In my quest to race as many distance trail events as I deem reasonable in preparation for next summer's season of 100 mile madness, I took on the Bigfoot 50k on December 1st as my fourth trail race of this distance since Burning River in late July. Located at Salt Fork State Park in Cambridge, OH, this was a hills sans frills type of event that boasted of an elevation change of +/- 4,000 ft, which would translate to 13,500 were this a 100-- more than 4,000 ft more than Burning River. That in mind, I knew as race day approached that this was easily going to top the list of my 2012 50k's, at least in terms of difficulty.
This was an event that didn't pass without a bizarre and unique set of circumstances. First, I did not eat breakfast. I had a very small handful of pistacios and 1/2 bottle of water, teeming to comprise what could hardly be considered a quality meal. After more than a couple gastrointestinal disasters, I've concluded that isn't worth the risk anymore, and I'd rather start a race with my stomach on the verge of consuming itself than to have bowels on the verge of rapidly expelling their contents 3 miles from an aid station. Second, for the first time since I started using it, I forgot my handheld water bottle. At home. Two and a half hours away. So, I ran the first of the three 10.4 mile loops without a source of hydration on my person. This proved to be a bad decision, because by the time I reached the top of the third big hill-- miles from the first aid station, I was parched, sweating, and desperate for something to drink. I also forgot to pack a decent sports bra. This meant I ended up running 31.2 miles adjusting and hoisting up the straps of something that clearly was not designed to be worn during such an activity.
The weather conditions were conducive to fast running, even for someone who hadn't run more than 6 miles, all on the road, since her last 50k two weeks ago. It was about 35 degrees and bone dry at the start, so I hit some of the firmest trails I'd encountered since Moebius three months ago. Realizing I'd positioned myself toward the front of the pack, I decided to push my pace until it felt uncomfortable. This translated to about a 10 minute pace which, on such a challenging course, was very fast. In retrospect, I think this was a pace I feasibly could have maintained had I been training for more than an hour twice per week, and on trails. I reached the first aid station in just over an hour, and completed the first loop in 1:46, not far behind Rachel Nypaver and Star Blackford, two well-known ultra trail runners. I felt optimistic.
I decided it would be wise to carry water on the second and third loop, so I carried my phone in one hand and a plastic water bottle in the other. I started the loop in 7th place and maintaining a very good pace that felt nearly as fast as the pace I'd maintained on the first loop. This lasted for about 3-4 miles, and unfortunately by 16 miles I realized I was rapidly slowing down, walking slower up hills and running slower when the terrain enabled me to run. My pace for the 6 miles between the end of the first loop and the aid station was nearly 12 min/mile, a significant increase that was worse than I anticipated. The trail and view were beautiful, I should add, but deceptive. The vast majority of the trail was covered in leaves, obstructing one's view of the rocks and roots that emerged from the dirt underneath. Despite keeping my eyes and mind alert and mindful of my surroundings and footing, I hooked my foot under a portion of root that sent me stumbling full speed toward the side of the trail so fast I nearly tumbled down a steep descent. The last 4 miles of the loop are generally very runnable with only a few minor climbs, but somehow I just wasn't able to pick up the pace on this section this time the same way as I had the first time I covered it. In retrospect, I think this was a pivotal point for me, and I swung in the wrong direction. Had I pushed my pace, I believe I would have found a surge on the last loop similar to what I mustered during the last 6 miles of BBA 50k two weeks ago. Shuffling into the aid station with a net time of 3:55 swept away the confetti that rained at the end of my 1:46 first loop. Somehow, despite having run the same sections as I had the first time around, I'd covered the second loop in 2:09, which meant I'd slowed down more than two minutes per mile. I was feeling frustrated, but still enthusiastic about having a good finish-- even if I wasn't going to break 6 hours, despite a nagging cramp deep in my left calf and a throbbing soreness from a bruised, bleeding cut on my right calf where I'd rammed it into a protruding branch on the side of the trail.
Finally hungry, I grabbed a few Swedish fish and two cups of coke, and took off slowly toward the worst part of the 10.4 mile loop. A quick mental calculation indicated that I could cover this final part of the race in 2:17 and still snag a PR (I left the aid station in 3:57). At the time, and again in retrospect, it seemed not only possible but almost a certainty. I expected to finish between 6:09 and 6:12, with 6:14 an absolute worst case scenario. Weaving around the twists and turns, and plowing uphill so slow my legs screamed with every step, I was unfortunately progressing much, much slower than I needed to be moving to finish with a time that fell within this range. Four women passed me during the first three miles of the final loop, pushing my overall placement back to 10th. Nevertheless, I continued to move forward, confident I was going to find strength soon and start gaining back some of the ground I'd lost chugging up hills like a tanker. This blind, pitiful optimism continued literally until I was less than a mile from the finish and I knew that hell would freeze before I could cover a mile on this terrain in less than 8 miles so late in the game. My phone died around this time, leaving me in utter darkness in terms of time and pace, but despite knowing I was not going to achieve a PR I continued to work as hard as I could, passing two runners on the last mile-- one with a mere quarter mile remaining. I finished in 6:20:25, probably the most bittersweet race finish I've had in recent memory. On the one hand, it wasn't a bad finish time by any stretch of the imagination. Granted, I finished 10th, but the field was much faster and deeper than that with which I'd been faced at my other recent 50k's. On the other hand, I somehow managed to allow myself to fall into a pace that was so slow I found myself struggling to pick up the slack late in the race when I needed strength most. Not only did I lose sight of a sub-6 hour finish that still I believe I was capable of running, but a 6:14 PR that should have been a 110% certainty.
With six weeks off until my next 50k, I have ample time to push my training back on track, and lose some weight. I intend to make 2013 a big year in terms of racing, with a series of 50k's, 100k's, and 100's, including the following:
Run for Regis 50k (January)
Green Jewel 50k (March)
Buzzard 50k (March)
Fools 50k (April)
O24-- *attempting 100 miles (April)
Cleveland Marathon (May)
Buckeye Buster 50k (June)
Mohican 100 (June)
Burning River 100 (July)
Woodstock/LSD 100k (September)
Akron Marathon (September)
Oil Creek 100k (October)
Run with Scissors Double Marathon (October)
Bigfoot 50k (December)
Cheers to the end of a great year of racing!