For New Years, I ran a 35k (22 mile) trail race. It very much seemed like a good idea at the time. I think a few people are hoping for a race story, so here goes. My skills are rusty!
I wanted to run a New Years race because I had such a good time running the 10k Resolution Run in 2014. It was a fun way to start off what turned out to be a great year, so why not try it again?
I could have done a very big half marathon at Quarry Lakes in Fremont – pretty, suburban, manmade lakes with flat gravel/paved trails and hundreds of other runners. Or I could run at Woodside, in a misty redwood forest, with a smaller group of people (no 5k option). Woodside was a no brainer. I probably should have signed up for the 17k – but that’s only ten miles, and I really do go run ten miles for fun on my own. So I opted for the next distance up, the 35k (22 miles).
Then I glutened the shit out of myself before Christmas. And again, mildly, right after the holiday. So I didn’t actually taper at all, I just fucking quit running because my feet, knees, wrists, and hands were so swollen and achey.
My #1 New Year’s Resolution is to not touch gluten or dairy again. Sigh.
I figured if my joints still hurt on Thursday, I’d drop or at least go for a shorter distance. Thursday morning was the first day I finally felt normal again. Shit. No excuses.
It didn’t rain, which is the kindest thing I can say about the weather. It was in the low 40s all day – probably got warmer down at the start/finish pavilion, but my midday was spent up on the cold, windy ridge.
My distance started at 8:50. I got there early, grabbed my bib, listened to the race meeting, walked around shivering, and at 8:41 remembered that I hadn’t lubed. I spent all of 45 seconds telling myself it wouldn’t matter, then bolted for the truck, smeared ice-cold anti-chafe cream where it matters, and trotted back up the start.
I started at the end and stayed there all day. I had some good company for the first few miles, an ultrarunner named Matt who was coming back from a year of injured feet, but he was taller than me and took bigger steps up the hills and he, too, slowly pulled away.
The first six miles was almost all climbing. It was hard. I walked it, but it was hard. I made the first aid station about ten minutes slower than I thought, but things were going okay.
I rolled through the aid as fast as I could and headed out. The next section was a 5.5 mile out and back on the Skyline Trail, and the worst of the climbing was over. It’s a lovely trail, masterfully carved into the side of the ridge, with a lot of rollers and perfect footing. Sadly, it’s got mileage markers every quarter mile, and I’d personally rather not be constantly reminded of how slowly the miles are ticking by. I only got a mile or so up the trail before I started seeing other 35k on their way back, and then (sigh) 50k headed back. I plugged on along and saw my buddy Matt about a half mile before the aid turnaround.
((The McMansion of hubris, left abandoned and unfinished.)
My plan was that I could run 11 miles just fine, and then I’d be stuck at the end of the trail, unwilling to DNF, and I’d *have* to do the 11 miles back. Plus it would be downhill. I don’t remember when I made it to the turnaround, but thanks to those mile markers, I did notice that I ran about a 4 hour half. That’s terrible, but it’s a nice improvement over my first half in October.
At about 14 miles the wheels came off. My body’s internal governor realized that we’d gone further than ever before and tried to pull the emergency brake before we died of fatigue. The nagging pains in my left ankle and right hip and left knee spiked to extremely uncomfortable levels, then everything slowly faded away except for my ankle. It hurt so badly felt broken, but it was weight-bearing and flexed okay, so I concentrated on keeping proper form and kept running. For eight miles.
I couldn’t stop looking at the god damned quarter mile markers on the Skyline Trail and they were just taunting my slowness. At one point I could see my breath, and I actually wondered if I was about to be murdered by a supernatural monster, but then I remembered the ice-cold wind that comes howling off of the Pacific every afternoon. No supernatural creatures appeared and I had to finish the race.
I was an hour behind my (ridiculously optimistic) schedule when I made it back to the aid station at 17 miles. I texted my friend and begged her to feed Dixie her dinner. It was 2:40 and I was starting to worry about sunset, so I just drank two cups of Coke and slogged on.
A couple songs after the aid station, one of my favorite hour-long mixtapes came on. I only stopped running three times for the next hour – once I stepped off trail to let a beautiful paint pass, twice I had to walk a few yard up hills. I ran so slowly, but it was as fast as I could push my legs. When the mixtape ended I was only halfway through the last leg of the trail, and something inside me broke down. You are one pitiful motherfucker when you can’t run more than 2.5 miles in an hour. Able bodied adults *hike* faster than that. I’d been pretty proud of myself, for having the idiocy to do this and the stubbornness to not DNF, but my mood really crashed that last hour. I kept going, as fast as I could, but it was still 4:15 before I finished.
I ugly-cried at the finish. Drank a Coke while I waited for my shirt (too small, but that’s the perils of last place). Hobbled off to drive my sorry ass home and cook dinner.
(I actually really like my wooden finisher’s medallion, and I wasn’t too proud to take the ultra coaster they gave me!)
Things I did right:
• Dressed pretty well. Long sleeve tech shirt, short sleeve wool, short sleeve tech, wool jacket, beanie, gloves, and tights. Nothing chafed, and I was cold and damp all day, but I didn’t get too cold.
• Ate pretty well. I carried some bars and some cold salted sushi rice in a baggie, and I really enjoyed the fruit chews at the aid stations. Tailwind worked, but I wish I’d mixed it a little stronger.
• I walked the hills for the first half, and I ran really consistently for the second half. Slowly, painfully, but I didn’t stop or even walk.
Lessons learned, aka what I did wrong:
• Too much of a jump in distance. I knew I’d slow down and everything would hurt more when I crossed that “never run further” point, but I thought I could push through it better than I did.
Now I understand why those stupid training plans for humans have you do like 80% of your race distance for your last long run. Oh. Oh, I see.
• I am too fucking slow. I have to figure out how to get faster and do it. Sprints? Hill sprints? I don’t know. I have to do something.
• Maybe I should pay more attention to elevation numbers and profiles.
I don’t know why I wanted to run this race, or why I wanted to one day run even further. That was a terrible afternoon. I quit running, forever, on that long sad drive home… and then at 8 pm I was texting with Mel and Aurora and I said “I hope it’ll be easier next time.”
I’m sure more not-so-good-ideas are in my future.