Stage one of my March Madness down! I successfully completed the Land Between Lakes Trail Marathon. It was a beautiful course and a great day all around for the Michigan runners who came down for the race. One of our group, Melanie Peters, even broke the women's course record for the 60k and got the $1000 award!! (Funny story: People she was passing on the course were saying "Girl, you need to slow down. You need to learn how to pace yourself in an ultra." NOT)
After a soggy day on Thursday, we had a beautiful sunny day on Friday that did a lot to dry out the course. Saturday, race day, was equally beautiful with blue skies and plenty of sun. Temperatures were in the 40s for the 6 am. start time, but as the sun rose, it warmed up quickly and was in the 60s by midmorning. By the finish of the 50 miler, some of the men were coming in shirtless.
This was one of the larger ultras that I have run in terms of number of people at the start. The race has the trail 50 mile, 60k, marathon, 23k, as well as a 10k road race all starting together. The trail runs all consist of loops of an 11.3 mile trail, with road sections to get to the trailhead and from the trailhead to the finish. Luckily this 1.7 mile road section worked to separate people out a little before the trail portion began.
Still the early portion of the trail run was a continuous "conga line" of runners. Passing was possible but difficult in sections. I did a good job of getting myself sorted into a pace that was fairly close to what I wanted to run. However, I did have to do some passing in the first few miles to finally get with a group running the pace I wanted for the day.
The loop itself was almost all really nice single track of the type that is my absolute favorite. The trail had dried out in most sections and was perfect for running, with just the occasional muddy section to make life interesting. It was not nearly as bad as I was afraid it might have been after Thursday's deluge.
The course had an aid station at the start of the loop and then three more out on the course, approximately every 3 miles. The aid stations appeared to be well stocked, but I was wearing a hydration pack (with Power Ade Zero) and carrying Hammer gel in a flask, so I only took water from the aid stations during the race.
In the early stages of the race I realized something very important about myself as a trail runner. I really hate running in groups!! Since I do so much training alone or with one other person, the presence of all those other runners on the trail was a real distraction and almost an irritant to me. If someone was ahead of me, I felt obligated to try to keep up. If someone was behind me, I felt obligated to go faster or to step out of the way, even when the person said they were fine. It really kept me from getting into a comfortable rhythm.
On top of that I had overdressed, which is a problem I have being a wimpy California/Florida girl. I had very wisely worn a short sleeve with a long sleeve over top, anticipating that at some point the long sleeve would probably come off. Unfortunately, at the last minute at the start, I also threw on a fleece vest, with my hydration vest on top. I wasn't a mile up the road before I knew the vest was a mistake, but it was my favorite vest, so I couldn't discard it. I just unzipped it and let it flap annoyingly until I would be seeing Jerry at Aid Station 3 to get rid of it. Basically for the first part of the run I was hot from being overdressed and grumpy about the other people on the trail.
Fortunately the early part of the trail, roughly the first six miles of the loop, was wonderful. It was just gentle rollers that made the running easy. I also ran into one of my fellow Running Fit Ultra (RUT) team members whom I had not met before, Melissa, and that made the last part of that section tolerable.
After the aid station, minus the vest, I was all set to go. The crowds were thinning, and my attitude was improving. That is when the hills started. Now anyone who knows me knows how I feel about hills: LOVE the downs, HATE the ups (which, by the way, is a bit of a problem for a trail ultra runner). My strategy with uphills is always to pretend the course doesn't have them and then be surprised and indignant when it does. Indignation, a fair amount of cursing, and a lot of angry walking is my hill strategy for ultras. It also did not help at this point to be passed by my fellow RUTsters, Farra and Melissa, who obviously have a better relationship with hills than I do because I could hear them laughing and talking the whole way up the hills.
The back side of the course has what I consider to be three fairly substantial hills. They aren't California or Colorado hills, but they had most of the people I saw walking at some point (except for Melanie who obviously eats hills for breakfast). The great part for me, though, was that there was a really nice not too steep downhill payoff after each uphill that put me in a better mood.
As I was walking up one of the uphills, I realized that I was approaching two hours and that I had been overheated and sweating profusely, so decided to take an Endurolyte. I had put several in my vest pocket, which also contained my cell phone (in case of another spleen-rupturing fall). As I pulled out my phone to get to the Endurolyte caps I knew I had a problem. The phone was coated in white dust. The first Endurolyte I pulled out was smashed and empty. I had a moment of panic, but luckily the next one came out whole.
I think the Endurolyte was exactly what I needed. As I started the second loop, I began to feel better. Many people were only doing the 23k, so they weren't there for the second loop, and I could really appreciate that section of the course the second time around without the crowds. I even noticed a few wildflowers that were blooming along the course that I had not seen the first time around.
I was moving along pretty good through that section and looking forward to shedding the long sleeve at Aid Station 3 when Ckat came bouncing along and passed me. Ckat is a friend from my other Michigan running group, Playmakers, who was out there for her first 50 miler. She was looking very fresh (ah to be in one's 20s again!). I was a little worried about her pace, but she seemed happy, so I just wished her good luck as she sped off into the distance.
Jerry was waiting patiently as I popped out at Aid Station 3 for the second time. That was somewhere around 19 miles, and I was really happy to report to him that there were no IT band issues thus far. I was also happy to get rid of the long sleeve, as the temps were now probably in the upper 50s/low 60s with bright sun. I was in a pretty good mood as I approached the hills the second time around. I like loop courses because I think it is always easier when you know what to expect.
Somewhere in the hill section between Aid Station 3 and 4, I started getting nauseous. I hadn't taken in anything different, so I decided it was probably an electrolyte issue. I also started having a few calf twinges, so I took a second Endurolyte. In retrospect, I probably should have taken three over the course of the race rather than two. I will remember that at Green Swamp and probably be better off for it. I was very salty at the end, with a definite coating on my face. It was not as bad as the finishers of the 50 miler, but it was enough to know that I needed the extra electrolytes.
For the latter miles of the trail I was really looking forward to the road finish. There was an uphill coming out of the trailhead area, but I knew there was also considerable downhill to the finish. My legs, which had been so fatigued in the latter part of the trail that I had to walk in spots on the downhills because I was not confident that I could navigate over roots and rocks on the technical sections, were really happy to be back on pavement. I averaged about an 8:10 pace after hitting the pavement and passed 5 people, three of whom were females (two of whom I recognized had passed me earlier on the trail), so I was pretty happy about that.
I finished with a 4:54:03, which was a trail marathon PR for me as a 50 year old, a 24 minute improvement over Yankee Springs in January. I always have various levels of goals going into a race. My A goal here was to finish without being injured (check). My B goal was to be under 5 hours (check). My C goal was to be under an 11:00 pace overall, which I did not do. It was an 11:13 pace. The walking on those hills just killed the average.
Post race I had the usual calf and foot cramping, along with some new cramping in the groin area. At least this time it was not bad enough to have me rolling on the ground, but it was definitely not pleasant. After the race, because most of the RUT group was doing the 60k or 50 mile, I had time to go change into warm clothes and watch the group finish. If you would like to see a video of the RUTsters finishing, you can check it out on my videos page. One of the best parts was seeing Ckat come in to successfully complete her first 50 miler.
Besides the previously mentioned insight about preferring to run alone, I also learned a few things from the race. One is that the IT problem does appear to be treadmill related. That is a relief because with spring coming I will be off the treadmill by the time I get back from this adventure. I also learned that I need more long runs, plain and simple. Although my weekly mileage has been pretty solidly in the 30-35 range, I have not had enough of the 20+ long runs that will make the ultras comfortable. Finally, I learned that I really do need to get serious with the hill training. That was the plan anyway because the Gnaw Bone and Devil's Lake races are both wickedly hilly.
Oh, and for my fellow fans of the bling, here is my LBL race bling. Besides the usual shirt and medal, they gave out a drop bag and my personal favorite, a really, really nice running hat with my name custom embroidered on it! Of course, I did not get the most coveted bling of all, the finisher's buckle. That will be another goal for another year.