The War Eagle races are on the beautiful single track, mild to slightly moderate technical trails of Hobbs State Park in Rogers, Arkansas. I do a lot of training runs out here and have run the 50k event the past 3 years, so I know these trails well.. This year I would be doing the 25k for the first time. The mindset for this race was “race/training run/experiment”. My big races this year are all 50k - 57 mile range and my training is geared toward that. This would be a “just go for it” kinda race. Coach initially asked if I could cover my watch with tape so I could gather the data, but not see it, really challenging me to race by feel. That is a tall order for me.... During shorter races I am heavily reliant on my watch for pacing and HR data. I decided not to cover the watch, but also not, only to allow heart rate to be viewed and at that I only planned to look only occasionally, to see if feel was correlating with HR. I didn’t let myself have any awareness of my pace or my time during the race.
With 400+ starters between the 25k and 50k, the start would be interesting to say the least. There is about 150 meters of parking lot before entering a 24 inch wide single track trail comprising the rest of the race. Not to mention the ½ mile fairly steep descent about a half mile in. We decided to have me get to the front and jump out fast early and ease up after a mile or two and run “a little out of my comfort zone”. In my mind this was an effort that lay somewhere between “I’m not sure I can maintain this effort for 14 mi” to backing off a little at the “Ok, there’s no way I can do this much longer effort”. I was nervous as I always am at races. I was afraid having come of Cruel Jewel my race would be flat and effort high with low heart rate and slow pace. My speedwork session earlier in the week seemed harder than it should fueling that concern.
As time came to line up at the start, I worked my way to the front and found a few friends including Tom. There were many young, college age guys chomping at the bit, talking nervously with this a first trail race for many and a first 50k for some. The University of Arkansas (with a huge track program) is close and the Rogers/Bentonville AR running community is huge….this is an understatement. So this race brings lots of strong runners. A few minutes before the start, Tom leans over to me and says “watch me, I’ll be the first one on the trail….I’m gonna hit like a 6:30/mi pace going out and probably sub 8 the first 2 miles. Tom of course will slow down after a mile or two and race a reasonable effort/pace the rest of the way (still well ahead of most). I confided I would enjoy watching him take off, and I too intended to get a jump on the trail, but had no intention of hanging on his shirt tail.
Soon enough, the RD yelled “Ready, set, GO!” and we were off. Sure enough, Tom was first on the trail and I heard others commenting on the ridiculous pace we were all running at….note.. we were ALL running at! It was hilarious, the younger guys just wide-eyed...and of course we hit the single track and all slowed down to a more reasonable, but still fast pace. I continued to move at what felt like a fast pace until I could tell my heart rate caught up. We hit that first descent followed by the first climb. There were two girls in front of me, one just behind the other and they were out of sight quickly. I focused on my effort, staying on the border of “I’m not sure I can maintain this high of an effort” and “There’s no way I can maintain this effort”. I was pleased with how my legs were doing. I was still worried they would fatigue quickly and kept waiting for it to happen, but they held out well ‘till the last 2 miles. I was definitely uncomfortable, but having a blast! My goal was to try and close as much gap on those 2 girls as I could.
Here I am early on pushing that comfort zone and wondering if I was gonna be able to keep it up.
My stomach wasn’t having as much fun though. I ate a really rich granola cereal about 2 hours before the race and it sat like a rock. I tried to take sips of water as I went...It was very humid and 70s temps, but it felt like breakfast was in my throat. I didn’t realize until after the race how high my effort was the first hour or so..I was in zone 5b for much of it. At that effort I don’t think I really should’ve tried to force fluids and breakfast was too heavy. It didn’t occur to me that my upset stomach was related to my effort, I didn’t think my effort was quite that high. I’m also used to fueling and hydrating for longer runs/races. It didn’t occur to me I wouldn’t need much. By around an hour and a half in I had taken about 14oz water, which added to my woes, and was convinced I likely needed electrolytes. I switched out my water bottle for a bottle of sport drink and popped 2 electrolyte capsules and left the aid station. Within a couple of minutes I was dry heaving. The electrolyte capsules now lodged in my throat...not coming up or going down which made me dry heave more...nothing doing. I was pissed, it felt like a giant bug was stuck in my throat, triggering my gag reflex, but not able to bring it up or get it down. The only option was to try and drink to get them down. I choked down some sport drink and my stomach cramped, but at least the capsules went down. I knew I was about 4 miles from the finish. I poured out most of my sport drink, just the thought of another sip made me want to vomit, and I didn’t feel like carrying a full bottle to the next aid station. I knew the next aid station was only a mile or two away and I would refill with water, sip and try and absorb those electrolyte capsules which my stomach was cramping about. I hit the last 2 mile aid station and drank a little water. By this point my effort was high and my movement was very slow. My legs had suddenly decided they were done! It felt like I was running through oatmeal.
Right before the finish there is this little, maybe 50 meter hill that pops up onto the parking lot. I decided I would walk this (I had already walked 90% of the last hill less than a mile back), when I heard, “Lori! Get your ass up here!”. I thought, “Awe shit, I’ve been caught”. I knew that voice. It was James.. He’d already finished. His goal was sub 2 hour and I was hoping to hang on and get somewhere close to him. I moaned and rolled my eyes, realizing I was now going to have to run up that damn little hill! Up and onto the pavement and finished in 2:24. A ways off my lofty goal of around 2...but I knew that was out of reach before I ever started. I was, and still am so pleased with my effort and when I went back and looked at my data it confirmed I was pushing that fine line, probably went a bit over it too early on leading to the crash and burn before the finish. It showed good endurance though, and was a confidence booster giving me a sense that I can race by feel and get out of my comfort zone for a pretty extended period of time. It was fun to really push my limits out there, and overall I had a really great day. As a matter of fact, this was probably my most satisfying 25k races ever.