Labor Pain is a 12 hour race put on by Pretzel City Sports at the Liederkranz German Singing & Sports Club in Reading, PA. It’s held the Sunday of Labor Day weekend on a “5 mile” trail course that is mildly technical by PA standards. The quotation marks there is because the course measured about a quarter mile or so short each lap. The middle of the course was slightly modified from the last time I ran this race in 2015 making it a little flatter with only 125 feet elevation gain/loss per mile vs. 170 feet before. Typical caveat that these measurements were all based on my Garmin so who knows how accurate they really are. Probably close enough.

Yeah . . . we need to put some serious work into our game faces.

I came into the race with about as low a set of expectations as I’ve had in a while. Partly because this race was only 3 weeks out from Eastern States. Partly because I tweaked my back a week before the race and wasn’t sure how it was going to hold up. And partly because this was a relatively last minute addition to my race calendar. My wife and son decided they wanted to do the race and there was no way I was going to let them go and have all the fun.

Short paved section in the first mile. Always amusing to rediscover how the definition of “runnable hill” changes over the course of an ultra.

We got to the Liederkranz about an hour before the 7:45am start. As we were setting up, another runner who apparently reads my blog came up and introduced herself (hi, Kate!) and it was nice to chat with her for a couple minutes. Then it was out front for some last minute race instructions. They lasted a little past the official start time, but everyone still got 12 full hours till 7:55pm to abuse their bodies so no reprieve there.

Short section of shoe sucking mud.

I wanted to be up in the pack a bit before we hit the single track trails so started a bit closer to the front than was probably wise. I linked up with a Dan who also ran Eastern States this year and we spent most of the first lap chatting. I realized that I was pushing the pace a bit (i.e. running way too much of the gentle inclines), but it felt fairly easy so I just went with it and ended up with a 55 minute first lap.

Water only aid station at the halfway point added some stronger stuff to the menu after noon.

I was carrying two 24 ounce bottles of fluid with me so just rolled through the start/finish without stopping. The second lap was a carbon copy of the first (55 minutes) and I was still doing fine on fluids so again went straight past GO without collecting my $200. Surprisingly, the third lap was just as quick though I took an extra minute to hit my aid station before crossing the timing area.

Mostly single track trails to navigate each loop.

At this point, I know I’ve banked a decent amount of time on a 55 mile finish, which is what I did the last time at the race. I started working a bit on the fourth lap, but managed to finish it inside of an hour. The only challenge was I slipped coming up the rock scramble into the finish chute and jammed my thumb pretty good.

Some sections were more technical than others.

A Brief Digression

The biggest challenge of doing fixed time events is the looped format. And it’s not that doing the same loop over and over (and over) again gets repetitive and boring. Labor Pain’s course is varied enough that you get familiar with it, but not bored by it. The challenge is that you pass through the start/finish line continually, which makes quitting extraordinarily easy. It’s one thing to decide to quit a race somewhere in the backwoods several hours from your car (bother). It’s an entirely different animal to pass within literal feet of your car every 15-60 minutes. It takes an order of magnitude more commitment to whatever goals you’ve set for yourself to keep cranking out miles when things start to get hard. And hard they will get.

The final boulder climb into the finish line.

So here I am goallessly (it’s a word now) cruising around the course. On lap 5, I went from mentally on pace to match the 55 miles I ran in 2015 to being happy with a theoretical 50 mile finish if that’s how things ended up shaking out. That was a very short slippery slope to the next lap where I didn’t feel especially thrilled with the prospect of walking in a 50 mile finish. I decided then that I’d stop at 35 miles and call it a day. Since the course seemed a little short, I went the full loop to ensure I got in 31+ miles instead of turning around half a mile in for a milestone finish. I dialed the effort back quite a bit and was pleasantly surprised my lap time (72 minutes) was only 2 minutes slower than the prior one.

Then I swapped my race bib for a crew hat and supported my wife and son for the remainder of their races. While I had lapped Kate a couple times during the day, I hadn’t seen my son yet out on the course. That meant I had either passed him at the starting line chaos or he was right behind me. And sure enough he came in to finish his 7th lap not too long after I finished up. He said he was doing OK and was out of the aid station in the blink of an eye. Kate then came through and was looking great, too.

Beer + chair = I think I’ve been doing this ultra thing wrong all these years.

Once they were safely back out onto the course, it was time to belly up to the bar. I sat by the finishing chute and cheered on the other runners while waiting for my family to come back around. Dave was starting to look a little tired after 8 laps, but was laser-focused on getting to 50. He sat for a minute to regroup and then was back out. Kate came in after her 6th loop waving her hands saying she was done. I ran up to the scores saying “No, she’s not!” and told her she only needed to do a short out-and-back for an official 50K. She gave me a look that all husbands know well, but continued on and was quickly back for her 50K finish.

Another ultra finish for the wife! Yes, honey, you can stop now.

Dave came in from his 9th lap, took a short pitstop, and then was back out. At the end of the day, I’m not sure who’s more proud of his 50 mile finish, him or me. He was probably the youngest person in the race and the farthest he had ever run before Sunday was 22 miles, yet he executed an outstanding race. His last 5 lap splits were 71 minutes, 71, 71, 76, and 74. Needless to say, I’m gonna sit him down this week and have a long conversation about what I need to do to improve my pacing in races.

That’s my boy! Yes, you can stop now, too.

Overall, we had an awesome time and I’m sure we’ll be back in the future. Hopefully it doesn’t take me another 6 years to get back.

All grimaces smiles at the finish.

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