks to the race director for these awesome finisher's goods:
Shortly after I finished, I laid in the chilly creek for a bit of a recovery ice bath and then the rain finally came pouring down. I felt bad for those still out on the course, especially since it was the first of many severe storms to roll through that afternoon. My husband later reported that he was on the top of a mountain when one storm hit and was almost forced to stop and take cover due to the severity.
I'm certain there's a lot about this race that I could worry about but I've opted not overanalyze. My overall pace was much slower than normal but is more so a reflection of my intentions for the race and generally not feeling great than my current fitness. Even so, there was also a lot of things that went well that I'm proud of. Nutrition-wise, I'm very happy that I brought along multiple options and rolled with what worked best given the conditions. Though I generally prefer solids, fluid calories ended up being my saving grace and I'm glad I was prepared to make that adjustment on the fly (note: I ate only a few bites out of my plan A goods). And even with the many points throughout that I was feeling bad, at no point did quitting cross my mind and I made the conscious decision to be optimistic and press on. It was a tough day but in the end my patience was rewarded with a happy finish. I maintained my position as 4th female and the hubby ran well in his race, placing 5th in a competitive men's field with a 32 minute PR for 50 miles. We both finished with a smile, had fun with the team and enjoyed sharing the beautiful trails (God's creation!) with fellow trail runners. In the end, that's what matters most!
Kristen Chang is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and triathlete residing in southwest Virginia with her husband and dogs. Follow along as she shares favorite fueling recipes, general wellness and sport nutrition tips and stories from her athletic endeavors.
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