Week Four started out in Pittsburgh, PA. It took me back through Ocean City, MD by way of Morgantown, WV to Spartanburg for less than 24 hours before I left again for Charlotte, NC. I spent a lot of time in the car but very little of that in traffic jams and much of it occupied by a really good audiobook or great company. The time I wasn’t in the car, I was at the beach or on a trail or enjoying time with some of my favorite people, so all in all, this week gets an A.
Running this week was really challenging. This came as no surprise; in fact on Sunday night, when I was thinking ahead to the week and what it would hold for me running-wise, I only had one thought: “Shit gets real.”
Interval workouts are my least favorite kind of workout. For a long time, I thought that it was just because I was bad at them. Recently, thanks to the wonders of technology (where technology in this case = Garmin running watch), I learned that I don’t suck at them. Or at least, I don’t suck at them when I’m not running them too fast. Garmin allows me to set a target pace for the interval, and when I tried it for the first time this spring, I learned that I was routinely overdoing it. By a lot. Every single time. When I ran the paces my coach prescribed, even 800s, my LEAST favorite distance, were okay. They were a challenge, yes, but they didn’t feel so utterly punishing.
This week, Garmin decided misbehave. I got a new watch this summer. Most of the time, it is awesome. It was not awesome on Tuesday. I woke up early, which was good since it was going to be hot. The watch started giving me trouble before I even got out the door. In fact, it just refused to track anything, interval or not for the first three miles of the run. When I got to the parking lot where I had planned to run the 400s, it was sunny, and the watch still wasn’t working. This would have been less of an issue at home where I’ve done 400s before so I have a general sense of how far it is on the road where I run. I had no sense of that distance in a random parking lot at the Ocean City boardwalk. I finally decided to do a hard reset and cross my fingers. It took a few minutes, but it solved the problem, so I quickly used the interval function to program 12 x 400m with 250m rest intervals in between (no target paces) and got to work. By interval 5, I was thinking that there was no way I would be able to do all 12. By 7, the world beyond the parking lot seemed very far away. I had entered some kind of Parking Lot Purgatory. By interval 10, I was talking to myself. Out loud. But all there was to say was, “3 more,” and I was alone in my parking lot save for the occasion cyclist. What were they doing in the parking lot? I couldn’t really care enough to wonder. I finally hit the 12th, gathered my things (my water bottle and tank top), and I began my cool down on a much more crowded boardwalk. As soon as I hit mile 2, I stopped running and walked the rest of the way back. First, I stopped at a 7-11 for what may have been the most glorious Slurpee ever. And a banana. There was nothing particularly special about the banana, but that Slurpee was the things dreams are made of. . .
Before this weekend, I had run several half marathons, 2 of them on trails. But I had never run one at night. And I had never run one on a trail at night. Tread Nightly was my first. One of my Oiselle teammates had suggested the event as possible meet-up, and it sounded like a great idea. Friday night and Saturday morning with the option to run a half-marathon or a 4-miler on either or both days. I knew I wanted to run a half, and I knew that running both halves would be a bad idea. I was uncertain about a night-time trail race, but I eventually decided to register for the night half and the morning 4 because I would rather run the longer distance when it was cooler out, and I thought it would be better to run the shorter distance on less recovery.
The night-time half was really, really hard. It would have been hard under ideal conditions, and mid-July is far, far from ideal conditions. We got to the race site at 6:30 and had just the right amount of time to check-in and set-up camp before heading to the start, which was a good thing because I would have gotten really nervous if I had had more time to think. I was nervous enough already. It was still very warm and humid even ay 8:00 PM. We took a VoleeSC team shot at start (left), and we joked that we were already glistening, and the race hadn’t even started yet.
We were all in wave 3, so we started together a little after 8:00, and sunset came 20 minutes later. I went out a little too fast, in part jockeying for a better spot once we got on to the single-track, in part wanting to take advantage of the daylight while we had it. I had debated whether or not I should carry a flashlight in addition to my headlamp, and decided to throw it in my pack, just in case. It fell out of the pack within the first mile, but the woman behind me picked it up for me and handed it to me as she passed me. :/ I turned my head light on early and kept chugging along.
Stephanie, Jenny, and I stayed together for the first mile or so before Jenny got smart and decided to slow down. I stayed with Steph for another mile before she eventually pulled ahead. And then there was one: me.
Technically, I was still around other people, but I didn’t know them, and nobody was talking save for the occasional “passing on your left.” There were several aid stations throughout the course, which was awesome. Usually trail races are not so well-supported. I was wearing my hydration pack, but I still made sure to drink at least a full cup of water and Powerade at every stop. I also was pouring water on my arms and chest to cool myself. I remember leaving the second aid station and seeing a mile marker for mile 4, which was disheartening. I thought I had run farther than 4 miles. It was going to be a long night. And it was. There was a stretch in the middle where I was completely alone. And when I set aside the nerves (What if I get lost?), it was really cool. I was hot and completely saturated with sweat, but I was running well, if slowly, and I just focused on moving forward. Everything else fell away. I wasn’t thinking about my job or my deadlines or anything else. I felt lucky to be out there, to have a chance to not worry about anything but my feet.
I caught back up with people somewhere around mile 8, and I caught back up with Stephanie around mile 9. We ran together for most of the rest of the course until the last mile where I went ahead because I could feel a GI situation starting to get urgent. I had hoped to make it to the finish before having to deal. I didn’t. Had the course been 13.1 miles, I would have made it, but as it was, I had to stop about a half mile from the finish, much to the chagrin of a guy who was running with me at the end since his lamp had died. I offered him my flash light when I pulled off the trail, but he was able to catch up to another runner who was just ahead of us.
I could hear the music from the finish area, and it finally started to get louder. Cruelly, or so it felt at the time, the song that played was something about taking a walk. WALK?! WTF? Who’s idea was it to play a song about walking at the finish line of a race?? Obviously, this kinda pissed me off and fired me up, or fired up whatever was left of me at that point. I finally made it out of the woods and on to the last few tenths of a mile which were on gravel. Then the final tenth, which was still on gravel , but UPHILL. Because of course it was.
My friends were at the finish, and they got me water, which I desperately needed. I found a place to lay down and collect myself. I kept sweating. I couldn’t really process what had just happened. I was pissed about having to stop so close to the finish. I was pissed that the finish was so far from where I thought it would be. I was disappointed that my time was so slow (My trail half PR is a whole HOUR faster). I was soaking wet. I felt kinda nauseous.
After a few minutes (where “a few” might be as little as 5 and as much as 15–I have no idea), I scraped myself off the ground, got more water, collected my beer, and found my friends. We eventually got food. I hadn’t thought that I would want real food that late at night, but I had put some cash in my pack, just in case. Not only did the race take WAY more out of me than I had thought, I had another race in the morning, so I decided that I would at least order something and try to eat. I figured better to have it and not be able to eat it than to miss the window and regret it later.
We hung out for a little longer, and suddenly it was midnight. We all wanted to shower before going to bed, and the showers were a good hike from the campsite, so at various points and at various paces, we made our way back to the campsite and then over to the locker room. I had forgotten that I had taped my collar bones earlier in the day in an attempt to prevent chafing from my pack (which worked!!), and I was really grimy, but so was everyone else. By the time I got back to the campsite, it was after 1AM. I was trying to sleep by 1:30 but it was really warm in the tent. I must have eventually fallen asleep, because I woke up at 4 or 4:30 and had to pee, so I had to get up. It was eerily quiet. I fell back asleep easily and was woken up again a little after 6.
We had to strike the site before the races began, so I made a trip to the car with a bunch of stuff before getting a bagel and some coffee. Another trip to the car afterwards, and I was pretty much ready to go. Also, I hit my steps goal before I had even lined up for the second race. There were a few more Oiselle women running in the morning, only 2 of us had chosen the 4 mile. Everyone else was running the half. We took another group shot, and the half runners were sent on their way!
The 4 miler got started at 8:30. I was in the 3rd wave, so I started about 8:35. The start was the same, but we entered the woods a bit sooner, and from there, it was very different. The trails were much more technical than the half course, and I found myself thinking about how glad I was that I only had 4 miles to run and that I wasn’t trying to navigate all these rocks and roots in the dark!
It seemed like there were a lot of inexperienced trail runners out that morning. I had to repeatedly ask people more than once to let me pass, and there were a lot of people who had headphones in, so they didn’t hear me. I had to tap them on the shoulder, which made one woman in particular mad. But here’s the deal, during a trail run, especially if it’s a race, slow yields the trail to fast. I was running well, and I found my feet on the trail much more easily. It was really hot during the exposed portions of the course, and mile 3 was almost all uphill, but I was able to push the pace in the fourth mile, and I finished strong up that damn hill. I was spent at the end, again, and I again found a place to lay down and collect myself while I cooled off. I got my beer, which tasted just as good at 9:30 AM as it had at 11:30 the night before (I also ate a banana; I’m not a complete heathen).
The other Volée member who had run the 4, finished and found me a few minutes later, and we hung out together for a while. It turned out that I ran well enough to place 2nd in my age group, so Meaghan was kind enough to take my picture on the podium (left). I won a stainless steel camping cup.
These races were much more challenging than I had anticipated when I registered back in the Spring. I knew that they wouldn’t be easy, because trails, but the half was really, really hard. Much harder than I thought it would be. In theory, it should have been less challenging than Grayson Highlands since there wasn’t nearly the climbing or the super technical terrain, but it was much more difficult for me. Some of that was psychological (trails, nighttime), but the conditions (heat, humidity, darkness) were also a significant factor. Plus the course was almost a mile extra-long, and then there were my guts, which started to get unhappy around mile 9. BUT, I am proud of myself for recognizing that the challenge on Friday night was a mental challenge, not a physical one (mostly), and I’m proud of myself for regrouping and running strong on Saturday morning.
M: 6.5 easy, North Park
T: Death By 400 (3 mile warm up; 12 x 400m w/ 250m recovery; 2 mile cool down)
W: Easy 8
F: Tread Nightly Half (13.8 trails)
S: Tread Brightly 4 miles (trails)
Sun: Easy 6
I’m really, really sore today after the two trail races. My shoulders are still angry about the hydration pack. The rest of me says I probably need to do more trail running. Especially before the semester begins.
111 Days until Richmond.
[Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user Chris; the rest of the images shared with permission from @twentysixpointj and Nick Gates].