I really need to stop setting time goals for myself. I had gotten it into my mind that this was a race that I could PR despite the facts that I’m now 2 years older than I was back then and logging fewer miles (366 miles over past 10 weeks vs. 455) these days. So instead of being absolutely ecstatic about my run on Saturday, I’m only pretty happy. It’s screwy for me to think any less of my performance just because I wasn’t able to hit some random number that I had assigned to my time. And the number in reality was pretty random. It had no basis on my current level of endurance and was 33 minutes faster than I ran last year. Knocking 23 minutes off that time feels good, don’t get me wrong, but it should feel even better.
Now with that depressing intro out of the way, let’s see if I can’t shove some toothpaste back into the tube and provide a more balanced perspective on what really happened out on the trails last weekend. . .
One of the things I thoroughly enjoy about trail running is the atmosphere you get at the races. Carl (RD) and the Trail Dawgs go out of their way to make this a very special race when they don’t really have to. It’s not like you’re spoiled for choices on which races to run in mid-January, but they pull out all the stops to make sure every runner has an awesome time. From the excellent pre-race communications (all questions are answered multiple times) to the well stocked aid stations (perogies, Belgian white beer in addition to normal gels, candy, etc.) to the perfectly marked race course; nothing was overlooked. The one problem that cropped up last year (lack of port-a-potties), was corrected and then some this year. They even had a DJ spinning tunes before, during, and after the race in the activity hall. And did I mention you get all this for the price of a 5K ($35)?
A couple minutes before the 9am start, Carl leads everyone out of the hall and around a little loop towards the starting line. I was half or 2/3s of the way back as we started walking up to the line. Before I could start to edge my way even farther up, the starting horn sounded and off we went. The 25K and 50K races both started at the same time so you’re elbow to elbow with 400+ runners heading down the road towards the trails. Luckily, there’s about a mile of roads/double track before you enter the woods to help space people out. Things were bunched up for the next several miles, however you were able to pass fairly easily if you wanted to. I was feeling relatively strong and so continued to make my way forward through the pack. It wasn’t until about mile 8 or so that everyone really started getting spaced out nicely on the trails. People were always in sight ahead/behind, but I wasn’t feeling crowded anymore.
Since I was racing, I spent as little time as possible in the aid stations even bypassing some entirely. Each one had a different theme (M.A.S.H, Star Wars, pirates) and the volunteers were super enthusiastic cheering on the runners and making sure they got whatever you needed as quickly as possible. I was carrying two 20oz bottles in my waist pack and only needed to top up my water every 10 miles or so. I grabbed a fistful of gels at the first aid station and then only needed to get several more over the rest of the race. At most, I think I spent maybe 5 minutes total, which is a shame considering how awesome they were.
The first lap went by quickly. I was pushing the pace a little bit and running sections that I knew I had walked the prior year. And again I got a little concerned as I was passing people towards the end of the lap. These were 25K runners who were about to the end of their race and I still had another 15.6 miles to go. Maybe I should be leaving more in the tank . . .
Almost before I knew it they were tearing off the 25k stub from my bib and so commenced my “victory lap”. My first loop split was 2:47 coming out of the start/finish aid station. This was a little slower than I thought I needed in order to PR, but not too much so. I was running well, however began adding in more walk breaks on the hills as I went along. I started out here in a group of three other runners, one of whom was doing her first ultra and I would see off and on for the rest of the day. I ended up running within sight of others for the entire last loop, which was surprising. I don’t remember seeing many others out this late last year as most of the racers opted for the shorter course.
With my slowed pace, I started doing the math to see whether I was going to set a PR. I had banked some time so the 12 minute miles was right where I needed to be. Unfortunately, this didn’t leave me any buffer if I continued to slow down. As things progressed, this is what ended up happening over the last 5 miles. My legs, effort, and pace didn’t seem like it had changed much, but all of a sudden my 12 minute miles were now 13-14 minute miles. I had given it everything I had and it just wasn’t going to be enough. I didn’t give up. . . entirely, but I may have eased back some. The weather forecast had been calling for up to an inch of snow and it was during this stretch that the flurries started. It was a nice distraction to run through and didn’t impede my footing as it was never more than a dusting.
I was in the last mile or so when I heard cheering for runners ahead of me. This can be the most frustrating thing imaginable at this point in a race. It’s almost like they’re taunting you with a finish line that is just out of sight. After what seemed like forever, but was probably only 15 minutes, I popped out onto the gravel road that was about half a mile from the finish line. I checked behind me several hundred yards up the road and noticed 2 runners behind me when there had only been one for the last 5 miles. My fade was about to get me caught so I picked up the pace a bit and ran what I could of the final climb. Soon enough, I was in the finishing straight and across the finish line.
With several more days to reflect on the race, I’m becoming more satisfied with my run. There were many times out on the trails that lit my face up with a smile. I was out in the woods and the scenery, even in the middle of winter, was pretty amazing. Sweet single track leading to meadow pastures with a dash of snow for added decoration. I am thankful and still a little amazed that not only am I able to run these types of distances, but that it’s also a pleasurable experience. Challenging? Definitely. But any pain, anguish, or frustration felt is more than balanced by the sense of accomplishment acquired from finishing and the pure joy of running through the woods. The 2017 Phunt was a good day – no matter what my expectations were heading into it happened to be.