I ran this race last year, and the course absolutely shredded me. In theory, a 50K on dirt roads sounds like a piece of cake compared to the rugged New England trails I am used to running on. In reality, the roads in Windsor, VT have exactly two settings: calf-burning climbs and quad-trashing descents, both of which are measured in miles rather than feet. Knowing this, I did several of my long training runs on the course this year to prepare my body for the onslaught on race day.
On the morning of the race I feel calm and confident. My A goal is to beat last year’s time of 5:02, but I would be very happy with anything in the vicinity because last year I got lost and cut the course a bit short, and this year about three miles of the course has been re-routed to keep us out in the hills and avoid the flat miles in town. So basically I have a longer, harder course to contend with this year.
Jaime and I pre-race
The first half of the race goes smoothly. I keep a consistent average pace of 10:00/mile–right on target–and there are only a couple of women ahead of me. I thoroughly enjoy the new addition to the course, which has a beautiful view of Mount Ascutney from the top of a very long hill.
The first aid station at mile 14-ish provides me with my favorite race snack–cookies!!!–and I grab a handful to eat while I walk. I don’t need to re-fill my pack because I decided to start the race with a full 2-liter bladder of Heed so that I wouldn’t have to stop at the aid stations. I don’t think the extra weight slows me down as much as the minutes I loose each time I have to fill the bladder, and I just like avoiding the hassle.
After the aid station, I’m running along, feeling good, when all of a sudden I get to a confusing intersection. It’s confusing because I am familiar with the route, and I know that we are supposed to go straight here, but there are red arrows pointing to the right, and I see runners ahead of me that have turned there. Even though it doesn’t make any sense to me, I decide to follow the arrows and the others ahead of me. We run all the way down a mile-long hill until we come to another intersection where there is a disturbing lack of the ribbons that periodically mark our course. I catch up to the other runners as they stop to debate about whether we are on course or not. I voice my concerns, but they think that we should continue the way we are going. I don’t know why I follow them, but I do. After about another half mile, we all stop and look at a map that someone pulls from their pack to confirm what had already become painfully obvious: we are going the wrong way. Our 31-mile race just turned into 34 miles. 🙁
I am in apathy. I feel like there is no point to the race now that I’ve lost my chance at finishing in the top 3 or snagging a PR. We backtrack all the way up the long hill, meeting a couple more large groups of runners that made the same mistake. Among them is my friend Jaime, and I hang back with her for awhile, doing the run/walk thing up a series of hills, completely demoralized. Someone tells us that the arrows are for a bike race that will take place the following day. Too bad this wasn’t more widely known before the race started….oh well, it’s my own fault.
While I walk, I eat a tasty chocolate Hammer Gel, which makes me feel better, and then finally we get to a downhill section and suddenly my competitive nature resurfaces! I decide that I am going to spend the rest of the race fighting to get back to the position I was in before I went off course. I run hard. As fast as my beat up legs can handle down the hills, as fast as my tired muscles will carry me up the hills. I count the women that I pass along the way: 11 in all, and probably twice that many men. I hit the 50K mark, according to my watch, at 5:15. Then I run the last 3 miles (almost all downhill) in 24 minutes to finish in 5:39. When I check the results later I see that I would have been the 3rd woman if I hadn’t gone off course, but even with the 3 extra miles I am still the 5th woman and 38th overall. And I stuck to my goal pace of 10:00/mile even with the additional miles, so I am feeling pretty good about myself.
And I am also exhausted, to the point where I nearly fall asleep while driving home. It’s safe to say I used every drop of “gas” in the tank, and I am happy about that. 🙂