Yesterday called for the last, longest training run before the first US Skyrunning Series Ultra event - Cruel Jewel 50 (really 56 miles...ahem!). I’ve been racing now coming up on 3 years and these are the runs that seem to be a defining point for me in my training. I know it’s coming and I really look forward to the challenge I always know it will be. This run, this one long run each season, before the races start, is always the most memorable because it gets me feeling the way I know I’m going to feel mid-late stages of a race, tired, legs a little zapped, passing clouds of uncertainty followed by periods of ease and flow, then more passing clouds, the miles seeming longer and longer. These runs are far more mental than physical and just a slight taste of what will happen in race scenario. That’s what they are meant to be...I think.
I sweet talked a runner from Arkansas, James to join me for 20 of the 30 miles. The weather was shaping up to be potentially severe, but we were pretty sure we had a good window of opportunity before the really severe stuff came in. We got lucky. Tornadoes did end up making their way through the north and east of us later that evening and night causing extensive damage and loss of life in Quawpaw, Ok and North Little Rock, Ar.
We started at 7am. Temps in the 60s with 80% humidity and passing clouds. Did I mention humidity at 80%? We took off at an easy pace on the trails of Hobbs State Park. I decided to go by effort, only looking at HR to make sure I wasn’t letting myself get too high. It was nice to have company and share in the beauty around us.
The dogwoods were in full bloom and looked like patches of snow between the greenery. Off the trail the ground cover was turning vibrant kelly green...lots of poison oak cropping up as well...my nemesis! We cruised down the first holler, sun peeping through trees and a nice breeze. We power hiked parts of steeper but relatively short climbs to stay comfortable. alternating sun/clouds above with few sprinkles here and there. As the sun rose, so did the temps and humidity. We hit around mi 7 or 8 and stopped to refill our water and I grabbed a few more gels and pocket fuel. I decided to try a solid...which usually goes over miserably. I ate about half of a payday. Some friends turned me on to these at an ultra event I crewed at. We took off down “the Bunny Ears”. These are 2 3 mi loops that have a slow shallow grade down to the lake and back up. The first bunny ear went fine, by the second one though the heat was starting to zap us and our conversation pretty much fizzled out! The payday seemed to go down without issue and I was remaining aware of and drinking to thirst. I have found if I make sure to drink when I start to get a little thirsty I do very well on the hydration end. I alternated gels and pocket fuel (a almond butter/fruit blend) which kept me fueled well. We popped off the second bunny ear and topped off our water. I gobbled the other half of the payday and we were off...The next 5 miles to the visitor center would be cruising along.
We had a little brief 10 min shower and things steamed up. The second bunny ear slow steady climb up from the lake took a bit of a toll on me, but I backed off and was perking back up making our way to mi 18-19. We hit the visitor center, and stopped briefly to decide the next segment. James agreed to show me a new to me 8 mi trail called Pigeon’s Roost. He got me to the trail head and as we rolled in, a group of young guys asked if we would take their picture. I wasn’t paying attention when we hit the visitor center and didn’t realize until we got to Pigeon Roost that I was almost out of water. Not good when you have 10 miles to go. I agreed to take their picture in exchange for some water to get me through the next segment. They agreed it was a fair trade.
James and I parted ways and I headed solo down Pigeon Roost. This would be an 8 mile loop that takes you again down and around Beaver Lake. Within the first mile the skies became very dark and the winds picked up. I cruised down and started climbing back up and could feel the fatigue in my legs settle in. They were very heavy and my breathing a little harder trying to climb. I remembered to back off and keep it easy...well as easy as I can let myself keep it ;). The climbs were a shallow grade and very runnable so I did, just very very slowly up. Started to get a nice little downpour and some thunder. About 4 miles in to the loop I hit some low points, just tired feeling legs. I did my systems checks…”are you keeping this easy?”, “when was the last time you had calories?” “water?” Is there something you can do to help yourself feel better? At this point I was just watching my feet, not looking ahead or scanning the trail…..then blammo! I saw it just as I was about to step on it...a timber rattler coiled up right in the middle of the trail.
Shit! I hurdled that sucker and just barely avoided stepping flat on him! I flew down the trail past hiim seeing every root and stick as a snake for about 50 meters. I must’ve been a sight, flailing, cursing, leaping, squeeling at roots and sticks! It gave me such a start! Just as soon as I settled down just slightly a HUGE thunderclap and lightening strike no more than a ¼ mi away. Sent me zooming and cursing again! Now I was mad and terrified! I wanted airlifted off the f’ing trail right then and there! I knew I was 3-4 miles from the trail head and there was no other idiot out there in the weather. After a small fit, I thought, “alright, alright….just do what you need to do.. pay attention to the trial, to the sky and be smart and get moving’. At that very moment I took a sip from my pack and heard that all to familiar sound of air and water. Out of water. Oh well. I knew I was 3-4 mi from the visitor center so this would just be an annoyance and not anything to worry much about. The little storm that cropped up in minutes dissolved just as quickly as it fired up and the sun was again peeking through clouds. The trail brought me down to the lake again.
I decided this might be a good time to get my legs in the water, wash off any poison oak oil and just recollect my nerves a bit. The water was beautifully clear and cold. I walked in shoes and all up to my knees and washed my face and rubbed my legs. “there, much better”, I thought. Back up the trail and hit the trail head and pavement. The trail on Pigeon Roost seemed particulary rocky so the ¼ mile of paved road felt like a nice little break. My feet and knees were getting a little achy. Hit the visitor center at 27-28 miles and filled up on water. Ate some pocket fuel and headed back down the trail for a short out and back to make 30 miles. I was thinking on those last couple miles, “I’m ready to be done, but honestly feel like I could go another 10-20-or more miles if I needed to, this is how I want to feel at 30 miles in a race”. At that point I knew I had nailed today’s run. I ran it just like I was supposed to. I was so pleased….and so freakin’ ready for some real food!