As a self proclaimed pavement-hater, you may wonder why I chose this run. A couple of reasons: It was paved, but it is a greenway so there is always the chance you can run on the grass shoulder. It is a loop (out & back) but that means you can pass close to your car & I really have no trouble with loops. It was over a month before Mt Mitchell Challenge, which fits in my schedule for a long run. Not a lot of elevation gain or loss. And my final chickenshit reason? They also hold a 100k & 100 miler so the cutoff for all races is 30 hours. So yeah, I picked a race I had an above average chance of finishing.
Here’s the thing about running a race: I always have a couple of goals. The ultimate goal is, as usual, just finishing without hurting myself. My secondary goal was to finish in a (for me) respectable time of less than 7 hours. And my “if all the planets align & I feel great” goal was to finish in my Ultrasignup estimated finish time of 6:35. A bit optimistic considering my PR of 5:45 was 12 years & 3 knee surgeries ago.
I had the usual post race nerves leading up to the run. You know, where you convince yourself that you are getting sick? Or watching the Weather Channel state there is a 80% chance of rain with severe storms ? I guess since it had been so long since my last ultra I forgot how to ignore that stuff. I also forgot how fun it is to make a “flat runner” the night before by laying out all your clothes & gear.
Just looking at this photo you can already tell I took wayyyyyyy tooooooo much stuff, right?
The not-so-early start was good for me as I was able to have a couple of cups of coffee & take my time getting ready. Brian gave me a ride over to the start & dropped me off with a whole 15 minutes to spare. I had to smile as he has never seen me all dressed up for a race - he told me I ” looked ready for adventure”. As soon as he left I realized it was way warmer than predicted & I was carrying way too much gear (gloves,hat,& raincoat). I resigned myself to carrying it for at least one 11 mile loop & then dropping some stuff off at the start/finish & hope to be able to find it at the end.
As usual the adrenaline kicked in & I felt like I started a little fast. I was surprised to find the miles were not marked & it was a little hard to pace myself as I am used to running on trails. I also felt very overdressed in a long sleeved top, but was glad I had not brought the wool shirt I had considered. As I reached the turnaround of the halfway point of the 1st loop at Maryville, I was surprised to see Brian standing at the picnic shelter. And so very happy! I ran up to him, pulled my pack off & started unloading all the extra weight I could. He listened to me bitch a bit about how hot it was & then sent me on my way telling me I was doing good. It was a nice little boost!
I followed the greenway back around to the high school, this time taking some time to look around a little. I did not realize how pretty this area was.
I finished my 1st loop right at 2 hours. A little faster than I expected. But it got me to thinking, maybe I can get a 6:35 finish? I grabbed some food from the friendly volunteers & headed out my second loop. The forecasted rain still didn't show & I felt hotter & hotter as I along. I was still moving well but was starting to feel a bit weary as I headed to the halfway point. As I rounded the corner in Maryville I again saw Brian at the picnic shelter but it appeared he was wearing magenta scarf. WTF? Did he really bring my wool shirt out to me? As I got closer he held it up & it was the coolest, lightest, short sleeve wicking shirt I have ever seen. And my absolute favorite color! While I was running my 2nd loop my sweetie had gone to Little River outfitter & dug around on the clearance rack to find me a lighter shirt that would help me get thru the race. I ran up to him & immediately stripped off my long sleeved shirt & gave it to him with instructions to burn it. I put on the shirt & it felt (to borrow my friend Lori’s words) like angel wings. I set off with renewed energy again!
At this point I was at my favorite point of a long run – I call it Zenning out. You aren't thinking or feeling – it’s like meditation for me. The miles just passed along. Soon I was almost back to the high school & I see a familiar shape ahead. Brian had not only driven ahead to the intersection of the greenway & MLK park, he also had Starbucks! I am a confirmed caffeine junkie & a couple of sips really hit the spot. Off again to finish loop #2!
This loop was completed in roughly 2:20, but I was still pretty optimistic for the 6:35 finish. I got a big mental boost crossing the start/finish line since now I was at 22 miles & only had single digits left to run. For some reason that really seems to matter to me.
I shuffled along to the first turn-around & made my first stop at an aid station to look at food as I was getting tired of Heed & gels. This aid station looked like a frickin’ buffet! I was glad I had not stopped before or I would have surely gained weight on this run. I grabbed half a pimento cheese on wheat & shuffled on.
When I passed Brian again I was starting to feel the miles, but I also knew I didn't have too much longer to go. I asked him to meet me at the bottom of the big hill right at the high school as I knew I would be walking it. Because I did not study the race course I was also unsure if I just finished or if I needed to do one more short out & back before finishing. (I had asked a volunteer at one of the aid stations but she didn't know either) When I got to the bottom of “Heartbreak Hill” I glanced at my time & it was only 6:15. Damn! That means I probably have to do another mile or so…Sigh…. Brian was good at mentally pushing me up the hill. He told me “ I’m not gonna run but I am gonna walk at our normal speed hiking up a hill so try & keep up!” When we got to the top a lady came up behind me & said “Why are you walking? This is the finish!” I told her it couldn't be as my time was way too short, but then I saw the volunteers waving us on. I managed to make at least some semblance of a run, but I was still so confused. My finish time ended up being 6:17! Way better than I ever imagined!
A few cool things about this race: The RD & the volunteers were just absolutely amazing. Could not ask for anything more. And this was the first time Brian has seen me run distance. I know he worries about me running (I was recovering from knee surgery when I first met him). I think he really enjoyed crewing me & got a better understanding of ultras. I have never really had someone out there I care for supporting me & I didn’t realize what a difference it makes. It really pushed me to try a little harder when every time I saw him he told me I was doing really good! After it was all over I asked him if it scared him off now that he had seen what I like to do & he had spent a day with all the other crazies like me. He said no, but what scared him was he could see how hard it was for me so how was I always smiling while I was doing it?