After running the Miwok 100K last May, I took a sane and sensible break from ultra distances. In fact, my longest run over the summer was probably 10 miles (though I was logging about 40 miles a week). In September I started to ramp up the mileage, ramp up the speed, and ramp up the long runs — with the goal of finishing TNF San Francisco 50 miler in December… which will give me the 2 points that I need to enter the lottery for the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (aka, the race that will probably kill me).
I entered the TARC Fall Classic as a training run for the 50 miler, and because I love the welcoming, fun, chill vibe of TARC events. The course is a 10K loop on relatively flat and mostly non-technical trails in a state park, so the race offers a 10K distance, half-marathon (2 10K loops with a extra loop around a field), marathon (4 10K loops with two extra loops around a field), and 50K (5 10K loops). I originally signed up for the marathon distance but switched last Wednesday when the weather forecast looked positive (LOOKED) and I felt strong. The race coordinator emailed me that I was the only person to switch to a longer distance out of the 20 or so people who switched distances, which made me feel like a crazy person.
I woke up at 6am and ate my typical pre-run breakfast (black coffee and spoonfuls of chia seed peanut butter, supplemented with generous drizzles of honey for the race). As I made the final preparations with my gear, Little Boy woke up and asked me to draw with him. It’s hard to refuse him, knowing I would miss his soccer game and be MIA for most of the day. So I drew Pokemon while applying Glide under my bra straps. Little Boy worked on his Laval portrait, which made me smile and beam with pride!
The race is about a 30 minute drive. After collecting my race number and putting my gear bag on the tarps near the aid station/starting-finishing line, I chatted with friendly runners while the 10K runners took off at 8am and the rest of us waited for the 8:15am start. Two women who were doing the half-marathon commented that, compared to the other 50K runners, I looked so minimalist because I didn’t have a hydration pack or even a handheld bottle (my plan was to start carrying my handheld on the third loop). Indeed, I felt under-prepared in general — mentally, because the idea of five loops was daunting. One thing that I learned from Miwok is the benefit of starting ultra-distances with the mentality that the race is already done. The training is done, the hay is in the barn, and you just have to execute. I just didn’t have that feeling. I was worried about tripping and falling, I was worried about getting injured, and I couldn’t get into the mindset that “the race is already done, just execute” because my longest training run had only been 18 miles and that was mostly on road.
So the race started, and like most people I went out too fast. Not as “too fast” as some of the 50K runners, who were panting up hills at mile 2 (!). My breathing was relaxed enough to chat with a very animated guy, but I knew my pace was not sustainable. Unfortunately, it only got faster when the half-marathon runners (who had to take an extra loop around a field) started to pass us. It’s hard to quell that competitive edge and keep a sensible pace when dozens of people are passing you.
Also unfortunately: the temps were on the cool side, but it was muggy. Ugh. Being extremely sensitive to humidity, by the end of the first loop, I was already drenched in sweat. And I was still going faster than I wanted. And “four more loops” was even more daunting than five loops seemed before the race.
Fortunately, I starting running with two guys whose chatter distracted me from the nay-saying voices in my head. It was the first 50K for both of them and they just wanted to finish. I gave them encouragement and avoided voicing Debbie Downer opinions like “You shouldn’t be wearing a long sleeve shirt” and “You’re breathing too hard, it’s only mile 9″ and “We’re going too fast.”
At the end of the second loop I spied my co-worker. She runs occasionally and just moved here from Florida, and told me she missed having a running community, so I encouraged to come and volunteer at the race. She was helping to cheer and direct runners at an intersection; as I headed out for the third loop, I said half-joking “Why don’t you take a loop with me?” and she immediately jumped on the trail! She paced me for the next 4 miles or so and we chatted. Again, following her fresh legs, I was going too fast but was thrilled to talk to someone about non-running topics. (I did trip over a rock on this loop, but landed into a pile of soft leaves, which made me happy). The power of a pacer!
She returned to her volunteering duties and I headed out on the fourth loop. I removed my shirt, which was soaked and serving no purpose, and ran in my sports bra — an act that indicates far more pride in my body than I actually have. This loop was the low point. All the earlier speed began to manifest in my tired legs. I was running with people who felt just as defeated as me. “One more loop” didn’t sound palatable. It started to rain. As I neared the aid station to finish my fourth loop, a speedy 50K runner passed me, whooping because he was finished.
But then, who’s that waiting for me at the aid station? It’s Mr. P and Little Boy, coming from the soccer game to cheer me on! What a boost to see them. I resolved to finish the last loop as fast as I could so they wouldn’t be waiting too long. And just like that, I finally got into “the race is already done, just execute” mentality. At Mile 25, but better late than never! My legs felt strong and revived; I ran up hills that I previously walked; each mile got a little faster than the last. Meanwhile…
With one more mile to go, I got it in my head that I didn’t want anyone to pass me (and I knew there were a few runners who were close) so I ran a strong 9-minute mile to the end.
People cheered. It was wonderful.
I finished the 50K in 6 hours and 22 minutes, which was squarely in the mid-pack and good enough for 8th out of 24 girls. My optimistic goal was to finish in 6h 30m, so actually I wasn’t going excessively fast in those earlier loops. I didn’t get injured or incur any open wounds. I ran with excellent people on a beautiful course. And most important, I got my ultra-mentality back.