PR-ing at Pineland Farms by 2 hours was pretty unexpected. Given the course, I definitely expected to set a personal record. I started the day out thinking I was going to crack 9 hours, but I wasn’t tracking splits or stressing about nutrition. I was truly out there to just have a long, long run as preparation for Vermont in a few weeks. But as the day went on, and my mental math started to be a bit easier, sub-8 hours was within sight and I became fixated. The last lap of the course was the most focused I have ever been running a race, and by the end of it all I was so incredibly pleased with my result.
Leading up to the race I had a pretty typical training week. It was a bit lower volume since I was running 50 miles on Sunday, but I had a pretty great interval workout on Wednesday and a few other moderate and recovery runs. By Saturday I had run 28 miles bringing my total mileage up to 78 miles, about where I was targeting. Race weekend, I was completely nonchalant about the race, which is a change for me. Usually for any of my ultras I get anxious the last few days before the race. I stress about my race plan, what I am going to carry with me, what to wear, what the weather is going to be, and every other thing that may impact the race. Since I was really only using the race to get time on my feet, I didn’t really find it worth the effort to stress. I knew going into the race that I would be able to run 50 miles, I just didn’t have any plan for how long it was going to take. Mentally, I was also a bit distracted with Colleen not running the race. 2 weeks before race day, we were both so excited to be heading to Maine to run this race, and then out of nowhere she develops a shin splint and has to sit the race out. Of course, she was still incredibly supportive, but having her have another hiccup in training felt devestating. I definitely felt guilty toeing the start line healthy and have to remember not take my health for granted.
At the start, I got my drop bag ready and just waited for the gun to go off. Pineland Farms has a whole bunch of different races on its course of 15.5 miles through cross country ski trails and farmland. The cross country ski trails are incredibly smooth and runnable with modest climbs and descent, all of which I would describe as runnable. The toughest part of the course are the farmlands that just don’t allow for confident footing. They were all off-camber with tall grass pushed down on it so you couldn’t see any hazards. To bring the race up to 50 miles, there is a short 3.5 mile loop that we ran before hitting the official course.
When we finally started running, I had my usual mix of excitement and hesitation. Of course the first 5 miles of a 50 miler feel great, there is still 90% of the race left. Given how much of the course you could run easily, I knew it was going to be a tough day of being smart with my pacing and avoiding a blow out. On the baby-loop and the first 15.5 mile loop I met a bunch of different people (whose names all escape me). We chatted about what other races we had run or had planned, what our goals were for the day, and silly things like our preferred electrolyte beverage. One guy in particular who was wearing a Vermont 100 hat was great company. We had a great hour or two talking about his race experience at Vermont last year, what I should prepare for, and how the last 30 miles at Vermont are by far the hardest. It felt great getting training for the race running and getting advice from a previous finisher. Since we were both using it as a training race, we decided to walk all but the smallest hills. I knew that I could easily run them all, but it was important to not completely trash our legs and disrupt training the next week. On the second and third loops, I did get carried away and start to run everything but the biggest hills. While this could’ve been a costly mistake, writing this two days later I feel pretty refreshed and ready to get back running, so all good. At the last aid station of the first loop, me and my running body both dug into our drop bags. I knew exactly where my gel was and was quickly in and out which left me without company. About a mile later, my legs started to feel a bit sluggish and my motivation started sinking. Of course without the mental distraction and having run close to 20 miles, I was feeling fatigued. This is when I probably started doing the biggest change I have made from any previous ultras. I started taking in caffeinated gels at specific intervals. Once an hour, in addition to other gels or food, I took a whole caffeinated Gu pack. I have no idea if it was actually having an effect or if it was pure placebo, but my energy levels stayed so incredibly consistent it was unreal. Once I shook off the sluggishness and got into a more competitive mindset, I felt like nothing could stop me. I ran with purpose and when I did take breaks to walk, I made sure to walk quickly. I made a point to reel in anyone I front of me and keep my legs moving. I came into each aid station knowing exactly what I needed and kept well hydrated.
Like I mentioned, Pineland Farms has a ton of different races going on the same courses, which meant there was rarely a time I couldn’t see another runner. Most of the time I didn’t know if someone were running the 50 mile, 50K, or 25K, but it made the race feel a lot less lonely since I almost alway had someone to exhange a word of encouragement to or use as motivation to push up the hills. Towards the end of the second loop, I ran into Rosa who snapped a quick picture. She was a huge energy booster and even though I had 20 miles or so left to run, it didn’t feel that far. I made one last stop at my drop bag, grabbed my final two caffeinated gels, and took off onto the last loop.I am the first to admit I suffer from ultra-brain when I am running. I frequently miss nutrition, forget what I have left to run, or just make bad decision. The thing that is most affected by ultra-brain is my ability to do mental math. On the last loop, I started to wonder if I could run sub-8, but even though I knew my last two splits for a full loop were around 2:30, I couldn’t piece together if I could break that barrier. I reconciled that when I got to the final 15K, I could more easily calculate what I needed to run for the last 9 or so miles. So, I just checked out and watched the kilometer markers along the course tick by. I didn’t care about how much race was left, or how my time was in those miles, I just cared about what I had to work with at 9 miles to go. If my memory serves correctly, I had about 100 minutes from the 15K marker to get to the finish to hit the new goal that came out of nowhere. As soon as I hit that marker, I was determined to run harder than I ever have. I pushed hard on everything, uphill, flat, or downhill. I spent 30 seconds at aid stations if I stopped at all. Each time I got to a significant point (10K remainin, 5K remaining) the goal became more tangible and the running became easier. 7 hours, and 48 minutes later I was across the finish line.
All said and done, I am really starting to feel confident for Vermont. I have a few more solid weeks of training I can use to get some more specific training and elevation change. With this race being such a success, I am even more excited to see what my first 100 will hold.
- Nike Terra Kiger 3
- Nathan Speedraw
- Ciele GoCap
- Garmin Fenix 3
- Gu and Tailwind