I signed up for this race the day of the TARC Spring Classic (April 2015) before I had even finished my first marathon. Hell, I was still in a boot from my shin splint/tendonitis injury I was diagnosed with mid-April. For the past three months I’ve been nursing my IT Band and continuing my physical therapy exercises for my shin injury to prevent that from coming back as well. Needless to say, this race could have gone horribly wrong. Somehow, I managed to pull it off and to actually thoroughly enjoy myself almost the entire time!
When I woke up, I had my usual breakfast of a fruit smoothie and an english muffin, and we set off with our friend Harry to go to Carlisle, MA. It was a beautiful day for a race – around 55 degrees at the 6:00AM start, with a high of around 80 for the day. I started out with my friends Erica and Kristen, only to realize about a mile in that I was pushing myself far too hard for someone who hadn’t run more than 15 miles at a time all summer, so I slowed my pace down until I felt comfortable. I had a nasty little side stitch for about 3 miles, but it gradually subsided and I fell into a rhythm with my breathing, pace, fuel, and hydration. Around mile 3 I met a wonderful woman named Karen, who was also a first timer, and we finished our first loops together in about 2 hours and 10 minutes.
Erica had beat me to the start of the second loop, but was waiting there when I ran in, so I decided to set out on my second loop with her and some other November Project friends, Caleb and Bridget. We were going strong for about 3 miles when I suddenly had a horrible, shooting pain in my right knee from the outside of my knee to the outside of my ankle. It happened for a split second, so I thought maybe it was just a fluke. Erica kept running with me until it happened again maybe a minute later, and this time the pain lingered. I was extremely concerned since this was the knee that has been having IT Band issues, but I had never experienced this specific kind of pain. Nobody wants to feel new pain on race day. We made it to the aid station that was about 4 miles from the start and I had a decision to make. Should I drop now, or should I keep going another 3 miles until I swing back to that same aid station? I decided to keep going, partly because I’m stubborn and partly because hey, would it be so bad to have to walk 3 miles in the woods on a beautiful morning? I set off with the NP crew but not a half mile out of the aid station I had to stop and leave the group to run without me.
I was defeated. I had only made it halfway into this race and had what seemed like no choice but to quit. My knee was really hurting and I was limping around on the trail trying not to feel disappointed in myself. After all, that was my longest run since the Ragnar Relay, and I knew a DNF was a good possibility going into this. But my Grande Stubbornness kicked in (thanks mom and dad!) and I picked myself back up and started to run. I had texted Matt to meet me at the aid station so that when I finished these last 3 miles, I could drop and walk back to the finish with him. It was certainly uncomfortable to run, but I wanted it to be over with. About a mile into it, it didn’t feel too terrible, and I thought “Well, if I can make it 3 miles to the aid station, I might as well make it the last 4 and just finish out 21 miles.” So Matt joined up with me at the second aid station (and I caught up to the NP group since they were grabbing a bite to eat at the aid station) and we ran the last of the second loop together. The second loop took me about 2:15 or so, and I was filled with pride at how consistent my time was despite my knee pain. I didn’t even have to think about it when I got to the finish area – I was going to go finish this damn race.
I quickly ate some food, filled up my pack with ice water, popped in some headphones, and headed out on my own to finish the last loop. My knee was feeling pretty good, but when I stopped to rest at aid stations, the moment I started moving again it would seize up and I’d have to walk it out for a few minutes. So I decided to do some “rolling stops” on my last loop to avoid my knee tensing up on me. Matt had offered to pace me on my last loop, but something in me told me that if he came I would focus on my knee too much and end up not feeling as strong as I could. I had loaded up an iPod shuffle in case of an emergency, and ended up putting in headphones and powering through my last loop alone. I walked up some of the steeper hills, but ran pretty much the entire last lap. My body was feeling really amazing at this point, which helped me stay positive mentally and feel strong despite the fact I was undertrained.
I finished my last lap feeling confident, strong, and extremely proud of all that I had overcome to get to this point. My finishing time was 6:34:49, which made me the 7th female finisher at the TARC Fall Classic. I couldn’t even believe what had happened. The stars had aligned. A miracle had occurred. I had run an ultra marathon. Considering that my first marathon was in May and was a total disaster, I still can’t believe what happened out there. I firmly believe that it was TARC’s relaxed vibes, friendly runners, and amazing volunteers that helped me through my first ultra. I didn’t feel pressured to finish, or to have a certain time. Everyone out on the course was super supportive and made me feel like I could do anything. So I did what I felt was impossible and ran my first ultra marathon! I’d also like to thank the good people of Trail Runner Nation for so many helpful tips for first-time ultra runners.
Last week on a long drive, I discovered Trail Runner Nation and let their tips sink in for a good week before I went out and raced. The one that really stuck with me was to make a plan and never stray from it, no matter how good I was feeling in that moment. According to many on this podcast, a lot of rookies decide to fuel based on how they feel, but by the time they feel bad there isn’t much they can do to recover. After hearing that, I made sure I knew how far away the aid stations would be, and made a plan. My plan was to eat food at every aid station (they were 3-4 miles apart), drink water every time my watch beeped for a mile, and to have either two Gu’s or a chomp on each lap. I stuck with my plan for the entire race and felt much better than I had anticipated I would. I didn’t hit the wall, I didn’t have stomach issues during or after the race, and my legs felt strong despite the lack of proper training. While I would love to attribute this to sticking to my plan, I also strongly believe I was just lucky. I got lucky with the weather not being too hot, I got lucky that my stomach cramps went away early, and I got lucky that my knee didn’t turn into a bigger issue.
I think it’s safe to say I’ll be signing up for my next ultra pretty soon. Let’s just hope my next marathon goes just as well as this TARC Fall Classic did!
Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 2
Garmin Forerunner 620
Nathan HPL 020 Hydration Vest