That course, repeat after me…. I love this course. I love this course, I love this course. That’s what I kept chanting because repetition is the theme. Best way to describe it: a one mile fun run followed by a loop of 3 miles that you run 10 times. Location, John Hunt running park. You’re running along the border of a golf course complete with golfers looking on, puzzled faces questioning your sanity. A no frills race, simple and uncomplicated just like I like it. I actually do love this course but if you can’t deal with the repetition, you’d be miserable. Folks either love it or hate it, there is no in-between with RFTH. One huge advantage that point to point races don’t offer is the option to set up your own little aid station. With a point to point, there’s more planning as you have to carry almost everything on your back or in your pockets that you may need for the next several hours. Last year I brought way too much stuff not realizing how great the provided aid would be. The organizers have this thing down to a science, I really don’t see how they can pull off that many goodies to feed 120 people for a $15 entry fee. It’s impressive really. They provide boiled salty red potatoes. My magic fuel. I could make it 7 hours with just that and Tailwind. My heart is filled with joy at the sight of these tasty little spuds.
Last year, I got my 50K PR of 6:25:(and some change, I never claimed to be fast, ok?) at this race and going into it this time, I knew not to expect big things since I was in top-notch shape last year. Not so much this year as I am still coming off of a string of problems from my I.T. band. I’ve really missed a lot of miles in the last couple of months and I decided beforehand I would drop if anything started hurting too bad. Mountain Mist is 3 weeks from today and that is the monkey on my back, big time. I royally screwed that one up last year and I’ve been waiting a year to decimate it in 2016. No one wants a DNF, but I wasn’t willing to risk more injury and screw myself later on because I was too proud to admit when enough is enough on this particular day.
Wednesday I felt nothing, it was an odd feeling since I typically get really hyped up the day before anything big, marathon distance or longer. It felt like a Friday and the holidays had my clock all messed up. Like many, I slept and ate way too much over the holidays and I still feel yuck. I am a creature of habit and I was ready to get back to my 5am wake up time, run-shower-work-till-5 pattern. So if you’d asked me how I felt about this on Wednesday, I wouldn’t have had a whole lot to say other than yea, I’m spending New Year’s doing a 50k. Eh. I spent that night sleeping like I usually do before a 50k, intending to go to bed much earlier, not doing so, waking up every hour, having nightmares that I overslept. I woke up Thursday wishing I could just sleep in. I decided that was a really crappy attitude to have. Travis Macy would say “that is not the Ultra Mindset!” BTW- you should read The Ultra Mindset. Sorry Scott Jurek, I adore you too but it’s my favorite Ultrarunning book. So anyways I snapped out of it, drank my coffee, scrolled down my Facebook feed and saw my friends getting pumped up. I decided I better follow suit. One thought persisted; this has been one of the best years of my life thus far. I got married, changed careers into something where I finally feel like I fit and the house hunt is in full swing. Life is really coming together the way I’d pictured it as a twenty-something and I need to spend the last day of 2015 doing it up proper. I’m deciding to kick this day in it’s sunshiny ass doing what I love most. Running. Now I was getting excited even if it was forced excitement.
Strategies for surviving RFTH….. last year I had 10 specific things I would concentrate on for each loop, mostly people that inspire me. They’d occupy my thoughts and carry me through to the end. I’ve heard others speak of using the same technique since it’s easy to drop this one due to having NINE very easy opportunities to do so. This year I did it differently. Though I always think about my loved ones during those long hours, it wasn’t one per loop this time. It was more a matter of keeping focused on the ONE loop I’m on right now, don’t even consider the 7 more after this. That thinking can be very counterproductive and I think most Ultrarunners will agree with that statement. Even if I was only a half mile into a loop, I’d say to myself “you’re almost finished with this one” since it’s only 3 miles. It takes me 6 miles to really warm up so after loop 2, that thought process took over. I’d find a proverbial carrot to put in front of the horse each time. I’ll finish this one, fill up my bottle and keep going, no stopping, then next time I’ll chill a few short minutes and get some pickles and Advil and shed this jacket.
Possibly the best part of this race for me is the fact that you get to see your friends over and over and over again, whether they are 5 or more miles ahead of you or 5 miles behind you. I make a guessing game out of which loop my super fast friends are on each time I cross paths with them. Another plus, you can run sections with your faster friends (though brief at times, unless they’re wearing down) or you can run with your slower paced friends depending on how you’re feeling. It’s non intimidating and beginner friendly for those who are primarily road runners. There are no technical parts, just one really steep hill you will be cussing by the 4th time you climb it, but it’s at least a short one. By loop 6, you don’t know if it’s worse trudging up the thing or killing your quads (or burning I.T. bands!) going down the thing. I’m a huge fan of people watching and the guy who often places first is an entertaining one to watch. I witnessed this guy bouncing up that hill right in front of me, running twice the speed I do when I’m running fast. Apparently you can bounce UP a hill, I saw it. His efficiency is mind blowing. I personally don’t know the guy but basically he’s one of those people who was built to run. The best part is that he couldn’t possibly be a nicer guy. It’s nice to see that immense amount of talent in someone who is so friendly, encouraging, and seemingly humble. In my mind, I began to make a game out of how many times he lapped me. All I would see was a little orange streak, smiling ear to ear and easily saying “good job!” Not the usual “gooosh-shoooobbb” which is runner speak for “I really want to encourage you on your effort but I’m so physically taxed I can’t even clearly speak the words good job at this moment”. I hesitate to publicly talk about someone I don’t know personally but they’re all positive statements so I don’t think I’m terribly wrong for doing so since this is a race report and his encouragement was a big highlight for my race that day.
Mom showed up after I ran lap 5 and I needed it! This was the only prolonged break I took. The longer you linger around, the harder it is to keep moving, for me. My husband had to work so I knew he wouldn’t be able to stop by this time. When the going gets rough, nothing pulls me through like hugging Mom or knowing that he is waiting at the finish line. It was a cold, windy and cloudy day. Though it was great for running, it wasn’t the kind of day you want to just go hang out outside. So it meant the world to me that she took the time out of her day to do show up. They both keep me running and I couldn’t do it without their support. Yes, I know how lucky I am to have blessings like that.
Everything was pretty good until mile 26 or 27. All I have is half of 9 and one more, making 10. Going into this, it’s been my left knee that’s given me fits. I’ve foam rolled it and stretched religiously over the last week (I know, do it all the time, not just race week, I’m working on it) but lo and behold…. right knee decides to act up out of nowhere. I never expected that but I was determined to finish at this point. There was no way I’m making it that close and tapping out with one loop to go. I kept thinking of the Buddhist proverb, “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” Just keep running and walk it if you have to.
My tank was empty at that point. In all, it was still a good day but I’d mentally checked out by the beginning of the tenth loop and I felt slower than molasses on a cold day. This time I never quite hit that runner’s high and level of excitement that I usually do. At at the same time though, I felt grateful to have a body to be able to do this. I was relieved to be done. Ryan and Chad are hanging out at the finish line with lots of WOO-HOOs, all smiles and high fives, waiting with a victory beer ready to fill my finisher’s mug. That’s what friends do, it’s part of the trail runner creed! David decides the leftover loaves of bread will now be unofficial finisher’s awards. Everything is funny to me at this moment, since I’m deliriously tired. Life is good, I added another 50k to my running resume. I watch the rest of my friends come in and again, there’s a sense of mutual relief when I see certain ones crossing the finish line who I knew were really struggling early on. That’s what you do though, perseverance is the name of the game. All you’re doing is putting one foot in front of the other until you can’t anymore. Besides, “it’s just a 50k.”
Next up… bring it on, Mountain Mist! I’ve been waiting for you!