Dirty German 50k Race Report
|May 22, 2012||Posted by Emily under Uncategorized|
Late in the evening on the night before the race, my good friend and running partner called me to give me a (slightly inebriated) pep talk about my race.
His biggest advice (that he repeated over and over and over, compliments of both his adamant belief that I needed to listen to him, and also a little bit due to the bourbon, I’m sure): “DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE. GO OUT SLOW.”
“How slow?” I asked.
“9s-9:30s, at least.”
I laughed. “Try again. I am not going to run 9:30s.”
His turn to laugh.
“Trust me Halnon, you go out too fast and you will have NO problem running 9:30s on the back half of the course.”
So I went to bed trying to focus on this whole slowing down, enjoying the experience and breaking out of my road racing mentality.
Fast forward a few hours and Miles and I were on our way to the start.
We had a slightly difficult time imagining how exactly the less than picturesque streets of North Philadelphia were going to produce this alleged urban oasis of trail running, but sure enough, a few miles later and we were in the middle of a gianormous, beautiful park, situated firmly in the city limits.
We headed out to get my number after we parked the car, and on the way back I saw a guy sporting a Middlebury sweatshirt (Middlebury College=my alma mater). I have an instant love for every fellow panther I see so I immediately attacked him with a hello. (Pay attention here, this is an important part of the story.)
He seemed equally enthused to be meeting another Midd Kid and we did the whole exchange of years graduated, where we’re living now, if we’d raced the distance before and then wished each other good luck.
Shortly after we met Dave the Panther, I ran into a friend from DC who was getting ready to do the 50 miler. He proceeded to give me his own pep talk, in which he (soberly) told me the exact same thing as runner friend #1: go out SLOW.
So I headed to the start line, telling myself over and over and over again to go out SLOW. ALL CAPS SLOW. It got time for the race to start and the RD informed the crowd of runners that we’d leave in another 5 minutes, giving people time to finish using the bathroom.
“A late start?” I thought to myself. “Hokas, we’re not in a road race anymore.”
Finally, it was time to go. The announcer yelled “GO!” and I went to start my garmin…only in the amount of time that it had taken to delay the start, my watch had reset to the default screen. So I let hoards of runners go past me, as I waited for my garmin, thinking, no big, my chip doesn’t activate until I cross the starting line.
And then I remembered I was at a bare bones trail race and got my ass moving. Rookie mistake number 1.
The race starts with the crowd dashing cross country style across a big field, after which we made a sharp turn onto a steep descent and started the trail running portion of the course.
I was all worried about getting stuck in a long line of runners on the narrow trail, so I sprinted ahead and dodged my way around people to get myself closer to the front. Obviously my “go slow” strategy was off to a hell of a start.
As soon as I got on the trail, I calmed down and started to back off to the ALL CAPS SLOW speed that I had been instructed to maintain for the first loop of the two loop course. I looked down at my garmin and started to curse. After all of that satellite drama, I had carelessly failed to actually start my watch. I looked around me, and asked a guy immediately to my rear, if he could let me know how long we’d been running.
“Sorry, not wearing a watch,” was his response.
I stared at him. Flabbergasted. NO WATCH? WHO ARE YOU, YOU STRANGE TRAIL RUNNER? TAKE ME BACK TO MY PEOPLE.
So, I trekked ahead, hoping I would soon be out of his ear range and closer to someone who shared some of my race ideals (you know, like total finish time, and maybe a small hint of self competition.)
Luckily, I soon identified a couple of guys sporting watches who happily informed me how long the clock had been running. I made a mental note, and went back to focusing on the slow thing. The first few miles clocked in between 8:30s-8:45s. They felt tediously slow, but I knew my experienced ultra friends had a point, so I kept at the pace.
I was running the 50k sans music because everyone told me “trails are SO MUCH FUN. you’ll love running trials! everyone is so friendly and social!”
Flash to my actual race experience and the one conversation I’d had was about someone’s inexplicable lack of a timing device. And I’m really not sure a blank stare of a response qualifies as “conversing.”
I cursed my trail running friends for lying to me and willed the running gods to parachute down an ipod, hunger games style to save me from 27 miles of dead silence and the scary train of thought that runs through my mind during a race.
Around mile 4, we hit our first creek. As much fun as it looked to jump in waist-deep and splash my way across, running 27 more miles sloshing around in soggy Hokas sounded like no fun at all, so I delicately hopped across the creek on every dry stone I could find.
As soon as I was safely on the other side, I saw a guy I recognized out of the corner of my eye.
“Dave!” I exclaimed. (Dave=Dave the Panther, in case you forgot).
“Hey!” he said back as he fell into stride with me.
We started running together, and, while he hasn’t actually said this to me yet, I’m pretty sure his first thought was “who is this peppy girl in the pink sparkly headband? It’s cute she thinks she can run with me, I guess I’ll indulge her misguided belief, and let her try to stick with me for a few strides.”
Meanwhile, in my head, I’m thinking, “okay, this pace is a little faster than I want to be running, but I’M BEING SOCIAL. This is fun. I said I was here to have fun, so even if I die in the second half because I went out too fast, at least I’ll have made a new friend and had fun all at the same time! Who cares what running friends #1 and #2 have to say about this. I choose fun over smart racing!”
I was pumped.
So, we cruised along at Dave’s pace, and at the time it felt mostly good. While this course is easy by any trail runner’s standards, for this girl, who was rudely informed by my crew of trail running friends that the one place I run that I call a “trail” is most definitely not such a thing, it was tough. My legs are not used to running on such an uneven surface, dodging roots and stones, climbing up steep hills, and more critically running down steep, technical descents. The hardest thing for me about the course, was being too scared to let my bodyweight glide down hills. I definitely did a number on my quads trying to slow myself on every decline.
When Dave and I reached our first aid station together, he came to a complete stop as one of the volunteers grabbed my handheld from me and took it away.
I didn’t know which problem to address first.
On one hand, I had this speedy guy, who apparently didn’t care about losing some of the time we had just worked somewhat hard to knock out to leisurely consume a gel and some pretzels, and on the other hand, some jerk (not actually a jerk, an EXTREMELY nice volunteer) walked off with my source of hydration. What happened to running through an aid station and precariously balancing your open bottle in one hand while simultaneously dumping in dixie cups of water with the other?
I was lost. And waterless. And holy shit, out of my element.
That aid station might as well have come equipped with a banner that said (probably all caps style) “welcome to ultra running, Emily, your world is about to get rocked.”
After I got over the aid station drama, the rest of our first loop was just…fun.
(from halfway, not actually in the middle of the woods)
The terrain kept changing between single track, a few miles on a bike path, hills, crazy winding seriously wooded paths, single track where we were running in the opposite direction and dodging the 50 milers, but dodging in the not-at-all-annoying, rather isn’t-it-fun-to-see-other-runners-and-say-“killer running, champs!” and creeks. There were at least 4 creeks to jump across, luckily all equipped with some kind of rock path that you could hop across.
I had a blast. I soaked in the surroundings and silently schemed about future trail races. And not so silently peppered Dave with a storm of questions about anything and everything trail running. With every stride, I felt myself getting more and more hooked on the stuff.
Even after I fell. Yup, full on body-meets-the-earth fell. There was an unruly root, I tripped, and tumbled knees first down onto the path. I got up. I rallied. And honestly, when I started running again, it hurt a little and I worried the show would not go on, but luckily, the pain subsided and everything was fine. Turns out, I can fall (and immediately recover) like a champ. I have lots of practice, and the knee scars to prove it.
Around mile 14, you could start to hear the finish area (which we had to run through to start our second loop of the course.) Seeing Miles at the halfway point was fantastic. He said all the right things, shook his booty at us, and cheered us on our way to the second half of the race.
After we ran through the field and hit the trails again, Dave checked in with me to see how I was feeling.
“Great!” I said, which was mostly the truth…kind of.
If I’d been completely honest, I probably would have said something more along the lines of “well, these trails are a little harder on my legs than I expected, and we held a slightly ambitious pace for the first half of the race, and you know, maybe I’m not over the whole Eugene thing, but there is no chance in hell that I’m letting myself back off now and get dropped.”
So I stuck with “great!”
Dave’s next statement kind of floored me. He told me to let him know if I needed to back off the pace, if I was feeling tired, or to tell him if I wanted to push it at all.
HOLD UP, I thought. This dude, who is clearly a better runner than I am, is just going to stick by my side? I’d assumed since our first slightly aggressive strides together, that at some point, we would part ways, so he could pick it up to this finish, leaving me behind to flounder into some kind of ultra running wall.
The selfish part of me was positively giddy that I’d gained a very fun, very motivating, and very strong running partner for the duration of the race. And believe me, I let the selfish part win any internal arguments that may have led to insisting Dave go on without me. Sorry Dave, and also, thanks.
I made a conscious decision not to check my garmin at all after I started running with Dave. 1) because I didn’t want to let someone else in on the not-secret that I’m completely data dependent and incapable of running without scanning my wrist every .2 seconds and 2) because I didn’t want to let our pace intimidate me and make me think I should slow down.
So I was completely oblivious when my garmin actually did die somewhere around Mile 15.
Mile 15 is also where I saw the first snake. First of three. The ballsy mother fucker was stretched across the path and the second I saw him, I jumped higher in the air than ever before and let out a not-so-quiet scream. That’s pretty much the exact same scene that played out with the next two slithering shits.
It’s miraculous I didn’t drop out of the race at that very moment.
The next few miles are kind of a garminless blur. We ran trails, we chatted about everything from running to Middlebury to life stories and back to running again. By the time we reached an aid station around mile 20, I was definitely starting to feel the wear of the course and pace in my legs.
We slowed down and stopped. Something that after 6 prior aid stations, I had finally accepted as the norm and stopped silently counting seconds in my head as a small funeral tribute to the race time lost.
A volunteer started filling my water bottle and said, “you know, there’s two girls right up ahead, probably only two minutes in front of you, and you look great.”
“THEY look great?” I tried to clarify.
“No, YOU look great. Here’s your water bottle, let him finish filling his, start running, he’ll catch up, you know what you need to do.”
I looked back at Dave who just nodded, his face lighting up with excitement at the prospects that lay a few minutes ahead of us.
I started running. Fast. If there’s something that will put life back in my legs, it’s the scent of competition. Having someone tell me I looked “strong” when I felt anything but didn’t hurt the cause either.
Dave quickly caught up and asked what I wanted our strategy to be for the takedowns. You see, Dave may have been playing it cool with his “I’m just here to have fun” rhetoric, but the second he got the chance to get competitive, he was all over it, even if it was for the sake of someone else’s race. (Yes, I’ve already informed Dave that he could make a killing as a professional pacer, let me know if you want to hire him for your next race.)
We decided a steady gain would be perfect for overtaking the chicks and saving enough fuel to keep us (and by “us”, I really mean me) going strong to the finish.
A mile later, if that, we saw them looming in the distance. The first one was easier to pick off. Dave was leading the charge and cheersed me, handheld water bottle style, as we got in front of her. The second one hung on for a bit, but by the top of the next hill, we had passed her as well.
We kept at our strong pace, eager to leave them firmly behind, and excited at the prospect of a respectable finishing time. After we cruised through the first loop around 2:15, I had told Dave I would love to finish my first ultra in a faster time than my first ever marathon, which was a 4:40 something. He responded with something along the lines of “no sweat,” clearly immediately picking up on the fact that sweat talk is kind of my thing.
For the final miles, our conversation subsided. Dave led, I followed. He kept calling out things to motivate me to keep running strong “C’mon Ultra Girl” "Do your Hokas proud!” “It’s a great day to be a panther” “Last big hill, dominate it”(that last one was a lie. a dirty, dirty lie.)
At this point, my legs were tired. I was running farther than I ever had before, and I was doing it three weeks after my goal marathon, without a taper. Every hill hurt. Up. Down. It didn’t matter, it wasn’t pretty. But I’ve been tired in a race before and you’d better believe I wasn’t about to give up in my first ultra, especially after informing my pacing friend early in the race that my real strength in running is my mental game.
Finally, we hit the part of the course where you could hear the finish. I’d told Dave about a thousand times to drop me and kick it in to the finish line, to which he’d politely told me, “no way.”
So we charged the finish line together.
Clocking in at 4:24.04 for a sweet negative split
2nd place female for me
Tie for 8th place overall together
And an Age Group win for Dave
Dave was right, it was a great day to be a panther.
And a great day for my first, and most definitely not last, ultra running experience.