So, what should you do when you have a sore back for most of the week? Well, go run a trail marathon! Hey, it worked for me! After icing, heating, stretching, rolling and stressing about racing with a sore back, in the end, the back was not an issue at all. And in fact, after the race was over, my back felt completely normal. I guess I just ran the kinks out :-) Very weird. But I will take it, and be very happy about it!
We drove down to Ryan's parents last night, which is very nicely only about 15 minutes away from the race start. Sam was horrible all night - fighting with me at bedtime, taking forever to fall asleep and then waking up often all night long. So, none of us got much sleep, and the alarm still went off at 4:15 am. Sigh. So much for feeling well rested! In any event, we headed out the door at 5:00 into the darkness. It was cool, but would be good running temps. We got there with more than enough time to register, stretch, go to the bathroom multiple times and have a chance to catch up with our fellow Trail Monsters. Julia, Ian, Nathan, Rick, George, Ann and I were running the marathon. Kevin, Jeremy and Joe were taking on the 50.
There was a bit of confusion at the start. Things got started late. And then there was a last minute announcement that they would be starting the marathoners 15 minutes after the 50 milers. Now, the reality of this was actually good news for us. But a number of us were already outside in the cold, dark morning, waiting for the start. Then we waited. And then we found out we had to wait some more. Not exactly ideal. I think the GAC puts on a really good race, and overall, think Stone Cat is an awesome event, but I was honestly a bit annoyed before the start about the delay. Still, like I said, in the end, it really worked out for the best, and I hope they do the same in the future, just with a bit more warning to the runners :-)
So, as the sky was getting light, the marathoners took off. Julia and Ian shot off like a rocket, with Nathan not far behind. I didn't want to get pulled into starting off too-too quick, so I settled into my own pace. The first mile was still too fast, but not that bad :-) Without the 50 milers in front of us, the sailing was much more smooth for the first miles, and with the later start, there was less time with the headlamp on. I think I started to catch up with the 50 milers after the first aid station, maybe 5 or so miles in, and as always, most were very gracious in moving aside as I ran on by. I also passed by David, who was out running along the course around the aid station too, and he nicely took my sleeves and headlamp, which was great!
The course was in good shape. The stretch through the swamp, which was a big cold puddle in 2010, was mostly dry, with just a few puddles to jump. There were a lot of wet leaves, but the GAC had done a great job of leaf-blowing/raking a lot of the singletrack, which was really nice! There were some good, thick muddy stretches too, but overall, I think it was probably fairly fast out there today. There were a few course changes, but Ian felt nothing that would add/subtract much, if any, mileage. Since I've gotten lost every time I've been out in the area since the race in 2010, I know that some of what felt like new to me, was totally unchanged, I'm sure!
I felt good overall. I knew I was probably running a bit aggressively, but it felt smooth. The only glitch in the whole thing was that from the second I went to start fueling at mile 3, my typical every ~30 minute/3 mile plan, I was in trouble. I couldn't finish my bar. I was eating food I normally eat while training, in the same order I have practiced on all my long runs. But it wouldn't go down. I think I got about 1/3 of the bar in before giving up and just stowing it away. I would try again later. But at mile 6, I wasn't feeling it. I finally forced myself to open a pack of Honey Stinger Chews at mile 7, and got 1/2 a packet down. Slowly. Hmmm. This was not ideal. Ah well, nothing to do but just keep on going, so I just kept on chugging. Got in a bit more fuel at mile 9 and right before returning to the start/finish area, but not much, just a few chews each time.
I went through in 1:57, which is a significant improvement over my 2010 first lap time of 2:10. Again, perhaps a bit too quick, but hey. Why not? I said I was going for it, and I was going for it. The Trail Monsters cheered me on, and Ryan took a break from his duties as grill master to run along beside me and ask what I needed. I told him I was on the edge, that my stomach wasn't feel good. He urged me to take the chips, but I just didn't want them. I picked up one more Honey Stinger Chew packet, and kept on going. I had seen Julia, Ian and Nathan headed out as I was headed in, and saw Rick as I was headed out. Everyone seemed to be running well.
The second lap hurt a bit more, and I definitely had a few slower miles, but I sort of expected that! I also had to stop for a desperately needed pit stop a few miles in, just as I was headed into the stretch of single track that I remembered mostly as the mess of 50 milers I was trying to pass in the dark in 2010. I lost about 4 minutes here, which, well, was rather unfortunate, but there was no way around it. I had no choice. Luckily, I didn't have to stop again because I used all my toilet paper up :-)
The miles kept ticking by. I couldn't eat or drink much, but I just kept going. I knew I was going slower, but I was still passing people, it just happened to be mostly 50 milers. Ha. Somewhere around mile 19 or 20, in the midst of the singletrack that crisscrosses the main trail, I finally caught up to Nathan. As I neared, I only had the energy to say "Nathan!" I think he may have grunted in response :-) I hoped he would come along with me, but sadly, he didn't put in a surge, so I just kept moving forward. I was counting down the miles now, hoping that my legs would hold up. I had looked at my watch on the way into the cornfield during the first lap, and knew I had about 2 miles to go from there. I was hurting, and my legs were cramping up. I was determined to run the last stretch on the carriage roads as fast as I could but sadly, at that point, fast wasn't all that fast :-) I also realized in those last few miles that it would be a miracle if I could pull off under 4:00. I felt it would be close but I didn't think I would quite have it. And in the end, I didn't. I pulled through the line at 4:00:44. However, I can't say that I am too disappointed, as it was a 13 minute PR for the course, and 4:00 was my A goal, something I really didn't know if I could reach, even if I hoped I could :-)
The Trail Monsters had an amazing day out on the Stone Cat course, with Julia finishing in 3:39, a course record, although there were surprisingly 2 other women out there running even faster! Ian had a great run, and Nathan finished about 6 minutes behind me, beating his goal by a large margin. George looked strong, and Rick, despite leg issues, finished his first marathon in a long time and it only took about 30 minutes for him to start talking about next time :-) Ann finished with her big signature smile on her face, and Kevin ran a PR for the marathon despite knee issues. I hung out for a long time after my finish, eating, chatting and cheering with my friends. It was chilly but fun to be with the crew! I finally ended up leaving around 1:30 after we got word that it was a nap-fail day, so sadly I missed what sounded like awesome finishes from both Jeremy and Joe in the 50 miler. Way to go, Trail Monsters!
Official results aren't up yet, so I have no idea of placing, etc, but I think it was a pretty talented field out there this year! I'm psyched to have finished up my 2012 racing season on a high note, and am looking forward to a few days of rest and a few months of just running what makes me happy, without a training plan written in my planner.
Thanks for a great race, GAC! As always, it's a fun atmosphere with good aid stations, food and music, on a good course. Somehow, I think I'll be back :-)
Blue Ridge Half Marathon 2015
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