"I'm really not sure how in shape I am so I'll probably just take this race slow and easy"
I swear that as I repeated some version of that phrase to everyone who asked me about my race this weekend I meant it. I really did. I was nervous about my fitness and lack of hill work over the last 2 months so I wanted to take this race easy. I haven't raced since March 2012 and haven't run a race hard since September 2011. So why would would I push myself and go out too fast? Right? Why during the initial sprint across the field would I put myself in the top 10? But let's just say I accidentally did that. I should totally just decided to back off and run the slow and easy race I had planned. Right? No, I'm an idiot. I got caught up in the excitement of racing and after all was said and done I finished the first 17 Miles of the race a full 30 minutes faster than planned.....And I would pay for that mistake.
But let's back things up a bit first. On Friday afternoon my brother showed up at my house. He had driven down from the Poconos to crew for me. For this I was very grateful. He's never been to one of my races and just knowing that I wouldn't have to drive myself home was a huge relief. So not only was I going to have my brother at my race, but I also had a ride home. Double win for me from the start. We spent Friday night discussing the course and where he would need to drive. Hatrun is very easy to crew. There are really only 2 place you need to get to. The start/finish pavilion and a parking lot close by that serves as an aide station 4 times during the race. We made a quick run to sports authority to grab a few cliff shots and we went to sleep.
One of the nice things about Hatrun is the 9am start. This meant we could sleep til 6 and drive down at a relaxed pace. The drive was fine except for the traffic. That soon passed and I began to get dressed. For those who have run ultras before the pre-race Vaseline application process is nothing special. It was gross the first time but after a few applications you get over it. Well this was new for my brother and he was particularly grossed out. One day maybe he'll understand the how avoiding hours of running with chaffed thighs is worth the Vaseline effort, but I digress.
Beautiful weather and dry trails. What more could you ask for. We walked to the start line and I headed off. At this point I was actually really calm. Having been away from racing this whole year there was something about getting back on a start line that just felt good. I had no nervous energy that I could speak of and I honestly just felt grateful to be able to race again. The horn sounded and we were off.
Yea this was my first mistake. I went out faster than I wanted and continued to run faster than I wanted for over 2 hours. The first 3.6 miles were easy. You loop back into the start/finish area and then you go and start the first of 2 13.7 mile loops. Bryan had my water bottle ready at the 3.6 mark and the exchange went well. Next stop mile 7.6. Here Bryan was going to have a cliff shot ready for me because this aide station usually just has water and Gatorade.
The next 4 miles were pretty easy. Had some fun conversation with a few guys. Was told I look like Tony Kurpika, which is always a compliment and a reminder that 1) I should cut my hair at some point and 2) maybe I need to eat more food and put on a few lbs (that dude is skinny). Anyway, cruised into the aide station to see Bryan with his phone out smiling and taking pictures.... No Clif Shot in sight. At this point I had 2 options. Ask for my Clif shot, or point out that he forgot to have it ready. In my pride I chose the latter. All I said was "dude, we talked about this."And Bryan smiled and took another picture (shown below). By then my water bottle was full and I was out.
After you leave this AS you run another 4 miles, which I covered in 42 minutes, and you end up at basically the same place you were 4 miles ago. Here Bryan had a big smile on his face and a Clif shot in hand. We had a good laugh about it and I was in and out quickly.
The next 5.3 miles are full of big climbs and technical terrain. I started to feel a bit fatigued but this could have been because I either had really needed that Clif Shot earlier or I was running to fast. I'm gonna go with a bit of both. Either way these miles went by slowly but surely I teamed up with 2 other guys and we ran most of the section together.
So let's take stock of where we are at this point. I come into the start/finish pavilion at 2hrs and 30 minutes. I'm 30 minutes ahead of schedule and my left knee has been bugging me since mile 7ish. Not bad. But I haven't run more than 15miles in a day in over a year, the hills seem much bigger this year, and, for some reason I still haven't slowed my pace. This left me with 2 options. I could slow down my pace and chill for the next few hours and finish easily, or I could continue my pace, risk cramps and pain to maybe finish 20 minutes or so faster.... I went with the latter.
13.7 miles to go, 2 aide stations, lots of hills, and the unknown hardships were the only things between me and my finishers award. The first 4 miles went OK. Nothing major to speak of. Bryan was doing a great job cheering me on at the aide stations and I was in good spirits. The second 4 miles of the final loop gave me my first real scare.
On the 2 mileish road section I had caught back up with a guy I had run with earlier and we started chatting. Chatting is not a great way to remind you to keep drinking water. So.... yea I went like 20 minutes without drinking. When you do that late in a race you cramp. I started cramping. First the right hammy then then left. Luckily James (we had exchanged names at that point) had a few cola chews that really hit the spot. I drank almost my whole water bottle at the point and over the next few hundred yards the cramping stopped. We ran into the aide station together. James and I both told the other that we weren't feeling well and that if the other wanted to go on ahead they could. We both said we wouldn't and that we were going to take it easy.... Yea I think we were both just lying to ourselves. 5.3 miles to go.
During the first loop I had hiked a lot of this section telling myself "if you hike it now you can run it the second lap." That's what I told myself and that what I tried to remind myself of every time I had to start hiking up a hill. For a few moments I had illusions of breaking 4:50 but slowly realized that I didn't have it in me. I got to the final downhill road section and my knees were screaming for a break. 15 more minutes to go. Coming up the final hill I felt a real sense of satisfaction and was nearing one of those reflective moments I have while running. Then I saw a girl coming up behind me and I didn't want to get passed in the last mile. So I had to put my time for reflection and self-satisfaction aside so that I could make sure I didn't get passed. :-) Ok cross the line, get my hat, and the awesome under armor hoodie (great swag btw!) and now I can contemplate the deeper stuff.