Sunday, December 4, 2016

2016 TARC Fells 40 Race Report

"At every endurance event, there comes a time when you'll say, 'what the fuck am I doing here?' And you'll say 'this is what I do.'"- Long Distance, Bill McKibben


The day dawned clear, cold and windy. A bunch of crazy ultrarunners gathered in a park n ride lot off 93, the parking lot under construction, the side of the lot lined with barbed wire. After a few words from the RD, we took off, at a walk, into the woods for laps along the 8-mile Skyline Trail. As the RD said post-race, the Skyline Trail is a cruel mistress. And that is no lie. A hiking trail with many steep rocky ups and downs, rocky ridgelines, views of Boston, rocky, leafy singletrack combined with little bits of runnable terrain, this trail is no joke.

Trail Monster crew ready to take on the Fells

Thankfully today, unlike in 2014, conditions were pretty much perfect. The rocks and roots were dry, the sun was shining, and although it was cold and windy, it was a good day for running. This time around, I chose to go right on the Skyline Trail vs. left, which is how the majority of runners run the loop, and I enjoyed the relative solitude of being able to run my own pace, even early on, and being able to see everyone going in the other direction.

Unfortunately, although I was able to fake it for the first loop (1:37) and the second (1:47), by 16 miles and 3+ hours, I was feeling the effects of having been sick all week last week. While I thankfully didn't have any coughing fits out there, I simply had no energy. I was moving forward but it was a battle the whole time.

Lap #3 was not a good day in the woods (2:02) and I was flagging. My lower right leg also began to get incredibly tight in that 3rd lap, which was a real bummer as it had been feeling good leading into the race, and I was just not able to run as much as I should have. I hadn't stopped at the mid-way aid station or even the start/finish station yet, but I did make a stop in that 3rd lap, as Ryan had inadvertently filled my bladder with Tailwind instead of water at 16 miles, and man, that is some disgusting stuff. Ugh. I dumped it all out and was so glad to be back to good old water!

Headed back out

I thought at the end of 24 miles that I was done, as it was nearly 5:30 on the clock and I was running out of time if I wanted to complete lap #4 in 7:30. Not what I had been hoping for with this race, for sure, but it was the hand dealt to me on the day and I was working with what I had, which honestly wasn't much ;) Ryan later said that I was as white as he'd ever seen me at that point and did not look good. Although my mind was saying 'don't keep going' and I had the lines from the Jaws song, "I'm tired and I want to go home..." rolling through my head, instead I changed into my yellow jacket as it was getting colder, grabbed a cookie and headed back out for loop #4 at 5:28 in. I had beaten a bit on my leg in the parking lot, and it did feel better so I continued my trudge.

Toward the end of the 4th loop, I kept looking at my watch, knowing I was nearing the time cut-off. Part of me wanted to slow down enough that I would get cut off but apparently, my legs, although tired and sore, did not agree, and I managed to come into the finish line in 7:29 and change, as close to the cut-off as I could get without being cut (1:59 lap). Why was I doing this?! I told Ryan I didn't want to go back out, that I wasn't having fun, and he said, no, you are going back out and of course it isn't fun. As the RD playfully whacked a stick in my direction, encouraging me to get my ass back out there before it was too late, I walked back out onto the trail, headlamp in my pack pocket, Ryan beside me, encouraging me, Keri behind in a scramble to get ready to join me for the loop. I know that deep down I really did want to continue on, to give what I had to the challenge and see if I could beat it, even if the rest of me wanted to curl up and take a nap, but it was a close call there for a few minutes ;)

I believe we are having a "discussion" here about whether or not I am going to continue for lap 5 ;) I was not a happy camper!

I am incredibly thankful to have had Keri with me on that last lap as she gave me a reason to keep my foot on the gas, as slow as that was at the moment. I didn't want to be a total disaster with a friend beside me. And so we ran what we could, powerhiked the hills, pushing forward in an attempt to beat darkness and the cut-off. Tami, Tammy and Emily had come out to the aid station to give Keri a headlamp and it was a boost to see them there cheering for us. I was hungry at that point, having not eaten a lot all day, and I grabbed a mini milky way at the aid station to eat as we hiked up the hill.

It was quiet out there now, a change from seeing runners on every lap along with many people out walking with and without dogs. Not many runners still running. We ran into John out running a loop of the course and he encouraged us on. The late afternoon light atop the rocky ridgeline was lovely and the view of the city near the tower pretty. The wind whipped and the woods got dark.

In the final mile, Keri took the lead, pushing me to run faster and finish before a headlamp was needed. Mercifully, we soon reached the final descent down to the flat path that led to the finish. There, we saw John and another runner ahead. I so wanted to finish that I started to sprint, well, if 9:00 pace can be considered sprinting ;) But it felt that way after many 14:00+ minute miles! That final sprint is all that kept me from being DFL, as I only managed to beat the guy I passed by 12 seconds and he ended up being the final finisher.

And then, finally, at the end of the straightaway, redemption! I lifted my arms and smiled as I reached the finish line and then two steps later said "F**kers." ;) I'm pretty sure that sums up the race right there. It had just taken me almost 9 1/2 hours to run 40 miles. So grateful and thankful to be done, proud to have finished, but man, if that isn't one tough course. F**kers indeed! It sure wasn't pretty, but I had finished and now I never have to run that race again ;)

There are a lot of thank yous on a day like yesterday. Many thanks to the RD and all the volunteers for standing out in the wind and cold all day yesterday, and for their encouraging cheers and smiles. Huge thanks to John and Ryan for crewing all day long - it is tough work! As always, Ryan knows me better than I know myself and knows when to push and how to prod me forward. I may have been disgruntled, but I am glad he got me back out there for that final lap, and I always appreciate his belief in me. An extra big thank you to Keri for joining me and pushing me on that last lap. I probably would still be out there if she hadn't joined me!!

Also, huge congrats to Emily for her 2nd place 32 mile finish and to George and Carolyn for their finishes too. Tami and Tammy got in two laps before stopping due to injured leg and ankle, but it was great to see them out there along the way!

The Fells is one tough, unforgiving course and a serious challenge. Almost half the field running the 40 DNFed yesterday, and although I can hardly believe it took me 9:28 to finish 40 miles, who cares, I finished!

14 of 15 finishers (27 started) (6th of 6 women)

I have yet to see a photo from the race in which I'm smiling, which is probably an accurate account of how I was feeling all day long, but I swear I did smile for a few photographers out there, so if I find any that depict happiness, I will be sure to post ;)

Meanwhile, Sam spent the day helping Dana and Irene decorate the Christmas tree. Sounds pretty good, right? Many thanks to Grammie and Grampie for keeping her occupied and entertained while I ran around in the woods all day long :)


Tami said...

That course is brutal, there's no doubt about it. Well done on pushing yourself when it felt so terrible.

Anonymous said...

You finished!! Congrats! Sounds like a really tough course.
Hope you're feeling better. Always sucks to be sick before or during a race. Now you never have to do that one again, though. :)

Snowman filling your bladder with the wrong stuff made me feel better about my screw ups pacing Mike. Nice to know I'm not the only one!

Sparkplug said...

Willow, oh yah, during the 100 last year, Ryan forgot to give me gels at one point... and while we were crewing our friend Amy at VT this year, we forgot to offer her donuts, plus a few other things along the way. It happens. It's part of what makes it exciting ;)

sn0m8n said...

In my defense, the pitcher was labeled "water," and I asked the volunteer, "Is this water?" to which she replied, "Yes." No jury would convict me.

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