So I finally know what my next 100 miler will be: Pine Creek Challenge. I think. Given how this year has gone, I’m almost afraid to jinx things by mentioning it. But we’re less than 2 weeks out and they say they have their permits, COVID plan, and volunteers all set up so I guess it’s a go.

This will be the third September 100 that I’ve targeted. Grindstone was cancelled a couple months back. Then I had been planning on Wawayanda 100 the weekend of 9/12. I hadn’t actually signed up for it because of how uncertain things had been. I had reached out to the RD back in July and they said they would have day of signups so I wasn’t in any hurry to pay money only to have it refunded back (less the registration fee). Again. This past week I emailed them again to confirm that they were still a go, but apparently they were having problems with their overnight permit so no 100.

So on to plan C. Or maybe plan D considering Grindstone wasn’t in my original plans for the year. I’ve been training consistently over the summer, however I’ve been training for a trail race with 15k-ish of elevation gain. Pine Creek is a flat rail trail with less than 1000. The former would require lots of hiking on the hills. The latter? Not so much. This means that after 2 years, I need to exit my Season of Slow and stop run/walking my runs.

The odd thing was that I actually did this right before I found out Wawayanda was a no go Wednesday. I had dropped my son off at cross country practice so ran the roads near his school. They’re much flatter than where I normally run/walk so did a full 10 miles without walking. This was the first time since June that I had run that much of my runs so quite out of the norm for me. Felt pretty good, too. Thursday and Friday followed on my normal morning routes. Effort was obviously higher than I normally do, but they seemed to go fine as well. This brings me to Saturday.

Saturday

I’ve gotten to where I do a 20 mile run 2 weeks out from my 100 mile races. I’ve switched back and forth over the years between 10 milers and 20 milers 2 weeks out. I wanted something approximating the Pine Creek course so headed over to the Chester Valley Trail, which is a converted rail trail. I figured some very flat running would be good for my legs.

Apparently, my legs had other ideas. They were pretty sluggish right from the beginning and I could never really get into a groove. My pace was a relaxed 9 minute mile (plus or minus), however it didn’t feel as relaxed as it should have been. To make matters worse, I started counting down miles from like 3 or 4. Definitely not good. Most long runs I can get into a decent flow state for at least a couple miles, however that never happened.

I had planned to run out 7 miles and then turn around. This would let me stop by my truck and swap out bottles for the last 6 miles. As I went along though my bottles didn’t empty as fast as they should have. I was drinking to thirst and not trying to ration them, but that’s what seemed to be happening. The 16 ounces I drank on the way to the trail probably had something to do with things. So instead of turning around, I kept going. All the way to the end which happened to be exactly at the 10 mile mark.

As I turned around, I noticed the elevation gain on may Garmin showed 104 feet. Wow. This is what I normally get each mile around where I live, not over 10 miles. The return trip was more uphill (250 feet) and started to frustrate me more and more as I went along. The relentless incline wasn’t bad, but I had to work harder and harder the further I ran. It got so bad that I even took a 10 second walk break at about 16.5 miles. Once I started running again, I decided I was just going to push through till I got back to my truck. One of the goals of the long run is to develop mental toughness so it was time to get some practice in. So I did.

I ended with an average pace of 9:15 vs. 9:02 at the turn around so I faded about 30 seconds per mile on the return trip. I’m actually fairly indifferent to the paces I ran Saturday. My primary goal was to get out and run 20 miles on similar terrain to Pine Creek, which I accomplished. The real benefits from the run will end up being more mental than anything.

First off it reminded me that running 100 miles is hard. As I train for these races, I fantasize about running these awesome times. And invariably these dreams contain me prancing along feeling wonderful from start to finish. This is completely divorced with my prior experiences running 100 miles. It’s going to be difficult. Things are going to hurt. And my will to run will probably end about mile 70 at which point I will walk it in. I don’t want this to happen so I’m now more likely to start off conservatively than if Saturday’s run went off without a hitch. I need to find my “too slow” pace at Pine Creek. One that’s frustratingly slow. And then once I reach the point where I want to stop running, I need to keep pushing myself to shuffle along. Walk breaks are fine, but they need to be finite.

I’ll also need to do a better job staying on top of my hydration. I’m sure a good portion of why I struggled late was running low on fluids at the end. My shorts and shirt were literally dripping with sweat when I got done. So more fluids and electrolytes come race day.

And I’m sure there’s three or four other things that Saturday’s run can teach me if I think some more. Goodness knows I still have plenty to learn.

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