Since December we’ve been focusing on training, intentionally avoiding racing early so I can be as ready as possible for my Cool Impossible, the US Skyrunning Series - Ultra. This was my first opportunity to hit the trails racing. I entered the 25k distance so I wouldn’t need much if any recovery following the race and be able to jump right back into training. It was somewhat of a last minute decision to enter this and we didn’t intend to change my training plan for it. The week leading up to this one ended up being topsy-turvy with a cold virus for me and then a sick husband, complete with emergency room party and overnight stay!! As crazy as the week was, I just kinda went with the flow, ran when I could, and did what my body and life would allow. It could’ve been disastrous, but I ended up feeling pretty primed for a race. I think I was also ready to let loose some pent up energy! By Friday my cold was resolving, husband not only home from the hospital, but ready to run his own race, and kiddos excited to be at the lake helping the race director and the aid stations.
Got out to the race start, located on a trail system around Lake McMurtry. Good to see friend and race director Ken Childress, with Tulsa Area Trail and Ultra Runners (TATUR), his wife Dana, and many friends I don’t get to see except at these kind of events. The kids would be volunteering at the start/finish, so we got them hooked up and I took off for m
y warm up. I usually sneak off by myself, giving me a chance to relax and get a feel for things. I pondered my coach’s last words before my race. We had talked back and forth about awareness, finding that line in racing of not going out to hard, but not being too conservative either. He told me, “And if you battle Walter every minute, you will not go out too hard - contemplate that one”. Awe Hell. I didn’t get what he meant. As I was warming up I was trying to figure it out.. Does he mean I should battle Walter the whole way? That doesn't sound fun. Hmm...if I am battling Walter I won’t go out too fast. Will I let Walter hold me back? I dunno. I shook my head and made my way to the start.
Friends immediately pulled me to the front and teased about following me. This is the part that makes me most uncomfortable. I have done extremely well at local races and I get a fair amount of teasing/compliments. It’s flattering, but hard not to convert that to pressure. I felt more comfortable though, not pressured, confident in my ability to perform, but not expecting anything. That used to really stress me out (it still does if I choose to let it), and I see how it stresses other runners, even keeps them from racing. Expectations, expectations I thought others had...expectations I had or thought I should have. But, finally, I am learning... WHO CARES?!! Really, who cares where I finish? Nobody’s life depends on it, I’m not going to be the hot topic of anyones conversation if I come in 2nd or 5th or 35th. Yes, I want to finish first and I am going to race as smart and competitively as I can, but
I am not going to let that desire be destructive. Now, I will say that is easy for me to say and hard for me to practice myself, but I’m getting it. Racing in other states has helped too. Coming in first and coming in 671st are both good teachers! Coming in at the front of the pack, strong and confident, feeling great, and coming in just under the cut off, wheels off, gaskets blown...after training your ass off for months for that ONE race...gives you perspective.
Oh sheesh, look at me, got all off down a rabbit trail! So, my goal for this race was to run smart but still “go for it”. To find that sweet spot. The race director yelled go! There were about 7 or 8 guys in front of me and I ran out with friend Jenny. She stayed with me for the first half mile or so on trail and then as I warmed up I sped up. For the first 2 miles I played back and forth a bit with a couple of guys and then found myself alone, the lead pack out of sight and the rest behind. All by myself I thought….as usual, here I am, aaallll by myself, ...waa! That lasted about 3 seconds before the views and the trail caught my attention.
The trail was mildly technical single track windy trail with short up and downs. Some pretty views of the lake to the right. Then came….The Leep o Doom! Ha, Its a break in the trail, between two large boulders, and about 24 inches across. A short jump, but miss it and the penalty is severe...many feet down between the boulders. Next up, field running...very narrow deer trail through a knee high grassy field. With the sun rising over the lake, this was a really peaceful section. I was solo and feeling fast and free.
I look at my watch and Walter speaks up…”You aren’t running as fast as you’d
hoped”. “It feels a little hard, doesn’t it? Harder than is should?” I
started to tell Walter, “No, it doesn’t” and push past, fight, or ignore Walter. Then I thought for a second, “If I am battling Walter…” The sun in my face, the grass hitting my legs, the lake in front of me...I backed off...and Walter smiled, nodded his head and disappeared.
Back on to single track mildly technical trail. I was running at a moderate effort, watching my heart rate. My goal was to run the first ¼-½ of the race in heart rate zone 4a-4b, not letting myself race in 5a until close to or after the halfway mark if I felt I could. I could feel it...I was in zone 4b early, but could always tell when i’d drift up into 5a. I knew the effort I felt when I got there was too high to sustain likely, so I would bring it down just under 5a. It was also going to be the first really warm day in Oklahoma. We have flirted with temps up in the low 70s some, but today it would get to over 80 with sunny skies. This took it’s toll on many, especially the 50k ers. No course records broken today. I made sure at every aid station to dump water on top of my head and down my back. I absolutely hate the heat and tend to turn into a whiny blob when I get uncomfortably hot. At mi 6-7 I started to let myself get into 5a if it felt good and it did some. I just kept featuring this line, below and I wasn't racing, too far above and I knew I wouldn’t be able to maintain, and likely drag my ass across the finish..
I was feeling really good around mi 7-11, really happy that 4b-low 5a was feeling not too uncomfortable and strong. I was making sure I was hydrating and fueling well. I drank water from my handheld and took in a gel every 20-30 or so minutes, and eventually some cola toward the end of the race. I sipped consistently from my handheld of water and never felt bonky. Miles 11-15 were harder and more uncomfortable. I didn’t feel as strong, but strong enough to push. I liked this sense. Usually at this point I am not able to push, I am too uncomfortable bordering on miserable. Not today. I had controlled myself well early and had gas in the tank. There was no dragging.. Around mi 12, I encountered a copperhead...poisonous sneaky snake. Fortunately, I was alerted by other runners or it would’ve been an even closer encounter! Those suckers are so hard to see, they match the dirt and leaves perfectly. Welcome to spring/summer trail running in Oklahoma. That did perk me up a bit! I was able to run it in to the finish feeling strong and appropriately spent. I finished first female and seventh overall. I had promised my daughter I would eat one of her aid station creations and here it is. It was sooooo hard for me to choke that down! Just looking at cookies or m&ms on a aid station table is often enough to turn my stomach upside down. I got it down...and kept it down as she proudly watched! Blech! My son on the other hand had decided to plant himself in a cedar tree at the finish line….a choice he would soon regret as he itched, scratched, and sneezed the whole way home!