I have a new longest distance I’ve ever run and its 42 miles (somehow a couple miles of course markers were removed). I’m pretty happy about that and more importantly, I feel a lot more confident about the two even longer races on my schedule in October and November. There was a lot to like about this race. The course has some road but not too much and the trail sections are really beautiful. The people were friendly, the weather was great and there was free beer at the finish line. The race was full of the kinds of moments that barely seem real later on. At mile one, for example, while we were still running on a country road, a pony broke loose from a neighboring farm and ran on the course right up through the front half of the race to the lead pack. The pony stuck around for about a mile. I’ve never run anything that rocky or that hilly before and I’ve also never run a race with a section like Dolly Sods, where runners are advised not to leave the path as there may be unexploded World War II era bombs out there.
For me the race was a little bit of a test of my training. Most of the places to trail run within an hour or less of Cleveland aren’t quite as hilly as some of the places I want to race and also I want to run races that are longer than my training runs and I want to run them really well. I finished this race without injury and feeling pretty good so in that regard it was a success. I didn’t run as fast as I wanted to or as fast as I think I’m able to. I’m hesitant to write about feeling disappointed with a third place finish at a new distance because maybe I should just be happy with what I’ve got. I am happy. Heck, right after the race I was pretty much elated. I just know I can do better and I think perhaps it will help somebody out there if I share how.
The first trouble I ran into was a blood sugar crash. The race information said there would be hammer gel at aid stations but after aid station #2, there wasn’t. I should have switched to just eating whatever was available right away but I figured I could just wait until the next aid station. I took too long to begin eating and my then had enough of a deficit that I had to slow down to feel better. Right before aid station #4, close to 20 miles, I had crashed to such an extent that I got confused about where I was on the course and just stood still for a minute or so before realized that I better just shuffle on ahead. It turned out I was only a couple hundred yards from the aid station. What to do differently in the future? Well, I can pack more gels in preparation for this kind of thing. I can also start eating a variety of aid station type foods on my long runs to get my system used to solids. Also that will give me a chance to make sure none of it gives me too much trouble. When I started trail running about a year and a half ago it took a few weeks to get used to even drinking water during runs so it seems likely there’ll be a few runs that get slowed down by my adjustment to solid food instead of gels but I’ll get there. Lots of careful chewing and lots of water I think.
My legs managed the hills pretty well but with some modification to the way I run hill workouts and the way I time them in my week I think I can get both stronger at hills and better at running the flatter areas. So far I’ve run hill repeats by running fairly quickly up a hill and then walking down to recover. Here’s the trouble with that; later in races, taking advantage of descents becomes increasingly risky and difficult and the downhill muscle fatigue. Also, running more quickly up hills means fewer repeats. I need far more feet of elevation gain in each hill workout. Over the next few months I’m going to do some Saturday hill repeat days where I spend maybe a couple hours jogging up and down a hill. I don’t think its going to be all that much fun but I do think it will be worth it. On Sundays, in order to learn to run tired, I will run 20+ miles of beautiful trail on those beat up legs. Mondays there will be eating and sleeping.
The only other trouble I had involved trying not to sprain my ankles. I rolled them both a little around mile 14-17 trying to maintain speed over some very rocky terrain. I didn’t injure myself really, just scared myself a little and had to slow down. What to do? Well, I’ve been working on ankle strength some and I’m pretty sure without that I would have actually injured myself. The exercise I do, which I mentioned last month, is to stand on one foot without holding onto anything and slowly raise up onto my toes and back down. More reps more times a day should take care of that. When my ankle starts to roll over I push up and onto my toes before I can think much about it. The hill repeats should also help with the stabilizing muscles.
On a side note, I’ve also concluded that I need to be a little more disciplined about signing up for shorter races. I don’t think short races are actually the same thing as tempo runs and I do think they beat me up a little more than I realize. The weekend after Vulture’s Knob 15K I ran the Ohio Warrior Dash, then the next weekend, the Hampton Hills 10 K trail race, then the Highland Sky 40 and then this weekend, a 5 mile trail race at Chapin Forest. I want to be able to race that often but I’m not very good at not racing and racing isn’t the same as training at all. Intellectually I get it but you know how it is, your friends sign up, you want to go run with them...