December 12, 2014

Tranquility Lake 50K 2014

This was officially supposed to be my last race of the year. Well, you know how that goes. Since then I signed up to be on my friend's 5K team, Jingle Bell 5K to support arthritis research. Basically it's impossible to skip out on a good cause with great people. So this "final" race report of the year will now be the final race race report of the year. Clear as miso soup, right? What I mean is that with the black lung I've had this week, Saturday will be a 5K fun run, probably fun walk, so not much racing going down. Plus, supposedly I'm on a running break right now. That break has definitely equaled lower mileage overall, and I haven't felt bad at all for not running while I was sick this week. But it also didn't keep me from jumping in to help pace my friend during the second half of her first marathon last weekend (more to come on how awesome she did).

But at Tranquility Lake 50K, my plan was to push, push, push. Knowing it would be my last big effort going for a while, I wanted to test myself. Especially after a kind of cruddy summer of running with more bonks during races than I care to remember. Again (like I've said for the mazillionth time) that near-death race experience I had back at Run for Kids scared the Hokas off of me. But with the weather cooling down, I was ready to take another shot at running as hard as I could. 

Of course that started with the proper pre-race prep. Exhibit A: pigtails before bed. That saves a step in the morning if I'm going to go with racing hair buns. Exhibit B: bird earrings. You know what they say in Portlandia, put a bird on it! So I did.

Nighttime hair prep: sleep-in pigtails.

Also, I didn't miss the park exit while driving to the race which gave me at least 20 extra minutes to gab and snap pictures with folks before the race. (that was a joke for Bob)

Love the trail running family.

Resolute Runners at Tranquility Lake.

Course: There were some changes from last year's course, according to the race director, but I couldn't tell you what those were from my poor memory. Also, I went at this course time-piece free. No watch to track the course, but I will tell you that I split it up into three parts in my mind.

1) The yellow-white connector climb to Peavine Falls parking lot. The hill is killer (600ft in less than a mile), but if you can make it up, you will enjoy the ridge. This mental segment ends in a manned aid station.

Happy to be at the end of section one. Photo by Tony F.

2) The long stretch of rolling trail (blue trail). Not really enough consistent incline that you can justify a hike, but it feels like it will never end. By far the longest feeling segment, although in actual miles, I believe it is only 5.

Elevation profile from Southeastern Trail Runs.

3) The sharp left turn that takes you downhill and about four miles to the finish. This part has enough variance and enough downhill that it goes quickly. And of course looking forward to seeing the finish line doesn't hurt. There is an unmanned water stop 2.5 miles from the finish -- a little dash of hope. When you see the lake, you now know you are almost home free. This was by far my favorite segment of the three.

Finishing segment one. Thank you, aid station volunteers! Photo by Tony F.

My race: My basic strategy was to go out hard and stay hard for as long as I could. I personally like to have a balance of fun and competitiveness in running, but you sometimes have to buckle down and get strict with yourself on what the point of race day is. Like for instance, when the start gun went off (which was literally a gun and caused me to literally scream out loud) I was just chit chatting with my friend, all la de da. Not really the kind of start you have if you are serious about a race. So I had some catching up to do. 

I knew if I didn't get to a certain point on the little section of road we have at the start that I would get caught up in a wave of hiking sooner than I needed to hike on some segments on the single track. So I ran too fast from the start for sure. That continued as I passed a couple of people on the ridge and just kept pushing myself to do more. This is only about six miles into a 50K, so I knew it wasn't smart to push myself as hard as I was. But guess what. I did it anyway. Because why the heck not, ya know. I had nothing to lose. 

For a long portion of the race, I ran with my friend Jake (pictured above at the aid station), who I normally don't run with during races because he is faster than me. In talking to him, I figured out why, because he was trying to run a smart, conservative race and was also running a half marathon the next day. When he said "smart and conservative," I laughed and told him that I was basically doing the opposite of that, running too fast and stupid. Fast and loose, just like my daughter drives the gold cart at the grandparents' farm in KY. The loose part came in the second half when my form was all out of whack and droopy. 

I came around the first loop in about 2:40. Another 15 and some change miles to go. Luckily, at this point I still felt good muscle-fatigue-wise, but I was having a little knee pain. I took the Aleve that I packed in my drop bag and took off for the second loop. 

On top of running stupid, my other big plan of the day was to eat all the food all the time. So I did. Plus, I tried to take in whole foods every chance I got at aid stations. Because of the upset-stomach-itis I got from gels at the Birmingham Stage Race, I want to start eating more whole foods during ultras. Bananas were my friend at this race. Lots of bananas. Also, I packed Honey Stingers and Shot Blox to take in conjunction with the Hammer Gels that I knew they would have at the race.

My legs still had go in them until I got to that long rolling middle section of the course, and for just a minute, I thought my legs were toast, that I was gonna have to put them in a backpack and roll down the rest of the trail instead of run. But I took a walk break and ate some more food and jogged it out for a bit. Then WHABAM my legs got back in the action of running.

At that low point in the race I was all alone in the woods, which in my opinion is a great time to be by yourself. Sometimes you need a little time alone to talk yourself into doing the thing that your body doesn't want to do but that you know it is capable of doing. And if you are on your own, you can have that conversation at your own pace and not get distracted by what everyone else is doing. And when you're alone in the woods, you're alone. With the twists and turns of the trails, even someone two minutes ahead of you might as well be a continent away as far as you know. It's cathartic. You can stop if you want, you can cry if you want, you can sing if you want. And it's up to you to convince yourself that you have the power to finish, and finish strong. As much as I love being around people, I love being alone in the woods. 

In the end, this race boiled down to taking in enough nutrition, good weather (although the second loop got a little toasty in the 60s), and starting hard and hanging on until the finish. Also, I ran the road marathon two weeks before, which I swear is really effective training for ultras. Especially when you get to the end and need the confidence that your legs can handle a beating for about 30 miles. Mental rounding also helps. You know, 26.2 rounds up to 30 and 31 rounds down to 30, so a marathon and a 50K are basically the exact same thing, plus or minus a yellow-white connector or two. Vagueness helps me when I need to convince my legs to keep moving.

David Tosch and me.

And it worked on this day. Finish time 6:02:54, a 12+-minute PR over last year's race on this course (with a slight course change) and good enough for first place for the women. The Southeastern Trail Series team put together great awards for this race too -- $150 Salomon gift card and a cool glass plaque (five points if you can spot it in the pic above). 

Always great sharing the trails with these strong ladies. Two of them ran a 100 miler a few weeks before this race!

Race provides: In the swag department, you'll get a long sleeve tech shirt with your bib pickup. At the aid stations, you can expect to find a good mix of foods like bananas, oranges, sandwiches, chips, gummies, Hammer gels, Coke, Heed, water, salt pills, and more. At race finish, all runners receive a medal. Along with awards for the top finishers, they held a raffle for another $100 gift certificate that can be used at Mountain High Outfitters

Overall: Run this race if you are hoping for a course with varied terrain and typically mild temps. You'll see water at the lake and cross water without (usually) having to get your feet wet. The toughest climb is 600ft. in less than a mile, and the rest of the course varies enough to keep things interesting. Leaves will be in the middle of turning, so expect it to be beautiful but to also have some extra terrain challenge with freshly fallen leaves on the trails. And the volunteers are fabulous at all of the races in this series. Bonus tip: the race directors trade race entries for volunteer hours. Also, this whole series is built on the concept of training you to run your first 50K. So if you start in the beginning, it's a perfect progression to hitting your ultra marathon goal.

Good news: We are currently putting together a training group for next year's series. I'll have more details to share soon, and I'm really looking forward to helping even more folks reach their goal of running an ultra! Nothing beats kicking up dirt in the woods.