the 25k was a small piece of my Pumpkin Holler experience. I am now beginning to realize how incredibly enriching an “event” can be. I’ve missed out on “the event” for much of the last 3 years of my racing. Showing up just before the race and leaving soon after.

This event is right in my backyard. It’s on the Illinois river and takes  the backroads around  the hollers in NE Oklahoma. Undulating dirt roads with a few  good  ½ to 2 mile climbs, depending on which event you chose...the 25k 50k 100k or 100 mile.  It’s a fast course  as far as ultras  go. An awesometacular course to tackle for your first ultra, and in particular your first 100 miler.  TATUR racing does the event, and in my opinion, has the best race support and best  aid stations. Complete with waffles, soup, homemade cookies/brownies, and on and on and on….and on. The aid stations have plenty of help to help runners and never run out of what you need… most of all encouragement and enthusiasm.

We showed up at 7:30am, Todd running the 50K which would start at 8 , and I the 25k which started at 10am. I was much more relaxed knowing I was only doing the “fun run”. Lots of nervous runners getting ready to go out for the 50k - 100mi races. Helped with the aid station, packet pick up and got to shoot the breeze with friends and acquaintances from other races.It was fun to feel helpful and like I was giving something back. Before I knew it, it was time to get ready for my race start. I was nervous for a few reasons. This is my home, so of course I feel a little more pressure to do well. I also have been struggling with my R knee and R achilles a bit. I was feeling fairly sluggish at Canyon De Chelly last weekend and was worried I would feel the same way today. I had done well all week, but day before the race the R knee flared up a little. Ahhh...And then there was last year’s performance. I almost blew up. I expected myself to win. hahaha! High expectations! There were 3 girls that shot outta there with their asses on fire. I chased them...and gradually fell further and further behind running as hard as I could. It was sad really. I was mad and embarrassed that I couldn’t keep up, embarrassed that I thought I should be able to keep up. Mad that it was soooo hard, Waaaaaaa!. By around 9 miles I was really pissed off and completely exhausted. I had lost sight of them altogether and was wanting to quit pretty bad. I had run myself ragged and wouldn’t let go. I finished, very disappointed and frustrated. It was 15.5 very miserably painful miles...of my own making.

Coach and I are working on helping me be a smarter/more patient racer. Holding back a little and seeing how this helps me. I fear if I hold back any, my times will only be worse. I now had last year’s time as a benchmark in my head as well. How much worse would I do if I held back? Surely my time would be significantly slower. I busted my ass last year effort wise, no holding back.  And what if I didn’t finish well in the lineup? How hard would it be to let the leaders go? First and foremost I did not want to feel as miserable as I did last year. We had decided I would run the first ½ to ¾ of the race “feeling like you have another gear”.

I took off for a warm up pre race. Immediately I felt a biting sensation in my R achilles. Dangit. This biting/burning sensation continued throughout the warm up. I started to wonder what my knee and achilles would do once I started to race.

I came to the start line and met Merry McCoul, another runner I had connected with last year. We chatted and the gun fired. I made myself go out watching heart rate and keeping my effort in check. I was determined not to repeat last year no matter where that put me time or place wise. Merry’s relaxed calm nature rubbed off and she and I ran together for a while. We enjoyed eachothers company. I had never started a race chatting with anyone. It was nice to feel relaxed. After a ways, my heart rate was where I wanted it and my effort seemed like I had more than 1 gear left so I picked it up just a little. We also had a goal for me to stay under heart rate zone 4b, also to assure I was not going too hard. Upper zone 4a and low 4b felt pretty dang good.

I was enjoying my run, feeling strong, feeling like I was holding back. Temps were in the mid 30s and the crisp air felt good. I pulled away from Merry, putting me lead female.  I made sure I felt good enough to do this, I didn’t want to regret it later knowing Merry is very experienced with a great track record. We hit the first climb, a 2 mile climb, which I was able to run in its entirety, I backed my effort down, watching my heart rate, increasing my foot turnover and running likely as slow as one can run without walking. My achilles and knee were pretty silent which pleased me. I smiled as I climbed. I really liked how I was feeling! Got to the top and picked up my pace again, watching the heart rate and backing off if it felt hard. Hit the first aid station at mile 4.5...they had waffles!  I could smell the sweetness and syrup. I passed. I would’ve puked em anyway. The scent drew two gents in and I passed them. I sipped from my handheld filled with water as I went. I had ate a huge breakfast about 2 hours before the race...another something we decided to try, getting about 500-600 calories in that pre race meal to see if it would boost my energy level. Normally Its about 300-400 calories. I was pleased with the result and my stomach was happy.

I cruised across the plateau, about another 2 miles before hitting a 1 mile fairly steep descent. I was anxious to see how my knee would take this. Descending is where the pain usually hits. My knee started to whine a little. I determined to try a shorter stride and really focus on keeping that R foot under the knee...not reaching out past it any.  Viola!!! Holy cow, I think I figured it out!  It worked!  I am overstriding even though I didn’t think I am.. As long as I didn’t reach out past the knee with that R foot my knee was happy. I was happy and I flew down passing another gentleman. He caught me at the bottom and passed me. The 7.5 mile turnaround aid station was just ahead. I had 1 gel and my now half full handheld and cruised right on around the aid station leaving him at the aid station. a mile of flat and then back up that 1 mile hill. I decided at the turnaround I would increase my effort just a little. I increased my turnover again and picked my way back up the hill, backing my effort down but maintaining a run. I hit the plateau again, this time I wanted to push my heartrate up just a notch into zone 4b. My goal was to keep it here the rest of the race. I was feeling really good, in control and strong. I went ahead and took a gel in just for good measure around mile 10. Hit the waffle/syrup laden aid station at mile 11 and cruised on past. Here I tried to amp my effort more. I hit the 2 mile downhill section again focusing on not letting that R foot get ahead of the knee and just a few twinges on the way down. Hit the bottom of the hill and gave the rest of the effort, top gear (although probably not much faster pace) to the finish. I felt crazy good. Came in at 2:01, matching my time within seconds of last year. I figured I would come in way behind my time last year. I also had a negative split...something I thought totally impossible for me...And most important, I felt tremendously better. I was fortunate to come in first female and 5th overall. Thanks coach!!

After the race I stayed and helped with the aid station and getting runners in/out while waiting on Todd to finish the 50k.  Ran a few errands for the race director and located a couple generators for the night crew. Interacting with the crews, racers, volunteers was energizing and a joy. By the end of the day we were pooped out but fulfilled on many levels. Most fulfilling was watching my 10 year old son helping at the aid station. He helped through the evening and then begged to stay through the night and help. There were plenty of friends to keep a watchful eye on him and all promised to let me know if I needed to come get him. I couldn’t stay through the night, had to be at work the next day. All night he helped the aid station crew and kept the fire going. I showed up at 7:30 am to find him crashed out by the fire. He had fallen asleep about 7am. He has the heart and endurance of an ultra runner. It was a good good day.

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