When it comes to trail races, I do much better (relative to the field) in bad conditions. Whether it be rocks, hills, mud, snow/ice, or a potpourri of the above, I can make up for my lack of raw speed with my pure, old-fashioned tolerance for discomfort and insanity. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I came as second girl in the TARC Sprint Thaw 6-hour run (though, frankly, I was stunned). Results here.
It works like this: You have 6 hours to do as many 3.5 mile loops on a snowy, icy, and eventually muddy trail in a forest in Andover. Speed will get you more loops, but if you burn out early, then turtles like me might persevere.
I was aiming to do at least a marathon, because a marathon gets you a mention in Ultrarunning magazine (the print edition of which arrives at my door nearly every month, and it’s 100X more thrilling to see my name in printed magazine as compared to Internet results). I actually ended up with 28.5 miles (the first loop was actually 4 miles; there was an option to do a 2 mile loop as your last loop only, which I was planning on doing if I hadn’t had time to do the eighth loop, and which would have given me 26.5 miles). UGH, too much math. Me run, me don’t think math!
The race started at 9am Sunday morning. It was freezing. Low 20’s with a gusty, bitter wind.
I look miserable, but I love TARC races. I always find someone congenial with whom to make small talk. This time it was an older woman with microspikes. We gabbed and shivered until the start. I was unsure if traction would be necessary, and therefore decided to do the first loop without the Yak Trax I tucked away in my drop bag. In retrospect, an odd decision considering I trained with traction all winter…
A bad decision: the trail was covered in snow and occasionally ice. I was miserable the first loop. My footing was cautious and clumsy; my knees were frozen, and I couldn’t mentally process “7 more loops.” My stomach felt queasy, rebellious. Lots of runners passed me, including the woman I gabbed with, her microspikes firmly clinking in the ice.
After the first loop, I slipped on my Yak Trax. The pack was thinning out, but thoughts about quitting still haunted me. My limbs were still numb and clumsy.
Lap 3 was better. I finally warmed up. I was lonely, so I slipped on one of my earbuds and listened to music (but still socialized with runners I passed, as well as the race volunteers — who are just awesome).
Laps 4 and 5: I began to feel confidence in my progress, but also some worry if I could attain a marathon in six hours, as only complete laps counted. Would I have time for the last lap? Would I have the legs? I needed to pick up my pace. Since long stretches of the trail were flat and fairly runnable with traction, I was able to do some 10 minute miles. I refueled on chocolate peanut butter cups, pretzel M&Ms, and water… and felt pretty good.
Laps 6 and 7: I was still going strong! Running repetitive loops certainly has an advantage, as I entered a “zone”… music helped, and I began looping other runners, many who were walking… I realized I would be able to finish an eighth loop, giving me 28.5 miles and I was elated. I was having a blast.
Lap 8: I started my last loop around hour 5, giving me an hour to finish (I was averaging 40-45 minutes per 3.5 loop). Easy-peasy, yet my legs were starting to feel it, so I walked the hills. The course was softer, more muddy, harder to run on. I perceived that there were significantly less runners still competing, but it didn’t hit me until I reached the end shortly before the sixth hour, and it was me and a dozen-or-so hard core ultramen and some of the easy-going walking women hanging out at the aid station, noshing unabashedly on junk food. I couldn’t hang around — I had grad school commitments — so I finished ALL of the turkey/mustard/mayo sandwiches and headed out.
Major shock when I saw the results: I came in second girl! And I narrowing missed coming in first (first girl finished 28.5 miles too, but 5 minutes faster). All the fast girls stopped had running.
So I came in second and won this AMAZING pottery hollow tree trophy, personally crafted by the AMAZING race director (who even mailed it to me):
A tremendous start to my ultrarunning season. If I do nothing else — if I don’t finish Twin State or Miwok, if I end up with crippling injuries, if my legs fall off — I have this small triumph to cling to, and this exquisite hollow tree to treasure…