If you read my pre-race report last week, or if you are able to follow me on Facebook, you know that last weekend following my 50-mile trail race was the North Face Trail Half Marathon I signed up for.
When I registered from the comfort of my desk filled with the confidence of a few great back-to-back 20-mile training runs, back-to-back races seemed like a good idea. At that time though I never once expected to run my guts out on Saturday during the 50-miler. I mean, I expected to run fast and hard, hoping to break 9 hours. But never once did I think I would break 8 hours and then wake up the next day for more.
After my 50-mile race the name of the game was “quick recovery.” I needed to get home, ice bath, eat healthy, and sleep well all in preparation for another 13.1 miles on the same trails. Leaving the course on Saturday I couldn’t help but be elated about the race I just produced, so it was hard to know what to expect from my body next day.
The most recent half marathon that I ran before NF was in March of 2009 in Green Bay, WI. The half takes place on flat, smooth roads, during the Wisconsin Spring when the weather is cool, permitting great running conditions. My half PR is 1 hour 45 minutes.
Just before heading to bed Saturday night, my competitive side intrigued me to look at last year's times. If by some small miracle I placed again, how fast would I have to run? It turns out that the first place female from 2010 crossed the finish line in 1 hour 45 minutes. As I closed my internet browser and crawled into bed I dreamt big dreams for my half marathon the next morning; what if…
My alarm went off at 6:30am and I pulled my legs off the bed. As my feet hit the floor, I did a head to toe check. How did I feel? I stood up and touched my toes. My IT bands were tight and my quads required some massaging, but I was excited to see what my body could handle out on the trails again. I was thinking that if I came in under 2 hours, I knew I should be happy. But I had to be honest in asking myself, would I be happy with that?
Why did I sign up for a half marathon race following an ultra? Was it just to prove that I could run more miles after racing 50? Or was it to push my body and mind hard, again, and see what I could do? In assessing my goals on the car ride out, I had to be honest with myself in knowing that I wanted to race this thing. I didn't just want to run again; I wanted to run hard.
Out at Ottawa Lake, I entered to starting area about 10 minutes before the race was to begin. This morning I was by myself; no need for crew and I asked my parents to take the morning off and stay home. I wondered a little bit if I wanted this experience to just be my own. As I warmed my hands by the heater, the race director, Nick Moore, spotted me and walked my way. “Hey crazy girl, how are you feeling today?” he asked. “Yeah, feeling good, all things considering. But I guess we’ll see what good means when we start, right?” I bantered back. “What time you looking to finish in?” he asked. “ Oh, ya know, I’m looking to hit 1:45 so I can take a place again,” I said jokingly with a smile.
Inside I was half serious. Was I expecting too much?
The race started and I settled into my pace. The strategy for the half is similar to the ultra in the way that there is absolutely no reason to start out too fast. I simply wanted to cover some miles, assess my condition, and give it my best. As I ran down the road, I assessed the field and my competition. "Where were the other women?" "How fast were they setting out?" "Which ones looked strong?" " And where did I fit in?" Were the questions I ran through my mind.
As we entered the trail I saw Nick at the turn, “Good luck,” he said while pointing me out, “Go get some!”
Though the half marathon is a shorter distance than the ultra, it’s still 13.1 miles no matter how you cut it. Again, I had to dig deep mentally to run my race no matter what the competition did around me. The first part of the trail was an immediate and steady hill climb. My mind said, “Stop running and hike fast. You need to save your legs.” But my competitive spirit said, “RUUUUUN!” which would have put me in the same category as every other runner around me storming the hill. I told myself I was smarter and I knew the trails better. I took down my trot to a fast hike and let the runner’s blow past me.
To make up lost places, I hit it on the downhill and flat sections of the course. Small, run-able hills I took with stride, but longer climbs I pulled back to my fast hike. As we entered into the third mile, the trail opened up to a parking area with spectators. People cheered and cow bells rang as we rounded a corner, cut through some trees, and re-entered the trail system. I spotted some of my trail running friends from Lapham Peak Trail Runners and yelled out, “Yeah LPTR!” Melinda, Jose, and Marty all cheered as I got back on the trail. I guess I wasn’t alone after all.
Considering the hill at the start, I really had no idea what place I was in. Instead, I decided to simply pass the women I could see in front of me. As I closed in on the two women ahead of me a spectator yelled, “You’re fifth female! Third and fourth are right there!” I thought to myself, “Wow, seriously? Those to women are in third and forth?” I was closer to the lead runners than I thought so I picked up the pace.
The last four miles were truly a great race among the women I was around. As I gained on the ladies in front of me, the footsteps of a light gait that could only mark the stride of another female, came up behind me. I passed fourth and gained closer to third, and then was passed by the woman that was right on my heels. I knew that if I wanted to have the chance to place I would have to stay with her. I dropped in directly behind her and picked up my pace again.
After a mile I had little left in my legs so I slowly started to lose ground with the two ladies in front of me. The girl that passed me picked up pace and kept going, passing third, and continued down the trail. Though I couldn’t keep up, I was still moving well and feeling strong enough to push my pace until I reached the finish line.
Crossing the street and back onto the trail I saw Nick again, “You’re running hard, Ash! Time to finish!”
I charged the incline of the final hill climb and pumped my arms. I knew I was going to come in 5th place female, and now I was fighting for a good personal time. I glanced at my watch as we emerged from the woods. If I pulled from the reserves I had left I realized might actually finish close to my PR.
Coming in on the same road as yesterday, I looked to my right to see the same big read North Face arch beckoning me to the finish. I covered the ground quickly by staying on the concrete and crossed the final trail path to my finishing time of 1 hour and 46 minutes.
To my delight at this finish there was no collapsing and no dry heaving; just the good ol’ speeding heart rate of a race well run. As I placed my hands on my knees to rest, I smiled at the pleasure of my weekend spent running.
If I made one mistake after the finish, it was not drinking enough water. I ate multiple servings of soup and bread, enjoyed a celebratory beer, downed 20 ounces of water, and called it a day. I returned back home for a hot shower, more food, and a nap, without even thinking twice about the lack of water I had consumed and the degree of stress I put my body through.
I woke up a few hours later to horrible dehydration; I was nauseous, dizzy, and, unfortunately, had “the runs”. The rest of my afternoon was spent nursing my body back to hydration, which probably could have been avoided had I taken better care of myself. I laid on the couch, ate grilled cheese sandwiches, and tried not to move my legs, literally. Lactic acid had set in and not one part of me felt good from my belly button down.
But, the beautiful thing about the body is that it’s able to repair itself. As much as the days following were surely going to hurt, the weekend races were well worth it. Now I can admit I definitely have a greater respect for the amount of stress my body can handle, or any body for that matter. With a little more training, I’m excited to see what’s next.