(Labor Pain Ultra 12-hour race report)
“People say” that the most entertaining and educational race reports are the ones where all kinds of shit goes wrong. With that in mind, prepare to be bored out of your minds as you read this, suckers! At least one of the times I saw my friend Hillsmash I kept yelling “conditions are perfect!” I was trying to quote The Flight of the Conchords’ “Business Time” and probably failing to convey that, but it also pretty much applied literally. I’d tapered almost perfectly, carb loaded like a glutton/champ, done some nice long runs on trail and worked on yoga/cross training a lot more than usual. The course was suited to my strengths, and though the temperature was a little higher than I prefer, humidity was pretty much nil and there was a lot of tree cover, making things pleasant most of the day. I was also in a good place mentally, as though I was feeling long overdue for a good race, I’d had a couple of very good training weeks leading up to the event and felt prepared. I had recently resolved some personal and professional anxieties, and I was generally in a Good Place. I had packed ALL THE SNACKS (including cut up watermelon I managed to keep cold the whole race). I was wearing my ultimate INKnBURN supersuit. Conditions were perfect.
It's business time!
My concerns going into the race were that I wouldn’t do well in the heat (not a problem thanks to the lack of humidity), that I wouldn’t handle the format of a 5-mile loop for 12 hours well (I’d never done a timed event of this nature), and that I had not gotten nearly enough sleep the previous week (I’m feeling that this week, but for the duration of the event, Mountain Dew maintained its sugary, caffeinated efficacy!). I also just NEVER race well at Pretzel City Sports races (though I always have a great time!).
Obviously, friends play a HUGE role in my running obsession. One of the reasons I don’t just stop running for months at a time anymore is because I have so many running friends I would miss if I went MIA. As I like to quote myself (ad nauseam), “running friends are real friends!” And friends have played a role in my races before: most notably, in the Philly Marathon last year, seeing at least one person I knew every mile on the second half of the course absolutely helped motivate me to keep pushing and bag my PR. But I’ve never used any kind of crew or pacers when running an ultra, and I’ve tended to view the presence and support of friends, whether spectators or fellow runners, as a surprising bonus. Point is, I always love seeing friends at races, but this is the strongest I’ve felt their presence in my own racing, and the most grateful I’ve been to have that support and fellowship, even where it might not have looked like I needed it. At the race, we met up with awesome existing and new friends from Trail Whippass and Runderful, but we also rolled up with a more than solid posse of our own. (Special shoutout to Emir, who I saw almost every lap and who always shared encouragement and asked how I was doing!)
Runderful friends John and Alyssa framing ye olde Trailsmash and Hillsmash
Megan (the aforementioned “Hillsmash”), our friend Johanna, and I were all running with very different goals. Johanna wanted to de-stress from racing and training goals and rekindle some love of running on the trails. Megan, who is new to her exploration of longer distance and trail running, wanted to pace herself smart to a 40-mile finish. I wanted at least 50 miles and to feel like I’d actually raced something. We all of us met our goals. I have to talk a little about Hillsmash, because she’s been so, so smart and enthusiastic in how she’s gone about introducing herself to trail running. It’s kind of like an over-enthused 5-year-old who also wrangles for herself a hell of a lot of zen. Those 40 miles she ran were not only her first time “making ultrababies” (in a race environment, anyway), but also, as I kept forgetting, got her to the marathon distance for the first time in a race. Her fiancé David paced her for the lap that comprised miles 25-30, keeping the ultraspawn metaphor going strong! Our friend Lou got bullied into being my first pacer ever, and ran with me from miles 35-45, and then from 50-55. We sang a lot of bits of songs, drank some beers, and determined whether various snacks were vegan. The giddy normalcy of it all definitely helped me suspend the knowledge that I’d been running in a circle for hours and hours with more to go!
“I’m not going back out again unless someone sics a panther on me!”
Once I realized I was keeping my pace fairly well, I kept wavering as to whether or not I wanted to stop at 55 miles or to push on to 60. I really didn’t want to compromise my marathon training by doing more than I could fairly quickly recover from, but 60 seemed like such the nicest number, and it was looking like I had time. During the race, I basically tied my 2nd fastest 50k time (around 5:40), and thanks to a completely maniacal 10th lap beat my 50-mile PR by about 5 minutes (I came in at 9:27-8). After that I started to sag a bit, but my goals never slipped out of sight, which definitely helped keep my spirits up. Since I finished the 60 miles in 11:42, there was obviously some thought that I could have/should have gone for the 100k milestone. I’ll just say that 60 miles felt ambitious enough, and I’m glad I took time to refuel and chat with friends after most laps because it meant I had the energy left to enjoy the experience of finishing well and engage in suspicious celebratory rituals postrace.
Megan, myself, Lou, and David, doing what we do.
I ended up 3rd overall female, 7th overall finisher, and 1st in my age group. Pretty solidly the best I've done in a race since I raced the 1600m in middle school! Congrats also to Johanna and new Runderful friend Alyssa who also scored age group swag, or, as I was calling it during the race, “prizes” :)